Warlord games has been diligently releasing their theater specific books and I was able to finally snag a copy of Bolt Action: Empires in Flames, their Pacific campaign book. This details quite a few parts of the entire Pacific and East Asia conflict from the initial invasions of Japan into China during the second Sino-Japanese war, engagements in Burma, to the final allied island-hopping offensive to take back territory from Japan. As with many of the previous books it not only covers some scenarios, special troop types, and unique rules for these games, but also provides brief historical background overviews of the conflicts.
The book is broken down into sections first dealing with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, then detailing the rapid conquests Japan had during the initial part of WW2, up to the final years of the war (with Burma and the other major allied offensives being their own section). There are only 8 scenarios listed in the book, but taking a page from Ostfront, there are lists of scenarios out of the main Bolt Action book that are recommended as ones that would be applicable for that period of the war.
Although the scenario count is limited, many have some unique layouts in terrain to give them a twist from your typical games. Additionally, they employ some special rules incorporating night fighting, mines, or amphibious assaults, or ones more specific to the stress troops had in a jungle environment (like exhaustion, monsoon rains, or deep mud). There are also quite a few suggestions for the density and type of terrain that should be on the table for these games. I’ll admit it’s a little disappointing more rules weren’t included but there is enough to add some wrinkles to your typical game which could capture that feel of jungle fighting.
One thing that stands out included in the book is a complete army force list for Chinese national forces. If hankering to duke it out during the initial Japanese invasion into China, this book has you covered with some Japanese theater specific lists. But along with that is a complete list of units and vehicles that would be thematic for the Chinese national army at the time. It certainly is a very niche force, but an interesting option if looking for something different in your typical Pacific theater games.
Along with this new force list are also some new units for both Japan and the allies (both US and Britain), including rules for Mongolian Russian troops. There are a sparse number of heroes and a few vehicles. Most of the new units are for infantry troop selections. Rules for horse limbers and mule-packed guns are also presented as troop options.
Amphibious rules are presented, as well as rules for night fighting, city fighting, and minefields. There are some additional rules that attempt to capture the challenges of fighting in the jungle (monsoon rains and deep mud). Another interesting rule tweak is exhaustion. This rule potentially strips away troops from infantry and artillery units. Exhaustion can also impeded Run orders (units must always check leadership, even with no pins) and units in reserve are more difficult to bring in. It’s a bit of a gamble if playing with the jungle specific rules for exhaustion as it can randomly effect just the attacker or just the defender (or possibly both sides).
The Good – The book provides a nice overview of the different types of engagements that typified warfare in WW2 for this region. Touching on the years up to the start of the war, along with the initial part of the Japanese military campaign is also welcomed, as it’s something not quite visited in typical WW2 rules.
The theater-specific rules are okay and having additional units are always welcomed. The detailed scenarios aren’t groundbreaking but do offer some different challenges from your standard Bolt Action game. It’s especially nice to have a complete army list and theater-selectors for a Chinese national force, which certainly stands out from your regular Pacific wargame book.
As with many other Osprey books, the art is great. It’s well organized and having the special rules dedicated in a single section at the end of the book is nice.
The Bad – There is a lot of ground and history to cover, but it would have been nice to provide some more scenarios. As with many of the other books, a fair number of scenarios are presented more as generic battles with a Pacific flavor rather than detailing a specific battle. Even though the horse limber rules are presented again, it’s a shame the rules for flag bearer units weren’t included.
The Verdict – Empires in Flames is a niche book. It certainly is for a player wanting to focus on the Pacific war. Most of the rules covered have been seen elsewhere in other campaign books (although it’s nice to have them collected in one book here again). So if looking for tons of new rules, some might be disappointed.
Additionally the number of scenarios provided might be considered a little sparse. However the ones provided offer a nice snapshot of the particular types of battles seen in the Pacific. There are quite a few suggestions for table layouts, special rules, and theater-selector lists to use too.
I think Osprey has hit their stride with putting these campaign books out. Empires in Flames manages to present a wide range of different conflicts in the Asian region well. I don’t consider this book a must have for everyone. But if war in the Pacific is your bag, you’d be remiss not to pick up this campaign book. It’s got a lot of meat in between its pages to keep a Bolt Action fan happy.