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  Even a small change in the technical balance can make the tactics of last month outdated this month, and a significant change can tip the naval balance from one extreme to the other.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!

More Fleet Requisitions Placed

Well, with the consistent interest I've had getting back to Starfire, and investigating old-school Star Trek as well [Star Fleet Battle Manual 3 and Star Fleet Battles, both 1979-ish] I figure I have to prepare better miniature and hex map / mat situations.  The first thing I worked out was the miniature situation.

I needed small, cheap, easy to paint ships that had obvious thrust exhaust and obvious weapons.  I also wanted some likely shapes.  After LOTS of looking around and plenty of thinking, I went with the fleet-scale Star Blazers miniatures from Musashi et al:
I got about 18 of the early Okita cruisers and "Wildstar" missile destroyers, and the early Yamato [couldn't resist!] to use in some "Sink the Bismark" type scenarios.  To oppose them, I got a bunch of Gamilon small ships, DDs, CAs, and Deslock's Command Ship, plus some transports.  I figures these will due very well for an escalating war of tech as seen with the Starfire Scenarios.  
The caption says "free with your purchase of kids meal".  I think.  Or maybe it says "Alex Wildstar's Destroyer in which he gets killed and propels his younger sibling along plotline".  Yes?

Gamilon type cruiser or destroyer.  Style very consistent with what I ordered.  Note large bow vents where the ship model serves as a flashlight and water pistol.

General type of fleet I ordered for Terra.  Unfortunately, the big battleship isn't available.

Altho I may not necessarily dig the Khanate as Khats, I like the general idea of both the Warp Points and the advancing ship size and tech that playing Starfire RAW puts forward.  I will probably tweak the background and blend it with the Star Blazers one, and come up with a "Starfire Meets Star Blazers" routine.  With Starfire, my nostalgia and RAW mix permits me to experiment with my own background.  With the Star Trek, I am pretty much dead set on the original TV series universe, as that's that I knew growing up.

Anyway, the problem miniatures lead me quickly into is stacking.  At the moment, there's no stacking limit and no penalty for being stacked when fired upon, as Starfire posits a .5 Light Second hex, about 93,000 miles.  How a missile goes twenty hexes in a ten second turn is best not thought about!  Maybe the lasers go the speed of light, but the missiles???  Anyway... More importantly, in game terms, one often stacks up the counters of ships, and has little reason to divide up and spread out.  So how can I "stack" miniatures on bases?  The simple solution was a mat that had hexes or squares that were sizable enough to put the ship models beside one another.  

This led to the second purchase, several Chessex mats.
I got a Megamat with 1.5" hexes on one side and 1.5" squares on the other.  This will allow several ships to be "stacked in a hex" as long as the bases are about a 1/2 or 3/4".  With the small size of the Star Blazer minis, this seems quite doable.  I was also thinking of developing some simple "squadron" rules using Multiplex Tracking and Datalink which are obvious technologies in this modern era.

While I am enjoying using the old counters, and both the original blue and new space hex sheets, as I paint up the models I'll certainly want to play on a larger space with ships organized to an Admirals satisfaction.  Clashes btw Earth Defense and Alien Intruders coming thru Warp Points heretofore unknown to Humanity seems very fruitful for creative endeavors.

I'll post again when the items arrive.  The next post seems to demand Scenario 2!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Starfire I, Scenario 1: First Contact, March 3, 2205

Well, judging by the hits, the trip to outer space didn't hurt none.  I can assure you that the relevancy of any ship gaming project will be carefully thought out and explained, and perhaps you'll have your horizons broadened!  Which is a good reason to go to sea in the first place, and I might add, why many a young lad has done just that.

The first Starfire scenario pits a Khanate escort class vessel against a Terran frigate, the science ship Discovery.  The science behind Starfire is that Faster-Than-Light drives are not yet invented, but "holes" or "Warp Points" in space have been discovered, and sometimes they are 2-way.  So as long as one can burn / thrust out to them, light-years are crossed quickly.  In fact, the burn to/from the Warp Points to desirable planets is longer than the trip btw the Warp Points.  Thus, a good reason to control the points, and...have a war over them!  Two birds with one explanatory stone - nicely done!

