Uncommon Valor takes much time to fathom, but after that time is over, you'll end up enjoying it.
With a learning curve as steep as Mt. Fuji, an interface that only an accountant could truly embrace, an avalanche of information to be assimilated, graphics that are merely serviceable, and sound that seems spartan at best, it would be all too easy to categorize Uncommon Valor: Campaign for the South Pacific as a game suited for only the most die-hard grognards. But this type of pigeonholing is erroneous, because the latest from wargame icon Gary Grigsby has untold rewards to offer gamers--even strategic greenhorns--if they're willing to invest the time and effort needed to master the game's complex yet highly efficient interface. There's no denying that Uncommon Valor falls squarely into a category many have dubbed "spreadsheet wargames," and it certainly has quirks and even a few bugs that can initially seem annoying. But take our word for it: A little patience and a lot of practice is likely to produce some highly addictive results, even for those who felt overwhelmed and frustrated by Grigsby's earlier efforts such as Pacific War and War in Russia.
Uncommon Valor doesn't attempt to cover the entire scope of operations in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Instead, it focuses on the campaigns and battles that essentially determined the final outcome of the entire Pacific War, and all action takes place on a single map ranging from Truk in the north to Brisbane in the south, including the invaluable Solomon Islands chain and bases at New Caledonia.
While some wargamers may yearn to get their hands dirty in Burma and Indochina, let's get realistic--by the time American war production had fully ramped up by 1943, the outcome of the conflict was never seriously in doubt regardless of those operations (not to slight the bravery and brilliance of the men and tactics employed in those regions, of course!). The only real question was how long it would take to reach the finale and how many men would sacrifice their lives in the process. Yamamoto understood the production capabilities of the United States and actively sought a decisive battle (Midway) that would bring America to the bargaining table.
But strangely enough, the setup for Decision in the Pacific, the game's grandest campaign, does not incorporate the results of that battle: It's a hypothetical scenario that assumes that the Japanese did not suffer the devastating losses in carriers and pilots that forever changed the course of the war. In total, Uncommon Valor features 17 scenarios, which range in length from a "mere" 10-day operation to a massive 20-month campaign where the Japanese operate at full strength without the fatal blows incurred at Midway.
But before we get into the game's mechanics and design, one issue must be addressed: the lack of a printed manual. Matrix Games claims that the cost of printing manuals for a game aimed at a niche market would have made the retail price skyrocket, while detractors argue that not only is a print manual incredibly valuable as a desktop reference for a wargame of this depth, but the costs to print out the online manual could run as much as $30 or $40--the cost of a new cartridge or paying to have it done at a local print shop.
Then again, Matrix Games isn't cranking out hundreds of thousands of copies of the game, and therefore its printing costs would be considerably higher than for the average retail product. We ended up printing out only those sections where we needed clarification. The bottom line is this: Either get used to the Alt+Tab routine for checking documentation online (Uncommon Valor is quite friendly when it comes to multitasking), use some common sense when printing out the docs, or pay a printer to do the whole thing. If it costs you $30 for the print job, the total cost for the game is $80, and that's not bad, given that you can probably count on hundreds if not thousands of hours of gameplay from this one, thanks to play-by-email (PBEM) support.