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Monday, April 24, 2017

First Playtest: Avalanche Games "Great War at Sea"

"Remember the Maine and to 'H-E-double toothpick' with Spain!"
Image result for uss maine
inquiry did little to determine cause of Maine's explosion or defuse diplomatic tensions...

I've been realizing and emphasizing that the critical shaping factors in a naval scenario are really strategic - fleet battles were rarely fought solely for tactical reasons. So when, where and how a fleet action is fought is most likely to historically be a combination of strategic reasons [gaining a port, protecting an invasion convoy] and specific local reasons [refueling issues, the weather]. 

It should be noted, however, that there's a contingent of gamers playing small boat coastal warfare often in 1/600 - this is perhaps the skirmish gaming of naval warfare. I also play "skirmish WWII destroyer actions" so far all historical ones in 1/700. These of course are more likely to be structured by tactical issues, especially the relative qualities of the gear.

With this thought in mind, it has been of great interest to me to discover the Avalanche Press series of naval boardgames, "Great War at Sea" [pre-dreadnoughts and WWI] and "Second World War at Sea" [WWII]. I bought a used copy of the box game 1898 at a reasonable price on eBay a while ago, and finally got around to the initial playtest today. 

Bottom Line Up Front:
The Avalanche Press approach is a great start in naval gaming for anyone. It has:

  1. medium cost [about $50-100, game includes hundreds of ship counters], 
  2. provides everything needed for full-spectrum naval operations in strategic context [including airpower, mines, convoys, maps, scenarios, campaigns, etc],
  3. and also offers quick, fun ways to play a one-off "let's drop dice and sink ships" game
  4. The AP:GWaS approach has two combat systems; Basic and Advanced; 
    • The Basic is mapless - it could easily be played via email. 
    • The Advanced uses a tactical hex map and is best played live.
  5. This system means that there's lots of ways to resolve campaign play. Players can play easily by email and resolve a battle using the Basic Combat rules if they don't have time to get together live or the battle isn't very important. This is important given the time restrictions most of us have due to over-scheduling / over-commitment. 
  6. The only aspect partially sacrificed is detailed technical play; abstraction level is higher than General Quarters 3.3, and -about- the same as Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts. Each game has the core GWaS rules, common to them all [and of course there's "Second World War at Sea" which does the same for WWII].
  7. This game is played on hexes / squares as a board game. However, I believe the system can be adapted without too much pain onto the table with miniatures. The main problem will be that the hex distance is pretty large, so detailed movement of ships isn't included in the rules - at all. On the other hand, aside from using miniatures, you don't HAVE to switch it to the table unless you want that freedom of movement and more friction.

Acquiring new copies of a game in the series is easy, if in print, HERE
Acquiring less expensive copies of used and out of print Avalanche Press games is not too difficult on eBay or at Board Game Geek, altho you have to be patient and stalk the game you want, usually. As there are many versions, both historical and speculative, there's plenty of gaming out there for the cost-conscious gamer.

1898 covers the Spanish-American War and therefore uses the Great War at Sea core rules, with just a few period-specific changes. It includes counters and stats for all US and Spanish ships, and a few ships for alternative scenarios. Of course, you can include ships from other pre-dreadnought games, and freely mix them in as speculative historical events, what-ifs, etc, since there are point values for all the ships.

Box Front Cover


Box Back Cover - shows strategic map of S. Floriday past Cuba


However, the strategic map only covers the Caribbean, not the Philippines...

so you'd need one of the other games that has a map of the Southwest Pacific - there's one in the 2WWaS "Strike South" game, which I have, and I believe one or two other games:

Map uses 32 mile squares, ingeniously offset to solve the "diagonal movement problem".

The Core rules are used in each of the two game systems as the basis for all the games in the systems, whether WWII or the era preceding, either Dreadnought or pre-Dreadnought:



As can be seen, all key aspects of strategic naval war are covered.

Each game also comes with a scenario booklet, giving rules changes and then a series of Battle Scenarios [one-off games, strictly combat]




The Playtest
1898, like all the games in the series, offers three ways to play - a quick Basic Combat rules battle with no map, an Advanced Combat rules battle with the tactical map, or campaign scenarios using the strategic theater maps, that may result in tactical battles between ships or fleets. 

For the first time out, I opted for the Basic Combat rules playing the Battle of Manila Bay. My goal was to use the Rules as Written or RAW, as much as possible, and just note any changes I'd make later. I have to say, it was a little disorienting to realize that I didn't even need the tactical map! Said map is hard board in my version of 1898, and looks like this:

The players sit at right and left, each having the necessary tables facing them to resolve torpedo damage rolls, gunnery damage rolls, and critical damage rolls. The entire playing area - the BIG hex - equals one strategic map square [each map square being 32 miles, or 64,000 yards at 2,000 yards per nautical mile]. Each small hex is 8,000 yards [4 nautical miles] and the bix HEX playing area is notionally 8 hexes wide, not counting the center hex.

Anyway, the tables were still useful, so I layed the ships out on it above the three tables, moving them around as needed to help me remember which ships was firing where, etc. The big ship counters are for bigger ships, the small counters are for smaller ships.


