Monday, November 10, 2014

British Fleet Makes Port!

Was down with the flu in September when the box arrived.  Managed to take pics of the new War Times Journal British fleet but unable to write the post.  Hopefully, the seven weeks delay is worth the wait.  

As always the ships came well packed in little bag pouches layered with large bubble wrap.  No breakage here!

Good packing and a detailed, correct shipping invoice - great service from Jim once again!

Fleet in all its glory: 9 BBs [4 Iron Duke top right, 5 Queen Elizabeth bottom right], 3 BCs [2 Lion left, 1 Queen Mary at far left], 5 CLs [2 Chatham, 2 Birmingham, 1 Lowestoft], 16 DDs [8 Laurel and 8 Laforey] and 2 ML [center left].

The BCs: 2 Lion, 1 Queen Elizabeth - can you tell the QE?

Iron Duke with ten 13.5" guns - thanks, I'll take four please!

Queen Elizabeth - 8 x 15" guns and fast as a BC - 5 Please!

Town class CL Birmingham - paired 6" guns on foredeck.

Town class CL Lowestoft - Sister ship of Birmingham with later tripod mast, 9 x 6" guns also, with pair on foredeck.

Town class CL Chatham, 1916, 8 x 6" guns

Now, the Torpedo Boat Destroyers - aka "Destroyers" or DDs, are all L-class.  They made up the 9th Destroyer Flotilla which operated with Harwich Force and were quite active, including 17 L-class DDs on the rolls during Jutland:

I couldn't find out how many had 2 or 3 funnels, so I guessed at eight of each type, which matched the ship logs for Fleet Action Imminent.  Of course, no one will be able to tell on the table but further research at Wiki says that there were four built by Yarrow, which would be the 2-funnel Laurel type.  I probably should've just asked Jim at WTJ, really.  

Most of the small ships will fight on multi-based groups anyway.  Historically, they didn't operate and maneuver independently, especially in a big ship action like Jutland.  with 3 x 4" guns their only real danger to bigger ships is their four torpedoes.  The Combat Resolution Charts for FAI indicate that 12 is enough to hit something if they survive the fire coming in on the run.  Should make for some exciting moments in games!

Laurel - Laforey class torpdeo boat destroyer, two funnels.

Laforey class torpedo boat destroyer, three funnels.

Laforey Class torpedo boat destroyer Legion as 1917 conversion into minelayer.  Note excellent details of mine racks on stern!

Well, this is a fine little fleet.  A bit short on BC, was awaiting Tiger and some Indefatigable class ships but Tiger is now out!  No pic at WTJ unfortunately.  I'll see her in the flesh soon enough after next order, however, which will include a few more German ships that are just out like the BC Seydlitz.  Very happy with all the ships.  The Germans have 9 BBs and 3 BCs, the Brits 9 BBs and 3 BCs, plus a light flotilla of 5 CL and 16 DDs.  The Germans just got three DDs sculpted at WTJ so will have to grab a bunch of them.

Now just have to figure out how to paint them...


Our staff would like to thank all the viewers who have visited and brought the page to 3000 views - "To Excellent!"

Well, it's quite surprising and pleasing that the page has met with so much interest from all over the world.  Why there are so many people looking in from Turkey, I can't imagine - a NATO base perhaps?  Or has tabletop ship gaming suddenly taken off socially among the emirs?  Mystery to me...

Despite the flu, I felt obligated to post P.2 of the 13 November battle report right away so as not to keep my readers hanging.  But after that I was sick a week, and only slowly recovered, it was all I could do to take pics of the new ships - no energy for posting.

Then when I recovered a tumultuous time at work began.  This occupied my time, attention and energy at the expense of my little fleet for several weeks, including all October!  That's all passed and God brought good things forward so I will be moving on in the professional journey and it is settled.  Things are now calmer and the rest of the family is in warm climes with the grands so I have time to push on with this blog.

A number of things in the works - lengthy post with pics on my British fleet, new WTJ releases, and I'm working on some campaign theory for WWI in the North Sea [complete with intrusive Admiralty and Emperors].  So check back regularly!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Remember, Remember, 13 November..." Part 2

So the available decisions to each side went as follows, referring to the handy map from ODGW's "The Solomon's Campaign" [a great campaign in itself, btw]:
map scale at top right, about 12,000 yards = 1 cm, handy letters are locations of campaign encounters if using the full campaign.  Here, they're useful reference points for players.  Henderson Field is center bottom to left of (B).  IJN approach is from Northwest (A) and requires a choice of Northeast or Southwest passage around Savo Island (E) or (F).

USN.  Like true veteran gamers, neither Adm. "No Pain" Kane nor "Snake-Eyes" Seliga wanted to be in command.  With neither player willing to take the blame of another Savo 1 or share the fate of Scott and Callaghan [perhaps out of mistrust...after all, Callaghan killed Scott when the San Francisco fired upon Atlanta], a joint decision was made to patrol a line from (C) to (G) with two parallel formations in line ahead.  North or closest to the IJN approach was the line of five destroyers.  2,000 y [20cm] South was the line of 5 cruisers.  This placed the DDs potentially in the line of fire of the cruisers, and was probably not an optimal formation.  They steamed at 12 knots lead by the two CAs and followed by the three CLs.  

