I really enjoy block wargames. Some people don’t like them, for one reason or another, but I find the Fog of War to be really tense and exciting as you just never really know what you are going against and how you will fare. Last summer, there was a new big block wargame from VentoNuovo Games called Black Swan: Europe 1939-1945 that had a very successful Kickstarter and now they are taking that same system to the Pacific Theater in Orange Swan: Pacific 1941-1945 .

We reached out to the designer Emanuele Santandrea and he was more than willing to talk about the game.

If you are interested in Orange Swan: Pacific 1941-1945 you can check out the Kickstarter preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/m41/orange-swan-pacific-1941-45

Grant: What is the focus of your upcoming Kickstarter Orange Swan?

Emanuele: A new block wargame on World War 2 in the Pacific Theater. It is based on Black Swan, which covered the European Theater of Operations, and leverages and further develops that game’s highly regarded naval subsystems.

Grant: What is the genesis of the name Orange Swan? What do you wish the title to convey about the game? 

Emanuele: The original game in the series, Black Swan, derived its name from “black swan events” which are unpredictable events that are beyond what is normally expected of a situation and have potentially severe consequences. The idea nicely conveys the fog and friction of war. Orange Swan reflects that of its predecessor, but also that of the United States’ plan for defeating Japan, developed long before Pearl Harbor, called War Plan Orange.  And as we all know, “Orange is the new Black!” 

Grant: What historical information are you using to base the game on?

Emanuele: Several. To design a game on the Pacific Theater, one of the key points is the geography of the area, which is plenty of islands, straits, seas, shipping lanes, etc. One could think google is enough…but wait…land masses and bodies of waters have changed in the last 80 years! So we have used many ancient atlases and many WW2 maps.

Additional sources are those to discover and fully understand the naval warfare doctrine of the US, British, and Japan, as well as one or two on the military technology and ship building of the time. And, of course, Mahan’s famous treatise on the influence of sea power for a bit of theory.

Then many historical books.

Grant: What has changed in the system since the success of its predecessor Black Swan?

Emanuele: What hasn’t changed is the streamlined and relatively straightforward ruleset. We have retained the simple but historical gameplay of the original, but as players will see, some small changes that don’t add complexity completely change the feel of the game.

Perhaps the most impactful change was to the blitz phase. There are now two different kinds of blitz. One is called the Continental Blitz, which is similar to the Blitz Phase in Black Swan that allowed a second round of movement and combat for the phasing player (which recreated the sweeping blitzkrieg that characterized the European war). The terrain on Continental Asia is less conducive for that kind of warfare, but there is still need at times to launch repeated assaults to make progress on the mainland. So yes, there is a fully playable China-Burma-India theater. The big change, however, is the new Oceanic Blitz phase…

Grant: How does this new Oceanic Blitz Phase work and how does it change naval warfare?

Emanuele: The Oceanic Blitz, like the Continental Blitz, is very expensive (more than the cost of a full strength Carrier unit) but allows both amphibious assaults, and critically, a double naval turn. This completely changes the feel of Orange Swan and makes the naval game incredibly dynamic. Now players can seek out the enemy for decisive naval engagement or extend their forces for an ambitious assault, and then move again to more defendable locations or rescue your capital ships for a future decisive battle. It also allows the Japanese player to recreate their amazing and rapid success at the beginning of the war without any special one-time rules at all.  As the Allied player, expect Hong Kong, Manilla, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies to come under attack in the first season of the war. Japan, though, has several strategic choices to make in terms of where to send their main forces, because they cannot attack everywhere at once. Perhaps Continental China and India will be Japan’s focus?

Grant: What additional focus has been placed on the air naval war of the Pacific Theater?

Emanuele: Orange Swan retains Black Swan’s Naval Engagement rolls, while introducing some uncertainty into whether fleets can find each other for a decisive engagement. Orange Swan, though, introduces a very simply change to reflect Japanese float planes and Allied CV carrier-based spotting aircraft and doctrine. Basically, certain naval unit types add positive modifiers to the Naval Engagement roll and if you commit enough resources to an attack, you can in some cases guarantee a naval battle.

