Thunder Gods, a game of USN survival, 1945 - updated 07-11-18

Kamikazes attacking Allied Naval ships 1945

A somewhat condense history:
Many books have been written on the history of the *Kamikazes - the hows, whys, and therefores Japan made use of this terror weapon, I am not going to go into any great depth on this history.   Suffice to say, that thru out the war, a pilot, who was possibly severely wounded or whose acft was damaged, might plunge his aircraft directly into a ship to try and destroy it, but this action was few and far between on both sides. 

For example, during the Battle of Santa Cruz (Oct 26, 1942) it is recorded that 2 IJN damaged acft hit the CV USS Hornet - a Val that crash into the island and a Kate that struck the bow. Though these 2 crashes only caused light damage, the USS Hornet was sunk because of the two torpedoes that struck the ship earlier.  Also another damaged Kate attacked and hit the USS Smith (DD-378, escorting the USS Enterprise) killing 57 men.

[note- the term "kamikaze" was not used by the main stream Japanese, instead the Japanese used "shinbu". The Japanese also referred to kamikaze attacks as "tokubetsu kogeki" and the units used to conduct these attacks as "tokubetsu kogeki tai". However, the term "kamikaze" was what the Allies called these suicide attacks and like most words that the Allies use, this was imported back into the Japanese language after WW2 and will be used here. ] 

The following abbreviations are used thru out this review: 
  • IJN: Imperial Japanese Navy.
  • IJ: Imperial Japanese
  • JAAF: Japanese Army Air Force.
  • acft: air craft
  •  CV: Fleet carrier (the biggest)
  • CVL: Light carrier
  • CL: Light Cruiser
  • DD: Destroyer
  • AF: Attack Factor
  • DF: Defense Factor

Many IJN officers were advocating the use of deliberate suicide attack by one plane with a bomb, as early as 1943.    At a Japanese military conference on Oct 19, 1944 Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, commander of the IJN First Air Fleet in the Philippines, stated that with the coming battle for the Philippines, the only way to make sure his meager force would be at maximum effectiveness in destroying the enemy, was by organizing suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250Kg (that's 550 lb) bomb, with each plane to crash dive into an enemy carrier.

Thus the birth of the first Special Attack Force, the 201st Air Group and the official go ahead.

The Kamikaze was basically using a human as the guidance system for a missile type weapon. Something the US did not see coming or understand.  How can a culture be deliberately killing themselves to destroy an enemy like this?  Simple, it can be one of three things  - either extreme patriotism [to act as the sword and shield for the Emperor against an invader was consider the supreme sacrifice and honor] or brain-washed into doing this or forced by threats of death to a person whose culture is not as death prone, such as the Koreans. 

The Japanese culture was taught to "hold life lighter than a feather", with suicide being an act of pride and honor, never cowardly as it is seen in western culture.  However, there are many stories that has come out over the years about 17 to 20 year olds being kicked, hit, and simply accepting this fate to stop the beatings as well as the stories at how volunteers were flocking to become kamikaze pilots. Some writers are claiming that the stories of abuse and brain-washing is just propaganda from the Allies. As time wore on, modern critics questioned the nationalist portrayal of kamikaze pilots as noble soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives for the country.

In 2006, Tsuneo Watanabe, Editor-in-Chief of the Yomiuri Shimbun, criticized Japanese nationalists' glorification of kamikaze attacks: "It's all a lie that they left filled with braveness and joy, crying, "Long live the emperor!" They were sheep at a slaughterhouse. Everybody was looking down and tottering. Some were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers."

Also please note that not all the pilots in a Kamikaze were Japanese. There were too many instances of young Korean males being forced to fly this type of a one way mission. 

My only question is how many of these brilliant young men could have come up with some type of future discovery to benefit all of mankind, if they had lived?

to the left - members of 72nd Shinbu Squadron. Three of the five are 17 years old and the other two are 18 and 19 years old. The photo was taken the day before their mission. Left to right: front row Tsutomu Hayakawa, Yukio Araki, Takamasa Senda back row Kaname Takahashi, Mitsuyoshi Takahashi.