It should be noted that the USN CLs were not "light" in the sense of armor or displacement, but rather in gun size.   Each fielded 15 6" guns, making them a menace to DDs and potentially dangerous to heavier ships by shear volume of fire if not weight of shell.  However, the 6" shells cannot penetrate Kongo armor at any range in GQ3.3, definitely a problem as it limits damage to 1/3 the damage rolls, and the potential only to start fires, destroy secondary batteries, cause critical hits, and destroy the cup holder on the captain's chair.  But with 45 barrels, these were likely outcomes if their firepower could be brought to bear!

IJN. Admiral Shwartzamoto had no choice but to take command as his loyal but stupid henchman would be the GM, yours truly, fielding the light forces as he took the two BBs.  Actually, let's face it, he was _eager_ to command the battleships!  And who wouldn't be?? 

He had two critical decisions.  First, he had to decide on either a North approach, putting Florida Island at his back or a Southern approach clinging to the Guadalcanal coastline.  Either one might give him the 'land shadow advantage' IF the USN force was towards the center of Ironbottom Bay relative to the IJN squadron. As the former had the possibility of the USN being close to the Guadalcanal coast with the IJN crossing Ironbottom, ceding them the land shadow advantage, he chose the latter approach.  At worse, he felt it would result in a relatively even fight with neither or both side's gunnery affected by land shadow as they clung to the North coastline of Guadalcanal.

The second choice was trickier.  Historically, there was a squall heading Southeast down the slot, and the IJN hid in it until close to Savo Island, masking their approach.  Abe then reversed all ships, allowing the squall to continue on well ahead so it would neither mask his squadron nor an enemy squadron.  I gave the player the same choice - to follow the squall in or to precede it in by accelerating before Savo Island, giving him an open view of what was ahead but not concealing his squadron.  Adm. Shwartzamoto chose the former, putting his BBs 2000 yards [20cm] from the Guadalcanal coastline, and the light force 1000 yards farther out and parallel, both formations in line ahead, and _right behind_ the squall, all moving at 15 knots.  So his vector of approach was (E) - (C) - (B).

The USN patrol line was conveniently 24,000y ards long, so I rolled a d12 and with the result of '9' placed the squadron 18,000 yards along the route [1.8 meters], orienting the table so the south board edge was Guadalcanal, and Savo Island was within the board to the top left.  The USN patrol line formed the East Edge of the table, basically [note, I should've angled it more, but it wouldn't have made any difference on the approach vectors, really].

With the dark night, the USN still managed to Detect the tail end of the DD division around the end of the squall, and broke into two squadrons of two divisions by the player's commands, moving independently to engage the Detected IJN force.  The lead squadron lost one CA and one DD off the tail of their Line Ahead as they missed the order to turn.   [my house rules have turns of greater than 4 pts and speed changes of greater than 5 knots causing a skill check on following ships]. 

This resulted in the last DD being 2 and the  last CA being 3 turns behind the rest of the squadron as they realized their error and caught up.  The relative approach vectors brought the USN in as three forces: the closest being three CLs and two DDs, the next being 1 CA and 2 DDs, and trailing behind a DD and CA that got a bit lost.

A squall had also dropped into the center of the playing area, permitting the lead US force to approach out of sight.  The rearward force ran straight into the IJN light division in two opposing parallel line ahead formations, more or less. [apologies for no photos, I keep forgetting to take them].  The IJN Acquired first, dropped torpedoes and opened fire with their light guns.  This had the effect of screening the BBs behind them and forcing the US rearward to engage the light division.  Despite plentiful weaponry, the IJN had poor shooting, damaging one US DD.  The US also managed to thread the torpedo wakes but for one, and that one failed to hit.

With the IJN BBs turning to port to engage the US CLs, the IJN lights split into the Nagara and a DD in the lead, with the other three DDs turning into the squall.  This put them very close to the lead USN force.  Fortunately for them it was split up a bit.  This still resulted in two of the three DDs being badly damaged by gunnery and sinking due to shattered bulkheads.  Captain Hara's DD managed to scoot around behind the BBs and survive with gun losses but a sound hull and engineering section [thus permitting an excellent memoir to be written after the war - highly recommended!]

The US cruisers now approached the IJN battleships from three directions, and in succession.  This enabled the Kongos to concentrate fire upon 1-2 cruisers at a time, severely damaging them successively.  The three light CL's dashed past the BBs, who then faced one New Orleans, and finally the third.  In the end, only one Brooklyn was battleworthy, and torpedo runs against the Kongos resulted in no hits.  The IJN managed to head for the East board edge with two very intact Kongo BBs [OK, one _did_ lost the cup holder off the captain's chair], a Nagara and two DDs one with reduced gunnery, and no torpedoes ready for use [but reloads potential in six turns].  The USN had nearly nothing left, with one Brooklyn departing the field to the North and the other trailing the IJN with a damaged DD and the rest of the force sunk, sinking or trying not to sink.

This was a fun and violent encounter, with lots of close-range gunnery for everyone.  I think the IJN had _more_ fun with their BBs, but everyone got plenty of action.  This AAR would benefit from some good pics, but mea culpa about  not remembering to take any!  

