Wargame SITREP 230310 N3 Ops: Essential Harpoon? Naval Command: Modern Naval Wargame Rules (2021 Edition, Rory Crabb)

Sometimes it is awesome to watch the WargameVault Deal of the Day. Not long ago I picked up the downloadable pdf version of Naval Command: Modern Naval Wargame Rules (2021 Edition) written and published by Rory Crabb. As a long time Admiralty Trilogy Group Harpoon player (starting way back with the 1983 edition of Harpoon II published by Dungeons & Dragons co-designer Dave Arneson’s Adventure Games) I always am somewhat hesitant buying new modern naval rules sets as I inevitably compare them. While Naval Command is most certainly not the latest version of Harpoon, it is essentially a streamlined Harpoon V rules set that while not as detailed delivers a very complete—if not more playable—wargame of modern land-sea-air naval combat…and even a bit more in places.

pdf edition


When it comes to the scale of both Naval Command and Harpoon V they are as much alike as they are dissimilar. First the similar. Naval Command uses a ground scale of one centimeter = ~one nautical mile (nm). Harpoon V uses a typical ground scale of 1 inch = 1nm. Both Naval Command and Harpoon V use two different time scales for a turn with Naval Command using 15 minute turns with each attack phase covering 2-3 minutes. Harpoon V has Intermediate Turns of 30 minutes and Tactical Turns of 3 minutes. Even the recommended model scales are similar with Naval Command developed and tested with 1/3000 scale miniatures and Harpoon V usable from 1/2400 to 1/6000 scale. I also note that several of the people acknowledged in Naval Command are also associated in some fashion with Admiralty Trilogy Games.

Lest you be thinking that Naval Command is a cheap knock-off of Harpoon V, let me assure you they are truly different games. Whereas Harpoon V emphasizes “accuracy” in the representation of different platforms and weapons, Naval Command is comfortable with highly abstracted factors. Further, Naval Command and Harpoon V are very dissimilar simply when the rule book itself is considered. The basic rule book for Harpoon V is 137 pages; the rule book for Naval Command is a slim 43 pages. Within those 43 pages of Naval Command is a complete game that not only covers the same waters as Harpoon V but does it using a streamlined set of game mechanisms that hold great promise of a very playable, fast and easy, yet moderately realistic feeling game.

Data Annex

Many modern naval games are for gearheads who love comparing the capabilities and limitations of different weapons platforms. The Data Annexes for Harpoon V are so complete they often are used by Open Source wonks as reference material. The ship and aircraft data in Naval Command is perhaps not as complete, but that is because it abstracts those details that Harpoon V gets very specific on. For instance, instead of saying the U.S. Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer (DDG) mounts a “Mk 45 Mod 4 5 in/62” in Harpoon V, in Naval Command one simply finds ‘5″ Guns.’ I am sure that the designers who created the data tables for Naval Command used detailed references, maybe even the data annexes from Harpoon V, but the “algorithm” behind the factors are unknown. The end result though are Data tables for Naval Command that are easy to learn and get you playing the game that much faster.

Slava Class Cruiser (Naval Command 2021 Edition, Part II DATA)

Turn Out

Unlike Harpoon V, each turn in Naval Command is the same regardless of the turn scale used.

Naval CommandHarpoon V (Intermediate)Harpoon V (Tactical)
1. InitiativePlottingPlotting Phase
2. NavigationMovementMovement Phase
3. DetectionDetectionPlanned Fire Phase
4. CombatDetection Phase
5. Damage ControlReaction Fire Phase
Resolution Phase
Turn Sequence Comparison

Naval Command does not use plotting ala Harpoon V but instead employs a dice-off initiative system. From this very first phase, it is immediately clear that Naval Command favors quick play. That said, this is not a pure IGO-UGO game mechanism; rather, the initiative player starts the Navigation phase first and then players alternate moving individual elements (ships, helos, aircraft, submarines).

Smooth Move

Movement in Naval Command is also simplified. Each ship has a speed which is the distance in cm the element moves in the Navigation phase. No need to rely on the Three-Minute Rule in Naval Command!

Three-Minute Rule
Take the unit’s speed in knots and add two zeros; this is the distance in yards it moves in three minutes. A ship traveling 25 knots moves 2,500 yards. In Harpoon V that is just under 1/2 inch.

