31 December 2013

Rising Sun - Come Earn Your Stripes!

More than four months have passed since Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) resurrected the Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO). The Japanese generated a great deal of excitement with their 1990 debut in Code of Bushido. A year later, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) received top billing in Gung Ho! More important, the ninth module in the ASL franchise added the Chinese, and the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) to the system. Gung Ho! also added the counterpart to the Nationalist Chinese Army (Kuomintang),1 the Chinese Workers and Peasants Red Army, the predecessor of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The ASL Rule Book refers to these insurgents as Communist, or simply “Red” (G18.3), Chinese. The addition of the Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces to ASL provides players with an opportunity to game countless battles of the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950). And I would be remiss if I did not mention the inclusion of infantry units representing the Philippine Army (PA)—more on these later.
Code of Bushido - Gung Ho! - Rising Sun
The PTO offers players a unique environment in which to test their squad-leading abilities. The tropical climate, exotic terrain, and stone-age fortifications add new challenges, as well as new opportunities. Jungle (light and dense), bamboo, palm trees, huts, kunai—a type of tall grass, swamp, and rice paddies hamper and/or channel movement, restrict Lines of Sight (LOS), and generally make the Detection (A12.15; G.2; and G.4) of enemy troops and fortifications more difficult. More often than not you will discover a panji2 hexside the hard way, when one of your men impales himself on a two-foot long bamboo stake of this primitive, yet effective fortification. Bamboo deserves respect for similar reasons. This dense terrain not only has a special -1 Terrain Effects Modifier (TEM) under certain conditions (G3.3), but also places a moving or advancing unit at a marked disadvantage. When combined with panjis, bamboo can be a deadly force multiplier. You will not soon forget the first time a Japanese half-squad hidden in bamboo ambushes your USMC 7-6-8, and dispatches your hapless “gyrenes” to a man in hand-to-hand combat. 
G9. Panjis
The threat of Dare-Death squads and Tank-Hunter Heroes (T-H Heroes) also keep you on your toes. At the same time, Banzai Charges and Gurkhas are a recipe for mutual destruction. In fact, high rates of attrition are the norm in this theatre, even when PTO terrain is not in effect. 
G1.421 Tank-Hunter Heroes
The special attributes of the Japanese, in particular, demand a reevaluation of tried-and-true tactics in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). But while the Japanese tend to steal the show (and the box cover), they are but one of many departures from the norms of the ETO. I have already touched on the unique terrain, and a fortification specific to the PTO. However, where Rising Sun truly excels is in the module’s ability to game the most complex of military operations. Although clearing a cave complex may well be one of the more complex of ASL operations, it pales in comparison with joint operations. The effective coordination of the air, sea, and land elements in a joint operation requires meticulous planning, and timely execution. No where is this more evident than in the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific. 
G14. Seaborne Assaults
Amphibious warfare is by no means absent from the ETO. However, few ASL scenarios explore this aspect of the war in Europe. In contrast, a large number of scenarios and campaign games set in the Pacific Theatre involve some combination of airforce, navy, and army (or marine infantry) cooperation. Naval Offboard Artillery (NOBA), for instance, routinely plays a role in littoral (or coastal) operations in the Pacific. Rising Sun is therefore unique among ASL modules in providing players access not only to a period of warfare spanning more than two decades, but also to a much wider spectrum of military operations. 
