Sunday, January 29, 2017

General Quarters - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

 This is the second set of naval rules that I am reviewing in this series (the first, was Seekrieg).  Please note that this review is of the old (1975) version of General Quarters. The new version (GQIII and the WW1 version, Fleet Action Imminent) from Old Dominion Gameworks are excellent games, but they are different enough (and improved in many ways), that I felt like a review of the old school rules was warranted.  Besides, the older ones are still popular in our club.

In 1975, L.L. Gill published General Quarters.  These were originally published by Brookhurst Hobbies, and then by C-in-C (the version I have of GQ1 is from C-in-C), and these days by Navwar (I believe that in spite of the new version from ODGW, that Navwar continues to publish GQ1 and GQ2).  From the cover, these are "Complete and Comprehensive Rules for Naval Wargaming".  It is hard to argue.  Although in comparison with the Seekrieg rules, they are certainly Naval Wargaming in a different language.  I came to these rules as the third set of commercial miniatures naval rules I ever read.  The first was Seekrieg.  The second was Heart of Oak (from FGU, 1978).  And then there was General Quarters.  I found them in one of several boxes of miniatures rules that were for sale at Campaign Headquarters.  Looking through them, they seemed so very simple.  I had played several naval wargames, by the mid 80s (when I came across GQ) - including Wooden Ships and Iron Men (Avalon Hill, at least the version I had), Battlewagon (Task Force Games), Fire when Ready! (Metagaming), and Fast Attack Boats (Yaquinto).  I had read several books about Naval Wargaming, as mentioned in the Seekrieg article - these contained several miniatures rulesets.  So, when I came to GQ, I did not have the newcomer's eye.  It looked very simple, and couldn't possibly be any good.  And what was that turning gauge all about? And the broadside indicator?

Finally, however, in the late 1980s, I got a copy of GQ, at the suggestion of a friend, to look at the torpedo rules.  Which had to be an improvement on the torpedo rules in Seekrieg. At least from the perspective of play-ability.  At this time, I had also written my own set of naval rules, covering modern small craft (river craft, hovercraft, and small patrol boats) for a modern warfare campaign.  I began to appreciate the essence of simplicity. And that was what GQ offered - sensible systems, that have the detail backed into the calculations and factors, that offered a quick game, with good (historical) results.  The systems worked so well, and lacked complexity, so that many aspects of WW2 naval combat could be very easily incorporated, where they caused heartache in other rulesets.  I became (and remain) hooked.

As with most naval games (but not all) a single model represents a single naval asset (ship, submarine, etc).  Very small craft (such as motor torpedo boats), and aircraft, are represented by a single model for a group.  Torpedoes (except a very few special cases, such as the Japanese Long Lance) are resolved in a single turn, so aren't marked on the tabletop.

The surface scale is 1" to 250 yards (8" to a nautical mile).  Not that this is half the size of the table top scale for Seekrieg, by comparison.

The time scale is 6 minutes to a turn (10 turns to an hour).  A quick mathematician will point out that a 30kt vessel, in 6 minutes, can travel 24" on the tabletop.  However, the ruleset has purposefully halved the movement distance of all the vessels in the game (so the 30kt vessel can travel a total of 12 inches), to keep people from steaming all over the place (and requiring a shorter turn, or smaller scale, as Seekrieg does).  Engagements are best played on a large-ish tabletop, or floor, with long range shots of 9-12 feet not being too extreme for large guns.  With smaller (more reasonable) guns, such as on cruisers and destroyers, a much smaller play surface would suffice, as would converting inches to CM, or halving everything.

A quick note about distances - the game gives distances (movement, and gunnery) in inches.  It is quick to mentally convert this to thousands of yards, or nautical miles, but as inches it makes it very easy to play.

Turn Sequence
The game is (thankfully) played without any movement plotting at all.  In fact, no written orders are required for anything (except aircraft operations, and torpedo runs).  So, because of that, there is an integrated turn sequence that works quite well.

1. Ship Movement
  a) Side A moves and lays smoke screens
  b) Side B moves and lays smoke screens. (the two sides alternate being side A)
  c) Collisions are resolved
  d) Ships in minefields are checked for detonation
  e) Mine damage takes effect

2. Torpedoes hit targets - those fired on the preceding game turn reach their targets (or two turns ago, if Japanese long lance torpedoes).  If there is an interception, then damage is calculated.  Immediate effects of damage.

3. Air attacks
  a) Air to Air combat
  b) AA fire against aircraft attempting surface strikes
  c) Surviving aircraft conduct strikes on targets
  d) Damage from all air strikes takes effect immediately

4. Gunnery combat
  a) Search lights illuminate targets during light action
  b) Gunnery attacks resolved for both sides
  c) Damage from gunnery takes effect immediately

5. Torpedoes are launched (for next turn) by both sides.

6. Repair
  a) Damage Control hits (Critical Hit #3) may be attempted to be repaired
  b) Fires in CVs, CVEs, AKs and AOs may attempt to be extinguished
  c) Stationary ships (i..e - non functioning engine room) may attempt to regain power
  d) Ships which sink this game turn are removed from the table

7. Smoke Screens laid the previous turn are removed. (we found it useful to have them be modeled as black cotton on the turn they are laid, and on this phase, remove all white smoke, and then turn all black smoke to white)

Movement is quite simple.  It is marked on the Ship Display as a number of inches, based on how much damage the hull (and, by extension, the engine room) has taken.  A ship may move that many inches ahead.

Turning is done by the use of a small gauge, that allows a 45 degree turn for each inch (or more) traveled ahead.  In practice this is a very simple procedure, and can be done without the gauge - although it proves useful for tight areas.  Very small craft (Motor Torpedo Boats) can turn on a dime, up to 180 degrees.

Acceleration and Deceleration is by 3".  This is 4" for small vessels (DD and smaller).  Note that this is based on the distance the ship moved last turn, so if the engine room gets severely damage, and the maximum speed drops from 12" to 6" in a single turn, the ship can still only decelerate by 3" (but will be forced to do so each turn, until it reaches it's new maximum speed, based on damage).

Ships within an inch of each other are in danger of collision (unless, one is attempting to secure a tow of the other).

