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"Are shore bombardments any fun to game?" Topic

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Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 12:53 a.m. PST

Short answer: I have mixed feelings, but I'd love to hear others' ideas.

An awful lot of historical military naval operations involve ships and shore batteries exchanging fire. Many involve nothing else. I have a few battles on my list that I'd like to game some day: the attempt to reduce Fort Sumter with 9 ironclads in 1862, the 1864-5 attacks on Wilmington, the 1882 bombardment of Alexandria, the 1915 pre-dreadnought assault on the Dardanelles, etc.

The problem is that it's no fun to play the forts. All you do is roll dice.

So far all of my ship-vs-shore games have been set in WWI in the Baltic; the theater was mostly a war of positions, so there were a lot of shore bombardments. I've used a few techniques to try to make them fun to play:

  • GM vs. everybody. I play the "boring" side and let the players collaborate openly to figure out how to solve the puzzle of accomplishing their mission. This allows me a lot of latitude for surprises – civilian ships stumbling through the area, hidden obstacles and minefields, unexpected defenders, fog, etc.
  • Defending vessels. If I have players on the defending side, I usually add in some defending vessels, even if historically none left harbor to participate. I try to make it obvious that the defending vessels are outnumbered (and usually overmatched), but I also want it to be obvious that they can be part of a winning strategy if used carefully in conjunction with the more static defenses.
  • Minefield placement. A few times I've let the defending players choose the placement of minefields for themselves. This adds an extra dimension of planning and tactics to the fight, but it does come with caveats: minefield placement has to be realistically restricted (e.g., channels of specified width must allow vessels in and out of harbor); many players don't want to think too hard and find mine placement a chore; in some scenarios I cut down the numbers of mines so there was room to move (the Russians laid some HUGE minefields!).
  • Minesweepers. These give the attackers a way to "fight" the minefields. Stumbling into a hidden minefield can turn the tables really fast, so it's good to have tools on hand to do something about it. OTOH, minesweeping is a boring gaming task, so I prefer to include it as a flourish, not a dependency (.e., the attackers can win without it).
  • TOYS! Shore batteries should occasionally blow up spectacularly, ships should sink with fire and smoke, etc.

Someday I mean to do the 1915 Dardanelles attack, and I plan to let the Turkish player(s) also place the artillery. The Turks had hidden batteries and mobile batteries, which could add some extra flair.

In 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the end of the Great War, I ran the last ride of the Göben in its attack on Imbros. Technically that was not a shore bombardment, but it played similarly. The British monitors moved very slowly and even with the HMS Lord Nelson and Agamemnon thrown in as a "what if", the Royal Navy was overmatched.

I've never run a game with an amphibious landing or shore forces moving around. I do have some vague plans to use shore troops in galleon-era shore raids, AWI Caribbean island-hopping battles, a few ACW fights, and some Solomons amphibious landings or resupply missions, but I've never pulled this together. Landing troops is too dangerous in the presence of enemy warships, so amphibious operation games would probably be more of a land game with some ships involved than a naval game with some troops to shoot at/protect.

Realistically, any game with one side in static positions has limited appeal. I feel my Baltic games have been only partially successful.

Has anyone else played ship-vs-shore attacks? What worked and what didn't?

- Ix

Max Schnell21 Apr 2020 1:41 a.m. PST

I know Naval Gunfire Fire Support (NGFS) was no fun practicing in real life, so I do not think it would be very much fun or interesting for me to wargame.

Swampster21 Apr 2020 1:52 a.m. PST

Would some of the actions in the Baltic in 1919 work? Quite a bit of ship support of land actions and naval actions near to shore forts.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 2:39 a.m. PST

That don't have any appeal to me.

Bob the Temple Builder21 Apr 2020 2:49 a.m. PST

It depends upon what you are trying to achieve.

Battlewagons sitting offshore firing at shore defences that cannot hit back would be something most players would not enjoy.

Forcing a fleet through a set of narrows (e.g. Gallipoli) where shore batteries and minefields have to be respectively suppressed and avoided is a much more enjoyable experience to game. Fixed coastal batteries will usually have less powerful guns but great accuracy, whereas moving ships may have heavier guns but less accuracy.

I've done both of the above … and the second comes out miles ahead as a game,

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 3:41 a.m. PST

Yellow Admiral, I admit to a fascination with this sort of naval action. In my youth I did a few games like that using the old Avalon Hill 'Jutland' game for the rules.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine21 Apr 2020 3:55 a.m. PST

Sounds like a good game to play solo given one side doesn't move. Giving the fleet virable victory conditions and time limits could make things more interesting.

