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Sometimes they don't have hexes. Why does my battleship act like a tank?

Marc Michalik, Blogger

June 17, 2016

5 Min Read

Not all Avalon Hill games have hex maps.  Victory in the Pacific was a sequel to War at Sea.  Victory in the Pacific was a much better and more popular game than War at Sea largely because the Pacific Theater just works really well for a naval war and the pacific navies of WWII are far more diverse and interesting than the "old school" Atlantic Theater navies.  If you like VitP, then you will probably also like War at Sea which is very similar but a little less interesting.  This is a "golden era" classic from the late 1970's and one of the better naval games ever made.  It was very popular in it's time and you could still find half-a-dozen or so games of VitP going on in the Avalon Hill room of conventions even in the late 1990's, the final days of the old game conventions.  The modern game industry could really learn a lot from this game.

For some reason, maybe it was because Avalon Hill's roots were in real-life WWII combat veterans, the computer game industry has never differentiated between types of combat like the hobbyist games did.  In computer games infantry, navy, air force... it doesn't matter, they all work by the same rules.  They just have different pictures representing them.  The hobbyist games, inspired by Avalon Hill, weren't like that.  They used completely different methods of representing these very different environments.  They weren't just different pictures using the same rules, the rules and components were designed to represent the different types of things in ways that were appropriate for the subject matter.  So Avalon Hill games about infantry and tanks on the ground work completely different than their games about planes in the air or ships on the water.  Victory in the Pacific is an excellent example for modern game makers to look at to see how Avalon Hill represented naval games differently than land or air games.

In Victory in the Pacific ships have a base of operations and each turn may operate within range of their base.  First ships are moved into "Patrol" duty in an attempt to hold sea zones, then "Raiders" are moved.  "Raiders" do not remain in the sea zone and return to base at the end of the turn, so they can not hold territory.  They can, however, move farther than ships on "Patrol" duty can.  Land based air also plays a major role, as it should.  The objective in VitP is to control sea zones, any land you might take is simply a means of making the control of the neighboring sea zones easier.  This places the focus where it should be, on defending and controlling areas of ocean so that your logistics forces have access to use those areas for transit.  Without the player even realizing it, they are being forced to think like real world admirals instead of like gamers.  Naval warfare is all about securing safe sea lanes for logistic traffic, and the simple system in this game portrays that perfectly... even if the player doesn't understand that is what is being represented.

The way positioning, movement, and combat work in VitP is a perfect example of how differently the naval aspects of a game should work as compared to the land or air aspects of a game.  "Naval brinksmanship" is represented very well in this game.  This game represents theater-wide naval strategy from the perspective of the theater commander correctly on many different levels in spite of how simple it actually is.  And it works nothing like ground combat, and it shouldn't, because it is an entirely different thing.  Victory in the Pacific is the best simple example of naval combat on a strategic scale that the hobbyist game industry has to offer modern game designers.

There are, of course, many ways of accurately representing naval tactics and strategy in an appropriate way.  VitP is, however, elegantly simple for how well it works on so many levels.  Federation & Empire, the strategic component of the 3-way interlocking Star Fleet Universe, has an even better and more detailed way of representing "flowing naval combat on a strategic level" but is a Stephen V Cole game.  This means that the more detailed system found in Federation & Empire comes with SVC's usual unique "hardcore blending" of realism without consideration of how complex it is or how long it will take to resolve.  F&E is an excellent example of the differences between the naval environment and the land or air environments at a more detailed although still strategic level.  But when SVC's name is on a game, you can expect it to be far beyond modern standards of acceptable detail, complexity, and turn-resolution time... that's his signature.  So VitP is a great simple example of the concept, while F&E is a great example of the same thing in far greater detail that is much more difficult to fully understand and requires a longer resolution proceadure than is normal by todays standards.

And these two games are the inspiration for how both naval and air power will function in "The Civilization Killer" that all of these tiny little branches are leading too.  Much more VitP that F&E, but with a few elements of how F&E works added to the largely VitP inspired system.  In our CivKiller ships will act like ships, planes will act like planes, and ground forces will act like ground forces.  Each in their own very unique ways.  It can honestly be said that, just as in real life, three "layers" or "arenas" of combat are taking place simultaneously on top of each other.  No computer game has ever worked like this before.  The closest modern game to having this quality is Gary Grigsby's World at War but it only does this with the air power, the naval forces act like ground forces, and so it doesn't fully achieve the proper effect.

Next Week: Blitzkrieg!  Meet your great grandparent's own great grandparent, and the origin of the fundamental basis of "The Civilization Killer".


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