I think the scattered approach of the USN force enabled the Kongos to take it on piecemeal and concentrate overwhelming firepower on a ship or two a turn, instead of the other way around.  It _is_ possible for this USN force to inflict enough fire damage to a BB that it would burn out, but it requires coordinating the force for simultaneous contact, which they weren't able to do.

Historically, the USN caused enough fires on Heie that it burned out of control until the next day, resulting in Abe retreating as his flagship was lost and much of his command staff killed by a bridge hit.  One salvo from the San Francisco also damaged the Heie's rudder [a critical hit result in GQ3.3, and quite possible].  Afterwards, a USN officer on the DD Monssen said the battle was like "a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out."  The USN lost two CL and four DDs, and had little left in the area, but they'd protected Henderson Field for one more night.

I hope this gives a feel for how I research, develop and set up a game, and that the general action is understandable despite the lack of pics!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

British Fleet About to Make Port!

Oh yes...the true delight of a very light box from WTJ - War Times Journal.  It's "wargamasmic!"

It's late and I've a nasty flu, so opening the box now wouldn't be nearly as fun.  Sometimes the anticipation is worth the wait, and I know it will be tomorrow.  I've ordered 12 capital ships, twenty small DDs/TBs, and five light cruisers.  The pics on line were stupendous.  Best of all, now that I've both sides, I can start pushing forward knowing that I have all I need to start planning and throwing games.  Always helps my motivation to know there's nothing beyond my control that will derail a future game project.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Remember, Remember, 13 November..." Part 1

"Remember, remember, 13 November, the gunfire, courses and plots.
I know of no reason that so many ships sinking could ever be forgot!
Isaroku Yamamoto did plan that his admirals go forth to sink the Yanks,
But tactical victory did not win them history, and Abe got little thanks.

Three-score barrels and two-score turrets to destroy Henderson Field,
But Scott and Callaghan, sailed against them and were not about to yield!
In Ironbottom Bay they met them this day, 'midst the fire, the salt and the spray.
Marines who watched, saw starshells and shock, and the end of battleship Hiei.

But battles at sea - even in victory - come at a heavy cost.
Two bold admirals and ten fine ships were just a part of the loss.
Three thousand sailors went down in the dark of the Sound, watches no longer to keep.
Iron their hearts, iron their tombs, with their lives in Davy's locker - they sleep."

[with apologies to the Protestant doggerel-mongers of England]

Well, as if the slaughter and mayhem of the First Battle of Savo Island wasn't enough [see previous three-part post], I felt obligated to wrap up WWII naval gaming for a while with the third and fourth battles of Savo Island.  The Third was fought this past Saturday, and the Fourth will be fought later this month, DV, as I gear up for the 100th anniversary of WWI with RN and KM fleets in the works.
[stay tuned, as the RN fleet should dock tomorrow!]

Anyway, the Third Battle of Savo Island, aka "the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal", AKA "the Battle of Friday Thirteenth", A-K-A "the Third Battle of the Solomon Sea" [by the IJN] is as confusing to find on line as it is to figure out its name!  It's really only a part of a four-day confrontation that essentially sealed the fate of the Japanese attempt to take back the island.  In that sense it was a strategic victory for the USN, but the constant tactical defeats and disasters didn't make it feel like much of a victory.  In any event, I'll make it easy for you, just go here to get started:

This phase of the Guadalcanal naval struggle reminds me of the following image:
which side is the frog and which the crane, I leave to your discretion. In any event, neither side was ready to give up, and neither had enough of an advantage for a full-blown Jutland-size battle, so they kept jabbing at each other trying to get an edge that just didn't happen.  The allies were hanging on by the skin of their teeth [and running out of ships and sailors] while the IJN still struggled to appreciate the significance of the battle and the cost they would have to pay to win it.

The event itself was a straight-up fight between to wildly different squadrons:  The IJN had two battleships, a light cruiser and eleven destroyers v. two USN cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers.  The IJN had no middle weight, and the USN no heavy weight.  As a Naval Problem the game is just great, with only a few weather issues complicating a clean brawl.

Weather - the delight and dismay of sailors since time before history!  It inspires the ancient saying that names this blog, and it complicates unto death life at sea in peace or war.  On November 13, 1942, it was a very dark night - a new moon. There were also squalls at play in the Slot and potentially anywhere on the battlesea at any moment another one could erupt from nowhere, they being a nightly occurrence in the Solomon Island chain.

NOTE: For ships in space, this would also make an excellent scenario, and we often enjoy paralleling historical naval action into the future, don't we?  Reading "Full Thrust", I'd orient the scenario around a star system raid using the detection rules and duplicate the forces with equal points value and the same ship types on each side as in history.  For games not using parallel sizes/names, two big ships with a bunch of light escorts and the other side about 60-40 light and medium ships [DDs and CAs] should do it.  

For "terrain", I'd put in a moon as Savo Island and a planet for Guadalcanal.  There should be a military objective to destroy on the planet much like the Rebel Base on Endor in Star Wars IV.  You could use the fighters or not, and if not explain that local conditions only permit launching fighters during certain solar phases, which was how the base remained hidden for so long, etc, more on this later.  Perhaps the "squalls" could be solar flares?  Asteroid belts?  Your call.

