Thursday, June 21, 2018

Portable Naval Wargame Pre-dreadnought Playtest 3

After some to-ing and fro-ing with Bob Cordery, and a bunch of research including closely reading his Modern Land Rules, I decided to focus on ranging in as a mechanic that adds "feel" and more importantly affects player decisions / tactics on the table. The historical reasons being:

  1. Acquiring a target was key to gunnery hits.
  2. The longer you fired upon a target your better chance to get the correct range and start getting hits.
  3. Ships purposefully maintained relative course and speed to increase their chance of getting hits, or altered course and speed to reduce the enemy's chance, i.e. chasing the splashes.
  4. Close range combines the flat trajectory zone of the gun, the capabilities of the sights, quality of the crew / gun, and good sighting during sea conditions.
  5. Targets that evade, turn, have multiple ships firing upon it, or are obscured by smoke / fog / mist are harder to hit.
  6. Ranges of 2000-4000 yards were about the best one could manage depending on sea state as guns were still mostly under local control and firing from a rolling ship.
This became the following rule:
"To roll the gun dice for damage, a target must first be ranged-in, i.e. acquired. The base roll to acquire a ship target is a 4+ on d6, modified as follows:

+1 for Close Range [3 hexes or less]
+1 for firing at the same target as last turn
-1 if target is Evading, obscured, or multiple ships are firing upon it
+1 / -1 for Excellent or Poor crew.

The goal being to intro target acquisition as something that impacts TACTICS as well as gives period feel.

I also changed the facing of ships to facing directly along a hex spine - it just works easier and allows gentle turns with no rules issues.

So, how did this all work out?

Well, I used the latest version of the Portable Naval Wargame, right from Bob C's draft, which he kindly sent me and I kindly read it and offered some suggestions to make the text clearer, etc. So this is the latest PNW.

One big change is that there are Primary and Secondary batteries, with different dice and ranges. There is a net increase in firing dice, which has been somewhat offset with a net increase in Flotation Points [representing both armor and displacement].

The scenario is very similar to last time. In this alternative Battle of Manila Bay, the Spanish have mined the entrance and stand guard out in the bay after the successful arrival of Adm Camara's Flying Squadron, which includes the Battleship Pelayo and the Armored Cruiser Emperador Carlos V, with 12" and 11" main guns respectively. They have 6 mine markers numbered 1-6, and 1-3 actually have mines which attack a passing ship at the marked value. Meanwhile, the Spanish ships have the possibility of being caught unready by the attack, so have two markers picked from the numbered 1-6 available. They are turned over turn 1 and show what turn the Spanish can get under way. 

Below, the US Fleet prepares to enter from left. Boston, Baltimore, Olympia and Raleigh [using an Atlanta counter so it will be full-sized]. To the right, the Spanish squadron is getting under way in two divisions, the right with Pelayo and Emperador Carlos V, a battleship and armored cruiser, and the left with Castilla and Reina Cristina, both unprotected Cruisers.

The Stats are something like: 
Spanish Flotation Points = 45, US Flotation Points = 43
Spanish Batteries = 34 dice, US Batteries = 41
So parity on hulls, but the US is 50% faster, and has an edge on gun dice. Plus there is the tradition I'm building of Amazing Yankee Dice!

Turn 1 Movement [note the blue d12 is wrong!]. There is no gunnery [everyone is well out of range] and the US loses the move roll so moves first. They elect to stay North in the channel, and the first hex is clear [the '5' doesn't count] while the second does have mines, but only attack at a 1 on a d6. Naturally, the Boston rolls a '1' while the Baltimore has a close shave with a '2'! Having been successfully attacked by the Spanish mine, damage is rolled for and the 4=1 Hit. The Spanish reveal no delay to Pelayo's division, but the Unprotected Cruisers are delayed until Turn 2.

Turn 2 Movement. Again, no gunnery. The US again loses so moves first. The Squadron eases thru the North channel and turns South.Olympia manages to pass thru, but the Raleigh also rolls a '1', and fortunately the Spanish mine is a dud [rolling 1-3 misses]. The Spanish edge closer at their 2-hex movement. All the US ships except Raleigh are 3-hex [turns out this is an error - the Boston was the slow one, oops].

Turn 2 Gunnery, Turn 3 Movement. The big ES ships were in range and I forgot to roll for them. The Pelayo fails to range in [a continuous problem, it will turn out to be]. The Emp. Carlos manages to do so and acquires the leading Boston, and inflicts a Hit.

Turn 4 gunnery. The Pelayo again fails to acquire Boston, but the Emperador manages a hit. The USN fails to range in with anyone but Baltimore who puts a hit on Pelayo [14 more to go...]. I'm noting which ships is an acquired target on the log sheet.

Turn 4 Movement. The ES lose and move first, advancing a hex then turning. The USN pulls ahead to bring superior numbers against the lead Spanish ships.

Turn 5 Gunnery [*sigh* I should stop using a turn dice...]. Pelayo fails for the third time to acquire a target. Castilla is barely in range of Olympia, but also fails. Emperador Carlos gets 3 Hits with her main and 2 with her secondary batteries, trashing the Boston who now has to retreat from the battle and fight to stay afloat! 
In return, the Olympia quickly ranges in and inflicts a whopping 7 hits on Pelayo - holy moly! it should be noted that Olympia has rolled hot in every game I've played thus far. The Boston also ranges in, and adds 3 more. Baltimore then plasters Emperador Carlos with 7 hits, getting her well on the way to retreat or sinking in one fell swoop. Damn Yanquies!!

