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" Questions about getting into 20th century naval wargaming." Topic

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Zookie18 Mar 2018 3:02 p.m. PST

have been eyeing getting into 20th century naval wargaming for a while and decided to take the plunge. The problem is I don't know what era I want to start with. From a historical and modeling perceptive I have interest in all periods of the 20th century. What I am not sure about is the game play.

WWI seems interesting because it is pretty much limited to big guns with some smaller torpedo ships. Since that is all there really is to focus on I expect the game play to have a lot of interesting maneuvers, feints, and ambushes. But on the downside there is a rather limited number of classes of craft available.

WWII really opens up the options with vastly more use of submarines, aircraft and varying technology levels (for example ships with radar vs. ships without). But my concern is that a rule system that encompasses all of this will end up doing everything pretty good, but nothing particularly well, or that it will just become overwhelming and become too much simulation and not enough game.

The modern era interest me because there were not many large naval battles historically so there are a lot of "what ifs" to explore and things can unfold in unexpected ways. Also the vast array of technologies and aircraft give you a lot to work with. But my concern is the vast ranges involved might mean very little movement of miniatures on the table and with the use of aircraft and missiles it might be a rather dull era to play because it all boils down to: get in range and let loose with everything and see who is still floating. I imagine that most maneuver and planning in the latter part of the 20th century would be more operational and less on the tactical level.

Anyway wise TMP members, which era do you think provides the most interesting and engaging game play? and do you recommend any particular rule sets for that era?

khanscom18 Mar 2018 4:13 p.m. PST

WWI is a fine period to begin with; in addition to the modern dreadnoughts, you can bring in older battleships in distant theaters (Coronel, e.g.). Submarines are available, though not as useful as later models; a limited use of early aircraft- carrying ships is possible, and if you play in some of the more restricted areas like the Channel or Adriatic you can throw in land- based aircraft. Add zeppelins for reconnaissance over the North Sea for even more fun.

"General Quarters" gives you rules for all of these.

Grelber18 Mar 2018 6:49 p.m. PST

WWI had some smaller actions, with cruisers in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, which could be interesting. The smaller ships were expendable, in a way the dreadnaughts were not.

WWII has a huge variety of fights and what-ifs featuring smaller ships, as well as large vessels. The governments were also willing to risk the loss of the largest, most expensive ships, which creates some possibilities you don't have in 1914-18.

I'm less sure about the post-war era. So many of the systems look good, but they were never actually tested in action.


attilathepun4718 Mar 2018 9:04 p.m. PST

I also favor World War I, in spite of the fact that there were very few large naval battles. There are, however, a number of possibilities for large encounters that failed to happen, either because opposing forces failed to make contact or because planned operations were cancelled. The main advantage of World War I is not having to deal with the complications of trying to deal with offensive air operations in the context of a table-top tactical scenario. A reconnaissance role for aircraft can add some variety to the strategic level, if playing a campaign, but there was little likelihood of aircraft inflicting much damage on warships at sea. Submarines could sink major warships, but had to get very lucky to ever get in a shot at one.

gamershs19 Mar 2018 12:03 a.m. PST

World War I gives you a variety of ships. Although the later dreadnoughts were not "expendable" the pre dreadnoughts were expendable and used in many theaters. Ships built in the 1890's were still operational in WWI giving a great variety of ships. The only problem is you may not find all of the ships being manufactured.

World War II gives you the greatest variety of ships. This is the war where professionally made models first started to be made for.

The first decision after deciding what war is what scale of ships to use. The primary scales are 1/1200, 1/2400 and 1/3000. There are also 1/700 and 1/1800 scale but they are much harder to find. In general the smaller the scale the less expensive the ships with metal ships being more expensive.

Vigilant19 Mar 2018 6:59 a.m. PST

The other factor to decide is type of warfare you want to play. Big ship battles, convoy raids with cruisers and destroyers, fast attack with MTBs, Pt Boats and S boats. All can give a good game but would probably use different scale models.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2018 7:29 a.m. PST

I've been looking at expanding my pre-dreadnought fleets into the European theater (out of the Russo-Japanese) and was looking at what was available. Wartimes Journal has an excellent range of 3D printed ships in four different scales scales. It appears that they make almost all of the major powers and many of the minor powers from the 1890s through the WW1 might-have-beens.

I've ordered four of their ships for evaluation but they haven't arrived quite yet. Once they do, I'll try to get them painted and posted on my Col Campbell's Shipyard blog.