By the time of the Battle for Okinawa April 1945, Kamikaze attacks reach it's zenith, with the attacks more effective, more ships were hit and sunk. From April 1, 1945 to Jun 22 1945, the Japanese launched over 7 major attacks with aprx 1500 various aircraft (acft) on the Allied navy (don't forget the United Kingdom was well representative in the Pacific and at this battle with the US Navy. The UK forces provided well over 25% of the entire strength with Carriers, Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers, smaller sea craft and aircraft.).

My research has found the following for the Battle of Okinawa April 1 1945 to June 22 1945:
  • Aprx 1500 sorties - April 6 1945 to June 22 1945, both the IJN and the JAAF from Kyushu 
  • Aprx 185 individual sorties from Kyushu
  • Aprx 250 individual sorties from Formosa
  • Aprx 34 US Navy ships sunk (no capital ships sunk, a couple of CVs damaged. Mostly sunk was DD's on picket duty, and smaller ships, LST's, etc.)
  • Aprx 368 US/UK ships damaged  (this does include capital ships of UK/US)
  • Aprx 4900 US/UK fatalities (KIA or MIA)
  • Aprx 4800 US/UK wounded
It is safe to say, no one really knows the correct amount of ships, sunk or damaged, the amount of Kamikazes flown, and/or the amount of military KIA's or WIA's.
A Kamikaze attack on the USS Missouri BB-63. No causalities - Apr 11, 1945. See the acft in the upper left side? 

This type of attack was highly demoralizing to the US sailors and other military aboard the ships.  It was so bad, that the Navy enforced a censor to clamp down on any information getting out, both in the Navy and back home.

Last ship sank by Kamikazes during the war.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Callaghan (DD-792) in 1944-45. A Japanese plane, skimming low and undetected, crashed into Callaghan on the starboard side. It exploded and one of the aircraft's bombs penetrated the aft engine room. The destroyer flooded and the fires which ignited antiaircraft ammunition prevented nearby ships from rendering aid. Callaghan sank at 02:35, 28 July 1945, with the loss of 47 members of her crew. She was the last Allied ship sunk by a kamikaze attack during the war. 

USN Naval Guns:
The numerous 20mm Anti Aircraft guns, though effective against normal attacking aircraft, was very ineffective against the kamikazes in a dive. The small size (weight)  and lack of kinetic energy (powder charge) from the round was not enough to destroy a diving kamikaze. Though the 40mm Bofors twin mount was very good, (which btw was replacing the 20mm guns), it too lack the ability to completely stop a diving aircraft. Both would shred parts of the aircraft, but just didn't have the mass to "stop" any of these aircraft. Against a diving kamikaze the savior was the 5"/38 gun when used in an AAA role. It literately slammed into the aircraft and stopped it dead in flight. However, it was a heavy mount and most ships from DD on down, couldn't handle the additional weight of having all the 40mm's replaced with these guns.

This is not to say that the 20mm and 40mm were not effective. Data collected by the Navy showed that 50% of the kamikaze kills were by the 40mm, 27% by the 20mm and 23% by the 5"/38 guns.. 

The photo to the right is of 2 rounds I have, a 40mm/60 training round and a 20mm spent round inside a 40mm base.  Amazing that these two different rounds inflicted as much damage as they did.  Note - the 3" and 4" were also effective, but wasn't installed on many ships after 1941. 

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The Game:
Up for review is a game about Kamikazes attacking the United States naval forces during the  battle of Okinawa 1945. Originally published in Panzer Digest #5 by Minden Games, 2009, the game version I am reviewing came out in 2013, as published by High Flying Dice Games, LLC. Designed by Paul Rohrbaugh with graphics by Bruce Yearian.  Though a two player game, it can be played solitaire very easy.

"Thunder Gods" is comprised of three separate 4"x6" game maps and aircraft counters (the counters need to be mounted and cut out); a 4 page very concise and well-written history by Paul; a set of over-all rules for "Thunder Gods"; a small 1/6 of a sheet of addenda (errata) and a set of rules to join all three maps and counters together for a much larger and longer game. Cost for this game is very inexpensive, only $11.95.

the cards
There is also a card set available for the game from High Flying Dice Games. I don't have this card set, yet. I do have several of these card sets and I can promise you that they make the game easier than just using a regular deck. All the math of dividing numbers is done for you on the cards, Special abilities instead of having to consult charts, etc, are on the cards. Even with the cost of these ($8.00) plus the cost of the game, all is $20 and costs much much less than the average game from one of the other big boys and girls gaming companies. And for that alone these are worth it.