Ships within four inches of a land mass are in danger of running aground (shoals and reefs, of course).  The referee can introduce any sort of terrain he desires - including additional areas where a ship can run aground.

Ships should be divided up into divisions of 2 to 8 vessels, and move either line ahead, line abreast, or in an oblique formation.  Ships must remain in a division, but can reform.  Special exceptions are when avoiding torpedo attacks, or because of the effects of damage, etc.

Small ships can use evasive action.  There are also detailed rules for collisions, towing, and smoke screens.

The rules for gunnery determine who may shoot (based on line of sight, line of fire, spotting, radar, and so on).  Each ship that is armed has one or more batteries (on large ships, there are main, secondary, and tertiary batteries - which may also be AA guns).  Fire against a target is by a complete battery.  It is probable that a ship has a secondary (or tertiary) battery that is identical on each side (port and starboard) of a ship.  The main battery, if it is comprised of center line turrets, is singular, although it may be split between fore and aft, based on whether the turrets involved are those before, or behind, the main superstructure of the ship.

The rules determine how to make sense of this battery stuff, although some knowledge of the layout of the ship is helpful - we found that a reprint of a WW2 era Jane's Fighting Ships proved invaluable (the sort that can be had cheap at a book store or Amazon).  I prefer Conway's to Jane's, but my copies of Conway's all disappeared years ago.  Sad tale.

Once you determine which battery is firing (which is really amazingly simple, I've spent too much time discussing it here), your ship data will have a note of the gun caliber, and also the AF (attack factor) for that battery.  Using the gun caliber, find the entry on the straddle table that represents the range bracket you are in, and a "to hit" number for a D6 is there.  If this number is rolled, on a D6, then your battery has scored a straddle (it hit the target).  There are a number of modifiers for this, and there are two sets of "to hit" numbers, one for day actions, and one for night actions, but it is extremely easy to understand (and, more importantly for convention play, to teach).
Example - The straddle chart is easy to read - find the column that corresponds to your battery you are firing.  Then find the row that lists the lowest range value that exceed the actual range you are from the target.  So, if you are firing a 12" battery, at a range of 88 inches (11 nautical miles) on the tabletop, consulting the table, we find that the lowest value that exceeds 88 inches, is a 96.  If this is a daylight engagement, we see that a dice score of a 1 or 2 is needed on a D6 to score a straddle at that range.

The Straddle Table
That is it.  Compared to the hit determination sequence in Seekrieg, this is fiddler's green.  In fact, most players will roll three dice at once - a white, a black, and a red.  The white dice is to see if a hit is scored, the black dice it to check for hull damage, and the red dice is to check for armament damage.

 Once you score a straddle, the next bit of gunnery detail is to determine if you have scored any damage.  This involves (first) noting from the straddle table, the entry of the range bracket will note an Armor Type that will be penetrated.  This is in (basic terms) of ship class, and it and all lesser ship classes are penetrated by that gun, at that range bracket.  So, for instance, given the example above, of a 12" gun firing at a range of 88 inches, we find that the entry on the straddle table (the 96" entry) states that a 12" gun at that point will penetrate CA (Heavy Cruiser) armor, or lighter.

If a battery scores a hit against a target that it cannot penetrate, it can still do damage, but it will be Non-Penetrating Damage.

The next step in determining damage is to see what the straddle did.  Compare the AF (attack factor) of the battery, against the DF (defense factor) of the target ship.  This will allow you to compute a ratio.  Round the ratio in the favor of the defender, and consult the Gunnery Combat Results Table.  Remember that you rolled three dice (white is "to hit", black is "hull damage" and red is "armament damage").  The black dice entry on the chart, for the ratio of AF to DF, gives the number of damage points to the target ship's hull.  The red dice gives the number of damage points to the target ship's armament.

SDS of a Japanese Cruiser - three rows of boxes - Critical Damage, Armament, and Hull
 These damage points represent boxes that are crossed off, from left to right, on the Ship Display Summary (SDS).  This is the box that represents the ship, and has the basic info for the game on batteries, movement, armor, etc.  Each point of damage represents a box crossed off, either on the Armament Row (which has attack factors for the main battery, and secondary battery, and torpedoes), or on the Hull Row (which has the current maximum speed listed in inches).  When all the Hull boxes are crossed off, a ship will sink.  When all hull boxes that have numbers in them are lost, but the ship has not sunk, then the ship may not move (although there are rules for emergency restarts of the engine room, giving a basic movement capability).

If the target ship's armor is NOT PENETRATED, then armament damage does not affect Main Batteries (but will affect secondaries and toredoes).  Also, if the ship's armor is NOT PENETRATED, then hull damage is halved.

If the hull dice (the black one) is a '2', this means that an additional dice roll can be made for a Critical Hit.  Roll 1d6 and consult the critical damage table.

Notice that critical hits number 4,5,6 have an (A) - that means that the armor of the target ship must have been penetrated for this one to take place.  If not, then there is no effect for these results.

Torpedoes do require a small amount of record keeping.  When launched, a note of the position of the launching ship should be made, and also the target ship.  The player launching the torpedoes makes a note of how many, the target ship, and what his guess is to as to the maneuvering of the target ship over the next movement.  This represents the guess work that goes into leading the ship when firing, so that the torpedoes are on target.  If the player guesses right (his guesses are - Stay Straight, Move port, Move starboard, or Move Reverse - based on the location and bearing of the target ship when the torpedoes are launched), then there is a chance for torpedoes to strike.

The procedure is, if the torpedo run is on target, note the number of torpedoes, and based on some modifiers, roll a dice to see how many actually strike the target (there are modifiers for speed and range and some situational conditions).  Again, there is art (guessing the move of the target vessel) and science (determining how many fish strike home).  The rules also allow you to select a depth of run for the torpedo - which means that they will strike more effectively against some targets, but may pass underneath others.
Torpedo tables

Once you know how many torpedoes hit, for each one, roll on the Torpedo effect table, to see how many Hull/Armament boxes are lost, whether there is a Critical Hit, and/or whether or not the target ship is simply sunk.  It is all based on the DF (defensive factor) of the target ship.  Large ships are harder to damage with torpedoes.  Note the same procedure is followed for ships moving through minefields.

