Monday, May 21, 2018

Portable Naval Wargame Pre-dreadnought Playtest 2

What happens when you are ill-prepared AND have the dice against you....

So, it took longer than I thought to return to "Portable Naval Wargame - Predreadnought" But I finally managed to play it today, RAW, in a compiled format of rules from both the Ironclads and the Predreadnought set. This took a couple of drafts, and there was still a typo in it, but that didn't affect play. So the below is the rules - using hexes - of PNW as Bob Cordery intends.

I took some time to collect ship data from Wiki [so it MUST be correct...] just to build a general idea what these ships were and their relative performance if in full operating condition. This gave me a bit of a rule of thumb for converting ships into PNW stats:

Ships with 8" guns I gave a 6 dice / 5-hex range battery, and those with 5-6" guns a 4 / 4 battery. Hull was about 1 Flotation Point for each 500 tons. If a ship was equipped with torpedoes, I gave them one torpedo attack for the game. Speed was about one hex per 6-7 knots. There were pretty clean breaks in speed, i.e. several ships in the 11-14 knot range, and several in the 18-21 knot range, so this was easiest to convert into relative values.

It is worth noting that the Spanish have more ships, that the Gunnery and Flotation points are nearly identical, the torpedo advantage lies with the Spanish but the speed / ramming edge is clearly with the Americans, with most ships having a 3-hex speed and a ram, while the Spanish have a 2-hex speed and only one ram in the fleet.

For the scenario, I changed the history a bit and had the ES poised to stop the US as they enter Manila Bay. The harbor defenses consist of two land batteries with a 3 / 3 gun battery, and 3 real mine counters and 3 dummy counters, numbered 1-6. 1, 2 and 3 are all real and attack a ship entering the hex with 1, 2, or 3 dice based upon the density of the minefield. 

Below, the mines are placed by me without knowing which are the real mines. This adds a little suspense for me. I concentrate them in the center where the land batteries are weakest, each only putting 1 dice of shooting into the center of the channel, and 2 dice into the hexes next to the fort. This leaves the US with the choice of taking more Gun shots, or risking more mines, which I felt added a balanced tension for decisions.

Each battery [above] has 3 / 3 gun points, so 3 dice and 2-hex range. They can both fire one dice into the center of the channel, and 2 dice into the near hex, giving even coverage across the channel. This coverage seems realistic.

The below is the battlesea [as in battlefield] for the game. The harbor entrance has one squadron of Spanish ships to East and one to South, the East having the larger ships and the South the smaller ones. To somewhat compensate for the mines and batteries, each Spanish squadron has a delay of 1, 2, or 3 turns to get up enough steam to sail, reflecting the surprise of the US attack. I used 3 chits numbered 1-3 and randomly picked two and placed one with each squadron. They will be flipped immediately after the first shot or mine explosion, as the Spanish go to battle stations.

Below, South squadron of three Velasco Class unprotected cruisers and a gunboat.

Below, squadron of two large unprotected cruisers and two small protected cruisers.

Turn 1 movement. There is no gunnery so US enters the board. No ship reaches a mine. I'm planning to send Olympia, center, to whichever side has no mines, or the fewest.

Turn 2, Gunnery. Shore batteries each put 2 Hits on a ship rolling a '6' each and causing Petrel to need to depart the fight [how, I've no idea]. In return, the US Armored Cruisers pound the batteries with three hits each [white dice], enough to suppress them. They will get back one Gunnery Point a turn for three turns if not fired upon again. This is to reflect that it is hard to destroy a stone and earth 'ship' from below! But you can make it hard for them to man the guns while under fire. 

Turn 2 Movement has the small US ships take the lead through the minefield. And, as fate would have it, ALL the mines are only in the center channel! This is just typical of my luck with this naval war...the luck is almost always against the ES and with the US. One awkward aspect of the rules is you must move forward one hex before you turn, the Olympia can't turn and avoid the minefield. I put her in the top of the channel instead of messing around with the turning rules.

Turn 3 has no gunnery needed as the forts are suppressed. We head directly to movement, and the ES have a delay of 1 turn for the South squadron, and 3 for the North Squadron. The US therefore moves into the harbor and heads South to destroy the small squadron first. As always seems to happen, I forget to turn over the dice, so now all the turns are off by one! *long, drawn-out sigh* So, add one to every turn from now on!

Turn 4 gunnery. The US takes a few long-range potshots at the ES who are out of range. OF COURSE they roll amazingly well, inflicting 7 hits and missing with zero dice! Fortune really, really doesn't like the Spaniards is all I can say. Castilla takes 4 Hits [out of 6] and Velasco takes 3 [out of 4] and technically both must retreat from the battle. How, I have no idea - it seems like they'll have to fight their way out regardless. [Ignore the Blue die!]

Turn 4 movement. The ES South squadron is free to move and closes in to use torpedoes and hopefully make an impact before getting wiped out. The US also advances, getting their formation broken up a bit due to having to pay for turns. Doesn't seem correct, really.

5 Gunnery. ES has torpedo attacks [3 dice to left of ship] which of course roll amazingly well, while their gunnery is limited to only 1 dice, altho Don Antonio gets a lucky hit. This results in the Concord sinking. In return, the US lays down 3 Hits of gunnery and 3 Hits from a torpedo attack by the Raleigh.

Turn 5, more US gunnery. The bigger US ships are bringing up the rear. Their 8-inch guns pound 5 more Hits in, sinking both the Velasco and the Don Juan and leaving the Don Antonio in poor shape.

Turn 5 Movement has both squadrons closing in as there's little room to maneuver between the shore line and the US squadron.

