A few weeks ago, I saw this Kickstarter on Facebook and was immediately drawn to it, because you know, the little cardboard planes and ships. But also because I really enjoy air naval games set in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Fighters of the Pacific is a simple introductory wargame that covers the major battles that occurred in the Pacific between the Empire of Japan and the United States. I reached out to one of the designers Didier Dincher and he was more than willing to share information on the design.

If you are interested in Fighters of the Pacific, you can order a copy of the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/338597945/fighters-of-the-pacific/?ref=kicktraq

Grant: First off Didier please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Didier: I’m 45 years old, I’m a board game editor and the rest of the time I’m building a plane in the backyard…no no, I’m kidding.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Didier: When I was 12 years old, I was re-enacting the Battle of Waterloo on the living room table with plastic soldiers. One day I decided to look at the score of a dice to hit rather than to knock down the figures with it. I had just invented a wargame without knowing it. Since then I have never stopped. I am very happy when a player tells me about my game, why he likes to play it. When we share the same emotions while playing it is very satisfying.

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process?

Didier: At first I tried to make clever mechanics, then I tried to make them as simple as possible. Now I focus on the player’s experience, and on what emotions they experience while playing my game. 

Grant: Who is your codesigner Frank Girabaldi? How did you to become acquainted?

Didier: Frank came to me in 2018 for advice on Kickstarter. I tried an early version of the game he had been working on for a long time. I really liked it. There was huge potential and I immediately had a lot of ideas to develop it and add to the experience. I must say that the theme spoke to me a lot. I had replayed the Battle of Midway a lot when I was younger (after Waterloo).

Grant: What is your upcoming game Fighters of the Pacific about?

Didier: It is about pushing planes on the table while making “vrouum tatatata” sounds. Lots of planes. This is the particularity of this game. Where others offer more individual piloting experiences, we offer a complete air combat, with many planes involved and where the group tactical approach is more important than the individual piloting. So, yes, it is based on Naval Air battle during WWII in the Pacific. You know, the Battle of Midway.

Grant: What published games did you use as inspiration for your game?

Didier: Clearly we have used simpler wargames such as Memoir ’44 and Heroes of Normandy. There are also influences from Check Your 6! of course. 

Grant: What from the history of the naval air war in the Pacific did you need to include in the design?

Didier: I spent the whole summer of 2020 watching and reading documentaries. In fact, we wanted this game to be fun to play, but also very close to the historical reality. Because there is a role of memory and learning in this game. I spent a lot of time on the details of the illustrations to get them right and the scenarios try to reflect the particularity of the fighting in this theater. 

Grant: What is the anatomy of the fighter aircraft counters? What is the difference between high and low altitude sides?

Didier: The planes are drawn in 1:500 scale. The counter follows the shape of the plane so that it looks like you are pushing a plane on the table, not a counter. A few millimeters of background surround the plane. On one side the background is a cloud, to show that the plane is at high altitude, on the other side the background is blue like the ocean, to show that the plane is at low altitude, over the water. By flipping the counter over, you simply change the altitude. In fact, we wanted an airplane game with counters (to have a lot of them easily), but an airplane game must manage a minimum of altitude. With this solution, we could have 2 levels of altitude simply, without adding material. 

Grant: What different types of planes are represented in the game?

Didier: In the core game there are 6 different types of planes. 3 for each nation. These were the three typical aircraft types that were embarked in the aircraft carriers : Fighter, Dive Bomber, Torpedo Bomber. This is what makes this theater of war so interesting, because in 1942 the forces are very similar and balanced. The Americans have the F4F Wildcat, the TBD Devastator and the SBD Dauntless. The Japanese had the A6M Zero, the B5N Kate and the D3A Vale. Lots of iconic aircraft! The Battle of Midway expansion introduces the B26 Marauder medium bomber, the old F2F Buffalo fighter and the fearsome TBF Avenger that was just making its appearance. But the Kickstarter campaign has plenty of other aircraft in the stretch goals. You have to go and see!

Grant: What research did you do to get each planes specifications and performance correct?

Didier: I have a table where I note for each plane: the wingspan (for the size of the drawing), the speed, the rate of climb and their armaments. Then by reading articles on this plane, I note what made it particular in combat (agile, robust, fragile etc…). Then by putting all this together, I could define the game characteristics of each plane, keeping in mind that the less is more, that is to say, the less exception possible for a fluid and accessible game.

Grant: What different attributes are tracked across the different aircraft?

Didier: Its speed, its armor, its shooting zone and one or more traits, such as Agile, 20mm Cannon, Flammable, etc.

Grant: Can you show us a few different types of planes and explain their relative strengths and weaknesses?

Didier: If we take the SBD Dauntless, it has two points of armor, so you have to hit it twice to put it out of action. It has a speed of 2 which is slow. Its shooting area is only one square in front and three squares behind. It is not designed to attack from the front but has a rear gunner. It can carry a dive bomb in a picket or a level bomb. It is therefore a slow but resistant aircraft, not very effective in combat with other aircraft, but formidable against ground targets. In comparison, the famous Japanese A6M Zero has 3 movement points and only 1 armor point. Its firing range is 4 squares in a diamond shape at the front, which represents the maneuverability and training of the fighters. It is also “Agile” which allows it to make a free pivot at the end of movement and it has a 20mm Cannon which doubles its damage at short range. In short, it is formidable in close combat, as it is maneuverable and powerful. But be careful because it is very fragile. 

Grant: How do players activate planes?

Didier: The planes are not activated individually but in groups. When a plane is activated, it must complete its entire movement while respecting the possible maneuvers and their cost in movement points. 