It does contain pictures of my painted and based 1:2400 Panzerschiffe Russo-Japanese fleets.


138SquadronRAF19 Mar 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

I'd suggest Pre-Dreadnought's both historical and 'what ifs' – the ranges are shorter, the battles smaller and you get ship on ship actions without the complications that later periods. Plus the ships are extremely interesting.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

A second vote for GQ 3 and FAI for gaming WW II and WW I. WW I gives a better chance for surface actions unpolluted by subs and aircraft. Our group plays both as well as Napoleonic and ACW. !/2400 is our favored scale for the first two with 1/1200 for the other periods.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2018 2:18 p.m. PST

First: get into a period that really stokes interest. You will find a way to play with miniatures that you love, but miniatures that are only kind of interesting once in a while will tend to become that project you never finished.

Second: Pick the period with the most interest from other gamers in your area. You need players for your games. If one period gets gaming buddies interested and the others make their eyes glaze over, forget the other periods.

Third: Play some naval games put on by others and see what kind of naval gaming you like (and don't like). This may influence who you play with most of the time, which may in turn influence which period you pick. It may also steer you toward a period with rules more suited to your personality.

If all those things are still equal, then I recommend WWII as the period to choose, since it has the greatest variety of historical scenarios, technology types, battle types, battle environments, and wargaming-related documentation. You can fight WWII above or on or under the water, with small ships or big ones or both, at night or in the day, in good visibility and bad, in fair weather and foul, with good equipment and bad, evenly matched or asymmetrically, and on and on. If you get tired of all the variety from the history books and you're still not too old to game, you can start playing "what if" and "almost happened" battles.

I think the OP appraisal of each period is generally correct, except that like shagnasty I find GQ3 an excellent game for WWII naval, with a nicely streamlined approach to packing in most of the aspects of WWII naval warfare without overloading the player with process. I would also add that the "modern" naval period (pretty much all post-WWII naval gaming) seems to be a small niche within the already small cadre of naval gamers, and it might be hard to find interested players in that period.

- Ix

PS: In case anyone accuses me of WWII bias – WWI is my biggest collection and dominates my naval gaming life. I have equally-sized plans for WWII and the pre-dreadnought period, but when I go to the effort to put a game together, it's almost always a what-if or almost-happened battle in the Baltic, the Med, or the North Sea.

22ndFoot19 Mar 2018 2:38 p.m. PST

Don't ignore the 1/6,000th Hallmark Figurehead ships from The Last Square. link

Probably get a few packs – they ae very cheap – and see if you like them. One of their advantages, as well as price, is that at that scale one foot on the table is very nearly a nautical mile. You can either play at true scale relatively easily or make fewer compromises to make them fit on your available playing area.

I have and enjoy the Great War and World War II which each present interesting issues. I also have fleets for the Russo-Japanese war but these are 1/3,000th Navwar.

Lion in the Stars19 Mar 2018 6:25 p.m. PST

Note: I used to play Modern Naval 1:1 scale.

I'd have to start by suggesting WW1. The guns are short ranged, firing directly. No spotter planes to mess with, most subs are chasing merchant ships and not warships.

In WW2, the question is who has more carriers at the fight, unless you do night actions.

With moderns, now you're getting into supersonic missiles delivered by aircraft.

Integrating air and/or subs dramatically increases game complexity.

Hunting subs is a whole game unto itself, too.

khanscom19 Mar 2018 7:51 p.m. PST

Col. Campbell said:
"I've ordered four of their (WTJ) ships for evaluation but they haven't arrived quite yet. Once they do, I'll try to get them painted and posted on my Col Campbell's Shipyard blog."

I've purchased a number of their French pre- dread 1/3000 ships, both metal and 3-D printed. The only negatives that I've noted is that the small cross- section of some of the upperworks on the 3-D models leaves them VERY fragile if doing additional cleaning or drilling for masts. That said, the detail is exquisite and the capability of producing impossible undercuts makes for a truly awesome model. I suspect that fragility would be much less of an issue with the larger scales.

Their metal ships are very well made, too, but it looks like those may be in process of being discontinued.

A recent Russo- Japanese War campaign was fought using their Japanese and Russian models-- all 1/3000 scale and 1st rate in quality.

