Friday, January 29, 2016

Sixth Fleet - Libyan - American War

Scenario 7 from Victory Games' Sixth Fleet is about a hypothetical war that brews up between Libya and the United States. After Gaddafi orders one of his subs to sink an American LSD filled with Marines headed to Beirut, Reagan orders airstrikes on Libya as punishment. This task falls to the US Sixth Fleet, specifically the USS Nimitz with its full complement of aircraft and carrier task force ships. Two American subs, the USS Drum and the Omaha (Sturgeon-class and Los Angeles-class respectively), are along for the ride.

April 1986: The Gipper is PO'd.

The US player gains 1 VP after hitting the bases in all three Libyan cities (Tripoli, Benghazi, and Darnah). Once they are all hit once, he must hit them all again to get 2 VP apiece for each city and he gets 3 VP for each city after hitting each them all three times.  To win, the US player needs 9 VP.

If everything goes just right, he should be able to pull off a win in 5 or 6 turns. An American victory seems to be a matter of just parking the Nimitz a bit north off the coast and launching aircraft all day. But, as always, things are a little more complicated than that.  The US player gets no VPs for destroying Libyan units but the Libyans can reduce the US VP tally by sinking American ships.

The USS Nimitz. Incredible.

The Libyans have a small but slightly potent force waiting for the Americans. Three ageing Libyan subs are lurking in the waters of the Central Mediterranean. They also have 5 PCS with decent SSM attack ratings. Tripoli is home to a MiG-23 squadron and two Su-20 squadrons. Benghazi has a MiG squadron and an Su-20. Individually, these units are not much of a match for the Americans, but used together they can certainly hamper the US player's efforts by exploiting a few weak links.

Start of the scenario

I used to play this scenario and get consistent US wins. It was pretty boring until my gameplay with the Libyans improved a bit. Even then, it is still quite a tough order for the Libyans to garner a victory here and they need luck on their side to pull it off.  I'm sure most experienced Sixth Fleet players would know these tactics but these tips might be helpful for anyone who hasn't played the game in a while or someone lucky enough to have just discovered this gem of a game after all this time.

Here is what I usually do as the Libyans:

1. Put the MiG-23s on CAP above Tripoli and Benghazi. I usually put one of the Su-20s in Tripoli up along with the MiG-23 just to add a little "oomf" to the CAP.  The remaining Su-20s should sit where they are to provide a reason for the Nimitz to keep its CAP flying. The last thing you want is to have those F-14s join in on the fun because the Libyans will lose quickly. I never try any attacks with the Su-20s because they will certainly get shot down if they approach the Nimitz. They are more of a "fleet in being" than a real strike force.

2.  The Libyan subs should aggressively hunt the US carrier task force right away. You are going to lose them sooner or later (probably sooner) to American ASW efforts. You might as well try to rush them in and get a lucky hit on a frigate or destroyer. Even if you only manage to sink the Ramsy (reduces US VP by one point), that really puts the pressure on the American player to carefully allocate his strike resources.

3. The PCS ships should swarm the US player on the second day. The PCS ships are pretty safe in their base hexes for the first day unless the US goes to the trouble of allocating strategic air missions to detect them (and wasting precious air resources by actually going in and bombing them - the Libyan player could only hope the US might do something so silly). By the second day of game time, the US carrier should be within easy striking distance of the PCS ships. Send them out individually and try to swarm the carrier task force with SSMs (go for the escorts - not the carrier). With any luck, the US player's ASW rolls and sub rolls will not all hit and he'll be forced to send out some aircraft to take them out.

4. Bide your time. If you have managed to keep the US player off-balance by continually harassing him and forcing him to assign air assets to either shoot down or your CAP fighters or sink your PCS ships, he might end up in a situation where he pulls a Tomcat off CAP and uses it for air strikes. If that happens, by all means send in your Su-20s and see what happens. Before all of that happens though, try to keep as much of your navy and air force intact. It is worth far more as a potential threat than wasted on big gambles at terrible odds.