The game is easily played with a single line of data per ship. The information is Victory Points, Ram bow, Primary / Secondary / Tertiary guns, Torpedoes, Move rate, hull boxes, and fuel available [only needed for the strategic map movement in an operational scenario]. I spent a few minutes copying out of the pamphlet and putting it into WORD for easy use:


In the Basic Combat system, the most important aspect is Range, which is always Long or Short . Primary and Secondary Batteries fire at both Ranges, while Torpedoes and Tertiary batteries can only fire at Short [it was unclear if torpedoes were resolved at 0 or 1 hex range, for which there are different modifiers, but I interpreted it to mean 0 for playtest - in the future, I'll make a couple decisions on it and adjust accordingly]. Ergo, fleets with an advantage in P or S batteries want to keep the range Long, while those with an advantage in Torpedoes or T batteries want to get into Short Range. 

Combat always starts at Long Range. If both players want to close into Short Range, it happens automatically. If only one wants to, the faster fleet decides the Range. If their speeds are the same, then there's a roll-off with D6, the winner deciding. Obviously, lots of opportunities to modify the dice roll with various historical and technical factors, etc. And if the fleets are at Short Range, and both players want to open to Long Range, it happens automatically. If only one does, then they dice off. If the Range opens at Long Range, the fleets disengage, breaking contact, and the battle ends.

This is a simple, effective mechanism to present the key issue of most naval engagements - speed decides if there's a fight, and often who, when, where and often how. This isn't true of land warfare, or at least not as clearly as in naval warfare. There's a large advantage to being faster than your enemy in naval warfare - you decide if you will fight, or not.

Once the Range has been decided for this Combat Round, the Spanish player announces and resolves all his attacks, followed by the US player. Ships may attack any other ship. Ships do not seem to be able to divide their attacks, whether various batteries or torpedoes. Each factor of battery type has a d6 rolled, and there's a hit on a '6'. Two d6 are then rolled for each hit on the Gunnery Damage Table. 

There are few modifiers but they matter, like the +1 for Short Range which doubles the chance of Tertiary Batteries getting a hit [a 5-6 instead of just a 6]:
 

Torpedoes are fired using the Advanced rules, only, even in the Basic Combat rules. There are simple Night Action rules [-1 to gunnery dice rolls, no Long Range gunnery, either fleet may attempt to close to Short Range, I guess even if one is faster]. Obviously missing, but included in the Advanced Combat rules is armor and armor penetration.

There's lots of possibilities for a little bit of elaboration here: dicing off to see who designates their fire first, modifying the roll to establish Range, penalizing shooting if more than one ship fires at another ship, etc. One can steal some favorite rules from the Advanced Combat section, or take them from history.

In any event, time to review what happened with my re-fight of Manila Bay, using the Basic Combat rules. I had to play this three times to get a result that wasn't determined by my messing up the rules [i.e. forgetting to use torpedoes, at all!], but they were all about 5-6 rounds of Combat and 30-45 minutes. 

Fleet Comparisons. Altho the Spanish have 8-7 in ships, their ships are markedly inferior, much of the inbalance coming from the U.S.S. Olympia, which is worth as much as the other two us big ships together! The U.S. fleet has a substantial margin here, of about 18-10 batteries, and 39 to 29 Victory Points. Most importantly, the U.S. fleet has 7-2 Secondary Battery factors, and these are the only ones that can be used at Long Range [except for Primary Batteries of course, but neither side has them!]. Thus it is definitely to the advantage of the U.S. player to stay at long range. While the Spanish have a LOT more torpedo factors, most are hull mounted and useless against small ships like these.

Round 1, Long Range. Spanish miss, US knocks out a Hull on the Reina Cristina.
Round 2, Short Range [Spanish win roll-off - if the Range is Short, the Spanish won, if they lost the range is Long]. Their torpedoes miss, but they trash all the Secondary guns on the Olympia! The return fire from the Olympia and Raleigh sinks the Isla de Luzon, and the rest of the US fleet sinks the Isla de Cuba. This sinks the Spanish ships with torpedoes.
Round 3, Long Range. Spanish miss, US sinks Castilla [half the Spanish Long Range batteries are now gone, and they've no usable torpedoes, either].
Round 4, Long Range. Only Hit knocks out the Secondary battery on Reina Cristina.
Round 5, Short Range. Spanish miss all 4d6. US sinks Don Juan de Austria, hits General Lezo but it has no effect as the damage was against the torpedoes - Lezo has none.
Round 6, Short Range. Spanish miss Concord. US sinks Lezo and Velasco's only battery, a Tertiary, is destroyed. With only a couple ships and batteries intact, against nearly the entire US fleet, the Spanish have to concede.

Well, it just goes to show, that 2-1 odds doesn't result in 2-1 damage in naval wars, it results in a massacree. The huge disparity in Secondary Batteries means that the US fleet will try to keep distance, hammering the Spanish every turn. Overall, an historical result, so one can't complain. It should be noted that most of the US fleet was faster, also. If they left a few ships behind, they still could've sunk the Spanish fleet, and would've been able to consistently choose the battle on their terms, minimizing losses to nearly nothing but a long-odds critical hit.