Martyn K21 Mar 2018 7:12 a.m. PST

I do like modern naval battles (around 1985). It is very different from other periods due to radar and missiles. There are a wide range of rules, a lot of people like the simplicity of Shipwreck, others recommend Harpoon3. I have not read Harpoon 4, but there seems to be a view that it is complex.
I personally like Warship Commander II from Navwar. This set of rules really goes into some of the details of Radar, missiles, ECM and ECCM in a workable way. It works well to me, but I understand that the complexity may not be for everyone.

The advantage of modern Naval is that it is very cheap to test out to see if you like it. From Navwar you could buy for example: A soviet Kresta II for 1.25, a US Spruance destroyer for 1.25 and a copy of Warship Commander II rules for 3.50.
Total Cost of 6.00 pounds plus postage. For this amount you have a workable game and will get a flavor of what modern naval is all about. If you don't like it, not the biggest loss in the world.
Compared to other war-games this is one of the cheapest I have come across. I dread to think how much I have spent buying and painting my 28mm Napoleonic and Renaissance armies.

Russ Lockwood21 Mar 2018 2:09 p.m. PST

do you recommend any particular rule sets for that era?

What I've played:

Panzerschiffes is an old set and requires a calculator, but it takes into account individual ship aspects, like armor and firepower, and has a nice degradation of ship capability as hits accumulate. For WWI or WWII.

General Quarters 3 was quite entertaining when I played a WWII game at Cold Wars 2016. Takes a while to learn how to read the charts, but no calculators.

Axis and Allies Naval was hot among us for a while and we played some great WWII actions, although many of us questioned some of the stats on the cards that just didn't seem right, and we also modified the AA mechanic. Uses a hex grid.

Great War at Sea 1935 A variation of a rules set found on the web was simple and fast, but Japanese torpedoes were like laser beams. Played twice to good results.

Wally Simon's Naval Secrets of Wargame Design (Volume 8) offers 14 articles on naval wargame mechanics from triremes through modern, a couple are complete rules sets in their own right. $19 USD available from On Military Matters in US, Caliver Books in UK, and

Full Disclosure: I edited and published all eight volumes of the Secrets of Wargame Design series.

Volume 8 Table of Contents:
* Pirates and Treasure Islands: Strategic Grid, Tactical Cards, and Gold
* Solo WWII Sea Battle: Pip Ideas Combined
* Seven Seas Battle: Rhombustian Age of Sail Naval Rules
* Attack on Chimpanzee Island: WWII Double Blind Fog of War
* Rams, Rammers, and Ramees: American Civil War Harbor Attack
* Sink the Tirpitz: An Undertable, Undersea Adventure
* Modern Ship Lock-On: Damage and Repair
* Double Blind Convoy Game: Raids, Routes, and Patrols
* Russo-Japanese 1904 Naval Battle: De Bellis Navalis Recap and Modifications
* Simon WWII Ship Game: Firing in an 8-Inch Diameter
* Age of Sail Cards: Command and Control Decks
* Triremes and Ancient Memes: Impulses, Movement, and Oar Confusion
* Classic Fletcher Pratt: US vs. Japan WWII Battle
* About the Editor: Russ Lockwood
* Truk Island WWII Battle: Air-Sea Interaction

My group has a large collection of GHQ and C-in-C 1/2400 WWI and WWII ships, plus we have a decent collection of 1/1800 Axis and Allies ships (supplemented with 1/2400).

dantheman21 Mar 2018 4:28 p.m. PST


I like fast simple rule sets for big gun actions. I am not into submarines or aircraft carriers. For that I found "Grand Fleet" rules the best. It is a good starter set of rules. It has flavor without the micro detail of most other sets. Cheap download from Wargame Vault.

If you play these rules and want more then you can move on to more detailed sets. You won't break the piggy bank.

Regarding actions, WW1 is good for gun actions. Anywhere from cruiser actions with a few ships, to larger North Sea actions with Dreadnoughts.

For gun actions, WW2 has battles off of Guadalcanal which don't require a ton of ships, but have plenty of action. Also the Mediterranean and German Raider actions.

The ‘Grand Fleet' rules have a mix of gun scenarios from the Spanish American War, Russo Japanese War, and both World Wars. As I said, you can't go wrong getting this set, trying a few scenarios from the rule book with a few ships, and picking a period based on what you like.

Regarding models, I use 1/2400. Recommend Panzerschiffe. They are crude but cheap, easy to paint, and still look decent once painted. If you like the period then splurge on the better manufacterurs mentioned above. 1/6000 Figurehead are little gems but too small for me. At that point I would use cardboard counters.