Turn 6 Gunnery. ES ships are clearly shaken...they miss. US pounds home four more Hits, and both ES ships sink, leaving the squadron a rescue effort rather than a threat.

Turn 6 Movement. The US starts to change course so as to engage the North ES squadron. The Boston, with its slow speed, is forced to venture towards them on its own and await the rest of the US ships to catch up. Worth noting is that a ship with Move 2 can only move 1 Hex forward and turn...a 3-Hex move is significantly better as you can move 1-2 hexes forward and turn, or move 1, turn, move 1. As for the 1-hex's move OR turn.

Turn 7, Movement. With no gunnery, the Petrel continues its painful move off board, while the Squadrons close in on each other. I find the turn rules awkward, but not impossible.

Turn 8 Gunnery. Boston may be slow, but she's deadly - 2 Hits sinks the Reina Cristina who misses in response. Note the Spanish fleet line spreading out due to a turn.

Turn 8 Moves. Both fleets close in, the Spanish hope to tackle the Boston before help arrives. Boston may be able to take care of them with a little luck.

Turn 9 Gunnery. Boston fires a long shot...and of course Hits for 2!

Turn 9 Moves. ES lose initiative, manage to reform line. US moves Boston to intercept, intending to follow Boston in Line Ahead. However, due to a turn, Raleigh needs to slow down to 2-hexes so the two AC can keep up. It probably doesn't matter as Raleigh is a pretty solid ship and could leave the other two behind and support Boston.

Turn 10 Gunnery. Boston "unleashes hell" and rolls 5 Hits on Castilla! However, the ES beat their luck and not only shoot for 4 Hits, but unleash ES cruise missile torpedoes for 2 more! Needless to say, Boston and Castilla sink.

Turn 10 Movement. ES continue on converging course as the closer they are the better it is for them since their gunnery is outranged. Raleigh leads the Baltimore and Olympia as quickly as possible, but the turn slows them down and they only manage to get two into firing position. Still, it will probably be more than enough...

Turn 11 Gunnery. For a change, the US misses, and the ES hits for 3 - Viva Espagna!!

Turn 11 Movement. The US is not afraid to close the range, having the more powerful guns and only lightly damaged ships. Still, the Spanish will go down fighting!

Turn 12 Gunnery. a weak effort by ES, who are then devastated by the best shot of the game, as the Baltimore puts out enough hits to sink a pre-dreadnought, much less a protected cruiser - 7 HITS!! Isla de Luzon has debris flying back to Luzon...

Turn 12 Movement, Turn 13 Gunnery. ES win Initiative, get to counter-move to the US Armored Cruisers. They will not be in ideal position either way, so elect to move farther ahead. Of course, it doesn't matter and the Isla de Cuba whiffs then is blown to kingdom come by the same sharpshooter on the Baltimore - 5 Hits inflicted! 

Final Tally: ES lose fleet of eight ships, US loses three [almost four] of six. However, both Armored Cruisers are in good shape, and they dominate the waves. The only way to even the score strategically would be to sabotage the Olympia so her coal bunker blows up. why did I think of that? Anyway, I liked how the scenario played out overall, except that it really seems as though FATE has it in for the Spaniards - they are weak in every aspect of naval operations, AND they have lousy luck! I want them to win, someday...

The rules worked OK for "simple", but I feel they are actually a bit too simple, and that with just a few design changes will be easier and give better feel for naval combat.

Pondering the Move / Turn system. Ships must move forward one hex and can then make one turn of one hex side. Let's explore some of the consequences of this mechanic.

Petrel is trying to follow the rules and exit the battlefield due to Flotation Point losses being at Critical Point. Let's forget the shore battery for now, and just think about maneuvering around the minefield:

- Petral has Move 2, and can advance 2 hexes.
But if she does, she has to move into the minefield as you can't turn until you have moved forward one hex. Not very appealing for a crippled ship!

Instead, if she moves forwards 1 HEX this turn...
She can then move forward one hex next turn, and make a turn to the left, which costs one point of movement anyway.
This is pretty awkward as it means you have to stop at least one hex ahead of any obstacle requiring a course change. This could of course be justified by saying that these ships don't turn on a dime. HOWEVER, with no time / distance scale, it really isn't possible to compute if this is reasonable or not.

Move / Turn system, squadron in Line Ahead [following a lead ship in column].

The US squadron is in Line Ahead, and all three ships have Move 3.
If Raleigh in front moves the full 3 hexes, she leaves behind Baltimore and Olympia who have to pay for a turn and can therefore only move 2 total hexes - there's now a gap in the Line Ahead formation.

The solution is that Raleigh has to move forward only 2 hexes, so that the other two ships can make their turn and keep up. Net effect is that a 60 degree turn costs 33% of Move.

Ok, so there's the problem - what might be the solution to this and the awkward zig-zagging of fire arcs?

Hexe facing variant - face ships to the spine, not the flat.  Can execute a small turn for free as it can move into *either* front hex. This also solves the problem of not being able to head straight across the board in the 3 or 9 o'clock direction below [you have to face 60 up, move, turn, move, turn, move, turn, etc, so it effectively costs twice as much to move straight in 2 of the 4 directions [board East-West].
This also makes the fire arcs easier to figure out. Pencils show how the front arc is straight down the spines, rear same off the stern, while the broadsides are cleanly along the spine line to each side.

Below, using spine facing, a squadron in Line Ahead executes a gentle turn around an obstacle [yellow dice].

Boston moves two hexes with gentle turn to left. Next turn, she moves one hex and pays one move point for 60-degree turn to next spine to left. Or, she could remain facing the same direction and just keep gently angling in either front direction.

