LNL-Tactical (Modern)

GrogHeads Reviews: Heroes of the Pacific

Lock’n’Load heads to the PTO!

Doug Miller, 24 October 2105

 

Despite a proliferation of WWII tactical systems in recent years, tactical wargames covering the Pacific Theater tend to be rarer than hen’s teeth. Even the benchmark WWII tactical system, Advanced Squad Leader, isn’t overwhelmed with PTO modules and scenarios. So I was definitely excited to see that LnL Publishing was not only bringing many of their out-of-print Tactical Series games back, but also adding to the series with a dedicated Pacific Theater game.

Heroes of the Pacific focuses on tactical combat between the US Army and Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Like other games in the series the core of the game is infantry combat between squads and weapon teams, supported by armored vehicles, various kinds of on- and off-board artillery, and air strikes.

The game uses the familiar Lock n’ Load Tactical Series rules. The rule book has been updated to version 4.0 and includes the additions to support the unique aspects of the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) in-line with the remainder of the rules. Significant rules changes are helpfully highlighted in green throughout the manual to bring experienced players up to speed quickly.

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The clarity and organization of the rules for this game system have sometimes been a bit lacking. The version 4.0 manual goes a long way to addressing that, having significantly cleaned things up. There’s a nicely comprehensive Table of Contents printed inside the front cover of the bound manual, and a glossary printed on the inside of the back cover. This really speeds up finding rules and understanding abbreviations while playing.

Despite the improvements, I did find some odd choices in placement of certain pieces of information that had me doing more searching and head scratching than I’d like. As an example, rules covering the use of the Japanese 50mm “knee” mortar are included in the section on support weapons, and there’s no mention of their special characteristics in the section on indirect fire later in the manual. Some reference to the earlier rule would have saved me a bit of poking around.

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Before getting into game play, I have to say something about the quality of the game components. I’ve owned a lot of hex and counter board war games over the years, but Heroes of the Pacific has to have hands down the highest quality game components I’ve ever seen. The game manual is 100% in color, with perfect binding, nice cardstock covers and printed on glossy paper. The Examples of Play/Scenario book is of similarly high quality. The counters are large, printed on thick cardboard, and with a beautiful matt finish. They are so cleanly die-cut that they nearly fall out of the counter sheets on their own. The maps, while not mounted, are also printed on thick, glossy paper. Even the game box is of very high quality. LnL Publishing has always been known for producing quality components, but Heroes of the Pacific raises the bar.

For those familiar with the Lock n’ Load Tactical Series games, the basics of Heroes of the Pacific are what you’d expect. The US forces generally act like other forces in the other games of the series, along with the trademark “a roll of one during a Damage Check” generating a hero counter. US Marine Squads are somewhat unique in being very assault-oriented: they have a higher firepower than other units, and are universally capable of Assault Movement. Assault Movement allows a unit to move up to half its movement allowance and fire (albeit with a negative modifier) where other units can only move or fire during their activation. In play, I found this to make stacks of US Marine units capable of putting out a lot of fire while still advancing. This is particularly true if the scenario involves special US Marine Assault Team units, which are half-squads with special abilities to avoid some Opportunity Fire, enhanced firepower, but short range. Just the thing you want if you need to dig out some stubborn Imperial Japanese Army defenders from caves and bunkers!

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US Army units are more like “typical” LnL Tactical Series units. They are not capable of Assault Movement and don’t have Assault Squads – though they could have heroes attached that can Assault Move. However, they benefit by not having to halve the firepower of additional full squads beyond the first in the same hex firing in a combined fire attack. This, combined with a tendency in scenarios for US Army units to be equipped with more support weapons like flame throwers and satchel charges, can make a stack or US Army units every bit as dangerous as the US Marines.

The way the IJA is portrayed is what, in my opinion, makes Heroes of the Pacific really stand out as different from other titles in the series. The national characteristics of IJA units are really unique and make for a very different LnL play experience.

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To begin with, unlike other LnL units, Japanese infantry never become “shaken.” Rather, they lose steps. Step loss does not reduce firepower, though it does decrease range – but increases morale of the unit. So, as IJA infantry takes losses it loses ability to project firepower, but becomes more fanatical and tougher to eliminate. Similarly, Japanese infantry leaders and snipers don’t become shaken. This makes digging IJA infantry out of cover, caves, and bunkers a decidedly difficult affair. The only upside to all of this is that the “warrior ethos” of the IJA units doesn’t allow them to ever generate hero units.

IJA forces also have access to snipers. While other nationalities in the series also have snipers available, the ability of the Japanese snipers to be placed anywhere on the map the provides at least a +1 Target Modifier, at any time, combined with the fact that they also can’t become shaken allows the IJA player to delay and harass the US player’s advance. Japanese snipers can also make use of “spider hole” improved positions. Spider holes allow the IJA player to force the US player to re-roll a combat result, possibly resulting in a more favorable outcome. These guys are difficult to dislodge! More than once I was able to place a Japanese sniper on the flank or in the rear of a US stack and cause a leader or entire squad to become shaken. In limited duration scenarios this can wreak all kinds of havoc with the US player’s plans. Note that there is a US Marine sniper counter as well, but only one.

