In War in the Pacific, players assume a role not unlike the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Players direct either the army, naval, air forces and certain elements of logistics of the Allies (United States, United Kingdom, India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, China, the Philippines, and if activated by certain scenario conditions, the Soviet Union) or of the Axis Empire (Japan, Mongolia, Korea, Thailand). The player can choose to play one, both or neither side (and watch the computer execute the entire battle/war itself). Play by email functions are also available.
The game takes place on a hexagonal map, with each hex equaling roughly 60-miles (45-miles in the newest iteration, "Admiral's" edition). The map ranges from Eastern Africa in the west to the Panama Canal in the east, from Nome, Alaska in the North to Tazmania in the south. As any cartographer knows maps are naturally distorted. In order to keep distances between locations the same, the map uses a distorted view and appears much like the view of a globe centered at about the Caroline Islands. This leads to some oddities in the map; for example, Vietnam is south of India instead of east.
One turn equals one or three days of the war (players option). The game starts on December 7, 1941. The player can choose any number of options for the start up, from starting the war historically to having the Americans respond on the first day. The game can last as long as March 1946. The game awards victory points for various actions (ships sunk, aircraft shot down) and can end early if one player achieves double by (1945-), triple (1944), or quadruple (1943) the victory points of his opponent. Certain conditions (such as the use of Atomic Bombs) can shift victory from Major Allied to Major Japanese victory.
Combat units in the game are varied and extensive. Naval forces range from battleships and carriers to PT boats and subchasers. Land combat units range from corps down to companies. Air forces range from single whole air groups of 72 aircraft to individual aircraft assigned to ships. Thousands of pilots, generals, and admirals are found in the game, allowing the player to choose who commands the mighty fleet of 100's of ships to the small detachment of four seaplanes located on a battleship.
Combat is not the only aspect to master in this game. Players must pay attention to logistics, as combat operations quickly grind to a halt if supplies are not forthcoming. This requires not just possessing the locations containing the resources/oil from which the supplies/fuel are made, but the facilities to convert them, the ships to carry them, and the ports to load and receive them! Players must also abide by political limitations in the game. The Japanese player must also garrison certain mainland cities or face the destruction of facilities or even the loss of cities to local nationals. Also, in keeping with the political climate of the time, the Japanese player must maintain a certain garrison strength in Manchuria or face the Allied player gaining the forces of the Soviet Union by activation and early re-entry into the Asian/Pacific war. On occasion the Allied player must withdraw British ships (handled by the computer) to meet the demands of the European war or lose penalty points. Production of units and materials plays a major role in the game as well. Units coming into the game require forces from the pool of resources and failing to fully equip new units not only consume resources but further reduces readiness of units in the field. The Allied production is out of the players hand to simulate the fact that the Pacific theater was the secondary theater behind the European war; as such it cannot be damaged by Japanese attacks, but also cannot be modified by the Allies player. The Japanese has full control over his ship production, aircraft production, and supply situation, but is vulnerable to Allied attacks.
This game is not for the faint hearted but the grognard. Turns can take anywhere from minutes to hours to plan and run.