Monday, June 25, 2018

Portable Naval Wargame Pre-dreadnought Playtest 4: "Battle in the Bay!"

Colonial Wars can be a real growth enterprise, and the hats get better and better!
Image result for spanish american war
But it should be remembered that "Pigs get fat while hogs get slaughtered"...

Was eager to try these rules with the changes listed in Playtest #3, so you didn't have to wait very long for Playtest #4! This time I pushed the Spanish farther back and gave them sea room. I also made a bunch of choices for expressing the ships in game terms.

Ships from history stats to rules::

  • Spanish ships had "older" guns [their own guns were noted as being slow, inaccurate, etc, inferior to the latest in general].
  • US ships had "modern" guns
  • Flotation Points were 1.5 x Displacement / 1000 [with some rounding]. For example, the Pelayo displaces 9,750 tons x 1.5 / 1000 is 15 FP.
    • Furthermore, a bonus FP or two were given if heavily armored, e.g. Pelayo and Olympia got 2 bonus FP, Boston and Raleigh 1.
    • An FP or two were taken away if there was no armor, e.g. Castilla.
Not used but worth noting:
  • Tertiary guns were noted as a "Yes / No" Y/N if plentiful, or y/n if just a few. They will be used against Torpedo Runs by torpedo boats and destroyers.
  • Speaking of which, a Torpedo boat of 500 tons would have one FP [barely]. So I made a "torpedo boat" three boats so they'd have 3 FP altogether. Also, rather than give a penalty to hit / range in on a small target, I just added a couple of FP for being a small, fast target. This is the same mechanic for the same effect as armor, i.e. survivability. This will have to be tested more in the future.

I felt a lot better with some sort of historical system in place, rather than just working by game types, which don't necessarily suit the older, Spanish, ships.

Game Changes to Portable Naval Wargame as used in this post:

  1. Turn sequence changed to: Initiative, Move, Shoot.
  2. Target Acquisition. Before rolling Gunnery dice v. a Target, it must be acquired. Roll a 4+ on a d6 so succeed, with: 
    • +1 for Short Range [3 hexes or less], 
    • +1 for each previous attempt to Range in on the same target, and 
    • -1 v. targets that are evading, obscured or have multiple shooters against it.
    • -1 Poor / +1 Excellent Gunnery
  3. No secondary batteries - each ship has one broadside.
  4. Squadron Quality. Squadrons were rated by Quality against which 2d6 added together would be rolled - success was equal or less. The Spanish were a '7' [58% chance] and the US a '9' [83%]. Quality was rolled for passing a ship's Critical Point 'band' [about 75% of Flotation Points lost]. A failure causes the ships to retreat from the battle. Also, to enter or remain in Close Range of 3 hexes or less, ships had to pass a squadron "Q" roll or move out to >3 Hexes.

The net stats for each squadron:
- Spanish 41 Flotation Points v. US 31 Flotation Points
- Spanish 24 Gunnery Dice v. US 28 Gunnery Dice
- Spanish speed '2', US speed "3" [exc Boston "2"], so 50% faster.
- Spanish Quality '7' w' 2d6 v. US '9' [58 v. 83% chance to pass]
- Spanish Gunnery is "Poor" [acquires targets on 5+] v. US is "Average" [4+]

Playtest #3 results...a debacle of 4 Spanish to zero US ships lost, altho the Boston and Raleigh were at their Critical Point and would have to depart the fight. Hoping for improvement here for the Spanish, but not with a lot of hope!

At turn 1, US is entering Manila Bay, with Spanish building up steam to the South.

Unprotected [and small] Cruisers Castilla and Reina Cristina are to left, the pre-dreadnought Battleship Pelayo and Armored Cruiser Emperador Carlos V to right.

Turn 1, US forces the minefield. Again, no mines in the first hex, but a '3' in the second! So each ship has to roll a 4+ to spot and evade mines, or else they will be attacked. The Raleigh rolls a 2 and fails to spot a mine in time, taking 1 Hit with the '4' roll [all PNW hit dice are '4-5' 1 Hit, '6' 2 Hits]. This is the best the Spanish have done with mine placement yet!

Note that the facing of the ships - to the spine - gives a free small turn in that they can turn  to 60 degrees left or right, or 'zig-zag' and basically go "straight". It also gives a fairly accurate broadside of about 140 or 150 degrees.

Turn 1, Spanish check to see if they were caught napping - but they weren't! Only a 1, 2, or 3 chit would've resulted in a delay [of 1, 2, or 3 turns] to get up steam.

The Spanish move a hex forward and pay to turn a full 60 to the next spine to Port.

Turn 2, the US continues to force the entrance; the Baltimore evades but the Olympia passes too close to a mine and is attacked! Fortunately, she suffers no damage [faulty fuse?]. Only the Boston needs to clear...

The Spanish continue closing in. 
I'm torn between attacking separately and attacking together... It might be useful to force the US to attack up the middle between the two Spanish divisions. As I want an "open sea" playtest, I decide not to be clever. Besides, the US ships are faster and might outrun the lagging Castilla and Reina Cristina, resulting in the Pelayo and Emp Carlos taking them all on. With several weaknesses, dividing up seems like a bad plan for the Spanish.