Another change is that ports and islands must be garrisoned (have a ground or air unit based there) to influence the surrounded sea zones (known as Opposition Discs, for those familiar with Black Swan. Finally, the range of aircraft has been tweaked, with Japan starting the war with greater range than the Allies, enabling greater tactical and strategic flexibility. Their aircraft, though, are eventually outclassed as Allied Air unit range increases throughout the war, while Japanese Air range remains static.

Grant: What are the Major and minor Nations in the game? What role do the Minor Nations play?

Emanuele: There are four Major Nations: Japan, the Commonwealth, the United States, and China. Major nations have their own force pools and track their own Strategic Power and Production. In a game with more than two players, the Allied nations can be split among multiple players.

There are two Minor Nations: The Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. The role of minor nations is sitting ducks. But with included optional rules they can be more of a speed bump.

Grant: First off let’s talk about the map. What is the size of the map? Will it be a mounted map?

Emanuele: It will be the same size as Black Swan: 124 by 84 cm (49 by 33 inches) and it will be heavy cardstock, with an option for a larger (149 cm by 104 cm or 48 by 34 inches) Ubertex map. (Ubertex is a tough canvas like material that can roll up). The map may be matte laminated or mounted depending on stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign.

Grant: Who is the artist?

Emanuele: I (the designer, Emanuele Santandrea) did all of the graphic design. Earlier in life, I was a topographer in the Italian Army (Bersaglieri) which serves me well when it comes to designing maps.

Grant: What tough decisions were there regarding the disposition of country boundaries?

Emanuele: Two minor changes only: the Molukken Islands were shrunk about 25% to give more space for naval units, and the island of Timor is shown as a single entity (the political designation of East Timor is not shown). Other than that, it is entirely geographically faithful.

Grant: The Pacific Ocean is huge and cannot possibly fit on just one map. How did you make this possible?

Emanuele: The goal was to focus the map on the main area of operations and keep it small enough to fit on the table and in the box. That meant we had to exclude, for example, Madagascar where the Japanese did have submarine activity.

Grant: Orange Swan is an historical game with some fixed starting points, but the outcome is completely unpredictable. How do you accomplish this goal in the design?

Emanuele: Primarily by giving the player freedom to choose their own strategic goals and priorities. For example, Japan can head west, and attempt to complete the conquest of China and India, or east and conquer the southern and central Pacific (or even invade Alaska and/or Australia.) The Allies can in turn attempt to push east from Asia, island hop up the southern islands, or drive west across the open Pacific. Some balance between these strategies is possible as well, but neither player ever has enough resources to do everything they want.

Additionally, several mechanics introduce unpredictable elements, such as the previously mentioned Naval engagement rolls. Finally, Fog of War plays a critical element….

Grant: How much does the use of blocks for units and their Fog of War contribute to the unpredictability?

Emanuele: A lot – it allows for bluffing and creates a natural and realistic hesitancy for the players. It is a main feature of the design. In official army wargames, for example, they always work to inject less than perfect information into the design. This Fog of War reflects real commander’s inability to know the composition and strength of the enemy. That is why in real war there are so many resources designated to reduce that Fog of War including, recon, maps, search lights, spotters, outposts, patrols, guides, radar, and other intelligence gathering. Also, counterintelligence offers false or can conceal correct information.

Accurate information is needed to allocate the right amount of material and troops in the right place and time. These logistics are critical and without solid logistics you cannot sustain a long campaign in a theater. 

Blocks are the most elegant way to achieve all this.

Grant: What advantages do you believe blocks provide in the design?

Emanuele: Fog of War is most important, but they also allow for discrete strength step loss reduction. Further, they challenge the memory of the players since blocks are revealed in combat but hidden afterward. Finally, they add tactile and three-dimensional visual elements for the players and are more durable than counters. And they float and are waterproof just in case you are playing on a carrier that gets sunk!