Submarines have the ability to launch torpedo attacks.  There are rules for moving the submarine on the surface, and also what happens when a submarine finds a task force.  They really work much better in a campaign, but it is possible to include them in a set piece surface scenario.
Spotted submarines (either before or during the attack) can then be attacked by escorts, etc.  Surviving submarines can launch torpedo attacks.

Aircraft can fly several missions (search, CAP, bomb, torpedo, etc).  There are rules for launching and recovering float planes (used for spotting), and for carrier and land base operations.

Once strike aircraft find their target ship (usually this takes place in a campaign setting), then they are able to make an attack.  They first must survive attack by the defending CAP aircraft that might be patrolling.  There is a simple chart where the number of attacking aircraft roll a dice to see how many enemy aircraft are destroyed, or must return to base.  The same procedure happens with A/A fire.  Surviving aircraft then then roll on a bombing or torpedo run chart to see if any of their deadly payloads hit, and (based on the DF of the target vessel) how much damage is done.

These operations are very simple, but very sensible.  Knowing how many bombers and how many fighters to include in a mission becomes more of an art, because the science of adjudication is kept so simple.  Again, this is a subsystem of the rules that works very well.  It does require some record keeping - how many aircraft are on the carrier, what types are they, are they ready to launch, or arming.  When a mission is launched, what is the composition (4 fighters, 8 bombers, for instance).  But it is all pretty simple.

Additional Rules
There are rules covering minefields (and the laying/sweeping of same), motor torpedo boats, weather, logistics (including endurance of ships, and resupply), and so on.  For a little 5x8" book, there is a surprisingly comprehensive coverage of WW2 naval operations.
While a lot of this detail, and the extra weapons systems and situation rules, can be used in set piece battles and/or scenarios devised by a referee or based on history, the real strength of these rules shines in campaign play.

Campaign Play
The book gives two types of campaigns.  The full scale map campaign (that will cover weeks, if not years, of campaign time), and the mini campaign (that covers hours, and/or days of campaign time).  The former will have full blown naval operations, including long range planning, movement, logistics, and missions.  The latter will focus mostly on search operations, leading to surface engagements.  Again, the systems (such as endurance, map speed, air operations in searching, spotting enemy units, etc) are very straight forward, but this is where the gameplay shines.  And because surface engagements are so easy and fast to set up and adjudicate, the campaign works well, and is not bogged down by large tabletop affairs.

Thoughts, Conclusion
While I have an immense amount of respect, and fond memories, for all the games of Seekrieg I played (and I truly appreciate the herculean amounts of research that have gone into those rules), I really enjoy playing General Quarters.  There is a second book, GQ2, that covers (extensively) WW1 operations - including the vagaries of WW1 ship design (wing turrets?), and things like the difference between coal ships and oil ships in campaigns, plus airships.  But GQ2 also has more campaign rules, and additional rules for WW2 - including a more nuanced straddle table (and critical hit system) based on using a D10 instead of a D6.  To be honest, I like the purity of GQ1 - mostly because I like rolling D6s, and because it works.

Campaigns in this system really do work well, and I have fond memories of some one day map campaigns I ran, while living in South Carolina, at a monthly wargame club meeting.  We used maps from the Columbia Games Victory series, and there were two sides the British navy and the Japanese navy.  Both sides had goals and missions, and there was hidden asset map movement.  Both sides were trying to land troops and supplies at some islands in an atoll, and both controlled airbases in the areas - Japan had, for instance, the island of Palikai, while the British had a naval base inside Mina Bay - see the map below.  Things like fishing vessels would trigger false reports of enemy ships, and air operations were a lot of fun, when things like two float planes firing at each other (presumably with flare pistols?).  The Japanese players loved their submarines.

Map used for 1 day mini-campaign. Based on extra maps for Victory

The rules are simple and clean, but still preserve a lot of detail about the difference between ship classes, weapon systems, and resulting tactics.  I have seen some more modern rulesets that are even less complex, but I like GQ.  The new versions, put out by ODGW, are fantastic, and truly excellent examples of fine wargame rules, but I think I still like GQ1 (and 2).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Seekrieg Fourth Edition - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

I should preface this review by stating that I was very much interested in Naval Wargaming from early days.  While in high school, while I was threading my way through medieval wargaming and miniatures in general (and playing lots of boardgames, of the Avalon Hill and SPI varieties), I was luck enough to have at the local library, copies of the Barry Carter, Paul Dunn, and Paul Hague books that introduced naval wargaming.  I never (back then) saw the Featherstone one.  I also was a big fan of War at Sea from Avalon Hill.  In high school, I wrote my own set of WW2 naval wargame rules based on War at Sea, and a little book on the ships of WW2 (which gave speeds and ranges), and the Hague book.  It was great fun, and we played on a ping pong table.  But, as rules go, they were awful.  And we didn't have miniatures - we used paper cutouts of photocopies of silhouettes.  But it was a start down the road of Naval Wargming.  I wrote a history of the hobby for the Old Dominion Military Society blog.

This is a review of the fourth edition of Seekrieg, which was released in 1981 (I first came to the game, and played it, in the late springtime of 1984).  Seekrieg (the original) was printed in 1975, and went through a lot of revision, very quickly, to get to 1981.  These are a set of comprehensive naval battle rules, including rules covering ships and technologies from approximately 1890 up until the end of WW2 (1945).  The game has rules covering almost all tactical operations in surface engagements for that time period, plus air operations, and strategic games (map campaigns, searching, etc).  Written by Richard Sartore and Jack Joyner, they were published by Sartore.  The game was recreated/updated in 2004, as Seekrieg 5, which is still available for purchase.  Seekrieg 4 is available, graciously, for free download (a bunch of files, as you'll appreciate from below), on the Seekrieg website.

The set of the rules that I own is the second printing, which came out in 1984.  At the time, they were released in a handsome dark blue linen covered box, with a line drawing of a battleship on the front cover, and it contained two hole punched books, and a sheaf of charts on cardstock.  The two books were (1) the rulebook, and (2) the ship data book.  The ship data book covered the ships for the period in question (1890-1945) for the world's navies, but did not cover variants or conjectured ships that were either never laid down, or never launched.  There was supposed to be a volume 2 of the ship data book, covering such alternative vessels, but to my knowledge it was never produced.