If you are new to ASL, or returning after a long absence, you may be interested in what Rising Sun has to offer. And given its hefty price tag, it is only natural to question whether or not the Pacific Theatre is for you. I would be surprised if hitting the beach, or spelunking topped the agenda of most prospective purchasers. But I am not trying to sell you on the merits of a Seaborne Assault, or caves. In my view, Rising Sun offers heaps of value without the need to bone up on tetrahedrons, or decipher the symbols on a Cave-Complex Setup Sheet (CCSS). What I hope to demonstrate—especially to those who have already dipped their toes in the Pacific—is the myriad ways in which this “new-and-improved” module will enrich your ASL experience.
Did you get a pink slip in the mail?
Typo? ;)
I did. It greeted me when I opened my copy of Rising Sun. Before excitement gets the best of you, I urge you to inventory the contents of your module against the list on this small, but important, slip of paper. Several sheets of ocean overlays were AWOL when I checked my copy. Not a big deal for me because I have no immediate plans to storm a beach.3 However, a missing counter sheet could be a disappointment after waiting years for your personalized leader to arrive on your doorstep.
Below is a list of what you can expect to find among the two kilos of paper and cardboard that comprise Rising Sun:
one Gavutu-Tanambogo historical map sheet (16.25” x 22”) 
two (2) Chapter G dividers
six (6) Chapter Z pages
seven (7) geomorphic (8” x 22”) map boards
eight (8) counter sheets
sixteen (16) sheets of overlays
twenty-seven (27) Chapter H pages
thirty-two (32) scenarios
fifty (50) Chapter G pages
Given that Rising Sun is two modules in one, I would expect it to be stuffed with ASL goodness. It is. Upon closer inspection, however, ASL Module 13 is much more than the sum of its predecessors. For the most part, I believe that players will be pleased with their purchases. There are, however, some shortcomings that you should be aware of before you “proceed to check out.” 
What follows is not a review. Consider it an illustrated guide to the contents, if you like. But I make no claims to comprehensiveness.
PTO Terrain (G.1) is in effect!
Rotten at its core
At the core of this core module are 50 pages of rules that aim to reproduce an ASL environment representative of the tropical areas of the western Pacific. The hot and humid climate is replicated by a set of climatic conditions typical of tropical rain forests found in the mid latitudes of Asia, the Americas, and Africa. ASL stops short of reproducing the stench of rotting jungle vegetation. But Chapter G does a good job of recreating natural and man-made features characteristic of the tropics. These characteristics are known collectively as PTO Terrain (G.1). The term is a bit of a misnomer for a couple of reasons. First, these types of terrain are not confined to the Pacific. And second, many scenarios take place in areas of the Pacific Theatre where jungle, the common denominator of most PTO Terrain, is absent. Swamp (G7.), for example, is usually dependent on the existence of jungle. 
Chapter G also contains rules for terrain found in other theatres. I will expand on some of this terrain when I take a look at the overlays included with Rising Sun. For the moment, suffice it to say that many of these terrain features only come into play during scenarios involving a Seaborne Assault. Nevertheless, the rules for seawalls (13.6) and piers (13.7) are not terribly complicated, based as they are on the rules for walls (and cliffs), and non-pontoon bridges, respectively. Coral Soil (13.82) is perhaps the easiest of the new terrain types to grasp. The main impact of Coral Soil on play is that it negates the effects of Mud (E3.6), and adds a +2 Dice-Roll Modifier (DRM) to all Entrenching attempts. This soil is as tough to excavate as the hard-baked ground of the desert (F.1B), which brings me to my next point. 
T10. Betio Seawall
Sandbars (13.31) and Reefs (13.43) rely on rules for “Desert Terrain.” While neither type of terrain is difficult to get your head around, both require knowledge of rules found in Chapter F. The rules covering desert warfare in ASL were published 25 years ago in West of Alamein. MMP has indicated that an updated Chapter F will accompany the next iteration of Hollow Legions4 —small comfort for squads of budding marines eager to hit the beach running. In fairness, only seven scenarios in Rising Sun require access to some portion of  Chapter F. The problem is that all four scenarios involving a Seaborne Assault are on this shortlist. Of the other three scenarios, one is even more dependent on having access to the “desert” module. I will explain why when I discuss the maps and overlays included with Rising Sun.