For this scenario, I first broke the force down into Divisions of ships.  The IJN had Divisions of: 2 Kongo BBs, 1 Nagara CL, 4 Fubuki DDs, 4 Shiratsuyu DDs, and 3 Kagero DDs.  The USN had Divisions of: 2 New Orleans CAs, 3 Brooklyn CLs, 2 Benson DDs, 3 Bagley DDs, and 3 Mahan DDs. 

While the classes don't all match to history, preparation and formatting led me to run with ships whose diagrams were at hand, rather than the exact class and ship [except for the Kongos of course]. There's so much discrepancy btw the squadrons that a little deviation makes no difference to the scenario's play.  In any event, with only four players showing up, I dropped two Divisions of DDs anyway, concentrating on the big ships, and ran with the Kongo, Nagara and 4 Shiratsuyu, all five USN cruisers, and five DDs in divisions of 2 Benson/Gleaves and 3 Bagleys, giving each USN player one division each of cruisers and destroyers.

My goal was to present each side with some historically available choices and forces.  This is pretty much my method with all my naval games.  The historical decisions are usually limited to 2-3 choices per side.  This gives about 6-9 outcomes of the major decisions.  The details of formation, command, approach and speed provide additional granularity with many variable outcomes.  I could easily run this game exactly as I did it Saturday ten more times with ten different results depending on the players and their choices.  Even the same players could easily try a different choice or two that would bring about a totally different game.

The USN was given a scale map of Ironbottom Bay from Savo to Skylark, and tasked with blocking the bombardment of Henderson Field.  It didn't matter how many USN ships were lost, just that the IJN BBs were forced to turn back. They also had to decide on course, formation, speed, and command vessel.

from the above Wiki article.  green dot is the airfield.

The IJN also had to decide on their approach formation, etc, including a route around Savo Island, and their use [or not] of a handy squall that was heading down the Slot towards Savo and Ironbottom Bay.  Also, their approach [and the defenders patrol] had to take into account the critical issue of "land shadow".  

In GQ3.3 game terms, this means a 50% penalty if you are trying to Acquire a target that has land within 10,000 yards behind it [100cm / 1 meter - the table was 3 x 2 meters], and a significant penalty if you are trying to Detect them with radar [for the USN - the IJN still thinks those bed springs on the top of the USN masts are for sleeping].  Basically, if either side can get between the enemy and land [with a little maneuver space, of course] they've a big chance to get the drop on the other side by Detecting [USN] or Acquiring [either side] them first.  A successful Detection allows the USN to deviate from their pre-plotted patrol movement [but not fire upon the un-Acquired vessels], while Acquisition represents the full ability to target the enemy ship as well as deviate from pre-plotted movement.  This can be huge if you get a couple of turns surprise on the enemy fleet, allowing you to unload a ton of torpedoes for example [Savo Island 1, anyone??].

The IJN similarly could lose any number of DDs, but had to exit the board with the two BBs in shape to bombard Henderson Field and without an intact USN squadron at their backs.  Yes, this is a recipe for slaughter and mayhem...

Next post: Command Decisions!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

1500 Visits - WOW!

Cheering Sailors Throwing Hats in the Air

I have to admit that it didn't occur to me this blog would be this popular - 1500 visits in just two months was a lot more than expected.  I just started it to help me think aloud and share some of my experiences so gamers like me wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel every time they started a project. Always nice to know one's gaming problem is shared by others!

Glad to see the interest, and feel free to comment on the parts that you like best as it will have at least some effect on future posts.  

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Original Starfire Scenario #3: "The Wrath of the Khanate"

Well, played this scenario four times, forgetting the Point Defense the first time and part of the second.  Hard to remember some of the details of new weaponry!  Even harder to learn how to adapt to them.  This fight is between a Khanate CL, two DD, and three ES, v. a Terran CL, a DD and two FG.  So the numbers are with the Khanate at 6-4, but ship size edge is perhaps with the Terrans, with the CL and a DD each, plus one DD and three ES v. two FG.

However, the balance of weaponry is with the Khanate.  The squadron "broadsides" are:
Terran: 8 x W[Gun/Missile Launcher], 2 x Laser Beam
Khanate: 10 x W, 2 x Missile Launchers, 3 x Laser Beam
So at distance, the Khanate has a 12 - 8 Missile advantage.  
Closer in, the Khanate a 3 - 2 Laser advantage, and a 10 - 8 Gun advantage.  
This means that the Terrans should not stay at distance in this scenario, but rather seek to close and take out the three Escorts, the weakest link of the Khanate Squadron.

But more importantly, the weapon balance has significantly shifted.  
Again, technology is driving Naval Change here, per designer Stephen Cole's intentions.  

The dominance of Missiles and Gun / Missile mounts [W] in the first two scenarios is now virtually negated by the Point Defense system.  Simply put, for every volley of missiles fired [a volley is a launch from a single ship, unless a group of ships are using Datalink to fire together...not invented by Scenario 3] the PD stops the first missile hit on a '1-5', the second on a '1-4', the third on a '1-3', etc., on 1d6.  Since all these ships carry only 2 Missile launch systems max [mostly dual-purpose Gun/Missile launchers, but the Khanate has two of the old Missile only mounts], the missiles will be stopped most of the time, with a 5/6 and 4/6 chance respectively on two hits, rendering sequential ships firing Missiles against a PD protected ship a fruitless choice.

