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"Review “Black Smoke Blue War”" Topic

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2016 1:04 p.m. PST

The following is based upon my own reading and playing though of the rules. I also exchanged correspondence with the authors for clarification that have been incorporated into this review.

The rules are described as "Alternate Naval Warfare for the late Victorian Period during the industrial and scientific revolution' and published by Deadly Warfare Games. This implies the rules contain elements of Steampunk and let's face it, it doesn't get much more Steampunk than Ironclads and Pre-Dreadnoughts.

The rules cover the period 1853-1901 or more simply the Crimean War through to the Spanish American War. This seems an odd cut off since the pre-Dreadnought period ended 5 years after the death of Queen Victoria with the launch of the eponymous warship that changed the nature of Battleships. It also ignores the Russo-Japanese War. This I am told because of changes in gunnery optics that make the RJW closer to WW1. I'd argue the change between the Pre-dreadnought and WW1 was more to do with the centralized gunnery control than anything else but that's their cut off.

So what do you get for you $25.00 USD? (Note there will be a new addition coming soon at $30.00 USD)

• A 22 page rule book and an erratum.
• Special effects hit chart
• A page of "Chadwicks"- cut out markers, to be placed next to ships representing damage, torpedoes and other game mechanisms.
• Turning circles
• Blank ships card
• Blank airship and forts card
• Generic Torpedo Boat ship card (4 vessels)
• Generic Torpedo Boat and Submarines card (4 vessels)
• Ship cards for 11 Spanish and 13 US vessels, some of the vessels included were not involved combat like the Spanish battleship Pelayo.

The rules are silent on ship scale, but the illustration appear larger scale vessels and the publisher has two 1/1000 vessels for sale. The only reference in the rules to ground scale are the ground scale 1=250 yards and the suggestion of using 6'x8' (2.4x1.8m) gaming table. Naturally with smaller scale vessels 1/2400 and 1/3000, it would work with substituting centimeters for inches and the gaming space can be reduced.

The rules cover:
• Introduction
• Game Equipement
• Game Scale
• Abbreviations
• Game Turn Sequence
• Turn Summary
• Maneuver
• Command and Control
• Torpedoes
• Mine (optional rules)
• Gunnery Procedure
• Gunnery Hit Damage
• Gunnery File Control
• Submarines
• Airships – alternative history rules
• Land formations and shore batteries
• Strategic movement
• Game and ship record sheet
• Victory points and ship value points for tournament play
• Optional Rules including night fighting.

The rules divide ships into difference types:

• Armed merchant vessels
• Air base vessels (not further defined)
• Modern pre-dreadnought battleship (1895-1905)
• Old pre-dreadnought battleship (1885-1894)
• Armoured cruisers
• Protected cruisers
• Unarmoured cruisers
• Gunboats
• Monitors
• Destroyers
• Torpedo boats
• Shore batteries

Airships are divided into the following types:

• Spotting Balloons
• Fighter Airships
• Bomber Airships

Ignoring the Airships for the time being the ship classification strikes me as really off for a set of rules covering the period 1853-1901. Now it is possible to write such a set of rules, I was involved in the "Devil at the Helm Rules" with the British Naval Wargames Society back in the 1970s which covered the period 1850-1905 and subsequently published by Skytrex. Those rules did differentiate between the earlier and later period. This set does not and becomes even more apparent in the gunnery rules.

So for all practical purposes this set of rules covers the period 1885-1901 and it appears that this was a deliberate choice of the authors. If you are looking for a set cover thing the transitional period and the early ironclad period this set will not work for you.

Obviously missing are rules for the smaller coastal defence vessels used by the Nordic countries, so one of my go to play tests for the Norway and Sweden version Demark and the Netherlands will have to wait.

So let us look at some of the mechanisms starting with movement.
Movement is not 1 knot equals 1 inch as I was expecting, rather the speed is divided by 3.75 and that is your move. Why 3.75 you ask, well the rules are silent on that point. (Mathematically I could work out that 15 knots divided by 3.75 = movement speed 4 and only larger ships can launch side mounded torpedoes when moving less than 4). There is no rounding up or down, ships with a higher speed factor get a + sign next to their move, for example USS Brooklyn, speed 20 knots, ships card 5+. If the ship suffers a speed hit it will still move 5, and loose the +, a second hit reducing the speed to 4.