Turn 3, the Boston safely passes the mines [rolling a 4+] but the lines only advances one hex to get the Boston in formation. Despite having good guns, I don't want the Boston to be lagging behind, giving the Spanish an opportunity to overwhelm her alone.

As for the Spanish, I decide to begin pulling them into a Line Ahead. As everyone is still out of their 6-hex range, the turn ends.

Turn 4, the squadrons continue to close on each other. The Spanish lose Initiative, but it's pretty obvious what they'll do, anyway. The ships don't have the speed to turn fast enough to do anything radical. The Baltimore and Olympia are in range but fail to acquire the Emp Carlos and Pelayo as targets, respectively [they'll get a +1 next time]. The Emp Carlos also fails, but the Pelayo redeems her poor performance last game by acquiring the Baltimore on the first try! She has a 7-dice broadside, -1 dice / hex, so at 6 hexes fires with 1d6 but does get a hit on a 4 - first blood to the underdogs, Viva Espagna!

Turn 5. ES lose IN again and must move first. Neither side rolls low enough to enter close range. However, the Spanish move in forcing the US to end their move within close range as you have to move one hex forward before making one 60-degree turn. I like this, as it presents some interesting possibilities and makes the IN matter, even if you lose.

The US move one hex forward, and doesn't turn [I should probably have said they must]. Gunnery starts to really pick up at this point. Raleigh has total fail but the others all acquire targets, inflicting 3, 4, and 4 hits on the ECV, Pelayo and RC respectively - ouch! Looks like this will be another US success story... The ES reply with two failures to acquire, but the Pelayo hits the Baltimore for 2 and the RC acquires but then fails to hit with 1d6. 11 to 2 hits is not a sustainable gunnery exchange for the Spanish - the US has to run out of luck!

With turn 5 ending, the Reina Cristina is nearly sunk, altho the Baltimore is getting there, too, and it a much more important ship.

Turn 6, the US loses IN and moves first, pushing forward to cross the "T" of the ES squadron. The ES can't have this as they are already weaker in gunnery and will have to re-acquire targets or suffer halved broadsides.

Ergo, the Spanish move a little forward and start running parallel to the US. They can't willingly move within 3 hexes, but they must move forward a hex to turn and so end up at close range, anyway.

Gunnery is pretty heavy. The US hit down the line for 3, 2, 2, and 4 respectively, sinking the Reina Cristina and probably killing any survivors floating in the water, too! The ECV acquires Olympia and deals 5 Hits to her! Unfortunately, the Pelayo then entirely misses the Baltimore, ugh! The RC and the Castilla failed to acquire. Hit exchange is 11-5 this time.

Status end of Turn 6 shows the US still having a bit edge, but Olympia is hurting a bit. Another turn like that and she'll sink! The Dons can only hope - and shoot better!

Turn 7 the ES win IN, and there's some interesting issues. The US again fails to roll low enough to have the option to close [I decided to make it very hard - you must roll less than half your Q value or 5 US and 4 ES] so they must move first and away from the ES squadron.

I move them forward 1 and the Boston 2 to close up the gap. I'm still trying to decide if they should have to actively seek more distance or force it upon the other fleet if they move first.

Spanish don't roll low enough to remain close in, either, so shift forward and to starboard.

All gunnery is now at over 3 hexes. The ECV pounds the Olympia for 3 while Pelayo misses again and Castilla fails to acquire - AGAIN - needing to roll a '3' is all. The US gunnery is better, despite the Raleigh experiencing total failure to acquire - someone dropped the Stadometer overboard?? - inflicting 2-2-1 hits on the Spanish.

Turn 7 status: Olympia and ECV may have to leave Castilla and Pelayo are OK. US still has a big advantage at this point. I think the Spanish are cursed by history - and fate.

Turn 8, the Spanish lose and must move first. They have no option to close and get Castilla into better range [rolling an '8' and needing a 4 or less], but the ECV decides to continue fighting [by zero margin of error, I might add - noticeable lack of enthusiasm here]. They advance one hex, not wanting to risk the range lengthening.

The US rolls low enough and closes in, with the Boston aiming to finish off the Castilla in one turn if possible! Even Raleigh should be effective now...

Turn 8 Gunnery is pretty violent. The Pelayo finally gets it right and smacks the Baltimore for 4 Hits, while the ECV sinks the Olympia with a hit to spare!. Unfortunately, the Baltimore in a vengeful fury over the Olympia, apparently, blows ECV out of the water with 5 Hits! Castilla finally acquires but misses while Boston plugs her for 4 in return for splashing her decks. An ignoble performance, I'd say.

Turn 8 status: Olympia sunk [forgot to mark] is a new milestone for the Spanish - Hooray for them! Baltimore is almost sunk [makes two turns of missing even more annoying]. But the Castilla, ECV and RC are all gone, leaving Pelayo to fulfill its nickname of "Solitario".

