GDW, BURMA (1976)

BURMA is an operational level simulation of the fighting between the Allies and the forces of Imperial Japan along the only continuously active land front in the Pacific Theater during World War II. BURMA was designed by Bob Fowler and published by Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1976.


On 23 December, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army opened its campaign against Allied forces in Burma with an air raid on the strategically important port city of Rangoon. During this same period, the Japanese Fifteenth Army, having completed its occupation of Thailand, advanced against light Allied opposition and captured the British airfields at Tenasserim. Militarily, the Japanese opened their offensive with significant advantages in both men and materiel. The Japanese were expert in jungle warfare, were well-equipped with heavy weapons, and had clear-cut air superiority from the start of the campaign. The Allied forces entrusted with Burma’s defense, on the other hand, were initially composed mainly of hastily-trained Indian and Burmese troops. To add to Allied difficulties, these defenders had virtually no artillery, radios, or antiaircraft guns. Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed Allied positions and road-bound columns virtually without interference. Nor did the hard-pressed defenders’ situation improve as winter gave way to spring. In March, Japanese forces drove the Allies (now referred to as the United Nations) back on all fronts despite the arrival of the Chinese Fifth and Sixth Armies in Burma. These two armies, sent by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek to shore up the United Nations position in Burma, had been placed under the nominal command of American General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell. In April, the Japanese Army — now reinforced by the arrival of two fresh infantry divisions and two tank regiments — routed the Chinese Sixth Army and advanced to capture the northern town of Lashio near the Chinese border. This defeat hastened the collapse of the Burmese civil authority and Burmese troops began to desert in droves. Any prospect for the Allies to save the vital “Burma Road” supply route into China had been lost. On April 30th, 1942, United Nations’ forces abandoned Mandalay and began their long, difficult retreat into British India and China. The first phase of the Burma campaign was over: Burma was lost, and the Allies would now have to wage a long, difficult, and bloody campaign to wrest it back from the Japanese.

BURMA is a complex operational (regimental/brigade/divisional) simulation of the often bitter, but little known, struggle between the Japanese and the United Nations for control of Burma: a strategically important objective for both sides. For the Japanese, Burma was a shield for their recently acquired conquests in China, Indo-China, and Malaya; for the Allies, it was the gateway to the British Empire’s “Jewel in the Crown:” India, and a crucial supply route to the beleaguered Chinese. Given these stakes, it is not surprising that, despite its rugged terrain, endemic malaria, and dense jungles, Burma was the site of some of the most ferocious fighting of the Pacific War.

BURMA is played in game turns with asymmetrical player segments. The Japanese player moves first in each game turn executing the following turn sequence: supply determination phase, reinforcement phase, land and naval movement phase, and combat phase. The Allied player segment is similar but not identical. It proceeds as follows: supply determination phase, reinforcement phase, land and naval movement phase, air power phase, and the combat phase. The air power phase of the Allied game turn allows the phasing player to make parachute drops, conduct air transport of units and supply, and to conduct exploitation movement with those units that were moved during the air transport portion of the phase. The actual game mechanics should be familiar to anyone who has played GDW games before. It was the Allied use of long-range deep penetration raids into the vulnerable Japanese rear areas, however, that really set this campaign apart from more conventional combat operations in other theaters during World War II. Consequently, these raids are one of the central design elements in the game, and the strategic options that they offer make BURMA both interesting and extremely challenging for both players.

BURMA offers only the historical Standard Campaign Scenario. The game begins in December 1942 and continues through May 1945, for a total of twenty-six turns. There are no optional rules. However, because of the unique nature of the Burma campaign, many rules that might be optional in other games are an important part of the standard rules package. After all, does any game that already includes the Burma Road, Chinese troops, Merrill’s Marauders and the Chindits really need the additional historical color of optional rules?

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: One month per game turn (two months per game during monsoon periods)
  • Map Scale: not stated
  • Unit Size: regiment/brigade/division
  • Unit Types (a GDW trademark is unit variation, and hence, this partial exposition): infantry, engineer, artillery, anti-tank, garrison, airmobile long range penetration unit (LRP), parachute, Allied light tank, Allied medium tank, Japanese tank, air transport point (ATP), supply unit, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average/above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 5+ hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet
  • 240 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½”x 11” Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effect Chart, Combat Results Table, Special Movement Summary, Stacking Point Values Chart, and Unit Identification Chart included)
  • One 8 ½” x 11” Turn Record Chart
  • One 8½” x 11” Japanese Order of Battle/Appearance Chart
  • One 8½” x 11” Allied Order of Battle/Appearance Chart
  • One “Zip-Lock” Bag (original packaging)


  • I fell in love with this game back when it came out. I thought it had all the important item's from the campaign that you would want to have. I sent off to the designer for his longer errata listing back then so saw how it could have used more rules tweaking. Something GDW had a lot of.

    Sadly with time and the gaming glut I haven't played it again in decades.

  • Greetings Kim:

    I agree that Bob Fowler seems to have captured all of the main features of this frustrating and bloody campaign. For some reason, I could never really get excited about the game, though. I don't know why, but, on one level I could accept and even admire the job that the designer did with this game, and still not really get enthusiastic about playing it. Go figure ...

    Best Regards, Joe

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