Guadalcanal campaign for Check Your Six!
I recently had Bob pick up a copy of the Guadalcanal campaign book for Check Your Six! while he was at Cold Wars. I took the opportunity to read through it during the 16 hour drive back to Texas to visit my family. The guys at Skirmish Campaigns have hit upon a really clever idea for doing campaigns of linked scenarios. These use a branching-point narrative in which the players read numbered paragraphs and are presented with some decision to make. The decision takes them to the next paragraph and after a few of these the player’s decisions will affect the set-up, victory conditions, etc. of the next tabletop scenario. The Guadalcanal campaign follows the early days of the Cactus Air Force as the Japanese try to crush Henderson Field so that they can move reinforcements down The Slot to retake the island. The American strength is represented by a Plane Availablilty number that can be reduced through combat losses or bombing. This number is then used in a number of pen-and-paper scenarios throughout the campaign to determine how successfully the Americans are able to intercept Japanese troop convoys delivering reinforcements to the island.
Having read the whole book (I couldn’t resist) I am coordinating the campaign and serving as extra pilot as needed. Gathering for the first session, Bob and Tom played the Japanese and Ken assumed command of the Cactus Air Force (with me flying with the marines under Ken’s flight lead). We went through the first set of campaign paragraphs and got to the first scenario, a fighter vs fighter action. For the Marines there is little reason to engage the Japanese here, as Japanese losses have only minimal impact on the game (Japanese have a large numerical superiority on Rabaul at this point) and the Marines in this case were outnumbered 6:4. I made one adjustment on the fly to the scenario, requiring the Marines to fly into the south third of the table (they started in the north) before using their superior dive capability to escape from the table. This gave the Japanese a chance and made for a game at least as the Marine pilots tried to run the gauntlet back to Henderson Field.
The game was a pretty quick one as the Marines mostly made a beeline for home. Tom’s aircraft came straight in at them while Bob looped in behind Tom. After some ineffective initial fire, the Wildcats thundered past Bob’s flight while Tom’s aircraft tried to loop in behind them. As the Japanese turned to give chase, they had lined up a great shot – only to two of the Zero’s collide, killing one pilot and damaging the other aircraft. The Wildcats shot past the Japanese, hit the safe exit zone and dived hard out of the battle. All of the Marines landed safely.
With the first game done, we moved on to the second scenario. This one promised more action since there were bombers involved so the Marines would be forced to fight. Both sides went through there campaign decisions, with some minor alterations to the scenario. The Japanese had a flight of five B5N2 level bombers (Kates) from the light carrier Ryuho escorted by 8 Zeros. The Marines had eight Wildcats. The two sides set up and roared toward one another. The Japanese had Tom on one side of the bomber formation and Bob on the other. The Wildcats took a few head to head shots at the Kates as we closed without any telling effects and then roared through the formation, each us cutting in toward the other with the Japanese in pursuit. At this point the game became a big furball (predictably enough) with shots flying everywhere. In the first serious round of shooting three fighters were knocked out and two more damaged. One green pilot in a Wildcat was killed in a collision with a Zero, whose own pilot was knocked loopy and would spend the rest of the fligh wandering randomly around the battle area!
Despite losses, the Marine pilots pressed on toward the bombers, suffering a couple more casualties while damaging or knocking down a couple of the bombers. So far the legendary Grumman toughness was nowhere to be seen (translation – neither Ken nor I could make the Robustness rolls needed to save our planes). Must be the appalling condition at Henderson Field. The Zeros were getting damaged, but the 0.50 cal MG rounds were not having the knockout power of the Japanese cannon. The furball began to break up a the bombers continued on the the east and the attacker’s turned about. The remaining marines pressed on, but eventually all were destroyed save the one US Ace pilot. Ken made one last pass with his Ace, killed another Kate, and then got out of Dodge. The results were not pretty for the Americans with 7 or the 8 Wildcats shot down. Several Japanese fighters were lost returning to their carrier, but those losses had no effect on the campaign. Two bombers got through to attack the airstrip.
Following the second game we ran the first of the pen-and-paper scenarios. The Japanese sent a convoy down The Slot. The Americans sent out half of their available forces in search efforts and held back another half as a strike force. Unfortunately for the Americans, the search group was unable to locate any trace of the Japanese convoy and intelligence indicates that it safely arrived at Guadalcanal and off loaded an unknown number of reinforcements.
We really enjoyed the start of the campaign. The paragraph decision system works great and adds a lot of flavor to each scenario. Certainly a big draw of any campaign is having some realistic goals for the missions other than just whacking all of the other guys in typical gamer fashion. Ken and I were aggressive to a fault against the Kates and paid the price for it, as our air-to-air losses were very serious and definitely impaired our ability to launch an effective attack on the Japanese convoy. In the future we may have to be a little more circumspect and take our chances with the bombing rather than risk additional fighters once the odds turn against us. It would also help greatly if we could pass a Robustness roll now and again. I’m definitely looking forward to the next game…