Gaming Kamikaze style


The announcement of PICKET DUTY from Legion Games on Consimworld found me bemused. First of all, a little description.. from the Legion website:

By the time of the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, the US Navy devised a plan to help ward off the expected kamikaze attacks during the battle for the island. In order to provide an early warning system for impending kamikaze attacks, the US Navy established 16 radar picket stations around the island Picket Duty is a solitaire game where you – as the captain of a Fletcher Class destroyer – fend off kamikaze attacks while performing picket duty off Okinawa. The game covers the time period from late March 1945 to late June 1945. Your goal is simple – survive.

The game comes with a basic game, advanced game, six historical scenarios, two hypothetical scenarios, a mini-campaign and a full campaign. Optional rules are also included. Each game turn is divided into three phases, each depicting an eight hour period. Key crew members are depicted with certain functions, as well damage control teams. 27 types of Japanese planes are represented. Some planes have special attack capabilities.

Game features include: blah blah blah blah…

Reactions.. It’s a game about fighting off kamikaze attacks. And it looks well produced. I’ve not seen a lot of Legion’s stuff, but they seem like a professional outfit:

PICKET map. Solitaire, you place the attacking airplane counters around the ship randomly (I think), and conduct attacks on the picket ship depicted in the center. You play a role similar to the B-17 pilot in B-17 QUEEN OF THE SKIES, running hither and yon, shooting at attacking planes, keeping your boat afloat.

Counters. Still don’t know much about this from the mechanics, but I’m guessing it’s not unlike the B-17, B-29 game situation.. moving specialized crewmen from place to place to fight fires, do damage control, etc. I like the looks of that.

(Click to embiggen those)

As you can see in the captions.. I don’t know a heck of a lot about this game yet.  I’m sure they’ll do the normal thing and put the rules up on BGG and all that, so I’ll have a chance to read it.  What it LOOKS like from a glance is a situation similar to the games B-17 Queen of the Skies and B-29 Superfortress.   That kind of makes sense as I think Legion Games is related to the old Khyber Pass Games publisher, which is where I got my copy of B-29 from.    Long and short of it is I like the mechanic of the game focusing on one ship/plane as the center focus and all the action sort of streams around it, like in Luftschiff.  It’s a great gaming narrative.  Picket Duty appears to be about par for the course in terms of price at 65 bucks, so I won’t be getting it any time soon (sad trombone music).   Still, one can scan ebay and hope.

The greater question is: Why aren’t there MORE games on this little historical niche?  By that, I mean, the Kamikaze attacks in the last year of the Pacific War?  Are we a trifle gun shy because of the notion that we are simulating the death of a pilot as he purposely flies his explosive-laden death ride into the deck of a ship in service to the Emperor?  Probably not about the notion of death alone.  All wargames simulate death at some level or other.  A military conflict simulation doesn’t exactly have “conflict” without it.   Sure, we kind of grimace or blink when  a cardboard counter disappears from a gameboard, because we’ve been inconvenienced.  We might lose the game, you know.  But we don’t really think about the human lives that are being lost when that tank, or ship, or infantry silhouette, or squad symbol, gets removed as a result of rolling dice on a CRT.  There’s been a longstanding subtext and argument about the morality of wargaming going on since wargames were created, and I’m certainly not going to weigh in on that one.   It’s just that.. that.. kamikaze attacks are so personal.  It’s a human being purposefully trying to kill himself JUST AS HARD AS HE CAN, so he can KILL YOU.   I can see why this hasn’t been first choice for game designers, especially subsequent to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all of which were suicidal in nature.

That doesn’t mean the topic has been entirely avoided heretofore.  FIRE AND MOVEMENT magazine’s only issue game ever, Number 31, was on the subject of Kamikazes. Designer: Dana Lombardy.

One of my housemates had this issue, but it was unpunched, so I never played it. I don’t remember much about it, but if memory serves me you cut out some ship cards and placed them in a convoy formation. Then the HORDE of kamikaze attacks would start at all angles of the compass, trying to plow into your little task force. You got to launch fighters too, and had destroyers and frigates with tons of AA to take out the attacking waves and protect the Carrier (I think). From some of the imagery on the game description on BGG, it appears that my memories of this one are pretty accurate. It would make a great miniatures game, but I’d have no idea where to begin getting ships and planes to scale. Axis and Allies miniatures, maybe, but even that isn’t as cheap as it used to be.

Artwork: good by 80s standards, nothing to write home about.

Artwork: good by 80s standards, nothing to write home about.

One feature that that I liked was the notion of no map being necessary. Since the action is really about the plane and the ship (and you on the most featureless terrain imaginable, water), they just cut the ships into chart/cards and put them in formation, miniatures style. Very elegant for its day.

Not a bad effort, either one. I suspect we won’t be deluged by Kamikaze games as the next big thing, but these both look like interesting games to me and I wouldn’t be too holier than thou to pick one up. Though it’s going to be the one that isn’t 65 clams!

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One response to “Gaming Kamikaze style

  1. Yep, the Dana Lombardy game is about the only other one on the subject. Sometimes there will be a kamikaze rule in a larger scale Pacific War game, like Operation Olympic and its updates Downfall and Olympic and Coronet, but these are just little dice-throws that almost arbitrarily reduce the starting forces for one or both sides.
    The only other game that approaches this unsavoury topic is The Suicide Bomber Card Game, which is in pretty bad taste. I have put suicide bomber rules into a couple of my Afghanistan game designs as well.