The Box, picture from Boardgame Geek

Before I get into the various subsystems of the game, let me say up front that I played a lot of Seekrieg.  Lots of surface actions, campaigns, tournaments - both as a player and as a referee.  It is a very satisfying game, for the naval gamer that thrives on detail - which is de rigueur for rulesets of the 1980s.  But, internally, the rules themselves presented a bit of a conundrum (in design philosophy), which I will cover in my remarks at the end of the review.

The many charts included in the game

1 model ship represents one actual ship (this applies to boats, submarines, ships, etc).  Aircraft are frequently marked by a single marker for a squadron of planes.   Torpedoes are marked by a single marker for a salvo.  The surface scale of the table doesn't matter, however as all ranges in the game are given in (thousands of) yards, and speeds are given in knots.  With a turn/time scale of 2 minutes to a turn, and  the suggested surface scale of 2" to 1000 yards, that means 2 knots of speed is 1/4".  So a ship moving a stately 12kts, will cover a total of 1.5" in a turn.  A speedier vessel moving at 30kts, will be moving at 3.75".  Movement measuring sticks, marked out in knots, proved invaluable.

Turn Sequence
The turn sequence for Seekrieg is very simple - all movement and firing is simultaneous.  It is suggested that the physical moving of the miniatures on the tabletop be alternated each turn, to see who goes first, but since this has (usually) only minor impact on the decisions an opponent will make that turn, it doesn't matter too much.

As mentioned above, the movement is in knots per turn.  There are rates of acceleration and deceleration given, as well as rates of turning for ships (defined below).  The speed of all vessels is listed in a ship listing in the volume of ship data.  For maneuvering, a ship is allowed to turn up to 180 degrees in a turn.  Alternatively, if a ship has slowed to 0kts, it can then move in reverse.  But when a ship is actually turning, it has it's total allowable move (for it's allowable speed for this turn) divided up into legs, that will include turns of 45 degrees.  So if a ship wants to turn a total of 90 degrees, it's move will be divided up into 3 legs.  Move one leg; turn 45 degrees; move the second leg; turn another 45 degrees; and move the third leg.  Simple, and it does not require turning gauges, etc.  On chart B there is a nice set of movement measuring sticks for the suggested scale (of 2" = 1000 yards).

Target Bearing

Spotting and line of sight
Line of sight is a simple affair of a line between the firing ship and the target ship.  If another vessel is in between the two, it only blocks if it is as large, or larger, than the target ship.  This is determined by looking at the standard measure in the game reflecting vessel size - DP.

DP stands for Damage Points, and is calculated by multiplying the basic tonnage of a vessel by 0.033.  This is the total number of Damage Points that a ship has, once those are destroyed (by gunfire or torpedoes, for instance) then the ship is destroyed (possibly sinking).

There are (based on different sea zones around the world) a set of weather tables on chart B.  These will modify the distance at which you can spot another vessel.  This is based on the DP of the target vessel, the DP of the spotting vessel and is detailed on chart C. The reason that the spotting vessel size is involved, is because it is a general indicator as to how high up above the surface of the sea the spotting control center is located - it makes a difference, when you are trying to spot an enemy vessel at the limits of the horizon (based on the curvature of the earth).  All this is reduced to a simple spotter vs. spotting table on chart C, and gives the max visibility in thousands of yards (which then translates into inches on the tabletop).

Hit Determination
Here we get to one of the more interesting sequences of Seekrieg, at least for me (since I am a surface gunnery fan of Naval Warfare - torpedoes and aircraft are fussy things, and I prefer cordite and big shells).  First, it must be determined which of the firing ships' guns may fire.  This is based on the mounting of the gun (what kind of turret, or casemate, it is mounted in) and whether or not those guns can come to bear on the target.  This is based on the real life type of turrets, and also the era they are from.  Wing turrets from WW1 (an ill-conceived design concept) are not as flexible as center line turrets from WW1 or WW2.  Arcs of fire are printed on chart J2.  There are a lot of tables in Seekrieg, a list of them is below.  In a particular game, you will not use nearly all of them, but there are some that you will consult again and again.  Chart J2 is something you will consult once or twice when you are first using a new type of vessel, and then you will remember the arc of fire for that vessel's turrets, or mark them down.

Chart H1 - basic "to hit" - for landlubbers and other sad dogs

Now that the bearing guns are known, next (from the ship details in the ship description volume) consult what type of gun it is, what type of shells can fire, what type of fire control system the firing ship has, the range, rate of fire for the type of gun, and whether or not the target is close enough to allow rapid fire.  Once you have all those details (they are presented, all together, in the ship information block), you can begin consulting the firing tables.

Chart H2 - Advanced "To Hit" - for old salts and rum cullies

There are three types of hit determination in Seekrieg.  Basic, Advanced, and Range Estimation.  The group I played with almost always (like 99%+) used the Advanced method.  This incorporated the most historical details, but assumed that things like range estimation and salvo adjustment was being done by the fire control center, and gun crews of the vessels.  Some players (notably those of the older style games like Fred Jane's rules, Seapower III, and others) liked playing with range estimation, where you actually estimated the number of inches between you and your target.  Pshah, I say.  Fine for those who like it, but not my cup of tea.

The Advanced Hit Table was chart H2.  Basic hit table is chart H1. Best to ignore it, it is for those who are weak, and do not like strong coffee.  However, for the sake of completeness, it is described here.  Range estimation, for those members of religious orders that prefer to purge the soul through pain, can be found on chart H3.

The basic (chart H1) to hit method takes into account a positive or negative value for each of seven different categories of modifiers.
  1. Target Size
  2. Bearing from Target (this is determined using the overlay on Chart F - which is a basic overlay on the target, and the bearing from your firing ship to the target will tell you which bearing you have)
  3. Fire Control System (a basic modifier based on the era of the ship)
  4. Radar Assisted Fire Control (only for certain navies, and only from 1939 on)
  5. Change of Target (if you change targets, you get a -10)
  6. Range to Target (close is good, far is bad)
  7. Speed of Target

Add up all those modifiers and you get a basic hit number.  The advanced to hit method (chart H2) works much in the same way, but there are 14 categories, and they have much more detail incorporated into them.
  1. Target Size
  2. Bearing from Target (3 categories, instead of 2)
  3. Is the Firing Ship under Fire?
  4. Over Concentration (too many similar shells from different ships on the target)
  5. Fire Control System (not only the era, but also the type of Fire Control)
  6. Radar Assisted Fire Control
  7. Range to Target
  8. Change of Target
  9. Speed of Target
  10. Spotter Aircraft (is your spotter up, and sending you targeting information?)
  11. Evasive Maneuvers
  12. Sea State (from weather)
  13. Smoke Screens
  14. Visibility (again, from weather, but also morning, evening, nighttime)
When we played, both players typically had a calculator in front of them, and would punch in the numbers from each category that applied (again, they could be positive or negative), and would result in a hit number.