Dave Crowell22 Mar 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

I play Grand Fleets with 1:6000 Figurehead minis. They look good painted, and I can fit a game on my 3x5 foot table without it looking like toys in a bathtub. I do World War One and found the book "Castles of Steel" to be a great source of what if? scenarios.

Zookie22 Mar 2018 10:47 a.m. PST

Thanks for all the responses! I think I am going to go with WWI to start. I am interested in Grand Fleets, but I have heard good things about Naval Thunder. What's peoples take on Naval Thunder?

dantheman23 Mar 2018 9:54 a.m. PST

I have not played Naval Thunder. Friends of mine do play it and like it though. Naval Thunder games are longer than Grand Fleets, but it still not overly detailed and technical like other rules.

Hopefully someone can give you more info, but it seems a good, slightly more detailed set. Seems worth considering.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP23 Mar 2018 2:56 p.m. PST

Lots of people like Naval Thunder, and it's not expensive, so you should probably give it a try. I disliked it for a few reasons:

  • It's not as complete as the General Quarters 3 system, even though the basic system for each is about the same number of pages.
  • Moving ships by an initiative system creates weird (and unnecessary) problems, and is ultimately inferior to the standard old IGO/UGO sequence.
  • The ship rosters are far too big, busy, and hard to read.
  • The mechanics are just weirdly mismatched. Shooting factors are abstracted to a level suitable to speed up huge fleet games, but you still have to roll multiple times for each shot (roll to hit, roll for damge, roll for criticals, roll and roll and roll again…). Movement is abstracted into groups by division and ship class in a way that would allow quickly moving numerous squadrons with very short decision times, but then slowly pre-plotted anyway. For all their size, the rosters contain very little detail to differentiate ship designs, and badly exacerbate paper sprawl (already a problem in most naval games). I'm sure I could find more.
  • I hate pre-plotted movement (a personal hang-up of mine)

In the end I decided NT wasn't even as good a game as the original General Quarters system (versions 1 and 2) which was already 30 years old. If I want a more abstract game than GQ, Battlestations Battlestations was deliberately written to improve on GQ, and works far better than Naval Thunder. For a more detailed game than GQ, I had already fully embraced GQ3 and FAI, which played at the same pace and fleet scale as Naval Thunder and seemed far better researched, tested, and streamlined.

- Ix

Bozkashi Jones23 Mar 2018 4:02 p.m. PST

WW1 is great, and I love the ships, especially those old 3rd class cruisers the Royal Navy had dotted about in far flung corners of the Empire.


I will put a word in for WW2: in tactical battles the appearance of a submersible or aircraft was actually pretty rare IF you choose your theatre.

If you go for Royal Navy v Kriegsmarine aircraft/subs played very little part in the main surface actions. They were part of the strategic picture, of course, but an air or subsurface attack at the same time as a surface engagement was unheard of except in the Med.

So what you have is a myriad of actions from destroyers up to big gun actions with usually less than a dozen ships in total and no subs or aircraft.

The Pacific, though, is a whole different kettle of fish.

So far as modern goes, it's tricky. I love 80s conflicts (the US in the Gulf, the Falklands and loads of 'what ifs') but it's the rules that are a problem. I use home brew rules which feature activation to have an 'act, counteract' mechanic which feels right, but no commercial set has really given me the right feel and I don't adhere to 'complex' equals 'realistic' – with complex rules in modern combat you take away the very thing that defines modern naval combat – making fast decisions under pressure.

With regard to pre-dreads, this is a real sweet-spot. There are so many 'what ifs' in the period 1890-1914 as the Great Powers vied for position, and the idea of a 'colonial' or 'naval' war (i.e. one which doesn't impact the folks back home too much) means that forces can be small, though there are some major naval wars that 'could' have happened – Britain v Russia after the Dogger Bank incident, or a Japanese attempt to stop American expansion in 1898, for example. Other hypotheticals can include France v China, various South American nations and semi-historicals like Italy v Turkey… Pre-dreads has loads and the ships are gorgeous!

So the world is your oyster. Rules wise I'd suggest the GQ family of rules for anything before 1960 and probably Shipwreck for modern (despite my reservations).

Of course you can try them all – one of the nice things about naval gaming is that you can fit out a whole task force for the price of an infantry battalion and even have it all quite nicely painted in a couple of evenings.

