One of the common elements in wargames is a focus on historicity and simulation of historical events. We want to be given the same assets as the great commanders of the past, under the same conditions they experienced and attempt to equal or even best their outcome. In stark contrast to this regimented look at a historical engagement is the so called “sandbox” style game. Typically a sandbox is described as a system where players are not restrained in their choices and have the option of doing actions or attacks that would be considered alternate history. So there are different degrees of “sandbox” war games. Some allow you to change the initial order of battle. Some have different than historical objectives. Some even allow for planned invasions, such as D-Day or Sicily, to change their beaches. I personally love sandbox games and the ability to take a look at history in a little different light. Conquest & Consequence: Asian Balance of Power 1936-1945 is such a sandbox and delves into alternative history a bit in the Pacific Theater of Operations of World War II, following on and using the same system as its predecessor game Triumph & Tragedy.
Will the Triumph & Tragedy System Created to Model WWII in Western Europe Work in the Pacific Theater of Operations
If you haven’t played T&T, the game starts in 1936, the same start date as in C&C, and allows for players to build up their economy in order to get ready for war. Players will use Action Cards to influence various countries in an effort to bring them into their fold to gain Population or Resources, which are the building blocks of an economy, but also to develop the machinery of production in factories and develop technologies. The cards also allow for the players to move around units already existing on the board to invade neutral or non-aligned countries for the same purpose of gaining Population and Resources. These Action Cards are actually well designed multi-use cards that have three pieces of key information contained on them. First, is the Command located in the middle of the card. These Commands are used to move a certain number of blocks on the board during the season that is called out on the card. The seasons are either Spring, Summer or Fall. The Command is assigned a letter along with a number value. The letter is the priority that the Command will be acted on. If your Command card was a D and your opponent played an F card, you the D will have first priority and will move their units first. The number is how many units you can move with that Command. Pretty Simple.
The second part of the Action Cards are the two neutral countries that appear on each end. When the Action Card is played to influence a country, it is placed with the country to be influenced at the top and laid out in front of the player. No tokens are placed on the map denoting control though until the end of the Government Phase when all the played cards are resolved. If an opponent plays a country the same as one that you have played, their card play will immediately cancel out your card and both of these cards will be removed to the discard pile. If a player ever plays three cards for one country, that country immediately becomes a Satellite and the controlling power will place a control marker in that space along with a few block units in the Cities and Towns of that country according to their Muster Values. This country can no longer be influenced by card plays. The whole goal of this portion of the game is to build up your country’s economy so that you can prepare and mobilize for war. The card play is very simple and can be a lot of fun as you battle back and forth…one card at a time!
The other type of cards used in the game are called Investment Cards. These can be used to build new factories. Each nation has a certain number of factory points that they must discard on cards to move up the Production and you must balance your Action Card buys with buying of Investment Cards. The other part of the Investment Cards that are really fun was the technology side. When you collect two Investment Cards that contain the same technology, you can pair them together and slide them under your side of the board to denote that you have developed a secret technology. The price of this is that you will now have to reduce your hand size by one for each of these pairs you develop but the other players don’t know what you have unless they play a card to take a peak into your vault. These Technologies bend or break the rules of the game and involve all type of advances from better weapons, to increased movement allowances for certain types of units, etc. There is even the option of building the Atomic Bomb which can lead to an automatic victory but this takes time and a lot of resources. In order to end the game via this route, you must develop four stages of the A-Bomb, which is not as easy as it would seem.
These cards work equally as well in C&C as they did in T&T and allow players the ability to attack early on in the war to mimic the colonial efforts of the Japanese but also to influence by more peaceful means to coerce or convince other countries to join your cause. I would say that in C&C, more so than in T&T, the process of diplomacy and building relations through acquiring satellites is very card intensive and I found that maybe the Japanese should just invade rather than waste their resources on politicking. This was really the same experience that I had with T&T in Europe while controlling the Axis powers of Germany and Italy.
The cards are well made and create some really interesting choices for players as you can use the Action Cards for either influencing countries to your cause or to move your units around the board. The Investment cards are also dual purpose and you can either build factories or invest in technologies that will benefit your efforts in the future. But the best part of the cards is that you have to decide what mix you are going to go after at the draw cards phase. Do you take 4 Action Cards because you really need a few good Commands to be able to position your forces for an invasion and you want to make sure you have options? Or do you just take a few Command Cards and go hard into developing your economy and expanding your territories through influence? The answer to both of these questions is that it really depends. It depends on what turn and year you are in. It depends on what your opponents are doing. It depends on how close you are to an objective or a resource. It all depends and these type of choices make players get involved in the game and think about their strategy but also forces them to be flexible.
