Tuesday, September 20, 2022

New English Rule Book for Tsukuda Hobby's Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro Simulation Game

Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

My translated Jabro rule book, reference sheets, and custom game counters.

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Tsukuda Hobby's Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro (1981) game, covering both the 1st and 2nd editions of the rule book.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one: 

Gundam Squad Leader?

Can you tell which game is which?

Hobby Japan started importing American hex-and-counter wargames for the American market back in the mid-1970s (source). These "simulation games" proved to be popular, but the strengthening value of the American dollar vs. the Japanese yen at the time made imports expensive. By 1981, three Japanese companies started making their own lines of domestic simulation board games: Bandai, Epoch Co., and Tsukuda Hobby (source).

Both Bandai and Tsukuda started developing games based on the hit TV anime, Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). While Bandai's own Mobile Suit Gundam (1982) game would feature scale plastic models like an "actual" game (Japanese term for a scale miniatures wargame), Tsukuda Hobby wanted to create "Squad Leader (Avalon Hill, 1977) for Gundam." They began work with one designer, but instead decided to contact Atsutoshi Okada for the job. At the time, Okada was hobby "actual" game designer (again, miniature wargamer) whose convention games had been featured in Popeye and Hobby Japan magazines (source). He and his doujin circle, THQ, set to work to create what would be Tsukuda's flagship release in their new series of hobby games.

I'd often heard that Jabro was based on Squad Leader, but how close are the two games? I analyzed Jabro and found the following similarities:

Player Turn Sequence – This is nearly identical between the two games. The only differences being that Jabro collapses the Close Combat Phase into the Advancing Fire Phase and that Jabro does not feature the Rout and Advance Phases.

Movement Costs – Jabro’s movement costs are essentially double what Squad Leader’s infantry movement costs are.

Support Weapons – The concept of carried equipment as “support weapons” is nearly identical to Squad Leader, but with set weapon loadouts rather than the concept of portage costs.

Line of Sight – Rules for elevation levels of terrain, height levels of obstacles, and blocking line of sight follow very similar rules in both games.

Morale – Morale in Jabro represents a pilot’s ability to remain conscious. Contrast this to Squad Leader’s typical morale rules for keeping troops in good fighting order. However, the mechanical results are similar. Units often make morale checks to avoid damage (which gives the unusual situation where a pilot must check morale to avoid getting their mobile suit’s legs blasted off with a beam rifle). Jabro does not have the concept of routing.

Defensive Fire During Movement- This is nearly identical in both games.

Breakdown – In Squad Leader, a support weapon breaks if its attack roll equals or exceeds its Breakdown number and broken weapons can later be repaired. In Jabro, a separate breakdown dice roll is needed in addition to the attack roll and once broken, a weapon is destroyed and lost.

Armor Modifiers – Squad Leader’s AFV Armor Modifier to resist damage is very similar to Jabro’s Armor Thickness.

Overall, Jabro is like a somewhat simplified version of Squad Leader with 30-foot tall robots instead of WWII infantry squads.

Upgrading the Game Components

My custom-made counters and carrier

I was fortunate enough to get an unpunched, mint condition copy of this 41-year-old game and decided not to punch out the counters for a number of reasons. For one, I can keep the game in pristine condition. For another, the pilot counters all have the Japanese names of the characters and it would be easier for me if I printed them in English. For another, the original counters are somewhat plain (mostly black-and-white) and I wanted to add some color.
Three different Zakus, weapons, and pilots

I scanned in all the counter art and added some color to the main units (mobile suits, vehicles, and artillery guns) in Photoshop. I also added the English translations of all the pilot names. I then printed everything out on cardstock and mounted the units to thick pressboard.

Edition Wars

Tsukuda originally released a 1st edition rule book (printed in green ink) for the game, but later upgraded the rule book to 2nd edition (printed in blue ink). In my translation, I analyzed both editions and all text that is only found in the 2nd edition is in blue type.

The biggest difference is that 2nd edition has many, many more examples and illustrations of the rules (especially movement and line of sight). The game is very complex, especially for a target audience that may not be accustomed to playing complex board games (like Squad Leader). I imagine that they received a lot of questions and complaints and felt they needed to amend the rule book.

Getting into the game

Denim's Zaku, with shield and heat hawk axe, gets its arms blasted off with a missile.

Almost every mobile suit can be customized by equipping them with different "support weapons" (ranged weapons, like Beam Rifle or Hyper Bazooka) or "melee weapons" (such as the Beam Saber or Gundam Shield). Unfortunately, this means that each unit is represented by a teetering stack of 1/2" counters - you can imagine the leading tower of cardboard that is created if 3 Earth Federation mobile suits (each with two weapon counters and one pilot counter) stack in the same hex as 3 Zaku mobile suits!

