[REVIEW] Tarawa 1943 by Worthington Publishing – The Boardgames Chronicle

About game plus historical detail:

The Battle of Tarawa – An amphibious landing operation in the Pacific Theater of World War II – was fought on 20–23 November 1943. It took place at the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Nearly 6,400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans died in the fighting, mostly on and around the small island of Betio, in the extreme southwest of Tarawa Atoll.

This engagement was the first, true American offensive in the critical central Pacific region. It was also the first time in the Pacific War that the United States had faced serious Japanese opposition to an amphibious landing. Previous attacks met little or no resistance, but on Tarawa the 4,500 Japanese defenders were well-supplied and well-prepared, and they almost fought- to the last man, exacting a heavy toll on the United States Marine Corps.

Tarawa 1943 is a solo, card driven wargame on exactly that invasion in November 1943. Each turn the USMC player will activate one of his 8 battalions and can move, attack or regroup. The action can be augmented by the play of the Card. After that, the bot (Imperial Japanese Army) will draw its card and conduct the turn.

The game gives the historical starting invasion site, however, it also includes the alternate “South Beach” landing possibility, that the Japanese had expected and prepared. Victory is achieved by taking the island as quickly as possible while minimizing due – all calculated in Victory Points. This was the first invasion of the US island hopping strategy and high losses or a prolonged fight could have led to a cancellation of the island hopping campaign.

Would you stand-up to the task and manage to prevail against odds, leading the US Marines to victory over the determined Japanese forces?

Number of players:

This is a truly pure solo wargame and I see no possibility to play it in multiplayer mode – there is no way for Japanese to make any decisions other than running a pre-designed script. Which of course can be a great experience when playing with children as you can see in some of my session reports 🙂

Playing time:

This is in essence pretty fast & short game. The initial attempt will take you about 90-120 minutes but knowing the rules (and rolling fast 🙂 ) you should be able to fit the session within 60 minutes.

Complexity:

The rules are not overly complex, pretty procedural and scripted. There are some ambiguities in rulebook, quickly addressed on BGG forum. Definitely good, entry, solo position.

What I like:
  • The theme is great and very interesting – amphibious landing operation in the Pacific Theater. Of course, this is pretty high-level. Still, you can immerse yourself in the battle as the gameplay will strir up a lot of emotions, not to mention cursing!
  • The game is tough to win. And I really mean it – you really need to plan your moves, execute strategy flawlessly, reinforce the important points and have some luck from time to time. With the experience and plays you start to see some weaker Japanese points but it will never be easy. And yeas – I love it as it gives you so much motivation to try one more time!
  • Replayability – While pretty simple, the game plays well over and over again. Each time it develops differently, you never exactly know what cards will be used in a particular session and on top of this, there is an alternate scenario!
  • Components are pretty nice, with small, elegant map and cubes used for forces as well as markers. You can use two types of stickers – traditional ones and more vivid / easier to differentiate ones!
What I do not like or would like to see in the game:
  • Rulebook – definitely it is missing Table of Contents and Index. It is sometimes very hard to locate some rules sections – the best way is definitely digital version with Ctrl+F 🙂

  • Playbook – it does a good job of describing the battle, its background, course of action and consequences. But it terribly lacks even a single map to depict historical landings!

  • Luck Factor – it is somehow nullified by the number of rolls and normalized probability. Still, some rolls can be very wide and destroy even the best strategy.
For whom?

Definitely for fans of solo wargaming – especially the ones, who are making their first steps. Players who do not like a lot of dice rolling will probably be less inclined to go for this title.

More about the game:

And now let us have a look at the components – all pictures taken during my plays:

Video How to Play TARAWA 1943
The standard scenario set-up..
The whole game is driven by dice rolls with results interpretation depending on action.
All your actions can be augmented by the card play – such as great Command Coordination, allowing to activate 3 battalions at the same time.
WWII game in Pacific Theater, featuring Japanese soldiers without BANZAI? Not possible! But of course it can backfire at attackers too!

VERDICT:

I will not deny it – I am a huge fan of solitaire games and Pacific Theater at the same time. So games like TARAWA 1943 fits ideally into the sweet-spot. Here we have a title which is a pretty light position, which handles the topic on pretty high, battalion level. It is definitely engrossing, replayable and tough – still, some players might be put-off by the luck factor plus extensive dice rolling.

I can definitely recommend it to the new wargamers, for whom this can be one of the first solitaire games, before more complex ones. It plays easily, quickly and thematically. So if you find such titles attractive, get it!

See you in another game review!

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