Carriers At War


Matrix Games/Strategic Studies Group

In 1991 a little known company, Strategic Studies Group from Australia released a DOS based game with the name of “Carries at War. This game presented a simulation of naval combat in the Pacific during World War II. This was one of the first historical computer game simulations where all of the large naval battles during World War II were simulated in one game. This game accurately illustrated the time when the Carrier, with their air strikes, proved their dominance over the capital ships, the Battleship of the day.

Getting Started

One of the really nice features of this game is its Tutorial System. It introduces you to the game in a simple, straightforward manner that allows you to learn the game system quickly while at the same time understanding its complexities.


As you can see from the Figure below, there are a total of 19 Tutorials to guide you into the complexities of the game. These 19 Tutorials each build on the items previously learned so if you spend the time going through the tutorials, you cannot help but learn the game system. However, learning the game system, does not mean you will master the game as the games subtleties and tactics makes this an easy game to learn, but a complex game to master.



Another way you could get started is by reading the detailed 66 page manual that comes with the game. This is full of information and examples of game play that is an excellent reference. However, for a faster introduction into the game I recommend playing the Tutorials first and using the CAW manual to fill in the blanks.

Features, Features, Features


There are features galore in this game. The features I list here are from the Press Literature of Matrix Games and should give you a good idea of the games scope and playability.

  • Six Dramatic Historical Scenarios: Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, Philippine Sea
  • Exciting Multiplayer Games Over Internet Or LAN
  • Interactive Tutorial
  • Dynamic Animated Combat Display
  • Ruthlessly Efficient Programmable AI
  • Extensive Rollover Help Text
  • Realistic Weather Modeling
  • Full Scenario Data, Ship, Plane And Map Editor
  • Historically Accurate Ship And Aircraft Profiles
  • Massive Battle Maps Covering Millions Of Square Miles

Having played the SSG games for over a decade and a half, I can tell you a few personal observations about the features listed on the Matrix Games Press Literature, they are pretty accurate and not just gloss features about a game. SSG has been known to create some of the best AI in the wargame industry. Their games and equipment data are historically accurate and the battle maps are immense. The game control is straight forward after you go through the interactive tutorial to learn the games features and capabilities. Finally, the game offers an Editor in which you can create your own ‘what if’ scenarios if you should ever get tired of playing all the variants provided.

All in all, even if Matrix Games didn’t create the features from their Press Literature, it is an accurate description of the games overall features that I would have created myself to describe this excellent depiction of Carriers used in the Pacific during World War II.


Scenarios, Scenarios, Scenarios

The game provides all of the major naval encounters that occurred during World War II in the Pacific. The are six Historical Scenarios included with the game. They are:

  • Pearl Harbor
  • Coral Sea
  • Midway
  • Eastern Solomons
  • Santa Cruz
  • Philippine Sea

As if this wasn’t enough excitement, each of the Historical Scenarios also includes variants which can change the entire scope of game play. An example of some of the variants included with the game are:

  • Pearl Harbor – Advanced Warning
    • This variant explores what might have happened had the Americans realized their peril in time to do something about it. The American carrier forces have been combined for more effective employment. USS Saratoga is also available.
  • Wake Island – Pacific Fleet Takes a Chance
    • After a failed attempt to capture Wake Island on December 10, 1941, the Japanese try again a week later…this time with the addition of two fast carrier fresh from their triumph at Pearl Harbor.
  • Coral Sea – Enterprise Available
    • In early May Imperial Japanese Navy forces sailed from Turk and Rabaul heading for Tulagi and Port Moresby respectively. The Imperial Japanese Navy command did not expect to find any US forces in the area as they believed all US carriers to be damaged or occupied elsewhere. The US had broken the Japanese Naval Codes and had dispatched the Lexington and Yorktown to Coral Sea area in late April with orders to turn back the invasion. Failure by the US forces will mean the fall of New Guinea, followed by the invasion of Australia.
      • An ADDITIONAL 38 variants on the Coral Sea Battle with each variant adding an unknown development that must be discovered during game play.
  • Midway – Saratoga Checks In
    • Stung by the unexpected reverses in the Coral Sea, and the surprise B-25 raid on Tokyo, Admiral Yamamoto decides to force a ‘decisive battle’ to drive the US Navy out of the Pacific Ocean The combined fleet mobilizes in late May with the objective of seizing the American outpost of Midway Island. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, American crypto-analysts have broken the Japanese Naval code and are for-warned of their plans. The are fore-armed as well…..
      • Midway – 65 Variants on the Midway Battle with each variant offering new complexities and unknown development that must be discovered during game play.
  • Eastern Solomons – New Approach
    • On August 7th, 1942, elements of the US 1st Marine Division invaded the island of Guadalcanal, and the nearby base at Tulagi, both in the Solomon Group. A partially completed airbase, promptly renamed Henderson Field was captured and immediately became a base for the Marine and Navy aircraft. A fierce surface engagement took place on the night of August 8th, a single naval victory for Japan, although the result had little impact on the forces ashore.
  • Eastern Solomons – Hi Ho Hiyo
    • On August 7th, 1942, elements of the US 1st Marine Division invaded the island of Guadalcanal, and the nearby base at Tulagi, both in the Solomon Group. A partially completed airbase, promptly renamed Henderson Field was captured and immediately became a base for the Marine and Navy aircraft. A fierce surface engagement took place on the night of August 8th, a single naval victory for Japan, although the result had little impact on the forces ashore. The control of Guadalcanal is considered vital. The flat-tops prepare to do battle, yet again….
  • Santa Cruz – Buin Improved
    • Since the American seizure of Guadalcanal in August, events has gone from bad to worse for the Japanese in the South Pacific. Placement reinforcement and costly Banzai attacks have ruined any chance for the recapture of the vital airfield. Every day Henderson Field becomes stronger, larger, better supplied and better defended. USN and Marine Corps aircraft fly in a daily 250 mile no-go zone surrounds the airfield in daylight, no withstanding the regular bombardment from Betty bombers flown from Rabaul. A major effort to recapture the airfield is looming….
    • Plus there are two other Santa Cruz variants known as Saratoga Survives and Anything Goes. These also add new complexities and game play to the scenario.
  • Tarawa – 40 Mystery Variants
    • With Rabaul under growing pressure from incessant Allied Bombing, the Japanese are now barely able to hold their own in the New Britain area. Allie air, ground and naval reinforcements are pouring in. It’s time to launce a new offensive, this time against scattered Japanese outposts in the Gilbert Islands. The islands of Tarawa and Makin are the initial objectives.
  • Philippine Sea – Kamikaze! And Raise the Dead
    • Nearly two years have passed since the Battle of Santa Cruz and the interim has not been kind to the Japanese. They have fewer fleet carriers now then they began the war with while America has upwards of 8 fleet and 8 light carriers… with many more on the way. The Americans have ventured beyond the protection of land-based air for the first time and the quality of the new Japanese air forces is unknown. What is known is the Japanese will fight to the death to hold their defensive perimeter.