Nine pound round21 Apr 2020 4:35 a.m. PST

Biggest question- how well do the rules support it? Yaquinto's "Ironclads" board game was pretty explicitly designed to capture ship-to-shore action, and the expansion kit incorporated ground forces; you may find some interesting ideas in there for ways to adapt the mechanics. My favorite rules set, Seekrieg V, is a disappointment only in not including explicit ship-to-shore rules.

I find the prospect of these actions interesting, in part because they represent the ultimate expression of naval power: once you have defeated the enemy fleet, coastal and amphibious operations are the next stage of things. I agree that these sorts of scenarios are well suited for solo play, since you're essentially testing a prepared plan of defense.

One hypothetical that has always fascinated me: a naval assault on Kronstadt, the naval base on Kotlin Island in the Baltic that protected St Petersburg. The British threat to assault it in 1855 helped bring the Crimean War to an end, and the Russians always regarded it as a terrific vulnerability. Even though the Russian Navy put together a fascinating scheme of interlocking minefield and coast artillery to seal off the Gulf of Finland, the threat of an amphibious landing on their Baltic flank was a key concern through the Great Retreat, and the Germans did land troops on Moon Island to seal the Gulf of Riga. There are a couple of different eras when you could game out that kind of assault.

Personal logo Cardinal Ximenez Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 4:58 a.m. PST

Guadalcanal could be interesting with destroyers opening corridors in the jungle for the USMC.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 5:02 a.m. PST

I've had limited success running one sided games with the active side collaborating to defeat the GM controlled force in a static position.

The last one was Marines with naval support attacking a Japanese held island. The island had areas of heavy terrain and the Japanese had some prepared positions. The Marines had to take a bunker complex on a hill that was providing observation of the beachhead for off board mortars and artillery.

Any area not "cleared" had snipers that were more of a nuisance but could sometimes be deadly. What I didn't do was allow for the Japanese to infiltrate and reoccupy areas previously cleared but not secured.

Ultimately the naval support was decisive. Just as the Marines were about to assault the bunker, a very lucky shot from the bombardment hit the ammo dump. That was the way the Navy drew it up on the chalk board but it was a little anticlimactic in game terms.

May try it again but not without several solo play tests to smooth out the rough spots.

Stryderg21 Apr 2020 5:27 a.m. PST

Never played one of these, but I do have some worthless ideas that you could try:

Each time a round is fired, have the shooter place the round, then the defender can move it 1d6 inches. Then the shooter can move it 1d3 inches. Adds a lot of dice rolling, but keeps both people involved… maybe.

Instead of rolling for hits/round placement, have the shooter place rounds exactly where he wants to. Then the defender rolls a set number of dice to be used to move those rounds. Becomes a resource management game as the defender won't have enough dice to save everything.

Allen5721 Apr 2020 5:29 a.m. PST

Not accurate historical encounters but I have enjoyed a number of battles base on the Mississippi river during the ACW which involved both naval vessels on both sides and shore batteries on one of the sides. Those worked fairly well and countering the shore batteries was interesting.

SBminisguy21 Apr 2020 6:04 a.m. PST

I would suggest you play using Weapons and Warriors – Pirate Battles! Basically HG Wells' "Little Wars" with ships and forts with pop-off masts battlements & guns, and plastic rubber band-powered cannons and cannonballs. Fun for everyone -- oh, and add some beer and grog libations, and appropriate music for the players.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 7:48 a.m. PST

The German campaigns against the Russians in the Baltic around the approaches to St. Petersburg on October 1917 would make a good campaign system to generate battles involving the German fleet (dreadnoughts, cruisers, destroyers, and minesweepers) supporting the troop landings) against the Russians (dreadnoughts and pre-dreadnoughts [including several Tsushima survivors!], cruisers, destroyers, gunboats, minesweepers, and shore batteries plus minefields) supported by British submarines.

I have read a good account of that campaign in a book titled Battle for the Baltic Islands, 1917: Triumph of the Imperial German Navy by Gary Staff. I purchased it as an e-book from Pen & Sword.


Blutarski21 Apr 2020 8:59 a.m. PST

I have been involved in a few such games.

One was an Age of Sail scenario of the bombardment of Copenhagen (the 1801 occasion – famous for Nelson and the "Blind Eye" moment). One side played the Danes and the other played the RN. The Danes had some powerful forts and batteries, a number of anchored warships (not ready for sea), some old ships in use as floating batteries, but only a couple of warships ready for sea. The British had about a dozen ships of the line plus some bomb vessels, etc, but no accurate charts of the shallow waters of Copenhagen harbor and its approaches.