As the American player in this scenario, I always try to do the following:

1. Use the P3s to detect the Libyan subs right away. Keep the S3 Viking as an offensive ASW tool. Those Libyan subs are pretty fragile and you will probably score a hit at some point with it. Aggressively take out the Libyan subs as fast as you can with your submarines. Although they don't look like much, just one lucky torpedo shot at your carrier task force can make the 9 VP objective so much harder to reach.

2. Launch a cruise missile on turn 1 vs Tripoli and hope for the best. If it causes 5 damage to the base hex (page 23), one of the Libyan air units will be damaged. Reducing Libyan offensive air capability helps to potentially free up your Tomcats from CAP to go out and help on the air strike missions.

3. Never divert your air to any purpose other than bombing Libyan base hexes. Use your SSMs and subs to take out the Libyan PCS boats. This scenario is a real exercise in "economy of force" so you may need to divide up your air packages smartly. Instead of sending out big raids on a single mission each turn, try experimenting by putting 2 F-18s(1 strike, 1 escort) with an EA-6 Prowler to shoot down the Libyan CAP over Benghazi, which would pave the way for an unescorted A-6 strike on Darnah in the same turn.

Late game - turn 6 in first game. US player is unable to get enough hits on the Libyan cities for a victory.

I just went through a couple of plays of this and managed in both games to sink the USS Ramsy. My PCS boats had varied success, sinking another DD in one of the plays and getting nothing at all in the other. In both cases, the US player split up his air offensive packages to deal with the threats. This led to US losses in both games (6 VP in the first game and 8 VP in the other).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Carrier - Scenario 4: Air Search Officer

“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, "Come and find out".” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

What must it have been like, standing on the bridge of an American aircraft carrier in the South Pacific in 1942 or 1943? Looking over the vast calm ocean straight to the horizon and knowing that somewhere out there, someone was trying to find you and kill you and the only thing that you could do to avoid that was to find them and kill them first. It must have been terrifying and strange and beautiful all at the same time. Victory Games' Carrier (1990) designed by Jon Southard, tries to capture this feeling for the player.

So far, I've talked about a couple of scenarios in Carrier that revolve around striking the enemy. I've had plenty of good luck and fun with sinking Japanese carriers. However exciting that may be, all of that is the end product of many hours of searching, intelligence gathering, and analyzing and classifying information that still may prove faulty in the end.

As a solitaire game, how does Carrier simulate the uncertainty that surrounds this aspect of carrier warfare? It uses an elegant system of chit pulls and charts to determine enemy movement, sightings, and intelligence reports. Scenario 4 shows off this system quite nicely. Although the results of my playthrough were less than stellar, I hope my playthrough helps to show how the game system works.


We set up with two American carrier task forces beside each other. USS Enterprise is in Task Force 16 (hex 2718) while USS Hornet is in Task Force 17 (hex 2717). Both carriers have 4 steps (two counters) of SBDs to use for searching. There are no airstrikes in this scenario. The focus here is entirely on finding out where and what the enemy is.

Two US carriers with four steps (two counters) of search planes each

There are 12 markers placed on the map to the north. These represent initial reports of Japanese combat forces (denoted with the "C" on the counter). A marker could turn out to be a carrier force or nothing at all or somewhere in between. We have no idea what these are and it is our job to try and investigate as many of these reports as possible and sort out the good from the bad. If we do find Japanese ships in one of the reports, we need to get a location on them - the more precise the better.

Initial setup with US Task Forces (blue) and Japanese markers (yellow)

We do this by sending out search planes. When search planes are launched, they are put on a Search track. Each turn, they move farther out along the search track and can be activated once per turn to make a search roll of all enemy markers within the range stated on their current position of the Search track. This roll determines how much they find out about the enemy marker, which can vary from finding out lots of information (lower die rolls) to merely getting an approximate fix and a vague report of enemy ships to nothing at all. Of course, the planes can't stay out searching forever, so as they move along the search track they start to come back towards your carrier where you must get them down into hangars and servicing before you can launch them out there again.

The Search Track 

As the American player finds out more about a certain marker, the intelligence "level" rises to get more specific. So a Level 1 report might reveal that a marker is actually a carrier force. A level 2 marker will reveal how many carriers are in that force and a level 3 marker might tell you what kind of carriers there are (whether they are CVs or CVEs or CVLs) in the task force. A level 4 report will tell you exactly which ships are in the task force as well as air strength and escorting surface ships. The intelligence tables also leave room for levels to decrease or change entirely so that enemy carrier force might end up being an exaggeration by an over-excited search crew. You might end up sending a strike force out to bomb a coral reef. Life is like that.

