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"Morale in 20thC naval wargames" Topic

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boggler15 Nov 2015 3:54 a.m. PST


The Wessex Wargamers Winchester club ran a participation game at Warfare yesterday using the Fistful of Lead Reloaded rules. there are some photos on my blog. A big thanks to everyone who took part, for all the positive feedback and to the WAR organisers who made setting up really easy. If you are visiting the show today, please drop in and say hello and maybe even get a game in?


Personal logo doctorphalanx Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 4:01 a.m. PST

SWIM is looking at rule options for WW1 naval and was surprised to encounter morale rules, i.e. a chance that depleted squadrons could 'flee'. We were both a bit surprised by this. Did it really happen?

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 6:45 a.m. PST

One would not be surprised ships avoiding getting into a fight in a western town. Not enough water.

Bob the Temple Builder15 Nov 2015 8:24 a.m. PST

It would appear that gremlins are at work again!

Morale rules in naval wargames? Interesting, as I have never come across any before. Fred Jane said that he saw not point in them in his rules as players tended to respond negatively when their ships began to suffer damage.

I have written rules where ships were required to turn away from action once they had suffered a certain amount of damage, but these were not morale rules as such, more a reflection of a captain's desire to prevent their ship from being sunk.

Texas Jack15 Nov 2015 8:28 a.m. PST

I absolutely loathe the idea of morale rules in naval warfare, especially the age of steam and beyond.
As Bob said, morale was pretty much limited to the captainīs whim, with spectacular results as seen at Yellow Sea by the Retvizan, and disastrous as seen at Yalu by a significant part of the Chinese fleet.

I donīt recall having read anything of WWI sea action that would make morale rules necessary.

Crew quality of course is a different animal, and though it may include basic morale it is more a matter of training and tradition.

Personal logo doctorphalanx Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 8:41 a.m. PST

The rules in question are 'Jutland' by A & A Game Engineering, but I don't think they are alone.

I can imagine scenario objectives which might encourage a player to break off an engagement, and I've played games with people who take a more simulation orientated approach and do what they think to be realistic or reasonable rather than just gamey. But my feeling is that morale rules similar to land battle rules are not appropriate in a naval context. There is nowhere for men to run at sea. Captains will do their duty. Admirals (the players) will do whatever they decide to do.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 9:00 a.m. PST

In gq 3 you are morale rules, can be modulated to situation. It is way better than having everything go till sunk which is not the historical way nor common sense.
No need to be complicated.

Bozkashi Jones15 Nov 2015 9:02 a.m. PST


Morale rules do feature in the World War 2 rule set "Battlestations! Battlestations!" and they do work fine. They essentially replicate the point at which the admiral would have historically felt that it was time to call it a day and withdraw.

If players always acted historically, or all our games were fought as part of a campaign, then I'd agree that they wouldn't be necessary, but they can help replicate the interference from higher up. An example would be Hipper's caution after the first Heligoland due to the Kaiser's fury at losses. Similarly during the attempt to force the Dardenelles Roebuck recalled the fleet even though Keyes was pressing for one last push.

For battles which are not part of a campaign they can be a good idea to stop the "death ride" players which I find unrealistic and unsatisfying, but unnecessary with the right players or in a campaign.


Texas Jack15 Nov 2015 9:18 a.m. PST

In my homegrown pre-dread rules for campaigns I have captains rated for different traits, such as willingness to use initiative (or not) and so on, and colored by his navyīs doctrine at the time. This means that more timid captains would be less likely to stay in the line once their ships received an unpleasant amount of damage, so no death rides (usually!).

But the idea that a crew, as a whole, would refuse to do their duty because of poor morale is not terribly realistic. They may do their duty more poorly however, but that would be covered under training, I believe.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 10:08 a.m. PST

I've never seen morale related to crew. Usually they are a simple game mechanism to prevent the death ride, so are usually more akin to army break points.

Personal logo doctorphalanx Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 11:12 a.m. PST

Neither side could afford to lose their fleet at Jutland, but there were death rides like the Russians at Tsushima and the British at Coronel.

Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2015 12:58 p.m. PST

I don't favour the inclusion of morale rules in WW1 games or later and I don't use them if they are there. I usually find that an appropriate selection of victory conditions in a scenario can encourage the players to work in a similar mindset to the commanders they are representing and thus make appropriate decisions as to when its time to cut and run. And this works even better in campaign games where "death rides" simply leave our tabletop admirals with fewer assets that they will probably need later in the campaign.

Martin Rapier16 Nov 2015 3:35 a.m. PST

As above, I've mainly seen naval morale rules relate to:

1. fleet break points (to avoid 100% sinking being the 'victory conditions')

2. the response of individual squadrons/flotillas to fire – modelling the entirely sensible responses of the relevant captains and rear admirals to unpleasant situations.

These seem to work fine.

Pontius16 Nov 2015 3:56 a.m. PST

Morale as such does not have a place in a 20th century naval wargame, however there are examples of individuals fleeing their posts when the action started. I cannot recall any of these having a cumlative effect leading to the equivalent of a retreat or rout in a land wargame.