So halfway thru turn 5, we stand with Pelayo and Emperador both in trouble, with 11/15 and 7/12 Hits, and in return Boston has 8/10 and must retreat. But at this range and with this firepower, I'm uncertain how long these Spanish ships will be afloat! Now if it was the Olympia that was in trouble, this might be a better contest...

Turn 5 move. The US loses and turns the Boston away while the Olympia and Baltimore dog the Spanish. Raleigh moves up, and the Castilla and Reina Cristina close in hoping to sink her quickly and turn things around. The Pelayo and Emperador Carlos veer off but the distance is still close...too close.

Turn 6 West Gunnery is bloody. The Castilla quickly acquires the Raleigh and blasts her with 5 points of damage. The Reina fails to acquire by rolling miserably low and the Raligh returns with 7 points of damage to the Castilla, bringing her to the Critical Point.

Turn 6 East gunnery is brutal. The Spanish fail to range in while the Olympia contributes 7 Hits and sinks Pelayo. The Baltimore then hammers home 4 on Emperador Carlos, sinking her as well. Amazingly, the Spanish, once again, have been viciously out-rolled!

Turn 6 Moves. The Spanish lose and move first, advancing to block Raleigh from escaping.

Raleigh moves one up, then turns for 1 - I don't see any reason to use the quite detailed ramming rules, I don't think Raleigh should even have the option.

Olympia and Baltimore turn up to engage the remaining Spanish ships.

Turn 7 West Gunnery. Castilla puts in 3 Hits on Raleigh, which will cause her to retreat. Unfortunately, US gunnery is quite solid and gives 4 back, sinking her.

Turn 7 East Gunnery. Well, their luck didn't run out. Both ships acquire Reina Cristina, and put 11 Hits on her, easily sinking her - The Don is Down!!

Final Tally. Spanish lose all 4 ships sunk, including a battleship. The US has two protected cruisers retreating. This is largely due to bad dice rolling by the Spanish, and amazing dice rolling by the US! Still, I feel that gunnery is too deadly, overall.

Happy with the facing mechanic [ships now face spine, not hex side] and the ranging-in / target acquisition mechanic. Ships who haven't acquired a target or are out of range have a reason to be evasive while its better to repeat attempts to range in on the same ship. Short range is of course, easier to range in and get Hits.

Some things to work on:

  1. The lack of differentiation between ships means some flavor is lost - these are definitely fleet battle games for 1-2 squadrons per player, at least.
  2. Armor Rules would be nice! Even something as simple as -1 dice for light, -2 for medium and -3 dice for heavy armor.
  3. Gunnery is too powerful. Granted, this is a fight in a harbor, but the firepower to speed ratio is off - if both sides close with each other, in two turns you can close from out side of range to deadly close range, which makes me wonder how long a turn is, really?? 
  4. Secondary batteries seems unnecessary - the mechanic from the download version already allows for the broadside to get weaker with distance. And at 1-2 hexes the firepower of 8-10 dice results in 5-7 Hits on average - sinking ships in a turn or two depending on size. I will return to the original system from the downloads - you've one broadside that loses dice with distance. The only reason they might be useful is if there was a mechanic that allowed the Quick-Firing guns to fire first, before the big slow guns.
  5. Shoot-Move turn sequence drives me nuts! There doesn't seem to be any particular need for it, and Move-Shoot seems like a much more natural way to play a naval game.
  6. Ship Preservation Mentality Mechanic. There needs to be some reason for ships not to close into point blank range and blast each other to pieces in a couple of bloody turns. Something like a Morale or Tactics roll - the simple fact is that if both sides sink half a fleet, they should both lose. So maybe you get 1 point for forcing a ship to retreat and 2 points for sinking it, but you lose 2 points for having a ship retreat yourself, and 3 points for one of yours sunk [or 4 points]. It should be kept in mind that 
  7. Retreating should halve gunnery, or something [the crew's busy trying to keep the ship afloat]. Simplest would be to say it can't fire any more.

Portable "Naval Wargame: Predreadnoughts" is definitely a somewhat stylized and streamlined game. I think that it does need just a bit more mechanics put into it, and that they should be there strictly to shape a more historical mentality for the players. These additions should not add to the book keeping or complexity much, if at all possible.

Overall, I think the system is worth tinkering with, but I should definitely practice with a simple, open-sea scenario, perhaps with a little fog thrown in to make it interesting...perhaps a coast-line as well? We'll see.


  1. Interesting report. Is this based on the just-published Portable rules?

    Secondary batteries - maybe they should do two things: attacking torpedo boats; and affecting the morale of larger ships once they get too close.

  2. Hey El Grego, nice of you to drop by.

    Good suggestions. In Manley's "Fire When Ready" main guns over 6" can't even fire at TB's. The danger resulted in many ships having small QF and HMGs put on their decks.

    At the moment, I'm thinking one way of handling it is to allow half-dice shooting at TBs, while using the tertiary weapons to reduce the effectiveness of a torpedo boat run. in some sort of roll-off fashion. I've always liked the drama between players rolling off against each other.

    Bottom line - I got the models, and they're going on the table to provide drama and the rare incident of "You sank my battleship!!!"