Portable Naval Wargame - Predreadnought Rules thoughts:
  1. A guide to translate ship stats into the game from Wiki, Janes, etc is needed.
  2. The -1 dice / hex for gunnery means that ships actually have a max range of 1 hex less than rules state, i.e. a ship with a listed 6-hex range actually has a 5-hex range. This leaves you with the more awkward rule of "-1 dice for every hex past 1" so as to have a 6-hex range with a 6 / 6 battery. Or you can live with the 1-hex range discrepency. 
  3. Paying a hex of movement to turn one hex side is awkward. The net effect is that it slows a line ahead [column] down by 33-50% depending on their Move rate which seems extreme. In a chase you'd never want to change direction, even to farther away from the enemy fleet chasing you as you'd lose "ground".
  4. Restricting turns to one side after one hex forward of movement slows the game down quite a bit and makes it feel less "fluid", no pun intended. I see the goal, but I say ditch the turning cost and restriction - they don't make sense in the scale of the game, making it feel a lot more like 1800 than 1880.
  5. Torpedoes are way too good. They should have only a small chance to hit [say, a natural '6'] but if they do they cause 2 FP damage.
  6. The ability to shoot at any target, not just the nearest, results in a "shoot until it sinks" gunnery mechanism which is not realistic. Target acquisition was a major crew proficiency and gear test and was not easily done. Rather, it took a little while to range in and THEN you let fly with the whole broadside - game doesn't really reflect this.
  7. The hex mechanism doesn't really save much time and effort. True, you don't need to use measuring devices, but the fire arcs are actually a zig-zag pattern that is hard to follow - facing ships along the spine would solve that. It would also help with the turning issue - you could still charge a move point for a large turn, but gentle turns in any map board / hex alignment direction are all possible or you can move straight in any direction.
  8. I'm trying to figure out why ships should move at all in game terms. Scenario victory conditions and differences in gun ranges may force it. But if both sides are content with range, all ships could just not move at all. Perhaps one should get a bonus shooting at a ship that doesn't move?
Overall, I think these are an interesting set of mechanics. I feel that they err on the side of TOO simple, and that just a little bit more would both clean them up and give better naval feel. The hexes don't help much, I think it'd be easier just to use a Grid and allow ships to face either a spine or an edge [so 8 total directions]. However, it is almost as easy and feels more realistic to not bother with any sort of grid or hex at all - there's plenty of turn mechanics and gadgets to use that are simple and players pick up quickly, even if newbies.

In any event, Bob Cordery has given us a lot to think about for free, so "thanks Bob!"

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pre-dreadnought Project, p.3: Fleet Arrives

"You may anchor when ready, Gridley."
Related image

Hooray, the WTJ squadrons have arrived!

The box came from Wartimes Journal yesterday - not a bad turnaround time for print-on-demand plastics, which were in the order and delayed things a bit. The  pewter stock was all on hand. Order was placed April 26 and would've arrived quickly but for the plastics which had it arrive Monday the 14th, or 18 days total.

As always, the items were carefully packed in his special blister seals between bubbles system, and there was no breakage I can see, altho the plastic items make me a bit nervous - they're pretty strong but they don't LOOK strong! 31 of the 33 ships were available, and of course all the plastic was available. Below, metal hanging on box, plastics on table.

The pewter castings have the usual bits of flash and some have mold lines but they aren't pronounced. I like them and their heft - I've always preferred the metals to plastics in that regard, they FEEL right! However, the line is being discontinued due to the ease of working with the plastics, plus they offer better detail, little to no flash, and great variety in scale.

*sigh* Don't know what will happen to the excess pewter ships...but I asked.

Plastics below. wrecks at top left and right, fighting tops down the left, destroyers / torpedo boats center, land batteries to right. One error with extra large and no medium fighting tops that Jim at WTJ caught and is going to correct. I get some extra large ones out of it!

Below, entire order laid out for tallying and checking.

The pewter list and ships from top down. You can see nice details like decks and lifeboats. Spanish at top, followed by French, British, one Austrian and the Italian ships, all conveniently numbered by nationality on the bottom of the hull - and quite clear if small. Very useful! Note how large the Drake is - at 14,000+ tons and 500+ feet, she was quite large for the period, bigger than many battleships.

Regret that the lighting didn't come out as bright as it was in the room, but the flash would've made the pics worse.

I'm looking forward to this as a pretty quick prep, paint, and play project, that is also portable, and playable on a small space, so I can travel with it. Am enjoying working with the PW rules, and have a re-fight of Manila already planned for ASAP.

This era also encourages a sort of simplicity in play, also. The battles are mostly about gunnery as torpedoes just aren't that effective yet - altho they are a threat. Thus the primary tension is in maneuvering and firing, and we must rely on the scenarios to prevent us from getting bored with a "line them up and sink everything in sight" sort of game. Yet, there is some opportunity for odd weapons like spar torpedo boats, submarines and perhaps even a balloon attack - or observation - that make it a bit more interesting than a wooden ships and iron men era fight.

Once again, "Full Steam Ahead!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pre-dreadnought Project, p.2

"Here's the we just need a fool."
Fuerte Niebla

Well, I'd forgotten that I wanted to fight shore batteries, and making fighting tops seemed like a lot more time spent on guesswork as to the right soft plastic to use...and then I couldn't resist some wrecks! What can I say, I hate paying for shipping and I like complete projects. And forts / batteries are key to many actions - more than most gamers want to play.

Nelson said "A ship's a fool to fight a fort" but it was done - when needed it was more decisive than a blockade, if successful. There's also the possibility of a shore party since I got extra lifeboats! I plan to make the boats on bases where they can represent additional sunk ships, or shore parties, or whatever.

