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!

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