Discussing the above with the author I am told the following;
Movement is initiative based IGYG, with the option for simultaneous movement.
Movement orders must be one of four types;
• Line ahead,
• Line abreast,
• Splitting a line into two columns of forming one line,
• Breaking away a damaged ship.
So some of those experimental formations considered in the 1880s and 1890s are not covered? No, I can use the Line Abreast order set.

Now I can use the Line Abreast to order a simultaneous turn, or to avoid a torpedo attack. Does that mean I can turn my line by way of the Gefechtskehtwendung rather than the period correct turning in succession? According to the author, no I can't because it's WW1 maneuver, although I could see this being exploited.

Rules for ramming and collision are included and as might be expected are correctly difficult to achieve.

Command and control; ships operate in divisions of 2 or 3 ships unless specified, interesting, the specified formations for Destroyers and Torpedo Boats is 1 ship, which is contrary to my understanding of naval warfare in the period where Torpedo Boats and Destroyers operated in flotillas.

Torpedoes are the first form of offensive action considered. What seems to be important is the angle of impact, not the quarter from which the torpedo is launched. To put in bluntly I could not understand what the rules were aiming to do here and the diagrams are confusing. After discussion with the author, it would appear that the arc of fire for torpedo boats and destroyers is 360 degreed.

A base chance of hitting depends on the angle at which the hit occurs and ranges from 16.7% to 33.3% per torpedoes. Torpedoes can be set to run fast and short or long and slow. Damage is divided between large and small torpedoes. The rules for mines are included within torpedoes and are area of effect weapons, passing within 3" of a mine gives a chance of hitting.

Gunnery has to be at the heart of a pre-dreadnought set of rules.

There are three types of gun,
Large guns of +7" or more that can't fire at torpedo vessels
Medium 4" to 7" that can hit any vessel
Quick firing guns 3" and smaller
Gatling/Hotchkiss/Nordenfelt type machineguns which historically were anti-torpedo boat weapons but here are anti-airship weapons.

Again this emphasizes the fact the rules are aimed at the later period in the years 1853-1901.

Firing uses an unusual mechanism: you have 11 dice (why, not explained)
• 3 blue D6 for belt, deck or hull hits
• 2 red D6 for Random Chance (special hits)
• 2 green D6 for quick firing gun location
• 2 black D6 Primary gun location
• 2 white D6 Secondary gun location

The dice are kept in bag, and the number of dice been rules depends on the number of guns fired. So let's assume I'm firing 5 guns, I draw 5 dice, say 2 blue, 1 red, 1 black and 1 white. I get to roll for one hit that will affect the belt, one each primary and secondary gun location and one special. Ranges go out the 36" or 9,000 yards. If I hit I then get to compare the gun to the penetration table. So let's assume that they are 8" from the USS New York firing on the Carlos V. I hit with the Random dice and 2 belt hits (my chances of hitting at medium range 6"-12" (1,500-3,000 yards). I roll a D12 to determine the type of special I get I get a #2, torpedo tube jammed, with no penetration required. Assume it the first hit on Carlos V, no clear indication as to which one is lost, so it can be worked out based on the relative position of the ships, assuming it's broadside I get bow, stern and two on that broadside. I'd assign 1D4 to get the hit. Now at medium range the US 8" gun has a penetration value of 3 and the target has no damage. Sorry, all my reading indicates that an 8" round (assuming AP since the rules don't differentiate between Armour Piercing and High Explosive rounds) should penetrate 2 1/2" of belt at 3,000 yards. Carlos V fires back with 2 11" guns, gets two belt hits, the penetration value of 5, beats the armour of 3, so New York loses 6 of her 11 hull value.

I compare this to my current set of pre-dreadnought rules "Fire When Ready" by David Manley.

Looking at Carlos V in Jane's for 1905, I find her belt armour is only rated "e" I find it inconceivable that t 3,000 yards a round would not penetrate. I also find it hard to believe the armour rating is given at "7" the only thing I can think of is that they used Conway that incorrectly lists the belt at 6 ½". Jane's and Bassey both show this as 2 ½". The author has used Conway in most cases, as a modern source regards it more reliable than the contemporary sources which may also be wrong either by misprints or censorship, and this is certainly true of WW1 Jane's and Brassey's publications.