We're just starting.

How many Shells
Once you have your hit number, determine how many tubes you have that are firing.  For instance, a broadside from the main guns on the Bismarck would mean that all eight of the main guns (which are 15.0"/47 guns - or in terms of Seekrieg, it is a type D1 gun) could come to bear and fire on a target.  Each gun has a rate of fire of 6 (maximum), but that will be based on range (for, you see, the game only allows you to fire as fast as your fire control teams can see the shells drop, and then adjust fire accordingly), and the max range of the big guns on the Bismarck is 39,600 yards, or a total of 79" on the tabletop.  All this information is easy to read in the ship information block, and a player would copy it all to a log sheet before a game, so all the data is in one place, and easy to look up during the game.

From the range (to see if rapid fire is allowed), and the type of gun, you have a maximum rate of fire.  Say, for the Bismarck, at a decent range of maybe 20,000 yards (well within the maximum range of the big 15" guns), we consult chart G3, and see that the maximum rate of fire is 3 (even though the guns could theoretically fire at a rate of 6 shells every 2 minutes, the range limits that to 3 shells each so that fire control could observe the fall of the shells, and adjust fire accordingly).  So, multiplying eight guns, times 3 shells, means we are determining a hit chance for a salvo of 24 shells.

Looking at chart I, we see that across the top of the chart we find a column corresponding to the hit number we calculated from chart H2 (or H1 for basic, or H3 for range estimation), and then look down the left side of the chart to find the number of shells fired.  The table only goes up to 10 shells, so we will have to consult it a number of times.  For each time consulting the chart, roll the percentile dice once, and it will tell you if (for that part of the salvo) if 1 or more shells hit the target.  At this point, we know that some shells have actually hit the target (or not).

Ship Data Block - the actual data block is at the bottom

Damage Determination
The next part of determining the hit results is in rolling to determine hit location - this is a simple percentile dice roll on chart G1.  This is based on whether or not the shot was short range (less than half maximum for the gun) or long range.  A roll will determine whether the ship was hit at the:

If the target was an aircraft carrier, then the hit locations could be:
Flight Deck

In both cases, there is a chance of getting a Dud (a shell that did not explode against the target).

Now, we look up the Shell type.  This is found on chart G2, and could be Armor Piercing Capped (APC), Semi Armor Piercing (SAP), Common Rounds (COM), or High Explosive (HE).  This would be allowed to different navies/ships at different eras (historical data).  From that chart, you would get a multiplier to the Penetration Factor, Damage Factor (if you do not penetrate), Damage Factor (if you do penetrate - much higher, of course), and the Probability Chance of a Critical Damage.  Also, there is a chance for Pass Through.  This last represents, against a ship with thin armor, the chance that the shell passes clean through the target vessel without exploding.

These factors are then used as multipliers for the numbers found on charts R1 or R2.  These are the Range/Penetration/Damage chart.  Chart R1 is the average penetration chart, which averages (based on range, and types of shell fall) both the Vertical (or plunging) fire and Horizontal fire.  Chart R2 gives the specific penetration values for either, based on which type of fire you are doing (plunging or horizontal).  Guess which table we used - of course!  R2.  Using penetration averaging was considered a sign of weakness, and anyone suggesting it was driven from the Naval Wargaming tribe.

The chart also gave the basic damage factor.  These numbers would be multiplied by the factors that were looked up on chart G2, based on the type of shell fired.   So you would end up with an Actual penetration value.  Then, based on your hit location, and the armor of the target ship at that hit location (from the ship information block), you would know if your shells actually penetrated, or only impacted on the surface.  In either case, you would use the appropriate damage multiplier times the basic damage value of the shell, and you would know how much DP to subtract from the target vessel for each shell.  You would do this (hit location, and penetration/damage calculation for each shell that hits the target).

Each shell would have a chance for a Critical Damage.  These would be rolled up based on chart N1 (for basic surface vessels) or N2 (for aircraft carriers), to see what the particular critical hit you scored, was.  Then you would look that up in the table, and find out that you (for instance) shot off a searchlight, or (for instance) flooded a magazine, or (for instance) destroyed a whole turret or gun mount.  This was where the interesting parts of damage came into play.

Damaging Ships
Subtracting DP from a ship has the effect of slowly degrading it's performance.  The ship information tells you, for each subsystem (speed, reflecting the engine rooms, and each type of gun or torpedo tube), how many you lose for each multiple of DP that the ship takes.  For instance.  The Bismarck has a total of 1,386 DP.  Once those are gone, the ship is ineffective, or sinking.  However, for each of the eight 15" guns, one is lost for every 173 DP that the ship takes.  Also, every 92 DP the ship takes means the ship's speed is reduced (from a maximum of 30kts) down by 2kts.  So as the ship takes damage, it loses (proportionately) guns and speed.

There are rules for fires, damage control, and several other aspects of the ship taking damage.

Extra Rules
There is a whole section on Air Operations, which I won't cover here.  But it is to the same level of detail as we see above in gunfire.  Also Torpedoes.  And there are rules for Evasive Maneuvers, Smoke Screens, loss of Radar, and other situations.  It is possible for a ship's crew to fail morale and surrender or leave the vessel.

Naval wargaming is often a mathematical affair.  This is good, and it appeals to certain players quite a bit.  Seekrieg certainly satisfies in this area.  As you can see, there is a great deal of detail that goes into determining if a hit is scored, how many shells strike, where they strike, the damage they do (based on shell type, hardness of armor, hit location, class of target vessel, etc etc etc).  This is a great system, and very detailed.