Dusty chrome
Chapter G contains a great deal of material applicable to theatres beyond the Pacific. I mentioned NOBA (14.6), and a few others in my introduction. Fully a third of the chapter is devoted to the intricacies of amphibious operations. The level of detail is astounding. For instance, the rules make allowances for underwater demolition teams (14.22) that can eliminate Beach Obstacles (14.5) before an amphibious assault. In addition to wire and mines, UDT may attempt to eliminate panjis and tetrahedrons (14.51). Panjis are restricted to beach hexes (14.55), while Czech hedgehogs, as tetrahedrons were more commonly known, may set up in beach, reef, or shallow-ocean hexes. Tetrahedrons and similar beach defences were used to impede an amphibious landing. Landing Craft (LC) were the main target. However, the author of Chapter G has been considerate enough to provide guidance in the event that a parachutist or glider lands in a tetrahedron’s Location. I must confess that as fascinating as some of these rules may be, most have collected more dust than my Chapter F pages have. If chrome accessories appeal to you, read on. Otherwise skip ahead to the section entitled Semper Fi (not yet published).
G14.51 Tetrahedrons
The Animal-Pack rules are an interesting addition to the ASL rule set. The rules allow weapons, including certain Guns, to be carried on mules (represented by horse counters). Packing and Unpacking (10.3) a mule is a lengthy (and rare) process, however. I doubt that most players will need to read this section anytime soon. 
G10. Animal-Pack
For those desperate to strike Animal-Pack from their ASL bucket lists there is a ten-turn scenario included with Rising Sun that fits the bill.5 But there is no guarantee that scenario 63 “The Eastern Gate” will run its course. An aggressive Japanese player may well defeat the Gurkhas before the Japanese crews have time to unpack their pair of Infantry Guns. 
Japanese Ordnance Note 10. Type 92 Infantry Gun
Another rare sight in an ASL scenario is a bulldozer, armored (15.12), or otherwise. I have been made aware of a couple of scenarios published by third parties that include a dozer in the order of battle (OB). A scenario in the out-of-print historical ASL (HASL) module Blood Reef Tarawa (1999) has an armored bulldozer in the Marine OB. Scenario BRT7 “Didn’t Have To Be There” may well have been the first “official” scenario to make use of the bulldozer counters included with Gung Ho! some seven years earlier.6 By my reckoning, a dozen years would pass before MMP released another scenario that made use of dozers. If you were deprived of a Tonka dozer as a child, you may be able to regain part of your lost childhood by playing something from what MMP describes as a mini-HASL.
SC2.1 Jungle Debris, and SC4. Corduroy Roads
Published in 2011, Suicide Creek is a series of scenarios and a campaign game (CG) that explore the fighting on Cape Gloucester, New Britain in January 1944. Scenario J134 “Kerry’s Crossing” guest stars an armored bulldozer. The scenario is one of several released in ASL Journal 9 that are played on the historical map included with the magazine. Although dozers are absent in the other scenarios, they usually make an appearance during the CG. Suicide Creek marks the second time that MMP has published a HASL that includes dozers among the reinforcement groups (RG) of a CG. 
G15.12 Armored bulldozer
Caving in to G11.
Caves are far more common than bulldozers. Indeed, these fortifications figure prominently in a number of PTO scenarios and CG. The rules for caves are also more complicated than those for bulldozers. The minutia of this formidable fortification consumes some ten pages of text in Chapter G. I will not go into any great detail here. However, I would like to highlight a few features of caves, and where you may expect to encounter them.
Cave counters look similar to pillbox counters, but there is a simple way to tell them apart. The large arrow used to designate the covered arc (CA) of a pillbox is red. The same arrow on a (standard) cave counter is black.7 The different colours help reinforce the fact that the CA of a cave is narrower than that of a pillbox. Unlike pillboxes, caves generally come in one flavour. A cave has a stacking limit of one squad-equivalent, which may be exceeded (11.4). Because the counters are similar, it is tempting to think of caves as  “mid-strength” pillboxes. I would discourage any such comparisons. 
