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Part 3: Building a Winning Strategy

by Patrick Graham

Previous Guadalcanal Strategy Articles
1: Game Mechanics
2: Making the Most of Units

Welcome to part three in a three-part series of Guadalcanal strategy articles. We’ve examined the game play basics and the functions of each unit, so now it’s time to put it to use to form comprehensive strategies. This article will explore the early mid and end game, enemy manoeuvres you should look out for and what you need to do to win the game. Before we get to that, though, two things:

  1. We’ll look at the effect initiative has and how to leverage it to your advantage and,
  2. We’ll review a pair of ‘unconventional’ strategies that can influence your playing style or give the enemy an unwelcome surprise.

The First Turn Token

Going first? It’s a curse, but at least you can be assured the token will pass back and forth during the game. Going first means your opponent will get a chance to observe and respond to your decisions, a big issue when loading and moving transports, positioning your battleships, and making purchases.

Yeah, transports – they immediately give your opponent a good idea which islands you’re planning to reinforce. To mitigate this disadvantage, you should place your loaded transports in a sea zone adjacent to more than one likely landing zone. If your opponent can only access one or the other and not both, he will have to pick and choose where to commit his forces. Based on his actions during the move transport phase, you can make flexible decisions on where to land troops. Keep in mind that destroyers can also load and move ground units. You can always load some troops on your transport to lure your opponent to one island and send other units elsewhere via your destroyers.

Battleship movement will be an important indicator of what your opponent plans on doing with his fleet if his naval forces are consolidated. While a Battleship is sturdy, most players are reluctant to move it into a sea zone without support. Where the Battleship goes, so goes his destroyers and cruisers.

Finally, the advantage of observing your opponent’s purchases first is rather self-evident. Those purchases will say a lot about his intentions for the coming turn, and you should plan accordingly. If your opponent is purchasing transports and ground units, review the board, check out islands likely to be their destination, and plot a solution with your purchases. If your opponent purchases several cruisers or a battleship, it’s a sure bet he intends to bully your fleet. Remember, however, not all opponent purchases warrant a response. A good player acts and reacts as necessary.

Heavy Air and Naval Strategies

What are the goals you want to achieve to win? In most Guadalcanal sessions, taking islands and building airfields will be the focus of your purchases and strategy. However, consider some other strategies to mix things up, catch your opponent off guard, or keep them guessing. Experience has shown me that the following strategies don’t consistently win games, but by incorporating some of their principles, you can gain yourself an important edge.

Big naval units like battleships can cost a lot of money, but large investments in you fleet can produce dividends in victory points just the same as rolling out new airfields. A powerful fleet can accomplish two things. First it can be used to cow smaller naval taskforces away from important sea zones. Use your main fleet to pin your opponent’s fleet and use a secondary fleet to stalk the periphery of the board and interdict convoys. Your opponent isn’t likely to squander transports loaded with ground units by sending them into a zone occupied by several warships. Likewise, bigger fleets can move smaller ones out place. Swarms of subs are good at doing this because of the ever-present fear of being sunk without retaliation. If an opponent cannot move supplies or soldiers to islands, then he will never get the opportunity to build more than a few airfields.

Also, use the might of your fleet to do what ships do best: sink stuff. Since all ships move at the same speed, you’ll have to split your force and try to box your opponent in. This could mean fighting him with an equal force when it comes time to fight, but once the smoke clears you both will have lost a taskforce. You will, however, still have another to continue the fight. In addition, victory points can be racked up by cornering and sinking capital ships. Going this route isn’t cheap and you can expect to really pay for it if you can’t keep your opponent from winning the ground war or the race to build airfields.

Damaging airfields can rob your opponent of victory points and force him to reroute supplies and resources from other fronts to repair the damage. A damaged airfield will lose your opponent at least one victory point as he can’t score it at the end of the turn… that is unless he has a supply token already on the island that he can use to repair it. Usually, an opponent won’t leave supply tokens strewn across his islands doing nothing. Nailing an airfield will force him to scrabble to get supplies to it on the next to turn so it can produce victory points again. You can use that opportunity to go after another target airfield. This can be a costly strategy in terms of what you will need to build to keep the edge. What’s more, your opponent will have air power and will start using anti-aircraft guns as well. This strategy could draw too many resources away from your own construction efforts. However, if you want to overwhelm your opponent with air power, you're going to have to build airfields anyway, and you can work toward both ends at once. You should also keep in mind that aircraft carriers only cost a single reinforcement point. Thusly, building a large carrier fleet can make a good choice. Aircraft carriers are going to be attractive targets especially if grouped together. An opponent could choose to focus on destroying them and can win victory points if you lose any. Aircraft also have a high attrition rate and your resources will be needed to constantly move and replenish planes on your carriers.



