Out of the box: Bataan!

When the Second World War abruptly arrived on the doorstep of the United States’ possessions in the Pacific, the American military was prepared with a strategic plan that outlined how the war would be fought.

Part of the plan called for our forces in the Philippines, under the command of Douglas MacArthur, to act as a breakwater against the Japanese onslaught while the bulk of our Pacific might mobilized and fought its way to their relief. According to the plan, within six months the Japanese fleet would be crippled and the sea lanes to the Philippines would be open, allowing it to become an unsinkable base for the final operations against Japan.

In the Bataan box

In the Bataan box

In the real world, that plan went into the toilet when the opening Japanese gambit against Pearl Harbor seriously crippled the US Pacific Fleet. The garrison of the Philippines found itself at the end of a severed supply line, with no logical hope of relief in anything that approximated the original six-month time line.

So opens the newest game out of the box here in the Swamp Bunker: “Bataan”, a Vance von Borries design published by Compass Games.  Bataan was originally on offer from GMT Games in their P500, but for reasons I don’t recall the game was withdrawn and moved over to Compass.  When the game first listed on P500 I tagged it, so it wasn’t much of a leap to follow along and order it from the new publisher.

It’s the first game I’ve gotten from Compass Games, and I think they’ve produced a very nice package. While the rulebook itself isn’t printed in color, the box is awash in full-color play aid cards that are covered with charts, tables, the SOP, Events and scenario setup charts. The rulebook contains an extended example of play that could have benefitted from some full-color illustrations — but ‘text only’ play examples are better explainers than no examples at all, so I’m not going to gripe beyond a brief mention.

Bataan countersheet detail

Bataan countersheet detail

There are two sheets of counters in the box, along with a small sticker sheet to correct some minor counter errata. The color palette and counter artwork are what I’d call ‘wargame regular’; nothing terribly inspiring but attractive enough and certainly functional. I will note, however, that while the ‘units’ themselves are fine and dandy, the game markers are extremely bland. As can be seen in the countersheet detail image some of the markers are, in fact, simply words printed on a white counter. Blech. What’s up with that? Does Compass pay their artists by the counter?

It’s not exactly a federal case, I know, but it does seem it will ‘plain down’ the look of the game when those yawn-ish white markers hit the table on top of what are otherwise nice-looking counters.

Not that I’m agitating for psychedelic marker artwork, mind you. There’s enough of that going on already. The psychedelic stuff they saved for the map.

And the map goes all jungle-y on us

And the map goes all jungle-y on us

The artwork is always a challenge on maps that include jungle terrain, isn’t it? It becomes even more of a challenge when the jungle mixes in with rough, swamps, mountains, trails, roads and fortifications. And the map for Bataan has all of that and then some. All things considered, I think Compass has done a very creditable job pulling together the Bataan map.

Due to lighting conditions and my own digital incompetence, the detail image doesn’t really do the map justice. The bright green terrain is indeed bright green – which is a bit psychedelic next to everything else – but the hexsides are much more clearly defined than they appear in the photo and it looks like the whole thing works pretty well.

Mind you, I haven’t played the game yet so I don’t know if there are any terrain ‘issues’ or other artwork-wonkiness in actual practice. But after a look at the total package from the 10,000-foot view I’m pretty anxious to get it on the Big Table and get started.

3 thoughts on “Out of the box: Bataan!

  1. Silent War just never looked like something that would appeal to me in practice. A little too much accounting, not enough whoosh-bang.

  2. Re: Silent War. It’s not so much the accounting, the maths is kinda simple, it’s the endless wristage and chit pulling. The amount of work involved combined with the morale crushing combo of shitty torpedoes and tough campaign quotas has kept this off the table. It does generate good narrative and gives plausible results (i.e. amount of tonnage sunk and subs lost will stay within one standard deviation of the historical mean). I’ll probably play it again at some point.

    Re: Bataan. I’ve given this one a pass because it’s a VvB game, the few of which I’ve played seem to burden the player with a lot of detail in the combat system for little return (I’m thinking mostly of Manstein’s Backhand Blow, which the developer of Bataan was a sharp critic of, and the EFS games, which I have in the queue). I’m always ready to be persuaded to buy a game though, so I’m interested in your further thoughts.

    And speaking of overburdened combat systems, I’m currently playing NES Overlord, which I like despite it being burdened by Killing Grounds overwrought combat system.

Leave a Reply