I really liked the feel of the game! Despite there being no table maneuvering, the key issue of range was handled in an interesting way, and each side preferred one Range over the other. Overall, the Spanish really need some help here, more torpedoes, shore batteries, anything! If nothing else, a flotilla of torpedo boats would've made it more interesting for the Spanish player. Still, the game was engaging and had good feel.

Last thoughts. There's huge potential here in this game and system. While it'll take some time and effort to convert it into a tabletop game, I think the cheap price of the War Times Journal 1/3000 plastics are beckoning me in the near future! I still have to try this with the Advanced Combat System, and then the operational campaign rules. Also, with WWI fleets, just to see how they play out. These will add Primary batteries, lots of ships, and a bunch of small craft. I'm looking forward to more games, and more interesting refights of history and "what-ifs"! I can highly recommend this series as a great place to start naval gaming. I can only imagined how easy it is to do carrier operations and such with this system compared to so many others!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Storing 1/2400 ships

I saw a post on this at TMP HERE and thought that this might be a useful answer for some people. After all this is really cheap and so far, it works. All you need is masking or painter's tape, cheap little plastic storage boxes that protect the top [if you've masts] and well, that's it.

Small desk storage drawer unit. I think someone gave it to me for free or I scavenged it.


Ships preparing for paint, mounted on popsicle sticks at the moment. You can see the masking tape under the ships to left. The numbers are the Panzerschiffe ship code.


Here, I'm holding the drawer upside-down for the pic. You can see how little tape is needed. You can also see that ship labels are immediately obvious through the clear plastic.



They can also just sit in the drawers loose - if they were going somewhere or had masts on them, I'd just use lightly crumpled plastic grocery bags to gently keep them in place. These are resin Panzerschiffe, and they aren't very delicate!





That's about it. Overall, I prefer to spend my money on game stuff, not storage!

Brian DeWitt Naval Rules

"Czarist navy crosses globe, docks at sea bottom - news at 11!"


I did manage to reach Brian DeWitt, in a roundabout way through North Virginia Gamers, aka NOVAG where he's a Board Member. Through polite correspondence, we had the following interview, somewhat edited for clarity.

*********************************
Glad to hear you enjoyed the Pre-Dreadnought rules. There's no website for them.  I started selling them only by word of mouth because I had a lot of people asking for them.

Almost all the ship data is based on
Seakrieg 4th ship data (simplified however). The ship images are mostly from Janes Ships or Ship Blueprints webpage.


I sell the latest version of the rules and scenarios on a CD for $5.  I bring them to the HMGS conventions. There are 5 different sets:
A sailing ship set "Form on the Admirals Wake", Spanish American, Russo-Japanese, WWI and WWII. 

I can email the files if you do not attend the conventions and accept Paypal at my juno.com email address: 
brian.dewitt AT [etc] 

I make a lot of different games.  I emphasize playability as the most important factor but try and capture as much historical accuracy I can while maintaining the extremely high playability.  This is accomplished by using creative game mechanics and simple rules.

I enjoyed the article by Neil Thomas on "Simplicity in Practice" you sent me.

****************************
My club has enjoyed the Russo-Japanese set, called "When Dreadnoughts Ruled the Seas" which we play in 1/3000 on a 6x12' table. That being said, the actual engagement space was only about 6x4', so I think one can easily play out the approach moves - and play them faster - on paper. 

Altho the host said that they are more for fun and a "beer'n pretzel" set, I wouldn't say that is exactly true. I just think that he presents and plays them that way. Adding in weather and a few more decision points, and perhaps a bit of morale, and they'd gain significant depth.

So I can heartily recommend the pre-dreadnought set, at the very least, which I've now played 3 times in a large Russo-Japanese fleet context, and found it worked just fine. Most of the added complexity that would make it richer can just be scenario rules from an historical battle, anyway.

For further information, contact Brian!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Three Modern Naval Rule Sets: impressions and overviews

I've three commercial sets of rules, all of which I think have merit, and over which I've been giving a lot of thought as to how to proceed with gaming some of my interests in the near future.

1. Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts [WWI] & Battleship Row [WWII]