Early-Game

The game begins the same every time you play, but I have some opening moves that are naturally more conducive to victory later in the game than others. With skill and a little luck, you should be able to create a suitable point of departure from the fixed beginning that’ll give you an advantage. I can explore the first turn with a degree of thoroughness that is more difficult to achieve when analyzing the mid and late game.

Japan


The Japanese always begin the game on the first turn. Your opponent will likely go after easier targets and ignore whatever island you choose to reinforce. However, you should expect him to make gains in the first turn, so focus instead on building a good defensive base to stunt their offensive momentum and keep them off balance in the mid-game.

Your two supply tokens on Bougainville can be supplemented either by the supply token on your base card, or they can be forwarded to another island. Building an airfield on a more distant island can save you a couple of supply tokens as you will not need to spend them to deploy transports in range later on.
I highly recommend that enough supplies be shuttled to New Georgia so that an airfield can be built there at the end of the first turn. Occupying that island, and keeping it, will assure a Japanese victory, but if you begin reinforcing the island, be prepared to commit to it. A New Georgia strategy will cost you some flexibility but is, in my opinion, the best avenue for both sides to victory.

You can’t do much about Malaita or your troops on Guadalcanal, but you have options for Santa Isabel. You can choose to reinforce the island from Choiseul or even Bougainville. Neither is under any threat from the USA in the early turns of the game. Just keep in mind that if Santa Isabel is really bulked up, then you opponent will just head toward New Georgia, which has two airfield spots. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. A strong force on Santa Isabel can really change the dynamics of the game and put a serious threat next door to Malaita and Guadalcanal. The USA can have New Georgia if it means losing everything else, but moving units that far afield will be expensive.

A defensive strategy means you should try different methods to keep the USA player from expanding his sphere of influence. You have some wiggle room in your purchases and should think about what you can afford to spend. This is especially true if the USA player goofed and only has two islands. You could rebalance airpower in the game by purchasing a couple of bombers. You could purchase an aircraft carrier as well. If you really want to throw the gauntlet down you can pick up a battleship and deploy it into Sea Zone B. A clutch of subs could also be bought to the same effect.

USA

Your goal will be to quickly redress the imbalance in island holdings as rapidly as possible. Each island you claim will give you four more reinforcement points and deprive Japan of the same. If you did nothing to secure islands on this turn, you would only receive fourteen reinforcement points to Japan’s thirty points. Ouch! And it gets worse: you’ll have to use all of your transports, destroyers and ground units to capture at least two more islands (or more if you Japan has made a serious blunder). On turn one, you can pretty much empty Guadalcanal, as reinforcements from your base card will be able take their place. In addition, you have access to five bombers that can reach the island and contribute ten dice to the attack. There is no reason why the Japanese should have forces on Guadalcanal at the turn’s end.

Capturing Malaita on the first turn is pretty much a given. The Japanese can’t seriously commit reinforcements to the island’s token occupation. Don’t expect the Japanese to do much here, but watch for the destroyer in range. Three to four ground units or two ground
units plus a bomber should be sufficient. For accomplishing this task you don’t want to divert too many resources from elsewhere. You still need to clear out Guadalcanal and take another island. The next decision then should be whether to send forces to take Santa Isabel or New Georgia.

Contesting New Georgia on the first turn is a tricky question and will depend largely on the extent to which Japan has reinforced the island. With two destroyers and two transports in range, you can ship six units to New Georgia. Four fighters can back them up from your carriers if you keep them in range. However, focusing on New Georgia like that on turn one will leave you with precious few resources to strike at Santa Isabel, you could wind up with only two islands under your control at the end of the first turn. Moreover, there is no guarantee of a foothold on New Georgia if the Japanese swarm the island with troops. If there’s an opportunity to take or contest it, do it, but you can wait a turn and focus on Santa Isabel if you feel that would be a better choice.

