At 1222 hours on 4 June 1942, the planes of Air Group Six, which had launched from the U.S.S Enterprise a little over three hours before and were now at risk of running short on fuel, began their dive bombing attack on the four newly-spotted aircraft carriers of the Japanese Midway Invasion Force. The results of this attack were devastating. In the space of a few brief minutes, three of the four Japanese carriers — the Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu — were out of action and sinking, and the naval-air balance of power in the Pacific had undergone an irreversible, tectonic shift. By the end of the Battle of Midway, the American Pacific Fleet had lost one carrier, the Yorktown, and a single destroyer; the Japanese had lost all four of the fleet carriers present in the battle, including the Hiryu — unscathed during the first dive bombing attacks of the day — which, along with the cruiser Mikuma, was sunk by follow-up American carrier airstrikes later in the battle.
MIDWAY is a naval-air simulation of the critical four day period, from 3 through 6 June 1941, during which four of the best Japanese Fleet Carriers faced off in the Central Pacific against the remaining three American Aircraft Carriers that were still operating in the Pacific after the Battle of the Coral Sea, only a month before. This complex cat-and-mouse operation took place on a broad expanse of ocean near the American-controlled island of Midway. And the outcome of this brief, but decisive naval air engagement turned the tide in the Pacific War.
Play in MIDWAY begins at 0500 on 3 June 1941 with the entry onto the west edge of the “Search Board” of the first “fast carrier’ element of the Imperial Japanese Fleet which is steaming east to attack the American garrison on Midway Island. The American Fleet advances onto the game board from the east. On the first game turn ONLY, the American player may move up to six sea zones on the “Search Board;” this movement bonus makes a first day carrier action possible, even if the Japanese player does not move aggressively against Midway Island on 3 June. Each game turn represents two hours of real time, and there are seven daylight and two night turns in each “game day.” Ships may move normally on both day and night game turns, but air missions, as might be expected, may only be launched during daylight game turns. The game, if played to its conclusion, can be up to 34 game turns long.
MIDWAY follows a relatively simple game turn sequence: the first player (Japanese) brings in any scheduled reinforcements, and then moves his ship counters on his section of the “Search Board” up to two sea zones; the American commander then moves his ship counters in the same fashion. Next, the two players both inform their opponents as to whether they are readying aircraft for flight missions, and note on the player “Hit Record & Operations” sheets, which carriers now have readied aircraft on their flight decks. The players are now ready to begin the “search phase” of the game turn. First, the US commander calls out search areas in an attempt to locate enemy ships; he may conduct air searches against any four “search areas” on the board. Once the American player has completed his searches, the Japanese player may then reconnoiter three search areas, so long as they are all within twelve sea zones of at least one of his ships. In addition to air searches, both players may also conduct ship searches in any areas in which they have patrolling vessels. If either players’ searches locate an area containing enemy vessels, the player controlling the located ships must inform the searching commander of precisely in which of the search area’s sea zone or zones (there are nine “sea zones” in each “search area”) his ships are situated, and what specific types (i.e. BBs, CVs, etc.) they are. Once both players have completed their respective searches, they then write down their air mission orders, if any, in the operations section of their individual “Hit Record” sheets. They then reveal their operations orders to their opponent. If neither player is launching any air attacks against enemy ships, then the turn ends, and play continues on to the next game turn. However, if any air missions against enemy vessels are being launched — aircraft transfers between friendly carriers and/or Midway, by the way, do not count as attacks — both then simultaneously reveal their operational orders to the opposing player. These written orders must be detailed; they must include the specific sea zone or zones being targeted; the numbers and types of aircraft squadrons that are being sent against these target zones, and specifics as to any fighter squadrons being flown as CAP over the attacking or defending fleet. It is important to note that aircraft have a maximum range of fourteen sea zones. This is the TOTAL range of all aircraft squadrons; air missions may be flown in any combination of different distances (i.e., four zones on the approach leg to the target and then ten zones back to a landing zone) but the fourteen zones maximum air range may not be exceeded. To represent the vessels located in the target zone, the defending player now positions special ship counters (using over-sized markers specifically intended for this purpose) onto the “Battle Board” and play proceeds to the Combat Phase. In cases where both players are launching air strikes against enemy ships, engagements are fought one-at-a-time, but are considered to be occurring simultaneously.
Combat in MIDWAY — at least in the Tournament Game — takes one of three basic forms: aircraft (fighter) vs. aircraft; aircraft against ship; and, on those rare occasions when opposing fleets occupy the same sea zone, surface (ship vs. ship) battles. All fighter combat is resolved first; however, any defending fighter squadrons in excess (comparing numbers of squadrons) of the attacking fighter escort may, if the defending player chooses, be assigned to reinforce the anti-aircraft screen of the surface vessels under attack. Aircraft versus ship combat involves enemy dive bombers (these attack from directly overhead) and torpedo planes (these attack from the sides) being placed on the “Battle Board” on top of or adjacent to their targets; once all attacking aircraft have been assigned to their targets, the defending player then allocates screening (antiaircraft) fire against the attacking squadrons in an effort to defeat or blunt the enemy air strike. Attacks are resolved, one-by-one, and results are applied immediately. Each of the three types of combat: fighter vs. fighter; ship-to-ship; and aircraft vs. ship, employs a different combat results table. In the case of fighter vs. fighter and aircraft vs. ship battles, losses are assessed against aircraft in terms of squadrons lost, and against surface vessels in terms of hits. Destroyed air squadrons are eliminated permanently from play; ships, according to their type, can absorb varying amounts of damage, but all vessels can be sunk if they sustain sufficient hits. Surface battles make use of the gunnery, rather than the antiaircraft factors of the opposing ship counters; it should be noted, however, that surface engagements are exceedingly rare, and, in those unusual instances when they do occur — because of the recurring possibility of fog — they are often inconclusive. While it should be obvious given the time-scale of the game, damage points (hits), once sustained, are permanent; damaged vessels may not be repaired in the course of the game. Finally, as was the case historically, any carriers caught with readied planes on their decks can be sunk with one less hit than would normally be required.
