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Posted on Apr 19, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“I could never be so lucky again.” – Jimmy Doolittle     ‘Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid’ Board Game Review

“I could never be so lucky again.” – Jimmy Doolittle ‘Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid’ Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Enemy Coast Ahead – The Doolittle Raid   Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT Games   Game Designer:   Jeremy White  Price  $60.00

by Rick Martin

Passed Inspection – rich, dynamic game play, fully immersive, various levels of play, programmed rules, full campaign can be played in one day, great replayability, fantastic narrative, entire game (from planning to denouement) can be played in one day

Failed Basic:   needs an index, many chit draws makes one wish for a simple die roll table, mission security rules not as clear as I would have hoped

“One of the pilots asked what Doolittle would do if his plane were hit. “Each pilot must decide for himself what he will do and what he’ll tell his crew to do if that happens,” he answered. “I know what I’m going to do.” A silence hung over the men before the pilot asked the logical follow-up. “I don’t intend to be taken prisoner,” Doolittle replied. “I’m 45 years old and have lived a full life. If my plane is crippled beyond any possibility of fighting or escape, I’m going to have my crew bail out and then I’m going to dive my B-25 into the best military target I can find. You fellows are all younger and have a long life ahead of you. I don’t expect any of the rest of you to do what I intend to do.”

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― James M. Scott, Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor

For over 2600 years, no enemy had ever damaged the Japanese homeland.  After the raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese army and navy ruled supreme in the Pacific.  After defeat after defeat, the Allies needed something positive to lift moral.  Conversely, the Allies knew that only by striking the home islands of Japan, Honshu in particular, Tokyo if possible, could the signal be sent that the Allies would soon be on the offensive.   In addition, a strike against Honshu would force the Japanese military in to relocating aircrafts and troops away from the front line battles which would, ultimately, weaken their military abroad.  The only problem was that no Allied airfield was close enough to Japan to allow for an airstrike.  Herein lies one of the most gutsy and risky projects of World War 2 – loading specially modified B25 Mitchell medium bombers on to an aircraft carrier for a strike against Tokyo.  This raid would make Jimmy Doolittle and his men heroes and, even through the bombing damage was minimal, shake the Japanese military to its core and weaken the moral of the Japanese civilians.

As I write this, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot, died a few days ago on April 9th, 2019 at the age of 103 – only 9 days before the anniversary of the April 18th Doolittle Raid.  On April 18th, 2015, I was fortunate enough to meet Lt. Col. Cole and SSgt David Thatcher, the last two of the 80 Doolittle Raiders, at their last gathering at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.  I found both men to be very humble.  Now, sadly, the Doolittle Raiders are no more but their spirit lives on.  I dedicate this review to these brave men and especially to Lt. Col. Cole and Ssgt Thatcher.  I will remember you always.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid utilizes the same system as the brilliant “Enemy Coast Ahead – The Dambuster Raid” from 2015.  That is to say that the game is really multiple games in one.  You can play the action of the actual raid itself or experience the dangers of flying towards the target then simulate the raid or you can play the entire planning of the raid, training the crews for the raid and then fly the raid.  This second volume in the Enemy Coast Ahead series improves upon the excitement of the first volume by adding in the excitement of the sea voyage of the aircraft carrier Hornet and her escorts towards the raid launch point as well as adding in diplomacy with China and Russia in order to get landing privileges for the B25 Mitchell bombers and safe passage for their crews.

The sturdy Doolittle Raid box features beautiful artwork provided by the United States Navy of the first B25 flying off the Hornet.

The game’s components include:

One Rule Book (64 pages)

One Scenario Book (40 pages)

One Debriefing Manual (20 pages)

One 22” x 34” map

Three 8.5” x 11” target maps (double-sided)

Four 11” x 17” player aid cards (double-sided)

Two 11” x 25” player aid cards (double-sided)

One 8.5” x 11” player aid card (single sided)

One sheet of 1/2” playing pieces

One (half) sheet of 1” playing pieces

Two sheets of 5/8” playing pieces

Eight six-sided dice

Initially, the rule book looks pretty daunting even to grognards such as me.  Upon investigation, though, the rules are written in a programmed style which makes them very approachable.  The rules have ample examples and designer’s notes as well as historical notes.

The 22 inch by 34 inch map is a work of pure genius.  There are multiple charts and subsections on the map which represent everything from tracking diplomacy issues for landing rights, training of the B25 crews, level of security at the training site, modifications to the B25 bombers, launch site of the B25s from the Hornet, placement of ships in the Hornet’s group and other escort groups such as the Enterprise, locations of each B25 on the deck of the Hornet, locations of Japanese air and sea threats, etc.