both are from Steel Dreadnought Games

2. Great War at SeaAvalanche Press WWI
Second World War at SeaAvalanche Press WWII

3. General Quarters 3 [WWII] & Fleet Action Imminent [WWI]
both are from Old Dominion Game Works Naval

Some first thoughts, for those of you new to modern Naval Gaming:
  1. Naval Warfare is highly technological - think WWII but ONLY tanks!
  2. This means that "historical" in context means totally respecting the differences in ships and gear that MAKE the tactics, or at least force them.
  3. It's really time-consuming and a labor of love to plow through all the details and math...let someone else with lots of time do it for you!
  4. Naval warfare is no more "line them up and blow stuff up" than any other type of wargaming is, or at least should be. However, it does have unique characteristics.
  5. Interestingly, Space Warfare is basically naval wargaming. Some more or less realistic than others. However, since it is a "notional" [military term] or "speculative" [literary term] world / universe, it is extremely important that the sci-fi universe closely copy the friction of technology prevalent in real naval wargaming, or it's just dull!
  6. ALL naval wargaming [and space warfare] is inherently strategic in nature, but not all land wargaming is.
  7. There is terrain in naval gaming but not all of it is land! There's also minefields, submarines and motor torpedo boats [all of which function to deprive admirals of movement, just like generals], but most especially there is weather!
So my warning is...don't think you can throw together a set of good naval wargame rules by yourself. It's a genre that really needs you to spend time in it. So commercial rules are - for most of us - far more essential than any land warfare period. The only related genre I think would be airplane combat, again, almost entirely dependent on technological differences to provide friction that makes for an interesting game, and what I don't know about flying and weather...well, it could sink a battleship!

So if you line up your armies of whatever period on a nearly empty table, slaughter away and then say it is dull, repetitive or lacks tactical finesse, that's the same thing as putting the fleets on the table without land, weather or other menaces to big ships, and then saying it is nothing but a dull exercise in gunnery - it may well be, but whose fault is it, anyway??

All this to say that if you love tanks, and wish the infantry would just go away, you will probably love naval gaming!

Impressions and overview of the rules.

The Naval Thunder series has certainly made quite the impression. Many say that it has put the fun back into naval gaming. It is cleanly written, with traditional mechanisms and easily "felt" mechanics that run along the "shoot, hit, penetrate armor, do damage, hope for critical" that many gamers love about naval warfare. It keeps all the additional stuff in the optional rules, from smoke to crew quality. The rules are easy to understand and altho the style is conversational it's not very distracting. That said, I personally prefer when the rule itself, that I actually need to play, is separated by bullet points or italics or something, and is easily found apart from the conversation and explanation.

Our first foray into it was a reply of the battle of Komandorsky Islands. It was pretty quick to pick up, but our use of the special rule for smoke exposed that some of the straightforwardness and simplicity that leaves the rules accessible and likable is at the expense of nuance and friction that can make some scenarios unplayable. In our battle, I quickly realized that I could use my destroyers to lay smoke and by turning at the end of the move hard back behind their own smoke, prevent even my own destroyers laying the smoke from being fired upon. While I'm sure that could have been done, it was awful easy to figure out and do, and rendered the IJN completely impotent, which it wasn't in the real battle. We needed a good hard wind, and some mechanism to prevent my ships from doing - exactly - what I wanted them to do.

While I think that it can certainly be dealt with using the odd special or scenario rule, and also that these rules are easy to tweak due to their simplicity, I have a problem with a basic mechanism being a "trump card" in any player's pocket.

All the rules in the series have excellent listings of ships and other info needed to play the game, as well as point values to help balance scenarios. I give these rules a solid "B" for their ability to make anyone a fan of naval gaming.

The Avalanche Press series has been a huge presence for many many years in the boardgaming industry. The series is huge, with 30-40 games and supplements in the two naval lines, not all of which are in print but most of which are available in the after market industry. All the core games come in boxes with lovely maps showing a strategic theater of operations and a tactical map upon which to fight out actions in more detail. They also come with basic and advanced tactical ship fighting rules, and thorough advanced rules from minelaying to airships to flotillas to submarines...you name it!

Game play resolved - very realistically - with fleets being given missions for which they then plot out their movement. Sometimes they have to plot out their entire foray at sea including the return to port! This strategic mission gives players a larger context in which to put their tactical fighting, and REALLY enhances the experience. The fleets then act out their movements, and when they get close enough have a chance to encounter one another and switch to the tactical map to blast away.

I have to admit I have not yet tried out these rules, nor followed through on plans to adapt them to tabletop miniature gaming. However, I am _slavering_ to do so! At the moment, I've 1898 [a pre-dreadnought game about the Spanish-American naval war], a few of the Jutland series games [WWI] and one WWII game, "Strike South". All look very manageable and are virtually an education in naval wargaming at all levels.

I have a lot of confidence in these rules due to their longevity, the thousands and thousands of copies sold, the clarity of the writing, the presentation of both the big strategic picture and a manageable presentation of the tactical fighting, and the breadth of situational rules that enhance the gaming experience. All the ships have detailed logs, as well as lovely top-down-view counters of the ships [altho they all show the ships to be the same length on the counter, from BB to CL, sort of a Wizards of the Coast scale problem]. The typical boxed game has hundreds of ships and their info handy on the counter and on sheets. 

[EDIT: this means you can wait on getting and painting up ship miniatures; the counters will not only do just fine but have all the info you need most printed right on them - they are 1"x1/2" for capital ships, and 1/2"x1/2" for small ships, however, this has to be balanced against the cost of these lovely games, which can go from $50-100 for a box, and $20-50 for book or bag presentation].

I'm giving these a solid "A-" for the full presentation of naval warfare in a manageable fashion, if without the tactical nuance that some players love. Most of the -minus- has to do with the cost - you can easily get several of the more playable naval games for $10-15, and if you go 1/4800 or 1/6000 escape for under $50 depending on the size of your fleets. OTOH, miniature naval rules usually don't have the tremendous breadth of a game like "Jutland" which has like 60 scenarios, every capital ship represented, and covers the English Channel to the Baltic.

