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Review: Empire of the Sun

Posted by Denny Koch on July 14, 2010

Game: Empire of the Sun

Publisher: GMT Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Mark Herman, Stephen Newberg
Era: World War II, Pacific War
Game Type: Hex based consim, card-driven
Players: 2
Scale: Strategical level. 1 hex=250 miles, 1 turn=4 month.
Contents: 1 rulebook, 280 9/16“ and 88 5/8“ counter, 2 strategy decks (82 cards for the Japanese player, 83 cards for the Allied Player), map (not mounted, 55×86 cm), 2 Player Aid Cards, one 10-sided die

HFC Game-O-Meter:B


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 6
Playability:
8
Replay Value:
10

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Interesting combat system, variety due to the card-driven mechanics, strategically challenging, interesting to both sides until the end of the game
CONTRA It’s difficult to get into the game in the first place because of a somewhat confusing rulebook

Introduction

Empire of the Sun (EotS) is a strategic game of the Pacific War of World War II. It is a complex hex and counter consim with a card-driven mechanic.

The most interesting aspect of PTO games is the approach to the Japanese victory conditions and how to keep the game interesting in the endgame. Pacific games often suffer from the fact that the Japanese historically couldn’t win the war and were heavily outgunned in the late war by the US, strangled by supply problems, and their ships and aircraft fleets almost destroyed.

US invasion in Japan

So there is always the danger that a game dealing with the PTO becomes quite boring for the Japanese player after his first (and last) initial strikes because he cannot react to Allied actions. A good example for this is Fire in the Sky (FitS) where the Japanese player is damned to watching the US “god fleets” take one island after another while the Japanese suffer from heavy oil shortages, unable to react to the US fleet movements. In the end game of  FitS, the game gets even boring for the US player because his attacks are made on such ridiculous odds with utopian dice roll modifiers that he cannot lose a combat even if the Japanese spends his last valuable oil reserves to counter one of his attacks. This doesn’t mean that the US win all FitS games (they don’t, because their victory conditions are very sharply timed), but it’s always the US against the clock and not the US against the Japanese.

Therefore, our main intention for playing Empire of the Sun was to see how this game deals with the Japanese end game issues and the question how a Japanese player can win the game – even if Japan couldn’t win the war historically. The designer’s notes of EotS admit that Japan couldn’t ever have won the war – but the Japanese player nevertheless can win the game by preventing  US victory. And this works!

Empire of the Sun is interesting and intense for both sides, up to the very last turn and last-minute of the game – there is always enough to do for the Japanese to take an active part in the game and throw obstacles in the US path.

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