If you are really certain you can spare the capacity on your transports, move the three supply tokens off Guadalcanal and to another island. Building your second airfield further away from your base card on the first turn will save you supply tokens in the long run as you will have one less airfield that will require deployment to immediately deliver supply tokens to it.

As for you purchases at the end of the first turn you might want to consider an aircraft carrier to support those extra fighters. Since the USA purchases second, take a look at what your opponent has purchased and build accordingly. You might want to consider the mid-game in finalizing your purchases. If all else fails, build infantry, supplies and transports. You can never go wrong.



Mid-Game

Starting on turn two you’ll need to shore up your strategy quickly and begin to make the necessary moves that will ultimately bring you victory. This, of course, means different things to the Japanese and USA players.

Japan will need to consolidate their position on the western half of the board and explore strategies to keep the Americans out. If all went well on the first turn, the islands Japan possesses will have the airfields necessary to win in the long run. Play with the defense of your possessions in mind and keep your opponent off balance.

The USA should look to either nullify or reverse what could rapidly become Japan’s control of the skies via airfield occupation. The USA can use air superiority to damage airfields, try to seize a Japanese controlled island or a combination of both to claim victory. If you look at the board you will see that Choiseul can only be reliably accessed through the Slot or by spending two supply tokens per ship to place forces in Sea Zone I. That makes for a hard island to hit and plus it only has one airfield. Presuming that turn one ended with the board divided neatly in half for control, the second should be spent hitting New Georgia hard. If you captured Santa Isabel with no resistance you can expect a lot of Japanese ground units, especially pesky artillery already on that island.
Based on your purchases last turn you can see the chances of landing a force and not having it wiped out. Knocking out an airfield on the island (if one is present) would certainly put you ahead, but you likely won’t have the strength to do it until turn three unless you went the air power route with your purchases (even then you will only have one airfield with bombers). Since you do everything first this turn, you have one advantage. In building airfields first you are guaranteed to lay down a second airfield on Georgia if you make a play for it and have units remaining.

Japan should be looking to counter the USA player. This will be easier on turn two as the first player token has changed hands. Now you will get to see where his transports have gone and act accordingly. The fleet should be moved into the slot to support New Georgia and threatened Santa Isabel and Guadalcanal. Likewise if you control Santa Isabel you can slip around back and turn the flank, forcing the USA player off balance (he might have to wait until turn three to respond). Either way, you should be patient and not impulsive. Parry the thrusts of your opponent. If you can achieve an early advantage in victory points it will be very hard for the USA player to fight back from the deficit.

Turn three will likely shift the balance. Usually an advantage in victory points begins to appear and the other player will have to spend turn four and possibly turn five playing catch up. Start looking for opportunities to strike capital ships. Now is also a key time to start mapping out the movement of your forces over the final turns and ensure they make it to their destinations. Your purchases should reflect a continued momentum in your overall strategy. As you’ll see you only get one chance to pull your big plays off and they’ll be coming about now.



End-Game

Remember that deployment will become essential to make the most of any units you purchase. It may be expensive, but the reinforcement points would otherwise be wasted if the units you purchased do nothing on your final turn. By now you should have an established convoy system to transfer ground units and supplies to islands and move empty transports to the Base Card. This will free up several reinforcement points for other purchases or repairs. Certainly some of your ships have been damaged by now. Remember that if you repair them you will also want to get some use out of them or the points will be wasted all the same.

Both players will need to fill up the last of the airfield spaces with airfields of their own. Try to hold on to what you have if you have an advantage. Your opponent will need to completely wipe you out on an island to seize your airfield. If you need to take an airfield, you will need an overwhelming preponderance of forces at your objective, sparing nothing, hopefully your opponent will not be able to do the same. If you have forces on the flanks you could try to hit you opponent on his main island (Bougainville or Guadalcanal). By this token you should consider taking a chance if you are behind. After all, you have nothing to lose at this point.

These three articles should give you advanced knowledge of the game and a good grasp of all of the strategic concerns that should arise over the course of play. From here you’ll find that it’s your talent and personal style that’ll separate you from your opponents. Keep playing to polish your strategies and, more importantly, have fun and experiment. I hope that over the life of this game new strategies will be developed and presented to players that counter some of my own thoughts described here.

Related Links
Guadalcanal Product Information
Guadalcanal FAQ
Guadalcanal Rulebook










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