The Terran CL has two PD and the Khanate CL one, with each DD also having one, for a 3-2 advantage over the Terran.  Overall, the Khanate has a significant advantage at long range as their PDs are spread over three ships, while the Terran are both on the CL [granted, the Terran CL is nearly impervious to Missile fire in this scenario, but victory needs a strong squadron, not just one strong ship].  Now even more - the Terran should probably close with the Khanate where the shooting disadvantage is down to 10-8 v. 12-8 and the PD has no effect on Guns.

BUT...also introduced is the Tractor Beam, with one on the Khanate CL.  In the RAW, it automatically grabs a ship within 5 hexes and both moves it along with it and draws it one hex closer each turn.  Victory in this scenario is "last ship standing" but a decisive win to the Khanate if they can Tractor a Terran ship thru their Warp Point [and back to their home world].  Now, the Terran is in a real difficult tactical situation, as if they close they're in danger of being captured, but if they stay at distance they're at a dramatic disadvantage in offensive and defensive capabilities.  Clearly, this will play out as a tough scenario for the Terran!  If they don't take out the Khanate CL, then they risk being Tractor Beamed, and if they stay away they're significantly outgunned.

Overall, it seems likely that the Khanate will want to close with at least their bigger ships, while the Terrans will want to try and knock out the small Escort ships, each of which has equal firepower with the larger vessels at effective missile range [about 3-17 hexes], altho only about half as good close in at 0-3 hexes where the one Laser Beam on the bigger ships doubles firepower at 0-3 hexes.  The Initiative definitely lies with the Khanate in my opinion.

NOTE: if one is playing this truly blind with a referee, then of course each player is confined to the combination of technology and tactics that they have and have learned in a previous scenario.  With one side or the other having PD, a lot changes if you don't know it!  Personally, I'd find the challenge of playing blind exciting, but I know many players would find it frustrating.  Here, I tried to pursue "learned" tactics for both sides - the Terran held distance and tried to use missiles on the small escorts, while the Khanate CL and DD closed for action, and the escorts tried to keep some distance.

The scenario is in the Orphicon System, with two planets for "terrain" and two Warp Points as entry for each side, with the Khanate entering turn 1, the Terran turn 2:
Top left & bottom right, the warp points.  Center bottom and top right, the planets.  The six printed space maps from EN Publishing show their tonal differences strongly in this pic.

The question of spreading the squadron out or staying stacked in one hex is unclear here.     Trying to maneuver separately to gain positions that maximize range differentiation advantages is tempting, but seems to be a fleeting advantage.  Staying concentrated to prevent being outmaneuvered and protecting ones weaker ships seems like a better choice, but the game mechanics don't give much advantage to mutual support at this stage.  Datalink changes that a bit, but comes later in the tech timline, as previously mentioned.  I opted to push forward aggressively with the CL and 2 DDs, while holding back the ES.  For the Terrans, I tried holding off and maneuvering, holding off near the Warp Point, and aggressively closing in games 2, 3 & 4 respectively.  This resulted in some wildly different relative positions at mid-game:

2nd play.  The Khanate ES are shattered and departing to the right.  The two CL and Khanate DDs are scrambling for position in the center, the Terran DD and a FG are at the bottom at table edge, while another FG crawls to the Warp Point heavily damaged.  The end was grim, with the Terran CL destroying a friendly FG that had been Tractor-beamed.

3rd Play.  Again, shattered Escorts depart to right while the Terran FG crawl to Warp Point as the DDs and CLs melee in the center.  This was the best Terran result overall.  Sticking close to the Warp Point meant easier escapes, which the Terran sought after the first round of gunnery.

The Terrans lost one FG which was destroyed by the CL when it was clearly captured in the Khanate Tractor Beam.  I justified this as a necessary step to avoid "a fate worse than death at the hands of an alien race".  The Terrans then exited the Warp Point, ceding the field for a Khanate victory but not a decisive one.

4th play.  I thought a switch in Terran tactics would help.  It didn't.  Two crushed FG head to Warp Point at top left, the Terran CL & DD fight at center but the DD is already badly damaged.  The Khanate CL overshot the Terran fleet and had to swing back, the Khanate DDs are stacked center, while the three escorts limp to Warp Point off bottom right.  This was the worst defeat for the Terrans as the two FG escaped badly damaged, the DD was captured by the CL's Tractor Beam, and the CL was destroyed, at the price of three badly damaged Khanate ES and a lightly damaged DD.  So much for bright ideas at Fleet Intel!

