HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDIn the winter of 1942, the Japanese Imperial High Command found itself at a strategic crossroads. Most of the warships of the US, Australia, Holland, and England had either been sunk, damaged, or driven out of Japan’s expanding operational battle area in the Central and Southwestern Pacific. Moreover, the surprisingly successful offensives by Japanese forces in the Philippine Islands and Burma, and the unexpectedly rapid conquests of the Dutch East Indies, French Indo-China and Malaya, had taken the Imperial General Staff somewhat by surprise. In March of 1942, the senior military commanders of the Imperial forces found, much to their satisfaction, that their operations were months ahead of the original Japanese timetable. Japanese offensive operations in every corner of the battle area had been stunningly successful. Perhaps momentarily infected with “triumphalism,” several ambitious, short-range plans were put forward by senior commanders to further capitalize on Japan's unexpected good fortune.
After much internal debate, the Japanese High Command settled on a hastily-organized, but potentially decisive offensive strike: the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), it was decided, would launch a major carrier raid against the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean, aa well as British bases in Ceylon and the Andaman Islands. To head this ad-hoc attacking force, the Japanese planners again turned to Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the commander of the raid against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Once given his mission, Nagumo decided on a two-pronged attack. One prong — the stronger naval force — under Vice Admiral Nabutake Kondo, would consist of four carriers, four battleships, three cruisers, and eight destroyers; the other, lighter force, led by Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, would be made up of one carrier, six cruisers, and eight destroyers. An additional carrier, the Hiryu, would join the attacking fleet after completing air operations against Allied coastal positions in Burma.
On 26 March 1942, both main Japanese naval forces set sail, Kondo’s force from the Celebes, Ozawa’s fleet from Java. The two Japanese fleets planned to rendezvous in the Indian Ocean and then launch their carrier air strikes against the British in Ceylon and the Andaman Islands. Unbeknownst to Admiral Nagumo, however, the British were expecting just such a Japanese move.
Admiral Somerville, the British commander in charge of English naval forces in India and Ceylon, had been on the lookout for enemy raiders ever since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Somerville only had to wait a few months before his expectations were confirmed. Within days of Nagumo's sailing, the wary British admiral was alerted by military code-breakers that a large Japanese naval operation was in the works. Correctly guessing that the Imperial Navy might be preparing to execute a major raid against his fleet, Somerville immediately evacuated the naval base at Columbo and, at the same time, ordered stepped-up aerial reconnaissance in an attempt to locate any Japanese warships steaming towards the Indian Ocean and Ceylon. To further protect the fleet, including his three precious aircraft carriers, Admiral Somerville also ordered many of his British warships to a secret, hastily-constructed naval base in the Maldives.
On 4 April, a lone PBY Catalina spotted Kondo’s force 400 miles south of Ceylon and advancing at flank speed. The aircrew managed to radio the Japanese force’s position before the PBY was shot down by Zeros from Kondo’s carriers. The stage had now been set for a major naval battle between the Royal Navy and the, here-to-for, invincible naval forces of Imperial Japan.
INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE is a large-scale, highly-detailed, air-naval treatment of the attempt by the Imperial Japanese Navy to mount a “Pearl Harbor” type raid against the British Fleet based in Ceylon in 1942. Japanese naval planners, confident that American naval strength was at least temporarily out of the picture, decided on a bold surprise attack against the British Forces anchored in the twin ports of Colombo and Trincomalee. If the British Far Eastern Fleet could be destroyed, not only would Japan’s new conquests in Southeast Asia be protected, but such a raid might even pave the way for the Japanese invasion of India. And perhaps, if the Germans ultimately succeeded in capturing the Suez Canal, a direct link-up between all three Axis partners in the Middle East and Indian Ocean. Such, then, are the stakes for both players as Vice Admiral Nagumo’s First Air Fleet, which had stuck Pearl Harbor just four months before, prepares to strike a similar blow against the Royal Navy in Ceylon.
The game begins with the morning turn of 3 April and ends no later than the evening game turn of 14 April 1942 (43 game turns). INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE is played in interwoven, multi-phase player turns. Each game turn is divided into seven phases: the initial phase; the reconnaissance phase; the air movement phase; the combat phase; the ship movement phase; the air return phase; and the terminal phase. Given previous simulations of naval battles during this period, it is not surprising that hidden movement (utilizing secret task force plotting) is a critical factor in the game’s dynamic. However, the unique flavor of the INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE game system comes from the initiative die-rolls which occur during the initial phase of each game turn. Both players roll a die during this phase and the winner has the option of assuming or declining the initiative. The player with the initiative acts first throughout the turn; hence, the player turn order is variable and unpredictable. This means that, along with the challenges imposed by a frequent lack of reliable intelligence as to the foe’s locations and plans, the designer has added another layer of nerve-wracking uncertainty for the players to manage.