Anyway, the Terran ship pops out of the Warp Point 23 hexes away from an outer base / patrol of the Khanate, and the scenario rules present a classic naval problem.  Facing a foreign ship, the Terran is unwilling to fire the first shot [OK, these are NICE Terrans, think Star Trek Terrans before 40K Imperial Terrans].  So the Khanate ship has both the Initiative each turn as well as restricting the Discovery to only returning fire a full turn later.  Since the player with Initiative fires one ship first [and there's only one ship per side in this scenario] this means that the Khanage escort vessel has two turns of shooting before the Terran can fire back.

Scenario 1 in its original graphic glory - haha. Plain blue hex map [naval game?] with scratch pad on the bottom left, black Warp Point with Discovery in blue on left, Khanate patrol ship in red with planet behind.  End of the first turn, the Terran has advanced from the Warp Point and the Khanate is departing its patrol route to investigate.

The victory conditions ask the Terran to pass within two hexes of the Khanate ship and exit the Warp Point for a win, and to pass within two hexes of both the Khanate ship and the planet for a decisive win.  The Khanate player [but not the NICE Terran] can also win by destroying the Discovery as well as depriving them of their victory conditions. However the catch is that the Discovery must exit the board with intact science instruments for the "pass within two hexes" victories to count.  So an interesting problem surfaces, in that the Terran ships is designed thus: 
(2) S A X H I L X I M I I I I (6)  where "X" = science instruments.  

So basically, the Discovery loses one set of science instruments on the third hit, and the second on the seventh hit.  If the Khanate player hits with both weapons a turn, that gives four turns of being shot at.  With two free shots on the Discovery before it can even shoot back, that leaves only TWO turns of receiving fire [maybe a third if there's a miss] before the Terran ship has lost the game.  In terms of giving fire, the Khanate vessel is designed like this: 
(2) H A I G I M I I (4) 

So the two ships are equal in maneuver, but the Terran vessel is 50% faster, 6 to 4 hexes a turn speed.  In weaponry, the Terran has a Laser and a Missile, while the Khanate has a Gun and a Missile.  Guns hit well at short distances, and Missiles need a few hexes to arm properly, so are best from 3-18 hexes.  The net is that for the Khanate to score two likely hits a turn, one with each weapon, they need to be between 2-5 hexes away.  Closer and the Missile system is unlikely to hit, farther and the Gun is unlikely to hit.

It's a classic naval case of intelligence gathering and forcing a patrol line.  The Discovery is faster and bigger, but the Khanate ship has the initiative.  The Khanate player is striving to get and keep the Discovery at optimum range for a few turns, while the Discovery is attempting to elude optimum range, fire back, and accomplish the intelligence fathering that will the game for Terra.  

So how does it play out?

SOLO PLAY.  Starfire's RAW movement system is that each player move every ship one movement point, beginning with the side that LOST the Initiative roll.  So a slight advantage for the Initiative winner.  Turns must be made at the end of a movement point as dictated by its Turn Mode.  So the Initiative winner will see a turn before they move.  As Turns are limited, it is quite helpful to be able to respond to them.  So even playing SOLO, the Starfire system works nicely as Initiative dictates who has the edge in movement.  More than once I found myself with an unexpected opportunity for the Discovery, the more maneuverable ship.

Despite having Initiative, the speed 6 of Discovery was able to elude optimum range alternating between too close and too far.  However, the Khanate ship finally took the best shot that seemed forthcoming after some dancing around.  Fortunately, the dice were with them and they still got their two hits. as the Discovery sped away after passing within two hexes [too close].  Then as the Discovery sped to buzz the planet, the Khante ship was able to slowly knock out the science instruments with Missile fire.  It was close, however, as the Khante player lost an engine and was only half the speed of the Terran vessel.  However, the Khanate player had the position advantage, being able to cover first the route to the planet and then the route to the Warp Point.  I played well for both sides, and it was a victory for the Khanate.

End of game - Khanate player has knocked out the last scientific system on Discovery while she attempt evasion after fast buzz of planet.  Note the cool space map I got from EN Publishing at RPG Now.  They cost a brutal $1.50, and copied out well.  Skip Starscape Hex Maps 1 and go on to 2 or more, as the maps in 1 aren't very interesting.  I like at least a background of stars.  I used these maps for the replays and they make a big difference over the plain blue.