Grant: How do players manage their force pools? What do the colored circles represent on some units?

Emanuele: Hidden force pools force players to deal with unpredictable events.  The more losses you suffer the less likely your infrastructure can provide exactly what you need when you need it. There is more chaos, training, lost equipment, wounded soldiers. The game reflects this since more units in the force pool means the player is less certain of what they will draw.  Contrarily, when your army is fresh and force pool small (that is, most of your army is on the map in play) you have a much better knowledge of what is yet to be built and the ability to get what you want.  Finally, the more strategic areas you own (harbors and industries) the more you can support your war efforts and draw from your force pool.

Grant: How are Production Points determined? How much of a nation’s strategy is focused on this economic aspect?

Emanuele: Without resources (raw materials and manpower, harbors, industries) is it not possible to conduct a long war because you cannot replace your losses. Strategic nodes such as crossroads, industry, ports, population centers, training facilities, natural resources, scientific research facilities, etc. are all critical to the war effort. Recall for a pilot to be trained you need a plane, an instructor, fuel, time and no enemy strafing the training airfield.

In the game all these elements are reflected in Strategic and Production areas, each of which provides five Production Points (PP). For context reinforcing an infantry unit one step costs 1 PP and reinforcing a carrier one step costs 4 PP.  A Blitz disc costs 20 PP and Japan needs 75 PP to win an instant victory.

Grant: What challenges does this economy introduce into the play experience?

Emanuele: It creates an additional layer of strategy, so the player has to deal with economics, strategy, tactics, logistics and luck. It is a sort of 4X game “get money, build your army, acquire territory, destroy the enemy, and roll some dice.”

Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play? How are Seasons broken down? How is weather determined?

Emanuele: There are four turns (seasons) per year, and the sequence of play is the same as Black Swan: Production, naval movement and combat, land movement and combat, blitz phase, and a final victory check. To keep the game reasonable, we use good weather everywhere except for during the summer season, monsoon areas marked on the map as rainclouds are impacted and greatly hamper offensive operations. The design goal is to keep the campaign playable, so we didn’t add unnecessary complexity. 

Grant: How does Declaration of War work and what conditions must be met to do so?

Emanuele: The phase was eliminated, and this was one area where we were able to streamline the game relative to Black Swan, since all the nations are at war at the start of the game.

Grant: How is Strategic Air and Naval Warfare used in the design? How do players guard against or plan to stop the negative effects?

Emanuele: The goal of Strategic Warfare is to include casualties to the enemy before resources are allocated to the front. This is accomplished by attacking enemy factories, ports, convoys, forces, and operations centers either by air or with ships and submarines. The best way to avoid this is to deploy escorts for your convoys and fighter patrols in the skies.

In game terms, for Japan this means keeping the enemy away from your homeland. Like Black Swan, this is mechanically simple (just position air and naval assets inside the Strategic warfare circle printed on the map) but it leads to a cat and mouse subgame, as units involved in Strategic Warfare often suffer attrition and are weakened for tactical use later in the turn. Not to mention the Allies need to conquer islands close enough to get their bombers in range.

Grant: What is this concept of Code of Bushido and its connection to supply?

Emanuele: Japan has a long tradition of warfare, honor, and loyalty to their warlords and the empire. It may be hard for some to understand, but they were committed to give their lives in service of their nation. These principles were listed in the code of Bushido. For example, they were trained from a young age to endure hardship. In game terms, unlike other units, Japanese infantry will not surrender if surrounded by enemies and out of supply. The Allies will have to dig them out of their island garrisons.

Grant: What are Opposition Disks and how do they effect battles?

Emanuele: Opposition Discs represent land-based aircraft, coastal boats, midget submarines, patrol ships, minelayers, and other small units that attempt to interdict enemy movement, transport, amphibious landings, and supply chains.  In Orange Swan they play a key role in both naval search and naval battles. They fire first in naval battles and can damage units being transported through the sea zones they impact. Some sea zones have as many as six opposition discs, potentially creating quite an obstacle for your opponent!