Analysis.  The simple fact is that the Terrans are too heavily outgunned to win a "last ship standing" battle, IMHO.  They have an edge neither close up nor far away, and they also can't outmaneuver the Khanate, despite their handicap of four small, slow system ships - the escorts.  The Tractor Beam is just a bonus, and the game is for the Khanate to lose.  A slim hope would be for the Terrans to head away from the Khanate, using the CL as a Point Defense shield while trying to batter them in return with missile fire, but the scenario doesn't give any reason for the Khanate to mindlessly pursue at max speed and get strung out.  Personally, I think the scenario would balance just right with two - three less escorts, and assume that it is just part of the "future history" for the game that the Khanate get to punch the Terrans in the nose this time.  Certainly, could be emotionally satisfying for a Khanate player that just lost the previous scenarios over a few replays!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

*** INTERLUDE: Naval Theory & Naval Wargaming ***

The lost fleet dauntless.png

So, I am reading the second of "The Lost Fleet" books by Campbell.  In the sense that there's vector movement and such, it is a more "realistic" series than so-called "space opera".  But the technological challenges that have been solved are big - Faster Than Light travel, attack lasers, inertia dampeners, artificial ship gravity, etc.  The friction of naval combat in their 'verse is well presented, and provides much of the reasons for tactical choices and the military success / failures that drive along the plot.

Then last night I played scenario three of 2nd Ed. Starfire.  There are 5 Khanate and 4 Terran ships, with Tractor Beams and Point Defense systems being introduced.  I'm doing a batrep on it, so I won't go into details except to say that technology in Starfire - weaponry, specifically - shapes the tactics.  As that is the designer's goal [as previously quoted in this blog on stardate 08/21/14] I accept this as a successful realization of his design intentions.  

The importance - perhaps even the dominance - of technology in naval warfare has a huge impact on gaming any naval battle or campaign, whether factual or fictional.  And let's face it, the "what if" naval games are sometimes the best ones, and what our own navy is doing today without a doubt!  Even a small change in the technical balance can make the tactics of last month outdated this month, and a significant change can tip the naval balance from one extreme to the other.  If it happens in history, we need to have our wargame rules present this difference and in a way that keeps the game master aware of its affect on game balance.  

General Quarters 3

For example, in WWII gaming I've been using GQ3.3 by ODGW.  It presents enough detail of every aspect of naval combat so that players have an opportunity to grapple with the friction of it, but handling the rules well doesn't become the object of the game.  However, gaming a late war surface action of the USN v IJN won't be much fun for the IJN.  The USN dominance in radar makes IJN smokescreens ineffective, and of course natural "terrain" such as fog banks give the USN a far greater advantage.  The solution?  I game night actions in the Solomons, small destroyer fights and the occasional big battle, during the early 1942-43 period.  At that time there was a sort of technological parity between the two fleets, with IJN optics and training balanced by US early radar.  The result?  Good games with real tactical variety as each side seeks to optimize their advantages and the other's disadvantages.  I believe early Mediterranean battles between the Italian and British fleets will be similarly balanced, and am   saving them for a few years down the line.

My problem with fictional gaming has been that it doesn't have an historical reality of relative technological development to help guide the type of game one wants to have.  So basically, one has to make it up.  The good news is that since the technology is itself speculative [fictional] a good game designer is free to make a series of technological parities and inequities part of the game's design.  Thus the skill of the designer becomes the single most dominant factor in playing the game and having fun.  "Fun" being in my mind a game where both sides have a chance to fight the opposition in an interesting tactical fashion, where a combination of skill and luck help determine the outcome.

Thus bringing me to my thoughts on recent naval/ space rules I've been reading.  For the pre-dreadnought period, I like David Manley's "Fire When Ready" by A&A Engineering.  For WWI and WWII, I I like "General Quarters 3.3" by Old Dominion Game Works, the WWI version is called "Fleet Action Imminent".  For speculative naval combat in the far future, I am investigating Original "Starfire" and "Full Thrust".

And these games are where historical gaming experience and tactics meets speculative fiction, as the tactics one uses are determined by the relative interaction of technologies.

For the last solo Starfire battle, Scenario #3, I continued with my thought that it is best to keep the fleet together - preferably stacked in the same hex - at the expense of greater maneuvering.  With so little terrain on the board, the best tactic seems to be to overwhelm a small ship each turn or two, thereby taking out its weapons and reducing the "broadside" of the squadron as a whole.  In this paradigm, small ships represent a weakness as they are easier to damage, breaking down the shields and punching through the armor to get to the crunchy bits inside like weaponry.  There's still an occasional temptation to maneuver, however.  If one has the Initiative and some high-speed ships, it is possible at long ranges to "play the range band game" and put 1-2 of his ships in a better range band for you while depriving the rest of his ships the same advantage.  This possibility also works to remind you to keep your own fleet together so that doesn't happen.  

In pre-dread to early WWII naval gaming, ganging up on a single ship is discouraged since the relative speed, positioning and the spotting of shell falls to get the correct range often discourage everyone shooting at one ship. "Battlefleet Gothic" [BFG] uses a game mechanic where the blasts of being hit obscure additional shooting on the same turn, rendering targeting significantly worse, thus encouraging one to spread fire out a bit as firing is sequential.

"Can you see where our shells are falling??"  "Up 200, right 150!"

So the gist of this post is that there are two mutually exclusive naval tactics here.  The first is ganging up ones effective fire on a single ship, taking it and its weaponry out of the action, while one's opponent does the same.  The second is to be forced to spread fire out so that there's more of a slow attrition - except for the occasional critical hit -  to the ships of both sides, necessitated by multiple ships targeting a single ship.  The question to me as game master is "which type of game do I prefer to present to my players?"