The Japanese objective in this scenario is known. The enemy ships are trying to get to New Hebrides. This objective determines how the Japanese markers move. There are four phases each turn where Japanese markers move. We start off by rolling a mission movement die and then pulling a certain number of force activation chits as dictated by the record track. When we pull a chit that matches the number on a marker, we move it as directed by both the die roll and the compass shown on the marker's map section. There are 7 blanks in the force activation cups to make things interesting. The Japanese might be very active throughout a turn or they might move all their ships at the start of the turn or the end of it only.

Turn 1:

In Phase 1, we pull 2 chits for the Japanese force and move markers 8 and 5. I decide to move my US task force 16 northwest from hex 2718 to 2619. This gets us a bit closer to the general area of the Japanese markers.

TF 16 moves up 

I decide to launch two air search steps of SBDs from the Hornet and Enterprise this phase. I could have decided to launch all four air steps together from either or both carriers. As it stands, having only two steps searching on each search track means that I will suffer a +2 die roll modifier for all search rolls. My plan is for the remaining search planes to follow them up after a short time to catch anything the first search planes happen to miss. I am hoping the second wave of search planes will also be able to help confirm sightings on anything that the first ones happen to find.

Both TFs have two steps of search planes on the first space of the Search Track.

In Phase 2, C1 moves SE from 1924 to 2024 and the other 2 Japanese chits are blank. The Americans can do nothing right now so it is off to Phase 3.  C7 and C3 both move southeast. In the fourth phase, all the other Japanese chits are pulled. C2 moves southwest while C9 and C4 move east.

My search planes aren't far out enough to catch anyone at the moment so there is little to do but move on to turn 2.

US and Japanese marker positions at the end of turn 1

Turn 2:  

At the beginning of the turn, the search planes I launched in turn 1 have now moved ahead on the Search track to the 4-7 spot. They may now be used once in the turn to search for any Japanese contacts that are from 4 to 7 hexes away.

In Phase 1, we pull 3 chits for the Japanese. C4 moves southeast from 1715 to 1815. The Japanese are slowly getting into search range now. One thing to note here is that the Japanese might move differently around US air sources such as carriers and US airfields. If the Japanese are 8 hexes from your carrier force at the start of their move, you need to compare the mission die roll to the distance at which they begin. If the Mission Die Roll exceeds the distance in hexes between the Japanese counter and the US air source, the Japanese might not move at all or they will attempt to move laterally so as to keep their distance from the US air source while still heading for their objective.

For this reason, it is sometimes better for the US player to wait for the Japanese to slowly enter his search range rather than try to barge ahead towards Japanese contacts. Presumably, they are aware of possible US forces out ahead of them and are reacting to your movements at the same time too.

I moved TF17 northeast to 2617 but I am not sure if this is a smart move as now C4 and C3 are within 8 hexes and may refuse to move into my search range. On the other hand, the US player can only move a task force in phase 1 and phase 3 of this turn so it is now or never if I want to move both carriers this turn.

TF16 and TF17 both launch their next two steps of search planes. The SBDs go up on the search track in the 0-3 hex box.

Search tracks with SBDs at different ranges.

In Phase 2, the Mission Die Roll is mercifully low and the Japanese will follow their assigned mission movement. C8 and C9 both move southeast. Hornet may be able to catch them if I can get it moving up soon enough.

In Phase 3, the MDR is again low (result is a 1) and the 2 chit pulls send C2 and C7 southeast. Task Force 16 (Hornet) moves Northeast. It is now in search range of C7. TF16 is in range of C7 C8, and C1. My gut tells me to pull the trigger and make my search rolls now but there is always the chance that C3 and C5 will come into range next phase if the Mission Die Roll is low enough.

In Phase 4, we get a 4 for the Mission Die Roll, which is great. We pull all the rest of the Japanese chits and C5 and C3 move southeast into our search range. Now it is time for us to make our search rolls.

