I can’t find much information online about how to win Hearts of Iron as Japan, so I thought I’d try it again for myself. I played once before, and got all the way to 1944 before it all collapsed in a heap. The reason that time was that I failed to plan certain things properly from the beginning, and didn’t understand the territorial conquest system properly, so I ended up in an industrial- and manpower contest with the USA. That’s not an easy contest to win.

So, last week I loaded up Hearts of Iron 2, and decided to try again. For those unaware of this fine game, it’s a strategy war game that pits all the major nations from world war 2 against each other, starting in 1936 and running until 1953. It’s an enormously detailed system, in which the player has to choose policy settings, research technology, do trade deals, plan intelligence operations, build and plan units and even take control of supply convoys and unit leaders. The player can choose the level of control, but managing all the details requires a specially compartmentalized brain. I play with some settings – particularly convoy management and choice of unit leader – mostly automated, and tend not to fiddle with the policy settings or government ministers (much). I mainly focus on balancing industrial capacity and research, trade, and building new units. Combat alone in this game takes most of my attention, since you can’t beat another nation – even a weak one – without careful attention to supply lines, who is supporting who, and where your armies should go next. Basically, if you want to destroy your enemy you need to encircle chunks of their army, destroy them, bite off another chunk, and so on.

So, this time around I wanted to play Japan as a kind of benevolent Asian power, possibly even aiming to ally with the comintern against the Nazis, but things sadly didn’t go quite according to plan. It’s very clear that the liberal democracies of the inter-war years are a fickle and untrustworthy bunch, heavily involved in colonialism, and in fact the region around Japan is infested with British, Dutch, Portuguese and US colonies or puppet kingdoms. Through the 20s and 30s, of course, we know that the colonial powers – especially Britain and the US – were increasingly infringing on Japan’s rights, and had aggressive plans for the region. For example, if you look at the map in 1936, you can see the French possessions stretching right up to the southern Chinese border. Is this the behaviour of responsible citizens?

So, both to protect Japan from colonialism and to ensure the continued peaceful growth of the region I felt that Japan could play a leading role establishing a kind of Asian alliance, that might stave off the western powers. I could see a kind of zone of free commerce and peace in the region, a co-prosperity sphere if you will, and hoped that this would be sufficient to protect both my own nation and the region under my benevolent guidance. Unfortunately at every turn the Chinese stymied my plans, sending spies to my nation and attempting to turn world opinion against me – I think they even saw the presence of a few militia units in Manchukuo as provocative, rather than simply in the interests of my ally’s internal security, and the Chinese began arming up. But they were also playing cosy with the USA, and I could see that in the long-term the conflict would undoubtedly end badly for Japan (and by extension the region) unless I could increase Japan’s industrial capacity, and secure a greater range of supplies.

Given the instability on its borders, and the threat of incursion from the south by an aggressive communist insurrection within China, I figured the best way to make everyone in the region safer was to send a security stabilization force into Shanxi, a kingdom between my colonial possession my ally Manchukuo and Nationalist China. This force wasn’t even mainly Japanese, being at least 50% divisions from Manchukuo. Unfortunately the Chinese misread this as a sign of colonial intentions, and reacted by annexing Shanxi, invading the Guangxi Clique on their Southern border[1], and declaring war on me!  Fortunately I had a rapid reaction naval force in Dalian, and I responded to this act of naked aggression by landing it in Shanghai and fighting Northwest towards Shanxi.

This pincer movement weakened the Chinese in my region, but I subsequently discovered that their weakness was partially due to overreach – they had also declared war on and invaded Yunnan to the Southwest, and Sinkiang to the West. So, my suspicions were proven correct all along – they planned to expand their own territory, obviously counter to any plans for peace and prosperity in Asia. They also seemed to have become embroiled in a war with France, which seems a bit stupid, but also confirmed my suspicions that the colonial powers had designs on the two unconquered great powers of Asia. The only solution to Chinese aggression was to overthrow their illegitimate leadership, and the only language that liberal democracies understand is force, so I had no choice but to prosecute a war against China to the fullest extent of my powers. So, I adopted a policy of rapid amphibious strikes on the Chinese coast, with the incursion forces pushing inland to encircle Chinese resistance and mop it up, and simultaneously pushing Northwest to meet my forces as they descended from Shanxi. In the first year, large numbers of Chinese divisions were cut off and destroyed this way. Of course, I’m a benevolent power, so the survivors are treated well, and are being held in facilities where they are educated daily in the benefits of a greater Asian unity under my leadership.

