On 27 May, 1905, forty-five Russian warships, after completing an extraordinary 18,000 nautical mile voyage all the way from their regular station in the Baltic Sea, through the Atlantic and — because they were denied passage through the Suez Canal — all the way around Africa and into the Pacific, finally entered the Tsushima Strait between Korea and the Japanese Home Islands. The Russian fleet that steamed all the way from the Baltic to the Pacific was commanded by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky and included seven battleships and six armored cruisers.
Unfortunately for Admiral Rozhestvensky, his magnificent feat of seamanship had not gone unnoticed; spies had alerted Tokyo as soon as the Russian fleet got under way. Thus, the Tsarist armada's ultimate arrival was anticipated for almost the whole of its voyage; and when the Russian fleet finally sailed into the Pacific battle area, the Japanese navy was lying in wait.
Rozhestvensky’s Baltic fleet was on a course for the Russian port of Vladivostok when it was intercepted by a powerful Japanese fleet, under the command of Admiral Heihachiro Togo. Although Rozhestvensky wished to avoid an immediate engagement after his long and wearing sea voyage, Admiral Togo had other plans. By late afternoon, a major battle had developed as Togo’s battleships began to pound the retreating Russian ships at long range. The accurate Japanese fire was devastating. Within a matter of hours, four of the Russian battleships had been sunk and a fifth severely damaged. Admiral Togo’s fleet, which was both faster and better armed than that of his Russian adversary, suffered no losses during this initial clash.
Indicative of the unevenness of the struggle between the two forces was the fate of the Russian Battleship, Borodino, which after being struck in one of its powder magazines, exploded and sank within minutes taking all hands with her to the bottom. Fading light brought no relief to the hard-pressed Russians; instead, as daylight faded on the 27th, the Japanese continued to aggressively press their attacks with destroyers and torpedo boats. By the time night fell on the following day, May 28th, all but twelve of the Russian ships had been sunk, captured, or run aground. Admiral Togo’s total losses were limited to only three torpedo boats. The Russian defeat was crushing; even Admiral Rozhestvensky was wounded in the course of the battle and taken prisoner by the Japanese.
The Battle of Tsushima Strait, besides ending in a decisive victory for the Japanese Navy, was an historic clash for several other reasons. It had been the greatest naval battle since Trafalgar, almost a century before; and it had also been the only major naval action to ever be fought between pre-dreadnaught battleships. In addition, the lop-sided outcome of the battle — although a humiliating and strategic reversal for the Tsar — was, at least, instrumental in finally bringing the Russians to the peace table. ASnd thus it was that the Russo-Japanese War formally ended with the acceptance, by both sides, of peace terms proposed by the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, in December 1905.
THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR simulates the Russo-Japanese War on both land and sea. The land game, PORT ARTHUR, is a strategic treatment of the war, with special emphasis on the logistical problems confronting both armies. The naval game, TSUSHIMA, centers on the individual capital ships and flotillas that featured so prominently in the final outcome of the war. THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR is a comprehensive simulation of the major strategic factors that influenced the battle for Manchuria. However, for those players who want to focus exclusively on either the land or naval portions of the campaign, either the land or the naval game can be played independently.
This game is a division-level simulation of the Japanese land campaign to seize control of Manchuria from Imperial Russia. The game covers the decisive period — from February, 1904 through December, 1905 — during which the outcome of the Japanese land campaign was decided. The PORT ARTHUR game map covers Manchuria from Port Arthur to Mukden; this was the primary battle area over which the contesting armies maneuvered and fought. PORT ARTHUR is played in monthly game turns each of which is divided into a Japanese and a Russian player turn. The Japanese player is always the first to act. Each seven-step game turn proceeds in the following order: Japanese Movement Phase; Japanese Combat Phase; Japanese Supply Determination and Reinforcement Phase; Russian Movement Phase; Russian Combat Phase; Russian Supply Determination and Reinforcement Phase; and the joint Terminal Phase.
