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Posted on Apr 3, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Leyte Gulf: Second World War at Sea

By Chris A. Cornaghie

Leyte Gulf                 
Second World War at Sea
Avalanche Games
Designer- Brian L. Knipple
Review by Chris A. Cornaghie

The Battle of Leyte Gulf fought from October 23-October 26, 1944 involved 282 ships, 200,000 men, thousands of aircraft and covered more than a hundred thousand square miles. The combatants ranged from the massive battleships Yamato and Musashi to the diminutive PT boat. It is unquestionably the largest naval engagement in history and every aspect of naval warfare was involved; air, surface, submarine and amphibious. The battle represented the last hope of the Imperial Japanese Navy and was the most dramatic example of the US "island-hopping" campaign; the US Navy conducted a huge amphibious operation over a thousand miles from the nearest major US base.   


Released by Avalanche Games in 2006, Leyte Gulf is the 5th in the Second World War at Sea series which includes SOPAC, Eastern Fleet, Midway, Bomb Alley, Leyte Gulf, Strike South and Bismarck. Priced at $199.00, it is by far the largest of the series, and like all SWWAS, covers all aspects of naval warfare; surface, submarine, air combat and attack, minefields, PT boats, amphibious invasions, fuel and a host of other actions.   


As would be expected of a game duplicating the largest naval battle in history, the game comes with (3) 35×24" strategic maps covering the area Sumatra to Eniwetok and NW Australia to Japan and China, an immense area at a scale of 36 miles to each sea zone. Ten counter sheets contain every ship in the battle; 630 1"x1/2" ship counters represent battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers and 1,540 ½" counters represent aircraft and smaller ships.

Scenarios are divided into Battle Board, such as Surigao Strait, and what if Halsey had detailed TF 34 (the US Battleline) to guard San Bernardino Strait, and Operational scenarios; the Battle of the Philippine Sea (Mariana’s Turkey Shoot), the massive Leyte Gulf, Formosa Air Battle and all the US carrier strikes on Japan, Formosa, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the hypothetical invasion of Formosa.

The counters representing ships are printed front and back, the front being a very exact overhead view of the ship, with ratings for speed, primary, secondary and tertiary gunnery, anti-aircraft, and torpedoes. The back is a generic silhouette of the ship without any factors or name. DEs, LSTs and many other support vessels are represented by one counter for several ships; losses and damage being recorded on the hit record sheet. Aircraft counters are shown by color overhead views of each aircraft type and represent 12-14 aircraft; the back shows the reduced strength. Aircraft are rated for range, air to air combat, naval and land attack factors, altitude, damage, and type. Despite all the information needed, the counters are very attractive, highly functional, and top quality.

Rule Book, Scenario Book, Charts and Player Aids

The rules are standard for SWWAS, all games use the same 24 page rule book, with a various length scenario book which also contains any rule modifications for the specific game; Leyte Gulf has a 24 page scenario book with 22 scenarios. Also included is a 64 page hit record booklet to record all hits and damage on ships, 9 airfield/carrier charts, 5 task force charts, 1 weather chart, (1) 25"x25" tactical map and 1 log sheet  (which must be copied many, many times). The rules are generally simple and easy to follow; which is unique for a game which covers all aspects naval campaign.

"In Harm’s Way"

Each turn in SWWAS is about 4 hours, divided into day and night, further there are no separate turns for Axis or Allies; each player performs the eight phases as necessary. A turn begins with the Weather Phase in which the Axis player rolls 1D6 for weather change; conditions vary from clear to gale with appropriate modifications for aircraft and ships. Both players perform the Air Patrol Phase secretly by allocating aircraft in a base or carrier ready box to CAP, Search or ASW. Each base has a Search, ASW, CAP, Ready and Hangar box; and aircraft on these missions are placed directly in the chosen mission box. This is the one of the simple, yet innovative aspects of SWWAS; the aircraft allocated in this phase need not land at the end of each day turn; if the player wishes, they remain on that mission until night. This method relieves the player of unnecessary activity, but still allows for flexibility.

Both players perform the Orders Phase in secret, noting on the log sheet the exact movement of ships through each zone on the map. Ships are assigned to Task Forces which are placed on the board, but the mission, course, composition and speed are hidden. Task Forces can be assigned a variety of missions; Intercept, Bombardment, Transport, or Escort. In SWWAS most Task Forces must log orders one turn in advance, so a TF on turn 5 is writing orders for turn 6, but will move based on orders written on turn 4. Transport or Bombardment missions log the entire mission from beginning to end and follow such orders unless interrupted by combat. The next phase is Air Search, performed by each player, Axis first. The player may make one search attempt for each enemy task force in range of any aircraft in a base or carrier search box. All aircraft on search which are in range of the TF are added together, but the longest range is used for modification. Some of the various modifications are weather, sighted last turn, searching with fighters. Again the game has created a manageable, accurate and playable integrated system; note the sequence so far- first weather may modify flight operations, after which aircraft are assigned to search, then orders are logged for naval units, then search occurs; all of which happens with the Task Forces on board in full view of each player. If a search roll (1D6) is unsuccessful, you may know that a Task Force is present, but it is unspotted for air attack purposes.  If a Task Force is located, the owning player rolls 2D6 on the Search Table, the result of which may modify the information given on the Task Force to the enemy player- all the way from an exact report to a complete fabrication.

After all search and ASW patrols (discussed later), each player secretly allocates any aircraft in the ready boxes of bases or carriers to Air Missions- air strike, escort, fighter sweep, or transfer between bases. After aircraft are allocated, naval units move as ordered from the previous turn. As Task Forces are displayed on the board, any enemy force which moves through a friendly force’s path must roll (1D6) for contact, and if made all remaining movement is halted. Various factors such as night, weather, and speed are considered. If contact is made, a surface battle is fought on the tactical board. 

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