GDW, 1942 (1978)

1942 is an operational-level (battalion/regimental/division) simulation of ground combat during the first five months of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The game was designed by Marc Miller and published in 1978 by Game Designer’ Workshop (GDW). 1942 is one of GDW’s “Series 120” games. These titles were intended to be “introductory” games; the “120 Series” label comes from the fact that each of these games uses no more than 120 counters, and all were designed to be played to completion in two hours or less.


Over seven thousand islands collectively make up the Philippine Archipelago. This vast concentration of large and small islands lies only 500 miles from the coast of China, and, because of this position, the Philippine Islands dominate the eastern shipping lanes through the South China Sea. The United States first seized the Philippine Islands from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, and the advantages to the United States of American control of this former Spanish colony were obvious from the outset. The serendipitous location of the Philippines quickly made the archipelago an important commercial center for American companies with economic interests in Asia; it also made it an excellent base for American naval forces in the Far East. This fact was not lost on other national players in the region and, as time passed, unfriendly eyes began to covet this American Asiatic possession; eyes that belonged to the senior officers of the general staff of the expansionist and increasingly bellicose Empire of Japan.

The United States and Japan had not always been adversaries. In fact, the two rising Pacific powers had been Allies during the First World War; unfortunately, in the decades that followed the “War to end all Wars,” the two countries had repeatedly clashed diplomatically over Japan’s escalating war of conquest against China. And as the relations between Japan and the United States continued to deteriorate in the mid-1930s, the Japanese High Command began secret military preparations to wrest the Philippine Islands from America’s control. The islands’ strategic location made the subjugation of the Philippines — and particularly the archipelago’s most important island, Luzon — essential to future Japanese plans for military expansion into the rest of Southeast Asia. And such an expansion was essential to Japan's ambitious future Imperial designs in the Pacific. Japan had no significant natural resources of its own; however, the coal, oil, rubber, tin, iron ore, nickel, and agricultural lands that Japan needed to support its expanding industries and to feed its growing population were all within easy striking distance of the Empire’s powerful army and navy. Unfortunately, to seize these prizes, Japan would have to take them by force from the British, Dutch, and Americans.

America and her European allies, not surprisingly, were not oblivious either to Japan’s Imperial ambitions or to the military threat those ambitions posed to American and European holdings in the region. Moreover, the critical importance of these islands was as obvious to American military leaders as it was to the Japanese. Thus, when General Douglas MacArthur was recalled to active duty on 26 July 1941 to serve as the supreme commander of all forces in the Philippines, he immediately set about planning for a robust and aggressive defense of Luzon. Philippine defenses were, the new commander discovered soon after taking charge, woefully inadequate. Nonetheless, the always confident General MacArthur was certain that, once promised reinforcements and modern equipment from the U.S. had arrived in the Philippines, Luzon could be successfully held against even a large-scale and determined enemy invasion. His target date for completion of his defensive preparations was April, 1942. Unfortunately for MacArthur, his army, and the Filipino people, the Imperial Japanese Army had a timetable of its own.

On 8 December 1941, Japanese bombers from Formosa struck American airfields on Luzon. Almost half of all of the U.S. Army’s modern fighters as well as recently-arrived B-17 bombers were destroyed on the ground. On 10 December, the Japanese began amphibious landings against the northern end of Luzon. Small Japanese detachments landed at Gonzaga, Appari, Ladag, and Vigan and seized airfields so that incoming Japanese planes could be based directly on the island. And this was only the beginning. On 12 December a small Japanese force of 2,500 landed on the southern tip of the island at Legaspi and rapidly marched north. On 22 and 24 December 1941, the main body of General Homma’s Fourteenth Army finally came ashore on Luzon without meeting any serious interference. The invasion phase of the Japanese plan, by any standard, had been a complete success, the next phase — the battle for control of Luzon and with it, the rest of the Philippines — was now ready to go forward.


1942 is a two-player simulation of the first five months of the Japanese ground offensive in the Pacific. Beginning in December 1941, Japan launched attacks against Western forces in Pearl Harbor, Malaya, the Philippine Islands, Java, and Hong Kong. The game focuses on the initial period — December 1941 to May 1942 — of Japanese expansion into Southeast Asia, and of the Allies’ attempt to stem Imperial Japan’s tide of conquest.

Because 1942 is intended by the designer to be an “introductory” game, the game system is orthodox, comparatively simple, and intuitively logical. The counters represent the military units — American and Filipinos, British, Dutch, and Japanese — that actually fought in the historical campaign. The area represented by the game map covers that region of Southeast Asia over which the Allies and Japanese battled for control. 1942 is played in game turns, each of which represents a fortnight (roughly two weeks) of real time. Each game turn is further divided into an Allied and a Japanese player turn; the Allied player is always the first player to act in any turn. However, the game begins with a special Japanese Attack game turn (turn “0”) during which only the Japanese player may move and attack; the game then continues with its standard format for ten more regular game turns. Each game turn in 1942 follows an ordered series of player actions and proceeds as follows: Allied Movement Phase; Allied Combat Phase; Japanese Movement Phase; and Japanese Combat Phase. The Movement Phase of each player turn is further subdivided into three strictly ordered player actions: the Land Movement Segment; the Air Movement Segment; and finally, the Naval Movement Segment. In keeping with the “introductory” intent of the designer, the rest of the rules are also comparatively clear and easy to understand, even for a comparative novice. All ground units possess a zone of control (ZOC). In addition, these ZOCs are rigid, but not “sticky,” and combat is voluntary between adjacent enemy units. Supply rules, although important to the play of the game, are refreshingly uncomplicated. Stacking rules are also simple: four ground units of the same side may stack in a single hex; stacking rules are different for fortresses, however, and air units may not stack with other air units.