Players will need to provide a deck of regular playing cards, if not using the card set and unlike most games from HFDG, no dice (for combat) is needed - nice. Though "Thunder Gods" is consider as an introductory level game, there is enough in the game to make a player(s) pay attention to their game play.

The game maps:
There are 3 game maps - each game map shows either three Fletcher Class DDs (imho the best of any destroyers ever built), or three LST's (representing cargo-transport type ships) and three Carriers - one fleet CV (Essex class) and two CVL's (Independence class), the primary targets of the Kamikaze attacks. The game maps are divided into an "inner defense perimeter" circle, an "outer defense" circle and the "CAP zones" (US close air patrol).

The background photo on all game maps is a forward looking oblique photo of the ocean. If you position the game map with the ships stern facing you, one can see the waves and as you follow the game map towards the front, one can see clouds off in the horizon. Very nice work Bruce!

The ships:
Each ship has two ratings related to their play - a Defense Factor, and an Anti-Aircraft Factor (for attacking the kamikaze acft). Victory Points are awarded for damaged, crippled and sunk ships.

Also note the little boxes next to the US ships. When a ship has taken damaged, place one of three counters labeled "Damage" (with a flip side of "Sinking") in the correct box. When it is "sunk", flip the damaged counter over to "sinking" side. Oi vey.

The aircraft:
The acft also have an AF and a DF printed on the counter.  IJ Acft are also divided into "E"scort and "K"amikaze. "E"scorts can attack US aircraft, while "K"amikaze can only attack ships.  And US fighters can attack both IJ acft. Bruce made sure we could see whether it was an Escort or not. Kamikazes have a red number while Escorts have a black number.  

The counters on one game map consist of:
For the USN, seven counters (and depending on the game sheet):
four F6F Hellcats or F4U Corsairs
three damage/sinking counters. [use these in the little boxes, next to the ships as they get damaged]

For the Japanese,  ten counters consisting of:
two Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (Judy) counters,
one Nakajima B6N Tenzan (Jill) counter,
one Aichi D3A Type 99 (Val) counter,
five Mitsubishi A6M (Zeke aka Zero) counters in Navy and Army,
one Mitsubishi G4M (Betty) counter with the Ohka MX7 on the backside,
and on one of the game maps the Kaiten  counter replacing the first D4Y.

Each counter shows the plane type, attack factor, and defense factor, like the ships. And each acft has a damaged back side.

Game Play:
After cutting out and mounting the counters, it is time to get ready to play.  The Bun recommends to play either of the 3 games, one map at a time before combining all three maps together, to get a feel for the game.

Just remember though the game is low in price and is considered an introductory game, it truly isn't.
One can't just haphazardly  play the game without thinking. Otherwise that player will lose the game.

Rules are about 1/2 sheet in length and the game uses very clear concepts to simulate Kamikazes crashing into US Naval ships.    I am a firm believer that games have become too complicated and too long for normal play, that a low counter, less complicated style of game is the way to go, like this one.

The rules:
1: Setup:
Setup is pretty simple. Grab a normal card deck and remove one joker (leaving one for play) or use the Thunder Gods card deck from HFDG.  A randomly selected red card is drawn from the deck and a F6F is placed in the CAP zone A and one in CAP zone B. The Japanese player places all his aircraft near CAP zones A  or B, off the game map.

2: Play:
Japanese player goes first using the selected red card from above. Then the US player.  Each player alternates drawing a card and chooses to either activate units or pass.  Red CD's are for the Japanese, while Black is used for the US player.  Face cards, Ace, can be frustrating for the US Player.  Depending on the card drawn, a player can do one of the following:
  • move, 
  • air unit attack another air unit
  • ship AA attacks
  • Kamikaze attacks ships

3: Movement:
Any number of acft may be in the same zone. Units moved from zone to zone (adjacent connected areas).  Please note, Japanese acft may leave the game map by moving into the "Transit Area from any zone. Once moved they can only leave this area by moving off the game map and they do earn VPs for this. It is assume that the Japanese acft are going to attack other ships around Okinawa. 