It's relatively easy to put in a "to hit" modifier saying that if more than 1 or 2 ships target a single ship in a single fire phase, there's a penalty.  For games where that is already a significant issue - all the historical games and "Battlefleet Gothic" - nothing need be added.  "Original Starfire" doesn't have such a mechanic.  Still trying to figure out if "Full Thrust" does.

For "Starfire", I'm thinking of using a squadron rule similar to BFG.  Ships so organized would all have Datalink and be able to share Point Defense, and also reform to shield a weaker ship in some way [possibly by spreading half the hits out onto the other squadron's ships].  The catch is that every ship prioritizes its own survival, so if you only target one ship, then the entire squadron can help defend it.  But if you fire at every ship, their defenses will prioritize their own ship and you can work to "isolate" your target ship.  Have to think about it some more, but I think it would add a lot to the tactical feel of the game.

The question is - what is more fun to play?  Trashing a ship or two every turn, or wearing ships down over several turns of maneuvering so that they are forced to disengage or even blow up? 

"We prefer to destroy a ship every turn, thank you very much!"

I have a preference for the latter at the moment [with all due respect to the Empire, we'll just have to agree to disagree].  It just feels more "right" to me due to historical naval gaming.  What will real combat in space be like?  Who knows???  But I know I want a satisfying game right here and now!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

British Fleet Requisitions Commence!

With Jim over at War Times Journal [] announcing their new releases, I interrupted my morning at the beach house to get mine figured out and in - Jim said mine was the first order!  The new releases are:
New Release August 24: World War One - Queen Elizabeth, Iron Duke, Lion, Queen Mary, Chatham, Birmingham, Lowestoft, numerous types of "L" and "M" class British destroyers.
Which is quite an output!  For me, adhering to my desire to have one historical ship where there are differences that Jim is printing [sculpting, in the New World Order], I ended up with an order of:

4    Iron Duke 1916                        WTJ-0355146-24    $8.75    $35.00

     1/2400 Scale 8.75
5    Queen Elizabeth 1916                  WTJ-0355151-24    $9.75    $48.75
     1/2400 Scale 9.75
2    Lion 1916                             WTJ-0355158a-24   $11.25    $22.50
      1/2400 Scale 11.25
1    Queen Mary 1916                       WTJ-0355158b-24   $11.25    $11.25
     1/2400 Scale 11.25
2    Birmingham 1916                       WTJ-0355247a-24    $5.25    $10.50
     1/2400 Scale 5.25
2    Chatham 1916                          WTJ-0355246a-24    $5.25    $10.50
     1/2400 Scale 5.25
8    Laforey                               WTJ-0355317a-24    $2.25    $18.00
      1/2400 Scale 2.25
8    Laurel                                WTJ-0355317b-24    $2.25    $18.00
     1/2400 Scale 2.25
2    Legion 1917                           WTJ-0355317c-24    $2.25     $4.50
     1/2400 Scale 2.25
1    Lowestoft 1916                        WTJ-0355247b-24    $5.25     $5.25
     1/2400 Scale 5.25

Sub Total     $184.25  Shipping: U.S. & Can. - 1st Class      $10.75 Grand Total     $195.00

This brings me 9 BBs, 3 BCs, Destroyer Flotilla #3, and 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, both DF3 and 2LCS fought at Helgoland Bight, so seemed a good team purchase.  Note that I was too lazy to try and figure out the exact ratio of Laurel's v. Legions on the internet, so ordered 8 of each.  Anyone who complains will be given the opportunity to drop out of a game.  ;)  

I think they'll give my Germans a run for their money, and I can always play to balance the forces.  Or just let chaos ensue and everyone have at it, which I may do for my initial demo games.  As they're coming up in September, I've got a bunch of work to do!

Now, some pics of these great sculpts / prints:

Just have to say that this ship is "wargasmic"!  About it, Jim says, 
"I'm proud of the Queen Elizabeth, I think most people miss the fact that they had a secondary gun temporarily staged on the focsle deck, and that's how they fought at Jutland. It was removed afterward, but there are post-Jutland photos of those (rather exposed) guns with shrapnel holes in the shields!"  Kudos to Jim for bringing forward the tech and research to indulge our fascination for ship details.




Note that "coming next" are Tiger, Indefatigable, and more DDs and Cruisers, and I definitely need the additional BCs.  As this order wiped out all my funds from the sale of my Ogre items, I'll have to get more aggressive about selling off some more game stuff.  The rest of the 40K looks to be ready to go...

Just can't wait til' these babies dock!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Starfire Scenario 2: Escalation without Capitulation

Well, the first scenario is pretty easy for the Terran to get a minor victory and hard to get a major victory.  Skill of the players is probably the most decisive factor, but the Khanate player needs positioning skill in a big way to defeat the Discovery, and the Terran needs it to win a Decisive Victory.

Scenario 2 is similar in situation, but very different in forces available.