The game comes with three reversible, fold-out, two-panel map boards. All three map boards can be put together to create the map for the underground Jabro base hidden in the jungle (see top image). The back sides of the map boards can be put together to create woodland, desert, and urban environments.

The game includes nine different scenarios that closely follow some of the battles seen in the TV series. Some of the main Earth Federation pilots (especially Amuro) grow and develop their abilities in combat as the scenarios progress, and this is reflected in different pilot unit counters for different scenarios.


Much like the Armored Trooper Votoms game I translated before, shooting a target and determining a hit can take a while and have room for error.

First, the shooting player looks up their chance to hit based on range and terrain the target is in (for example at range of 5 hexes, the chance to hit a target in the woods is 9).

Then, there are so many possible combat modifiers affecting your chance to hit:
  • The shooting pilot's shooting skill
  • The weapon's hit adjustment
  • If the shooting unit is moving
  • If the shooting unit is jumping
  • If the shooting unit is taking a defensive action
  • If shooting at the previous target from last turn
  • The target pilot's evasion skill
  • The target unit's evasion value
  • If the target unit is moving
  • If the target unit is jumping
After accounting for all modifiers, the shooting player rolls two dice and, if less than or equal to the hit chance, a hit is scored.

But, even if the weapon misses (unless it is a beam weapon), it can still affect the target at 1/2 firepower (a "grazing hit")!

Once a hit is scored (or not, in the case of a grazing hit), the damage outcome must be calculated. The shooting player looks up the weapon's firepower at range (for example, a Beam Rifle at 5 hex range has a firepower of 13).

The shooting player cross-references their firepower and rolls two dice on the Damage Resolution Chart, modifying the dice roll by the following:
  • Target with shield gets to attempt a shield block to add to their unit's armor
  • Target in forest modifier
  • Target in partial cover modifier
  • Target unit's armor thickness
  • Target pilot's piloting ability
The result may have no effect, destroy a target's weapon, stun the pilot, immobilize the target, make the target unable to fight, or destroy the target.

Also, for every attack, the attacking player must make a breakdown roll to see if their weapon suddenly jams, runs out of ammo, or otherwise becomes unusuable. If the total on two dice is greater than or equal to the weapon's Breakdown number (usually 10, 11, or 12), the current attack is unaffected but the weapon becomes unusable in future rounds (this is almost exactly like the rules in Squad Leader).

In itself, none of these rules are that complex, but it would be quite a lot to learn in aggregate for a player that is new to simulation games.

I think that Tsukuda Hobby realized they needed a more intuitive game, first with the printing of the 2nd edition rule books and then what is essentially a 3rd edition rule book later. In Tsukuda's game magazine Operation (issue 1, 20 June 1983) featured yet another version of the rules for Jabro. This one had few rule changes, but instead the rules were broken up into basic, medium, and expert level rules. A beginner could play the early scenarios with only the basic rules until they had enough experience for a greater challenge.

Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that magazine and wasn't able to add the changes to my translation. Something to do in the future!

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

New English Rule Book for Takara's Votoms Simulation Game Manual from Dual Magazine

 Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

Armored Trooper Votoms Simulation Game Manual
My translated rules and several games in the Votoms Simulation Game Manual series

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Takara's Votoms Simulation Game Manual, covering the complete rules set to allow one to play games no. 1 through 5. These games were originally published in Japanese as articles in Dual Magazine issues no. 6 through 10.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one:

Armored Trooper Votoms wargame in a magazine

Takara's Dual Magazine published issues quarterly in the early 1980s with a "dual" focus on Takara's 2D (board games) and 3D (model kits) anime products. Many of Takara's products were licensed from Sunrise animation studio, such as Crusher JoePanzer World GalientIdeonArmored Trooper Votoms, and Fang of the Sun Dougram.

Starting with issue no. 2 in 1982, Dual Magazine began publishing hex-and-counter wargames, often called "simulation games" in Japan, in each issue. Each game could be played standalone, but would also add more rules, units, and game mechanics to the overall game system with each issue. The Votoms series of five games were published from 1983 to 1984. Different games covered different terrain, from urban fighting in the city of Uoodo (sometimes spelled Woodo) to the marshy wetlands of Kummen to outer space battles in orbit around the deadworld Sunsa.