Naval movement is handled in a fairly orthodox, if interesting manner. Task force markers, which conceal the actual composition of fleet elements, are maneuvered on the game map; but, movement for each game turn is pre-plotted by both players on Task Force Plotting and Ship Status sheets. Terrain, as might be expected, is restricted to sea and land hexes. In this game system, interestingly, weather (assuming players can actually decipher the weather rules) introduces what variation there is onto the game map.
Combat in the INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE is detailed and somewhat (all right, very) cumbersome, as there are seemingly different combat results tables (CRTs) for every imaginable type of combat situation. To keep track of combat effects on both side's ships, damage to individual vessels is recorded on the Ship Status portion of the Task Force Plotting sheet. I should note that this aspect of the game is actually redeemed somewhat by the relatively small number of units that were actually involved in the historical action.
The game's components are about what one would expect from GDW during the 1970s. The game map, and game charts and tables are fairly bland and uninteresting, but functional. The counters, always one of GDW's strong suits, are well-done and colorful; they can, however, be a little difficult to read. The game rules, although comparatively brief, are undoubtedly the weakest element of the game's design. This, by the way, seems to be a persistent problem with Marc Miller's designs. In this particular instance, the game rules, to be blunt, are not gracefully or even clearly written. Moreover, the various rules sections are awkwardly organized and more than a little obtuse; and a few examples of play would probably have been extremely helpful, as well. For this reason, it seems to take a lot longer to get a real sense of the game's mechanics than the rule book's short length might otherwise suggest. This is not to say that the game, itself, is completely unplayable; but it does mean that a new player will have to work dilligently if he wants to figure it out.
INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE does not offer any optional scenarios or rules. However, a certain amount of variation comes from the random selection of the British “secret naval base” prior to the start of the game. This rule is based on historical events. After Pearl Harbor, the British recognized the vulnerability of their bases in Ceylon and established a secret naval base at Addu Atoll.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONGDW made its reputation among early gamers, at least partly, by being willing to publish simulations about historically obscure, and even unknown military operations. This title pretty much falls into this category. Marc Miller's INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE examines an interesting, if little-known, naval action that could have had far-reaching consequences for the Pacific War. The naval actions in the Coral Sea and at Midway are, of course, much better known; but Nagumo's raid into the Indian Ocean, had it been successful, could well have tipped the strategic balance significantly against the Allies during the first critical months after Pearl Harbor. That being said, the energetic and able Admiral Somerville probably contributed as much as anyone to stemming Japan's western expansion; by preserving the British fleet in the Indian ocean, he may even have saved India for the Commonwealth.
For the above reasons, I offer a qualified recommendation of INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE both to those gamers who enjoy naval simulations, and to those with a particular interest in the Pacific War. This is one of the very few treatments of an otherwise neglected subject; so for that reason, I am going to 'hold my nose' and weakly recommend this game, even though it comes from a designer whose work I generally find both frustrating and disappointing. In the end, for all of its flaws, INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE still offers (for the truly determined naval game buff) a fascinating opportunity to explore what "might have been," had things gone just a little differently for Admiral Nagumo's fleet in April of 1942.
- Time Scale: 6 hours per game turn (four game turns per day: morning, afternoon, evening, and night)
- Map Scale: 37.5 statute miles (33 nautical miles) per hex
- Unit Size: individual ships, groups of auxiliaries, half squadrons of aircraft, and elements of two to three scout aircraft
- Unit Types: fighter, dive bomber, torpedo bomber, land-based air, float plane, CV, CVL, BB, B, CA, CL, CLA, M, DD, AO, AS, and information markers
- Number of Players: two (good candidate for team play)
- Complexity: above average/high
- Solitaire Suitability: low
- Average Playing Time: 5–10 + hours (with experienced players or teams; of course, if one side blunders, it can be over a lot more quickly)
- One 22” x 27½” hexagonal grid Map
- 240 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Game Setup, Dive Bombing Tables, Level Bombing Tables, Naval Bombardment Table, and Scramble Table)
- Two 8½” x 11” Task Force Composition Charts
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Universal Table (with Naval Gunnery Tables; Air-to-Air Combat Results Table; Torpedo Fire Tables for both Air, and Surface Attacks; and Anti-Aircraft Fire Tables)
- One 5½” x 8½” back-printed Task Force Plotting and Ship Status Pad (with both Japanese and British ship status records)
- One Zip-Lock Bag (original packaging)