My friend, Bob, and I share a hobby, playing board games together, in particular Avalon Hill brand games. Most of these wargames are forty years old or older and we have been playing them for over thirty of those years. One game in particular is our favorite, Victory in the Pacific (VITP). It is based on the game system first pioneered in its sister Avalon Hill game, War at Sea. Both games rely heavily on the use of dice. This reliance has led to their pejorative nicknames, Dice in the Pacific and Dice at Sea. These games, relative to most other games of this genre, are fast paced and simple to master. When we play VITP, I always play the Japanese and Bob plays the Allies. The game’s simplicity and reliance on luck aside, VITP is uncannily accurate in modeling the historical outcome of WW II in the Pacific. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. As it turns out, VITP was by no means the first of its kind.
In the Slammer’s (Saint Louis Art Museum) current show, “Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan”, in addition propaganda posters like the triptych above that disseminated the news of naval battles from the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), period Japanese wargames were also on display. These board games were all of a kind called sugoroku, which is similar in play to the popular American children’s game chutes-and-ladders. The earliest such game on display was created by the head admiral of the Imperial Navy and was used by him to instruct his then young emperor in the art-of-war, “So Sensei, teach me once more this art-of-war, but remember that this time your Emperor would be most displeased to lose, again.”