The Enterprise searches roll lousy and miss 3 of their searches. They manage to approximately locate C7. Since this is a level 0 force, we get to pull a chit from our other cup to see what it is. It is revealed as a dummy - a false report, a day dream, a mirage.  C7 is removed from the map.

Hornet's search parties have better luck. They locate C3 and find out that it is a surface force. It's bittersweet though - the victory conditions double your points for finding a carrier force. Oh well. Maybe next turn.

C7 is revealed as a dummy force while C3 is located and appears to be a Japanese surface force.

Turn 3:

In this turn, the Japanese get 3 chit pulls in the first phase, 2 in the second, and 3 in the third. The Americans can move one ship in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd phases. Hopefully, we can catch the rest of the undetected Japanese forces and sort out what is happening out there.

Our search planes in the 4-7 box move to the 1-3 box as they are returning to the carrier. Our second wave of searchers is now up in the 4-7 box.

In Phase 1, C5 and C1 inch closer to our task forces, probably oblivious to our presence.

In Phase 2, it seems we have gotten as good as it is going to get with Task Force 16. No other forces will be moving into search range this turn, so it makes sense to see what is out there. We go ahead with our rolls and find out that:

C1 is a Medium-sized Japanese force. Whether it is a medium-sized carrier task force or surface force or (in the standard game) a transport force, we have no idea. We just know that there seem to be quite a few ships in this one specific area.

The next two rolls for C8 and C5 are blown.

C4 is revealed as Surface force. It is only approximately located so if we were playing a standard game, an air strike would need to more accurately locate it before they could try and hit it.

In Phase 3, C9 moves southeast to 1924. TF17 responds by moving northwest to 2517. It is now in search range of four forces. It manages to accurately locate the C4 surface force but no further information is found out. The other rolls are unsuccessful in either locating or further identifying the other contacts.

End of turn 3 search results. I sure hope C1 isn't a carrier force!

Although it doesn't really matter at this point because we have no searches left, we move the rest of the Japanese contacts. C4 moves to 1914 while C2 goes to 2011 and C8 moves Southeast to 1922.

Victory Points:

We managed to accurately locate three forces (C4, C1, and C3) at level 1 intelligence for six VPs. We get one additional VP for finding a dummy force.

According to our result table, we get: "Your inept searching allows the Japanese to hit your fleet with a surprise attack, in which you are killed."  Oh boy!

"Hey guys! Let's shift the search patterns a bit. I think there's something out there!"

Doing Better

I think the biggest problem I had here was with how I used my search planes. By only sending out 2 steps at a time to search, it really hurts your results on the search die roll table. It would have made far more sense to have the Enterprise send out two steps at a time as we did but to have the Hornet follow up behind with a four-step search team to help further identify and classify what the first search team found. Using teamwork, I think the carriers could have focused in on half of the contacts out there and coordinated their air search and movement together.

I have played this scenario a few times now with varying results. My best scores (which are still not that good) usually happen when search planes are launched with four steps and at varying intervals. This is a tough scenario though! I played through to 6 turns once and managed to identify only half the Japanese forces on the map.

At the very least, I hope this playthrough gives you a better idea of how Carrier works and you can see the elegance of its core design shine through.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Carrier - Scenario 3: Climax at Santa Cruz

Continuing on with my learning of Carrier from Victory Games (1990), I have just tried scenario 3. This scenario is meant to teach movement of ships. In this game, Japanese task forces are given objectives that they are attempting to reach so the good news is that not everything out there is trying to sink your little carrier force. On the other hand, letting the bad guys drop off thousands of fresh troops on Guadalcanal will probably not help your victory point tally at the end of the day.

Scenario 3: The Battle of Santa Cruz

There are basically two kinds of enemy forces of various sizes in this game - carrier forces and transport forces. Japanese carrier forces will tend to try and approach and attack your carrier if it is within a certain range. Transport forces will run straight for their objectives and hope for the best. The big problem for the player in Carrier is to sort out which force is which and determining how big these forces actually are. Reports of enemy contact are represented on the board and these might represent anything from a large carrier task force to a coral reef that some jumpy airman reported back to base as a large ship. These reports gets more accurate and detailed as you send out search planes and get intel back from other sources.   The catch is that you don't have time and resources to search through every piece of intelligence so you take what you can get and react to the situation as best as you can.

