Grogheads Reviews: Pacific Tide!

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PACIFIC TIDE: THE UNITED STATES VERSUS JAPAN, 1941-45 is a compact, strategic-level game covering the struggle between the United States (including some Commonwealth forces) and Japan in World War II by game designer, Gregory M. Smith. It was released in 2019 by Compass Games.…/pacific-tide-the-united-stat…

This review is based on two complete solo games.


By: Avery Abernethy,

Pacific Tide is a rules light, fast playing strategic game.  The rules are eleven large print pages including play examples and illustrations.  The emphasis is grand strategy in the Pacific.  One person plays Imperial Japan and the other plays the United States, plus limited British Commonwealth forces.  Combat in China, Burma, India and Thailand are omitted.

The US player achieves victory by controlling all map areas excepting Okinawa and Japan.  Japan wins if the US player does not obtain victory.  Victory or defeat often comes down to the last couple of game plays.

Those with some tabletop wargame experience will quickly learn the rules.  Compass Games’ rating system gives this a 3 out of 10 on complexity.  The game is designed to be completed in an afternoon.  If both players have played the game once or twice before, I think a game could be completed in as little as three hours.

After the basic rules are mastered, the only thing slowing play would be individual “decision freeze.” If that became a problem, using a fifteen- or twenty-minute timer on the sluggo player should speed play.

Unit counters are both simple and limited in number.  Generic counters represent infantry, carrier aircraft, land aircraft, fleets, and carriers.  That is it.  No distinction is made between types of fleet units (battleships, destroyers, etc.) or different types of aircraft.  Unit distinctions are simplified even compared to Avalon Hill’s 1977 Victory in the Pacific.

Unit quality is determined by the number of attack die a player gets per unit.  Even here the number of attack die only changes for aircraft.  This is reasonable since Japan started the war with superior aircraft and better trained pilots with the end of the war reversing this situation.

Ground units can only attack other ground units.  Fleet units only attack other ships in the same hex or provide bombardment when your ground forces are attacking.  Naval Air can attack other naval or air targets while the carriers themselves attack nothing and become major targets hauling attack aircraft.  Land based air can attack land, naval or air units.  To gain possession of a neutral or enemy land hex, it must be taken by ground forces.  All combat is simultaneous with immediate damage assessment.

Pacific Tide uses cards to initiate combat and movement.  The game is divided into years starting with Japan having superiority on the land, seas and air launching the Pearl Harbor attack.  In 1941 Japan gets a lot of moves and attacks while the US Player tries to hold onto what they can and decide where their limited reinforcements should be placed.

With the card system, 1941 plays out close to what occurred historically.  1942 provides a lot of variation with potential outcomes varying even more as the years pass.  After 1942, each player gets free cards associated with a specific year (1943, 1944, and 1945) plus build points can be used to purchase previously played cards from earlier years.  Cards from earlier years each come with a “build point price” with some cards having a low cost and other cards being quite expensive.  An example will illustrate this.

“Magic Intercepts” is a free card to the US player in 1942.  It can be played to give an amphibious attack, a non-amphibious attack, or a defense 2 extra damage die.  In 1943+ when played the Japanese player must remove the Yamamoto card from the game immediately.  The purchase cost of this card after 1942 is one build point.  Magic Intercepts is a powerful card enabling greater damage – but by itself it does not allow an attack, amphibious assault, or placement of additional ships, aircraft or men.  But the card costs only one build point and the potential impact on damage plus removing the powerful Japanese Yamamoto card from the game almost ensures the US player will purchase Magic Intercepts at least once after 1942.

1942 after Midway card played

1942 after Midway card played

There is considerable random variation in the game from 1942 onward.  Starting in 1942 both players randomly split their cards into two equal piles.  The cards from the first half must be played until there is only one card left when the second half of the cards are available for play.  Again, using the “Magic Intercepts” card, here is a simple example of how this game mechanic can influence play.  In 1943 the US player uses a single build point to purchase Magic Intercepts.  Likewise, the Japanese player uses a build point to purchase the Yamamoto card which activates 1 area for movement or allows the player to attack or amphibious attack 2 different areas with each attack rolling one extra damage die.  If the US player is lucky, they play Magic Intercepts before the Japanese player uses Yamamoto.  However, Magic Intercepts may be in the second stack of the US players cards while the Japanese player randomly gets Yamamoto in their first stack.  This could also occur vice-versa,  or both players could have the card in their hands with each risking consequences if they do not quickly play Magic Intercepts or Yamamoto.

The strategic situation has a profound influence on the utility of various cards.  Having a bunch of movement and attack cards does little good if you have very few units in play.  If your side has more relative forces on the board, you might use build points to purchase more movement and attack enabling cards.