I played a second time with lower expectations - just to buzz the Khanate ship and speed back to the Warp Point and escape back to Terra with invaluable intel.  Altho another close run battle, the Tactical Victory was much easier for the Terran, even against an alert Khanate player.

So a well thought-out scenario, that could easily be used as a problem in any naval game from ancients to moderns - outmaneuvering a slower, slightly weaker vessel with a position advantage to achieve mission parameters.  Good stuff!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hindenburg follow up: The Mast Reborn!

For those of you who panicked at the presence of speculative fiction on this site, never fear - history is again here!  The WWI project continues to move forward, with WTJ British ships being spotted on the horizon [it's the big plumes of coal dust you see] and the Imperial German Scout Squadron getting repairs.

Jim at WTJ quickly moved on my preference to receive a solid mast.  He recast it with his fancy computer and showed his "highfalootinocity" by printing my battlecruiser again with great results!  See for yourself:

Hindeburg after the "great bridge incident", and...

The Hindenburg Battlecruiser repaired and...IN SPACE!!!!  Ah, if only the 2nd Reich could see her now...

Clearly, a solid job and an effective sculpt.  The tripod mast is plenty close enough together to not even notice that there is/isn't three legs to it, and my dip/wash will shadow the space btw the legs anyway.  I expect excellent results, and am grateful to Jim at WTJ for his excellent customer service.  It may partially be that I am a particularly eager - cloying? - customer, but Jim does a great job with communication and fulfilling an obligation to the customer for a solid product [pun intended] that fulfills reasonable expectation.  So in the case of this new sculpt with an experimentally fragile mast, Jim quickly made a second sculpt as well as explaining the situation and options available.  So I'm very pleased.

Of course, I'll be even more pleased when Jim lets me spend my next $100 on a British fleet!  Fortunately, I still have "gaming cash" left over from my sale of Ogre miniatures.  Even with the purchase of fancy mats!

Pure Naval Theory: The "Starfire" System and Space Battles

Some will cry, "Heresy!" when they see me putting space ship battles up on this blog.  However, most space battle games are directly derived from "wet navy" games.  The designers are often inspired by WWI and WWII surface actions, altho today's candidate has a healthy dose of modern naval.  None by Age of Sail far as I know - too far a stretch?  There are some "solar wind" inspired vehicles in Star Wars, and the GW Eldar also.  Anyway...I've heard people say that Battlefleet Gothic is the best WWI naval game ever.  I politely disagree and am pursuing ODGW's "Fleet Action Imminent" their GQ3 game for WWI.  Still, BFG is an excellent game, and _would_ make a great WWI game if redesigned a bit!

Anyway, in our last move, I discovered my old pocket editions of Starfire I [WWI in space] and Starfire II [conveniently, WWII in space, introducing powerful small ships, aka Fighters, Torpedo Bombers, et al].  I say WWI and II, but there's some modern naval war in there also with missiles, point defense, and a Datalink system to network multiple ship weapons systems together.  However, one could leave out such fanciness and run with just the simpler systems. Actually, aside from the high speeds of the ships relative to the weapon ranges, one could actually make a fine wet navy game from this, including building one's own ships!

Anyway, simply couldn't resist cracking them open now and seeing how the 1979 games have withstood the test of time.  Cheap graphics and nothing interesting game board [sky blue...really?  Not even black?? yes, this is definitely a wet navy game!] invoke real nostalgia at this point in my middle ages:
 Pocket edition - arama!  Starfire I, Starfire II.  Amazing graphics, yes??  Well, maybe for 1979... [under the lovely sky-blue mat is the map from Avalanche Press' "Jutland".  See, I _really am_ a historical gamer!]

Yes friends, the counter sheet comes in THREE COLORS - woohoo!  Beside is Starfire 3: Empires, the full exploration and campaign game for multiple players.  Dying to try it out...

 A simpler time...but not a "simplistic design".