Supply, as it did in the historical campaign, plays a critical role in PORT ARTHUR; for this reason, the rules governing the determination of supply status for both sides are both detailed and comparatively complicated. Both sides may use one of two types of supply: Intrinsic Supply, which is drawn from specific geographical sites (e.g. Mukden), and is never expended; and Supply Counters, which are expended when used to support an attack. Supply effects are fairly draconian, if straight forward: “supplied” units operate using their face combat values; “unsupplied” units may not attack at all. In addition, unsupplied artillery units defend with a “0” defense strength and the phasing player receives a +2 die roll modification (DRM) when attacking any unsupplied non-artillery units. Besides combat, supply may also be used to repair damaged combat units. Interestingly, supply status does not affect movement, but “seasons” do. Thus, the movement allowances of all units vary according to the different seasons of the year. All infantry-type units exert a zone of control (ZOC). Zones of control, however, do not extend into town or rough terrain hexes, nor across rivers. In addition, ZOCs are “rigid”: a phasing unit must halt when entering an enemy ZOC, and may move no farther during that game turn. In a subsequent player turn, a phasing unit may either exit an enemy ZOC without penalty, or it may move directly from one ZOC to another, expending its full movement allowance. Stacking of combat units is limited to five units per hex, and no more than two units in a stack may be divisions. Combat is resolved using an “odds differential” Combat Results Table (CRT), but there are two different CRTs: a regular Combat Results Table, and a Siege Fire Results Table. Combat losses are assessed in terms of “hits” and “rout” results. Each hit degrades the combat power of the affected unit, and three hits results in its elimination. “Rout” results require all units in the defending stack to take one hit and retreat four hexes. Terrain Effects are relatively uncomplicated. As might be expected, both rivers and rough terrain slow movement. On the other hand, roads and railroads accelerate movement significantly: phasing units pay one-half movement point to move along roads, and one-fifth movement point to move by rail.
Victory, not surprisingly, is determined on the basis of control of geographical objectives. The Japanese goal, as it was historically, is to capture Mukden and Port Arthur and the rail line that connects them. Different levels of victory are possible, however, depending on how close the Japanese player actually comes to achieving this strategic goal. In the case of stalemate, players also have the choice of playing for an “Optional” victory. This situation may occur if the game bogs down, and neither player is in a position to attain a conventional win.
PORT ARTHUR offers only the twenty-three turn Historical Game. There are no “Optional” rules.
This is the companion game to PORT ARTHUR and covers the naval war between Japan and Russia, the outcome of which was critical to the success of the Japanese land campaign in Manchuria. The naval game map represents the sea areas immediately surrounding Manchuria and the Japanese Islands. TSUSHIMA is played in monthly game turns each of which is comprised of seven turn segments. The first six turn segments simulate naval operations and are each procedurally identical. The Japanese player is always the first player. Each of the six naval segments proceeds as follows: Japanese Movement Phase; Japanese Spotting and Combat Phase; Russian Movement Phase; Russian Spotting and Combat Phase. At the conclusion of the sixth naval segment, the game turn ends with the joint Terminal Phase.
Because TSUSHIMA is a naval simulation, a number of familiar land combat concepts do not appear in the game. Supply, for example, is not a factor because of the scale and time frame of the game. However, in its place, Ports and Ship Repairs do have a direct effect on both navies’ operations during the course of play. Movement rules are simple, but important; just one example of movement restrictions: before either players’ fleets leave port, individual ships must be assigned to “Divisions,” each of which can range in size from three to six ships. Terrain rules are also quite simple. Because there are essentially only three types of terrain — land, sea, and partial sea hexes — the effects of different terrain types are minimal. However, terrain is not completely irrelevant: naval units that enter “partial sea” hexes do run a small risk of “running aground.”