Grant: How do Naval Battles work? What is the Fire priority of units?

Emanuele: The most expensive and powerful units fire first: Carriers first (reflecting the range of their air wings) followed by Heavy Surface (“HS”, battleships and heavy cruisers) then light surface, and last submarines. Same class units fire at each other simultaneously and roll a number of dice equal to their strength (1-4) and hit on 5+. Capital ships (CV and HS) if unopposed by a same class enemy unit get a +1 hit bonus to their die roll. Fleets are limited to four units, and this makes fleet composition something to really consider. A fleet with several carriers is enormously powerful, but vulnerable if they fail to destroy the enemy in their initial strikes.

Grant: What is the concept of Naval Targeting Exceptions and what units benefit from this?

Emanuele: Normally hits impact same-class enemy units, but unopposed Carriers can choose their target freely.  Submarines always fire last, but they always choose their targets, even when opposed by enemy subs, so they are always a danger and can sink the most expensive and glorious Capital ships.

Grant: What does the shield icon behind their ship image on some Naval blocks mean?

Emanuele: It reflects ships that had better defensive capabilities than other units of their class. While ships like Japan’s Taiho and Shinano CV’s and the US Essex class CV’s were not as heavily armored as battleships, their design incorporated advanced deck armor, anti-air, or damage control elements, increasing their survivability relative to other ships of their class. Hence their “Heavily Armored” designation.

Grant: How do Land Battles work and what is the Fire priority for units?

Emanuele: It is similar to naval combat with the most expensive units firing first, and they can earn an unopposed hit bonus if the battle occurs in clear terrain. So air units fire first, followed by artillery, then tanks (there are not many in this theater) and finally infantry.

Grant: What Special Operations are available on land and how do they get carried out?

Emanuele: Amphibious assaults are a huge part of the game and are far more frequent than in Black Swan, but require the active player to purchase the Oceanic Blitz disc. 

The Continental Blitz allows a double land turn on Continental Asia, and Japan needs to prevent the Chinese from buying it if possible (possibly by cutting the Burma Road and reducing their production) because an assertive China can cause a threat to Japan. The Allies want to prevent Japan from purchasing both Blitz discs in a single turn – if Japan can simultaneously pressure China/India and Australia and the islands in the south and east they will be hard to stop. The “double blitz” is a real hammer.

Grant: What are Strategic Movement Points and how are they used?

Emanuele: Strategic Movement Points (SMP) represent rail, transport ships, fuel dumps, etc. and are earned from controlled and supplied Strategic Locations. They represent the ability to quickly redeploy troops across different fronts. Each SMP enables a player to move one unit an unlimited range though friendly controlled areas (using naval units to carry land units over sea zones). 

Grant: How important are these SMP’s to players and strategy?

Emanuele: The more SMP you have the more flexible and reactive your strategy can be. The possibility to deploy your Elite troops, which you have in limited numbers, across the vast Pacific, to the place and time you need them can be a huge advantage. 

Grant: What is the Blitz Phase and how does it differ from Land Movement?

Emanuele: The Blitz Phase depends on the Blitz disc you purchase. As noted previously, the Continental Blitz allows you to use your air and ground units a second time on the condition that they are located on continental Asia. The Oceanic Blitz instead allows you to perform Amphibious Assaults and move your naval twice. So, you can deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and then recover your capital ships to the rear (or just hammer away twice and remain forward deployed).

Grant: How are Blitz Discs used during the Blitz Phase?

Emanuele: If a player doesn’t invest in the logistics required to support an extended campaign – represented by the purchase of a Blitz Disc – then the player simply skips the Blitz Phase and gets only a single land and naval turn. Generally, a player on the defensive may consider skipping the investment in a Blitz to focus on reinforcing their units. The threat of a defensive counter-attack Blitz, though, is ever present.

Grant: How does the Nations Surrender Check work? What happens to each surrendering unit?