There is no vector movement.  Ships have a hex speed equal to number of Ion engines. There's a Turn Mode to restrict maneuver based upon "wet navy" inertia, i.e. facing changes of one hex side, so 60 degrees. The game is especially designed for the interaction of weapons.  Per the design notes, "Starfire is designed to emphasize the inter-relationships of various weapons and support systems".  Especially pleasing is the point system that enables one to design ships from scratch within generous parameters.  As a Task Force Games pocket game, it is a boardgame with very basic components, but lots of play.

The scenarios are nicely thought out with progressive "future history" matched to progressive learning of the rules.  Each one presents an escalating fictional struggle btw the Terrans [us'ns] and the Khanate [them-uns, no details really explained in this pocket edition]  So one gets a feel for the game with escalating scenarios of complexity that represent the arms race between the two, uhm, races.  So "a race btw the races", you might say.  Combat is relatively simple. One rolls "to hit" on a chart and then usually inflicts 1 damage point, with some weapons only 1/2 and some up to 5.  Hit damage is inflicted in a linear pattern from left to right, knocking out systems along the way.  So a small escort looks like this: (2) S S A H I F I I I (4) which is (Turn Mode), Shields, Armor, Hold, Ion engine, Force beam, etc, and (Max Speed) in hexes.  So the first hit on the ship would knock out a Shield.  

Part of the fun is that some weapons skip Shields, some skip Armor / Holds, and some skip both!  Depends on how advanced your tech is.  The weapons systems are nicely balanced, and lend an intriguing complexity to ship design.  Everyone wants to find that perfect balance of cost, weapons and defense!  Of course, the game presents the two official races with plenty of examples of ships completed over the course of the First Interstellar War [IS1], and adds a third race with more unusual ship designs right at the end, the Ophiuchi.

These three pocket editions comprise what is now known as Starfire First Edition.  As was the wont of players and designers and publishers in that era, an "upgrade" to a bookshelf box edition was inevitable.  Some real benefits were seen in the Second Edition which were a single booklet comprising all the rules of I and II, with a great index and a number of clarifications and loophole closures.  The released box looks like this:
with the back cover on left, front to the right.  My used copy has them taped together on one side.  Have to say, I like the cover's ship design, it has that "near-future" quality to it and it always pleases me to see obvious weaponry on a space combat ship!.

In essence, my case for including my space battle interest in the same blog, is that space battles are mostly naval battles with earthly restrictions removed.  Gravity, waterlines, surface fleets v. submarines, and air, and costly budgetary restrictions and such, are all very much present in the history of war at sea.  But the future and outer space give us new limits to push ship technology, and new geographies to fight over.  How exciting is that!?  So in essence, I'm making a case that the best of sci-fi space battles are a mirror that reflect both our present-day limits, and our future possibilities for naval gaming.  In essence, they let us pursue "pure naval theory" as far as our imaginations take us!

The funny thing is that now I'm wondering if I COULD modify this into a near-future ship combat game...!  I guess you can't take the "wet navy" out of this gamer.  

More to come, including the interesting paradigms of the first couple of scenarios.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Final Savo Island post: "P.3 Infamy and Retribution"

Well, the choices and actions to win this scenario are  simple, much like the real battle.  The IJN has to go for broke, race to the anchorage and aggressively engag every target to have any chance of the total victory. The risk of losing the squadron is inescapably part of the attempt, and largely depends on the Allied players' deployment and errors.

With the small Aussie Squadron North of Savo only distantly supported by two squadrons of USN destroyers, there's an opportunity to destroy all the squadrons piecemeal, just like in the original battle.  So in our re-fight there was a decisive tactical victory in the IJN grasp, and an opportunity for a strategic victory.  The strategic victory would depend upon the alertness of the USN cruisers after everything else was wiped out.  

So what happened...?

Well, the IJN had the Aussies dead to rights - unaware and on set courses/speeds. Their destruction was as easy as measuring out the range and torpedo vectors [pre-measuring is allowed].  Then, after slamming the Australians, the IJN could reload torpedoes in six turns, and close in for the kill on the anchorage.

Instead, the IJN players worried about the USN cruisers that had not yet been seen or Acquired.  They chose to close with the Aussies and eliminate them with gunfire.  The unfortunate aspect of this approach is that gunfire will rarely sink a ship quickly, and one turn of surprise gunnery isn't enough to make a difference like a surprise torpedo attack!