Interesting to see how it all adds up. I didn't need to buy 4 shore batteries, but I want to have a more complex action at some point, including Manila and other fictional actions in the Med - there are some good rules for it in General Quarters III and I believe also in Ironclads and Ether Flyers. It also is a key part of many naval campaigns to capture a port, not sink a fleet.

Anyway, batteries, boats, tops and's all in here now! Just awaiting delivery at this point.

1    Shore Battery #1                      WTJ-0100781-30    $5.25     $5.25
     1/3000 Scale 5.25
1    Shore Battery #2                      WTJ-0100782-30    $3.75     $3.75
     1/3000 Scale 3.75
1    Shore Battery #3                      WTJ-0100783-30    $4.75     $4.75
     1/3000 Scale 4.75
1    Shore Battery #4                      WTJ-0100784-30    $3.25     $3.25
     1/3000 Scale 3.75
1    Extra Lifeboats                       WTJ-0100790-30    $3.75     $3.75
     1/3000 Scale 3.75
2    Fighting Tops - Large                 WTJ-0100792A-30    $2.75     $5.50
     1/3000 Scale 2.75
2    Fighting Tops - Medium                WTJ-0100792B-30    $2.25     $4.50
     1/3000 Scale 2.25
2    Fighting Tops - Small                 WTJ-0100792C-30    $2.25     $4.50
     1/3000 Scale 2.25
2    Wreck, Bow (Russian)                  WTJ-0100795A-30    $1.75     $3.50
     1/3000 Scale 1.75
1    Wreck, Capsized (Russian)             WTJ-0100795B-30    $3.25     $3.25
     1/3000 Scale 3.25
1    Wreck, Stern (Russian)                WTJ-0100795C-30    $3.25     $3.25
     1/3000 Scale 3.25
                                                   Sub Total      $45.25

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pre-dreadnought Project, p.1 - Start, ship order

Every Gamer's Secret Fantasy...a Fleet in Being!

Wow, pushing an entire year of not posting anything here. Where did the time go?? Lots of other gaming and plenty of real life. Still, no excuse not to do something on at least a monthly basis. Must work on that!

Recently got a promo email from The Wartimes Journal, a site, sculptor and gamer I respect and enjoy. All the remaining 1/3000 pewter pre-dread ships are on sale for half off! I decided to check it out and see what I thought. 

Altho the new plastic ones are just the best, there is place in my life for little, durable fleets of simple metal ships, especially since much of my wargaming is now fast-play and on smaller tables. This also dovetails with my interest in the Great War at Sea series whose quick-play ship battle rules, maps and campaign system are all a tempting product for that which I adore - fleet actions and campaigns!

STILL, one has to seriously consider any purchase to see if there's any point to it at all. I have kicked around semi-fictitious naval actions in various locales and periods, and I decided on Mediterranean Squadron actions, pre-1900, as a good project. Reasons?

- British v. French rivalry, with Italians, Austrians, Turks and Spanish floating around, too.
- possible gaming of Russians forcing their fleet in Med via Black Sea, Gibraltar, or in the Suez Canal Zone as a by-product of Turkish or Japanese conflicts.
- one gamer pal has full Russian and Japanese fleets to fight with.
- multiple ship styles, national characteristics, etc.
- cool looking ships [well, odd-looking ships] with lots of different paint schemes and characteristics.
- fast-play rules design opportunity.
- Fiction = FUN!  No one can tell you it ain't so.
- already have GWaS maps and rules, plus a couple of alternatives.
- squadron approach means painting up 4-8 ships at a time, easy-peasy!

So overall, this just ended up being too good to pass up. I figure I can always sell them, even at a profit, in the future.

Qty  Name                                  SKU            Each Sub Total
2    Etna                                  WTJ-0088214    $1.37     $2.74
1    Dogali                                WTJ-0088213    $1.63     $1.63
1    Calabria                              WTJ-0088210    $1.63     $1.63
2    Lepanto                               WTJ-0088106    $2.13     $4.26
2    Italia                                WTJ-0088105    $2.13     $4.26

[Italians = 4 BB, 4 cruisers]

1    Bouvet                                WTJ-0066103    $2.13     $2.13
1    Carnot                                WTJ-0066105    $2.13     $2.13
1    Brennus                               WTJ-0066106    $2.13     $2.13
2    Jemmapes                              WTJ-0066122    $1.63     $3.26
1    Foudre                                WTJ-0066701    $1.37     $1.37
2    Dupleix                               WTJ-0066204    $1.87     $3.74
1    Dentrecasteaux                        WTJ-0066210    $1.87     $1.87
[French = 5 BB, 3 cruisers, 1 support vessel]

1    Monarch                               WTJ-0078102    $1.63     $1.63
[Austrians = 1 BB]

1    Pelayo                                WTJ-0033101    $1.87     $1.87
3    Cristobal Colon                       WTJ-0033204    $1.63     $4.89

[Spanish = 1 BB, 3 cruisers [can also be Italian]]

1    Benbow                                WTJ-0055106    $2.13     $2.13
1    Sans Pareil                           WTJ-0055110    $2.13     $2.13
1    Renown                                WTJ-0055112    $2.13     $2.13
1    Inflexible                            WTJ-0055117    $2.13     $2.13
1    Dreadnought                           WTJ-0055118    $2.13     $2.13
1    Polyphemus                            WTJ-0055702    $1.63     $1.63
1    Vulcan                                WTJ-0055701    $2.13     $2.13
4    Drake                                 WTJ-0055202    $2.13     $8.52

[British = 5 BB, 4 cruisers, 2 support]

4    Destroyer #11                         WTJ-0100411-30    $1.25     $5.00
     1/3000 Scale 1.25
4    Destroyer #13                         WTJ-0100413-30    $1.25     $5.00
     1/3000 Scale 1.25
4    Destroyer #5                          WTJ-0100405-30    $1.25     $5.00
     1/3000 Scale 1.25

[Anyone = 12 torpedo boat / destroyers]

TOTAL = 45 SHIPS for $90 or $2 a ship average. This is half price for even Resin Panzerschiffe ships, which are 1/2400 so a bit larger. Still, a great price.