The real interesting part of C&C though is the choice of the 3 differing player factions and how they work differently.
3-Playable Factions Modeled Include the Soviets
One of the hallmarks of the game is that the system is designed as a 3-player contest where each player controls one of the major countries of the time in the Pacific Theater. In T&T, this meant that the 3 playable factions were the USSR, the Axis (Germany and Italy) and the West (Great Britain and the USA). In C&C, the factions were slightly different to account for the focus of the design with the Chinese Civil War having a larger role with Siberian USSR and their communist allies the Red Chinese, the Japanese and then the West, including the British Empire, the mighty USA and the forces of the Nationalist Chinese revolutionaries. You might be reading this and saying to yourself, the Soviets hardly did anything in the Pacific and were just there as a deterrent to the Japanese from reaching their rich resources through the back door. Then why in the world are they focused on as a playable faction? Well, I think that this is a great question and really for me speaks to the heart of this sandbox design.
The Soviets are there, and they have forces on the border with Manchuria to slow the Japanese and keep them honest. But they will play a direct role in the outcome of the Chinese Civil War as they control the Red Chinese revolutionaries and can use those forces, and their very interesting mechanics, to hamper the Japanese and USA by holding onto the theater and forcing the action there to slow to a grinding halt. That is their role. Slow the takeover of China by the Japanese, cause the other factions to have to spend more than they want of their scarce resources there and then look for the chance to strike when least expected to exert their influence in the sphere. And wasn’t this what they really did historically? I know they didn’t really attack but they were there to pick up the pieces after it was all over and build their future in the Pacific. And this is what makes them a playable faction. They have a part to play and if played well can win the game.
But I would be lying if I didn’t inform you that the main players are the Japanese and the West, including the British Empire and the mighty USA. In my opinion, these two are the ones that are going to be pressing the action and causing the Soviets to react to what they are doing. They will dabble in the Chinese Civil War, but mostly in an attempt to soften up the opposition enough that the main power behind them has to react and invest their scarce resources into doing something about it. But we will talk more on the Chinese Civil War in a few sections.
Suffice it to say, the same as in T&T, the C&C 3-player design creates lots of back and forth and bitter struggles that can either sink or make the fortune of any of the combatants. The 3-sided dynamic that is created with these factions adds a lot of variety and methods of gaining influence that it creates some really tangible intrigue to the game.
Focus on Naval Operations
As you would expect, one of the major focuses of the game is on naval operations. Each side, with the exception of the USSR, needs to focus on the development of a standing navy that can take the action to the aggressors when the game heats up. The Japanese have a starting advantage in their navy with their Naval Radar that allows their Fleets to fire first possibly eliminating enemy units before they can fire back. They also have to rely on their Aircraft Carriers as they can launch Carrier strikes and fire and immediately retreat to safety. Submarines are also important as they can move through enemy ships and can also escape Sea Battles to fight another day.
While I thought naval operations were somewhat important in T&T, mainly they were used to cut supply to the Mediterranean and cause issues for the Allies in Africa and the east. Because of this fact, I think that naval operations were mostly undertaken by the British and in reaction the Italians in order to stay relevant. But in C&C, both the Japanese and the West will have to invest heavily in naval units and use them wisely to threaten key areas and to support amphibious landings and attacks on islands or along the coastal regions of China.
One of the most important areas of the seas is the Dutch East Indies and the rich oil resources found in Sumatra, Balikpapan and Sarawak. These oil resources will count as double for the Japanese so that means they are worth a total of 8 resource points, whereas other nations will only gain 4. That means that the Japanese have to either take them over during the buildup years between 1936-1939 using their Action Cards or plan to build a large navy, which they actually already have at their disposal and take them by force. I found out as the Japanese that this should be on your to do list in the top 3 or you will find you simply cannot compete. The Philippines are also very important as they can serve as a strike base for the Japanese as they can reach most of the sea lanes to southwest Asia from there. To be able to use this as a base, they will have to get aggressive and get their fleet into the battle early to take them over.
