A Detailed Description

The current game is the third edition (1990-1991) of the rules. Harpoon is the game which Tom Clancy used as reference when writing The Hunt for Red October, and the game is also used as an introductory text at the U.S. Naval War College.

The designer's intent was to create a game with a simple basic system, to be combined with a data system that can be constantly updated as new weapons and technologies are introduced in the real world. The game places great emphasis on the problem of finding and fixing your opponent's vessels. It also assumes that modern naval combat is faster paced that it was in previous eras, and that modern ships are less survivable than earlier warships.

The game is played in two stages -- intermediate turns, which occur when opposing naval forces have not detected one another, and tactical turns, during which missiles fly and mayhem is inflicted.

The Intermediate Turn

Until enemy ships are contacted, the game is played in intermediate turns representing 10 minutes apiece. Each turn is broken into phases. Play in Harpoon is simultaneous -- that is, both players perform all actions at the same time.

The Intermediate Turn is composed of these phases:

Plotting Phase Each player writes his planned movement on his ships' log sheets. Other operations (aircraft operations, sensor activities) might also need to be plotted.
Movement Phase The movement plotted in the previous phase is revealed and executed.
Detection Check Phase Players check their ships' sensors to see if they have detected the enemy.

If an enemy ship is detected, the game immediately converts over to tactical turns. If necessary, all ship movement is proportionally reversed to the instant at which detection was first possible.

The Tactical Turn

The tactical turn consists of these phases:

Plotting Phase In addition to movement, fire may be plotted against previously detected targets.
Movement Phase In addition to ships and aircraft, there may be missiles and torpedoes moving on the tabletop.
Planned Fire Phase The plotted fire is resolved simultaneously.
Detection Check Phase As before, except there may be missiles or torpedoes to be detected.
Second Air Movement Phase Aircraft (and missiles fired at aircraft) have a bonus movement phase.
Reaction Fire Phase Weapons not previously fired may now fire. Targets detected this turn are now eligible to receive fire.
Resolution Phase Missiles and torpedoes which reached their target during the course of the turn now do damage.

Harpoon does not limit itself to ship-on-ship warfare. The same basic system also provides for submarines, aircraft, aircraft carriers, and even nuclear weapons. There is great richness in detail -- 12 types of missile guidance systems, for instance; and well over 100 types of ship-mounted radar systems (with individual stats).

Weapons have a percentage chance to hit (modified by circumstances), as well as a damage rating. When a ship receives damage points requal to its rating, it is sunk. Cumulative damage slows a ship down. Depending on the damage ratio (the total damage inflicted this phase, divided by the ship's remaining damage points), Critical Hits may be inflicted. Such hits may rob a ship of vital weapons or other systems.

To provide an idea of the detail level of this game, the following is the standard data for a Spruance-class destroyer.

Spruance (DD)

Displacement: 5830 fl
In Class: 24
In Service: 1975
Crew: 324
Speed: 33 kts
Propulsion: COGAG
Damage Points: 144
Damage Modifier: 0.75
Total Mounts: 12
Sensors: SPS-40, SPQ-9A, SPS-55, Mk23 TAS [all J]
SQS-53, SQR-19 towed array (DD-980) [all M]

Remarks: DD-997 has SPS-49 vice SPS-40. Fitted with Prairie-Masker acoustic masking system (quieted). All units will be fitted with Mk23 TAS. DD-974 is already fitted with Tomahawk; rest of list will follow. 976, 979, 983, 989, 990 will get PB&SB(4)2 Mk44 ABL w/4 Tomahawk per mount. Aluminum superstructure.

Armor: CHP rating for sensors and Mk44 ABL is L. Ships maneuver as 50-139 damage point vessels for turns and acceleration. Magazines hold 24 RIM-7M and 18 Mk46 torpedo manual reloads. Mk141 ROF 8 msls per turn (both launchers) at same target. NATO SS ROF 15 msls per turn. USS David R. Ray has A(21)1 Mk43 launcher w/21 RIM-116A RAM, Mk43 ROF 2 per turn at same target, 31 units built; 7 units now equipped with VLS: DD-963, 991, 996, 964, 967, 968, 971. Listed as Improved Spruance class.

Damage and Speed Breakdown:

Damage Points:  0     36     72     108     130     144

Surface Speed: 33     25     16       8       0    Sinks

The Data Book

This book is currently sold as part of the Harpoon boxed set, but has also been available as a separate product -- for a full description, see the Harpoon 1990-91 Data Annex description.

The Scenarios

The scenario booklet includes information for eleven battles. Look over the scenario list below, and you'll pretty much see what can be done with Harpoon:

In the Gulf of Sidra: A U.S. destroyer faces a pair of Libyan patrol boats. Learning scenario for novices.

The Norwegian Deeps: Duel between a U.S. submarine and a Soviet submarine. Learning scenario for submarine warfare.

Vampires in the Sky: The Soviet player is launching air-to-surface (AS-4 Kitchen) missiles at a U.S. Tarawa- class amphibious ship and its escort. Learning scenario for air-to-surface missile combat.

One Day in the Atlantic: Duel between a U.S. Knox-class frigate and a Victor II-class Soviet submarine. Introduces anti-submarine warfare.

Over the North Sea: A flight of British Phantom IIs engage a flight of Mig-23MF Floggers escorting Su-24 Fencers. Learning scenario for air combat.

Between Ascension and San Carlos: Hypothetical Falklands War scenario involving an Argentine warship raid on a British reinforcement group.

The First Team: A U.S. carrier's air group attacks a Soviet anti-carrier warfare group. An introduction to large-scale strike warfare.

In the Barents Sea: A Soviet hunter-killer group is pursuing a U.S. submarine. Teaches cooperative anti-submarine tactics.

North of Iceland: Soviet surface warships engage a British anti-submarine warfare group. A large, sophisticated scenario.

Keflavik Turkey Shoot: NATO must locate and engage Soviet Naval Air bombers before the attackers can strike at an Atlantic convoy. Recommended as a multi-player scenario.

The Hundred Fathom Curve: The situation is based on a chapter from The Hunt for Red October. A complicated, double-blind scenario involving four submarines. Recommended as multi-player.

Last Updates
19 June 1997reorganized
22 July 1996reformatted
15 April 1996reorganized
Comments or corrections?