At 12:22pm on 4 June 1942, the planes of Air Group Six, which had launched from the U.S.S Enterprise a little over three hours earlier, began their dive bombing attack on the aircraft carriers of the Japanese Midway Invasion Force. 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 a tectonic shift in favor of the Allies.
This single air strike, successful as it was, did not mark the end of the engagement; the final act to this drama would actually play out on the following day. Nonetheless, by the end of the Battle of Midway, the American fleet had lost one carrier, the Yorktown, and a single destroyer; the Japanese, in contrast, had lost all four of the fleet carriers that had taken part in the battle, including the initially untouched Hiryu which, along with the cruiser Mikuma, was sunk by follow-up American carrier airstrikes on June 5th.
Both operationally and strategically, the defeat at Midway was a catastrophe for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Four of Japan’s best fast carriers — with large percentages of their irreplaceable aircrews — were bottomed, in exchange for sinking only a single American aircraft carrier. Because of this crippling blow to the striking power of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Battle of Midway represented a dramatic tipping point in the war in the Pacific; in fact, this single decisive American victory not only stopped Japan’s continued eastern expansion, but, more importantly, it forced Japan onto the strategic defensive, not just through 1942, but for the balance of the Pacific War.
BATTLE FOR MIDWAY is a large-scale (fairly detailed) simulation of the Japanese naval-air-land campaign to capture the tiny American military outpost in the Central Pacific, Midway Island. This Japanese eastern advance, and the US Navy’s move to check it, culminated in the second major carrier battle between the Japanese and American fleets in 1942. The battle's outcome, not surprisingly, was -- for the Japanese High Command -- completely unexpected. Ironically, ever since their devastating attack on the US ships based at Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy had sought just such a decisive battle with the Americans, but with the expectation of a very different outcome: the total destruction of the US carrier forces in the Pacific.
The fact that the Battle of Midway was fought at all, actually owed to earlier Japanese failures to decisively engage and destroy the few American aircraft carriers that were, in 1942, operating in the Pacific. The Battle of the Coral Sea, barely a month earlier, had failed to yield the overwhelming victory the Imperial Japanese Navy had sought as a follow-up to its earlier surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet. Instead, the result had been a tactical draw and a military reversal for Japanese strategic planners. To insure IJN success in the inevitable rematch, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto decided to set a trap for the American ‘flat tops’ in the Central Pacific. The bait would be Midway Island: the Japanese invasion of Midway — and the subsequent annihilation of the expected American naval forces coming to the island’s defense — would, the Imperial planners believed, finally give the Japanese the decisive naval-air victory that had hitherto eluded them.
BATTLE FOR MIDWAY is played in sequential, interwoven player turns. As is typical with most naval-air games, the game turn sequence for the BATTLE FOR MIDWAY is multi-phased and somewhat complicated. 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 this battle, it is not surprising that hidden movement is a critical factor in the game’s dynamic.
One of the few interesting aspects of the BATTLE FOR MIDWAY game system comes from the initiative die-rolls which occur during the initial phase of each game turn. Each player rolls 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. Thus, besides the challenges imposed by frequent lack of knowledge as to the foe’s locations and intentions, the designer has added another layer of nerve-racking uncertainty. To make sure the players have ample time to savor the simulation’s many design features, the complete game lasts from evening, 26 May to evening 7 June 1942, a total of thirty game turns.
Naval movement is handled in a relatively orthodox, but interesting way. The opposing fleets maneuver on the large two-piece game map using different ‘task force’ markers to conceal the actual composition and location of the main Japanese and American naval forces. Also, there is a strong ‘si-move’ element built into the game because the movement of the various task force markers is pre-plotted using task force plotting and ship status sheets. BATTLE FOR MIDWAY is, of course, mainly a naval game, so terrain types are limited to open sea and land (island hexes), although varying types of weather can also play an important (if frustrating) role in the game, as well.
The two critical elements in any game that attempts to simulate the Battle of Midway are, of course, the reconnaissance and combat subroutines. To attack an enemy fleet, the phasing player must first locate it. In BATTLE FOR MIDWAY, this process is both incredibly tedious, and unexpectedly boring. And even when the enemy fleet is spotted, the actual resolution of an airstrike will typically involve at least four combat subroutines: air-to-air combat, anti-aircraft fire, dive bombing attacks, and torpedo attacks. Each of these phases must be resolved sequentially, and each makes use of its own combat results table (CRT). In addition, both submarines and American land-based (level) bombers may also attack Japanese vessels. And should the opposing fleets actually wander within surface range of each other, then ship-to-ship combat is resolved using a naval gunfire table. Damage to individual vessels is recorded on each player’s ship status pad. Finally, the game also includes airfield bombing and ground combat tables to cover the Japanese attack on the American island outpost. Purely from a simulation standpoint, all of the different CRTs make sense; but from a player’s perspective, they combine to slow the process of combat resolution to a crawl. In some ways, resolving air-to-ship battles in this game reminds me of combat resolution in Dunnigan’s FAST CARRIERS, only not as interesting or as fast-paced.