The Danish players were able to organize their defense, place blockships and the small handful of sea-going ships, etc in advance of the game. Otherwise, they were fighting from fixed positions.

It turned out to be an interesting game for both sides, pretty much a morale contest to see who blinked first.

- – -

I also played (even longer ago) a Passage of the Dardanelles game. Too long ago to recollect details, except that a lot of pre-dreadnoughts littered the sea bottom by the end of the day. Still, I recall that everyone had fun.


Nine pound round21 Apr 2020 9:23 a.m. PST

There are some interesting (but narrow) windows where the balance between forts and ships tips briefly and abnormally toward the latter, and they can make for interesting gaming. The period after armor is introduced but before rifling and penetrative shell improvements is one such- I would say it starts in about 1850 and runs through the late 1870s. By the beginning of WWI I would guess it was probably tilting back toward shore batteries, particularly for ships without the era's most advanced fire control equipment.

I think the Baltic in pre-RJ War days might still be an interesting campaign, before the postwar reforms and policy changes (and strategic thought that went into developing their strategy there). Ditto for the Dardanelles: there is some interesting scholarship available now that really highlights how intensely and often the British studied the prospects for military and naval operations there between 1877 and the outbreak of WWI.

Eclectic Wave21 Apr 2020 9:58 a.m. PST

One of my fondest memory as a kid was a sand box shore invasion we did and we used marbles and slingshots as our shore bombardment. Nobody's eye got shot out, although we came close. I remember my best friend being pissed because a model tank he had built and had on shore took a direct hit and blew into a dozen pieces, god it was glorious!

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 10:34 a.m. PST

+1 Col Campbell

I've gamed German break-ins to the Gulf of Riga a few times, each time a different way.

I have this book on Operation Albion, the final German push to capture the islands around Riga and control the gulf:

It's really interesting reading, and might actually be a fun combined arms campaign if the Russians get a lot of lucky breaks, reinforcements, and/or "what ifs" to help them out.

In recent years I've concentrated more on earlier German attempts to support the army in taking coastal cities like Libau (Liepaja) and Windau (Ventspils). I put my most recent scenarios onto the web as PDFs just in case there might be a second person as interested in one-sided boring backwater military operations in the WWI Baltic as I am. grin

- Ix

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 11:06 a.m. PST

Blutarski said:

I also played (even longer ago) a Passage of the Dardanelles game. Too long ago to recollect details, except that a lot of pre-dreadnoughts littered the sea bottom by the end of the day. Still, I recall that everyone had fun.
In 2012 I started researching the Gallipoli campaign with the idea to reproduce it as a multi-game campaign at a convention in 2015. I thought 3 games would do it:
  1. Naval break-in: pre-dreadnoughts vs. mines, subs and shore batteries.
  2. Landings: Turkish players scramble to hold on and fight each other for reinforcements as the UK and French troops flood ashore.
  3. Retreat: Turkish players struggle against C3 and fog of war to do as much damage as possible during the Allied withdrawal.
I think there's room in there for a fourth game where the Allies try to break out of the landing zones into the interior of the peninsula.

I gave up on the project as too much of a stretch (I didn't think it had a lot of replay value, and I didn't want to paint and build that much for one weekend of gaming), but the Dardanelles naval break-in still haunts me. I am gradually collecting all the pre-dreadnoughts anyway, and my Baltic scenario experiments have taught me a lot about how to play ship-vs-shore+mines battles, so I may yet get it on the table.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 11:09 a.m. PST

PS: The Copenhagen scenario sounds fun.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 11:26 a.m. PST

One Age of Sail era amphibious operation I've been seriously looking into is the doomed Penobscot Expedition in the AWI.

I have the troops all painted and the ships in bare lead, I just need to build the terrain and figure out how to game it.

On a trip to Maine last year, I did a walking tour of Castine to look at the old defenses and the view from the ground. The earth ramparts of Fort George and one shore battery are still there (and walkable), and while most of the land is privately owned and inaccessible, I still got a sense of the layout of the land formations.

What I like about this operation is that the British forces look outnumbered, overmatched, and certain to lose… but they won. Both sides suffered setbacks and the British just held on by their fingertips, but victory ultimately came down to determination, coordination, and organization. This suggests a mini-campaign pitting a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of Massachusetts players vs. British players might make for a very interesting multiplayer experience. Also, there are multiple land fights and naval fights to wargame. It might actually be hard to figure out how to reduce it to a sane number of games.

But, honestly, there is very little ship-vs-shore in this. Some shore batteries on the British side, and maybe some ships shooting at Fort George or clearing British troops out of the landing zone. Mostly, though, it's ship-vs-ship or troops-vs-troops.