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Further in keeping with the IJA’s reputation as skilled jungle fighters, some IJA units can make use of “stealth” or “ninjutsu” movement. While I’m not entirely sure that the IJA termed their skill at jungle ambushes “ninjutsu” it’s certainly true that this ability is at least as troublesome as the Japanese sniper capability. Like snipers, units using stealth movement can be placed anywhere on the board at any time. If they survive the placement (it’s possible for the unit to be eliminated during placement) and are placed in a hex containing enemy units, they immediately melee at 3x their printed firepower. During this ambush phase the enemy units don’t get to attack back, either!

Finally, IJA infantry are capable of a special type of advance and melee attack – the infamous Banzai charge. Banzai attacks allow Japanese leaders to attack spotted enemy units within six movement points with all units in his hex and adjacent hexes with a special kind of melee attack. And when I say “all,” I mean all units: even unshaken weapons teams will abandon their support weapons to participate in the charge as a regular infantry half-squad. Units in a Banzai attack that take casualties don’t stop, but rather continue on toward the target hex, and they receive no bonus or penalty for the Target Modifier of the terrain they move through. Once in melee, units in a Banzai attack gain a bonus to their firepower when attacking. It can be an unpleasant surprise after slogging through jungle filled with ambushes and snipers to suddenly be charged by multiple stacks of fanatical Japanese troops who won’t stop, won’t become shaken, don’t lose firepower and grow more fanatical the more they take casualties!

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A map covered with various types of jungle and other cover, caves, foxholes, and spider holes the combination of snipers, stealth, Banzai Attacks and infantry that won’t become shaken makes the IJA play really, really differently. Since most of the included scenarios have the IJA on the defensive, the US player has to make good use of better support weapons and ordinance, off-board artillery, along with air power and armor when available to reduce the IJA infantry to remnants with limited range before trying to advance. Even then, the IJA player will be able to hold out in pockets until the US player manages to “smoke him out,” often at the cost of high casualties.

As one might expect, both from the theater and the game system in general, armor really represents armor in an infantry support role, and not massed armor used for a blitzkrieg style breakthrough attack. Indeed, only a few of the included scenarios use armor in their setups, and I can’t really be sure that I’ve played with it enough to really understand how it works in this game versus other games in the series. Certainly a US Sherman subject to a Banzai Attack makes for an interesting matchup, particularly given the relative inferiority of Japanese armor and anti-tank weapons. There is, however, once scenario that covers the attack of good chunk of a Japanese light tank company supported by elements of an IJA infantry battalion at Peleliu that looks very interesting, but that I unfortunately didn’t get time to play yet.

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A quick word about the maps: aside from being very attractive graphically, I very much recommend the double-sized X-Maps that are available separately from the game itself. Having hexes large enough to place leaders or weapons teams next to infantry stacks just makes playing the game all that much more enjoyable. The maps that come with the game, which are the same size as other maps from other games in the series, are perfectly playable and have the same graphics. I definitely enjoyed having the extra room on the map however, I will probably default to playing on the bigger maps.

There are 12 scenarios included in the game, with a good mix of smaller, infantry only fights and larger, combined arms battles. Scenarios range over one to three maps. The combination of unique national characteristics (particularly of the Japanese) and the often difficult jungle terrain or open beaches really adds to the PTO flavor of the game.

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There is also an excellent Vassal module for the game, put together by Grogheads regular Vance Strickland.

Overall, I’m very pleased with LnL Heroes of the Pacific. This is a good quality game that does a nice job capturing the “feel” of the Pacific war with an established and very playable set of rules. If you are familiar with the series Heroes of the Pacific is an addition that provides a different experience without introducing a large number of rules system changes and variations. If you are new to the series, Heroes of the Pacific teaches the core mechanics of the system while providing a satisfying WWII Pacific Theater feel.


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3 Responses to GrogHeads Reviews: Heroes of the Pacific

  1. David Heath says:

    Hey Guys,

    This is free download to enhance your Heroes of the Pacific game. We want to thank community designer Steven Dennis for designing these and providing them to us.

    These are a great reference for Heroes of the Pacific. The two sided 11 x 17 Reference Card contains a summarized Terrain Effects Chart for Heroes of the Pacific and the DFT/OFT mods, melee, and SW portage charts all on one sheet.

    After we released Heroes of the Pacific we made a Rules Reference card that can be downloaded for free at the link below.
    http://forums.lnlpublishing.com/resources/heroes-of-the-pacific-rules-reference-card.76/

  2. Mark Brownell says:

    Thanks for a Great review. Hope the new “Heroes of North Africa” is just as good.

  3. […] However, it’s a lot tougher to find squad level shootouts in the PTO. Until now. Check out our review of LNLP’s Heroes of the Pacific if you’re still not sold, but really, you’re just delaying the inevitable at this point, so go […]

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