Throughout this process, the Americans have been trying to destabilize me, and the Germans have been subject to considerable international pressure, even being forced to annex certain territories to their immediate East, such as Czechoslovakia, in order to ensure their security. This proved remarkably foresightful, as the USSR declared war on the Germans in 1940. I haven’t joined a full alliance with the Germans yet, but I had a hard and protracted fight against Communist China, and I can see how the Germans must be scared of the Soviet Union, so again I need to consolidate my hold on fractious China before the situation in Europe stabilizes.

Currently, however, the war has become somewhat bogged down. I have established a huge pincer on the southern and northern sides of China, with forces stretching as far as the border of Mongolia to the north, and as far as the southern foothills of Sichuan to the South, where Chengdu is in sight. In the middle stand some 30 or 40 divisions of Chinese troops, who have put up bitter resistance against my forces. There is a river that flows between the old Communist China and Xi’an, and the battle has reached something of a stalemate there, with the Chinese defending the ancient capital of Xi’an ferociously. I think I have finally established a foothold on the southern side of that river, though, and captured Xi’an. The battles to cross the river have been huge, spanning multiple provinces and involving tens of divisions on both sides, only to end every time in a bloody stalemate. To the south the battle proceeds valley-by-valley through the mountainous regions near Chengdu, and in the hills to the East of the mountains has been slowed by dogged resistance. However, I am confident now that I have strangled much of China’s access to resources and industry, so that they no longer have sufficient capacity to reinforce their soldiers and supply their civilian populace; and the tide of battle appears to have turned recently after I developed the technology for modern infantry, and upgraded my battlefield divisions. I am also pressing a new unit of modern motorized infantry into the fray, and think I can complete a massive pincer movement cutting off some 20 or so Chinese divisions within a few months. From there only mopping-up operations will remain, and I can annex the entire territory.

This is necessary, because it is now mid-1941 and the tide of history suggests that within a year or two I will be at war against the most vigorous and acquisitive power, the USA. They may not have many colonial possessions now, but their intent towards the Pacific is clear. I need to be able to shift my industry – and the newly captured industry of China – to the production of coastal fortifications, radar stations, and aircraft carriers for the long war to come. Plus, I have a nuclear reactor and a rocket research facility to build, and as yet my armoured divisions are very backward and in need of upgrades. I am confident though that if I can capture China I will be well-placed to turn its industrial capacity to the task of conquering America.

This game has one cheat that I really hate, that makes things a lot harder and which I think doesn’t reflect historical realities. Basically, you can’t gain access to a nation’s industrial capacity until you annex the nation, which means capturing all its key regions (which have “victory points”). So, when you get close to capturing one of China’s puppet nations (e.g. Shanxi, which would have increased my industrial capacity by 15% or more), the computer annexes that nation. This eliminates the nation from the diplomacy board, and prevents you from annexing it. You then have to conquer all of China before you can free up the industrial capacity of those regions that were in the puppet nation. I don’t think this is a realistic model of conquest, but the computer’s use of this trick has denied me access to the industrial capacity of two whole nations for about 3 years (I captured all the regions of Shanxi and the Guangxi Clique in about 1938). So, although I’m going to try a legitimate victory, if the battle drags out in China’s huge western provinces I’m going to use a reverse trick. Every time you load a saved game you can start as China instead of Japan. So I’m going to load a saved game as China, and then make a peace offer to Japan on ludicrous terms that reduce China to only a handful of useless provinces. Then, I will save, quit, enter that game as Japan, and annex the regions I have been ceded by China. I can then invade the remnants of China and take my time about it, having siezed the key industrial capacity ahead of the looming war with the US.

Last time I lost this game due to a sudden collapse of manpower, and the inability to out-produce the US. Part of the reason for this was that I failed to adequately capture all of China (in fact, I don’t think I even tried), and so spent a lot of time and industrial capacity without gaining any long term benefit. This time I shan’t be so foolish. Once I have captured China I will commence my nuclear power program (in 1941!), build a super-fleet of carriers, and aim to have troops on the US mainland within 3 months of going to war – this is the only way to prevent its productive capacity from completely swamping me.

Perhaps then we can begin to consider a co-prosperity globe, rather than merely a region…

fn1: Which, fair enough. No nation with the word “clique” in its name can mean well, can it?