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Mal Wright's Akagi at Midway

Mal Wright Fezian's commission from one of our own.

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pgatcomb03 Jul 2018 9:46 a.m. PST

So, I decided to post this because I've been stalking TMP for a while reading every possible topic about "naval rules suggestions" and then finally getting a chance to play some of the systems that I read about. I ended up playing quite a few games with all the systems (excepting Command at Sea which I have yet to play) and wanted to try to help others who are thinking about the hobby with their own choices. I know I missed a few systems here but I just haven't gotten to them. Here are my thoughts:
Victory at Sea:
This was my first naval combat system that I picked up. I know mongoose for their RPGs (yay traveller!) so I figured there would be some similarity and familiarity. I was close in that the D6 is used, but that was about it. After my first read through I was surprised at how short the rules for naval combat could be (16 pages I think). I printed off a few counters of ships, affixed them to basswood with mod podge and off I went with a fistful of 6-sided dice.
Movement wasn't too bad as you just measured and used a little tool to "turn" your ship after moving a certain distance. I was really surprised that the ships couldn't turn very far in a 10-minute turn, so right off the bat I knew you would have to plot maneuvers very early. Movement was handled with alternating activation following an initiative roll. The gunnery phase started next and it was a matter of declaring targets, measuring, calculating modifiers to hit (beaming/range) then then rolling one D6 per gun that could be pointed at the target and was in range. The target number in this case was based on the targets to-hit score plus or minus the modifiers. A destroyer for example would have a 6+ to hit, so a 6 on a D6 would mean a hit. After you work out how many hits, you get a set of damage dice per hit that you then roll. You roll them and add a modifier for long/extreme range and then compare the number on the dice to the armor score of the target. If it's greater or equal to, then you do one damage which you can record on a scratch paper or with dice. Critical hits happen when you roll a 6 on damage and confirm it with a 4 or greater. Then you roll what got hit critically then you roll for the specific damage. Damage is simple "HP" or "DP" plus a crew score and a special number that if passed means the ship is crippled and has a very tough time continuing to fight. There is a little damage control phase where fires can be tackled along with trying to fix certain critical hits.
Submarines and aircraft also take part in Victory at sea and are handled before any of the ships get a chance to move. The rules for aircraft are pretty straight forward but I found that aircraft fell victim to AA fire, especially if you concentrated enough of it in a small area. Their ordnance was less than damaging but mostly because so few actually get a chance to hit. Submarines can be moved "blind" and ships with a special trait have a chance to detect them each movement phase if they are close enough to where the submarines are. Torpedoes from ships and submarines are handled by declaring target and then at the end of the shooting phase, the appropriate dice are rolled.
I found that victory at sea played the quickest of all the rule sets that I got. I could run a 10v10 in a couple hours including aircraft and submarines on the table. There are a couple "gamey" strategies that came out of my experiences, but I believe they were adjusted in an expansion to the rule set. I find that this system is great for teaching new players how naval combat works but it really loses something without some ships own technical capabilities weighing in on a to-hit.
Naval Thunder:
After playing victory at sea I was left wanting a little more detail, especially with damage and just more variety in the types of ships that were represented in the base game. Naval thunder has a bit more in the rule category (~53 pages) and handles aircraft and submarines completely off table. I like this system because you have a bit more depth of damage, but it definitely takes longer to set up for and the simultaneous movement takes a bit to get used to.
Movement is handled with movement points, a single one of which gets you an inch of movement or a little bit of a turn. In this game all players write down their intended movement on a "ship sheet" and then when it comes time, all the players move their ships at the same time. What makes this unique is that each ship has a time for when it can move. A battleship for example has to move first, cruisers next, and destroyers last. This means that the faster the ship, the later in the turn it can move to react appropriately. This is a cool way to simulate agility of ships but it really gets interesting in the firing phase.
In the shooting phase, ships declare targets with little splash icons for their main guns in three phases, the first being battleships, the last being destroyers. Torpedoes are all declared at the beginning of the phase the given ship fires in but isn't resolved until after every ship gets its shooting phase. Shooting is handled by rolling a D10 per gun that is in range/arc and then adding or subtracting modifiers for range, rate of fire, crossing the T, radar FC, and so on. That modified roll is compared against the "to-hit" number of the given ship. Generally, destroyers and their ilk are 9+ while merchants are in the 5+ category. Each successful hit is then rerolled and a penetration modifier is added to it (plus range modifiers) to see if the armor of the target ship is penetrated. If it is, you do a fixed amount of damage and automatically score a critical hit. If not, you do half damage but can score a critical hit if you roll a 10, it's just not as good of a critical. All firing is done simultaneously (in the respective phase). Torpedoes are resolved at the end of the play are have modifiers for range, beaming the target and number of torpedoes fired. If you get a hit, you get to reroll to see if more than one hit from a spread. Torpedoes are limited ammo unlike other weapons.
Damage is done with damage points and with counters that represent listing, flooding, fires, bridge hits, stuck rudders and the like. During the damage control phase, crews roll to see if they can fix certain critical hits or if the fires/flooding gets worse. I like how this plays out because its very "random" and it makes for a really unpredictable result as to if you really crippled a ship or not. There is a morale roll also if a ship gets dinged up enough.