Upgrading the Game Components

Select game counters

Since the games were published in magazines nearly thirty years ago, the main components are printed on thin cardstock. I'd rather not watch all the game components blow away if I sneezed too hard, so I decided that the game needed an upgrade.

Metal figures from Plotters City Woodo (not a magazine game!)

I opted to use some old Battletech game boards and miniatures figures from Takara's other Votoms board game: Plotters City Woodo. This game in development while the Dual Magazine game series was published and uses completely different rules, but the miniatures work perfectly.

If you've read my blog for a while, this post may sound familiar to you. That's because I did the exact same thing when I translated the earlier Dougram Simulation Game Manual series and posted about it here!

Testing the game

Setting the battlefield.
I started with a simple test scenario, based on the recommended scenario in the first game. Two Armored Trooper (AT) units face off against each other in combat. I chose two Scopedogs and gave one a shoulder-mounted rocket pod and the other a machine gun. Both units had pistols as secondary weapons (and it is not a bad weapon in this game!).

This game is fairly complex - much more complex than the earlier Dougram games in this series. While it was easy to manage a handful of "Combat Armor" mecha in Dougram, these Votoms rules presumed that each player would usually manage only "Armored Trooper" at a time.

The player starts by choosing an "Action Pattern" for the unit in secret. This is a clever design, first developed by designer Atsutoshi Okada for use in the Tsukuda Hobby game Macross: City Fight (1983). The action pattern defines a certain "behavior" for the unit to take during the turn, such as running, walking, zooming around on roller wheels (think mecha on roller skates), or concentrating on shooting a weapon or engaging in hand-to-hand combat. This chosen action pattern defines how the unit may move, shoot, fight, and dodge incoming weapons for this turn. Like, running doesn't stop a unit from firing a machine gun in the same turn, but your accuracy is going to suffer.

Next the player secretly plots the exact movement the unit will make, what type of camera lens the mecha is using (lenses are a whole thing in Votoms - you must choose between standard, telephoto, or wide angle), and how many shots you plan to fire from a weapon (if any).

During the movement phase, all units are moved simultaneously, based on their secret movement plots. This can be a real surprise as the enemy can and will move wherever you least expect it to. Trying to outguess the opponent's moves adds a level of tension and unpredictability not seen in simpler games, at the cost of added complexity.

Last is combat, including shooting and hand-to-hand "battling." Even if you didn't plan to have a valid target this turn, your unit can always shoot one snap shot off if you have line of sight on an enemy.

In my first test game, both units cautiously maneuvered around the dense patches of forestland between them for two turns. On the third turn, both were ready to approach within weapon range. The machine gunner ran at full tilt, attempting to outflank the opponent and blast them in their blind side. However, the rocket pod AT didn't advance very far and had readied a volley from their short-range pistol.

The units were only one hex distant, and both were in each other's front arcs. The machine gunner unleashed a burst of 5 shots, but only 1 hit its target. The rocket pod AT fired 4 shots with its pistol, which is less powerful than the machine gun but highly accurate at this range. 3 shots ripped through the machine gunners armor, destroying the mech. The pilot did not escape the wreckage.


This is a surprisingly complex game, especially for the anime fans reading this magazine and maybe starting out with their first board wargame ("simulation game," as they are called in Japan). Designer K. Otomo bemoans this problem in some of his designer's notes in the series, all of which I have translated and included in the rule book.

Much of the complexity comes from plotting one's moves in secret and having a rich choice of actions and equipment that closely resemble battles in the Armored Trooper Votoms anime. If the players are patient and experienced gamers, this pays off with an exciting game that is true to its source material.

However, just shooting a target can make my head spin. It is simple enough on paper, but breaks every intuitive notion when I try to figure out what number I need to roll to hit. First, each weapon has a certain hit chance at short, medium, or long range. This is the number you attempt to roll less than or equal to on two dice in order to hit the target (for example, at range 5, a machine gun has a base hit chance of 8).

Then, there are so many possible combat modifiers affecting your chance to hit:
  • The shooting pilot's shooting skill
  • The shooter's AP for this turn
  • Any damage previously suffered by the shooter's AT
  • The target pilot's dodge skill
  • The target's AP for this turn
  • Any damage previously suffered by the target's AT
  • The number of shots fired
  • The relative velocity between shooter and target (if in outer space)
But what doesn't makes sense is that these are modifiers to the dice roll not the hit chance! That means that negative numbers are bonuses and positive numbers are maluses, which is never intuitive. Also, if you want to figure out your hit chance, then you must subtract your modifier total from the hit chance to figure out what you must roll on two dice.

