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Posted on Aug 23, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

It’s the Final Countdown to Victory with War Drum Games ‘Race to Tokyo: Operation Coronet’. Tabletop Miniatures Game Review.

It’s the Final Countdown to Victory with War Drum Games ‘Race to Tokyo: Operation Coronet’. Tabletop Miniatures Game Review.

Ray Garbee

Race to Tokyo – Operation Coronet: The 1946 Allied Landing Plan for Tokyo.  Designer: Yasushi Nakaguro. Price $39.00

Passed inspection: Fast-playing game, good introduction to hex and counter wargames without complex rules. Good coverage of a hypothetical campaign that could have been, but wasn’t.

Failed basic: Translated player’s aid card could have been slightly clearer regarding Japanese reinforcements and strategic reserves.

Back in the day, I had a college instructor that was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He’d waded ashore on Pacific beaches and onward to serve through Korea and into the 1960’s. He’d speak a little of his experiences, mostly how he and his comrades knew that the logical next step after capturing Okinawa would be the invasion of the Japanese home islands. He was a full supporter of using the atomic bombs on Japan, if for no other reason than he had an excellent understanding of what that cost would have been to himself and the other Marines, soldiers and sailors tasked with executing that invasion.

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In contrast, you’ll find folks that firmly believe that using the bombs was a mistake and that Japan would have fallen to the conventional military power of the Allies without resorting to super science. They posit that the cost would not be too high. I could spend the rest of the review debating the pros and cons of each position, but instead, let’s do what you came here for and talk about Yasushi Nakaguro’s game, ‘Race to Tokyo’. The game focuses on Operation Coronet – the invasion of the Kanto Plain around Japan’s capital city of Tokyo. ‘Race to Tokyo’ gives you some insight into what the final invasion campaign might have looked like when viewed from General MacArthur’s map table.

Race for Tokyo is a two-player game. But it’s not a conventional conflict simulation of America versus Japan. Instead, the game places both players in control of a single American field army – either the First Army or the Eighth Army – and tasks them with capturing a number of objectives drawn from cities and towns in the region.  It’s a good decision if only for creating an engaging game for both players. By early 1946, the Imperial Japanese Army was still a powerful force to overcome, but it’s ability to mount meaningful counterattacks was weak enough that it would not offer a compelling gaming experience.

 Nakaguro’s solution is to divide command of the Japanese so that each player controls the Japanese forces facing his opponent. You are motivated to mount a strong defense, not so much to defend the soil of Japan against the foreign invader as you are to delay and confound your opponent in the game.

Race for Tokyo was originally published in 2011 by Command Magazine. This new, boxed edition was recently  produced by the Chinese game company War Drum Games, and imported into the United States by Quarterdeck International (https://www.quarterdeckinternational.com/). Quarterdeck commissioned an English translation of the rulebook. Jackson Kwan has done an excellent job with the translation providing a clear, easily understood set of rules.

The game is contained in a box with evocative artwork depicting US troops storming ashore. Corsair fighter bombers slice through the air overhead while naval gunfire churns the beach sands into a smoky haze.

The contents of the box are straight forward – a single counter sheet, a player aid card, the original Chinese language rules, the translated English rules, a single d6 and the map.

And what a map! The large, mounted map board depicts the Kanto plains region from the town of Ito in the southwest to the city of Mito in the northeast. The big hexes easily accommodate the counters, and the artwork is a stellar depiction of the landforms and road nets that make this map a joy to use.

On this map you’ll deploy your units. For the United States you’ve got divisions of Marines, paratroopers, infantry and armor. Backing these up are a number of counters representing the various corps with their artillery and supporting arms.  For the Japanese, the counters are a real dog’s breakfast of any unit that’s available for use. A handful of infantry divisions are backed up with smaller, less powerful brigades and the remains of the Japanese armored force with both divisional and brigade sized formations. All the counters are well done with the standard NATO unit symbols and the tanks units featuring an vehicle silhouette (though why they chose to use the Type 89 profile over the newer Type 3 Chi-Nu is a puzzling decision, but it has no impact on game play.)

The English rules are well translated and laid out. It’s a workman like effort from Jackson Kwan that’s on par with the work he did with War Drum Games ‘A Step to Victory’.  ‘Race to Tokyo’ is a variant on the IGO / UGO model. First one player moves and attacks with his US Army, then that same person take a ‘player turn’ for the Japanese forces facing their opponent. Then their opponent does the same thing. Given the relatively low unit density and the size of the map, game play moves along surprisingly quickly.

Movement is pretty standard. Units have movement points; terrain has associated movement costs and units exert zones of controls that impact the ability of units to move and retreat. As befits the industrialized might of the Arsenal of Democracy, US units will generally have better movement rates than Japanese units, reflecting a greater level of mechanization, a generous supply of petroleum and the near complete mastery of the air enjoyed by the United States. Baking both into the movement rates is a simple, easy way to reflect the lack of fuel the Japanese historically faced as well as the struggles they faced in arming and equipping their armed forces.

Combat is also straightforward. You sum up attack factors and defense factors, calculate odds and modify the process by terrain and US Corps level support, roll the d6 and implement the result. Easy peasy.  The Allied air supremacy allows all air support to be abstracted into the combat system with the assumption that units had as much as air support as they would need from the carriers off shore, or the airbases that would have been constructed in Southern Kyushu during early ’46.