The Target Maps show the sections of Tokyo  and surrounding cities and what targets are at each location.  In addition, numeric factors for each target are provided including how easy it is to spot the target and how hard it is to destroy the target.

The various Players Aid Cards include cheat notes on all aspects of the game.

The scale of each turn depends on what part of the game you are playing.  During the diplomacy and training part of the game, each turn is one month.  During the sea voyage, each turn is from several days to a week.  During the attack on Japan, each turn is a few seconds.

As stated previously, you can jump in and play any aspect of the mission including diplomacy and training.  For my review, I played the entire game simulating all aspects of Dootlittle’s Tokyo raid.  I started around 10 AM and finished the game around 5 PM.  The experience I had after bombing Tokyo and landing in China and Russia was one of exhilaration.  The game creates a compelling narrative that I have yet to experience in almost any other game. Of the 18  B25s that participated in my raid, 9 of them successfully landed in China and Russia and because my diplomacy and logistics allowed for the planes to be refueled and repaired, I got those 9 planes and their crews back to safety.  Although the damage to Tokyo was only superficial, the affect on the moral both of the Allies and the Japanese, made the mission an moderate success but not a complete success.

While there are too many detailed rules to explore in detail in this review, all of the challenges pretty much boil down to a combination chit draw and die roll.  There are chits for enemy activity and weather threats broken down by your relative position between Pearl Harbor, Midway and Japan – there are also chits for tactical threats over Japanese cities including enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns.  In fact, there are so many chits that you’ll be using at least one bowl or cup or bag to blind draw chits almost every turn.  I think that if the game has any tarnish on it what-so-ever, it is the over use of chit draws.  Some of these things could have just used a die roll in a chart.

A few other minor quibbles – the rules need a complete index and I had to re-read the rules on “Security” (whether the mission gets compromised or not) several times to figure them out.  The “Security” section needs a little rewrite with more examples.

What I love about this game as well as The Dambuster Raid, is that the game doesn’t just focus on the fighting (unless you only play the raid scenario).  Diplomacy, training, outfitting of the aircrafts, mission planning, sea combat and air combat are all covered.  After the mission, the player is challenged to get the bombers and their crews to safety and then get them safely out of China or Russia.  This game pulls the player in to a fully immersive narrative experience as almost no other war game does.

Some things to think about when playing the full game are:

1) Training the crews while giving them limited information on the final target of the raid while allowing them to have their families on the airfield is critical for moral but you have to draw a fine line between keeping crew moral up while limiting information leakage.  I allowed the crews to have liberty with their families but assigned the FBI to shadow them.

2) Don’t just take stock B25 bombers.  For this mission, they need maximum fuel efficiency and every ounce of speed to get the job done over Japan while being able to fly safely to China and Russian airfields.  The modification rules are a wonder to behold and tackle a complex subject while making it very approachable and easy to track in the game.

3) Don’t skip the diplomacy and logistics in China and Russia.  Tell their ambassadors just enough to get your ground crews to stock the airfields.  Watch out for Stalin as you will really have to peak his interest without telling him too much.  In China, the Japanese spy networks can really threaten mission security.  I lost a Chinese airfield to a Japanese army attack when they figured out something was up.

4) Try and convince Nimitz that the Enterprise carrier group should rendezvous with the Hornet group.  A Japanese carrier group airstrike can completely ruin the mission costing you men and materials.  If the Hornet gets targeted and sunk, you’ve pretty much lost the game.  And remember, use CAP and sea planes to help spot enemy sea planes and ships.  Don’t get spotted!

What can I say, I dearly love this game and hope to play it again soon and get a better result.  Now that I have the bug, so to speak, I hope to also replay The Dambusters game again  as well.

Armchair General Rating: 97 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!  Rick is also the designer of Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

Box Art
components
diplomacy tracks
crew training
modifying the B25s
loading bombers and expert crew on the Hornet
set up for complete game
Hornet carrier group
mission planning example
enemy aircraft
Target Map from Rules
Doolittle’s B25 strikes
Tokyo is burning
the author with Richard Cole and David Thatcher April 18 2015 at The National Museum of the US Air Force

2 Comments

  1. Outstanding Game Review! Not only did I get out my old books about the Doolittle Raid, but I started to look at how to order the game and see if I could get it at a discount and avoid my wife’s wrath! Thank You for reminding me of this great game and piece of History!

    • Thank you. It truly is a great game. I hope you can avoid any home issues but still play this game. LOL

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