Of course I would recommend Victory at Sea as a fun starter set but it's taken me three years to get lx's respect and he'd disown me ;-)

Good luck on your quest,


Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2018 10:02 p.m. PST

Of course I would recommend Victory at Sea as a fun starter set but it's taken me three years to get lx's respect and he'd disown me ;-)

- Ix

Bozkashi Jones29 Mar 2018 2:23 p.m. PST

lol – called it!

Brigman200030 Mar 2018 12:37 p.m. PST

Can we have a reply on what everyone's favorite scale is? Looking to find the most popular scale used.

1/3000, 1/2400, 1/1800, 1/1500, 1/1250, 1/1000? For Predread and WW1…Thanks

Bozkashi Jones30 Mar 2018 2:44 p.m. PST

1:6000 if doing WW1 (with GQ2) and big WW2 battles (although I did Denmark Straits in this scale last week) using Battlestations! Battlestations!.

I usually use 1:3000 but am seriously considering 1:2400 for moderns and 1:1800 for WW2, because of the 'modelling' part of the hobby. Don't get me wrong – the Hallmark 1:6000 stuff is gorgeous, but if I only have 4-6 ships on the table then I want them to stand out.


Lion in the Stars01 Apr 2018 3:39 p.m. PST

I went with 1/2400 for WW2 because that's what the FLGS had in stock. Kinda ironic, a US submariner playing IJN in WW2, but Long Lance torpedoes…

Martyn K02 Apr 2018 5:47 a.m. PST

For modern I use 1/3000 scale ships. For aircraft to go with them I use 1/1200 CAP Aero models. With the perspective of aircraft being closer to you as you look down on the table and therefore appearing bigger, the difference in scales actually works well.

I chose the 1/1200 models from CAP Aero for a number of reasons. 1) I really hate the look of the 1/3000 aircraft that are molded onto bases, they are way too small and there is no real difference in appearance between different aircraft 2) The CAP Aero models are surprisingly detailed for such a small scale and it is easy to distinguish between aircraft types 3) They have a very large range of aircraft covering virtually every modern aircraft that I need and 4) 1/1200 allows small aircraft such as fighters to be recognized while also allowing large naval aircraft such as the Tu95 Bear to fit on the table without being too large.

yoshimasa02 Apr 2018 1:12 p.m. PST

I use 1:6000 for Russo-Japanese War predreadnoughts. I don't have a huge amount of space. They are easy to paint and yet still look discernible as the ships they are from a distance. They are also about the same size as the counters from Avalanche Press' Great War at Sea series, so I can use counters instead of miniatures as I finish painting fleets.

Blutarski02 Apr 2018 2:56 p.m. PST

Show some love for 1:4800 scale.


Alan Lauder21 Apr 2018 8:02 a.m. PST

Brigman2000 I play both pre-dred and /Second Balkan War/WW1 in 1:2400 – using Panzerschiffe and scratch built. My limited table size makes me wonder if I might choose 1:6000 if I had my time again.

Zookie, some great advice above. FWIW, I really like some of the quick play rules for pre-dred (Coaling Stations, WTJ and Fast Rules For Small Ships and Big Minds). For WW1, I use Grand Fleets. I have tried Naval Thunder, good rules, but GF are still my go-to set.


Lion in the Stars21 Apr 2018 1:59 p.m. PST

I should point out that we were playing Seapower at the old USN plotting-table scale, 1"=1000yards. That's 1/36,000 groundscale.

The models were there for identification, we measured all ranges to/from the masthead.

Oldgrumbler02 May 2018 9:40 a.m. PST

I like Battleship Captain.


Please delete me15 May 2018 5:38 a.m. PST

Simple pre dread rules are my favorite. Was introduced to black smoke, blue water at a convention and fell in love. It is the most accurate ruleset? No. But it is extremely playable, and 90% of what is needed fits onto an index card. I can teach the game in minutes, and play multiple games in an evening.

Ferreo Cuore19 May 2018 5:56 p.m. PST

I think for scale it depends entirely on space and distance.

If you want to use predread in small space, 1/3000 or even 1/2400 are fine. If you want to play WWII coastal actions in small space, this is also fine scale since the ship size and gun distance is similar.

If you want to use big battleships in WWI, then you may consider 1/6000.

On the other end, War Times Journal has predread in 1/1500, and with a good size double table, like 8x6 or 4x12, that would be wonderful.

For moderns, probably the best to game would be small ship actions near coast. Fleet actions are very missile / aircraft intensive.

So how much space do you have to game on?
How much money do you have?
What size / firing distance are the ships?

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