Also, the Aussie player skillfully led them West, away from the anchorage, and even scored a torpedo hit on the Chokai!  It was the Hobart's revenge, as the CL sank the turn before the hit.  And of course, the British torpedoes don't have faulty magneto gadgets.  In the end, the Aussies were all sunk, but only after damaging and mis-directing the IJN squadron. The time spent in this action allowed more squadrons to awaken to the engagement that had begun.

The four USN DD's that were patrolling south of Savo closed in just as the Aussies were being finished off.  By dumb luck they were on the North edge of their patrol circuit when the IJN chose to swing south, and were able to Detect them on radar, allowing them to depart from their patrol route and investigate.  Despite miscalculating the approach vector and falling behind the IJN [new player] their snapping at the IJN heels continued to distract the IJN and waste time.

More importantly, the center of Ironbottom Bay was being patrolled by six Bagleys, each fielding 16 torpedoes, eight per side!  These also finally Detected the IJN who were dancing around with the Australians, and closed.  In a critical turn, they unleashed 40 torpedoes and got four hits. One badly damaged the Chokai and the others sank the Furutaka.  The rolling was amazing, with the most notorious dice roller in the club rolling a natural 4-1-1 on sequential d12 to get three hits on one spread with only one magneto-bounce!  He's likable, so we still tell him when we're playing...  Statistically, it should've been more like two hits with one failing to blow up.

Anyway, the IJN cruisers were so close that gunfire was going to trash the USN DDs.  Three of the Bagley's were badly damaged, and the other three were about to be gutted, when we called the game.

The bottom line was that the IJN failed to take the Aussies out cheap and fast, and the USN DD's made enough of an impression that a tactical Allied victory was within reach, if unlikely.  There was no chance at the anchorage and the USN cruisers.  The likely result was about 18-12 VPs for the IJN, not enough to double the Allies.

Having played the battle 3-4 times with only one win for the IJN, I can say with certainty that a skillful IJN team should win a clear tactical victory.  However, only with luck and Allied deployment errors can the anchorage be attacked in enough strength to win the strategic victory also.

Overall, I think Mikawa got the "most likely result"  with a decisive tactical win that didn't risk the loss of his squadron.  But that conservative approach did not serve the Imperial cause.  In other words, he should've gone for broke and accepted the likely loss of ships for a strategic win.  

Then again, I _am_ an armchair Admiral!

A good refight.  I feel the GQ3.3 rules are a bit too demanding in a big night battle for anything less than about half the players knowing them well.  With 3-4 ships for most players, this was the third or fourth "big battle" I've GM'd, and honestly, while they had fun, we hashed parts of the rules and I had to wing it sometimes to keep it moving. 

The main challenge is the night rules - they work well but slow things down.  I think a daylight battle will be a lot better for the group, as they'll be able to forget all the night rules about Detection, illumination, etc.  The change of turn sequence helped, as moving the Gunnery Phase to follow orders meant that the players could order their targets and illumination along with their movement, which saved time thinking and talking about it.

Looking forward to a trial run of the WWI Fleet Action Imminent rules in September!  Stay tuned as it will soon be time to begin painting up the German ships.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Savo Island Refight, P.2: Rules and Approaches

Below are the optional rules that I made up after lots of memoir and account reading, as well as having played Savo 3-4 other times over the years.  Note that every rule should be carefully considered based upon your understanding of the battle, the rules set you use, the players themselves, and the victory conditions as you've spelled them out.

Optional Rules
1. Altered Turn Sequence: Gunnery Phase after Tactical Plot
1d20 per barrel, same hit numbers [20% more effective]?  Vector Torpedo firing? IJN Floatplanes

2. Newfangled Gadgets.  No allied cruisers may use their radar for Detection. 
Destroyers may Detect but suffer a “Right Two” penalty as the Watch Officers disbelieve the pings.

3. Condition Two – All Allied CA are only on partial alert. 
Upon Acquisition of an enemy ship they will spend the next full turn going to battle stations, continuing their Plot from last turn. They may fire half their main guns [round down] and one secondary at the acquired target.

