Enemy Coast Ahead The Doolittle Raid Review
Review by David Lent
Enemy Coast Ahead The Doolittle Raid is a super-sized, complex, solitaire game about Doolittle’s famous raid in WWII. Normally, wargamers fall into one of two main categories. The first are those who like low to medium complexity games with a historical flavor that play fast and are super fun. The second are those who want tons of complexity and historical accuracy. They are less concerned with how fun a game is and are more concerned with how accurate a historical simulation it is. Manufacturers may not realize they are doing this, but they tend to make games that are suitable for one of these two groups, but not both. The Doolittle Raid is unusual, because wargamers from both categories seem to enjoy it.
You get your money’s worth with the Doolittle Raid. It includes a ton of components and rules. There is a 64-page rulebook and a 39-page scenario book with 10 main scenarios ensuring plenty of re-playability. In addition, there is a 19-page debriefing manual. This game includes 1 main map and three target maps. When you play this game, you will need a really big table. This game takes up more space than any other board game I have ever played. There are also 4 counter sheets, 4 player aid cards, 8 D-6 dice, etc. All of the components are good quality as far as wargames are concerned, but the manuals are a step above the norm since they are full color with excellent illustrations.
If you are confused as to how I said a game with this many pages of rules and large number of components can be enjoyed by wargamers who normally like low to medium complexity games, please allow me to explain. What makes this complex game suitable for everyone is the fact that you don’t have to read much of the rulebook at all. You learn this game by playing scenarios 1 through 10 in order and using the player aid cards.
In the first six scenarios you are only bombing Japan and use just the attack turn player aid card. You learn by following the attack player aid card and only use the rulebook for rule clarifications. In this phase, your aircraft have to deal with a lot of hazards such as enemy fighters, anti-aircraft, balloons, searchlights (if it’s night time), etc. Each target area has a unique pool of hazards. By the time you finish these 6 scenarios, you are a complete expert on the attack phase. These 6 scenarios take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to play.
Scenario 7 and 8 are very similar to each other. Scenario 7 has your aircraft making an emergency launch and you will be doing the flight and attack phase. Scenario 8 is the same, except it is a planned launch. Your aircraft fly over the ocean on the way to Japan and the wind direction, storms and hazards can make your flight’s journeys hazardous. Each of your flights has a limited amount of fuel and the wind and other hazards can make you use your fuel at a faster rate than you would like. Each area of the ocean has unique hazards such as enemy ships, enemy aircraft and equipment malfunctions. You learn the flight phase from the flight player aid card. Like the attack phase, you only use the rulebook for rules clarifications. When your flights arrive at Japan, they attempt to locate their target areas and then commence the attack phase. This scenario gives you the option of doing the denouement phase, which I will describe later.
Scenario 9 is the actual Doolittle Raid. You do the naval phase, flight phase and attack phase. The denouement phase is optional, but I recommend it for this scenario. During the naval phase, your are trying to first get your task force to rendezvous with another task force and then sail as close as you dare to Japan before launching your aircraft. There are many sea hazards your force will face, but the ones you really have to watch out for are those that cause secrecy tests. Failed secrecy tests can cause the alert level to rise, which means many more hazards that your forces will have to face during hazard checks. When it’s time to launch your aircraft, you must perform a launch check for each one. If any of your aircraft fail the check, bad things can happen including the aircraft crashing on deck. Planned launches are safer than emergency launches. After your aircraft go through their flight and attack phases, you go back to the flight phase and attempt to get near a landing area without running out of fuel. This scenario with the optional denouement phase takes 4 to 5 hours to complete.
The denouement phase is where you attempt to land in China, Korea or the Soviet Union without crashing. This phase determines how many crewmembers survived, how many were captured, how many ditched crew members are rescued, missing or captured, etc. In addition, some of the landing areas contain fuel and you can determine if any of your planes refuel and fly to safer areas.
Scenario 10 is different than the other scenarios in that it uses the planning phase before doing all the other phases. The month of January in the planning phase allows you to place diplomats on the calendar who will try to get the Soviet Union and China to agree to let your planes land there. In February, you choose what modification you make to your B-25 bombers. You don’t want your planes to be too heavy or they will use too much fuel in the game and probably never make it to a landing site. March lets you choose security measures, determine morale and train your aircrews. In April, you determine where your task force will rendezvous and when your planes will launch. You also check for delay and do a finally security check to determine the secrecy value and security risk. This scenario takes 5 to 6 hours to finish.
Most of the scenarios determine the level of victory with debriefing charts in the scenario book. You use this to determine your level of victory compared to the real life raid. Scenario 10 uses a 19-page briefing manual.
What did I think of this game? First, let me tell you that I usually prefer wargames of low to medium complexity. This is one of the few high complexity games that I like. I played all of the scenarios and was delighted at how easy it was to learn the game. The game is extremely historically accurate and I think it is all a person who wants to simulate this raid will ever need. The planning phase allows gamers who like to do “what if” scenarios to pretty much try whatever they want. Even though this game is a winner, there were times when I felt the game was a little too detailed. In addition, I felt scenario 9 and 10 take too long to play. The first 6 scenarios play super fast though, so if I fell like just having a quick game I can play those. Overall, this game is a winner.
Buy your own copy here.