Grant: How does Fields of Fire effect planes as they near each other?

Didier: If a plane has an enemy plane in its Fire Zone, the bullets fly and this plane must dodge. If it can’t (because it has already been activated this turn), it takes damage automatically. 

Grant: How do planes dodge to avoid the effects of fire?

Didier: The dodge is mandatory if it is possible. The plane that dodges must spend a single movement point to do so, and it is considered activated for the rest of the turn. No dice are used to determine success.

Grant: With no dice in the game how are dodge and fire resolved?

Didier: It is automatic. All the difficulty lies in getting into the right position to shoot, and if possible at a target that has lost its “combat potential”, i.e. that has been activated, and/or is at low altitude (because it is then more difficult to dodge). The dodge is automatic, but in order to succeed, it is necessary to be well placed, because once a first plane has been dodged, a second one may arrive and take advantage of the situation. In short, the result does not depend on the hazard of a die, but on the choices of the players and the context of the fight. 

Grant: Why did you feel a dice-less system would work best for the design?

Didier: In the first versions of the game there were dice used to hit and dodge. But it was quite common and I wanted an original and tension filled mechanic, where the movements follow each other, interacting quickly with each other.

Grant: What is the concept of handicap and what does it represent?

Didier: In the literature that deals with air combat, we always find the notion of “advantage” and “combat potential”. A maneuver is estimated in these terms. Moreover I wanted to have the notion of combat chaos, of disorganization that makes the plan obsolete in a few seconds. So a player who manages to be at high altitude with well organized groups of planes should have a tactical advantage over a player whose planes are in disorder, at low altitude or are damaged. The good surprise is that a player who is in trouble and has lost a bunch of planes wins more easily the initiative and so it balances the game a bit. 

Grant: How does handicap effect initiative?

Didier: Handicap points are counted at the beginning of each round. The player with the least handicap has the initiative for that turn. In case of a tie, the initiative remains with the player who had it the previous turn. The initiative is very important. It allows you to play first and still be able to pass your turn. It gives the player who has the initiative great flexibility to activate their planes and anticipate their opponent’s moves. This is essential to gain the upper hand. 

Grant: What different naval ships are included in the game and how do they function?

Didier: There are Aircraft Carriers of course, which are at the heart of the battles of the time, and Escort Destroyers. Their function is above all to serve as a target. They can defend themselves a bit, but this is an air battle game, not a naval one.

Grant: What is the basic Sequence of Play?

Didier: A game turn is divided into three phases: 1 – Players count their handicap and determine who has the initiative. 2 – Players take turns activating their planes by group. 3 – When all the planes are activated, the players move the ships, torpedoes and reinforcements in. 

Grant: How is victory determined?

Didier: We use a victory point system. This allows us to scale the results and to compare them. Indeed, some historical scenarios are very unbalanced. It is therefore a good idea to play them twice by changing sides and compare the results to determine who really won.

Grant: What scenarios are included?

Didier: There are 10 scenarios included in the core box. These are what I call contextual scenarios. They are not exactly historical situations, but very plausible and above all playful situations. For instance there is a fight between fighters, interceptions, chases, attacking a carrier in several waves, attacking a group of carriers, attacking a group of Tokyo Express destroyers, etc…And then there is scenario #10 “Face to Face” which is a bit special. In this scenario each player lines up an aircraft carrier and its destroyer, as well as all the planes on that carrier (about 25). Before the game, each player secretly chooses from among some of his planes how many he will send to recon. These planes will not be usable for the rest of the game. He also secretly chooses a group of 6 planes to form his first attack wave. Then the groups of planes of all players are shown. The player who sent the most recon planes wins the recon and can place his first wave in his half of the board. The other player is taken by surprise and his first wave is on the deck. At the end of each turn a player can take off planes that are on the bridge, but also take a plane from his hangar to get to the bridge. Be careful because if the aircraft carrier is hit, all the aircraft on the bridge are destroyed. This is the ultimate scenario in my opinion.

Grant: What expansions are included in the campaign?

Didier: There are two expansions, each of which is about a famous battle. The Battle of Midway, and The Battle of the Coral Sea. They contain counters to compose (almost) all the forces involved and especially historical scenarios. 

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

Didier: I think the game captures the chaos and dynamics of an aerial battle of the time, just as we see it today from our gaming couch. I hope it will be seen as tense and nervous from the beginning to the end, so that you don’t see the time passing. 

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters and what was their general consensus about the game?

Didier: They were often skeptical at first with the simple mechanics and way that plane groups are activated but very motivated by and interested in the theme. And then while playing, they realized the qualities of the game. I don’t think I’ll be able to get back the prototypes we left them any time soon. They really enjoyed the system and had a great time playing out each of the battles looking for ways to change the outcome.

Grant: What different stretch goals are included in the campaign?

Didier: There are new types of planes, ships, and scenarios that go along with them. We wanted the stretch goals to enhance the experience by offering more available planes and scenarios.

Grant: When do you expect the game to fulfill?

Didier: At this point, all of the illustrations are complete, models too, there are still scenarios to finish testing though, but otherwise everything is ready to go. Normally we should be able to launch the production before the end of the year and would expect the delivery at the beginning of 2022. But at the moment, the factories and the transports are particularly saturated. We will have to be careful and wait and see what happens.

Thanks for the great look inside the game Didier. I think that this one looks really interesting and keeps the mechanics simple to allow for the players to have a good time interacting with the scenarios and trying out different tactics and strategies. I very much look forward to playing this one when it is complete.

If you are interested in Fighters of the Pacific, you can order a copy of the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/338597945/fighters-of-the-pacific/?ref=kicktraq