Monday, 25 July 2011

Of Ships and Scales and Fletcher Pratt and Gaming with these things....

I have been giving a lot of thought about ship models and the varying sizes available and how to use them. I am thinking about 20th century naval warfare in particular and so am unable to comment about other periods but I guess the same observations would apply up to a point. What prompted this consideration was reading the WW1 rules from Paul Hague's book - Sea Battles in Miniature in which he outlines the game scale he uses. In a nutshell he is using 1/3000th scale models based on 3" bases. The scale is 40" representing 20,000 yards - which is coincidentally the maximum range used in the Avalon Hill game Jutland (the distance represented by the range finder used for measuring ranges) and also in John Hammond's Naval Rules published by Skytrex. The 3" base represents some 1,500 yards and a single 1/3,000th model represents two such ships. Fletcher Pratt in his games used models larger than 1/1200th and ranges measured in feet which was still not accurate in terms of model/scale representation.

In game terms then and in order to be consistent with the game scale a 600 ft dreadnought using Paul Hague's scale would come out at a little over half an inch long. This is very small and even using 1/6000th scale models the result is over scale. This presents something of a dilemma as the larger the models used the more the scale becomes distorted. I should point out that I am thinking about the naval game on a standard dining table - not on a floor or in a hall or even on a couple of tables joined together.

Now most naval gamers accept this apparent distortion as a necessary evil - if it is even considered at all - and spend a lot and time, effort and money amassing the fleets and rules for use in their games.

I am no exception to this as my various collections prove but I do wonder if this is the only way to approach a naval wargame - by using models, or at least models in the traditional fashion. If models are the preferred option (and if using a scale similar to that suggested by Paul Hague), and at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, then clearly those that are currently available are too large.

The problem then becomes what can use use to represent a dreadnought battleship a half an inch in length - thereby ensuring the model/ground scale are more or less consistent? Clearly conventional models are of little use at this level and in fact one is almost is straying into board game counters territory. A typical board game counter of a half inch square is just about right but hardly aesthetically pleasing although some of the counters available in various board games are quite the work of art in terms of detail etc (I am thinking of those from the Great War at Sea series of games) they are still invariably too large.

My solution to this conundrum is quite simple and whilst it will work for me may have die hard model gamers staring askance at the screen as a result of the heresy I am about to reveal!

Using Paul Hague's scale with the 3" base it becomes very simple. The represents the sea are occupied by a pair of dreadnoughts allowing roughly 750 yards each. This means that each 750 yards (2,250 feet) includes 600 ft or thereabouts of battleship (which is in fact less than the half mentioned earlier - the maths are a little suspect methinks!). Rounding this up to 750 feet (scale distortion at work already!) it gives you half and inch. It would be very easy to produce a ship shaped and grey painted marker of this size - obviously with no surface detail - to affix to the base of the appropriate size and to then duly festoon the same with waves, wakes, flags and the ship's name - thereby maintaining the allusion of using a model. The ship damage chart though will provide the visual detail that the model does not. The damage boxes could be imposed over a drawing of the ship is required or even just having the gunnery boxes in a stylised layout of the actual ship itself will serve to 'illustrate' the vessel in question.

The advantages of such an approach are many. The 'models' will cost next to nothing to make and the key thing is that they will still need to be made so as to satisfy the modelling part of the process. Storage would be incredibly simple and the sheer quantity of fleets that could be constructed in such a fashion is enormous. I personally would 'tweak' Paul Hague's basing idea slightly to have ships cruiser sized and larger on bases 1 1/2" square and for destroyers 3/4" by 1 1/2" so these bases could be combined in multiples for the standard 3" by 1 1/2" version. Obviously such a method would be ideal for large actions and would have the result of the average dining table appearing to be a better representation of the action rather than by using conventional models. An added bonus would be that identifying enemy ships at typical gunnery ranges becomes a real problem although having a ship name plastered on the base, even when viewed upside down, would be a bit of a clue!

Yes, I have been having many thoughts along these lines....;-)


brooksindy said...

One issue with NOT using models - my game group is sophisticated enough to want to make ship recognition part of the game (references provided) so you can do things like HOOD mistaking PRINZ EUGEN for BISMARCK, etc. A counters-only based game loses that possibility. Your ship ID thought makes it WORSE than historic, however.

David Crook said...

Hi Brooksindy,

You are quite right about the use of counters losing the ship recognition angle but all of my models are on bases with the name in place as well so ship identification is theoretically very simple - far more so than historically. During a game though, mistakes in identification still occur - simply because at ranges measured in feet it is very difficult to read the name on the base (especially if it is on the far side of the ship).

My 'fleet level plan' involves using bases with very small ship shaped pieces of wood or similar scaled to fit my playing area i.e. roughly four feet by six. I will have names on the bases and even national insignia but at a distance they will be identifiable as ships of a certain size. Of course the opposition could always come around to your side of the table and detail your complete order of battle if they wanted although in our group such ungentlemanly behaviour would be frowned upon!

I guess the point I am making is that whilst my idea will not appeal to everybody it will certainly satisfy a number of ideas I have for various projects.

Many thanks for your comments.

All the best,