This brainwave stems from a set of rules called Men Against Fire which I owned, but did not play, in the 1980s. Authored by Paddy Griffiths as part of the folio of Sandhurst wargames, it used some of the principles established by then nascent table top RPGs.
Using the background of the island war in the Pacific, it required an umpire to manage the role of the Japanese defenders, while the players took on the roles of an individual squad of US Marines. The idea was to provide fog of war, with the Marines unaware of where the Japanese were at the start of the game. Like the excellent Charlie Company from RAFM, enemy troops only appear on the table when you can actually SEE them. Even when they're shooting, all you might see are muzzle flashes, hence markets will indicate possible enemy positions.
The principle is the same as a dungeon bash RPG. The war in the Pacific, apart from the earlier phases in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, and the campaign in the Philippines (about which you see little these days), was primarily a naval one, with the Marine Corps being employed to assault the critical Japanese-held island bases like Saipan or Tarawa. Hence, the Japanese were primarily on the defensive, with frequently little or no armour or air support, dug in and waiting for the Americans to bring the fight to them. Reading about the fighting on Iwo Jima, for example, one realises this was more like trench warfare in the Great War than the war of movement on the Russian steppes.
Does this make for an interesting game? Possibly not for two players, I would argue. Hence, I began wondering whether it might instead represent a good solo game. I own a copy of an old historical wargame about the battle of Iwo Jima which is exactly that: the player deploys the Japanese in strongpoints face down, without knowledge of the strength of the various enemy companies, and then begins to take the island piece by piece, trying to minimise casualties, while seeking to take with island's vital air strip within a given time limit. The Japanese defence is very static, and it is left to the Americas to scout and then penetrate the defences while maintaining some level of momentum.
As a solo game, then, this could be more interesting. As the American player, you would potentially begin with a relatively blank table. A generation system would need to be devised that would populate that table gradually over time with enemy obstacles, including mines, bunkers, and interlocking fields of fire. Spotting and morale rules would be as important as combat rules, which could be poached from another system.
A hex-based game might suit this, as you would need to refer to specific areas of the battlefield over time, to determine enemy locations, fields of fire, location of artillery strikes, etc.
Here are some other features that ought to be included:
- Marine squads should suffer losses in morale and fatigue as well as wounded / KIA in the course of an operation;
- Japanese defences should have a logical progession rather than be entirely random;
- The game should have a simple scenario structure, as the overall military objective was often simply to clear an area of hostile troops;
- There should be a time limit to mission completion, as in Chainsaw Warrior;
- Missions can be made harder by limiting the number of heavy support options available, or these can be randomly diced for;
- There should be more detail on squad and platoon leaders - they should have personality traits that will affect their performance in the battle;
- Enemy troops should remain hidden, and total numbers are only revealed when a position is assaulted or they pop up for a banzai charge, hence something along the lines of the detection markers in Space Hulk might work;
- Event cards like those in Force on Force will provide upredictable elements for the commander to cope with.
- All enemy activity in relation to a given squad or fire team is based on a a hex template, with the squad's location at the centre. Hence, you're primarily concerned with what is happening one, two or three hexes out from your immediate location, possibly more. For example, spotting into hexes would be based on such a template, with percentage chances based on whether it is day or night.
- Markers and terrain in a hex help to populate the previously featureless battlefield - e.g. with bunkers, enemy troops, trenches, mines, craters, etc. Fortifications in this game are as critical as enemy troops. The size of the hexes used will be an important part of the overall design process.