In this scenario, you luckily start off with enough information to know who is out there and where they are. It is October, 1942 and the Japanese have two carrier forces. Force 1 is CV Shokaku and Zuikaku with CVL Zuiho and escorting surface ships. Force 2 consists of CVL Junyo and two destroyers.

Japanese forces - Force 1 (left) and Force 2 (right)

At intelligence level 4, we have precise information about the composition of these forces. Force 1 starts off in hex 1921 and Force 2 is in 2024.

How the historical battle played out

The US has two carrier task forces. TF 16 has CV Enterprise and BB South Dakota with a host of escorts. TF 17 consists of CV Hornet and a healthy complement of ships. The scenario lasts for one game day (12 turns). The Japanese are undetected at the start and not located. A table from the scenario regulates what the Japanese forces do in terms of whether they attack or are located. For the first two turns, the Japanese carriers just move. After that, the gloves come off.

Add TF 16 and TF 17 ready to go with CAP launched.

Starting off 12 hexes away from the US fleet, the Japanese move towards our position. My plan is to try and "slide" both carriers around the Japanese axis of approach so that I can bring all my planes to bear on one enemy carrier while being further out of range of the other. On the other hand, I need to be careful not to move too far away from either enemy carrier force because the Japanese will simply then move towards their objective, which is Guadalcanal.  CAP is launched immediately with four steps of F4Fs circling above the carriers. Each carrier places another two steps of fighters on deck just in case we get attacked by the Japanese.

Starting Positions - Scenario 3

On Turn 3, we catch a lucky break and detect and locate Force 1. Air Strike 1 is assembled and brought up from servicing and then launched.

Air Strike 1 in Servicing while planes marked for Air Strike 2 in Hangar. F4Fs on deck in case of attack.

One turn later, the strike arrives and makes contact with the Japanese carriers.

Air Strike 1 about to make contact with Force 1

Despite a Japanese CAP level of 4, we take no step losses. The Japanese AAA is also ineffective. We get 3 rolls and decide to split them up with 2 rolls on the Shokaku and 1 on the Zuikaku. The Shokaku takes a whopping 6 hits (heavily damaged) and the Zuikaku takes 2 hits. Air Strike 1 turns around just as Force 2 moves towards our carriers and it is located. Air Strike 2 is hurriedly assembled and launched.

As Air Strike 2 approaches Force 2, we roll for surprise and get a "10". There are planes on the deck of the Junyo. CAP is unable to shoot down our planes and there is no AAA. With two rolls against the carrier, we score 3 hits on each roll. CV Junyo is sunk and goes to the bottom of the Pacific.

Air Strike 1 has fueled up and launched again at Force 1 to take care of the rest of the Japanese carriers. Meanwhile, the Japanese finally make a move against the Hornet.Two steps of Japanese planes are shot down as they approach. CAP kills off one and AAA takes out the other. None of the Japanese planes make it through. Air Strike 1 arrives over its target a short while later and gets three rolls again. This time, the Shokaku is sunk and the Zuikaku is heavily damaged. To my chagrin, the Japanese CAP and AAA take a chunk out of my attacking force.  I threw up Air Strike 2 again and finished off the Zuikaku before the end of the scenario.

Three Japanese carriers at the bottom of the Pacific. The counters at the bottom show the hits. Upper right on the unit counter is the hit capacity of each ship.

Nothing feels quite as good as sinking three Japanese carriers in a single day. I managed to pull it off in scenario 3 but the difficulty level is still pretty low at this point. I'm facing a couple of targets with precise information. I wonder if things will go this well when I've got a series of unknown forces coming for me? I guess we will find out in scenario 4.

One thing I love about Carrier is how it really makes you feel like a commander. You make your best decisions based on the intelligence you have and then you fling your pilots out to face the enemy while biting your nails and waiting to hear back how they did. You have very little control over things once your aircraft arrive on target except to decide where to take losses and how to allocate attacks. Great stuff!

