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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bolt Action - Review: Armies of Imperial Japan

Is it a tribute to the people involved in making these books, or indicative of a real gaming sickness/obsession that makes we want to start a new platoon every time they release a new "Armies of"?

I present to you, Armies of Imperial Japan.

I don't think I can resist buying a Japanese force after reading this. Thanks a lot, Osprey and Warlord. My creditors, especially, would like to thank you.

Mine arrived a bit on the busted side, through no fault of the companies involved in its production. So don't judge the picture above too harshly. That is, if you even notice the damage.

Agis Neugebauer is the credited author of this installment in the "Armies of" series for Bolt Action. I found his writing entertaining, and the rules themselves very solid. The small, shaded areas of the book were some of my favorite from all the books so far. These sections of flavor text really make this book. Here's a sample:

"More hazardous than our doctrine would advocate...
In an effort to compensate for these deficiencies, the Japanese have organized and trained a variety of assault teams, which launch attacks at close quarters upon the most vulnerable points of tanks. These teams are armed with whatever weapons and explosive charges are available, and their equipment may include items from an extraordinary series of hand-carried demolition weapons. Many of the missions of these close combat units are more hazardous than our doctrine would advocate, since the majority of such attacks  result in the death of tank hunters.
     From Japanese Tank and Anti-tank Warfare - Military Intelligence Divison US War Department - August 1945" 

Notice the title of that shaded area above? "Lack of weapons is no excuse for defeat." Many of those blurbs share that tone. They go a long way towards immersing the reader in the mood and theme of the book. 

 The models and scenery are a great addition to the Bolt Action universe. Obviously, they're distinct. I'm used to seeing European tables and shots; the addition of the Japanese to the mix really spices things up. I can tell a lot of care and time went into setting up these photographs, and it's very appreciated.

If you're reading this, you already know what to expect from this book as far as production quality is concerned. Top notch. I'm not going to spend any more time on it.

You want to know about the new rules, though. That's what you're here for - or at least it's the first thing I flipped to when I got a hold of it. For those like-minded individuals out there, the first ability is called Death Before Dishonor. It provides all the units in the book with the Fanatics special rule. This is a big deal. If memory serves, no other nation gets it for free with any unit, much less over an entire list. Off the top of my head, that upgrade costs the Germans three points per man in certain squads!

The second ability is called Banzai Charge. Bet you can guess what the rule imparts! Any Japanese infantry unit that is ordered to Run, or Charge, the closest visible enemy, automatically passes its order test. This, combined with the Death Before Dishonor special rule means the men of the IJA will get into close combat and stay until they've shed their last drop of blood.

Next comes Ambush Tactics. This lets any Japanese unit start the game with an Ambush order die, if they were first Hidden. I was surprised to see this, not because I felt it somehow misrepresented Japanese forces - on the contrary. For most of us, or perhaps only those of us with Hollywood-styled knowledge of the war in the Pacific, that seems perfectly spot on. I was more surprised that the editors and author decided to give the Japanese both aggressive and defensive feeling abilities. Of course, all of the abilities feel very accurate to my extremely limited history knowledge, so it's tough to complain.

 Last, but certainly the least expected, is called Show Your Loyalty. This ability is similar to the Soviet ability that allows access to commissar units. Kempeitai officers may be purchased by the Japanese player. These units, if within 6" of a Green unit, allow that unit to re-roll the die when testing the Green result. I'd never heard of these guys, so as usual something I picked up from a Bolt Action book sent me to the knowledge of the internets. Pretty fascinating. I had no idea anything like that existed in the IJA. At any rate, someone will certainly take advantage of this ability with an infantry horde style list, since all the previous abilities make Japanese infantry better. I can't wait to see what that someone comes up with.

As the picture above reveals, Armies of Imperial Japan breaks the mold set by earlier books. You can make a list appropriate for way back in the early thirties in this book. Crazy. Fans of the Japanese will have a lot of options to take part in Soviet versus Japanese, or Chinese versus Japanese, or Japanese versus anyone in the Pacific. 

I didn't mention it before, but of course the art is inspiring as well. Peter Dennis and Steven Andrew deliver again! Someone out there might be disappointed by the theater selectors - I think I've read a complaint for each book so far here or there, stating that a book is missing a selector for this theater or that theater. The beauty of my ignorance is, I don't even know what I'm missing. There are twelve theater selectors in here. Are they missing something? Maybe, but I can't imagine someone not being able to adjust a list slightly to fit their needs. Two big thumbs up on the lists, and I'm definitely pleased to see the "early" selector. That's a new angle we've not seen yet.

As a teaser, the units for the most part are what you probably expect. The infantry units are tough, and huge. The anti-tank weaponry is relatively under-powered, which isn't really a big drawback in Bolt Action, as they still have access to medium anti-tank weaponry. One unit I did not expect, however, is the Suicide Anti-Tank Team. The Japanese player can take up to three of them as one selection in his or her list. These things are one man teams, and given the Japanese special rules, the only thing stopping them from hitting their targets are range (have to be able to run to it) and enemy fire. They can't be ignored, as they're simply immensely powerful. I'm a bit nervous to see them across the table from me, but IJA players need not worry that they don't have sufficient anti-tank capabilities!

That about sums it up, BARbarians. If you've been waiting for this book, go out and grab it now! I can't say enough about it. Now, where was that credit card? I think there's a platoon of Japanese soldiers out there somewhere that need to be shipped to me.

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