Tarawa 1943 – First Impressions – The Boardgames Chronicle

I am getting more and more fond of the good, solitaire games. And it is encouraging to see that more and more companies start to treat seriously that branch of wargames. Recently we can observe such transformation with Worthington Publishing – they have published great siege series and recently shipped their newest product – Tarawa 1943.

I had a chance to play it intensively – the length of the game allows you to get a couple of attempts within one evening – and would like to share initial observations. But before going into the actual product description I think a short historical background would be in place.


The Battle of Tarawa

Marines storm Tarawa. Gilbert Islands. November 1943

The Battle of Tarawa was a battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II that was fought on 20–23 November 1943. It took place at the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, and was part of Operation Galvanic, the US invasion of the Gilberts . 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.

The Battle of Tarawa was the first 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 landings met little or no initial resistance, but on Tarawa the 4,500 Japanese defenders were well-supplied and well-prepared, and they fought almost to the last man, exacting a heavy toll on the United States Marine Corps.

The Game

“TARAWA 1943” is a solitaire, card driven wargame on the invasion of Japanese controlled Tarawa by the 2nd Marine Division in November 1943. Each turn the USMC (United States Marine Corp) player will activate one of his battalions (there are 8 in the game) and can move, attack, and attempt to regroup. The action can be augmented by the play of the Card. After that, the IJA bot (Imperial Japanese Army) will draw its card and conduct the turn.

The game will give the historical starting invasion site, however, it also have included 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 liability. 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.

Standard Set-up Sessions

As mentioned above, the game features two set-ups – standard, with landing from North, and an alternative one, which assumed attack from South. In my first game I of course focused heavily on the basic one.

Standard game set-up with historical battalions assignment.

As you very well know, I am ardent fan of picture-rich session reports, which conveys most information from the playthrough. In this case, below material is compilation from numerous games – it takes 1.5 hour play the game initially, decreased to 60 minutes once you are familiar with the rules. At the end of this chapter a nice surprise awaits 🙂

In attack, Marines normally roll 5 dice, and hit on double 5’s or 6’s. If you have Naval Support, you can use +2 dice. Above one of the most happy and lucky moments in my attempts – 3 hits in one attack and complete obliteration of IJA position.
Once you leave the shallow waters and beaches, you might feel secure. But then a Japanese Fire attack card comes, opponent rolls 3 x 6’s and you are toasted. I mean completely – whole battalion becomes causalities. This is extreme but happens…
A typical picture of enemy and friendly causalities at the end of the game. Pity each dead USMC marker is like minus 2 VPs to final score.
My very first attempt – managed to get only part of the island. I was not even close to the victory (you need a positive result) with 12 points scored and 31 (!) lost.
Still, that one time, with a bit of good luck and planning, the Marines prevailed. The key to success was speed of attack and disregard for exhausted units (ones with red cubes, -1 VP at the end of the game). In the end 22-18 and huge celebration!

Alternate set-up sessions

Historically, the US Navy was planning to hit Betio island from South – due to various reasons, like an easier approach, more coordinated attack, etc. However, that was so obvious (and Japanese units were indeed preparing for this) that the decision was made to attempt northern approach. Still, let us be quite frank – the island was so small, that it did not take long to reposition units from one side to the other. The heavy artillery emplacements was a different story, but the scale of this game does not cover it.

Alternative game set-up with fictional battalions assignment.

What we can say about southern approach? First and foremost, less (2 vs 3 in standard set-up) units will be under the heavy, anti-landing fire – IJA rolls 4d, with no causalities on Japanese possible. On the other hand, we can maximally attack two spots as our attack front is narrower. Just as in the regular game, the Green Beach (to the right on the map above) becomes accessible only once we establish a foothold. Let us see how it went!

Once I landed – with heavy causalities – and managed to bring the 6th regiment battalions to Green Beach, the play of “Command Coordination” makes sense in alternative set-up. 3 units attack!
Even if you kill all Japanese and you feel secure, the Sniper can always get you. A loss of 3 cohesion and tactic card is always painful.
You remember I mentioned deadly IJA fire? Another example above – the almost full-strength 1/6 battalion obliterated by enemy fire.
The game featuring Japanese forces without “Banzai!” order would not be complete. Normally they roll 5 dice, inflict cohesion / marker hits on 4’s, 5’s and 6’s but can die on 1’s. Above the worst executed charge in all my games. They just killed themselves on my defense 🙂
The final situation of one of my attempts – I cleared whole map but had a relatively high causalities. 20-29 defeat but I was happy with the way I managed to conduct an alternative landing.

First Impressions

Some more sessions are needed to provide the full review. Still, the initial observations can be made and I will share them with Dear Readers:

  • The game is brutal and unforgiving; if you sit too long in one spot you are bound to be overwhelmed
  • The game is quick, easy to learn and… addictive. What I mean by this is that urge somewhere inside of “one more attempt” and “I can do better this time!”. You for sure know what I mean.
  • As you can see, the game extensively uses dice, so a luck factor is also here. It evens out due to the high number of rolls and probability distribution, but I know not everybody likes such mechanics.
  • I would definitely put more effort to rulebook (no table of contents, no index) and playbook (great background article without a single map historically)

Summary

Tarawa 1943 is light, solitaire wargame which can be used as a great entry position. It plays quickly, gives a lot of emotions – love & frustration together – and can be prelude to more heavy titles. More content to come!

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