Now treat yourself to a nice video about the historical battle. Here ya go:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Carrier - Scenario 2: The First Carrier Battle

Since becoming an avid solitaire gamer several years ago, one of the games I kept hearing about over and over again was Victory Games' Carrier (1990). The reviews I read online spoke about it with the kind of reverence you would normally reserve for saints or minor deities. It was one of those games that I always intended to buy but the high prices for this out-of-print Jon Southard design put it out of my reach for a long time.  As the end of last year approached, curiosity got the better of me and I trotted out the necessary self-justifications and rationalizations for splurging on a copy for my birthday.

Late last month, my used copy of Carrier arrived in the mail. It was in near-mint condition and, to my astonishment, still unpunched. Did this thing really sit on someone's shelf for 25 years without being played? Taking the counter sheet out of the box and leafing through the pristine rulebook, I was a little uncertain about what to do with this thing. But birthdays have a way of reminding us that we're not getting any younger. I was not going to let this thing sit on my shelf for years in hopes of reselling it some day or just for the sake of bragging rights about my collection. I got to work punching the game counters out on the same day and within a few short hours, the game transported me into the shoes of a US Navy fleet commander in the Pacific during the early days of World War II.

Before I get into the scenario replay, I should mention a couple of things about Carrier for the uninitiated. This solitaire title was an attempt by Jon Southard (who also designed one of my favorite games, Fire Team) to model carrier operations in 1942 and 1943.  In its 67 pages of rules, Carrier gives you everything you need for a tense journey into the fog of carrier warfare. As the US player, you need to make sense of an ever-changing situation by sending out search planes and taking educated guesses about the location and intentions of enemy forces. The threat of facing a Japanese strike is ever-present and, due to the game mechanics, you won't know the enemy has spotted and fixed your position until there are Japanese dive bombers overhead. Woe betide the unlucky player who has a carrier deck full of fuelled and armed SBDs ready for take-off just as the bombs start to fall.

What failure looks like in Carrier.

The game provides you with an A.I. that very ably depicts the fluidity of Japanese actions (and reactions) in a way that actually makes sense without resorting to paragraph-style events booklets (like VG's wonderful Ambush!). Jon Southard pulls out all the stops to pull off this surprisingly elaborate sleight-of-hand. Carrier players will be using chit-pulls, charts, die-rolls, tables, and a very rigid sequence of play for both his own forces and those of the Japanese "player". Despite the complexity of the game, the rules are taught to players in a "learn as you play" style. You read a few rules, play a scenario that applies them and then do the same until you have learned everything you need for an all-out campaign game with all the bells and whistles.

As I am still slowly learning the basics of this game, I have only just recently played through Scenario 2. In the first scenario, players apply the attack sequence by running an air strike against a large Japanese carrier force as done in The Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May, 1942. Scenario 2 is a slightly expanded version of this first scenario. This time, however, the US player needs to manage carrier operations and put together strike packages and try to make contact with detected Japanese task forces.

The US player starts out with Lexington and Yorktown. The Japanese have two forces. Force 1 is the escort carrier CVE Shoho with DD Sazanami. Force 2 is the much larger force of CVs Shokaku and Zuikaku with two CAs and six DDs. Needless to say, the big victory points are in sinking or damaging the Japanese CVs. At the same time, the CVE could pose a threat if it shows up at the wrong time.

I start off by putting up CAP around the US task force. Four steps of F4Fs patrol the carrier group (one aircraft counter equals two steps).

Managing carrier operations is a game in and of itself in Carrier. Planes can either be in one of four states: on deck ready for launch, on deck and unready (for aircraft that have just landed, for example), in servicing on the lower decks, or way down in the hangars. There are hard limits placed on how many steps of aircraft can occupy these locations and aircraft need to be cycled through these locations to get them ready for launch. For example, aircraft that are in the hangars need to go to servicing before they can get on deck.

No more than 8 steps of aircraft can be on deck (both in the ready and unready box) at the same time or you'll be unable to launch aircraft until you clear out some room somewhere. You also cannot land and launch planes at the same time, so you might have to face the agonizing decision of whether to send your guys on deck up after that Japanese carrier or to let your returning aircraft, low on fuel, come in for a landing, which will delay your strike and can leave you vulnerable to a Japanese strike. There are no correct answers - only hard decisions.