- Ix

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 12:07 p.m. PST

Blackbeard and his crews appeared to be a fan of them, back in the day, in Caribbean waters.

I forget the seashore town/island they bombarded. Burned a few vessels in the harbor too, IIRC.

Blutarski21 Apr 2020 12:25 p.m. PST

Hi YA,
I lived in Massachusetts for most of my life and know New England well. Castine ME is a lovely little seaport town. The seafood is quite good as well; you cannot get it any fresher.

Question -
The Penobscot affair involved numerous small schooners and coastal sailing craft. What rules do you propose to employ to deal with these small craft?


Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 1:32 p.m. PST

Away Boarders! by Jeff Knudsen.

Though with Saltonstall in command, I might have to renamed them Keep Away From Boarders. grin

- Ix

Kevin in Albuquerque21 Apr 2020 5:34 p.m. PST

I've run a handful of ship vs shore scenarios in age of sail, sometimes as players vs players, sometimes as players vs me as the shore batteries. In all the games heated shot was used by the shore batteries. It always created a tense atmosphere amongst the sailors, to the glee of the shore batteries. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Having a ship explode when the fires rage out of control is always fun, even though your batteries are getting stomped.

Trierarch21 Apr 2020 9:19 p.m. PST

We did a game based on the German attack on Libau 1914
It saw one of our memorable "friendly Fire" incidents.

A force of German PreDreadnoughts and light units were supporting the advance by their land forces (but without much communication).
The Russians had destroyers, batteries and mines.

The Germans probed with torpedoboats and were shot up by the batteries and managed not to hit the mines.

The Russian player decided they were too badly out numbered and took the destroyers out the back way while the garrison destroyed the batteries and then bugged out.

The German ground forces pushed up the coast against minimal Russian resistance.

The German PreDreadnoughts shelled what they thought were the retreating Russians but actually turned out to be the advancing German columns.

Fun games and seemed fairly true to form for that stage of the war.


Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2020 9:36 p.m. PST

I doubt German soldiers under a rain of 11" shells thought it was a "fun" mistake. grin

I never tried moving any of the troops on the land side at Libau or Riga. That's a fun twist I should try. I just assumed the land positions were static for the duration of naval operations and assigned point values to the batteries to be shelled on behalf of the land troops.

- Ix

Murvihill23 Apr 2020 2:57 a.m. PST

One other option is to give players both ships and forts, that is to say ships of the attacking fleet and a fort or two defending. Score the game player versus player so players won't want to attack their own assets.

Levi the Ox23 Apr 2020 8:49 p.m. PST

I have run Mers-el-Kebir, 1940, three times now with General Quarters 3. The French heavies and shore batteries are definitely outgunned, but the British are on the clock and can't afford to take serious damage. The opening turns of bombardment are mostly a risk-reward assessment for the British players, ideally keeping the damage each side suffers hidden from the other. Once the French get underway their destroyer flotilla really mixes things up.

I would like to figure out a good way to game something like the sinking of the Blucher in the Oslofjord, but I think the hidden preparations of both sides are pretty important to that.

Uparmored24 Apr 2020 1:36 a.m. PST

When BB-63 rolls up to support my invasion of Cuba in '89 you bet I'm gonna enjoy it. 9 x 16" tubes of death.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2020 7:44 p.m. PST

One other option is to give players both ships and forts, that is to say ships of the attacking fleet and a fort or two defending. Score the game player versus player so players won't want to attack their own assets.
That's an interesting idea. I've considered that in other contexts, and even saw it done once in an Anglo-Zulu game, but I've never done it myself.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2020 7:46 p.m. PST

I have run Mers-el-Kebir, 1940, three times now with General Quarters 3.
I've run this scenario about a half dozen times, but always as a "what if" with the French out of harbor already. For some reason I never seriously considered doing it the way it actually happened. Huh. Maybe I should.

- Ix

Levi the Ox25 Apr 2020 12:10 p.m. PST

I've run this scenario about a half dozen times, but always as a "what if" with the French out of harbor already. For some reason I never seriously considered doing it the way it actually happened. Huh. Maybe I should.
- Ix

I'm curious what results you've gotten from an open fight? My games have all ended with 2-3 French capital ships crippled or destroyed in exchange for moderate damage to Hood and major damage to the cruisers. I award extra points to the French for ships that escape, and they've managed a draw once.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2020 12:54 p.m. PST

Same here. In GQ3 the matchup is very lopsided. The armor ratings and gun calibers combine to let the British capital ships do way more damage per hit than the French.