Finally, near and dear to my heart, and played many, many times, is the "General Quarters 3" WWII game, and its companion "Fleet Action Imminent". Not for the faint of heart, yet not overwhelming in detail, this game really is an education in tactical naval fighting. You will learn all you gear, and you will learn it well, or you cannot hope to win a naval action in this game except through the errors of your opponents and the random favor of the dice. This was the game my pal offered after our speedbump with Naval Thunder: Battleship Row. I thought he was nuts! However, he really really really wanted to try it, so I gave it a real effort, and read the rules. Eventually, I found myself sucked in, sort of like reading a well-written astronomical treatise...you think it won't be interesting, or that it will be overwhelming, but eventually you find yourself devoting more and more time on it, and it is actually worth the time!

I was hooked, altho, interestingly, my pal moved on. I then read the rules a few more times, GM'd more games, read a lot of memoirs and decided that Guadalcanal was the perfect, ferocious naval encounter of the modern era. Rarely have so many expensive ships been so harshly used by so many admirals in such a short period of time! It's sort of like fighting about 7-8 battles of the Nile with a few Trafalgars thrown in. It's genuinely horrifying to watch destroyers clash with cruisers and battleships at point blank range, and to realize that you are now so close that you cannot evade a mildly competent torpedo attack.

I eventually settled on running 1/700 destroyer encounters I entitled "DDD - Deadly Destroyer Destruction" or something. I gave each player one ship, organized their squadrons historically, and gave each team three options for the approach, at night, into the "sea of battle". This meant there were nine possibilities in a scenario, so I could re-use them any time. Gamers loved it, and this has been my most-requested game to host.

The downside is that I never really convinced anyone else to read the rules. This meant I slowly became hoarse as we played a 4-5 hour game and I explained the detailed rule QRS and even the cheat sheets I made to speed things along. Even the ship diagrams and gunnery chart required some effort to understand. Once you got onto them, you realized how well they were thought out and play went pretty smoothly. Occasional oopsies on the GMs part were taken with good [enough] grace and we got through with quite a lot of fun.

Overall, these are the best set of manageable rules for tactical naval fights. I think they are a bit much for more than 1-2 ships a player, and even then I "slaved" the second ship behind the other one so that it was a mindless drone, giving the player the chance to keep playing even if one ship was lost.

We fought Savo Island, Cape Esperance, 2-3 Solomon Seas, and Kolombangara multiple times. Having invested many hours [and dollars] preparing the charts and QRS packets in color, I found it made a lot of sense to repeat most of the battles several times, perhaps with a little twist here and there, all based upon historical options. For some more details:
Savo Island AAR
Remember the 13th November!
Neither of which has pics of the actual ships on table, altho there are maps and other tools I use to throw the game. My excuse is that I still had a flip-fone, and kept forgetting to bring my digital camera with me. Mea culpa! My blogging has gotten a lot more colorful, but naval gamers aren't quite as interested in flashy looks as long as the charts are detailed, so maybe it's ok anyway.

There are a few campaign supplements for GQ3 / FAI. "Sudden Storm" is a speculative naval campaign for a 1937 naval confrontation between the US and Japan. Ergo it is more Battle line o' Battleships oriented. "The Solomon's Campaign" is a campaign for actions around Guadalcanal, using a decision-tree approach with minimal book keeping that brings battles into Ironbottom Sound, with the land and carrier actions abstracted. "North Sea Campaign" is the famous naval situation between Germany and Britain in the North Sea during WWI. It uses a strategic decision model, the same decision-tree approach and a mapless search method. Both the latter are by the same author, Nathan Forney, so I assume they are quite similar.

I give these rules an "A+" for tactical fighting, and a "B" for overall picture of naval warfare simply because there are too many trees for players to see the woods, and, at least in my group, not enough continuous play and players willing to read and digest the rules to fully realize their potential and try out the many interesting advanced rules like air, sub, mines, and more. Thus far, it's been too much! But I'll definitely be running some games of this again, carefully limiting the presentation of a new aspect, like minelaying or air/sub attacks. I think these work well at the 1 player 1 ship level, and the 1/700 ships are a pleasure to look at, as well as do the modeling for. Tamiya especially has a number of options, and I encourage players to look into the modeling forums to buy them used from modelers who've given up on building the kit - sometimes you can by kits for 10% of retail if you buy in bulk.

I hope this evaluation of the rules is useful, and leads you to look into them more.

As for me, I think I am needed something that plays fast and easy, yet has a lot of the big picture readily available. For the moment, that means I'm going to be trying out Avalanche Press as a boardgame, with thoughts on how to put it on the table along the way. For WWI especially, I am eager to have big clashes between 12-20 capital ships a side, and each player controlling a squadron of about 4 ships. This means that it has to be relatively easy to fight at a tactical level so that enhanced aspects like command, formations, terrain and such are all able to be easily delved into.

