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GrogHeads Reviews Burma Road for Order of Battle Pacific

A worthy new addition to the Order of the Hex ~

Avery Abernethy, 16 September 2017

Inducted for impressive modeling of a wide range of military missions: revolt suppression, irregular forces to large scale battles.

Like most Americans interested in World War Two in the Pacific, my reading has focused on the US Navy, Marines, and Army operations. However, Japan focused more than half of her resources and the majority of her Army and Air Force on land operations in China and SouthEast Asia. Although the Japanese Navy, Air Force and Merchant Marine were eventually destroyed by the United States’ military, Japan held onto most of her gains on mainland Asia to the end of World War 2.

Likewise, wargames have focused far more on Europe and to a lesser extent the conflict between Japan and the United States in the Pacific. Burma Road is the second addition to Order of Battle World War 2 focusing on land warfare in Asia. In Burma Road the player takes the role of commander of British Commonwealth forces in Singapore, Thailand, Burma and India. The scenarios reflect the huge contribution of Indian, Australian and New Zealand forces. Like earlier releases in the series, Burma Road is turn based IGO-UGO.

Mouse controls allow a large area view of combat or a close-up perspective. Clicking on the mini-map gives you a view of the entire map with forces displayed with NATO notation. Being able to switch between the multiple viewpoints is most helpful with large map scenarios.

Burma Road has thirteen scenarios for your $15 download. Every scenario has primary and secondary objectives. All primary objectives must be achieved to continue to the next scenario. The secondary objectives give you either additional resource points, additional reinforcements, or harm future Japanese performance.

The first scenario taught me something I did not know about the Pacific War. Commonwealth forces invaded Thailand (Operation Krohcol) without permission almost concurrently with the Japanese invasion. Thai police forces are caught between the attacking Commonwealth forces and the Japanese and they get crushed like bugs. Your Indian commonwealth forces are not under your control in this scenario, but the Australian forces are under your direct command. As the battle progressed, the Commonwealth and Japanese forces destroyed the Thai police and engaged in direct combat.

 

The only Naval scenario in Burma Road is “The Sinking of Task Force Z” which sees the loss of the Battleship Prince of Wales and the Repulse. In Burma Road’s second scenario the Commonwealth airforce engaged swarms of land based Japanese fighters and bombers. Both capital ships are programmed to be sunk (they were sitting ducks) but your air force can inflict major damage on the Japanese.

In the next four scenarios the Japanese Army overruns Singapore and all of Burma [Fall of Singapore, Kawkareik Pass, Sittang River, Rangoon Falls]. The British had a real knack of allowing the Japanese to get ahead of retreating forces or allowing Japanese infiltrators to seize crucial transportation junctions. These four battles are primarily defensive, but also demand limited offensive action to allow an escape route or to crush a Japanese force which has (once again) gotten behind British lines.

The following screenshots show the Japanese have infiltrated behind Commonwealth lines close to Singapore.

A major Japanese incursion almost linked up with the infiltrated forces, but I managed to beat them back.

In the four scenarios where the Commonwealth forces get run out of Burma, you “win” by successfully delaying the Japanese advance and preserving your core forces.

 

The Sittang River scenario is a good example of how Commonwealth forces barely managed to keep together and eventually save India. At the start of the Scenario the Commonwealth forces have to advance against opposition to Sittang. Sittang itself is heavily defended by Japanese troops. Your forces have to advance along the road, take Sittang, and then defend a long road and bridge against multiple Japanese counter-attacks from three directions. Taking Sittang itself is not easy, and you have to hold on throughout the rest of the scenario as Indian commonwealth troops under AI direction evacuate.

In addition to losing Malaysia, Thailand and Burma to the Japanese Army, the British faced the “Quit India” revolt by Ghandi which attempted to remove the British from India. If this revolt had succeeded, the Japanese may well have penetrated deep into India. This was a crucial part of the campaign, and the Quit India Denied scenario is an interesting example of how the military could be deployed in a limited carnage situation.

Your goals in “Quit India Denied” are to avoid killing any factory workers, to drive the factory workers back into their homes, to relieve the British Administration Buildings which are under military siege and to capture Ghandi. If you kill Ghandi you lose. If you kill a bunch of other civilians, you lose. If the rebels gain control of the British Administration sectors, you lose. You have to attack where you will not kill off the workers and direct the retreating forces back into their homes. You capture Ghandi by surrounding him with three British units.

This was a challenging scenario. You had to attack where a straight line of retreat pushed the factory workers back into their homes.

You have to attack from the right spot to drive them home. I did not initially deploy any armor to prevent outright massacring the factory workers. If the factory workers end a turn in a village, they “go home” and are removed from the map. As you can see, your military forces have to be applied precisely with minimum force to end the factory worker riots. This is a reasonable simulation of using limited military force to achieve a political objective. My second “Factory worker riot” screenshot illustrates where you could (and could not) successfully launch a limited attack to subdue the rioters.