Now we look at the 11" guns on Carlos V, the armament quoted by Conway and Brassey. (Jane's lists her as having 9.2") these guns would penetrate the 4" belt or the 6" deck of the New York. These guns would have penetrated the armour but not done anything like as much damage.

Firing can be ordered to fire at either their oppose number in a line or to do some form of concentrated fire without penalty. Ships not receiving fire do so at an advantage.

There are simple rules for submarines, which reminded me of "Fire When Ready", although I can fine no submarine of the period with a maximum surface speed of 20 knots but I'm not overly worried about this as I assume it's a typo.

The rules for Balloons and Airships move us into the realm of Steampunk and allow you to not only do airship versus airship combat using machine guns but also to attempt to pull a Billy Mitchell by bombing.

There is an option for grand tactical movement prior to actual combat that is actually rather elegant without going to the extent of a full campaign, although I think this would be better run as a Kriegsspiel type action with an umpire.

The rules provide two things beloved of many wargamers; a points system and tournament rules. Many my love them, I do not.

Optional rules cover the effect of weather, smoke, ammunition limits other than torpedoes, crew training and rapid firing, multiple ships firing at one target (finally), fighting at dawn, dusk and at night.

So what is missing?

Some detailed examples of the play would have been useful. I am still confused by the Torpedo Attack diagrams and there is no clear work though on gunnery. My impression is that if you were in the play testers inner circle you would be fine. As an outsider they require a lot more work than I feel able to devote to understanding them.

Well let's look at some things and we have to start with this; there are no mechanisms given for creating your own ship cards. Let's assume you want to play probably the most gamed of the pre-dreadnoght war – the Russo-Japanese conflict – how do I calculate the ship value? How does tumblehome affect ship values? You have the Pelayo but does that help me in working out the value of the Kniaz Suvarov, another ship with the tumblehome? You tell me Carlos V has 10 hull points and USS New York has 11. The former displaces 9,000 tons, the latter 8,200 tons, how are the hull points calculated. You have an 8" gun on the USS New York, well it's 8"/35 cal, how does this compare to the 8"/40 cal on the USS Pennsylvania? Or the 8" gun on the IJN Asama, or the 8.2" on the Norwegian Tordenskjold or the French 7.6" on the Dupuy de Lτme? Yes, I'm rivet counting, but not all approximately 8" guns are equal in a period of rapid technological development. For the record the 8"/40 should have better penetration that an 8"/35. The rules mention penetration ratings are based against Krupp Steel process. So my ship has Harvy steel armour? What effect. Or Nickel steel? Or it's the Russian Navarin at the Battle of Tsushima with compound armour? Now the author acknowledges that the penetration values will vary depending upon the gun on the ship data cards.

This brings me to the business model the publishers seem to be following; they are going to do a 1:1000 scale models which come with ship cards. The next range will cover the German intervention in Venezuela in 1902. Having seen some pictures Facebook these look nicely done and at $10 USD for a larger vessel they seem to be reasonably priced.

I am grateful for Dan for his clarifications.

Final thoughts:

In many ways I come to this period with too much baggage. Having been fascinated with pre-dreadnought warfare for 47 years I've done a good deal of reading on the subject and played too much to be easily satisfied.

The rules do not cover the period stated in its entirety. They cover only 16 of the 52 years specified. They are a pre-dreadnought set of rules only and there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it's easier to split the ironclad and pre-dreadnought period into two sets of rules

Personally I would be happier if the cut off was 1905 or 1913 for some of the Balkan wars.

Without a detailed explanation of how ship values are calculated we are left with a set of rules that just about works for the Spanish American War but has limited utility beyond that until they produce the ships. Until the publishers bring out more ship cards existing models will not be useable.

If there was an explanation as to calculating ship values, would I use these rules? I would ever consider using them is for a public participation game at a convention where there simplicity is advantageous.

As a final straw, the inclusion of ‘Chadwicks" to mark ships status serious distract from the appearance of the game. I would prefer a far cleaner playing surface but that's something that is a matter of taste.

