Thursday, 28 January 2010

War at Sea Ungridded Playtest

Last night saw the first play test of the War at Sea WW2 naval wargame ungridded variant at the club. This was my first visit to the club this year (in fact since early December) so I was really looking forward to having a game and seeing some old familiar faces. As befits a play test the forces were quite small with each side fielding a battleship, a pair of heavy cruisers and four destroyers. It was the Italians versus the Royal Navy circa 1941, or as someone had once rather whimsically described it – the forces of style versus substance………;-)

The game started with both forces approaching each other from diagonally opposite corners of the table – the RN from the SE corner and the RM from the NW. The RN had deployed the two heavy cruisers (HMAS Australia and HMS Kent) in line ahead with HMS Warspite bringing up the rear. Deployed on either beam and covering the gaps between the heavy units were the destroyers – a pair of Tribal class and a couple of J’s. The Italians were similarly deployed except that the battleship (Guilio Cesare) was leading the line followed by the two cruisers (Bolzano and Trento) with their escorting destroyers on either beam.

The first turn saw both forces heading due East and West respectively with no firing taking place as the range was too long. This carried on for a further turn and at this point the Warspite was able to open fire using its Long Shot special ability (a once a game event) and so was able to hit the Guilio Cesare at the prodigious range of the equivalent of 6 squares i.e. 36” or 12 ‘legs’. I should mention that for the purposes of moving and firing off the grid the variant’s author had converted each square into two 3” legs. This means that a ship with a speed of two squares could move up to four ‘legs’, each of three inches for a total move of twelve inches. Furthermore, by dropping a ‘leg’ of its movement allowance a ship is able to change its heading to face in any direction.

The damage sustained by the Italian flagship was sufficient to ensure that their battle line maintained a healthy distance from the attention of HMS Warspite which unfortunately meant that whilst the RN could happily continue shooting at extreme range (in the game this is extended range or four squares which is measured at 27” for this variant) the Guilio Cesare was unable to reply. This was simply due to her damage as under the game system a capital ship may not fire at extended range if it has sustained a point or more of damage. This was to prove to be a costly handicap for the Italian flagship.

The Italians could be forgiven for breaking off the action at this point but their commander was made of sterner stuff and so the battle line swung around 180 degrees to face due west and so was on a parallel course and heading with the Royal Navy, albeit at long range. The two Italian heavy cruisers were now facing their RN opposite numbers whilst the Guilio Cesare continued to face the mighty Warspite.

Meanwhile (and no doubt to ease the pressure on their battle line) the two southernmost Italian destroyers attempted to close the RN line with a view to attempting a torpedo attack. The audacity of these two vessels however received scant reward as the withering crossfire from the secondary batteries from the Warspite and the massed gunfire from the two RN destroyers was sufficient to leave the Italian ships crippled, burning and sinking from the deluge of numerous assorted calibre shells.

The RN was able to close the range by swinging slightly to the northwest (although with little chance of heading off the Italians) and so both sides were then able to open fire with their heavy cruisers and score hits on their opposite numbers. The remaining Italian destroyers were swiftly despatched during the resultant fire fight but not without cost as two of the RN destroyers suffered a similar fate and under almost identical circumstances i.e. caught in the middle of the opposing battle lines and smothered with secondary gunfire.

The Warspite continued to fire at the Guilio Cesare inflicting further damage and the Italian flagship was in poor shape. Both side’s heavy cruisers had also sustained damage and so overall the advantage was firmly with the Royal Navy. At this point the Italian commander decided that discretion would be the better part of valour and that the dubious allure of the fleshpots of Taranto seemed a far safer alternative to the pounding his flagship had thus far sustained and so they disengaged. Whilst the Royal Navy would have undoubtedly preferred to pursue their discomforted opponents in order to administer the coup de grace to heavily damaged Italian flagship, the prospect of operating too close to the tender mercies of Fliegerkorps 10 with no air cover and with a greatly reduced escort was deemed sufficient reason for the squadron to retire.
As a play test it went pretty well and both sides enjoyed the experience. I think that the ‘leg’ size of three inches could probably be increased to four to spread things out on the table top relative to the model size and this will certainly look better. On closer reading of the turning rules you are able to turn in any direction after having moved the first leg in a straight line – not just at the end of the turn – this is a small but significant point. Other than that it all went well and the destruction of six out of eight destroyers on the table was down to faulty tactics rather than any perceived shortcomings of the rules!

We then set up an air attack to try the air rules with the result that the Italian Battleship with two escorting destroyers was able to drive off one base of attacking Swordfish leaving the other three bases to launch an attack. Of the three attacks one was successful. The big plus for this was the fact that the escorts could only engage the aircraft at long range which meant a minus 1 from each AA dice roll. A maximum of four aircraft bases can attack a ship so this represented a major effort with the overall result of one success from four with one attack driven off. That is not a bad start but will need further testing – including the use of such things escorting fighters and CAP. Air power has always been a bone of contention with these rules as it always seemed to be too easy to drive off attackers – to be fair though as the majority of the games I have fought have revolved around the use of the RN the air factor is considerably less than in the Pacific due to the carriers having less capacity.

My overall impression of this variant is very much a positive one and I am eagerly looking forward to trying further games using this system. There are a few points requiring clarification and expansion but certainly nothing major so this variant will be a most welcome addition to the naval war games rules collection.


SteelonSand said...

Hi Ogre, sounds good; but I'm always a bit wary of giving any player/side a 'Super-Roll' which means they have 'Superpowers' and can do something special the opposition can't - sounds like the poor italians were always on the back foot once this was employed....maybe historically fairly accurate, but....

What miniatures were you using? Particularly interested in the aircraft - something I'm thinking about at the moment - Ta!

David Crook said...

Hi SoS, The models are from Axis and Allies: War at Sea which is a collectable miniatures game and are scaled at 1/1800th. The aircraft are 1/900th and are based in 3 plane formations for single engined types and singles for anything else. The 'superpower' was based on Warspite's legendary long shot during an action in the Med and is a once in a game event. I must confess that the use of special abilities like this does cause some debate - some are quite justifiable and all are usually historically based so are a 'welcome' game mechanic. The problem in this action was that the Italians were outgunned - perhaps a Littorio would have made things a little more interesting!

Paul O'G said...

Very interesting mate, and the presence on HMAS AUSTRALIA on the week of Australia Day did not go un-noticed by the Admiralty!

David Crook said...

Very pleased to hear it! HMAS Australia acquitted herself well suffering minor damage in the process.