Order of Battle Pacific: Morning Sun
Airboy dives into the continental side of WWII’s PTO ~
Avery Abernethy, 5 March 2016
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Morning Sun is an expansion to Order of Battle: Pacific requiring the base game to play. Morning Sun adds a single long Japanese Campaign where you command a core force plus auxiliaries in an attempt to conquer China. The Sino-Japanese War was the longest campaign in World War 2 and has received relatively little attention from war game designers.
The Sino-Japanese War was also the largest armed conflict in Asia in the 20th Century. Approximately four million Japanese and Chinese soldiers perished with many times those losses by Chinese civilians. The conflict started in 1937 in Manchuria. It was followed by Japanese invasions of the Chinese Coastal cities coupled with a push from Manchuria.
Technology in 1937 is primitive compared to most European WW2 wargames. The aircraft are bi-planes and the armor consists of armored cars, tankettes, and primitive boxy tanks which were not far advanced over WW1 designs. Infantry is essential. The terrain (so-far) includes coastline, planes, cities and rivers. Mountains are impassible by armor. Infantry will be the backbone of your Japanese invasion. Armor is extremely vulnerable to anti-tank guns. Ground attacks by aircraft are largely ineffective. Dug-in regular Chinese Infantry will be difficult to dislodge without multiple rounds of attacks and 3:1 or better odds on your side. 1937 China is not a blitzkrieg.
Only one ground or sea unit and one air unit can occupy a hex. Adjacent artillery and anti-tank units will supply supporting fire to adjacent ground units. This makes taking dug in Chinese regular army units with anti-tank and artillery support a thoughtful process. Another design feature is units which have suffered repeated attacks, have landed amphibiously on less optimal terrain, or units which have trudged over very rough terrain are disorganized. Disorganized units still defend well. But they suffer attack penalties. These units must be pulled out of combat and stay immobile for a turn or two to resupply before they regain full offensive effectiveness.
My impressions were formed by playing the tutorial “Boot Camp” scenario and completing the first two missions in the Morning Sun campaign. I bought Order of Battle: Pacific and the Morning Sun expansion at the www.slitherine.com website. My purchase of the physical disk copies included an immediate download. The download worked smoothly. The boxed copies arrived within four days of purchase.
In Morning Sun you have a limited number of core units which carry over from one scenario to the next within a campaign. But the bulk of your forces are specific to a given scenario and do not carry over. As your units achieve specific (unknown) feats of military prowess you obtain commanders. Commanders are specific to a type of unit (ground, air, or naval) and can be attached to any unit of its category at the start of the scenario to give the unit additional strength or abilities. The only commander I’ve managed to unlock yet is an aerial ace which I attached to a fighter unit. Over a great deal of combat your units may gain enough experience to become veterans.
Multiple design features of Morning Sun are shared with Panzer General and Panzer Corps. Your core force is used throughout the campaign. Your core force can be upgraded as new technology is discovered. Commanders can be gained through combat which increase the abilities of individual units. Auxiliary forces are in each scenario.
But China in the 1930s is a very different from Europe. There are foreign enclaves in some Chinese cities treated as neutral by both Chinese and Japanese forces. There are warlord units which may be allied with the Japanese or China. Sometimes these warlord units switch sides during a scenario. I found these details to be skillfully incorporated into Morning Sun. I also liked the way the maps were rendered.
The Chinese military has significant variation in unit quality. Militia units are cannon fodder. Regular Chinese army units are just as tough as the Japanese. Some Chinese military equipment supplied by France, Russia, the United States or Great Britain are superior to Japanese planes or tanks. But overall, the Chinese forces have greater quantity and lower quality. Destroying a dug in regular Chinese infantry unit in an urban environment will not be easy in 1937.
There are five levels of difficulty. Since I’m new to playing the game I’m using the 2nd easiest difficulty level. But even at this level the AI will chew you up and spit you out if you make dumb decisions. The AI is especially competent in cutting supply lines of probes and chopping them up. I learned that I had to concentrate my forces and be very careful to maintain my logistics train. Although the supply system is not complicated, a successful commander must keep supply carefully in mind. Logistics, terrain, and relative force levels drive your strategy.
The boxed copy of Order of Battle Pacific contains a very nice printed manual. The online version comes with an ebook/pdf version of the printed manual. The Morning Sun expansion did not have a separate manual. Some game features require careful observation of the units and the color changes on small parts of the unit. Players will need to read the manual to fully understand the information in the unit displays.
I’ve had no crashes, hiccups, or other problems with the software played on a four and a half year old Falcon Northwest desktop. The controls performed flawlessly. Sounds were appropriate. But I turned off the sounds and music after an hour of play as I do with most wargames. The game has a built in screen shot on one of the function keys. I think this is an excellent feature because it makes after action reports easy to write. Posting screen shots of major victories is fun.
Several game features were annoying. There is no “undo move” button. My work-around was saving the game at the start of every turn. Approaching aircraft are reported about one turn away from where ground units could spot them. You know an air unit is approaching, just not the type of aircraft. This is a reasonable feature for WW2 Naval scenarios where there was ship or land based radar for much of the war. But in the late 1930s the Japanese military did not have radar stations in China – especially not mobile radar stations. This feature should have been turned off from the Morning Sun expansion, at least in the early years of the conflict.
In Morning Sun you command the Japanese. Leading the Chinese forces is not an option. This is an obvious expansion opportunity.
The Japanese campaign in China was their longest running front which occupied most of their army throughout WW2. Wargames and US History writers have focused on the Pacific Naval, Air and Island Hopping campaigns since those were where the US Military was primarily involved. But China was where the bulk of the Japanese Army was committed and this campaign was the longest lasting and bloodiest campaign in Asia during WW2.
I like a lot of the concepts the designers built into to the campaign. Foreign enclaves, warlord allies, huge variations in terrain and the wide variety of equipment used by Chinese forces are all well done. The AI was good enough to clobber me for stupid tactical and strategic decisions while correctly showing the Japanese military superiority in the early stages of the war.
Morning Sun is an intermediate complexity game. An experienced wargamer should be able to jump right in and play after carefully reading the manual. The early scenarios rely less on scripted events than the Panzer Corps series. With a good strategy and reasonable tactic your forces should crush the Chinese in 1937 without great pressure due to turn limits. Morning Sun would probably provide a good PBEM experience although the early war scenarios are heavily tilted towards the Japanese Invaders.
Overall, this is a fun game covering an area of WW2 seldom seen in a wargame. I look forward to completing the campaign.
Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. He has played wargames for more years than his undergraduate students have been on this Earth.