It just seems like it would all be more logical if all negative modifiers were positive and vice versa, then you added the modifier total to the hit chance and immediately know what number to roll. It may not seem like much, but it would help streamline something you do a lot of in this game.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

New English Rule Book for Yanoman's Mobile Suit Z Gundam Tactical Card Game

 Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

I've completed my unofficial English translation of the rules for Yanoman's Mobile Suit Z Gundam Tactical Card Game.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one:

Here is the link to the main game page on BoardGameGeek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/368787/

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam Card Game

Yanoman is a Japanese company mostly known for publishing jigsaw puzzles, but they also publish tabletop games from time to time. This card game is licensed from the second Gundam TV series, Mobile Suit Z Gundam, which aired in Japan from 1985-86. There is no publication date on the game, but I presume it was published while the show was still on the air.

The game was designed by Atsutoshi Okada, one of the most prolific Japanese simulation game designers of the 1980s (I've translated some of his other games and written about him before). This card game is much simpler and plays faster than his innovative hex-and-counter wargames, as expected. There is still some variety, like how Ship combat and MS combat uses the same general die-rolling mechanic, yet work differently. Also, not knowing what cards your opponent may be holding adds unpredictability missing in perfect information games, like most wargames (though Okada adds hidden information into some of his other games, such as Endor).

Starting play with a 2-player game.

Each player is dealt a starting hand of 4 Ship Cards (3 Ship Cards in a 5-6 player game) and 8 Special Cards (a random assortment of MS Cards, Pilot Cards, and Event Cards) to assemble their starting fleet.
  • Ship Cards are the backbone of each player's fleet and are kept in a separate deck apart from the Special Cards. A Ship may be used to attack an opponent's Ship, but not and opponent MS. Ships are rated for the Combat Strengths (both vs. MS units and vs. other Ships), Durability (maximum damage before the Ship is destroyed), and Hit Number (accuracy in combat vs. other Ships). A ship's damage taken is tracked by the yellow numbered damage chits included in the game. The game may end when one player loses all of the Ships in their fleet*.
  • MS Cards are the Mobile Suit mecha of the Gundam universe. Each MS is rated by its Combat Strength and may be used to attack other MS or Ships in an opponent's fleet. An MS Card may only be brought into play if it is paired with a Pilot Card.
  • Pilot Cards are the heroes and villains of the Gundam universe. Each Pilot is rated by Ability, which represents both their skill as a pilot and any Newtype powers (if any).
  • Event Cards may be played for various one-shot effects in the game. An Event Card is discarded after use.
    • Repair is used to repair Ship damage.
    • Dummy Meteorite may be played during an opponent’s turn to cancel a Ship vs. Ship combat.
    • Cease Fire Signal may be played during an opponent’s turn to cancel an MS vs. MS combat.
    • Betrayal will steal an opponent's piloted MS if you roll 1-3 on one die.
    • Blow Up is played along with a Pilot card to attempt to sabotage an opponent Ship.
    • Supply lets a player draw a Ship from the Ship Card deck.
    • Colony Lazar (yes, it is spelled "LAZAR" in the game) is a devastating attack on each MS and Ship in the defender’s fleet.
On their turn, a player draws a Special Card and then may make an attack with an MS or Ship in their fleet, they may put an MS and Pilot Card pair from their hand into their fleet, play an Event Card, or discard a card from their hand.

* Game end conditions may vary and are decided upon by the player before the game starts. Any of the following are valid game end conditions depending on the number of players, the time frame available, or just the preferences of the players:

  1.        When the last card is drawn from the Special Card Deck.
  2.        When one player has no Ship Cards in play.
  3.        When only one player has any Ship Cards in play.
Players then tally up their victory points based on the enemy MS, Pilot, and Ship Cards they destroyed in combat.


End of game in a 2-player game.

In the test game shown here, the right player destroyed all of the left player's Ships, triggering the end of the game. The left player's forces had been whittled down after several turns of attacks before the right player played a Colony Lazar, wiping out the last of the left player's Ship fleet.

Unfortunately, luck played an extremely strong factor in determining who wins or loses. In the sample game photographed above, the right player wound up with several of the most powerful MS and Pilots in the game, just by the luck of the draw. The left player simply couldn't compete, drawing several low to mid-tier MS and Pilots.

One unusual aspect to the game is that each Ship, MS, and Pilot card has a faction affiliation (Titans, AEUG, Zeon, etc.) but they aren't used in the game at all. Players are free to mix and match units from opposing factions. I can see a scenario-based battle, maybe where each player has their own faction deck to draw from, might be designed to make for a better balanced game or one that better replicates one of the battles seen in the TV series.