4. High Volume, Low Accuracy.  USN ships may not use Rapid Fire.

5. Gun Crazy.  USN ships always fire if they have an Acquired target.

6. Slow Solutions.  USN ships roll Morale at the start of Gunnery Phase. 
Any that fail fire after ALL other ships fire and resolve damage. 

7. Board of Ordinance Saves a Buck.  USN starshells only work 33% of the tmie - if they hit on a “1+ - 3” shot in GQ3.3 terms.

8. Casual Chatter.  Due to poor radio discipline, The TBS rule is not in effect [the frequency is cluttered with people using the single band].  Also, USN players may not talk to one another to coordinate plans, they just follow their leader – or not.

IJN Floatplanes. The Lengo Point Anchorage counts as illuminated after shooting commences in Ironbottom Bay.  The reflects the pilots using flares to light up the anchorage when they see the battle begin.

Victory Conditions: note they are historical - not based upon gaming issues.
  1. IJN Srategic Victory,  "Disrupt the unloading of supplies".  Any turn a supply ship loses a Hull Box, takes a Critical Hit or is on Fire it must take a morale check.  Failure means it is a loss [sunk, abandoned, fleeing the table].  When the transport squadron of 17 ships has lost 9 ships, it must check morale and for every ship thereafter.  Failure means the landing is abandoned due to unacceptable losses among the merchant marine.
  2. IJN Tactical Victory, "Surface Fleet Victory".  If the IJN causes twice its own ship losses in VPs, it decisively wins the surface battle.  Transports count DOUBLE VPs in this case.
  3. IJN Total Victory - Accomplish BOTH 1 & 2.
  4. USN Victory.  Strategic - deny IJN #1.  Tactical - cause greater VP loss to IJN surface force.  Total - deny IJN #1 while accomplishing # 2.
Weather:  Force 2 (Light Breeze NW @4 kts, glassy seas), Overcast - visibility 20Ky [low clouds]NEW MOON [it's pitch dark]Squall – Yes (zone 5)new squall - d12/1-3, 
Weather Change – d12/1,12, on The Solomons Campaign Weather Chart.

Distances.  So the distance from Savo Island to Lengo Pt. Anchorage is about 30,000 yards, and the IJN can start trying to Acquire the Aussie cruisers at 20,000y.  This 50,000y board would be too huge board to use, with our scale of 1cm=100y, we'd need a 5 meter board, which is over 15 feet long.  This necessitates gaming a bit on paper first.

30,000y is also considerably over the curve of the earth, and the approx. distance between the Aussie cruiser squadron and the US cruiser squadron, placing the IJN attack force at 10,000y closer to the Australians than the US cruisers.  Doesn't look good, does it?

Handling approaches.  I figure them out on a map ahead of time [preferable] by getting the deployment and approach courses, speeds, formations, etc.  At max night visibility of 20,000y, the IJN force approached the Australian cruisers.  They rolled a natural '1' and fully Acquire the Australians, while the Aussies can't even roll unless they've radar as their night spotting begins at 12,000y.  However, the Canberra has the last edition of radar - not the latest - but doesn't even come close to rolling Detection on the IJN with a 12 and then a 9.

The Game Board.  The game will begin with the IJN entering the rectangular board edge [60" x 160"], with Savo Island on the bottom left corner and Florida Island at the top right corner.  Smack in the middle doing a linear patrol at 12 knots, are the Australia, Canberra and Hobart in Line Ahead formation completely unaware that the IJN has fully Acuired them and can begin firing or dropping torpedoes at any time!

 Will history repeat itself???

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Savo Island - the OTHER day that will "Live In Infamy"

There's little doubt that the battle of Savo Island on 08/09/42 was a humiliating tactical defeat for the USN.  The first major clash of the USN and IJN surface forces should've been a stand-up fight between two cruiser squadrons.  Instead, it was the first of what would be many tactical defeats for the USN and strategic DE-feats for the IJN.  This makes the Solomon's Campaign one of the most interesting naval clashes of the entire war.  Plenty to get started here:
and even better, here:

In any event, the situation for our intrepid players was similar.  