The Spotting and Combat Rules for TSUSHIMA, as is typical of many naval board games, are very reminiscent of those governing naval miniatures. They are also both very detailed and quite richly textured, and, for this reason, the following description of naval combat operations represents only a brief overview of the various steps that players must follow in the course of the game. Combat, as is typical of many naval games that attempt to simulate both strategic and tactical operations, only becomes possible when enemy fleets occupy the same hex. Thus, ships maneuver on the regular hexagonal (strategic) game map until they enter a hex containing enemy vessels. When opposing fleets intercept each other, they may attempt, during the appropriate player phase, to spot the enemy ships located in their current hex. If spotting is successful, the two opposing fleets — much like surface combat in TAHGC’s MIDWAY — are both removed from the strategic map and are placed on the TSUSHIMA “Battle Board.” Ships transferred to the “Battle Board” must initially be placed in their starting divisions, and the top ship counter in each “divisional” stack is considered to be the “lead” ship for that division: a designation, by the way, that is important because of its effect on the speed and maneuver options of the entire division. Once the two enemy fleets have been deployed on the opposite ends of the “Battle Board,” combat begins.
Interestingly, combat procedures, although carefully structured, are conducted in a more-or-less open-ended sequence of firing and movement rounds until one or the other of the opposing fleets is either destroyed or retreats (attempts “flight”) from the action. All combat is considered to be simultaneous. Naval combat is resolved using “odds differential” Combat Results Tables (CRTs), of which there are two: a regular Naval Gunfire Table, and a Torpedo Table. Combat losses are assessed in terms of “hits” and “sunk” results. Each hit degrades the combat power and movement capability of the affected unit, and three hits results in its elimination (sinking). Destroyer and Torpedo Boat counters are an exception: hits affect the combat power of these units, but not their movement. Merchant fleets are sunk when they receive a single hit.
In addition to the basic rules covering movement, stacking, spotting, and combat, TSUSHIMA also includes detailed rules to simulate Morale, ship Repairs, Ports, Mines, and even Special Ship Types. And to add further to the (historically justified) woes of the Russian player, there is also a First Turn Surprise rule that severely restricts the actions of the Tsar’s fleet during the first two naval phases of the campaign game. There are no “Optional” rules.
TSUSHIMA, besides the twenty-three turn historical campaign game, also offers four shorter scenarios that permit the players both to familiarize themselves with the game system, and to examine different phases of the naval war. These scenarios (or mini-games) are: The Battle of Port Arthur (all action takes place on the “Battle Board”); The Destruction of the Variag at Chemulpo (all action on the “Battle Board”); The Battle of Round Island (up to 3 game turns); and The Battle of Tsushima (up to 3 game turns).
Victory in the campaign game is determined both by “Control of the Sea” and by the cumulative damage inflicted on the opposing fleet at the conclusion of the game. In the case of the shorter mini-games, victory conditions vary and are specific to the situation outlined in each scenario.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONIn THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR, players will quickly find that, as was the case historically, Russian naval sorties are exceedingly rare. But some sort of naval action is virtually guaranteed: first because the vulnerability of the Japanese sea borne supply lines makes raiding attractive (the “Control of the Sea” issue); and second, because of the preordained arrival of the Russian Baltic Fleet. The importance of the Japanese sea supply lanes underscores a critical factor in THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR: in the land battle for Manchuria, it is often much more economical and effective to put enemy units out of supply, than it is to actually fight them. Toe-to-toe combat can be expensive, and, whether successful or not, always consumes precious supplies. Interestingly, the strategic balance between the two belligerents is much closer than it first appears. Although the Russian player is at a distinct disadvantage, both in terms of his naval combat power and in the command and control of his naval and ground forces, his position is far from hopeless. The Japanese player has problems of his own: Japanese forces must steadily advance, and they must capture Port Arthur and Mukden, if they are to have any chance of matching the original outcome of the campaign. Moreover, as long as Port Arthur is under Russian control, the Tsar’s navy remains a dangerous threat to Japanese operations. For this reason, and others, the historical Japanese victory is far from a foregone conclusion.
