Fleet Commander Nimitz by DVG games and designed by Dan Verssen in 2014 is an operational solitaire game that encompasses the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) during WWII. The player commands the US/Allied forces dealt the task of pushing the Japanese Imperial military back and ultimately conquering them once and for all. No easy task to be sure in real life or on a game board.
Now I am going to be upfront and honest here, I want to like this game but have had a difficult time with accepting some of its flaws. Especially the seemingly bizarre movements of the enemy Artificial Intelligence (AI). The game is simple and straightforward in its approach to a rather large and complex situation, however this simplicity coupled with wild randomness becomes frustrating at times. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to justify in my mind some of the strange actions the AI often chooses, mostly to no avail.
However, it is rumored that DVG is looking at revising the rules to fix known problems and are in the process of compiling a list of issues to facilitate this. I do hope they are successful, for I believe Fleet Commander Nimitz could be an outstanding title with a few nudges and tweaks.
Right, let’s take a look at the game.
Components: The game comes in a large beautiful box, with a fully mounted point to point map board, a full color rule book and so many counters I gave up even trying to add them all up. The map is not only functional but rather pleasing to look at as well. I like the fact that sequence of play is printed directly on the map as are the steps for battle resolution. Having them handy and visible at all times made learning the game much easier. Not that Nimitz is a hard title to digest; it just seems that way at first due to its size. There are also the campaign set up cards and the battle board which is used to resolve combat. These are printed on some nice heavy card stock rather than paper. The counters in my copy were cut so deeply and well, that upon opening the box I found that many of them had simply fallen out of the sprues in transit. It was sort of frightening to see small piles of counters floating around inside, but as they all needed to be sorted anyway (I’ll get to that later) it wasn’t all that bad. Some of my units had been cut a little off set so the nationality flags were rather thin on one side but that had no impact on play. Overall top notch quality components as we have come to expect from DVG.
The rules: The rule book is well formatted and easy to digest, though I did find myself rereading the combat sequence the first few times I played. There are only 20 pages of rules all together and as the pages are filled with art and examples I found it a very light read. Some of the specific instructions can be a little confusing at first glance such as when you can attack airfields during combat which took me awhile to grasp, and the movement and splitting up of fleets that occurs every turn. Which can be a rather fiddly affair. But overall the concepts are grasped rather quickly with a skim or two and once set up a lot of the rules that seem foreign whilst reading become quite clear once you start playing. I am not going to lay out all the rules here as that would simply waste your time, However I have provided a link to a downloadable version below so you can peruse them at your leisure.
|Clipped and sorted by year.|
Game play: Before you start playing you will want to sort all of the ship, aircraft, and infantry counters for both the Japanese and Allies by year, i.e. 1942-1945. This is because each year represents a campaign, and each campaign has its own counters associated with it. These campaign counters also possess different strengths for combat depending on which year they are used. For example if you compare the battleship Dakota/Indiana 1942, to the 1945 unit you will see that the 45 version is more powerful. This represents advancements in technology as well as the fighting abilities of the particular crews and ships during the war. Using the wrong counters for a campaign can obviously skew the results dramatically. Thus the need to sort, and as there were so many loose counters to begin with this sorting process took a bit of time to accomplish.
The game can be played as an individual campaign year, with each turn being two months, or you can link the years together and fight the entire war from 42-45. This “Linked” campaign is quite simply broken and pretty much just an exercise in adding up your victory scores for each individual campaign as you play through. Ships that were sunk reappear magically with the new year as there is no formula or calculation to remove and replace them. So if you lose the Aircraft carrier Lexington in 1942, never fear you will have a bigger and better one in 43. Islands and objectives previously won are ignored and the map set up for the following year can, and most often does, look completely different. I suppose I could come up with an excel sheet that calculated Islands controlled and ships lost compared to year and remove the ships from play going forward, but you know what? At $100 US retail for this game I really feel that I shouldn’t have to, and I believe the “Linked” campaign should have been fleshed out in full before hitting the market. Instead it is but a small side note at the end of the rules.
Right, so you chose one of the campaign cards and set up the map according to its instructions.
Next you are issued resupply and reinforcement points which the player can spend in a variety of ways, i.e. buying more ships, move ships (costs one RP), send your submarines against the Japanese merchant fleet, scouting (worth every point spent), etc. Lots of options. These resource points are the life’s blood of your fleet and should be spent wisely.
Then it is a matter of moving your forces to various islands to achieve objectives, paying the RP points for every counter moved. Once the player has moved the AI then gets its chance. This is done by rolling a D10 for each stack of Japanese ships, infantry and aircraft on the board, repeatedly, until every counter in every stack or location has had a command issued to it. You cross reference the die roll with the move orders table on the map to see how many of the stack move and to where. For example; on a roll of 4 then, 3 random ships, 1 Infantry and possibly 2 Land based aircraft (LBA) would move south one point closer to Australia. If the order cannot be performed then a “Hold” order is played instead basically this means 6 ships, 2 infantry, and 3 LBA don’t move and the Japanese get a resupply counter. (To buy reinforcements with)
These random AI moves have irked me more than once. I have won two campaigns simply because the AI decided to pull all its forces away from an island and sail back to Japan. Or it rolls to move a fleet of ships in the complete opposite direction of an objective, one that was hotly contested. These are not wins in my book and to be honest, I felt cheated even though victorious. On both occasions as the AI I would have reinforced the positions in full and crushed the weakened allied forces for the win.
After a unit or stack moves place a move counter on it so you don’t mistakenly try to move it again the same turn. After all moves are complete any locations that have both Allied and Japanese forces in them will conduct combat.
The process for combat is pretty slick, in that it takes place on a battle board and all counters involved are moved there. The Japanese have specific rules as to where they have to set their forces but the allied player has a pretty free hand as to disposition. Aircraft sortie, dogfights, bombing runs, AA fire, and naval bombardments etc. all take place on this map. Combat follows an exact sequence of events that never varies; you just go through the steps on the list. Basically in the end you are chucking a die and hoping to get less than or equal to your to hit number, which is printed on the counter. These battles can be a lot of fun especially when both sides have loads of airplanes flying about wreaking havoc. The early war Japanese planes are extremely deadly though, and some have even gone so far as to suggest that they are over powered. Sadly after my first few campaigns I figured out a way to “game” the combat system to minimize the possibility of Japanese fighters ganging up on my bombers by sacrificing a few weaker aircraft in various zones.
Once all combats are resolved the Japanese resupply, and the Allies move all ships back to Pearl Harbor, then a new turn can begin. It is all very smooth and linear which can be very comfortable. There is a bit more going on here but you get the gist.
Conclusions: I have had fun playing Fleet Commander Nimitz, it’s simple approach to a complex situation allowed me to handle large fleets of ships without being crushed by a compendium of minute tactical rules. The components and production of the game itself are top notch. The well thought out sequences of play both strategically and tactically are enjoyable to go through.
Yet, the problems that will keep me from playing this again remain; the random unexplainable moves of the AI, the nonexistent or extremely weak “Linked” campaign, and the ability to game the tactical combat system. I feel strongly that those issues need to be addressed before this title can be called “complete” especially considering this retails for $100. I can only hope that DVG does make good on its promise to revise and refit this title which has so much potential, until then it will remain but a pretty box on my shelf.