I mentioned earlier, there is (to me) a conundrum in Seekrieg.  And that is, that some areas are very well detailed, and some are glossed over.  In the rulebook it freely admits that different fire control systems should have been detailed separately, but this is beyond the scope of the game.  Really?  A factor for fire control couldn't be listed for each ship class?  This seems like a trivial thing, and could be based on historical performance of the ships as much as the other researched datum for each vessel was based on.

Similarly, the simple (but effective) DP system for determining damage to ships.  No modifier for different types of defensive structure and architecture?  A compartmented hull built in 1935 sinks at the same rate as a hull built in 1890?  Again, this is something that would add some great detail to the amount of research that was done, but could have been (like fire control) a modifier base don era.

In the end, the lack of these things does not matter, for the game plays well, gives good results, and satisfies the naval historian/wargamer who wants to know the difference in behavior between different ship classes, and how best he can make the operational decisions to operate a ship or squadron against the enemy.  For it's day Seekrieg was a fantastic ruleset, and it still has many fans.  I love it, but I don't know who I would get to play it these days.

This is the first set of Naval rules I am reviewing as part of this series, and I played the game a lot in the 1980s.  Probably my last frequent play of the game was in 1989 or so, after playing it a lot over a period of 5-6 years - totaling a few dozen games each year, maybe more (and campaigns, and tournaments).  But I changed over, during that time, to another system (that I will also review) - General Quarters.  I will draw comparisons between the two styles of game, when I write that review.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Medieval wargame pictures

These are from the solo Chainmail game, using the armies derived from the campaign system I have been working on.

Row after row of Poppenheim billmen - infantry with polearms

Men at Arms from Bombastia

Spearmen of Bombastia, arrayed between stone walls along a road

Bombastia Holy Order Knights - from the Church at Hofbrau Berg

Highland Pike from Bombastia, out in front of the main battleline

Thursday, January 19, 2017

War Cry - a review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

This review will be of War Cry, from Judgest Guild.  But first, a short description of why I am reviewing this ruleset, and why it means so much to me.

The rules, in shrinkwrap - old copies are still around

Why War Cry? - A reminiscence
My first exposure to miniature wargaming was through the purchase in the spring of 1980 of the Hinchliffe Guide to Wargaming (of which there is a complete scan available on the most excellent  Vintage Wargaming blog).  I had the version produced by Heritage in the US, with the color cover showing a wonderfully painted vignette of British redcoats fighting hand-to-hand with some inspired looking Zulu warriors.  The booklet had an overview of the miniature wargaming hobby (which I instantly fell in love with), and offered tips on building terrain, painting miniatures, setting up a table, and offered two sets of rules.  One was a set of rules for Napoleonic battles, and the other was a one page set of Medieval skirmish rules by John Sharples (also available at Vintage Wargaming).  I immediately began collecting Airfix figures from their Battle of Waterloo set, and wanted to try the Napoleonic rules.

But, alas, I had no opponent.  My brothers, and some friends, however, were keen to try medieval skirmish, so off we went.  The idea of bigger armies and bigger battles, however, appealed to me.  I found a few packs of 15mm Minifigs models from their Rome and the Barbarians line.  I purchased some and painted them, but they sat with my other early collection of random wargaming figures.

Fast forward a few years, to when I started hanging out in the Campaign Headquarters hobby shop in my first year of college (it was 1984).  I joined in with a group of guys who were going to play a large game of 15mm ancients.  The armies were fantastic - mostly they were the Minifigs figures I loved but never played with.  I still have extremely fond memories and feeling for those lines of figures, and that style of army building.  Almost every figure in a unit was identical.  Occasionally, there might be extra command figures (like for the Romans pictured above).  Regular units were all painted identically, but irregular units (barbarians, skirmishers, etc) had different color cloaks and shields, etc. It was all glorious and beautiful.  We set up a very dense pair of battle lines on a 12' long table, and began playing.

The armies were something-something-Late-Roman vs. something-something-Gothic.  It was sort of a blur, because the guys setting up the game all brought their figures, and we made up (sort of) armies for the occasion.  The rules used were War Cry.  This was the second edition of the rules, published in 1981 (I own both versions, although my 2nd edition copy is in much better shape).  This version of the rules had all the charts of the game printed on two "Giant Wall Charts" (as described on the cover of the rules).  They were 22"x34" posters, with all the charts of the game reproduced in large print.  We had several sets of them proudly tacked to the walls of the wargaming room, where everyone could see them during the game.  I was hooked, and thus began a lifelong love for 15mm ancients wargaming.  For that reason, I felt that my series on out-of-print miniature rules would not be complete without a review of War Cry.

War Cry - the rules
War Cry is a set of rules for fighting tabletop battles for armies of the ancient period, up through the medieval period.  Just about anything from the earliest armies of the ancient near east, up through just before the Renaissance is covered.  These were written by Dave Petrowsky (with credit also given to Jim Allen), and published by Judges Guild.  Like most Judges Guild products, which 90% of were roleplaying adventures and supplements, these were printed on inexpensive paper, just a grade or two above newsprint.  The first edition (published 1978, and called "War Cry and Battle Lust") was printed in mostly black and white, with some red ink embellishments.  The second edition had a color cover and a few color pictures in the interior.

Picture from Boardgame Geek
As mentioned, the charts were printed on poster sized paper, and are double sided.  The rules come with two such posters, so you can mount them on the wall during a game.  The rules themselves are pretty much complete, covering turn sequence, moving, shooting, fighting, morale, and some optional rules including topics such as ships, bombardment of fortifications, and so on.

Table of Contents
  1. Game Scale 
  2. Sequence of Play 
  3. Orders 
  4. Movement 
  5. Terrain 
  6. Reaction Moves 
  7. Evading Troops 
  8. Missile Fire 
  9. Arcs of Fire 
  10. Artillery 
  11. Melee Combat 
  12. Chariots 
  13. Cavalry Melee Rules and Chariot Melee Rules 
  14. Elephant Rules 
  15. Point Values 
  16. Regular and Irregular Troops 
  17. Fortifications 
  18. Melee Weapons 
  19. Disarray 
  20. Overlapping 
  21. Morale 
  22. Morale Charts 
  23. Percentage Loss Table 
  24. Organizing Your Army 
  25. Army Morale Chart 
  26. Battering with Artillery 
  27. Assault on Fortifications 
  28. Optional Rules 
  29. Questions and Answers
The game is suitable for 15mm and 25mm figures, and gives basing for both (it uses standard WRG basing sizes).  The standard troop types from WRG are also mentioned, and mostly relied on in the rules.  In fact, it has been remarked that War Cry is a cleaned and simplified version of pre-5th edition WRG (maybe an amalgam of 3rd or 4th, but with some different systems in the rules).