The only two gambits the French really have are:

  • Steam the fast ships off the table at maximum speed, and leave the old battlewagons to sink in a (hopefully Pyrrhic) delaying action;
  • Maneuver to concentrate fire on Hood and wound her enough to let the fast ships can get away and give the old battleships a chance to slug their way out.

I've actually never seen either of these tried. Usually the fight just devolves into a slugfest which favors the Royal Navy. Setup does matter, though.

I also ran this scenario as a night action the first time, thinking to neutralize the 15" gun range advantage. That actually made things worse. grin

The last few times I've run this scenario, it was combined with a preliminary dogfight game in which shore-based French Curtiss Hawks try to fight off Fairey Swordfish coming to torpedo the French ships (Swordfish which get through can make torpedo runs). In spite of the apparent compounded danger to the French fleet, it's only made a difference once. The sky fight is as lopsided in French favor as the sea fight is in the British favor; Swordfish are just too vulnerable, and their big, plodding Fulmar escorts need really careful flying to stop the nimble little Hawks. (And realistically, the escorts should be Skuas, which were even worse fighters, but I don't have any Skua models, I'm not going to spend money to get any, and the Fulmars are bad enough.)

- Ix

Levi the Ox25 Apr 2020 8:44 p.m. PST

Yeah, the 1/2 damage ratio in particular is really rough on the French, and feels more lopsided than it maybe should be. I looked it up, and the 13.4" shells are 2/3 the weight of 15" shells, but I don't know enough about the subject to judge how their performance would compare, and it's likely a case of them falling just under the threshold.

In the most recent playthrough, I experimented with converting "failed" half-hits into non-penetrating hits, which feels better than having them be cancelled even if it still usually results in a bounce or the loss of a secondary turret.

The only two gambits the French really have are:

Steam the fast ships off the table at maximum speed, and leave the old battlewagons to sink in a (hopefully Pyrrhic) delaying action;
Maneuver to concentrate fire on Hood and wound her enough to let the fast ships can get away and give the old battleships a chance to slug their way out.

I highly recommend including the destroyers if you haven't tried it yet. They add a lot to a breakout attempt.

I'll have to try adding aircraft in, I've only abstracted it via random availability of aerial spotting into the harbor once dust and smoke blocks the view. As a real "what-if" in that direction, Commandant Teste had some torpedo-equipped seaplanes in her complement, I believe.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP27 Apr 2020 6:30 p.m. PST

The French guns all had about the same decent hitting power (though the newer guns on Dunkerque and Strasbourg had really long range), but the old 15" rifles aboard all 3 of the British capital ships were just much more destructive, so the imbalance is probably not all that unwarranted. In the real event, Dunkerque took disabling 15" hits through the beltline armor. I do agree, however, that the old British battlewagons should maybe be a bit more vulnerable in unarmored or poorly laid out areas. Bretagne certainly was, and Hood herself proved to be overmatched by Bismarck the following year despite equivalence on paper in all the major stats. Newer battleships just had a lot more lessons built into their damage resistance.

I've always had the full complement of DDs on both sides, and all the RN CLs. The French are outnumbered, but the French DDs are huge and scary and really wipe the floor with the British DDs if the British light forces aren't careful to use tactics that advantage numerical superiority.

I suppose it might be fun to run a French aerial attack on Force H to try to even the odds, but I have no idea where to find models of Commandant Teste's floatplanes. Commandant Teste is just too slow and vulnerable to include in a breakout attempt. I've also left out the subs, torpedo boats, and shore-based bombers based at Oran. I just took delivery of some Leo.451 models though, so I guess I could try a bombing run on Force H.

- Ix

Levi the Ox28 Apr 2020 9:49 a.m. PST

Good to have some better perspective on the matchup!

I usually include the seven French standard destroyers in Oran as well, sometimes after a delay (Tramontane, Tornade, Typhon, Bordelais, Trombe, Brestois, Boulonnais). They aren't as menacing as the big fleet destroyers in the anchorage, but the numbers help (especially the number of torpedo tubes).

RudyNelson28 Apr 2020 1:51 p.m. PST

A decade or two ago, I saw a solo system with targeting shore areas as objectives. An interesting solo variant.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2020 3:45 p.m. PST

I forgot to mention that I really like this idea:

In the most recent playthrough, I experimented with converting "failed" half-hits into non-penetrating hits, which feels better than having them be cancelled even if it still usually results in a bounce or the loss of a secondary turret.
I'm going to be looking for ways to use that sometimes. Not only is it just a little bit of a force leveler, it's also a nice kind of special characteristic for corner cases (like, say, WWI ship designs being pounded with WW2 shells).

- Ix

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