This means that, much like the Starfire II games I've played and shown here, you'll be seeing some boardgame batreps. However, I'll still work on presenting the games to my son, so the One-Hour Wargames: Modern Naval will continue its merry development!

I still may run a 1 player 1 ship game or two of WWI or WWII using GQ3, it just depends on how time and audience works out. Rest assured, this time you'll have plenty of pics as I do have a smartfone now!

I plan to follow up with some demos and AARs with the rules as I experiment a bit with them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Naval Gaming w' Admiral Winkie

Somewhere in the S. Pacific, 
the fighting's been real terrific!

An opportunity that more resilient models - often plastics but some metal figs and ships also - provide is to permit us to play with children who are still working on their fine motor skills. It often seems that they practice them by dropping small, valuable objects and then picking them up, only to drop them again! This is not to be confused by ham-handed, sausage-fingered gamers who squash things because they've too much mass in their extremities. That often sounds like this, "oh wow look at that...oops, sorry" as flag / mast / sword breaks off...*Sigh*. 


In any event, when my 7yo son found the resin 1/2400 Panzerschiffe WWII ships I was sorting, he immediately asked if he could play with them. I thought - why not? The painted ones have been through the miracle dip, and are very resilient. The unpainted ones are either primed in shades of gray or still in the raw resin color. Unless he physically smashed them against each other and breaks a smokestack, they probably can't be damaged. So we had a quick talk about respecting the models, and I took them downstairs to the formal dining table we only occasionally use. It's about 3'x4.5', and plenty smooth.

As I considered what to do, I decided this was a great opportunity to start developing a "One-Hour Wargames" naval game. I'd never tried one this simple - the rules had to be easily perceived to someone who knows nothing about naval gaming, yet at least generally respect realities of naval warfare. I also wanted to begin teaching ADM Winkie basic naval tactics and give him an opportunity to use some math - at school he's just going into multiplication and division. All that being said, here's what I came up with in the ten minutes I took to bring everything downstairs:

  1. Ships. There are three types: BB=Big, CA=Medium, DD=Small.
  2. Speeds. Big, Medium and support ships=3"a turn, Small 6"a turn.
  3. Turns. Up to 90, rotating on the center.
  4. Gun dice. Each uses relatively sized dice: Big [d20], Medium [d10] and Small [d6].
  5. Hits. Guns hit at 50%, or 11+, 6+ and 4+ respectively, inflict one damage point.
  6. Fire Arcs. All ships shoot with 2 dice, one Fore and one Aft, both to Port / Starboard side. Arcs are roughly 45 degrees off the four sides.
  7. Range. Big guns shoot out to 36" at -2 [so 13+], Big and Medium out to 24" at -1 [so 12+ or 7+], Big, Medium and Small guns shoot at 12" with no modifiers.
  8. Torpedoes. Only DD carry, range is 6", hit on 4+, damage is two Points.
  9. Damage. A warship can take two points of damage, a support ship one point. At two points they sink. At one point, they're marked with a red "Fire" marker; at the beginning of the turn, they can "put out the Fire" by rolling 50%. So it pays to keep at a ship until it takes its two Damage and sinks.
  10. Turn Order. Damage Control [both], Move - US then IJN, Simultaneous Gunnery.

The Fleets assembled. One BB, four CA, 3 or 4 DD a side, with their dice next to them.


Below, Japanese fleet. Kongo BB, four CA, three DD.

Below US fleet: BB Washington, four CA, four DD.


Admiral Winkie, the first CinCPACFLT with a retainer, showing his positive attitude. 


Gun ranges: 36" for BB, 24" for CA, 12" for DD. ADM Winkie has lunch.


Table & Mission. Japanese have fleet oiler, cargo ship and transport at harbor. US will enter top left and attempt to destroy more IJN ships than loses. The IJN wants to cross the table with support ships [towards the outlet] and use its screen and reinforcements to hold off the USN and / or inflict more damage than received.


Close-up of IJN anchorage. Panzerschiffe IJN Fleet Oiler [top], US LST [middle] and IJN Maru transport / cargo ship at bottom. On left, three DD and two CA also at anchor, but planning to weigh anchor turn 1 with support ships. At far left, entering at the table corner as shown on turn 5, the BB and two CA [delayed entry as part of LtWW plan].


US fleet set-up and Turn 1. I just had them set up at table edge, preceded by the DDs. ADM Winkie is moving his big ships up 3" each. The DDs darted ahead a full 6".


Turns 2-4. IJN fleet exits harbor and advances on USN. This does slow the USN a bit as they turn the DD and BB to starboard to unmask their full broadsides. This still has them angling towards the IJN support ships exit point, however and the transports [far left] are slow. The CA are heading straight on, however, to close the gap. The DD accordingly suffer plenty of casualties, with all IJN and half the USN DD sunk, one USN DD on Fire. The IJN have also lost a CA to the BB's 36" gunnery. So far, typical naval game results except that it's only taken about 10-15 minutes and we're having fun - especially ADM Winkie!


ADM Winkie, confident of victory, gives the "V" sign.