The system also has a number of advanced rules handling things like acceleration, superior Japanese aircraft at the start of the war, better/worse crews and the like. I found I used a handful of them as some really slow down play or ended up being just "one more thing" to have to remember. Aircraft and submarines are handled "off-board" with their own special sequences for determining the damage they cause. It's a simple and probably realistic solution as I can't think of too many surface engagements where submarines, airplanes and guns were all going at the same time. The disadvantage here is that you lose a little of the hands-on control of these assets.
In all Naval Thunder: Battleship Row is another really well thought out rule system. I really appreciate how the author gives you stats for nearly every ship in World War II between the Rivals expansion and the regular book. There is a handy utility for printing up ship sheets and there are also PDF files for most the ships as well for those inclined to do it that way. I found that the rules are pretty quick with the exception of rolling penetration for each hit done, especially when you are dealing with heavies that have a thick belt of armor. The airplane and submarine rules are more balanced than you'd expect, but you lose a little bit of that direct control as a result.
General Quarters III:
I hesitated for a while before taking the plunge on a game that came from its own website and not one of the major sites I was used to dealing with, but I went for it anyway. The $40 USD package came with a big stack of rules and the ability to access a good amount of online content covering navies and special supplements to flesh out the game. I read from the forums that this was a popular rule set so I really took my time to go through the rules and try to understand every nuance.
The rules themselves clock in at about 87 pages not including the charts at the end of the book required to calculate the results of hits and generate the required dice rolls. Speaking of charts, this was my first game ever that you had to check a chart to determine your required hit probabilities, then damage types, AA effectiveness, crew quality, damage control and the like. Luckily the designers put all the details you usually needed onto a single front and back sheet of printer paper per navy that you were going to use in a given fight.
Movement is handled by giving deck orders to each ship (or formation leader) and then using a metric ruler to handle the actual moving. Turning is done by advancing 5cm and then using a little template to move a certain number of points (15 degrees) that uses up a certain amount of speed that the ship can generate. Interestingly here is how acceleration plays a part in how much you can turn and how quick you can speed or slow. I like this and it really starts to show when a ship starts to accumulate damage. All vessels have the same turn radius and movement "cost" per amount turned.
Before a ship can move, all torpedo attacks are declared by placing a little piece of paper or Velcro next to the shooting ship and then recording on the deck log which direction the torpedo salvo is pointed at. The torpedoes themselves are checked for hits after all the ships have moved. If the player firing the torpedoes feels that his salvo was in range, you put down a special torpedo angle tool and check with your tape measure if the target ship is in range and in the arc that was put down on the deck log of the firing ship. This took me awhile to get used to as the other systems you declared your target, not your angle of fire. If it is determined that a ship was in the arc of fire, you check the torpedo chart and roll appropriately. If a torpedo hits, you get a reroll exactly like naval thunder does for each additional torpedo in a spread. Torpedoes do a lot of damage and usually cause some kind of critical. Duds are checked with a simple even or odd roll.
After torpedoes and movement, you get the gunnery phase. In this phase you declare targets and work out the modifiers to hit and then after measuring range you check the combat results chart and shift up and down depending on the situation. The results chart lists what you need to roll on a D12 to determine if you hit or not. If you do hit, you have to convert hits from that caliber weapon to the target. The example here is if an 11" gun hits a destroyer, then a single hit actually counts as 3 hits. Penetration is super simple and just a matter of seeing if that weapon at that range can penetrate the type of armor of the target. Everyone shoots simultaneously and then you work out what was damaged.
This is where the game gets interesting. In GQ3, all ships have a little combat card that lists the speeds, systems, weapon arcs all in one easy to follow format. You can literally print 24 of these on a page and still be able to work critical hits out, top speeds, weapons and armor. It's a simple but great way to handle the paperwork of a naval game. After everyone shoots and hits, you roll on a chart to see what is damaged and then you mark up the combat card as appropriate. The idea here is not to show your opponent what got dinged up, that is unless you sunk or are on fire.
Critical hits do happen if you roll a 12 on your damage location roll, and they range from rudder and bridge hits to everyone's favorite magazine explosion. After all damage is done you move to the next turn (3 minutes at night or 6 minutes during the day) later. At the beginning of the new turn, each ship gets one damage control roll and has to decide what to prioritize. Fires do more hull damage; bulkhead hits cause even more damage as well. A ship has a certain number of hull boxes that as they are filled cause the ships top speed to reduce. A ship out of hull boxes sinks.
Aircraft and submarines are handled as on-table assets like in Victory at Sea. When airplanes enter the fray, the regular turn is divided into 3 smaller sections. Each air unit can move/climb/descend a certain amount each air phase. Movement here is not simultaneous and is based on the highest and quickest aircraft. Two flights that get close can have a firing pass made which has its own table or, if fighters are involved with fighters, they can get in a furball/dogfight that lasts three air turns. Dive bombers and torpedo bombers are handled here and all anti-aircraft fire is based on the height of the aircraft plus the general range. Ships get an AA attack before any aircraft get their bombs or torpedoes in. Torpedo bombers are handled with the usual torpedo rules but can only launch at a certain range bracket based on the effect of AAA from the defending ship.