Harpoon V

I See You!

Finding your opponent is perhaps the most important part of naval warfare. While ships and aircraft are placed on the table in Naval Command, they cannot be fired at until they are detected. The core game mechanisms here is to compare a die roll (with modifiers) against the target’s EW or Noise (N) rating. Roll equal or higher and you have success!

Another nice—and easy—detection rule regards the use of active and passive sensors. Usually, ships and aircraft decide to switch sensors on or from passive to active modes during the Initiative phase, but in a nice rules twist players can try to switch sensors on or change modes during other phases by rolling a die and comparing it to the EW rating. Generally speaking, a higher EW rating has a better chance of success.

D10 Table Combat

Combat in Naval Command is resolved using a very similar game mechanism regardless of the type of attack. Every attack starts with the attacking player rolling a d10 and then going though a handy step-by-step table applying modifiers. If at the end of the table the result is higher than whatever defense rating is being challenged, there is a hit. This same game mechanism is also used for two defensive actions; Air Defense and Torpedo Defense.

Air Defense in Naval Command is an excellent example of how the game is built for playability and not slavish realism. Air Defense is resolved using that very role-playing game (RPG) mechanism of saves. In this case, the ship being attacked uses its air defense to “save” itself from attacks by surface-to-surface missiles (SSM).

Excerpt from Naval Command, 2021 Edition, p. 23

Sink the Moskva!

Damage in Naval Command uses the very standard, and uncomplicated, hit points. Every hit reduces you points, but may also have other effects. It is tempting to say that the rules for damage in Naval Command are perhaps the least “authentic” of any in the game. For instance, it would be very hard to recreate the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva with just two surface-to-surface missile hits.

Or can it?

Let’s assume Moskva…a Russian Slava Class Cruiser as shown above, is hit by 2x SS-N-25 “Switchblade” SSM. The Naval Command data annex says a Switchblade has Damage 3. Two missiles “score” six hits, and with average rolls on the Damage table under rule 27.2 Resolving Damage yields 3x Fire, 2x Flood, and 1x Structure. The Structure hit automatically and immediately reduces speed by 1 cm and the Flight Deck launch rate is reduced by 1 (now 0 or no flight ops). In the Damage Control Phase, Moskva rolls 1d10 to determine how many damage control parties markers it gets; a ship with 12 Structure/Damage can remove between 0-3 (average 1) damage. Let’s assume that one Fire is removed. Next we need to determine “progressive” damage from the Flood and Fire markers:

  • Fire Effects: Two markers has a 60% chance of progressive damage; rolling 2d10 we get 4, 5 which is “No Effect” and “+1 Systems” (-1 cm Speed, -1 EW, -1 AS, -1 all RADAR & SONAR)
  • Flood Effects: Two markers is again a 60% chance of progressive damage; rolling 2d6 we get 3, 7 which is “No Effect” and “+1 Structure” for a total of 7 of 12 Structure destroyed.

So Moskva doesn’t sink immediately but if in future turns the damage control teams are less successful (maybe rolling no damage marker removal) and the fire or flooding increases (20% chance for each) it is easy to see Moskva being lost to progressive damage. Even if the ship is somehow saved, the damage is already extensive enough that a player will likely not want to stick around and is almost certain to withdraw the ship from the battle.

Moskva slipping away…

Littoral Pirates

Players of Naval Command can get a taste of littoral operations. There are rules for transporting ground units and firing on shore installations. This is a much more basic set of rules than Harpoon V offers, but again it fits will with what a game of Naval Command is trying to do.

One rule in Naval Command that I don’t find in Harpoon V is Anti-Piracy Operations. Want to hoist the Jolly Roger and pirate ships? Or counter pirates? See rule section 33 “Anti-Piracy Operations” in Naval Command!

Shift Colors

Both Naval Command and Harpoon V are good rules for modern tactical naval combat. The real difference is rules complexity and playability. If you want a modern tactical naval combat game that has more a more “authentic” feel at the cost of speed-of-play then pick up Harpoon V. But, if you are looking for a set of rules for modern naval combat that feels “authentic” enough and is very playable, then it is well worth your time to look at Naval Command from Rory Crabb.

Feature image courtesy Rory Crabb/WargameVault

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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