CVs Lexington and Yorktown both have six steps of aircraft on their decks. The Lexington has two steps of F4Fs and four steps of SBD (dive bombers) ready to go. Most of my SBDs are in Servicing while the rest of my planes are in the hangar.

Initial plane setup on Lexington and Yorktown.

The Yorktown has two steps of F4Fs, two steps of SBDs and two steps of TBDs ready to launch. I've got two steps of F4Fs and four steps of SBDs sitting in the Servicing bays and a TBD with four steps of SBDs in the Yorktown's hangar.

The first turn passes without any sign of the Japanese. On the third action phase of the second turn, Force 2 is located about four hexes northeast of our carrier position. I launch the first strike, composed of all the planes on deck from the Lexington and Yorktown. After the launch, I move all my planes currently in Servicing up to the deck and get them ready to go.

Air Strike 1 is assigned Force 2 as its target and it flies towards it.

Air Strike 1

Each segment, the air strike moves one hex towards its target. During the segment, I'm rolling to see what the Japanese are doing. Force 1 might appear unexpectedly and launch an air strike on my ships or Force 2 with its two CVs might be launching its planes at my force but I won't know it until they run into my CAP (and there is always a chance they will slip through my CAP too).

Air Strike 2 is launched in the next segment and is assigned Force 2 as its target.

Air Strike 2 is up on deck and ready to launch.

I could have kept them back for a hit on the Japanese escort carrier but so far it has not been detected. The escort carrier is small potatoes anyways compared to the big fish in Force 2. Finally, I really need to launch these planes because it is never a good thing to have armed aircraft sitting on your carrier deck.

Air Strike 1 about to arrive over target. Air Strike 2 has just been launched.

Air Strike 1 arrives in the target hex and attempts contact.  I roll a "3" and the contact attempt fails. A second contact attempt follows and the Time Aloft marker is increased to 5. The strike package is beginning to get low on fuel now.  I roll a "7" this time and the pilots find the Japanese carriers below. Unfortunately, the Japanese have a level 4 CAP up, which manages to shoot down 1 step of our aircraft. Our TBD takes the hit. Luckily, the Japanese AAA does nothing to the strike package and we have a combined attack strength of 18, which gives us 1 attack roll at -1 and another attack roll at no modifier. I manage to score 3 hits on the Japanese carriers. The Shokaku takes 1 hit while the Zuikaku takes 2 hits. The carriers are both lightly damaged as their hit capacities are both 8.

Air Strike 1 heads for home and a new segment begins. Just as Air Strike 2 is coming in, I roll a "10" for Japanese action and the scenario ends. Presumably, the Japanese have slipped away somehow. The US scores 2 VPs for the CV hits while the Japanese score 1/4 VP for eliminating a US air step. The result is a draw.

Since this was pretty anti-climactic, I decided to see what would have happened had Air Strike 2 made its way over the target.

Air Strike 2 arrives and makes contact with the Japanese task force. We roll for surprise and get a "10", which means we have caught the Japanese with planes sitting on their decks! This seriously hampers the Japanese CAP level and there will be no AAA coming at our planes. It also means a whopping +5 to our air attack rolls. The Japanese CAP manages to score a hit and a TBD step is lost.

Totaling up the combat values of our five SBDs, we get 30 attack points, which means we get 2 rolls with a +1 modifier (along with our +5 modifier for catching the planes on the deck). We manage to score 7 hits total, which is spread evenly among the two Japanese carriers, with the final hit randomly determined. By the end of the segment, both the Zuikaku and Shokaku have taken 5 hits and they are very heavily damaged.

5 hits each on Japanese CVs Zuikaku and Shokaku

The Japanese will wisely attempt to retire from the battle. Without any planes on deck and Air Strike 1 coming in for a landing soon, it will be nearly impossible to catch the Japanese fleet so we can safely call it a day. I tally the VPs as 28 for the US and .5 for the Japanese, which is an overwhelming American victory.

Although this was an incredibly tense scenario and lots of fun with plenty of decisions, I have still barely scratched the surface of Carrier.  Due to the graduated "play as you learn the rules" approach to the system, it will be interesting to see what happens as things get more complex. I'll keep you updated as I play through and learn more rules and I think it should make for some interesting reading.