One thing I encountered in both games was a massive carrier battle somewhere within three spaces of Pearl Harbor sometime in 1942.  The Japanese have more carriers in 1941 and 1942 than the US player, but they lose this advantage with the huge US building program.  If Japan can successfully sink most of the US carriers in 1942 without suffering catastrophic losses, the US offensive is delayed and Japan will probably hold on for victory.

Pacific Tide 1941 after Yamamato Card Map

Pacific Tide 1941 after Yamamato Card Map

Likewise, if the US does not start offensive operations in 1942, they probably cannot win the game.  Waiting until 1943 to seek out the destruction of the Japanese carriers will make the carrier battle a much more certain prospect for US victory – but the delay in battle may make it impossible for the Marines to take enough territory to win the game.  Plus, the Magic Intercepts card gives the US player a once a year opportunity to gain more damage die – almost making up for the Japanese Carrier advantage.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  No certain right answers.  Options are limited by the cards each player gets in the first half of the 1942 deck.

Logistics is a constant worry for both sides.  Troop and ship placement is almost always at Pearl Harbor for the US player and Japan for the Japanese player.  These start locations are a long way from the front lines – for at least one if not both players.  Fleets and men must be moved into combat range.  Land Based air is relatively puny for much of the game, but your land based air can be moved to any land location on the map that you can connect a supply line to – making it the fastest means to reinforce front lines.

The Japanese gain extra build points if they garrison Borneo and/or Singapore and have clear sea lanes to Japan.  Submarine operations via card play can cut Japanese build points.  Likewise, in 1945 US strategic bombing can further cut Japanese build points.  Japan will fight very hard to protect these build points while the US player gains much if they can take these positions or cut the supply lines.

Although the game mechanics are relatively simple, it effectively captures the distance and logistics problems facing commanders in the Pacific.  If you end a year with a fleet out of supply range it dies.  Some locations are key choke points.  Midway and Wake Islands are wonderful airfields and fleet anchorages – but can only hold a limited number of troops.  Each is susceptible to ground attack and difficult to defend.

Pacific Tide has a user friendly Vassal module.  Both the Vassal software and the Pacific Tide module for Vassal are free making Pacific Tide a wonderful play by email opportunity.  I used Vassal for the first time with Pacific Tide to make screenshots and found it to be reasonably user friendly.

Pacific Tide First play 1941 Map

Pacific Tide First play 1941 Map

Pacific Tide is also one of the most solitaire friendly strategic wargames I’ve ever played.  There is no hidden movement in the game.  With a limited number of map locations one might think that the game will always play out in a similar fashion.  But the deck splitting mechanic plus the movement options in the relatively crowded Southwest Pacific provide a lot of variation.

Game rules include a solitaire play aid which randomly decides if your opponent will play aggressively, defensively, or a balance.  All game cards are labeled “A”, “B” or “D” for aggressive, balanced or defensive.  I used a slight modification of the solitaire system.  If the Japanese had very few units on the board, I gave priority to purchasing cards from previous years that gave fleet, air, or ground builds.  In doing so I found that playing Japan solitaire gave a very good game experience.

Major game components are a 17×22 inch heavy coated paper map, sixteen sturdy six sided die, fifty-two game cards and two sheets of standard tabletop unit counters.  The cards are as heavy duty as good poker cards.  In terms of game components, the only thing I would have enjoyed seeing is a more substantial game map.  But Pacific Tide’s map quality is common for many modern wargames.

This is one of the best introductory wargames released in years.  I would rate this game as good of an introductory experience as the classic Afrika Corps released way back in 1965.  Like Afrika Corps, Pacific Tide has good game balance, relatively few pieces, incorporates logistics, and user-friendly rules.  Fast game play and limited turns make Pacific Tide an excellent choice for game convention or tournament play.

For experienced gamers, Pacific Tide gives both sides the opportunity to go on offense and the random nature of the card system will provide spice to every replay.

I had not set up a tabletop wargame in fifteen years when I purchased and played Pacific Tide in 2019.  Pacific Tide was the first tabletop wargame I’ve played using cards to initiate movement and force builds.  It is a blast.  The game is elegant, easy to learn, has enough randomness to give replay value, and can be completed in an afternoon by experienced players.  It is the best solo play wargame I’ve ever experienced, and it can be easily played by email using Vassal.

If you are interested in the War in the Pacific, a wargame to introduce a new player, or a game you will actually set up and play instead of sweating over learning the rules, your $59 for Pacific Tide will be money well spent.

About the Author: Avery Abernethy started playing Avalon Hill wargames in elementary school in the 1960s.  Now that he is gainfully retired, he has more time to take advantage of game playing and napping opportunities.

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