The rules used were General Quarters 3.3, from Old Dominion Game Works: 
The rules are a medium to high-complexity set, mainly depending on how many different types of combat you put into one game - if you combine air attacks, submarines, surface combatants and shore batteries, don't complain about your game length!  We've been using them for small DD actions at night in the Solomons, where they work well and satisfy the group.  Each player has 1-2 DDs, and the emphasis is on command decisions to shape the scenario.
All the forces available were present, re-organized into forces easer to game with, and the quote is from the player who did the set-up [as Admiral Turner]:

R.Adm. V.A.C. Crutchley, RN, Task Group 62.6
HMAS Australia, HMAS Canberra [Kent, CA], HMAS Hobart [ ,CL]

CA Division – Cpt. F.L. Riefkohl
Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria [New Orleans, CA]

CA Division – R.A. Norman Scott, USN
Chicago [Northampton, CA], San Juan [Atlanta, CL]

DD Squadron 1– CDR. Williams
Division 1: Blue, Helm, Mugford,  Division 2: Henley, Patterson, Jarvis [Bagley, DD]

DD Division 2 – CDR. Smoot
Wilson [Benham], Gwin, Monssen, [Gleaves/Benson]

From Admiral Turner
“All ships at 12 knots.  Detection and repositioning of supporting ships is priority before engaging.  Do not engage at close range until sufficient squadrons present to sustain attack.”

The USN player had the choice of where to deploy to protect the supply transports unloading at Lengo Point:
The player commander chose to cover all four approaches separately, much like the original deployment.  But the North force was all three Australian cruisers, while the South force was just four US destroyers, and the East force was all the US cruisers.  Apparently he expected the IJN player to go with the approach through the channels, the closest to the anchorage.  In the center was a force of six Bagley destroyers, fielding 16 torpedoes each, eight per broadside.  I thought it was a bit unusual to screen with the CA's and back them up with DDs, but what do I know??

Meanwhile, the IJN had the option of four approach vectors - from the West, North or South of Savo Island, from the East either Sealark Channel or Lengo Channel.  The original Japanese approach was down the slot from the West, cutting South of Savo Island:
The IJN player chose to approach from the North of Savo with all force in the same formation.  His reasoning "it worked the first time..."

V.Adm. Gunichi Mikawa
Chokai [Takao]

Screen Division – Cpt. Asano
Tenryu [Tenryu, CL], Yubari [Yubari, CL], Yunagi [Kamikaze, DD]

CruDiv 6, Division 1 – R.Adm. Goto
Aoba, Kinugasa [Aoba, CA]

CruDiv 6, Division 2 – R.Adm. Goto
Furutaka, Kako [Furutaka, CA]

Here, the command decisions were offered to the players and very much decided the game - as it should be.  I resolved the approach vector of the IJN force at 22 knots and rolled them off against the Aussies for Detection / Acquisition.  In a rare instance of game imitating real life, the IJN Acquired the three cruisers before they even Detected the IJN.  Would the IJN imitate history and devastate the force with a surprise torpedo attack?

Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mat has arrived - don't step on it! ODGW bases, also

The mats arrived the other day - very exciting!  I have never had a decent mat on which to play, just begging and borrowing and using what's around.  I wanted something that looked a lot like the ocean in scale so that using the clear Old Dominion Game Works bases would create the right impression.  Did I succeed?
Top to bottom, a 1/2400 Panzerschiffe CL [painted], an Axis and Allied 1/1800 DD, WTJ German BC.  I think the BC will need a little widening of the water running along the ship, as these are BIG models and I like the overall size of the base. Combined with using the plastic turn gauges, I think it'll be a winner.  Very happy with the results overall.  I may put some vinyl over it to protect them and give an impression of shiny glare on the water, have to experiment.

The Corsec Engineering mats are fine quality felt.  They smoothed out very easily and have some flexibility in the fine weave.  The back is white and the edges trimmed over for durability.  I think they're very nice, altho I'd like to have a greater contrast of the white waves with the ocean - they tend to dazzle on a sunny day.  Perhaps it's a typical overcast day in the North Sea? 
White square is sun dazzle.  
Used two of these at my Savo Island re-fight on Saturday, got a lot of compliments on them.  Might be some customers in it for Jonathan at Corsec!

So with this settled and the British ships coming out, the project is looking well.  Must post on the Savo Island battle, but then will get to painting up these babies.