Turn 5. IJN reinforcements enter, IJN CA steaming past sinking CA. Note top USN DD with red Fire marker - this is the ship of the game! The closer USN DD with Fire has sunk after taking more hits from the surviving IJN CA. Support ships plod along.


Turn 6. US CA sinks nearer IJN CA. US BB sinks IJN support ship. USN DD still has fire going, but IJN BB totally missed, the shells landing in another lattitude [the dice didn't even add up to 13]. The white puff just shows a near-miss. This made ADM Winkie feel better.


Turn 7. Fleets continue to close. USN BB sinks another support ship. Off-camera at top is the last USN DD, on fire, still closing at full speed.


Turn 8. ADM Winkie puts out the Fire on his last DD [rolls a 4, pictured at top]. IJN gunnery at said DD continues to be pathetic - perhaps the burning oil is obscuring splashes? Third support ship steams on. IJN do manage to sink one USN CA and Damage another.


Turn 8. Fearless USN DD takes on two CA and a BB! It misses with guns and torpedoes, causing ADM Winkie to get pretty upset [a conversation about the random nature of dice is in order - I think he feels he just didn't roll it "right", a topic for older gamers, also]. 


Turn 9. US DD continues to close, torpedoes IJN CA sinking it. USN gunnery sinks CA but the maru transport steams on against the blocking DD. IJN gunnery is all misses. 


Turn 10. USN DD turns about, torpedoes IJN BB and sinks it! USN gunnery sinks maru transport. IJN gunnery continues its streak of misses.


Final results! IJN lose all 11 ships, USN loses three DD and one CA. Hero of the day is the pictured USN DD, an old Benson sporting Measure 12 modified paint scheme [for '42].


A tear-free ADM Winkie. We had fun and we used some math.


Analysis. I'm pleased that one of the old Benson DDs with its veteran crew was the hero of the hour. The general run of the game typifies most naval games, IMHO, with it being largely a gunnery contest, and the smaller ships being picked off early. This was also caused by the range bands. The ships sometimes had no other targets than the DDs. The CA fire hit especially hard.

The use of different sized dice was mostly due to a desire to have penetration rolls next time out. My general thought is to have Penetration be related to dice / ship size. Here, the only effect was to make CA shooting a 7/12 at 24" while the BBs had a 12/20, a 10% advantage.

This reminds me how important it is to have additional factors present in a game. Certainly Armor / Penetration is very important. The speeds are certainly off - big ships don't move half as fast as DDs! Actual speed ratios for WWII warships are more like:
DDs, CLs, and CAs = 30-35 knots
BBs and CVs = 25-30 knots.
Giving a spread of 25, 30 and 35 knots or ratios of 5 / 6 / 7.

Gunnery ranges are pretty good for the table we used [3'x4.5', with eaves pushing it to 7.5' long if needed]. In my copy of GQ3, Big guns are about 18K yards, medium about 12K, and small about 9K. Big and medium guns can go out to about 24K with marginal hit chances. So ranges should perhaps be more like:
24" = BBs and CAs with 1.3 normal hit chance [about 19-20].
18" = BBs with normal hit chance [CA at about 9-10]
12" = CAs with normal hit chance [DD at about 6]
  9" = DDs with normal hit chance.

This use of scale at 1" = 1,000 yards gives table speeds of 2.5", 3" and 3.5" for the ships. Bit of a crawl, really. However, I believe the gunnery fire is figured in 6 minute blocks of time, while movement is in a 3 minute block of time - at least that is what it is in Fleet Action Imminent. If so, I could double speed distances to 5", 6" and 7", all heading into a total 6 minute turn for both gunnery and movement. A check of the GQ3 rules still has a 3 minute / 6 minute design paradigm, but it's not clear that the 2-1 gunnery / movement ratio is present. I'll have to inquire.

Fire Arcs in GQ3 are almost at 45 anyway - they have them at 40 degrees, giving a 100 degree broadside instead of 90. I'm not sure this is worth changing.

Ship damage. It occurs to me that the hull blocks of GQ3 are in numbers of 6-8 for all ships. This is adjusted by using the equivalent Hits table which multiplies hits by 1, 1.5/2, 3, 4, and 5 depending on the size / armor of the target [in 5 categories] v. the weight of the gun. So a BB big gun that scores one Hit on a DD gets 4-5 Hits, each hit being a roll on the Damage Table. Pretty lethal. This is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that lots of big gun shells just went through the unarmored DDs anyway, not to mention their small size and high speed.

Small Targets -2 for big guns firing at DDs.

Future developments.
One-Hour Wargames is excellent not so much at the simplicity of the rules, but that the 30 scenarios provide tremendous, nuanced play that is carefully derived and set to relate to the measurements of the rules themselves. In other words, 

  • the turn limit, 
  • victory conditions
  • table size
  • terrain type, size and placement
are all closely linked together.

For starters, terrain needs to be approached - some initial thoughts...

Terrain:

  1. Land - blocks Line of Sight and movement.
  2. Fog - blocks Line of Sight.
  3. Smoke and Mist - obscure Line of Sight.
  4. Shallows - restricts movement.
  5. Minefields & Submarines - affects movement by attacking ships.
Well, that's my initial foray into a One-Hour Naval game. I hope it encourages you to play with your youth as well as consider what you can do for an hour in your spare time instead of watch the 'tube, You or TV, or otherwise!