Victory in MIDWAY is determined on the basis of victory points. Both players receive points for hits on enemy vessels, and for sinking enemy ships. The two are often, but not always the same. For example, the Japanese carrier, Akagi, can sustain four hits before being bottomed, but once sunk, is worth ten victory points to the American player. Last but not least, there is actually a game incentive for the Japanese player to follow through with Yamamoto’s original battle plan: the US player receives one victory point — starting with the 5:00 am, June 5th game turn — for each additional game turn that he can delay the Japanese capture of Midway Island.
MIDWAY presents only the historical situation, but it does offer two versions: the Basic Game and the Tournament Game. The Tournament Game is identical to the Basic version except that it adds special rules for Fighters, Surface Combat, and the Reduction of Midway. There are no scenarios (although a number have been presented in the pages of the General over the years) and only a few optional rules. These published Optional Rules include: “Reduced Movement and Firepower” due to damage; “Anvil” attacks; and “Wave” attacks. In the years following the game’s appearance, interestingly, popular demand has led to a few additional rules becoming standard for MIDWAY. These post-publication rules-changes have been added to prevent the use of unrealistic or questionable game tactics, such as: one-way “suicide” air strikes (by either side); or the (with apologies to Monty Python) “Brave Sir Robin” practice of the American player exiting his ships off the east edge of the search board once he’d managed to pick up a tiny lead in victory points.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Since the publication of MIDWAY ’64 almost a half century ago, a lot of carrier and/or naval-air simulations have made their appearance on the gaming scene; and, at one time or another, I have probably played most of them. Some of these newer titles have been interesting, if occassionally disappointing (GDW’s INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE, BATTLE FOR MIDWAY, and CORAL SEA); some have been eccentric, if not downright odd (SPI’s FAST CARRIERS, SOLOMONS CAMPAIGN, and USN); some have been very good, if very big (Battleline’s FLAT TOP); and some have just been great fun (TAHGC’s VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC). None-the-less, MIDWAY, despite its dated rules, old-fashioned “squares instead of hexagons” Search Board, and generally “hokey” graphics, is still my personal favorite.
One reason, of course, is playability. Two experienced players can actually knock off a couple of games of MIDWAY in a single afternoon; I encourage anyone to try that little trick with FLAT TOP, or even better still, with FAST CARRIERS. Another is the “fog of war” limited intelligence aspect of the game’s search and operations routines: where the heck is the American fleet, anyway? And should I send up my CAP this turn, or did my opponent ready his planes on his last move as part of an elaborate bluff? And finally, there is the “historical” feel of the game. Both the intense “blindly feeling your way in the dark” nature of the opening maneuvers prior to the battle, and the stunning lethality of air strikes delivered against an unsuspecting enemy fleet, are features of the game that combine to convey a real sense of how this decisive action unfolded. MIDWAY certainly has its flaws, but it still does a great job of showing how, in the space of five devastating minutes, a few hundred resourceful and intrepid American pilots were able to reverse the tide of the entire War in the Pacific. That may not be everything when it comes to simulating the actual Battle of Midway, it but is more than enough for me.
- Time Scale: 1 hour per game turn
- Map Scale (Search Board): 15 nautical miles per square (estimated)
- Unit Size: individual ships and aircraft squadrons
- Unit Types: CV, CVL, BB, CA, CL, Torpedo Bombers, Dive Bombers, Fighters, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: below average
- Average Playing Time: 2-4 + hours
- One 14” x 22” hard-backed square grid American/Japanese Search Board
- One 14” x 22” hard-backed rectangular grid tactical display Battle Board (with Combat Results Tables and Aircraft-Ship Assignment Boxes incorporated)
- 195 ½” cardboard Counters
- 40 ½” x 2¼” oversized “ship” Counters
- One 5½” x 8½” MIDWAY Battle Manual
- One 5½” x 8½” back-printed combined American/Japanese Hit Record, Operations Log, and Turn Record/Reinforcement Track
- One 8½” x 19½” back-printed Search Board Screen (with Surface Combat Results Table, Battle Board Withdrawal Table, and Fighter to Fighter Combat Results Table incorporated)
- One six-sided Die
- One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Game Catalog
- One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¾” flat cardboard Game Box
See my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background. A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942; by Robert J. Cressman; Pictorial Histories Publishing Co; 1st edition (June 1990); ISBN-13: 978-0929521404
Also, see my blog post Book Review of this highly recommended title: Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson; Anchor Books (August 2002); ISBN-13: 978-0385720380