In all, General Quarters III is a really comprehensive system that simulates so many facets of naval warfare of that period. I like the unit cards and how easy they are to mentally translate but I dislike having to always go back and reference a specific chart instead of reading it off a given card. I can see why it was done this way, it just takes a bit longer to crunch. Damage is really well done because mission kills are now very common (as they were in real engagements) and its interesting to see how bigger ships just won't go down despite copious amounts of smaller shells. The aircraft rules are interesting and give you a pretty historical result, but the rate of the game also slows down considerably once dogfighting, AA, torpedo tracking all starts to sneak in. Submarines can be done blind as well and the ASW tables are very accurate based on what year a given ship is trying to do its ASW work. The torpedo system is really interesting as you have to kind of "guess" if you're in range and what angle you need to fire to hit the target when the target gets there. I feel like my torpedo officer should have worked that out for me already, but it is kind of fun to play with once you get the hang of just how far a ship can move in a turn. I definitely see why people like this rule set so much, as everything can be on the table, day or night, and the paperwork side of things is manageable.
Seekrieg 5:
Oh boy, here comes the fun one. After playing the other rule systems for several months I kept reading about Seekrieg and how it is the dream of all rivet counters to play. I checked the site where you can get it but was surprised by how much it cost. I put it off for awhile and then found a YouTube series that plays the game and was instantly fascinated. I ended up buying the rules and it turned out to be my favorite of the systems that I've played so far. The ruleset for Seekrieg comes (3-hole punch ready) in a big stack all shrink wrapped paper together with a CD. The rules are broken into the core set, data tables for weapons/weather and then the charts for calculating effects and what you need to roll to achieve an effect. The core ruleset comes in at ~87 pages not counting the 100+ pages of data and charts. When I first plopped down to read this I was definitely scared and felt I would need a teacher to get through this one. I zipped through my first read and was really surprised at how straightforward everything really was. The charts are so detailed in this game that they basically describe to you what the next step is for every situation.
A turn in Seekrieg 5 is made up phases like the other naval miniature rules. You start with a command phase where you write out orders from your flagship to your divisions and then the individual ships write out their orders. Their orders include everything from fire as range permits to follow in the wake of the preceding ship to laying smoke and everything in between. Command plays a huge part in this game because a given flagship or ship captain can only do so many commands a turn before something is lost somewhere in the pipe. My favorite example from gameplay was when the flag bridge was hit on a flagship so he could not signal his fleet to pick a new flagship. The hit also caused a huge loss of engine power so the captain decided (without signaling the ship behind him!) to take a hard turn to try to beach his ship. The ship behind him didn't get any new orders and actually ended up T-Boning him automobile accident style since he kept going straight from last turn. The command ship took even more damage and lost all of its forward speed and the ship that did the colliding also was a sitting duck as it desperately tried to back up while under fire. Very satisfying and sadly realistic.
After the command phase each ship enters the movement phase where you follow the orders on your command sheet for each ship. Measurements are done in inches or with a special tool that comes with the kit that shows you how far a given move will take you. Interestingly each ship has an individual acceleration rating and limits to how much it can or cannot turn plus the effective speed of a turning ship. This is a lot of detail but I found it manageable if you keep your ships in formations.
After the movement phase you get the shooting phase where you shoot and launch torpedoes. Damage again in this case in done simultaneous but all targets for each battery are declared before the actual shooting starts. Shooting is a little tricky in Seekrieg. First you determine range, then check what range bracket that given range is (short, medium long, extreme). Then you cross reference that value with the fire control rating of the shooting ship (adjusted for target aspect and speed). Then you go to a chart that modifies that roll based on crew quality, sea state, number of shell splashes, rate of fire, visibility, having hit the target already, or even being silhouetted by the sunset. You then take that number, cross reference it with the number of shells being fired (dependent on range by the way) and then you get a number like 01-05 that you roll a D100 (really two D10s) to check for it. If you hit, then you roll the location of the hit on another chart per shell that hits. Then after that you determine if that that shell penetrates at that range, then you check for overpenetration if needed. After all that's done, you roll against another chart to determine the damage points caused and then you roll one more time to determine if you get a critical hit.
Critical hits are the most fun part of this game. You roll on a chart based on where the damage was caused and then get a special booklet out that describes in gory detail the effect of that critical hit. I love this feature and it is literally my favorite part of this naval ruleset. A critical hit could be that a fuel bunker was hit and then you'd roll to see if that bunker hit caused another effect like a fire or a boiler that can't get fuel anymore, and so on. A single hit can have a cascading effect of damage but it's entirely realistic. The opposite of this is also true where critical hits do essentially cosmetic damage or keep hitting the exact same out of order turret. My favorite example was when an American shell hit the Spanish battleship Viscaya. The shell hit the deck, penetrated right through without exploding but still caused a critical hit. Domino after domino after domino damage effect crippled the entire engineering section of the ship and left it without any electrical power and dead in the water. That was the first shell hit of the game too. Not every critical hit is this catastrophic either. I did the battle of the river plate and the Graf Spee would not sink. It had filled up every box possible in the critical hit description area of the ship sheet and onto the margins but would not sink. There are no floatation boxes or decrease in effectiveness with cumulative damage unless a critical hit causes it. In the case of the Graf Spee, there was one working engine room, no working guns or searchlights, light fires and probably no superstructure left standing but it still could float…