All things considered, the pair of simulations that make up THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR are two of the better games to come from Marc Miller: one of the “boys from Normal” who, in all honesty, has never been among my favorite designers at GDW. Unlike some of Mr. Miller’s other creations — AGINCOURT and the Seelöwe invasion game from THEIR FINEST HOUR come immediately to mind — the rules for THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR, while a little obtuse, are not incomprehensible; an observation that I make advisedly. Most new players will still find that more than one reading of the game rules is helpful before beginning play. Graphically, the game components are crude but neither ambiguous nor outright ugly. And continuing in this vein of “damning with faint praise,” the land and sea games actually mesh together fairly well, and the two titles are both interesting and enjoyable enough to be worth playing as separate “stand-alone” games.
That being said, THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR is not without its more serious faults. The supply rules for PORT ARTHUR, although plausible from an historical standpoint, are cumbersome; and players must take pains not to mix up supply counters with “hit” markers particularly in densely-stacked situations such as arise during the siege of Port Arthur. The main problem with the land game, however, is not rooted in the land supply rules, but in those rules that pertain to the Japanese sea lanes. During the early post-invasion phase of the game, if the Japanese lose “Control of the Seas,” the land game can easily go off the rails and even turn into an inconclusive stalemate. Historically this may be accurate, but a Russian player with “hot dice” can still create real problems for the Japanese land campaign.
The sea counterpart to the land game, TSUSHIMA, offers very few genuine surprises and is pretty-much standard fare for simulations of naval operations on this scale. There is a certain amount of “limited intelligence” baked into the game, but not so much as to seriously slow play. Of course, unless a player is a masochist, it is clearly more fun to command the Japanese Fleet in TSUSHIMA; so opponents eager to direct the Tsar’s outclassed naval forces are usually hard to find. I have personally found that, in dealing with this problem, bribes are often useful. To be fair, of course, this is hardly the fault of the game; particularly, in light of the historical outcome of the Battle of the Tsushima Strait. Sadly for the Russophiles amongst us, in the vast majority of TSUSHIMA naval match-ups, the Russian Navy will have a very tough time of it; on the other hand, they had a tough time of it, historically, so this aspect of the naval simulation really isn’t a surprise.
Design Characteristics (PORT ARTHUR):
- Time Scale: 1 month per game turn
- Map Scale: 6.6 statute miles
- Unit Size: battalion/brigade/division
- Unit Types: infantry, guard infantry, cavalry, Cossack cavalry, guard cavalry, Kobi infantry (designated with a cavalry symbol), artillery, siege artillery, garrison, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average/above average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 3-5 hours
Game Components (PORT ARTHUR):
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Combat Results Table, Siege Fire Table, Terrain Movement and Combat Effects Keys, Turn Record Tracks, Port Arthur Fortress Display, Control of the Sea Display, Seasonal Movement Chart, and Off-Map Transfer Boxes incorporated)
- 240 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Set-up Instructions and Unit Manifest incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR Combined Rules
- One 8½” x 11” THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR Errata & Clarifications (dated 28 March, 1976)
- One 12” x 15” Ziploc® Plastic Bag (original packaging)
Design Characteristics (TSUSHIMA):
- Time Scale: 1 month per game turn
- Map Scale: 102 statute miles per hex
- Unit Size: individual Capital Ships, Destroyer/Torpedo flotillas, Merchant Fleets
- Unit Types: Armored Cruiser, Battleship, Protected Cruiser, Destroyer, Torpedo boat, Merchant ships, and information markers
- Number of Players: 2
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 3- 6+ hours (depending on the scenario)
Game Components (TSUSHIMA):
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Chart, Sea Area Transfer Boxes, Terrain Key, Japanese and Russian Fleet Composition Charts, Battle Board, Gunfire Combat Results Table, and Torpedo Attack Results Table incorporated)
- 176 ⅝” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Counter Manifest and Scenario Instructions incorporated)