If you manage to avoid killing all of the factory workers and drive them home, your forces must then defend the British Administration building against tougher units labeled “bandits.” Some of the bandits have anti-tank and artillery units simulating revolting Colonial troops.

If you save the Administration compounds, you start your search for Ghandi. There are swarms of rioters whom you should not kill interspersed with bandit units which you must crush before they destroy or cut-off your forces. My screenshot shows how complex this battle becomes. The rioters move around but will only attack a unit with one step or so left. The bandits will attack, cut your troops off from supply, and generally act like an opposing army

I’m sure that every counter-insurgency force in the history of the world would appreciate clear labels on whom you can and cannot kill!

I was successful in eventually arresting Ghandi by moving three military units adjacent to him. This allowed me to win. I killed the bad people and saved the Colonial Administration. I drove the rioters to their homes. I captured Ghandi and avoided a bloodbath. It took me three tries to achieve this but readers of this review should have a much better handle on how to deploy and use your troops.

Operation Cannibal was a drive in North Burma attempting to reopen the Burma Road. Amazingly, the British expected light resistance. Of course, they were wrong.

This scenario covers a large amount of ground and the Brits lack the strength to advance on all fronts simultaneously. The Japanese will counter-attack. Ultimately I prevailed, but multiple units were destroyed and had to be replaced.

The next scenario is Operation Longcloth, a simulation of Chidit attacks in Burma. The Chindits were irregular British and Commonwealth forces which operated behind Japanese lines with airdrop resupply. This was the hardest scenario in the campaign. You have to keep your irregulars supplied, take your objectives, while fending off a savage Japanese pursuit. The Chindit forces can move through jungles and blow bridges, but are weaker than the Japanese infantry in pursuit. The map you have to navigate is huge. I outright lost this scenario the first three times I played it. I either kept in supply but failed to achieve many objectives, or advanced and got out of supply and destroyed. You have to maintain a delicate balance of attack and defense to win this one.


The Ledo Road is the following scenario. Here the British forces are stronger than the Japanese only when they concentrate. The Japanese counter-attack on multiple fronts. Worse, every time you take a key victory hex a vulnerable, static construction unit appears. Penalties accrue with every lost construction unit. You also have some extremely weak Chinese Nationalist units added which cannot even hold a river defense line. As seen by a screenshot, I had trouble keeping my construction units alive.

The last three scenarios are large map attack scenarios. All were challenging, but they were relatively straight-forward. Like the war in Burma, the Japanese defense got better as the war progressed in the game although counter-attacks became rare excepting a tactical strike.

I purchased Burma on the first day of release and have played the campaign to completion twice on the lieutenant level (2nd of five difficulty levels).   Although the AI could be very challenging at times, I could eventually win at this level of difficulty. I’m sure any experienced war gamer can find a level of difficulty to challenge their skills. The AI is particularly efficient at surrounding isolated units and eliminating weakened units. The AIs use of Japanese Artillery was honestly frightening at times.

The AI had two weak points. First, the AI never concentrated their air assets or provided consistent fighter cover for their bomber units. Against a human opponent, the Japanese would either gain air supremacy or superiority in many scenarios. But I was able to gain supremacy or superiority by mid-scenario almost every time with the Commonwealth forces.   Second, the AI Japanese would sometimes get significant forces cut off from supply by being too aggressive. Still, as AIs go the Order of Battle programmers do an excellent job.

The sounds and controls for Burma are a good fit for this time period. The graphics are acceptable but not noteworthy. Although my screenshots portray animated units, traditional counter view is also available. I purchased the game on the day of release and there were multiple updates/patches in the first week. As a result, I experienced a few more glitches than I’ve seen in the other releases. The developers continue to patch and improve previous when new scenarios are released. Multiplayer using hotseat or pbemail are available, but I’ve yet to try them.

Overall, this is an outstanding expansion. The variety of scenarios covered is amazing. We have multiple fighting retreats of various forms. We have a political/military operation in a huge Indian city. We have a long scenario on a huge map with irregular forces fighting to achieve their objectives, stay in supply, and avoid destruction. There are a couple of massive offensive actions. Many of the early offensive actions face major Japanese counter-attacks. The breath of the scenarios in this expansion is just amazing. Most of the scenarios were challenging on difficulty level 2 (out of 5). I lost several of the scenarios multiple times until I figured out a winning strategy.

Even better, the Burma campaign has seldom been addressed by computer wargame designers. Order of Battle has brought multiple, seldom covered conflicts to our computer world. It is nice to play something other than the Germans clobbering everyone in 1939-1941 or the Germans getting clobbered for the rest of the war. The huge distances and horrible terrain in the Pacific theater come to life in Burma Road.

This offering has been inducted into The Order of the Hex for covering a wide array of operational combat scenarios in an overlooked but important theater of the Pacific War.

 

Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University.


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