The Khanate player has a new Light Cruiser - CL - and three Escorts, and a small Base 1.  Their total force output in weapons is 6 x Guns, 5 x Missiles, 2 x Laser Beams [skip Shields].  The Terran force that is returning to thru the Warp Point to the original encounter has 6 x W [Gun/Missile Launchers = dangerous at every range out to 17 hexes, basically] and 1 x Laser Beam.  So overall, the Khanate player seems to have the advantage.  Ahhh, but what about "maneuver"?  The Terran has a significant edge with two ships at Velocity 6 and one at 5, while the Khanate player has a CL with 6, four escorts with 4, and a Base at 0, of course.  And the scenario makes the Base very vulnerable to hits since it has no "dodge" ability.

The Terran also has an edge in ship size.  With three "larger" ships, two frigates and a destroyer, vs. a CL and three Escorts plus a Base 1 [small], the Terran has a lot more durability ship to ship.  These leads into the classic naval problem of "ship size".

Are more smaller ships better than a few large ones?  In Starfire, the answer is "no" IMHO.  Small ships are easier to bash up until they've nothing but engines and all their useful systems like weapons are gone.  Also, in these early games, targeting restrictions mean that it's more sensible to concentrate on and smash a small ship than disperse fire on several ships.

With this in mind, the Terran plant was to crush each small ship in turn, while letting the CL run free until all firepower could be concentrated upon it.  The Khanate plan was the same.  To concentrate upon the frigates and take them out of action until just the Destroyer was left. 

Game Victory Conditions awarded 1 point per destroyed system with bonus points for completely destroying a ship / base.  Makes sense, since a badly damaged ship can still be salvaged and the crew saved, while a total loss means no ship and dead crew.  Anyway, the beginning of this third-fourth play of Scenario 2 looked like this:

Terran ships in blue stacked up on left, exiting the Warp Point [the '+'] with Khanate ships in red stacked together left of the white base and black/blue planet.  The plans differ - whose will prevail??

The Terran setup is a no-brainer - together exiting the Warp Point.  The Khanate one I thought about quite a bit.  Originally I stacked them with the Base.  But the first replay led to the static Base being trashed with Terran missile fire.  So this time I opted to put the Khanate squadron overlapping the range of the Base Missile launcher, with their three more.

The Terran plan was to engage the Khanate ships outside of range of the Base weaponry.  And it yielded immediate results.  The naval problem to the Khanate player is that their fleet is stronger in weaponry but weaker in range and Speed.  The Terran's slight edge in Missiles and the vulnerability of the Base means that the Terran can use position to maximize the odds against a portion of the Khanate ships.  Which is exactly what they did.

On turns 1 and 2, the Terran held back, just within range of the Khanate ships and out of the range of the Base.  The Terran achieved hits at a 3-1 ratio for two turns, trashing one Khanate escort down to two engines, and causing it to begin limping for home off the right board edge.  The Khanate player realized this couldn't continue, and sped the fast, powerful CL towards the Terran squadron as the escorts held off, only being able to add two missile launchers at this range.

The Earth Squadron being quick on threat analysis, they pulled back a bit to engage the light cruiser on their best terms.  They achieve 5-1 hits with missiles on turn 3, and do well on turn 4, by which time the Cl had to announce "Shields Down!" along with some Armor penetration.  On turns 5 and 6, the Khanate CL tried to outmaneuver the Terran squadron which had two speed 6 and one speed 5 ship, but the attempts failed, and the Cl took a battering, losing much of its firepower.  Seeing their larger sibling bashed, the escorts decided they had to intervene - to their doom!

Khanate CL tries to outmaneuver Terran squadron stacked up [in blue] on the right, while the escorts hold back, and the trashed escort departs the board to the right, solo.

The two Khanate escorts were too fragile to withstand the line of battle.  Altho the weakest Terran frigate Outreach, had to withdraw from the battle with nothing but engines, the Khanate CL was reduced to no weapons and another escort was smashed to just a couple of engines.  The maneuvering forced the Terran to close up and drive forward, so the Khanate base was able to fire off a few shots and contribute to the damage of Outreach, but it wasn't enough.  Despite the frigates withdrawal, the two Terran ships had enough firepower to pull the teeth on the last escort whil closing with the base and trashing it with accurate fire.  The base blew up, the Terrans were between the Khanate ships and their escape route, and only the damaged escort from turn 2 managed to escape.

Terra holds the field!  erhm, "space"!  One frigate on the left, the destroyer on the right, no survivors between!

I played this scenario a few times, and either keeping the khanate ships together or spreading them out according to speed resulted in bad things.  The edge in speed/range for Terra is too good, and the Khanate stands little chance of holding them off.  The vulnerability of the Base is more of a liability than an asset, I'd trade the Base for upgrading two escorts to Frigates any day.

The Naval Problem reminds me of the German Scout Squadron in WWI on the North Sea.  A powerful, fast, heavily gunned squadron with light armor is an impressive threat against either small, fast, unarmored ships or less maneuverable larger ships.  This also seems like a realistic modern naval problem, with the combo of fast, missile -armed ships defeating slower gun - armed ships.  And what a defeat it was!  The final victory point total was 102 to 20 in favor of Terra, plus the loss of four out of five ship assets for the Khanate and no Terran ship losses.

We can see that the war has escalated, but also that the Khanate ships will fight to the finish and refuse to capitulate.  This will NOT be a short war, friends!