The Defense Modifications of a pillbox and the TEM of a cave are different beasts. A cave lacks a non-covered arc (NCA) Defense Modification (B30.113). Only fire traced through its CA can effect the cave and its occupants. Nor does a cave have a CA Defense Modification. The second numeral in the Strength Factor of a cave is its TEM. This +4 TEM applies to most fire. A +6 TEM, signified by the third numeral in the Strength Factor, applies to (N)OBA and Area-Target-Type attacks (11.8). In some respects, cave TEM is similar to that of a foxhole, or a trench. Depending on the type of attack, the fortification affords a different level of protection.  
G11. Caves versus B30. Pillboxes
I am not saying that pillboxes and caves have nothing in common. They do. I am even prepared to concede that ASL caves “evolved” from ASL pillboxes. For instance, despite the fact that a cave is a subterranean Location, units inside a cave are eligible sniper targets, just as those inside a pillbox are.8 Cave and pillbox Locations also qualify for the same -1 DRM Rally-Bonus (A10.61), and treat their contents as being in Concealment Terrain (A12.12). However, these fortifications differ in so many other respects that inviting comparisons will invariably lead you to confuse the characteristics of one with the other. 
Take for example Concealment. A cave counter and its contents are always considered to be in Concealment Terrain regardless of other terrain in the hex (11.3). During a daytime scenario, this special trait allows a cave to remain hidden in Open Ground provided no enemy units within 16 hexes have LOS to the Location.9 Speaking of LOS, a hidden cave is generally more difficult to spot than a hidden pillbox.10 This has less to do with terrain than with restricted LOS. 
Have another look at the cave versus pillbox illustration above. Both fortifications are in Open Ground. Let’s assume that both fortifications are also hidden when a (non-dummy) enemy unit advances from hex AA5 to BB5. At this point the pillbox is revealed, because it is in Open Ground, and within LOS and 16 hexes of a Good Order enemy unit (A12.121). Despite being in Open Ground, the cave remains hidden. It remains hidden because no LOS exists between hex BB5 and the cave Location. Only hex DD4, the Entrance Hex (11.1) of the cave, is considered ADJACENT—meaning that LOS exists and that a unit could hypothetically advance into the cave from DD4 (A.8). In this case, hypothetically is the order of the day. Barring an SSR to the contrary, only Japanese Infantry may enter a cave (11.7).11 Before we get sidetracked, let me elaborate on LOS to and from a cave.
Lines of Sight traced to and from a cave are traced to and from the centre dot of the hex in which a cave is located. So far, so good. Lines of Sight are also drawn to and from the level at which the cave is located.12 The really important bit that I want to stress is that LOS exists only if drawn entirely within the CA of the cave (11.5).13 This restrictive LOS has a number of important implications that I will not go into here. However, it should be clear by this point that a cave is quite different from a pillbox. But why on earth does any of this matter?
It doesn’t. You can play ASL for the rest of your life and never concern yourself with caves. There are literally thousands of cave-free scenarios to choose from. But if you are one of those intrepid adventurers eager to explore new territory, caves may matter to you. 
KR5. Japanese Spigot Mortar Caves
Kakazu Ridge is a modest “historical study” depicting part of the assault on the Shuri Line on Okinawa, in April 1945. Originally released as part of ASL Journal 2 in 2000, the study consists of a historical map sheet, two pages of rules, and six scenarios. (MMP thoughtfully included the study with the 2010 reprint of Journal 2.) Dan Dolan designed five of the scenarios, and teamed up with two other designers for the sixth scenario.14 I mention this study because, in 1945, Kakuzu Ridge was literally riddled with caves and tombs. Moreover, Kakazu Ridge was not the first design by Dan Dolan to highlight the importance of caves in Japanese defensive plans. Feeling adventurous?
To be continued...