This comes to 11 squadrons of 4 ships, plenty of maneuver elements for several players.------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sub Total           $ 77.47

Shipping:          $ 6.00
Grand Total      $ 83.47

Cool colors, cool ships! The pre-dread has it all for someone who wants "different".

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Manila AAR, Play Aids for Avalanche Press "1898"

Still getting acquainted with Avalanche Press' "Great War at Sea" series. Haven't yet decided how it will play out as a table game, but want to give myself time to think over and experience it RAW.

Ergo, did some more work to play the Basic Combat Rules. Made a play aid to help myself keep track of where the fleets are and their range bands. As the map isn't used, the BCR allow the entire fleet to be at only one range. Each side can attempt to close or retreat a range band, i.e. if you are at Long, you can switch to Short Range. This is decided by the player with the faster fleet. But if both are the same speed, you dice off and the winner decided the range band [they have outmaneuvered the opposition]. It's abstract, but not a bad sysemt, especially if you use Leaders to provide a modifier to the dice roll.

Below, image of the two fleets, starting off at long range, arranged in little groups I find easy to track due to the log sheet. The Close Range band I intend to use later [it represents being in the same hex in the advanced combat rules]. I also plan to allow groups of ships to be at different ranges, so for example torpedo boats might close in while bigger guns stay farther away. This makes a lot of sense if you out-gun and out-range the opposition.

As can be seen on the counters, the U.S. outguns the Spanish in Secondary Batteries by 7-2, and in Tertiary Batteries 9-6. Tertiaries can't fire at Long Range, so it is to the U.S. advantage to exploit the 7-2 edge and stay at Long Range, which they succeed in doing for the first three turns of the game, trashing one Spanish Cruiser, the Castilla.

Below, it is easy to track both the range bands and targeting by aligning the ships during the firing sequence. So the Olympia is firing upon the Reina Cristina at left, next to which the Baltimore and Raleigh are preparing to pound the Castilla. To Right the Raleigh and Concord fire upon Isla De Cuba, and the Petrel and McCullogh upon Isla de Luzon. When the firing sequence changes, I align the Spanish Ships the same way v. the U.S. ships.

I made my own sheet - I could photocopy the ones in the booklet, but it's a lot easier to keep track of the battle when all the ships are together in an order that makes sense to me.

To left bottom, I've the Advanced Turn Sequence and a summary of Torpedo Combat and its modifiers and special rules. Still working on the formatting, but this was pretty helpful.

Even with the play aids and the rules laid out, the entire thing sits on my bureau.

I recommend using different colored dice - helps to roll faster as you divide say all secondaries up as red dice, all tertiaries as yellow dice, etc.

In this play, I did all the rules correct. Battle report is as follows:
Both fleets have a "1 Slow" speed rated ship, and must roll off to change range.

Turns 1-3: U.S. wins the range test every turn, and keeps fleets at Long Range, taking advantage of the 7-2 ratings in Secondary Batteries. They pretty much trash the Castilla and damage the Reina Cristina. The Spanish manage to shoot really well, getting about 2-3 hits for their 6 dice [2 dice over 3 turns], and knocking out a Gun and a Hull on Boston.

Turn 4: As the Spanish have a lesser 9-6 disadvantage in Tertiary batteries, and an 8-2 edge in Torpedoes, they want to close the range. On the fourth try, they do so! Their gunnery isn't effective, as they bounce a Tertiary Hit off of Boston's lightly armored guns. However, they do well with Torpedoes, hitting with 3 and despite one fail at Damage they do inflict three Hull hits on Boston and sink her! U.S. Torpedoes miss.

Turn 5: Spanish again win and keep the range close. Victory celebrations don't last long, as the U.S. gunnery leaves both Castilla and Reina Cristina without guns and dead in the water. The Velasco and Don Juan lose their Guns. The Spanish Fleet now has only 4 of 8 batteries left, all Tertiary.

Turn 6. Spanish keep the range close, but to no avail. All four guns miss completely, and the U.S. fleet sinks the Gen Lez. and Don Antonio, and loses gun on the Isla de Cuba. The Spanish fleet has no guns firing, two ships DIW and two ships sinking. Resistance is futile, they strike their flags but are proud to have sunk one Yanqui ship!

Final Analysis. The rules are pretty straightforward except for Damage, which is a bit convoluted in its conversion of redundant damage to dead systems. Also, the Damage charts have some "you get nothing" results, which is emotionally unsatisfying - Hey, I hit where's my damage man!? There should be something, even if it isn't much.

Changes I'd make at this point, would be in the Damage chart and allow Groups of ships to change range bands on their own, and be at different ones. This would allow small ships to close in and fire torpedoes, while others stand at distance and fire guns. 

Next Project will be to modify the Log Sheets and add some heavier Spanish ships to the mix, then have some even battles. Massacring the Spanish every time isn't enough of test of the Basic Combat rules, altho it was very satisfying to sink just one U.S. ship!

I'll also share some of the math and conversion issues of putting these rules on the table - it's not quite as easy as I thought it would be! I am also leaning toward IGO-UGO for the firing rules, rather than simultaneous [aagh! Naval Rules Sacrilege!]

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Star Wars Starship Battles": The Rebels Strike Back!

