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Tabletop Game / Victory in the Pacific

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The front of the game box.

A tabletop historical naval wargame of low to moderate complexity published by Avalon Hill, set in World War II and pitting Japan against the Allies in the Pacific Ocean. Designed by Rich Hamblen, it's sequel of sorts to the shorter and simpler War at Sea, which came out in 1976. The game divides the ocean into 13 sea areas and includes 22 bases (8 of which are major ports) which can change hands during the game due to isolation or invasions. All the major heavy cruisers (plus 3 of the light cruisers), battleships, and carriers that fought in the Pacific Theater from December 1941 through October 1944 are included, and each side gets land-based air wings, amphibious forces, and a submarine to play with as well. Along with Advanced Squad Leader, it's one of the last few Avalon Hill wargames to still support nationally-attended face to to face tournaments.


The Allied forces are dominated by the United States armed forces, but also include a sizable British contingent and associated Commonwealth units, plus one lone single Dutch light cruiser - the opposing forces all belong to the Empire of Japan. Scoring is by "Points of Control" (POC), which are just Victory Points by another name, with a simple aggregate determining the winner at the end (except that nobody can lead by more than 29 at the end of a turn). Generally Japan runs up a large lead early but then the tide of American reinforcements turns it back over the last few turns. Scoring points means having the last surviving land-based air unit, or patrolling ship, in a sea zone at the end of a battle. Said patrolling ships must be committed at the beginning of the turn. Ships can also raid instead of patrol, allowing them to be committed later in the turn after seeing more of the enemy's deployment, but those raiding ships do not score any POC after a battle.


Ships in VITP can described by their numerical ratings - they all have a gunnery factor, armor factor, and movement factor (speed), which are read in that order. So when the Japanese battleship Kongo is called a 436, that means it has a gunnery of 4, armor of 3, and speed of 6. Aircraft carriers also have a fourth rating - the airstrike factor, which is read last and usually separated with a dash. So when the British carrier Victorious is called an 027-2, that means it has no gunnery, 2 armor, 7 speed, and 2 airstrikes. The two methods of attack - gunnery and airstrike - can be standard or bonus, the bonus indicating either oxygen-propelled torpedoes, fire-control radar, or superior pilot training. On the counters, the bonus is indicated with a circle, so in writing it's usually offset with parenthesis. So the USS North Carolina 565, and the USS Indiana (5)65 have identical factors but the Indiana gets bonus gunnery and North Carolina doesn't. Amphibious units are 043 for the US and 033 for Japan. Air units are weird as they only have airstrikes and defense, and are read in that order with a * to indicate special movement (they can move to any sea zone where you have at least one base, regardless of distance or enemy control of the sea) - Japanese air is 34*, Allied is 24* but the Allies get more of them.

On a given turn, each side gets reinforcements per a chart and then goes through four phases of deployment - patrolling ships (and repairs, which don't get to deploy that turn), land-based air units, amphibious units, and then raiding ships. In each phase, the Japanese player has to deploy first. Once all the movement is finished, battles are fought, one sea zone in a time, in an order determined by Japan. Battles can be day actions, in which only airstrikes can attack and anyone is a valid target, or night actions, in which only gunnery can attack, air units cannot be targeted, and carriers and amphibious forces can only be targeted if you outnumber your enemy and spread your fire to attack every single surface ship. Combat is fairly simple - to attack, roll nD6 where n is your gunnery or airstrike factor. For standard shots, a 1-4 is a miss. A 5 disables the target and sends it back to port. A 6 is a hit and each hit inflicts 1d6 worth of damage to the target. If the damage exceeds the armor, the target sinks. If not sunk, the damage sticks around to make it more vulnerable in later turns, unless repaired. Bonus shots get a +1 to the to-hit roll (so a 4 is a disable and a 5-6 is a hit) but not the damage roll. If one side has an air unit or patrolling ship still in the area at the end of battle, they control that zone, which adds POC, blocks enemy movement next turn, can aid in converting enemy bases, and aids that side in getting the type of fight (day/night action) they want next turn.

This game provides examples of:

