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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!