So after playing the most basic form of the rules, it seemed only fair to try them with the advanced rules and - most importantly - the use of Class 4 ships: starfighters. 

Not only do starfighters, e.g. "snubfighters", provide iconic imagery of the genre, like the X-Wing and the TIE fighter, but many of the most important battles seem to be decided by the use of starfighters. Who can forget General Dadonna's answer to the damn good question, "Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snubfighters going to be against THAT?" in the briefing before the battle of Yavin? Well, "An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battlestation - but the approach will NOT be easy."

So I scrubbed together a little Rebel squadron to take on some of the iconic bunch of Imperial Star Destroyers I have laying around [16...but who's counting??]. Never having played with the starfighters, I tried to guess at a reasonable force balance, and at least was partially aided by the game's point system.

It should be noted that altho I'm using the Advanced Rule "Fleet Building" and Optional Rule "Special Abilities" I'm not using the "Fleet Commander Options" Optional Rule. This would add a bit more to the game, and this force has no less than 3 ships with the Fleet Commander Special Rule, but hey, one thing at a time!

Below, the Imperial Squadron: 3 x Imp Star Destroyers, 3 x "Infinite" TIE fighters, 2 x TIE Interceptors, 2 x TIE Bombers, TOTAL 191 points. Cards to right with the Imp dice set to '20' each as they seemed to hit up there WAY too much in the last battle and replays!

Zooming into the images will show the stats and special rules:
- The ImpSD is just a great ship - solid armor, powerful guns, Tractor Beam and can launch a fighter a turn. I consider this the standard by which all capital ships are measured!
- The classic TIE fighter is only OK with 14 Defense and +2 Laser Cannon - BUT, it has the special rule "Infinite" so when it is destroyed it is returned to the Fighter Pool and can be relaunched again! So, you never really run out of the little boogers. This seems a bit cheap as it is only 1 pt more than a Y-wing, but the Y has two guns and up to 3 Damage, or triple the TIE, which is pretty useless against a capital ship packing too little punch. 
- The TIE Interceptor is much better - 16 Defense and TWO +3 Laser Cannons, and the special rule "Interceptor" so it can pass through any enemy starfighter that doesn't also have "Interceptor" Of course, all this goodness costs more, so it is 6 pts. 
- Finally, the TIE Bomber is also quite good - for what it is supposed to do. At only 4 pts, it may have a weak Defense of 13 and a lame +1 Laser Cannon, but it has killer +4 Proton Torpedoes that deal out 4 Damage - enough to take most capital ships halfway to the scrap yard; AND it has the special rule "Long Range Bomber" which allows it to attack non-fighters at 2 squares away dealing half damage [2 Damage]. This is important since with the 13 Defense most Point Defense on capital ships would tear these things to pieces.

Below, the Rebel Squadron: the Class 2 Unique ship "Home One", 2 x Rebel Cruisers, 1 x Rebel Transport, 4 x Y-wing, 4 x A-wing [one Ace], 3 x B-wing, 2 x X-win [one Ace and one Luke Skywalker X-wing - "May the Force be with Him!"], TOTAL 192 pts.

- Home One is a very solid ship with slightly weaker main guns but Fighter Launch 2, so it can launch two starfighters a turn, important for the "close in and swarm" tactic I'm planning, and it costs just a little less than an Imperial SD at 50 pts.
- The Rebel Cruiser is a much weaker ship but it costs half as much. The main guns are half as good but the Defense is only a point worse on the front Face. More importantly, it has Fighter Launch 1 and 7 Hull points, making two of these a little better than the Imp Star Destroyer if they roll up [14 Hull, twice the starfighter launch, and more maneuverable].
- The A-wing is a scrappy little starfighter with a good 16 Defense and "Interceptor", but the weapons are a bit weak, with two +1 Attacks, one a Blaster Cannon and the other Concussion Missiles, but the latter are +3 Attack v. nonstarfighters and do 2 Damage.
- The B-wing is a heavy hitting if vulnerable ship. It has only a 13 Defense like the TIE Bomber but with three weapon systems it can deal out a whopping NINE damage if they all hit! It's Proton Torpedoes are +3 Attack and deal SIX of the damage, then there's an Ion Cannon that's +4 Attack and up to 2 Damage. The Laser Cannon seems like an afterthought, but hey, it can be used to destroy nearly any starfighter - this is a cool ship!
- The X-wing is a very nicely balanced starfighter with two +3 Attacks, and the Proton Torpedo does 4 Damage. It has 16 Defense, good as an A-wing. It's only limitation is that the Proton Torpedoes can only be used against nonstarfighters, so in a dogfight it only has one Attack, while the Y-wing and A-wing both have two. Still, the high Defense makes it the best all-around starfighter if you don't know what you'll be up against. But in a dogfight, I'd want to have twice as many Attacks! The Ace ups these stats to +4 Attacks and 17 Defense.
- Luke Skywalker's X-wing is of course pretty amazing and can deal some dangerous hurt; TWO +5 Attacks for up to 6 Damage against non-fighters, and the "Force Sense" Special Rule gives adjacent starfighters -1 Defense. He can take it, too, with an 18 Defense and - unusually - TWO Hull Points. Overall, my only criticism of the ship is that it still only has one Attack, albeit a +5 Attack, against fighters, making it weaker than most of the other ship types in a dogfight. I'd have given him two +4 Laser Cannons for 1 Damage, instead of one +5 for 2 Damage as that extra Damage point is redundant v. starfighters. Still, put him into the middle of a bunch of starfighters and he's going to impact them!

It should be noted that an "Ace" variant for any starfighter usually means +1 Defense and +1 to all Attacks, and usually costs 1 point more.

