Jon Southard’s CARRIER game was published by Victory Games in 1990. Victory Games was a subsidiary group of the venerable Avalon Hill Game Company, comprised of ex SPI Staffers that were on the beach when SPI folded. From the start, Victory Games were designed and marketed to the serious gamer crowd; their games were known for lengthy rule books chock full of detail, and games that took a lot of thought and time to commit to. I owned several of them in my day, notably VIETNAM, AMBUSH, HELL’S HIGHWAY, 1809 and a couple of the Fleet series games. One game I did NOT own was the subject of this post, CARRIER, a solitaire design by Jon Southard, an industry veteran. Given how high this game is priced in the secondary and tertiary boardgame market, it’s unlikely I’ll acquire it at this juncture, which is regrettable. I love good solitaire designs– and Carrier is definitely a game that fits that category.
Carrier is a solitaire simulation of both historical and hypothetical carrier battles in the Southwest Pacific Theater during 1942 and 1943. The player plays the U.S. commander, maneuvering recon flights and task forces to located and destroy the enemy before he can locate and destroy the player’s forces. Game mechanics governing the movement of the Japanese are not all that difficult to grasp. One of the aspects of the simulation I like is the ability for the game to surprise you. You will not know the Japanese are on top of you until they are flying bombing runs on your airfields. Carrier, like a lot of older wargames, is also a tough, slow playing game with a lot of charts and detail. Or so I thought.
Mr. Cyril Jarnot, an IoS developer of no small talents from France, has been slowly working on a conversion of the game from a series of charts and counters onto an Ipad virtual map. I had opportunity to try out this conversion in playtesting phase and so am able to relay a few impressions. Note Bene, all pictures reflect a playtest version, not far from final release but not final at time of their capture.
To begin with, all the chart-checking to simulate the movement of Japanese forces is still taking place, only the computer (Ipad) is now being doing all the dice rolling behind the scenes, which make the Japanese movements far more mysterious.
and closer up… details reveal themselves after you send reconnaissance planes out to check what’s under those counters…
When you DO bump into the Japanese, combat can be multi-stepped and sequential. To commit planes to combat, the US Player has to move them to various ready areas on his display to simulate where they are in the process of confronting the Japanese over a combat area.
You can’t just “commit everything I got to CAP and hope for the best”– you have to move groups to the ready state, in a sequence, as you see here (above). Once combat does occur (The Japanese come to you, or you search out and find a Task Force or incoming flight of planes), you will see this sequence:
The game is quite challenging on the Ipod, I was very pleased at how aggressive and uncompromising the AI is. For one thing, you are outnumbered in this time and place in the war, and that always works against you.
The game teaches itself at a nice programmed pace, similar to the old SQUAD LEADER “programmed instruction” approach from Avalon Hill. This is just as well– the game (in paper version) is pretty complex and that’s a lot of meat to chew on in one bite. Mr. Jarnot has taken the approach of cutting your meat up for you and feeding it to you in delicate little bites, a bite at a time. So keep in mind (as of this writing) you will have to go through ALL of the tutorial modules before “free play” can happen with CARRIER for the IoS. This decision is in spirit of the old Victory Game rules and Jon Southard, apparently, approves.
Now, is it a straight port? Is it replicating every nuance of the old paper map and counters version published in 1990? I am not educated enough to say for sure. I never owned Carrier. It certainly plays in the spirit of the old VG games I played back then; lots of complexity under the surface, and thankfully (for playing time) it keeps a lot of the chart checking behind the scenes. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I have no idea what Mr. Jarnot’s plans are for this game or how to get a legal copy for yourself; I will steer you towards the CARRIER forums on Boardgamegeek, where he is easy to find. Direct any questions to him there. I sincerely hope the IOS app I helped test becomes a commercial product, I would gladly pay for the final version, and support Mr. Jarnot’s efforts.