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Posted on Apr 20, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Sailing into Big Trouble with ‘Pacific Fury’. Board Game Review.

Sailing into Big Trouble with ‘Pacific Fury’. Board Game Review.

Ray Garbee

Pacific Fury, Guadalcanal 1942. Publisher: Bonsai Games/Revolution Games/Quaterdeck International Designer: Yasushi Nakaguro. Price 30.00

Passed inspection: The colorful map is a clean, effective depiction of the waters surrounding Guadalcanal. Counters are die-cut and easy to read.  Rules are clear and to the point. A great game to introduce new players to area movement wargaming.

Failed basic: Nothing.

In 1942, a pivotal series of naval battles in the area around Guadalcanal ensured that the US victory at Midway was not a fluke. But unlike Midway, these battles would see heavy losses to both sides and stretch the US Navy almost to the breaking point. Designer Yasushi Nakaguro brings these battles to the tabletop in ‘Pacific Fury’. An updated version of 2001’s Campaign for Guadalcanal, released in the United States by Revolution Games.

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Pacific Fury is similar to other games produced by Revolution Games as well as other games designed by Yasushi Nakaguro. The game consists of a small map sheet, 53 die cut counters and eight pages of rules.

The single sheet game map contains the gameboard, including the map, turn track and random event tables for each side. The map is well executed in a minimalist manner reminiscent of the old Avalon Hill game ‘Victory in the Pacific’. Of course, Pacific Fury is focused in the naval battles related to Guadalcanal, so the map is centered on Guadalcanal, as well as key areas such as ‘The Slot’ and the area of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the Solomon Islands.

The game board is colorful and descriptive without being cluttered. It contains the map, the event tables as well as the game turn and operations tracks. No separate player aid chart is needed for this game. The map does a good job of displaying the spatial relationships between the areas and conveying how each player can leverage their strengths and abilities to position their units.

The counters represent the major warships of each side from battleships and aircraft carriers down to heavy cruisers. Sorry, none of the light cruisers or destroyers on either side are represented, instead these are abstracted into supporting the capital ship units. Each counter has a top down view of the ship along with a combat factor, a damage value and in the case of carriers, the number of airstrike factors.

The rules are well done. The rule book clocks in at a total of 8 pages including the front cover/table of contents and the half page of player notes on the back page.  Scott Muldoon has done a first-rate job translating the rules into English. I did not encounter any issues with ambiguity related the translation. The rules are laid out in a ‘programmed instruction’ manner with the various rules laid out as you would encounter them in a game turn.

All this comes in a plastic bag with a cover page. No dice are included, but most of us have a plethora of the required 6-sided dice. Pacific Fury is a nice-looking collection of parts that looks good set up on the table. So yes, it’s very pretty – but can it fight?

The short answer is-yes! This is a small game, but in this small package comes an exciting gaming experience. Each turn the players will assign their ships to task forces and then move them out to sea and engage in battle.  It does this while not requiring complex rules. The game focuses on the primacy of aircraft carriers, without slighting surface combat. It’s maybe a step above the combat system in Victory in the Pacific, but it’s a short step.

The heart of the game is the ‘operations track’ in which each player places their ships face down into task forces on the operations track. The track allows for seven operations each turn. All the ships in a single box are a task force. The key here is that you sortie task forces in the order in which they sit in the operations track. You must sortie them in order from lowest to highest.

The planning required with the operations track reminds me of chess in the sense that to effectively win, players need to be able to plan their moves ahead and assess the likely outcomes of their actions. This is a game where much of the challenge resides in the mind of each player. And while planning is important, players need the ability to react to the unexpected outcomes that make the game exciting. Did you unexpectedly lose all your carriers in combat? How can you make do with your surface ships to salvage the game?

I do like how the ‘random’ events are tailored to directly aid the non-initiative player. This is a superb feedback loop designed to keep the game competitive.  Did the Japanese captured Henderson Field? Don’t sweat it, the Army Air Corp is likely to flatten it with B-17s and buy you a little time to regroup. Are the American’s pulling ahead, an I-boat may pop up and cripple or sink some key US warships.  

Pacific Fury is a fun game, but it can be an unforgiving game. The ‘Order of Operations’ is a harsh mistress. You screw up in the planning phase of when to commit your task forces and you will have a hard time recovering without ceding your opponent that most precious commodity – time.  It’s a four-turn game. That single turn of bad planning will seriously undermine your chance of winning the game. Your best bet of recovering is to force your opponent into making a similar mistake.  

If you are looking for a detailed game of naval combat around Guadalcanal, you likely want to keep looking. The scale of the game is capital ships – cruisers and up. You won’t specifically get any of the ‘knife-fight’ destroyer actions commonly found in The Slot and Ironbottom Sound. That’s not to say you can’t emulate many of the famous naval battles, but rather you have to acknowledge that the destroyers and light cruisers functions abstractly in the background of each capital ship counter.  If you want the level of detail featuring destroyers, maybe try and find a copy of the classic Victory Games, ‘Tokyo Express’ or Jack Greene’s ‘Iron Bottom Sound’?

 A lot of you are likely wondering if Pacific Fury is a good candidate for solitaire play. I have to give it a qualified yes, with a big caveat. You certainly can play Pacific Fury as a solitaire game. I did several times. But you have to play both sides. There is not a ‘bot or AI engine to automate the play of either side. And that’s the biggest weakness of the solitaire experience.

The fog of war element is a huge part of the game. Not being sure about the composition of an enemy task force allows for operational misdirection by each player. Without that fog of war, you are losing a LOT of what drives the tension within the game. And that tension is what makes Pacific Fury’ an immersive experience. This is a game where playing a living, breathing and thinking opponent is as much a part of the game experience as the components and rules of the game. If you are willing to accept this limitation, you can still have an interesting, fun game allowing for the randomization of the events and the outcome of combat.

If you can find an opponent, then you should definitely buy Pacific Fury. The game provides an immersive experience of theater level command and an engaging ‘mind game’ in which you have to out think and out plan your opponent. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in the same position described by Lt. Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa (USN) “I knew… we were going to be in big trouble.”

The focused scope, engaging play and relatively short playing time should have you breaking this out on your table regularly. What are you waiting for? Sound general quarters and launch aircraft! 

Armchair General Score: 96%

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  3

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 American Civil War naval gaming. 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 Cover
Pacific Fury game board
Ironbottom Sound
PF turn 1 Losses

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