Force Comparisons: The A-wings are 5 [6 for Ace], the B-wings 6, the X-wing Ace is 7 [6 for regular X-wing] and Luke Skywalker's X-wing is 9 pts. So the total investment in starfighters for this force is 71 out of 192, or 37%. The Imps have 31 out of 191, or 18%. So nearly a perfect 2-1 ratio of starfighter advantage. 

This is offset by the 35 point advantage in Imperial Class 2 ships, and they have unlimited range on their nasty batteries that deal up to 7 Damage a turn - each! The Hull Point totals are 30 to 30, however. The interesting difficulty will be the "Infinite TIE Fighters" that can be put into play again the turn after they're destroyed. The only way to stop this is to destroy the Imp SDs, which is the goal anyway! In gunnery, the Imps have 27 Attack bonuses v. 16 for the Rebels, a 1.7 - 1.0 advantage, so almost 2-1. Clearly, Imperial gunnery will be crucial to this fight as it is where much of their point advantage is resting.

Overall, the sides are interesting: both have strengths but different strengths.

SETUP below. The Imps win the setup roll-off, so the Rebs setup first. Playing across the wide side of the board, I don't want the Imps to be able to nestle in a far corner - just more gunnery with infinite range, up to two turns more, if I favor a side. I set up the Rebels smack in the middle, basically. I put both Rebel Cruisers together, hoping their starfighter Launching would be mutually supportive somehow. I set up the Imps in a corner, protecting all their sides except one, and all their rears, from nasty starfighter attacks. It also has them as far away as possible, giving them the most time for gunnery at distance, their forte.

Round 1 below. Imps lose Initiative - they sit tight and Fighter Launch three Infinite TIE Fighters, one each. The Rebels move full forward to Fighter Launch as close as possible. I picked the A-wings to pin down the TIEs yet be able to penetrate the starfighter screen if needed. I also hoped their two weak Attacks would still deal nasty to the TIEs.

Note that in their present positions, all the Rebel capital ships can hit the side Face of the right-most Imp SD, and most of them the middle SD, also. The turning rules make it hard to change this since you can only turn AND move forward. So those SDs would have to move forward 2 squares, then turn AND move forward a square the next Round, blocking the adjacent SD from any movement. This is a bit of a quandary since if they are not against the edge and crammed together, they are A LOT more vulnerable to starfighter attack. They are hoping to trash enough Rebels to win the gunnery duel, regardless of attack angle. Also, they outflank the Rebels in return, anyway - but will it help as much?

Round 1 Attack Phase. Imps blast Rebels off the map, hitting 5/6 shots, destroying two Rebel Cruisers and Reducing the Rebel Transport. Argh! The Force is with them!!

In return, Rebs knock out 7/10 of the right-most SD, Reducing it - small compensation.

As this is a playtest, I'm not very interested in hot dice! I reroll all Attacks, upping the Damage on the rightmost SD to 8/10, and saving one Rebel Cruiser by rolling average.

Round 2, the Imps again lose Initiative. Interestingly, this gives them first movement, and the opportunity to get starfighters where they're needed and lock other starfighters into position. So "losing" Initiative is more like a win with starfighters. Unfortunately for the Imps, all the Rebel starfighters are A-wings with "Interceptor" and they can just move away!

So, the forward positioning of the TIE Fighters [above] is pointless. But, they can occupy a square and keep the Rebel starfighters from attacking the weakened SD or the flank of the leftmost SD, so that's what they do instead [below].

The SDs then Fighter Launch nearly all their remaining fighters, two TIE Interceptors and a TIE Bomber. These protectively occupy more squares , leaving only a 3-square attack point at the front of the left SD; with Defense 16, I'm hoping it will be able to hold off the Rebels..

Round 2, Rebel movement. I pondered this a while. The maneuverability of the Class 3 ships was pretty useful here, with all of them moving diagonally and changing facing freely to end up on the Imperial side Faces. They then all Fighter Launch. Luke's X-wing emerging from the Cruiser, the X-wing Ace and a B-wing from Home One. The A-wings engage TIEs, with the Ace positioning to attack either SD or the TIE Interceptor, depending.

Round 2 Attack Phase. Revenge of the Rebel Cruiser! It rolls hot with its Turbolasers and knocks off the remaining two Hull Points of the Reduced Imp SD.

The Rebels target the center SD, rolling hot and inflicting 10 Damage, including 7 from Home One, 1 from the Transport, and 2 from the A-wing Ace's Concussion Missile.

Round 2 Attack Phase starfighters. The Interceptors to right both miss, the center one is outmatched by the A-wing that edges it out with a Concussion Missile [barely].

Round 2 Imperial Attack Phase. Gunnery smokes the second Rebel Cruiser, but the Imps miss 3/5 shots, and the TIE Fighter and Bomber also miss. I forgot to attack the Transport with the TIE Bomber's 2-square range, but it couldn't destroy it with 2 damage anyway, and I forgot to attack with the A-wing and Luke Skywalker, also! I also forgot to fire the Point Defense on the A-wing Ace and Luke Skywalker's X-wing. Learning pains...

Round 3. Imps lose Initiative again, but IMP starfighters get into position first. I forgot to Fighter Launch the remaining TIE Bomber, however. The SD doesn't move - too awkward and slow, and there's no advantage to doing so. Home One moves in closer and Fighter Launches two Y-wings. I picked them for their versatility against fighters or the SD. During Attack Phases, Home One misses, the Transport kills the adjacent TIE Fighter, but in return it is destroyed by the SD's Turbolasers - it's Ion Cannons then miss Home One. The left batch of A-wings miss and are missed by the TIE Fighter and Bomber. In front, the one TIE Fighter kills the X-wing Ace [THAT was a surprise!] and survives three Attacks! The left TIE dies while missing with its Attacks. I guess he didn't ace the Imperial Academy! 