Playing the Game

While all this background information is nice, what it all boils down to is how the game is played. As I mentioned earlier, time well spent with the tutorials is important as it gives you an excellent feel for the game system. The first Scenario you should play is Pearl Harbor. You should also play it as the American player so as to get a sense of the overall game play. While there is not much for the American player to do in this scenario but wait for the Japanese to attack, it still gives you an overall feeling for how the game is played.

Looking at the screen shots below, you will see how the game played out with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The game starts from 2100 on December 6th. I selected ‘Run 1 Hour’ from the upper right portion of the screen and kept selecting this option until a Search Plane was spotted above Task Group Pacific Fleet A at 7:00 am on December 7th. From the first screen shot you see the alert that is sent to the screen when the event occurs.


The next event to occur was at 07:45 which was an Air Alert. This is the time when you hear sirens blaring informing you of an impending attack. Regretfully, your Pacific fleet, minus the carriers are all sitting ducks in Pearl Harbor. The next screen shot shows the Air Alert screen at 07:45 am.


The next few screens show the Japanese attacks as they unfold between 8:00 and 8:30 am on December

7th, 1941. The first screen shot shows the attack on Battleship Row.


Here you can see the Japanese torpedo attack taking place.


Here some level bombers are attacking battleship row at 8:25 am.




A sample of the in game damage reports that you receive during the game. Here you can see that the BB Pennsylvania, BB Arizona and most of the Pacific Fleet got away relatively unscathed in the attack. So, I was rather lucky during this simulation of the Pearl Harbor scenario. Though I must say that at other times when I have played this scenario, I have not been this lucky.

Next I selected the ‘Run 1 Hour’ option on the game menu until the scenario ended at 02:00 of December 8th, 1941. Once this time arrived, I received the following Victory Screen.


So on this day, the Americans were able to hold off the Japanese attack. However, this was mostly due to the Japanese only launching a single attack on December 7th, 1941. Also, the accuracy of the Japanese bombers and torpedo planes were horrible so I caught a break when playing this scenario.


As stated earlier, Carriers at War is a simple game to learn, but difficult to master. The real mastery of this game comes when playing it against another person either via the internet, LAN, or email. There are so many nuances and subtleties in the game that really come to life in a two player simulation. This is where the real challenge lays when playing against a live opponent and not the AI.

Not that the AI isn’t capable of giving you a good fight for your money, its just that a live opponent really brings out the best in the game. Believe me, I play this game over and over and over and never tire of trying new strategies and tactics against the AI that I then I use what I learn against a live opponent. That’s one of the reasons that I have not tired of playing this game is that like technology, it has continued to evolve through time and continues to challenge the admiral in me.

To me, the Carriers at War replay value is immense as I have played the game for over 15 years. OK, it has been different versions, on different platforms, but still, I can honestly say that my investment into the Carriers at War series has been well worth it. Combine the replay value with all of the Features and Scenarios in the current version of the game and Carriers at War is well worth the investment as you will pick it up and play it over and over again for years to come. Carriers at War is a wargame simulation, where the subtleties of strategy are the keys to victory.