I use a combination of crew quality and command ability to determine if a ship or squadron tries to break off the engagement. Usually, but not always, this gives a realistic result.

Bozkashi Jones16 Nov 2015 3:42 p.m. PST

I agree that the idea of a warship 'fleeing' from a battle line is unrealistic, but trying to introduce some mechanism for squadron commanders to make their 'own' decisions based on circumstances does have some merit.

For the Great War I feel this is something I would personally like to build in. Having total control means I will never feel Beatty's frustration at Dogger Bank on seeing my battlecruisers breaking off a pursuit to finish off a lame duck, for example.

In the same way that land gamers have a 'command radius' the First World War, with signalling reliant on flags, lends itself to this. The available options for, say, a battlecruiser squadron when outside the command radius (and therefore not responding to the player's "flags") are limited so I don't think this would be too difficult. They may stick to a pre-planned order, engage, engage more or less closely, draw the enemy on to a heavier force or withdraw). A few simple modifiers and the squadron will act reasonably realistically, even if it is not in the way the player wants at that time.

At the first Heligoland Bight action in 1914 accounts I've read give the impression that trying to command destroyer flotillas was like trying to herd cats, with destroyers racing off on the slightest pretext to attack anything that looked even slightly German.

With the risk of losing control players might be more likely to manoeuvre their fleets in an historical manner, having standard 'battle instructions' and making use of light cruisers to repeat signals (and increase the command radius).

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2015 5:24 p.m. PST

Morale? Depends what you mean. I wouldn't go for morale. But if it means the friction of command and control definitely yes, because it usually isn't there in a game.

The big example to me is the missed opportunities the night of Jutland. I chalk that to C&C deficiencies. Don't see those ever modeled.

The sample of Dogger Bank already given above is another big one.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2015 8:21 p.m. PST

I agree that the idea of a warship 'fleeing' from a battle line is unrealistic
I don't necessarily agree with that statement. There are plenty of examples of morale failure and flight in sea battles during the age of the battleship. It was highly unlikely in navies with traditions of suicidal dedication to duty (British, Japanese, German) but much more likely in navies of nations with less commitment to the conflict, internal socio-political dissents, or with civilian or even reservist crews.

Having said that, it's almost impossible to make rules that require retreat and feel right. I do the same as David Manley says above (victory conditions, strategic context, etc.), and if the players are paying attention to that (rare) it can even work.

Having total control means I will never feel Beatty's frustration at Dogger Bank on seeing my battlecruisers breaking off a pursuit to finish off a lame duck, for example.
I've wrestled with this off and on, and it quickly gets too complicated. I settled on a set of house rules for enforcing some fleet discipline which are generic enough to apply to most rule sets:
  • All ships in a squadron must maintain a formation of line ahead or line abreast at all times. (Exceptions allowed for light units assigned to picket duty, e.g. CLs and DDs.)
  • A formation may switch from line ahead to line abreast or vice versa in one move, but only the Germans can switch from line ahead in one direction to line ahead in the opposite direction in one move (i.e. "Battle Turn Away").
  • Only measure the move of the lead ship in a formation (max speed = slowest ship in formation), then just plop all the other miniatures in its formation on the table behind/beside it at the correct spacing.
  • A ship may only leave its squadron formation if it has suffered N hull hits (N varies by rules and the impact of each hull hit on speed).

This all comes naturally enough to players looking to play with steam-powered battleships, and it actually speeds up movement a bit after I've demonstrated how to avoid measuring every bit of every move. I admit this is a brute-force approach to C3, and normally I object to such artificial constraints (I've refused to play Tactica for over 2 decades), but in this case the results seem to make sense and I'm a bit flexible about allowing ships to leave and re-enter formation if it seems appropriate.

I would sorta like to add some rules that randomize movement a bit, to penalize ships out of formation, simulate the disruptive effects of heavy seas, etc. However, such rules add a lot of mechanical steps to movement and slow the game. Worse, I'm usually playing with people who barely grasp the basic rules, so special randomized movement rules are out of the question.

At the first Heligoland Bight action in 1914 accounts I've read give the impression that trying to command destroyer flotillas was like trying to herd cats, with destroyers racing off on the slightest pretext to attack anything that looked even slightly German.
Heh. That perfectly describes how gamers use DDs in every naval game I have ever played. No special rules necessary! :-)

I can't tell you how many times I've seen the French, Italian, and Austro-Hungarian navies left almost completely without modern light units after a single fleet battle in the Mediterranean…

- Ix

4th Cuirassier19 Nov 2015 3:37 a.m. PST

Interesting discussion. I am currently re-reading Massie and he observes that at one point during Jutland Beatty actually turned away from Hipper, to give his battlecruisers a respite in which to sort out the mayhem. That would be the kind of "involuntary" movement it would be fun to include, if it could be done simply.

Signal errors would be another. On any manoeuvre, you roll 2x D10 and on any score below 5 you in fact execute a different manoeuvre (turn in succession instead of together, etc). If you're Beatty you do this on any score under 75 :-)

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