Catching up on some mistakes, the Point Defense on the SD kills the A-wing Ace but misses Luke Skywalker - twice. Luke then attacks twice [once for last Round, once for this Round] and rolls hot, hitting 3/4 of the time including one Proton Torpedo run, for 8 total Damage - the Force IS with him! Note that if his other Proton Torpedo Attack had hit instead of the Laser Cannon, OR if Home One had hit once, the SD would be toast! As it is, it is Reduced.

Round 4. Things are wrapping up fast, with a wild starfighter melee between the two Class 2 ships, and little reason to maneuver, but I move Home One forward a square anyway, then Fighter Launch another Y-wing and a B-wing. Home One guns down the Reduced SD which misses in return. All that's left is the Starfighter Attacks.

At left, the Y-wing misses both attacks and is missed in return by the TIE Bomber. The two center TIE Fighters are destroyed by the B and Y-wing respectively, as Luke misses the right TIE. For sheer revenge at what is obviously an Imperial defeat, I attack Luke's X-wing with both TIE fighters, hoping for a long shot success since he has two Hull Points and 18 Defense. Wonder of Wonders...both hit! Luke is defeated, altho as a Major Hero he'll be rescued from Vacuum and return to the fight in the future after a long Bacta Bath.

Round 5. The lone TIE Bomber is an Imperial devotee, clearly! instead of surrendering, he tries to take out the Y-wing, but just misses. In return, he's killed three times over.

Final Result. Rebels have 100 pts surviving, including unused B and Y-wing. The Imps have a 4 pt TIE Bomber alive, and access to Infinite TIEs if they only had an SD!

The Cost. Imps lose three SDs, two TIE Interceptors, 1 TIE Bomber, 3 Infinite TIE Fighters, for 187 pts. The Rebels lost all three Class 3 ships, two A-wings [including an Ace] and two X-wings [including an Ace and Luke Skywalker!] for 92 pts.

The Cards show a wide variety of casualties in the storm of destruction!

- I'd toss the Rebel Transport, a Y-wing and B-wing for another Rebel Cruiser. It'd give me a bit more Hull and gunnery, and another Fighter Launch capability.
- Setup was ok, but I think I'd deploy the Class 3 ships farther to the side if I set up second. This would give them the ability to threaten the side Faces of the Star Destroyers, while Home One would hit the side if they turned, outflanking the static Imp plan.
- The Imps don't gain anything by splitting up. As they want distance for gunnery, they either deploy in the center [if first] or a corner [if second]. 
- There's a method to the madness if deciding how to run your Attacks, which provides a lot of the decision making each Round. Maneuver isn't that important for Class 1-2 ships, but it is pretty important for Class 3-4 ships. Basically, the big ships lumber around providing either long-range gunnery or short-range starfighter defense.
- This game is clearly designed to get you into a wild melee of starfighters. The big ships don't last long with the powerful, infinite-ranged gunnery. 
- If I fought down the long-edge of the map, there'd be one more Round of gunnery before the starfighters struck. This could certainly trash another Rebel Cruiser, but with average rolling the three Imp SDs are putting out about 10 Damage a Round while the Rebels are inflicting about 7 Damage a Round, pretty much Reducing one Imp SD.

So in three Rounds there'd be three dead Rebel Cruisers and either three Reduced SD, or, 1 Destroyed, 1 Reduced and 1 undamaged SD against an undamaged Home One. Or, they could destroy Home One with 1-2 Rebel Cruisers Destroyed or Reduced. This would still leave a weakened Imperial force taking on about 7-8 starfighters, which would be close.

Most importantly, it should be noted that the Imps had less points and only rolled average, unlike the last couple of playtests of the rules! [OK, ok, it was only ONE less point, but still...]

Well, I think there's a bunch of clear decision-points for players in this game, even playing it "as-is". It's more interesting than it seems at first glance, and certainly falls into the One-Hour Wargames spectrum of having a lot more play than you think until you actually play it and think about it. The flavor is excellent, including the game pieces themselves. I must say that I do prefer to have the ships out of scale relationship to each other but VISIBLE to my naked eye. So a blow against scale "realism" here.

Some things I'd like to change are:
- giving the Initiative winner choice of moving first or second,
- slowing the pace of the big ships dying to long-range gunnery [possibly by introducing some Ranges or making the Damage = how much you beat the Defense, up to the max],
- make the starfighters feel more like "squadrons" instead of single ships, 
- adding another facing direction [so 8 instead of 4],
- keeping main batteries from shooting at starfighters; the Point Defense should be enough  since everyone has access to starfighters and most ships have some fighter defense, also.
- doing something about total freedom with Attack selection and sequential Attack resolution. Perhaps some sort of Target Acquisition rule to encourage ships to pick targets and stick with them, or it could also be proximity-based.

I do want to preserve the Star Wars feel to the system and stay within the perimeter of the rules as much as possible. While the movement is heavily abstracted, it's very surprising how little that matters given the technology involved, and this is a game about space COMBAT not SPACE ASTROGATION anyway. General concepts and decisions about positioning are there for the players, and they DO affect the game, and that's all that matters at our level of play anyway, since all the technology is very heavily theoretical, to the point where it's hard to add details to it at all!

So altho this isn't the game I would have designed for Wizards of the Coast, and I do think they could have done a LOT more with the Advanced and Optional rules, there is more here than appears at first, and more to work with. I'll slow the pace at which I was thinking of introducing changes, and try to hit a couple of very specific things for next time.