The Rules have a Facebook page and I urge you to check this out:


Their latest announcement on the rules is quoted below:

December 16, 2016
Hello and happy Holidays to all.
In this Post we will begin to give price lists of what we have and of those in upcoming releases. Click on the list pictured and it will appear larger and clearer. Also please click the See More button on this post for the rest of the information regarding purchases.
All prices on this post subject to change. Shipping and handling is additional. Goods sent to PA locations subject to sales taxes.
Black Smoke Blue Water rules updated version 1.0 is available for $30.00 USD. Includes all ship vessel cards for Manila Bay plus air vessel cards, submarine, cards, other ship vessel cards, game markers, movement templates, combat tables, and the Manila scenario.
The Manila fleet pack has 26 ship models of all the active ships in the battle including 9 Destroyers and Torpedo boats that were not in the battle + 6 Shell splashes for $80.00 USD.
The German intervention fleets pack with scenarios includes 14 ship models of German, Spanish and additional American vessels plus the vessel cards for the German, American and Spanish ships that were not included in the Black Smoke Blue Water Rules set. The US vessels are 2 Monitors, 1 Oregon Battleship and one protected cruiser. The German vessels are 1 Ironclad and 5 protected Cruisers. The Spanish ships are 1 battleship, 1 armored cruiser and 2 protected cruisers. It sells for $90.00 USD.
You will need the Manila fleet pack ships to play the scenarios of the German Intervention pack.
We can produce your orders on demand which may require some additional time for larger orders.
We accept PayPal as the form of payment and we currently are only able to ship to the US 48 States.
We are still in our first year. Please work with us as we progress. To order any items contact us at
We will contact you to discuss your needs and questions and wants. If you include a phone number it would be helpful. Thanks for your interest.

Ships that are going to be produced with quantities and price:

Agususta carrier 1 $10.00 USD
Kairer III 1 $10.00 USD
Brooklyn 1 $10.00 USD
Wittlesbach 1 $10.00 USD
Colon carrier 1 $10.00 USD
New York 1 $10.00 USD
Brandendburg 1 $10.00 USD
Connecticut 1 $10.00 USD
Pr Heinrich 1 $10.00 USD
Victoria Louisa 1 $9.00 USD
Furst Bismark 1 $9.00 USD
Iowa 1 $9.00 USD
Carlos V 1 $9.00 USD
Raleigh 1 $9.00 USD
Grefion 1 $9.00 USD
Kaiserin Augusta 1 $9.00 USD
Oregon 1 $9.00 USD
Colon 1 $9.00 USD
Pelayo 1 $9.00 USD
Vizcaya 1 $9.00 USD
Texas 1 $8.00 USD
Olypmpia 1 $8.00 USD
Bomber (airship) 1 $7.00 USD
Merceders carrier 1 $7.00 USD
Small carrier 1 $7.00 USD
Kaiser Frigate 1 $7.00 USD
Lepanto 1 $7.00 USD
Destroyer 3 $6.00 USD
Land and small subs 4 $6.00 USD
Small fighter (airship) 2 $6.00 USD
Spotter balloon 2 $6.00 USD
Don Juan 2 $6.00 USD
Cristina 1 $6.00 USD
Sea Going Torp boat 3 $6.00 USD
Boston 1 $6.00 USD
Monadnock 1 $6.00 USD
Monterey 1 $6.00 USD
Castilla 1 $6.00 USD
Seigfried/Beowulf 1 $6.00 USD
Coastal torp boat 3 $5.00 USD
Cuba 2 $5.00 USD
Petrel 2 $5.00 USD
Concord 1 $5.00 USD
Cano 3 $5.00 USD
Duero 3 $5.00 USD
Comoran 1 $5.00 USD
Small Gunboat 4 $5.00 USD
Shell Splash markers % $5.00 USD

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2016 3:35 p.m. PST

What, no French ironclads planned?!?!? WAAAAAAAAAHHHH!

I'm going to have to *&^%$#@! scratch-build the French ironclad fleet, aren't I? <sigh> It's going to look *awful*.

- Ix

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2016 4:09 p.m. PST

I am still in correspondence with Dan and I will ask him.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2016 6:25 p.m. PST

More seriously, I want the French battleships with barbettes and/or turrets, designed from the 1870s onward and active 1880-1900, in 1/1000 scale. My Houston's British and Italians need opponents, and I love the French designs.