Naval operations can be a a player’s best friend but can also be its worst enemy if things don’t go well. Because of this fact, I found that I had to invest at least every third unit into navy or I would not be able to build up the naval forces that I needed as the Japanese to control the waves.
One thing that I noticed from our play was that some of the new technologies appeared at least to have been added in order to somewhat counter the US production advantage. Some of these technologies are not developed in the traditional way but appear as special rules specifically for the faction. These include the special Japanese Naval Advantages such as Long Lance, Precision Optics and Kamikaze.
Long Lance allows Japanese Fleets to fire N4 (i.e., hit Naval targets with die rolls of 1-4) instead of N3 (1-3) as is the case with the other nation’s Fleets. This is a huge advantage and should be developed quickly as it will be very decisive in naval battles. I found that I would wade into battle early without fear but as other countries develop these technology, then I had to be more cautious.
Precision Optics is very important as it allows the Japanese Fleets to fire first during combat. If they score hits, those units will either roll fewer dice or will not roll at all if they are removed from the board. This is very important and represents the element of surprise and the Japanese early advantage. Once other nations have developed Naval Radar tech though this advantage will disappear.
Finally, the Kamikaze ability allows Japan to opt for its Air or Carrier units to attack US Naval targets at N4 (hits on die rolls 1-4) and then self-destruct. Initially this doesn’t seem that useful, but occasionally this can make a big difference. I only used this once when I was most likely going to be destroyed anyway and it made a slight difference but wasn’t necessarily something that you should be using a lot…only when times get desperate! Those units are so precious that it is hard to just give them away for basically a +1 hit bonus.
There are other technologies that are very important and players will have to make decision about whether to develop them and most importantly when. Dive Bombing, which provides Air Forces to fire N2 (hit Naval targets on die rolls 1-2), Auto Cannons which allow Naval targeting vs. Air by Fleets firing A2/ Carriers fire A3 and Improved Torpedoes which make Subs hit on N2 (not N1). Players will have plenty of options to develop these advantages and it all becomes a calculated risk as you are losing opportunity of doing something else with those scarce resources.
Chinese Civil War is Central to the Game
When Craig Besinque was designing the game, he shared that the design team wanted the China War to balance the Pacific War in importance and interest and not just be a tacked on added element to make the game more of a 3-player affair. The 3-way situation in China introduces a new Militia unit-type representing weak Chinese forces. They gave the Red Chinese the unique “super power” of placing Partisan cell chits that multiply like rabbits and eventually become military power.
Both the Nationalists and Red Chinese start 1936 at war with each other (the Long March has just ended) and have units in play. Both have Proxy Production, which provides them with unit steps / Action cards outside of USA/Soviet Production. There are serious Victory Points on the line over relative Nat/Red control of China. They know they will eventually have to deal with each other but in the meantime they have Japan to contend with. Negotiations are likely to play a big role in how this 3-way confrontation develops. It is hard to explain everything about it here but it is very interesting and was one of the best parts of the design for us. It was unique and gave the Chinese Civil War a bit more meaning that originally I had thought it had. Whether this is truly historical or not is for you to decide but it was a very interesting and appreciate game addition.
Conclusion….Which Game Is My Preference T&T or C&C???
I know you want to know which I prefer, but I don’t like having to choose. Both are different, focused on different situations but use the same or similar system to do what is required. I actually really like both of the games and would play either one at a moment’s notice if we can ever get 3 players together. What I would offer is that C&C offers something unique and fresh with the system by focusing on the Chinese Civil War and the struggle there to start the game. I don’t know for sure but I don’t really think that many other games have given the Chinese Civil War that much space and focus. One other game that I can think of that does it a bit is Pacific Victory from Columbia Games but not to this extent and not with a whole different set of asymmetric actions for both sides in the conflict. I really like that focus and learned some things from the design. I also really like the addition of Amphibious landing troops in the Marines and the AmphTracks Technology that allows normal Infantry units to take an action and attack upon landing. This can be very important and should be developed and used early.
Both of these games are winners and cover different theaters of one of the greatest conflicts of our history and both have a place on my shelf as they focus on different aspects and do it a bit differently. I would recommend that you give the one a try that focuses on your favorite theater and can then play the other and compare. As for me, I will keep both on my shelf and play them as they were intended, as a part of a global conflict.