The winner of BATTLE FOR MIDWAY, as might be expected, is determined by a comparison of victory points at the end of the game. Victory points are accrued for enemy vessels sunk or damaged and, for the Japanese player, for the successful invasion and conquest of Midway Island.
BATTLE FOR MIDWAY offers, besides the historical Standard Game, the option of adding extra naval units to the order of battles of both players. These are ships that might have participated in the engagement had events transpired differently. Each player rolls a die prior to the start of the game and receives the forces stipulated by his individual die roll. The Japanese player can receive anything from zero to two CV’s; The American, from one CV, to three BB’s and one CV. In addition, the designer — optimistic to the last — suggests that players who want more variety in their matches experiment with different game formats such as double-blind or umpired games.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The Battle of Midway was one of the truly epochal events of World War II. Because of luck, individual initiative, and sheer courage, the strategic balance in the Pacific underwent a stunning transformation in the space of a few devastating minutes in June, 1942. For this reason, it is hard to think of a subject for a naval-air conflict simulation that could be more tense, drama-filled, or interesting than this one. It is also one of my favorite World War II subjects. Thus, when I saw that GDW was offering their own game treatment of the Midway Campaign, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately, in my momentary flush of excitement, I neglected to check to see who at GDW had actually designed the game; instead I went ahead and ordered BATTLE FOR MIDWAY, CORAL SEA, and INDIAN OCEAN ADVENTURE, all at the same time. That oversight, sadly, soon came back to haunt me. It turned out that all three games had been designed by Marc William Miller. As soon as I took BATTLE FOR MIDWAY out of its Zip-Lock® bag, I instantly recognized Miller’s distinctive rules-writing style; I didn’t even need to check the design credits in the back of the rules booklet.
Marc William Miller, as should be obvious to those who have read more than a few of my previous game profiles, is my least favorite GDW designer. Probably the main reason for my frustration with this particular member of the original GDW design team is his slipshod rules writing. Even when the basic ideas of one of his games are good, he has an uncanny knack for obscuring the essential while overstating the obvious. In more than a few instances, there have been rules cases in Mr. Miller’s games that I have reread five or more times and still not been truly confident that I understood the designer’s intent. Alas, in this game there are a lot of them. The rules, for example, governing search subroutines, airfields, weather, and submarines border on, and in some cases cross over into the realm of the utterly incomprehensible. There may be a game trapped somewhere in this package; but, speaking for myself; I was never able to find it.
I suppose that for those collectors who feel compelled to own every last naval game ever published, this might be a worthwhile acquisition. However, for those players who want a truly detailed, but playable simulation of the Battle of Midway, and who don’t mind investing the better part of a day in the exercise, I heartily recommend Yaquinto’s excellent simulation, CV. And for those players who just want a good, easy-to-learn game on the topic, I recommend Avalon Hill’s solid, if somewhat dated classic, MIDWAY. It may be old, but it is still a great game.
- Time Scale: 6 hours per game turn
- 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, CV, CVL, BB, CA, CL, CLA, DD, AP, APD, AO, SS, SM, AS, AV and information markers
- Number of Players: two (good candidate for team play; that way, you can sneak away without causing the game to break-up)
- Complexity: above average/high/incomprehensible?
- Solitaire Suitability: low to nonexistent
- Average Playing Time: 5–10 + hours (with experienced and really determined players or teams; of course, if one side blunders — almost a certainty — it can be over a lot more quickly)
- Two 22” x 27” Hexagonal Grid Maps
- 480 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Game Setup and Reinforcement Instructions)
- 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, Surface, and Submarine Attacks; and Anti-Aircraft Fire Tables)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Universal Table (with Dive Bombing (Ships) Table; Level Bombing Table; Dive and Level Air-Field Bombing Table; Naval Bombardment (Land) Table; ASW Table; Land Combat Table; and Assorted Weather Tables)
- Two 5½” x 8½” back-printed Task Force Plotting and Ship Status Pads (One Japanese; One American)
- One 8½” x 11” Sheet of Errata for CORAL SEA and BATTLE for MIDWAY (July, 1976)
- One Zip-Lock® Bag (original packaging)
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