Combat is resolved using a traditional “odds differential” Combat Results Table. Terrain, itself, has no effect on combat; those factors that do influence combat are expressed through die-roll modifications (DRMs). Air and amphibious operations are an integral part of the game and are handled abstractly but with logical simplicity. The game’s winner is determined by comparing each side’s victory point totals at the conclusion of game turn ten. Victory points — as might be expected, given the Japanese military's strategic goals — are gained through the capture of certain geographical objectives and also through the destruction (surrender) of enemy units. In addition, the Allies receive victory points for any Allied units still surviving on the game map at game end. 1942 offers two scenarios: the Historical Dispositions Scenario; and the Allied Optional Dispositions Scenario. There are no other “optional” rules.


First, a brief note on what 1942 is not. It is not VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC or USN without ship counters. The narrow, operational scope of the game, both in terms of geography and in terms of time scale, is much shorter and less complicated than either of these other two titles. What it is, instead, is a relatively simple simulation of the initial, widely-dispersed Japanese military operations that actually set off the War in the Pacific. The Japanese plan of conquest was both extraordinarily ambitious and audacious. Moreover, the independent ground campaigns to drive the Allies out of Malaya, Hong Kong, Java, and the Philippines during the first days of the war all presented their own sets of unique challenges. Extremely tight operational timetables, and real limitations in available airpower, sea lift, naval warships, and in ground forces all could have produced a Japanese defeat — if not a military disaster — had any major element of the Japanese strategic plan gone wrong. Time and manpower were the major stumbling blocks for the Emperor’s military commanders; the Japanese were chronically short of both during the early months of the war. Yet the Imperial ground, air and naval forces won one decisive victory after another, often against formidable odds. It is how the Japanese achieved these stunning results and what the Allies might have done to thwart them that Marc Miller attempts to simulate in 1942.

In a more general vein, I cannot resist making an observation or two about GDW’s quirky attempt at producing simple, easy-to-play, inexpensive games. GDW’s foray into the design and publication of simple, introductory games was, to be generous, pretty much a bust. AGINCOURT was too simple, visually nondescript (green and brown, that’s the best you could do for counters in the age of heraldry?) and boringly repetitive in its play; BEDA FOMM and ALMA were interesting games, but probably a bit too complicated for the typical beginner. And these disappointing examples were not alone: more than a few of the other “120” titles shared the unfortunate attributes of being both time-consuming to learn and boring to play, once they were learned. That being said, I personally think that of all of the “120 Series” of games, 1940, 1941, and 1942 all probably come closest to fulfilling the original design goals set by the “boys from Normal” for the “120 Series.” Over the years, I have played every one of these World War II titles and, to varying degrees, liked them all. My personal favorite of the three, I have to confess, remains 1940. I don’t know why, but the very different strategic problems confronting both the Allies and the Germans in the spring of 1940, have always intrigued me. Nonetheless, I also spent many enjoyable hours playing the other two titles, and I and a few of my friends continued, off and on, to play them for years after they first appeared. And these World War II titles all have something else going for them, as well: despite the different campaigns that each of these three GDW games represents in game form, I think that they all share several qualities that are critical to the long-term success of any “introductory" game. That is: they are all three comparatively easy-to-learn, interesting, and fast-paced to play. In addition, because of the unique military problems presented in every one of these titles, I believe that each of them can be challenging and fun for the experienced player, while still being enjoyable for the hobby novice.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 fortnight (½ month) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 85 nautical miles per hex
  • Unit Size: battalion/regiment/division
  • Unit Types: infantry, guards infantry, machinegun, marine, artillery, parachute, amphibious, tank, armored cavalry, garrison, fortress, air units, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 1½-2 hours

Game Components:

  • One 17” x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • 120 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Set-Up Instructions, Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, and Hong Kong Assault Table incorporated)
  • One 6” x 4” GDW Customer Response Card
  • One 9¼” x 6¼” x 1¾ ” cardboard Game Box


  • Great review. I lost my copy years ago in a move and have missed it. I enjoyed the game, but usually played it solitaire. Thanks for you military service. Fellow Army Vet...Essayons and Semper Volans.

  • Greetings Anon:

    Thank you for your kind words; I appreciate your interest.

    '1942' is probably one of my favorite Marc Miller games: I never really got excited about Marc's Role-Playing designs (which were, to be fair, his real forte) but I did like this title.

    For what it's worth, Consimworld (thanks to the yeoman efforts of John Kranz) has begun to reissue some of the old GDW titles (beginning with 'Bedda Fomm' a few years ago) so there is a possibility that this title may see print in a new version, yet again.

    Best Regards, Joe

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