Emanuele: If a major nation capital is conquered, the nation surrenders – or if their navy is completely sunk, or if the atomic bomb event occurred. China though will never surrender. Regarding units, out of supply units will surrender at the end of the turn and Japan (only) earns an amount of production points for surrendered Allied units, representing the premium equipment the Allies deployed in the field.

Grant: What are the Victory Conditions?

Emanuele: They depend on scenario or campaign, but for the campaign, the Allies need to eliminate the Japanese Navy, or deliver an atomic bomb, or conquer Tokyo. Japan needs to reach an economic or strategic victory by reaching 75 Production Points or 7 Strategic Areas, or by holding out to the end of 1945 for a “Samurai Victory”.

Grant: What special rules did you include? How do they change the game?

Emanuele: There are several special rules to reflect the unique characteristics of the nations involved. Examples include US Marines that are not reduced when amphibiously assaulting, separate communist and nationalist Chinese units, Monsoon weather in some zones in the summer, the difficulty in traversing the Mekong Jungle, elite and heavily armored naval units, and others. 

Additionally, in a new addition to the game system, there are several optional rules that can be used to add additional historical flavor or be used to customize game balance. Some examples include Kamikaze attacks (Japanese CV inflicts a self-hit to roll more attack dice), the Manhattan project (requires the US to invest in research and adds uncertainty to the availability of the bomb), and Allied Code Breaking (giving the Allies an advantage in some naval engagements).  There are a half dozen more as well including Allied Rivalry, Kido Butai, Fanaticism, Guerilla Warfare, War Plan Orange, and Oil Field Sabotage.

Grant: What scenarios are included?

Emanuele: Currently there are two campaigns and two scenarios, but we’re still working the scenarios and the exact number will depend on the Kickstarter campaign.

Grant: This looks like a huge project. How long has it been in development?

Emanuele: I have been trying to design a pacific game for years and was searching for a way to depict naval warfare in WW2 in both theaters of operation in a playable but historically flavorful way. When I found it, I wanted to start with the European theater because the war started in Europe, and then apply the same engine in the Pacific. But the goal was always to develop an engine that would work in both games. 

Grant: What have been your major challenges with the design to date? How did you overcome them?

Emanuele: One challenge to is recreate Japan’s amazing and rapid advance at the war’s start, without a bunch of special one-time rules. The Oceanic Blitz accomplishes that, and additionally nicely allows the rest of the war to flow historically as well. Also, I wanted a fully playable China theater because the impetus for the war in the pacific was the trial between China and Japan. A wargame about the Pacific theater without a fully playable China is like cutting off the head – and I also wanted separate Nationalist and Communist forces.

With the power of Japanese armed forces initially and the Allied forces later in the war, we had to fine tune the balance to prevent steamrolling of either opponent. I must commend the play testers as they came in and made numerous suggestions to balance the game and allow Japan to win the war with a variety of strategic goals (attacking China, Australia, Pacific Islands, even reaching out to Hawaii or Samoa). It is all balanced on a knife’s edge. One of my favorites of their suggestions is a rule for attrition due to malaria while crossing the Mekong Jungle – and I got to add a nice mosquito icon at the crossing!

Grant: What are the Stretch goals for the project?

Emanuele: We have some ideas about improving game components, adding extra goodies, and additional scenarios and we are going to put out a survey before the Kickstarter and solicit customer input on what they would like to see.  Anyone who has purchased from our website or backed any prior projects – unless of course they unsubscribed from email – will receive the survey soon.

Grant: When do you anticipate the game being fulfilled?

Emanuele: March of 2022 – and we have a track record of shipping games on time (in fact our last several games have shipped early.)

Thanks so much for your time in answering our many questions Emanuele and also a big thanks to Andrew Carlstrom for facilitating this interview and providing us with an advance set of rules.

The Kickstarter will officially commence on June 24th.

If you are interested in Orange Swan: Pacific 1941-1945 you can check out the Kickstarter preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/m41/orange-swan-pacific-1941-45