I have the old broadside ironclads up through 1870 in 1/1200 and I don't want to start *that* project over in another scale.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2016 6:28 p.m. PST

BTW, thanks for the detailed review. Was the test gaming photogenic enough to display?

- Ix

David Manley19 Dec 2016 10:44 p.m. PST

Thanks for the review. Interesting reading

TheBeast Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2016 8:29 a.m. PST

Note there will be a new addition coming soon at $30.00 USD

I'm assuming 'edition' and not 'expansion.'

…but that's their cut off.

I agree, but there were enough factors in flux that ANY cutoff is difficult to defend.

You can go directly from Line Ahead to Line Abreast and back the next turn? I know unlearned such as I would say that's a 'two turn Gefechtskehrtwendung,' though even I know that every maneuver requires straightening afterwards.

At Jutland, the Battle Turn Around left a right mess, but it was a right mess behind a smokescreen and sacrifice battlecruisers and tbd's.

Not being as learned, perhaps not quite the same 'baggage', I see some of your complaints as fiddly, but do SO appreciate you making them for us!

Deepest appreciation!


Blutarski20 Dec 2016 1:03 p.m. PST

Course reversal of a battle-line by simultaneous turn was known and practiced from the Age of Sail. The devil, however, was in the details of execution. Such a turn was typically executed from the rear of the line, with no ship commencing to turn until the ship next astern was seen to have begun to alter its course. In other words it was not an instantly simultaneous act – even in the modern age of steam power. The RN was quite capable of executing such a maneuver, but felt it was needlessly risky to do so under action conditions and in certain circumstances would place the flagship in an inconvenient position – hence the course reversals of Beatty and Evan Thomas at the end of the Run to the South, both being executed as turns in succession. On the other hand, the IGN practiced it as a standard battle maneuver and twice drew its benefits at Jutland – hats off to them for a fine piece of seamanship.

Re cut-off dates for gunnery, I would most vigorously argue that the RJW had a great deal more in common with pre-WW1 gunnery practice than with that of WW1. There was no centralized FC system, no effective means of computing range rate and no use of salvo (collective) fire – everything was locally controlled by individual gunlayers. There were only three advances in gunnery and fire control that set the RJW apart: continuous aim, telescopic sights, optical/mechanical range-finders.

Continuous aim effectively increased rate of fire for those secondary and tertiary guns whose mounts permitted the necessary ease and fineness of gunlayer control. Medium and heavy caliber gun mounts did not permit this. Only the IJN, following the British lead, had adopted this method. The Russian navy had not yet done so.

Telescopic sights had been developed just prior to the RJW and had only recently been adopted by the IJN, who IIRC had not yet completed a full outfitting of all ships by the start of the war. The Russians only started equipping their ships shortly before Tsushima. Telescopic sights materially improved accuracy, but not to WW1 standards; an appreciation of the need for accurate scientific calibration of gun mounts, gun-sights and ammunition did not really occur until after the RJW.

Optical and mechanical range-finding devices did make a first appearance in the RJW, but they were in a state of technical infancy and really failed to make any meaningful contribution to gunnery efficiency. Ships of the RJW did not even possess the necessary intra-ship communication systems to transmit ranges to the guns. There was no centralized fire control, not even collective salvo fire doctrine being practiced by either side; both of these advances only appeared on the scene in WW1.



TheBeast Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2016 8:56 a.m. PST

The devil, however, was in the details of execution.

To be clear, "left a right mess" was a reference to just that devil; did it better than Jellicoe could have imagined, but still took awhile to get directions and intervals reestablished.


Edit: Are there rules that give this a nod? I've not played 'em, but my experience is limited. As is my 'learned-ness'. As I said. ;->=

Lion in the Stars21 Dec 2016 2:22 p.m. PST

As a final straw, the inclusion of ‘Chadwicks" to mark ships status serious distract from the appearance of the game. I would prefer a far cleaner playing surface but that's something that is a matter of taste.

Being an old Sailor, you kinda need markers of some kind for a naval game.

While I also like a clean playing surface, for games that require markers I like doing "diorama" markers. So shell splashes are fun things like golf tees, various damage effects are colored yarn, etc. You still get your markers giving information, but the effect on the table looks a lot better.

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