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.

Scale
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
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.


Gunnery
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.

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
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
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
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).
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