The game has literally hundreds of playing pieces (cardboard "chits") and when I first opened the box and started pulling out the chit sheets, the little pieces all fell off of their respective sheets. Apparently, the die cutter did an extra good job on them. The result was that I was left with a jumbled, disorganized pile of playing pieces in the box and no inclination to try to sort them out. I put it back on the shelf where it stayed for over a year.
Well, before I could sell the game, I needed to organize everything and make sure it was all there, so I took an evening and worked my way through the tedium. Once I finished I looked through the rules out of curiosity and found that, hey, this game looked kind of cool. All those pieces were organized by year of the Pacific Campaign in WW2, and to play one of the campaigns, you only needed one year's worth of little cardboard chitties. This was only about a quarter of the total — less than that if you played one of the earlier years like 1942.
So, emboldened by my discovery, I resolved to try a game, and that's just what I did during my extra days off around New Year's Day. With the help of Spike the Cat, I broke out the pieces needed to play the 1942 campaign and away we went.
(Spike observing the action)
FCN is actually two games in one: the strategic game where the U.S. And Japanese forces position themselves on a map of the entire Pacific Ocean, and the tactical game where forces that meet on the strategic map resolve battles. All the moves of the Japanese ships, aircraft, and infantry are determined by a set of dice-driven tables all printed on the game strategic and tactical map boards. The one feature that makes this game really challenging is that you, the human player, must make your moves first. Only then, are the moves of the Japanese forces determined, and many of the options on the movement tables give results like, "Move to the nearest objective with American forces." So quite often, the Japanese will react to moves that YOU have made.
(Initial strategic setup for the 1942 campaign)
Added to this is a feature that really requires you to think — you can purchase up to four scouting missions that force a roll on the movement table for the Japanese forces in any one area. In essence, you can force some of the Japanese forces to move first, so that you can shape your plans around them. This is critical because you don't have enough ships and troops to take on a very large Japanese force (At least this is the case in 1942). You have to try to hit them where they are weak, and you can't do that without knowing where most of their forces are first.
Once all the strategic moves are done, you check to see if there are any areas where opposing forces have met and transfer them, one area at a time, to the tactical map to resolve a battle.
(American forces prepare to invade the Japanese-controlled Gilberts)
Each battle has a random number of turns determined by a die roll. This is another brilliant feature as it may lead to an inconclusive engagement with opposing forces still in an area. The result of this is the very realistic effect that battles in some areas may take months to fight to conclusion as opposing forces in the area clash, are reinforced, and then clash again and again. This is what happened in New Gunea during my game. It took me three strategic turns — six months of game time — to finally kick the last of the Japanese forces off the island. In the meantime, the Japanese had made short work of my small garrison in the Solomons. Over the course of the next several turns, they reinforced the area so heavily I was never able to mount an effective offensive against it.
(The Japanese preparing to kick my garrison out of the Solomons)
I played the campaign a few turns at a time over three evenings and found it very enjoyable, even addictive. Each turn I kept wanting to find out what the Japanese would do next, and whether my offensive and defensive moves would be enough to gain an advantage in the overall strategic situation (i.e., objectives controlled). This appeal to my curiosity led to several late nights ("Just one more move..."). This is the mark of a good solitaire game.
The one thing I found frustrating was the amount of time I had to spend referencing the rules on Japanese moves and attacks. The turn and combat sequences have very specific orders of events and priorities that must be followed based on what types of forces are and aren't present, where the enemy is, and what the values of enemy forces are. This led to a lot of rules referencing for each new situation — part of the process of learning a new game, I suppose. I would also liked to have seen a table or two that would provide some variation in how the Japanese forces assign their attacks on American areas and ship types. Also I think the strategic map needs a direct route from Japan to Alaska. With the movement table set up the way it is, I don't see how Japanese forces will ever end up attacking there until after they have taken Midway, and that's not the way it really happened.
Overall though, I rate Fleet Commander as a winner. I think I'll keep it. Spikey and Siouxsie enjoyed it too. 😊❤️
(Tiramisu, aka "Siouxsie", listens in on the action from her cat tree perch.)