Turn 9. The US loses IN and neither side is able to remain close up - can't blame them after the horrible destruction of last turn! - so a bit of distance is tacitly agreed upon. Perhaps it is time to end the slaughter and pick up survivors??

Turn 9 gunnery. US manages 2 Hits, Pelayo none. Fatigue perhaps?

Turn 9 status: Pelayo is approaching her Critical Point, and must roll some hot dice to finish off Baltimore and two more unscathed - if smaller - ships with 12 total Flotation Points!

Turn 10, I finally forget to turn over the Blue Dice! Still, I manage to track things much easier with the Move-Shoot turn sequence. Spanish lose but have no cunning plan. The US moves Baltimore off to force Pelayo to make hard choices - weaker shot v. Baltimore, or attempt to acquire a new target [and risk failure]? That's a cunning plan, cursed Yanquis!

Turn 10 gunnery, an annoyed Pelayo, with just one dice, rolls a ''4' and sinks the Baltimore! Honors to Solitario! In return, she takes two Hits from the Baltimore and Raleigh.

Turn 10 status: Pelayo has almost reached her Critical Point. The two strongest US cruisers are sunk but the remaining two, albeit smaller ones, have 11 Flotation Points left between them, which is quite a lot compared to Pelayo's 4!

Turn 11. The US wins IN. The Pelayo passes Q and moves slowly ahead. The US close to within killing distance.

Unfortunately, the Boston [the heavy-gunned of the two] doesn't acquire Pelayo as a target, and the Raleigh inflicts no damage! The Pelayo Acquires Boston and hits her for 3 - Viva!

Turn 11 status - the Pelayo can accept this exchange - Boston half sunk for no damage in return.

Turn 12, the US wins IN but there's not a lot of choice with the big guns on the table. Pelayo rolls a 2 to stay in the fight - must like the sight of Boston taking hits!

Turn 12 Gunnery. Boston has a critical failure to acquire Pelayo! Pelayo has no such problem and sinks her [barely]! Raleigh hits for 2 on a long shot!

Turn 12 status: Pelayo has little left and is now sinkable, and qill have to pass Q to avoid retreating. Still, Raleigh doesn't have great gunnery at this range so anything is possible. Heck, at this point the ES has done their best showing ever, and can float back to Manila with honor for all they care!

Turn 13. Spanish win IN, Raleigh starts to cut her off and cross her T. Pelayo fails Q [as badly as possible - sudden panic?] and veers off to Starboard. BUT, in the gunnery phase, Raligh again misses while Pelayo squeaks out just 1 hit.

Turn 13 status: Pelayo has two Hits, Raleigh 3, but is outgunned badly at this range.

Turn 14. US wins IN, but can't close the range. Pelayo continues retreating, and blasts Raleigh out of the water with 4 Hits. Not to be outdone, Raleigh sinks her with 2 Hits rolling a '6'! Note that the '4' shouldn't even be there...

Final Butcher Bill [well, Fishmonger's Bill, anyway]: a tactical tie, but a strategic win for the Spanish who've several small ships more than the US in the area. Also, with the Home Port advantage, they've a better chance to float one of their ships sooner.

Wow, great and grueling battle! 

I'm happy with the changes, and the decisions available to the Admirals. There's an ongoing tension to enter close and deadly range and remain there, and important decisions about which ship to target, switching targets, etc. I feel like these rule additions influence tactics and choices in an historical manner that make it worth a little more complexity. 

Much will be eased if I make splash markers with ship identifiers on them. I really like the ones in David Manley's "Fire When Ready!" as well as many of his scenario and other detailed rules. I just want a rule set that streamlines the mechanics while preserving the decisions! 

I do need to get more detailed on the Q rolls and perhaps nuance the roll a bit. Much like Manley's "Broadside and Salvo" rules, I'm looking for squadron leader decisions for a player while allowing the "non-player" ships to provide friction for their own side in this era of "lesser" communications.

Future Work:
- Nuance the Q rolls a bit,
- ditching hexes for table top,
- torpedo boats, torpedo runs and defensive fire!
- critical hits!
- optional: differentiating guns by rolling 1 dice per gun?
Happy to take suggestions as well!

I hope these playtests have given you an opportunity to learn about these lovely set of simple rules that you can have fun with your newbie friends and family, and add details as you see fit for your serious gamer pals.

"Remember the Maine!"


  1. ¡Viva EspaƱa! It seems that your dice are either frozen or scalding hot...

  2. It's a bit odd, but there really is such a thing as the occasionally un/lucky ship / unit / side with wargaming. I don't believe in luck, but it somehow does apply to gaming, e.g. the Olympia is just a consistently amazing shooter, while the Spanish have struggled thru most games with being a bit poorer in ships / quality / numbers and on top of that also rolling above average.

    Makes them endearing in an "underdog" sort of way.

    So "a draw" is quite the Spanish victory, at least in my book!

  3. oops, that should be "rolling below average" for the Spanish. Either way, beating the probabilities in both cases, but different directions.