Turn Sequence and Orders
The sequence of play is as follows:
Phase I: Order writing (more on this later)
Phase II: Movement - two subphases, first are charge declarations (which might trigger certain orders or reactions), and then all movement (both sides, simultaneous, based on orders).  Reaction moves also happen here.
Phase III: Missile fire - some occurs during phase II, but most happens now
Phase IV: Melee (anyone in base-to-base contact with the enemy will fight)
Phase V: Morale Check phase

Order Writing - readers of this series of reviews will know that I am not a fan of rulesets that require the players to write orders.  However . . . here it seemed to work.  The game is pretty straight forward, so orders are mostly of the "unit X will move 8" oblique to the left" or "unit Y will charge the enemy archers".  I recall playing these rules using simple order markers (like the sort used in Johnny Reb), showing basic move orders (straight, left, right, re-order), or charge.  A simple unit roster with room for each turn could be used, such as the one pictured in the old Hinchliffe guide...

Hinchliffe idea for an Order Chart, from Vintage Wargaming
Moves, Reactions, Evades
Movement distances are given on the chart, based on troop type and given in inches for each troop type, for Normal moves, Charge moves, and March Column moves.  These range from 8" for most formed infantry (Armored Infantry move 6"), up to as much as 16" for Light Cavalry.  There is also a chart for how terrain affects movement.  Terrain types listed include:
  • Ford
  • River
  • Woods
  • Gentle Slope
  • Steep Slope
  • Abrupt Slope
Each of these will list a multiplier for that terrain type, vs a unit type.  For instance, Heavy and Armored Infantry are 4x in the woods (meaning that each inch crossed in the woods, takes 4" off the movement for that unit, for that turn).  The costs for doing formation changes, or turns of 45 degrees, are also given.  The game supports basically a line formation, and a column formation.  Change formation is done with the unit standing in place, and rotating about the center.  Wheeling is done by measuring the outer edge of the wheeling unit.  When a unit is performing a charge, it is at a higher movement value - and the difference between regular move (example: Heavy Infantry 8") and a charge move (Heavy Infantry 12") is the amount of the charge move that must be in a straight line (so the last 4" of a charge move by Heavy Infantry must be in a straight line, although the unit may have turned or wheeled before that point).

Reaction moves are a possibility, so that a unit that finds itself being charged, might alter it's ordered movement for the turn, in order to respond to the charging enemy.  The unit must follow it's movement orders for part of the turn (1/4 of the move for regular units, and 1/2 of the move for irregular units) before it can react (such as stand, or turn in place, etc).

Light Infantry and Light Cavalry can attempt to evade charging units.  Deep units may not evade at all, and others must pay the penalty for a Front-to-Rear evolution, then move away from the charger.  Pretty straight forward, especially when you check the chart and find that Light Infantry pay no cost to do a front-to-rear change, and Light Cavalry only pay a 3" penalty (from a regular 16" move).  So lights can move pretty far away from a charger.  Evaders can also dice (there is a basic chance based on training, and weapon) to see if they can fire before evading.  Firing by an evading unit is at a penalty.

Missile Fire
Shooting by units is pretty generous.  Stationary units can fire two ranks deep.  Most moving units can fire one rank deep, but some can fire 1 and a half ranks (the whole first rank, and half the figures from the second rank).  If missile troops are charged, and the chargers move over half their move to reach them, then they missile troops can fire, and also engage in melee.  Orders are not required to fire.  Mounted troops can split move and fire (move, shoot, and move again).  Very nice for mounted archer types like mongols...

There is a simple fire priority.  If more than one unit is in your firing arc, and range, you must fire (first choice) at a unit that can reach you for melee next turn.  Next choice would be an enemy missile unit (some restrictions here).  If there is a choice, or no priority targets, the shooter can choose whichever target they like.   Rules for how many missile hits a chariot can take are given.

The fire procedure is simple - calculate the number of figures that can fire (this is the number of "factors" on the firing chart).  Add or subtract situational modifiers to the number of figures (these are called "factor modifiers").  The modifiers to the number of figures is somewhat small (it is usually only -1 or -2 figures, from the total allowed to fire).  Here is a list:
Mounted Unit -1
Long Range -2
Foot Firing Unit Moved -2
Short Range +2

Now, against this, a single dice is rolled, and it has a number of dice modifiers.  Compare the two on the firing chart, and the number of enemy figures killed is given.  Dice modifiers are cumulative, and range from a +2 to a -4 depending on the modifier.  Here is a list:
Cataphracts or Plate Armor  -4
Other Metal Armor  -2
Other Armor  -1
Oversized Shield  -1
Unshielded  +1
Formation 3 or more Ranks Deep  +2
Non-Barded Cavalry or Camelry  +1
Defender in Light Cover  -2
Defender in Dense Cover  -4 
Fire at Moving Target   -1

So, the resulting dice roll can be modified by these factors, quite a bit.  Usually, there is a modifier for armor, less frequently there are cover modifiers, or a moving target modifier.   Cross matrix the number of figures ("factors") vs. the modified dice roll, and you get a number of dead enemy figures.

Ranges vary by weapon, from a maximum range of 4" for a heavy pilum, out to 26" for longbows, 30" for heavy crossbows,  and even 48" for ballistae.

Missile fire rules are completed with a section describing how various ancient and medieval artillery works in the rules.  Ballista type weapons, and catapult type weapons are covered.  The former are a simple point and shoot weapon, much like missile fire from a unit.  The latter are handled by the firer announcing a firing range, then dicing for over/under and shot drift.

Melee Combat
The rules for melee combat are, at their heart, very similar to missile combat.  You count up the eligible number of figures that can fight ("factors"), and then roll 1d6.  To that you add or subtract a number of modifiers, and then matrix the modified dice result with the factors number, to derive a number of enemy figures that are killed.

