Thursday, 30 August 2012
Striking with Carriers
Dauntless dive bombers flying over a Pacific island
Now I realise that a good number of naval gamers will probably view carrier battles as not really being ‘proper’ seaborne battles. Up to a point I guess this is true as certainly having two fleets that never come into contact except through the medium of their aircraft could, on the face of it, make for a game that will turn into an exercise of dice rolling more than anything else.
The Avalon Hill board game Flat Top (which is nowhere near as complicated as you might think), used as the basis for carrier based naval games, also includes a set of tactical rules for those that prefer their ships to blasting away at each other in plain sight. For sheer tension the plot map approach whereby you have to find your opponent (and hope that he doesn’t find you first) before you can attack him is hard to beat. Planning an air strike, with all the problems associated with assembling the formation and then considering both the range and endurance of the aircraft involved, is a challenging and thought provoking experience that, if it comes off, is enormously satisfying – especially if your own carrier(s) remain undetected. In order to do this a player must first find his enemy, maintain contact and hope that he has sufficient material to get to the target before it disappears into the blue.
It is a facet of naval war that takes some getting used to after surface combat but is intensely satisfying in its own way.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea handled air attacks in a simple but efficient way in that attacking aircraft were merely placed alongside their target and attacked with whatever they were attacking with. I have no problem with this approach because even the slowest aircraft is still at least twice as fast as the fastest warship so it cuts to the chase of the combat resolution quite nicely and without having to move great swathes of aircraft around the tabletop.
The real challenge with this form of naval war then is simply finding the enemy in a meaningful way and making sure that you are in a position to take advantage of this knowledge. Essentially it is no different from locating a ship with a ship – you still have to find your target in order to engage it.
Fairly obviously then, the paramount need in any kind of game involving carriers is a good, clear, simple system for search and location by aircraft and in this respect Flat Top is quite frankly superb. You need to be organised about how you use these rules for sure but they are really not that difficult in operation. Air attacks are handled quite well in the game but for me the plan would be to merely use the map plotting and aerial operations sections as a delivery method for the models on the table – for which Across Four Oceans could then be used for the tactical side.
This is my thinking so far - once the board game arrives I can plan further but in any event the North Atlantic will be taking priority over the Pacific for the time being.