4: Air Attack:
Attacking is voluntary and there is no CRT to be used. Instead a card draw is used to resolved the air attack. Clever is all I can say.

5: Kamikaze Attack:
Instead of a move or attack (air attack), the Japanese player may do a Kamikaze attack.  Again, a card draw is used to resolve this.

6: Winning the game
Game lasts as long as there are Japanese  Kamikaze units left in play.  After the joker is drawn, and there are Kamikaze units left in play, then the deck is re-shuffle.  VP are scored by IJ aircraft exiting the "Transit zone" and by damage, crippled, or sunk US ships. Japanese player wins by scoring 20 or more VP.

Time for ab's ratings:
•  Complexity of the game - very LOW with low medium overtones.
•  Solitaire - HIGH (a little work is needed)
•  Enjoyment Level - VERY HIGH (imho)
•  Nail biting - 8 fingers worth. One doesn't want to lose ships to this type of attack, I ruin 8 finger nails making decisions and watching the Japanese player sink and damage half of my ships (Both CVLs, 1 DD, and 1 LST)
•  Historical Level - High. This game has a solid historical reference background and a very solid OOB (Orders of Battle) with different Japanese acft and the correct USN acft - F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs. I lost a few of these acft too.      
•  Length of typical full game - about 30 mins to about 1.5 hours for the full campaign game.
•  Out of the 5 games played, The US won 2 of the them, while the Japanese won 3.  This should be about where Paul was aiming for in the game. aprx 50-50.  (side note: Now that I have a hundred games played, it is now a US to Japanese 65-35 win. Again, it looks like it is keeping to the percentages the designer set up.)
What I like and didn't like:
  • Like: I like the simple play and low amount of rules.  Though introductory in design, it does take more thought to play, than one would think. This is like Chess and I like Chess. Rules are very easy to learn, but requires some work to master. 
  • Like: The counters for the most part are very good. The size they are when cut from the game sheet (lack of a better term) though is 1/2" in size and a little small for me. Perfect, to fit on the game map.  The color of the aircraft, and showing an escort acft (E) and the Kamikazes (K) with those letters is great.
  • Like: Lack of a CRT is nice by handling everything thru a card draw.
  • Like: the 4 pages of history and recommendations on good books on this battle.  Having a game is fun, but it may be a battle that one doesn't have any books on. Including a short history on a particular battle is like chocolate frosting on a chocolate cake - wonderful.  [updated Jul 11, 2018 - found my notes. :P  )
  • Like: I do like having area type movement. Honestly, area movement for many games is the best.  Hexes are just, well, confining.
I enjoy Thunder Gods. I tend to play it every few days or so, as it is one of those games where "let me try it one more time to better my score". Thank you Paul for designing and publishing this game and of course to Bruce for his graphics design.

Second thoughts:
Every game needs something "more". In this case, I found the game maps to be too little for me to see good (yeah, these old eyes are going bad).  I would love to see this game get a minor (or would this be a major?), overhaul with new larger counters, about 5/8" to 3/4" in size for the aircraft and separate ship counters 2"x 7/8" for the ships (or have the ships on cards with the boxes, but moveable.) and a new larger map. Trust me, this would be worth it for $25 - $30.  Possible the Battle of the Philippines variant too and/or some UK ships. 

End Cap:
There are not very many games based on Japanese Kamikaze attacks. There is/was "Kamikaze" by Fire and Movement magazine, issue #31, published long ago in Dec 1982, good luck on finding that one without spending a fortune. and of course there is the newly released, "Picket Duty" version 2, designed by Steve Dixon and published by Legion Wargames. (be sure to swing by Steve's web page for the errata)

If you know of any other games, please leave a comment with it's name(s), so I can find it.

That's it for this review. Whether it is visiting a grand old game because of the reviews or grabbing a freshly printed copy, I wish you grand luck in winning those battles of cardboard armies. 
-ab out

Updated 10-03-19 to correct some thoughts, use of the English language and other small items.

This blog is considered to be a living blog. Changes will be made to it as needed to clarify, correct errors or update with new information.