  • America Saves the Day: The majority of the fighting on the Allied side is done by the Americans, but the British are an important part of it, and the Aussies, Kiwis, and Dutch are present as well.
  • Composite Character: Done with locales instead of people. To keep the game manageable, a lot of island bases are combined. E.g. Lae represents multiple bases on the northern half of New Guinea, Saipan also represents Guam & Tinian, Pearl Harbor & Yokosuka Naval Yard stand-in for all of Hawaii & Japan respectively, etc.
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": The ships have "armor factors" which are effectively hit points, although you have to suffer more damage than your armor to sink - e.g. a ship with an armor of 5 is "crippled" if it takes 5 damage, but it takes 6 damage to kill it. Also, the game is won by POC (Points of Control) rather than VP, so it also calls a Victory Point a Smeerp.
  • Cool Ship: Omnipresent.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Played With. On the one hand, any damage whatsoever removes the gunnery bonus from ships that have it, and each tick of damage reduces a ship's speed by 1. On the other hand, as long a ship's damage is less than it's armor, it still gets the same gunnery factor and if it has airstrikes, they aren't affected at all. But then one more tick of damage such that damage equals armor, and any gunnery factor is reduced to 1 and any airstrike to 0. The usual result is that "crippled" ships are almost always repaired, but ships with lesser damage tend to just keep on deploying turn after turn without repairing.
  • Easy Logistics: The logistical constraints are pretty limited and simple, which mostly helps out the Japanese since they had greater logistical troubles in the actual war, and the game allows them to threaten a greater number of serious offensives than they probably could have sustained in reality.
  • Final Battle: A well-played game between approximately equal opponents has a good chance of coming down to a giant battle, often in the Sea of Japan, with the game at stake.
  • Fog of War: Mostly averted, as both players can see the whole map and the locations of all enemy forces. A couple of fog-esque mechanics do exist though - the Allies have restricted movement on Turn 1, to enforce the player "not knowing" when and where the Japanese are planning to attack. Also, all game long, since the Japanese code was broken in real life, the Japanese player has to perform each step before his opponent does, depriving him of the information of his enemy's choices.
  • Glass Cannon: Many of the aircraft carrier, especially the Hiryu, the only carrier with both 3 or more airstrike factors and less than 2 armor - it's a 118(3).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The usual result of sending a single ship or land-based air unit up against a large enemy force to take out the lone enemy patrolling ship, or to destroy the lone enemy amphibious force.
  • House Rules: A fair amount have been introduced over the years in various wargaming magazines or forums. Since the game's balance varies at different levels of skill (newbies tend to find the Allies easier to play, casual players with some experience tend to find it evenly-matched, and serious players tend to find the Japanese favored), tournaments tend to offer a small set of these as options for players to adjust the balance. Several common ones revolve around removing the chance for a US carrier to be sunk in the opening Japanese surprise attack - which could have happened in Real Life, but tends to make the game very difficult for the Allies to win.
  • Last Stand: The Japanese fleet is usually reduced to making one of these at the end of the game.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Iowa-class battleships for sure, rated (5)97, tied for the highest firepower in the game (gunnery or airstrike) yet being as fast as most cruisers. ''Akagi", a 146(4), also counts, tied for the highest airstrike factor in the game yet also having better armor than all other carriersnote  and only 1 speed point slower than the Iowa class battleships or the American carriers.
  • Mighty Glacier: Many of the battleships in the game - generally having better gunnery and armor than other ships but much less speed - are this, especially for the Americans early-game battleships (and a few of the British ones) which are all 443, 453, or 553 - the only ships rated 3 for speed.
  • One-Hit Point Wonder: Several of the Japanese ships are this, having an armor factor of 0 such that any hit will sink them.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Can easily happen if you win a battle by mostly "disabling" opposing ships (which sends them back to port and ends their part in the battle, but inflicts no lasting damage) while most of your own losses are hit, sunk, and gone for good.
  • Random Number God: The lone Dutch ship the Allies possess (the light cruiser De Ruyter) is also one of the weakest ships in the game as a 117 - and often considered the luckiest. One tournament match back in the mid 2000s was even known as the "De Ruyter Game", as a mid-level player (Mike Knautz) managed to upset one of the top players (Jim Eliason) - and in several battles over the course of several turns, the De Ruyter was the last surviving Allied patrolling ship, sinking multiple enemy ships along the way.
  • Sneak Attack: How the first turn of the game naturally begins, with most of the Allies forces frozen in place and unable to react.
  • Spiritual Successor: Victory in the Pacific was heavily inspired by War at Sea, a shorter and simpler game on the Battle of the Atlantic. Several of the basic mechanics are identical to, or clearly derived from, the earlier game and they are sometimes informally considered part of the same game series even though they aren't technically directly related and have different designers and publishers (initially at least - Avalon Hill ended up producing both, but War at Sea was first done by Jedko Games).
  • Turn-Based Combat: Present, in a different manner than most wargames. Only after each ship and unit has had a chance to deploy to a particular sea zone does combat begin, and each given zone's battle is resolved fully before any other zone is fought. For each round of a battle, first the Japanese side takes all its shots and marks damage on the Allies, then the Allied side takes all its shots and marks damaged on the Japanese, and only then does all that damage go into effect simultaneously. So, there's no advantage for Japan in firing first - in fact, there's an advantage for the Allies in getting to know the results of enemy fire before deciding how to allocate their own. Somewhat mitigating this, Japan gets to choose the order in which the sea zones are resolved.
  • We Have Reserves: Averted for ships of both sides despite the large amounts of American reinforcements, as both sides have to carefully watch how much attrition their navy suffers. Played straight with land-based air units, which when destroyed, sit out the rest of that turn plus the entire following turn, and then re-form and return to the game good as new. The idea is that a sunk ship is clearly gone for good, but a destroyed air unit isn't completely gone, just temporarily combat-ineffective, and the surviving planes and pilots can regroup, gain replacements, and then start fighting again after a time.

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