The basic dice modifiers come from a chart that cross-indexes all the troop types of the game, and the result is the first modifier for the dice roll (so for instance, Heavy Infantry fighting against a Medium Chariot is a -1).  The situational modifiers include the following:
Med, Hvy, A Inf Charging +1
Med Cav Charging +2
Hvy Cav Charging +3
E Hvy, S Hvy Cav Charging +4
Elephant Charging +5
Berserkers Charging (1st round) +2
Upslope from Opponent +1
Opponent has light cover -2
Opponent has Dense cover -4
Opponent in March Column +2
Against Opponent's Flank +5
Against Opponent's Rear +7
Opponent Shieldless +1
2H Chopping Weapon v. M H and A infantry +3
2H Chopping Weapon v. Cav, Camels, Chariots, Elephants +3
2H Chopping Weapon v. all others +2
Heavy Javelin or Pilum used in 1st Round +1
Lance, used in 1st round +1

Rules exist for Chariots (they can swerve or crash, when you attempt to charge home with them), Elephants (the can go berserk, and only die after taking a number of "casualties").  There are descriptions of how many ranks of troops can fight, based on weapons: for instance, pikes have the whole first rank, and half each of ranks 2 and 3.  Finally, there are rules determining things like Unit Disarray, Overlapping an enemy unit, and break-off moves.

The Morale system of War Cry is interesting, and I admit to liking it.  Each unit of troops has a starting morale value that is an indicator of it's training, physical courage, determination to fight, etc.  This ranges between 5 (extremely poor quality troops) and  13 (fanatic berserkers).  That number, or less, is rolled against with 2d6 for a morale check.  There are a few modifiers (not many) but one that is always in effect, is that you always get -1 to your morale value for every 10% of casualties that you take.  Considering you don't start taking tests until you are 30% down, you will start your first number as 3 less than your starting value.  So a good quality Roman Praetorian Guard unit is a MV of 11.  When it takes 30% casualties, and has to test morale, it is trying to roll 8 or less.

If you roll less than your modified MV, then you pass your morale test.  But if you roll more, then you use your unmodified dice roll to consult a chart and see what the effects are.  The effects chart is structured so that if you roll high, the results aren't too bad, but if you roll low, then they are terrible.  This works well with the overall morale test mechanism, since you only blow your test with a low number, if you have a modified (down) MV.

Calculating the 10% of casualties on a unit with 18, 24, or 36 figures can be a pain on the fly, so the rules suggest that you make an army roster, listing each unit, their base MV, along with how many figures they will be once they lost 30%, 50% and maybe 60 or 70%.  With that number, list their modified MV for the new level, so that it is a simple matter of looking up how many figures are remaining in a unit, then you get access to their current MV.

Example Morale Roster
Unit (Original Size/MV)30%50%60%
SizeMV SizeMV SizeMV
Greek Heavy Infantry 50/8 355 253 202
Creten Archers 20/7 144 102 81
Thracian Light Cav 10/6 73 51 40

So, looking at the above chart, we see a unit of Creten Archers, that starts the game with 20 figures.  When it gets down to 14 figures, it has taken 30% casualties and it's morale value drops to a 4-.  So if it has to take a morale test (ignoring, for now, any other modifiers), it has to roll 2d6, and score a 4 or less.  If it does not, then it looks at the morale results table to see what happens.

Setting up the chart takes some time, before the game, but it makes the game roll very nicely.

The rules include a points system, which also covers a Weapons Category system (a figure gets a hand weapon for free, and a weapon from one other category, all others are paid for).  There are guidelines for which historical armies were regular, irregular, or either. There are some short rules for including ships and boats, and how they behave (although, to me, the page with the boat rules looks like it came from another Judges Guild set of rules - "Sea Steeds and Wave Riders").  Finally, there is a section of optional rules.  These include pursuits of fleeing units; cohort relief (to emulate the Roman manipular system); Chivalry Honor for knights; caltrops; Normal Cavalry (those Norman horses bite, you know); Poison weapons; the effect of Camels and Elephants on cavalry (smell); Levy troops; the Elephant Graveyard (they respect other dead elephants); and finally Shield Wall and Testudo formations.

Thoughts on War Cry
War Cry is a nice adaptation of the basic WRG factors and table type system, but without using 20 casualties per figure - all casualty results are given in whole figures, which is nice and runs smoothly.

I have some problems with playing it.  As I remember, these where some complaints back in the day, but we ignored them in order to have a simple set of rules that gave good results.

Complaint 1: order writing. This could be remedied by having a variant turn sequence.
Complaint 2: combat and morale modifiers don't seem to be very well thought out. Just a thought.
Complaint 3: there is little reflection of morale grade differences in actual combat, only in the results of combat.  That is pedantic, but it does have an effect.

Otherwise it is a nice set of rules.  I have great memories of playing, with some of my best friends from college and my early wargaming years.  Sadly some of them have passed away since then (and my attendant melancholy which might add to my fondness of those games, I admit).  But it is a good adaption of the WRG system, and plays quickly.  It gives pretty good results, and some of the "chrome" rules (chariots, elephants) make it a lot of fun to play.

The rules in the game are clearly meant for 25mm figures, and the ground scale is given absent a figure scale (1 inch equals 10 yeards).  But the basing chart gives base sizes for 15mm and 25mm.  As I mentioned, way back in the 80s, we played these (out of the box, so to speak) with 15mm figures, with no modification to the ranges.  I think that still works, but a 15mm cavalry unit moving over 20 inches in a turn is a bit much for a small table.  Good thing my is 6'x10'.

We used it for some basic fantasy type wargaming as well (I recall a game of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where the Oliphants made it up siege ramps to the top of the outer walls of Minas Tirith, then 1 of the beasts went berserk and ran down the whole length of the wall).  Since it was sold by Judges Guild, a company known for their support of fantasy roleplaying games, I am sure that many other groups did the same thing.

These days, I don't know how I would rank these rules against some of my other older favorites for the period (such as Might of Arms, Chainmail, Universal Soldier or others).  I think I might try a game of it soon, with a modified turn sequence that would support Solitaire play.