Torpedoes are a little tricky in this system and the creators provide a hardcore (read: get out a calculator) method for determining probability of hit and a more simplified method based on relative tracking error. Torpedoes are handled like in GQIII where you simply declare where the spread is firing towards and then you drop a special tool on the table if you think you can hit someone during their movement. If they are in the danger zone, you calculate the modifiers and then roll to see if you're successful. You roll to hit per torpedo fired as opposed to the method the other games use. A missed shot keeps going so it can actually hit again in another turn, but the probability goes down very quickly. Torpedoes are checked for duds (I HATE these) and they always cause a damage effect/critical hit. After all gunnery and damage is processed it is on to another turn and you start all over from flagship down.
Sounds complicated? It isn't because the real behind the scenes stuff is handled by the charts. Sounds like a long play time? Yeah, it is. At the end of the day you really only need a few charts and you actually get quick at working on the modifiers but it is a lot slower going when you get a lot of hits that penetrate and cause damage effects. Aircraft are a mix of naval thunder and general quarters in that you decide where and how they attack and opponents get the appropriate AAA modifiers and the like. All aircraft flights are handled with a worksheet and a little on table work to figure out the screening fire and the appropriate interceptors. The great thing here is that torpedoes hit right away if they do at all so that makes that side of the game easier. Submarines are handled by a mixture of abstract and on table. The submarine commander records 3 different "attack plans" and if he rolls well, can execute them after 4 turns of maneuvering. The opposite side gets a few shots to detect the submarine before it can launch torpedoes, and if detected the other side uses its depth charges to hit the subs. Damage to submarines is handled the same way as ships with damage effects.
I tried the Battle of the River plate with all four systems. In Victory at Sea, the Graf Spee was hammered and the whole battle took probably 20 minutes to execute. I don't think the British cruisers were even dinged up at all. Naval Thunder was a bit longer (probably 45 minutes) to execute and the battle was much tenser with a serious amount of shells fired before damage started really having an effect. The Graf Spee was sunk right out, but not after stripping two of the British cruisers of all their weapons and causing enough damage to the Ajax to force it to retreat. In General Quarters 3 the battle took about an hour and the shooting in general was much deadlier. The British lost the Achilles within the first 30 minutes and the remaining ships kept knocking out primary and secondary batteries to the point that the Graf Spee couldn't even fire anymore. Every British ship was hurt bad but still functional. In Seekrieg 5 the battle took about an hour and half. The battle started with a lot of missing (ammo is counted in Seekrieg 5 by the way) and then suddenly the Graf Spee starting going to town on the British cruisers with one taking engine room hits, another losing all electric power, another losing its bridge all while the Graf Spee was getting little tiny hits. Suddenly an hour in the British got that lucky hit that ruined the fire control on the Graf Spee. After increasing the distance, the British hammered the Graf Spee doing little hits here and there. The Graf Spee decided to withdraw (sounds familiar?) and made it almost to Ecuador before the Ajax disabled the last of the engine rooms with a lucky shot and the Graf Spee started to take serious abuse from the British because it could no longer move or return fire. Instead of sinking, the British took the ship as a prize.
What is the takeaway? It all comes down how much time you have and how much you like using charts. Victory at Sea is a great introduction to Naval Miniatures but with its simplicity comes a lack of depth. Naval Thunder strikes a cool balance between depth and quick playability but it suffers in that some things are little oversimplified for playability (mostly fire control). General Quarters III has great methods for tracking ship damage and weapons not to mention the damage effects are very interesting and easy to keep track of, but on the flip side General Quarters III takes a bit longer to work out what you need to roll from its copious amounts of tables and charts. Seekrieg 5 is incredible in the amount of detail you get and to me the tensest of all the rule systems but with that depth comes a much longer turn execution time limiting your battles to smaller engagements unless you have a 4-day weekend.
Aircraft and submarines vary in their level of depth in all the systems too. General Quarters III and Victory at Sea let you handle the miniatures throughout the fight whereas Naval Thunder and to an extent Seekrieg 5 require a little worksheet and some off-table work.
One thing I have ignored so far is night engagements. Each system handles those roughly the same with Victory at Sea limiting things to a set range and having a negative dice modifier, to Naval Thunder using range limits and a modifier to range modifiers, to General Quarters III having star shells fired or searchlights switched on plus their own range brackets for chart lookups, to Seekrieg 5 where you have to first acquire a target before you can engage it plus the usual to-hit modifiers and use of star shells and searchlights. Personally, I try to avoid night fights unless you have a separate game director keeping things honest and interesting.
Whew! The original reason I wrote this post was so people could decide which one of the systems mentioned makes the most sense for them. I hope this helps a little as I really wish someone else made this post when I was looking for rules myself. If you have any questions I can try to help, but I don't have nearly the experience level as others in this forum. I'm currently poking at the admiralty trilogy (command at sea and rise of the battleship) but I really need a good sit down to get my head around them. I read a few modern naval game rules also but the gameplay is so different when missiles and anti-missiles show up.

Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2018 10:33 a.m. PST

Thats an excellent piece with which I concur. For info, VAS is (or at least was) intended very much as an entry level set of rules, from which players can develop into more complex sets as and when the bug grabs them.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2018 11:10 a.m. PST

Years ago (late 1960's/early 1970's) we played
Pratt's rules. I style them the CLS version of
WWII naval rules.

After years of that, we stumbled upon Panzerschiffes
(both the rules and the mini's) and been using
those ever since. They give you a GAME, not a
simulation, but you can play in an hour or two what
might take most of a day with one of the better
simulation sets, such as SK.

That's not to say there is anything 'wrong' with the
(far) more detailed rules, merely that if you prefer
a short game, with perhaps not too realistic outcomes,
that is a choice you can make.

pgatcomb03 Jul 2018 11:36 a.m. PST

I actually hunted down a set of the Pratt rules but need to find a space to try it in.

One thing I didn't mention was that I use tabletop simulator on PC quite a bit to make it easier to play these games across the world with simple graphic counters. It works surprisingly well when I don't feel like pulling out the box of ship minis or I need a ship I don't have.

Tony S03 Jul 2018 2:58 p.m. PST

Wow! Thanks for the informative post. I think I'm your target audience, so I am most appreciative as I am quite curious about GQIII and Seekrieg but I thnk you've answered my questioned quite well.

(On a sidenote, the book that I read as a kid, and really piqued my interest in naval wargaming – especially the Austrian Hungarian navy – was Naval Wargames by Barry J Carter. Perhaps it's pure nostalgia, but I sometimes still like playing his rules!)

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