FOR MY CORNATINE SUNDAY AFTERNOON SOLO GAME I put my newly-arrived copy of Dawn of Empire: The Spanish-American Naval War, 1898 (Compass Games, 2020) back on the table. This time I decided to play the “historical” scenario with no Extra Time (campaign is played for the standard six turns) and no Extra Warships for the Spanish (although they get the battleship Pelayo which they historically didn’t).
I adopted a “Caribbean Fleet-in-Being” strategy for the Spanish. My thinking was the Spanish should move their ships to Caribbean ports and threaten American Squadrons. For the Americans I adopted a Blockade strategy. Within the limits of Dawn of Empire, both approaches approximate history. However, that’s where the history ended and the alternate past of Dawn of Empire began.
This play of Dawn of Empire I focused in on Orders and specifically payed much closer attention to what orders can follow what. The “order of Orders” is very important and creates many interesting strategic choices. For instance, a Blockade order can only be followed by a Coal order, unless you have too many units coaling in which case the Coal becomes an Anchor. Overall the impact is that squadrons really are only effective / available every other turn (maybe even every third or fourth turn if using Transit). My first time playing I didn’t catch the nuance that a Raid MUST be followed by a Transit which in turn is followed by a 2nd Transit, Coal, or Anchor. So before you send that Raid out you better think about what you also need that squadron to do in the future. What you do NOW has a huge impact on what you can do THEN – and you must plan accordingly.
This play of Dawn of Empire I also paid much closer attention to the Port Attack Resolution and experimented with port attacks using both Raid (every other unit in squadron combats against the Port Attack & Defense values) versus Blockade (every third unit in squadron combats against the Port Mine Factor & Defense). A subtle, yet impactful difference.
My play of Dawn of Empire ended in an American Automatic Victory at the end of Turn 5. The Americans lost a battleship, two monitors, and a cruiser in fleet battles during the war. The major battle was on Turn 5 (mid-late June) where the bulk of the Spanish fleet was lost in a major battle south of Cuba in the North Yucatan Basin area. The crazy thing is the battle should not have happened; the smaller American squadron was on Blockade of Cienfuegos and the large Spanish squadron was sailing for Havana under Transit orders. There was only a 33% chance of meeting…but the odds fell that way. This battle was all the more surprising because in the first round Admiral Sampson, aboard the American battleship Indiana at the time, was forced to leave the engagement when Indiana was Disabled. Although leaderless and outnumbered, the Americans outlasted the Spanish and secured the victory not only in the battle but in the war.
That said, the Americans were not happy with the results of a late Blockade of Havana where the harbor defenses almost sunk the battleships Oregon and Iowa. Had the war continued, the Americans would of been hard-pressed to repair the combined 8x Damage to both ships in any sort of a timely manner. The closest port is Key West, but it can only repair 1x Damage per turn. Mobile Bay is a bit better with a Repair Ability of 2. Hampton Roads is the best with a Repair Ability of 4 but the damaged ships would take four or five turns to get there. Another possibility was to send them to Key West, do enough repairs to get a better speed, then go to Hampton Roads. No matter the choice, the time necessary was huge. Oh yeah, you also want to sail them as Independent units, not Squadrons, to avoid being intercepted. Planning, planning, planning!
This play convinced me that the Optional Rules in Dawn of Empire really are necessary to get anything near a balanced game. Rule 11.J Extra Warships is basically a given and adding 11.I The Germans should be interesting. For a bit of added realism (with little rules overhead) I also want to experiment with 11.B Alternate Delayed Repairs (slower damage recovery), 11.C Maintenance (assigned damage), and 11.H Restricting Disabled Ships (if unable to reach a friendly port then scuttle and lost).
Dawn of Empire is not really a historical game. I am not sure if it really can recreate the true historical situation given there is no land warfare component to the game. Instead, Dawn of Empire delivers a near-pure Mahanian view of the Spanish-American Naval War in the Atlantic – in a very fun and easy-to-learn and play manner.