The Japanese deployment does a good job of capturing their ‘Operation Ketsugo’ strategic plan that was developed by the Imperial Headquaters. Reflecting the shift in tactics that started in the Philippines, the Japanese troops are deployed ‘in depth’. They are not dug in on the beaches, but spread across the land, planning to move to defend the towns and cities, or the rivers forests and hills. The goal of this plan was the mobilization of the entire population in a fight to the death, which was forecast to lead to a horrific “Glorious Death of One Hundred Million” 

An element that adds tension to the game is the ‘hidden deployment’ of all Japanese units. The Chinese rules refer to this mechanism as ‘deserters’, but the effect is neither player knows the true combat potential of a Japanese unit until it is tested in combat. It’s at that moment that you find out if these troops will fight, or is it a hollow ‘paper tiger’ that offers no resistance. While deserters could play a role, it’s a nice measure that reflects the difficulty in measuring a unit’s actual combat potential until battle is first joined.

Similar to this uncertainty of firepower are the rules for Japanese armor units. We could spend a lot of energy discussing the challenges faced by the Japanese tank force late in the war, but Race to Tokyo sums it all up by having you roll a die at the start of *each* combat in which an armor unit participates to determine that units current combat strength. It’s a great way to represent the effect of US airpower, and the basket of challenges faced by Japanese command and control as well as logistics that the armor requires to fight. It reminds me of the challenges the French armor faced in 1940. You’ll face similar challenges trying to get the armored unit into position and then have to hope that the troops managed to muster enough combat power to be effective. 

Stacking with this is the ‘optional’ rule that allows a limited number of die re-rolls. While you gain access to the ability to improve the Japanese die rolls, these counters carry a risk that the improved Japanese opposition and resistance may trigger an American decision to ‘cut their losses’ and unleash the House atomics on the Japanese. If that happens, the player that pushed the resistance over the edge loses the game.

The combat engine models how even a stellar attack by Japan that ‘eliminates’ a US division, is really a mere setback as the US have the reserves and material to return the division to combat in a week or two. More damaging is a Japanese assault that can reach the landing beaches. Even without capturing all the beach hexes, the presence of one Japanese unit will disrupt the US offensive and result in the removal of all the US Corps support markers for that army. It’s an easy and effective rule that rewards the Japanese for pushing aggressively to the beachhead. 

I do like how the game is divided into the two American Army level players. At the same time, I’m a little uneasy with how the Japanese have such a diminished sense of agency in the game. Yes, there are military units and yes, they are mostly horribly outclassed by the American military juggernaut. The depiction of the Japanese army is certainly in keeping with the general plan from Imperial Headquarters that they expect every Japanese citizen – soldier, sailor and civilian – to lay down their lives in the defense of the Emperor.  It just seems so passive and so futile. Then again, maybe that’s the point?

That sense of futility is reinforced by a game that basically turns what would have been a brutal, bloody campaign into a foot race to see which player can capture the most objectives. It’s very reminiscent of Generals Patton and Montgomery and their ‘Race to Messina’ during the Sicilian campaign. I think this is actually a good historical comparison – during both campaigns the Axis had limited mobility and could basically defend against the Allied juggernaut in an attempt to slow down the advance. The best hope here is not to stop the ultimate outcome, but to throw off the timetable in a last-ditch effort to delay the almost inevitable.

Race to Tokyo is a good game. Nakaguro has kept the design focused on the immediate battlespace around Tokyo.  There’s plenty of action on the map. However, there are a few items that are not reflected in the game. Some are understandable, some less so. For example, the Soviets have no role in the game. That’s understandable as even given half a year to continue their operations, it’s unlikely they could have invaded Honshu. And while I applaud the decision to keep air and naval rules purposefully abstract, the big miss to me is that the game does not acknowledge the kamikaze and naval elements expected to oppose the landing as having any tangible effect. Perhaps these forces expended themselves during the first phase of Operation Downfall?

The same features that contribute to a passive Japanese presence in the game also help make this a solid candidate for solitaire play. While there are no formal ‘bots for the Japanese forces. The way the game breaks up the Japanese forces into eastern and western zones and parcels out the reinforcements, coupled with the clear victory point conditions mean you are already half way to developing a solitaire strategy for the Japanese and American forces.

The staggered nature of the player turns supports how you compartmentalize your decisions. It almost feels more like a four-player game, with two of those players having limited choices.  As a solitaire player, you are both trying to succeed with the Americans AND trying to delay each American Army.

The nature of the hidden Japanese units is a great play aid for solitaire play. This, coupled with the variable performance of the Japanese armored formations mean you’ll never know just how effective the Japanese units are going to be.

The only down side is not having rules to measure your solitaire performance victory. I suggest picking one of the American armies to represent ‘you’ and then proceeding to execute all the phases to the best of your ability. See if you can beat your doppelganger commanding the other army. 

Race for Tokyo is an engaging game. It plays quickly and won’t tax your brain with an overly complex rulebook. At the same time, you’ll get a reasonably in-depth game that explores the historical ‘what if’ nature of this campaign. If you are a student of the Pacific theater in World War Two, this is a solid addition to your collection.

Armchair General Score: % 97

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  4

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a Product Manager in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.

Game Box
English rules
Chinese rules
American divisions awaiting regrouping
Set up for the invasion
Tokyo under siege
8th army attacks

2 Comments

  1. Great Review! I wanted to order it right away although I would have to play it solitaire. Thanks!

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