Friday, April 7, 2017

10,000 Visits! A Review, Rules Thoughts

SMS Seydlitz limping along after Jutland...sort of like this blog!
 

So after a timely start in 2014 - with the 100th anniversary of WWI in the works - there hasn't been a lot of progress with this project. This is a bit disappointing - seems I never manage to make these anniversary events - I'm always too early or too late!

At least regarding some movement on this project and blog, I'm hoping to change that.

Went to a naval game run at the old club, and it was a sort of player-friendly and fun Russo-Japanese naval game. The rules are "When Dreadnoughts Ruled the Seas" by Brian DeWitt, with some modifications by the host, David Cochran. I am having trouble finding info on the rules, will add later if possible. In any event, it was a surprising victory for the Russkies! It was quite fun, and has me digging out this WWI project again and pondering gaming possibilities. 

So here, I've added a link to the excellent PDF Article by Michael Harris "Surface Torpedo Tactics: Rules and Reality" which is very visual / powerpoint style, and a great read. It was presented at Cold Wars in 2010 sponsored by Clash of Arms Games.

One issue is that I'm leaning heavily into fast-play, simpler games these days. It's a bit tough with naval gaming, however, as it is so technical and sometimes I feel like one almost can't do it right without rules that respect the gadgetry. That inevitably means more complex rules harder to explain to a gang of people on a gaming night. That being said, I've never had a problem with people complaining - it is just a lot of work on my part to get people through it. They love the games however and they're the ones most requested from me to run.

This has me perusing my copy of the wonderful  "Fleet Action Imminant" [FAI] 

from Old Dominion Game Works [ODGW] and pondering how to put it in front of people in a simpler fashion. It would mean a fair bit of work both in thinking and planning, as well as making some QRS and ship sheets that are simplified a bit. Comprehending the excellent graphics that are provided by Mr. Gill is one slowing factor in running these games for new or rusty returning players. So far, I've had zero luck trying to convince people to read the rules and show up ready to help one side get through them.

Meanwhile, I dug out my copy of the WWI version of Naval Thunder by Steel Dreadnought Games, titled "Clash of Dreadnoughts"


These are a simplified, streamlined "beer'n pretzel" approach. I have to admit that I've less confidence in the subtleties of this particular game system but can't say that my lack of confidence is based upon detailed play of both these sets of rules. We played the original WWII rules when they first came out, but immediately ran into a problem with the smoke rules - basically, they were broken, and our play of the Battle of Komandorski Islands was a bit dull. I emailed the author and his response wasn't very helpful. Still, they are easy to get into, run and present players with a lot less to learn and think about, which also detracts from the gaming experience. This series is a best-seller at Wargames Vault, BTW, which says something about what people really like. You can check out the store HERE.

I do have a lot of experience with General Quarters 3 [GQ3] 

which is also by Mr. Gill, and a lot of respect for his work as an author and naval enthusiast. I've run numerous games of these WWII rules and found them to work well with only a few modifications for large-group play. The only catch is that there's quite a bit to comprehend and get into for players. Due to the fact that it is also a lot of work for me as GM, I haven't been playing naval or running the game lately.

So the question is should I run with something that is a lot easier to play and work with for fleet actions, or run with something that is most likely a lot more true to history and the technical aspects of naval warfare in that period?

It's a tough call, b/c to a large extent naval warfare IS the technical challenges of the period, and the decisions players make should reflect that. On the other hand, I'm uncertain how many of the players are able to grasp the combination of tactics and technical issues at all, much less apply them to the table - they seem to mostly like the decision points I present and blowing up ships!

Meanwhile, been seeking inspiration and information by reading FAI - which has many excellent explanations about the history - and reading Bennett's Naval Battles of the First World War which I highly recommend as a concise but authoritative intro to the period. 


This Penguin Edition is quite nicely done, but a good example of what can happen when you buy a cheap copy thru Amazon - My particular copy is old, battered and the paper a bit brittle. The good news is it means I don't care about messing it up, so am marking it with lots of notes for gaming!

The book basically condenses Bennett's other books, which are well regarded, so one can always pursue them in detail in those volumes. This condensing of other work is reflected in the way this volume is organized as shown here:



The approach is by topic, focusing on the overseas cruiser chasing, the North Sea battles, and submarine warfare. While this means that chronology of the topics is not intertwined in the narrative, if one has interest in cruiser warfare, submarines or the North Sea battles you can focus on that. It may sound odd, but it works well as one reads it, and promotes focus on topic. 

The final assessment on Jutland, CH 12 "Who Won?" is an excellent distillation of the fleet challenges put forward in CHs 7 & 8, and are worth the price of the book by themselves.

For the authority of the author, the useful organization, the excellent and clean narrative, and the useful summary chapters, I give this volume an A rating.

That's all for now - I'll post more soon as I try and figure out what I can do with fleet actions for WWI, which was my original intent.