I’ve played a fair amount of Empire of the Sun over the past 5 years and now there are two magazine games based on the same system; South Pacific which is effectively a trimmed down version of the 1943 (or is it 42) scenario from the original game, and Plan Orange, a variant that takes a pacific war in the 1930s that was war gamed and considered by both sides but never took place.
I’m not going to discuss many of the games mechanics. Empire of the Sun is a very complex game and it is also rather unique. The core conceit is that you play cards from your hand to launch operations. An operation would be something like the battle of the Coral Sea, or the invasion of Guam. Based on the resources your cards give you, you would send out a fleet, your opponent may detect your move, either by die roll or card play) and counter with their own fleet. A battle or more may result perhaps followed by an amphibious landing. It’s a concise way for Mark Herman (the designer) to get you to juggle intel, supply, and staff team politics. The system does have command and control, on board supply and a lot of the usual effects found in heavy hex and counter games.
A benefit of fighting a what if war is that there is no script to follow or break from. There’s a giddy expectation looking over beautifully rendered pacific and determining how you are going to conduct this war. And this is a game that requires planning several turns ahead. The US must work out pretty early how many cards they want to burn mobilising their fleet from the strategic map, and how many axis they want to advance down. The Japanese, once they have taken the Philippines (the games main objective) must weigh up whether they are going to fight the US in the deep Pacific, or exploit the shorter lines of communication near the home islands. Both are viable.
Plan Orange, like Empire of the Sun, is a game that in equal measure can make you feel really clever or really stupid. Clever, when you put together a multi card plan and an overall game strategy and it blossoms as the cherry tree. You can also very easily mess up, put your fleet in slightly the wrong place, waste a key card or miss balance your army dispositions and find yourself completely open.
|I opted for a more defensive strategy as the IJN which resulted in a series of attritional fleet engagements|
This is not an easy game to parse tactically, though it is easier than its parent game. There are fewer pieces, air forces aren’t going to cut your supplies much and the cards are less powerful. You will however have to contend with a less mobile fleet than one has in Empire. Plan Orange is its own game, it’s a more focused and short game than Empire of the Sun and in some respects I prefer it because it lets me dial in on a few tough decisions and work through their consequences.
This is the best magazine game I have played with its sister game South Pacific probably a close second. Most magazine games that I have played have something interesting about them but feel undercooked. Plan Orange works in part because Mark Herman has taken one his greatest designs and repackaged it near perfectly. There is some set up errata and rules are complex but it is worth it.