The next game in my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The CSR is Ironbottom Sound (Quarterdeck Games, 1981). Unfortunately, I do not have a Quarterdeck Games first edition but instead I possess Iron Bottom Sound II published by Moments in History in 1998. In 1.0 INTRODUCTION, designer Jack Greene tells us about the new version:
Many of you played and enjoyed the original Ironbottom Sound. Now comes Iron Bottom Sound II (the now accepted spelling). It includes new scenarios, simplified rules of play, and ease of play concepts for some of us graying game players. Now that does not mean that IBS II is AARP approved, but who knows what the future will hold. Most of the scenarios are ideally designed for multi-play use. Usually about four to six ships per player works best.
In fact, this game is really supposed to be a social event. This game should be played as a multi-player game. Gather round the table, split up the commands, and break out the beer…
It has been a long time since I played IBS II and I had totally forgotten (missed?) the designer’s cry for social wargaming. What else did I forget?
There is a note in the introduction that reads:
Note: Richard Berg is not allowed to play or review this game. If any game player sees Richard with this game, he is authorized by the designer to seize the game, and send it back to the designer. Considering that it is a naval game with Beth Queman graphics, it is best for Richard Berg’s heart condition to have nothing to do with IBS II. We are not responsible for any ill effects he may suffer if he gets a copy of this.
What’s the backstory here? Is this friendly banter or was there an issue between these two gentlemen?
2.43 Ship Types
I totally had forgotten that the size of the counter tells you the ship type. Battleships, cruisers, and merchants are 7/8th of an inch long; all others are “6/8ths of an inch long.” Uh…did somebody forget their math?
4.0 THE GAME TURN – 4.2 Expanded Sequence of Play – E. Gunnery Execution Phase
“Night gunfire is not simultaneous.” This sentence stopped me cold. What about daylight firing? Then I realized that right there, at the bottom of the page, it reads, “IRON BOTTOM SOUND II – Naval Night Surface Actions.” Looking back in the rules, the first sentence of the introduction states, “Iron Bottom Sound II captures the flavor of the bloody night naval surface battles fought off Guadalcanal….”
It never clicked on me before that IBS II actually models a very narrow portion of naval combat – night surface actions – and night surface actions only. By focusing almost exclusively on Guadalcanal, the aperture of the game narrows even more. This narrow focus doesn’t make it a bad game, I’d just forgotten the limited scope of the action.
The rule goes on to state:
The side with initiative will fire one ship first, this will be followed by the other side firing one ship etc. This will be repeated until all ships have fired. Damage is recorded immediately on the ship’s log, so ships that have not yet fired may be damaged before they had an opportunity to fire.
Whoa, this is totally NOT how I remember the game! This goes against almost EVERY wargame rules set out there! But…it’s intriguing and seems appropriate to the warfare being modeled….
6.0 COMBAT / 6.1 Gunnery Combat / 8.1 Radar
- “All combat is at night so ranges are short and visibility, i.e., the ability to see your enemy, is limited.”
- “All guns may fire to any range.”
Looking at the scenarios, the Visibility ranges from at best 19 hexes (Scenarios 4 & 5 for the Japanese) to as little as 3 hexes (!!) for Scenario 8 – Channel Action – November 28, 1940. Radar, defined in optional rule 8.1, can see the entire map unless an island lies between the firing and target ships or the target ship is within four hexes of an island and lying between the land and the radar-equipped ship.
Gunfire ranges are really not unlimited as the exception to this rule points out. The smallest guns (all 3″ and 4″ guns) are limited to 20 hexes range. Even so, that still outranges the maximum Visibility in any of the scenarios.
6.4 Torpedo Combat
Torpedo combat uses the concept of “mega-hexes.” I like this solution to the age-old problem of depicting a torpedo run on a hex map.
8.0 OPTIONAL RULES
The optional rules start on page 13. Looking back, once you get through all the front matter the actual “how to play” rules start on page six. This means the core rules literally are just a hair over six double-column pages in length. That’s a really compact set of rules!
There are ten scenarios in IBS II; eight are actions around Guadalcanal while the other two take place in the English Channel or the Mediterranean.
The Design Notes gives a history of the fall of Quarterdeck Games (if you Yen to read it) but also give players of IBS II insight into some of the design decisions behind the various factors or rules in the game. At the end, Mr. Greene doubles-down on his call for social gaming:
I chose the emphasis on multi-player action because I think a big game lends itself to more of a social interactive game. I play almost exclusively IBS II and World In Flames for, in part, this reason. A beer and some chips with the “guys” beats watching For a Few Dollars More for the 8th time.
I have to agree; Mr. Greene gets it. Wargames are commonly seen as two-player affairs. There are several multi-player wargames out there but they often are seen as the exception, not the rule. In the RockyMountainNavy house, the RMN Boys and I actively seek out multi-player wargames because we need to play three-player or more. That said, I had never really considered IBS II as a potential game night title. That is, until now.
Thank you, Mr. Greene, for making me reconsider my position. Like you, I would rather actively play a wargame with my boys than passively watch another ho-hum TV series or movie.
Feature image BoardGameGeek. Note that the artist is the esteemed Rodger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1). Iron Bottom Sound II is dedicated to Rodger MacGowan in the credits.