1. Guomindang (GMD)
An extensive belt of punji
2. This type of fortification is also known as “punji” [1870-75, earlier punjee, panja] stakes, or sticks. Sharpened bamboo stakes were often concealed in tall grass, or placed at the bottom of camouflaged holes or pits. Belts of these stakes, driven into the ground and angled toward the enemy, were also a common field expedient where wire was unavailable. Although visible, the line of stakes tended to channel enemy movement. The tips of the stakes were often covered in excrement, which made even a minor wound cause for concern. The term is attributed to the Tibeto-Burman language of the Kachins of northeast Burma.
3. Interestingly, the Ocean 3 overlay is required for scenario HS17 Water Foul, from the Operation Veritable Historical Study. The overlay is used to depict land flooded by the Rhine River. Other overlays are then placed on top of “ocean,” to represent “islands” above the floodwaters.
4. Although not gospel, Chas Argent (responsible for MMP’s ASL line) has stated publicly that the desert-related counters, overlays, and the Chapter F rules from West of Alamein, along with desert boards 25-31 will appear in the third edition of the Italian module.
5. Scenario 63 has been updated. ASL Journal 10 (page 39) lists the amendments, but I will summarize them here. Scenario Special Rule (SSR) 2, which explained the placement of overlays, has been incorporated into SSR 1. The last SSR dealing with Battlefield Integrity (A16.) has been deleted. Instead of six SSR, we now have four. The third SSR (now SSR 2) had the following inserted before the last sentence: “Both the onboard Column and the Turn 2 Column have already expended 2 MF.” The fifth SSR (now SSR 4) has been simplified by deleting the last two sentences and adding “(A25.43)” to the end of the first sentence. 
Unlike the Reverse Motion counters provided in West of Alamein, those for Animal-Pack were not reissued in later editions of Beyond Valor. The rules for Reverse Motion (F.11), and Vehicular Smoke Grenades (F.10), debuted in Chapter F, but were incorporated subsequently into Chapter D (D 2.24, and D13.35, respectively). I suspect that the rules for Animal-Pack were intended originally for Chapter F. Instead, they were tacked onto the “end” of the Chapter G rules released in Code of Bushido. The good news, for aspiring mule drivers and counter organizers, is that Rising Sun has you covered with three Animal-Pack counters (En Portee au verso).
6. In September 1993, Issue 6 of the ASL Union of Gamers (ASLUG) newsletter contained a scenario by Dan Dolan entitled “Raiders on Butaritari.” ASLUG11 pits Marine raiders (landed by submarine) against Japanese garrison troops. An abandoned dozer is up for grabs because, historically, the Marines used it in the course of carrying out their mission. Another dozer fan named Dan (Owsen) gave us Z28 “Soldiers of Construction” in 1995. Published in the last issue of Rout Report, the scenario is a Seabee’s dream. Two dozers and an M4 Tankdozer (American Vehicle Note 18) headline in this unusual battle between low-morale troops. Seabee is derived from the first two letters of (United States Navy) Construction Battalion.
The Blood Reef Tarawa CG includes three Seabee platoons in the American RG, each with the potential for three armored bulldozers to be lead ashore by Pathfinders (T1.).
7. Japanese Mortar Caves (KR5.) are an exception to the rule, and use a red arrow. Spigot Mortar Caves are found in the Kakazu Ridge HASL. These special caves housed a 320mm mortar. Consequently, the normal stacking limit is a HS.
8. Non-hidden, non-prisoner Infantry in caves are eligible sniper targets (G11.8).
9. I have JR VanMechelen to thank for bringing this subtle advantage to my attention. See also Dade Cariaga’s “Spelunking 101: Tips on Cave and Cave Complex Setups” in ASL Annual 96: 42-44; and, if you can find it, Brian Youse’s “Cave Busting 101: A Look at the ‘Invincible’ Jungle Fortress,” and the accompanying training scenario “Taming Tulagi,” in Backblast 1.
10. Japanese pillboxes are a different beast too. Due to excellent camouflage, a Japanese pillbox set up in Concealment Terrain always sets up hidden, and is revealed as if in jungle (G.2). The use of HIP includes the occupant(s) of the fortification, and does not count against the percentage of Japanese units otherwise allowed to set up hidden. Were this not enough, each Japanese pillbox comes with its own tunnel, provided that one of the tunnel entrances is in the pillbox (G1.632).
11. This also includes their SW, Manhandled-Guns, Guarded-prisoner(s), and as clarified in ASL Journal 10, Japanese Dummy units.
12. It is possible for the level of the cave to differ from that of the hex. Caves situated in the side of a cliff, and/or in a Depression, may exist at more than one level. See, for example, an Upper-Cliff cave (G11.113).
13. For example, no LOS exists between caves in the same hex. Moreover, LOS is exclusive of a cave’s CA Hexside vertices, if the cave is IN a Depression (see also B19.51).
14. MMP noted in Journal 2 that “several more ‘Dolan gems’ on Kakazu Ridge” were still in the play-test phase, including one with a working title of “Hara’s Horror.” It remains unclear whether or not these unfinished designs will eventually see print.


Grumble Jones said...

Another awesome post. Thanks Chris and Happy 2014!

mark said...

Great post, and happy new year. Looking forward to playing with the bulldozers in SC.

Chris Doary said...

Thanks K and Mark,

@ K, all the best in 2014!

@ Mark, I have added your blog to my blog list. Keep posting!