#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 4 -Seapower and the State (Simulations Canada, 1982)

(Part 4 of my series of what I think makes a good modern naval wargame)

To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings of Capt. Wayne Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.). Capt. Hughes recently died, which led me to reread his classic Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Second Edition)*. In chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Hughes, p. 9

Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994

This post I look at Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994 designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Simulations Canada in 1982. Seapower & the State (S&tS) is a rare game in that very few wargames present a strategic view of World War III at sea. As the designer notes, “The viewpoint of the simulation is that of grand strategy and thus has the players acting as the overall commanders of the naval forces of the Eastern or Western alliances.” (1.0 Introduction)

What may be the most distinguishing feature of S&tS is the Conflict Level. Each turn, player bid on the level of conflict with five possible choices ranging from no combat to all-out nuclear war (yikes!). Each one has different game effects:

Level 1: No Active Combat

Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat

Level 3: Conventional & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat

Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat

Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat

That said, the game has elements of the operational level of war (allocating missions) and even a bit of a dip into tactical warfare (combat). As the designer notes, “The very strategic level of the game requires numerous abstractions, but to keep the doctrine differences clear an upper operational level was retained for the purposes of combat resolution systems.” (21.0 Designer’s Notes) Scale-wise, the map covers the entire world using 900km hexes. The time of each turn is amorphous with only turns at Conflict Level 2 or higher counted as turns played towards the Endturn. The game ends after about 10 turns of Conflict Level 2 or greater conflict, or as the designer notes “about 6 weeks of combat.” The game automatically ends if Conflict Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat is chosen.

The General Course of Play (2.0) provides a good overview of the game:

After choosing a scenario to be played and which player will play which side the players start each turn with a Conflict Level Determination phase in which the intensity of the combat for the turn will be fixed. The Eastern player then begins his player phase by moving his units. After movement is completed a combat sequence if followed for each hex that contains units of both players. Next, the Eastern player conducts mine operations and finally satellite operations. The Western player then begins his player phase, which is identical to that just completed by the Eastern player. After the Western player’s phase is completed and Endturn phase begins in during which the players determine the effects the turn has had that will apply to later turns and determine victory points each has earned during the turn. the turn ends and the next turn begins. In general each player should try to use his units in a manner as to prevent the other player from earning victory points while at the same time trying to earn as many victory points as possible. At the conclusion of the last turn a comparison of victory points will determine the winner of the game.

BLUF – Seapower & the State provides a grand strategic view of a potentially nuclear 1980s/1990s World War III at sea using an abstracted Scouting/Anti-Scouting model, a range-dependent Firepower combat system, and a doctrinal C2 model that emphasizes maritime Sea Lines of Communications and preservation of nuclear deterrent forces.

Why Fight?

Seapower & the State fully embraces CAPT Hughes’ viewpoint that navies are designed to ensure the safe delivery of goods. However, S&tS goes even further by introducing a political element concerning allies and neutral nations. The game also has a very Cold War element of preserving an at-sea nuclear deterrent. Indeed, the treatment of nuclear war sets this game apart form many others in an unsettling manner.

In recognition of CAPT Hughes’ importance of delivering goods and services across the sea, the primary means of generating Victory Points for either side is through Shipping. There are 24 shipping routes on the map. The Eastern player earns VP for interdicting routes with ships or aircraft and sinking merchants and tankers. The Western player earns VP for preventing Shipping loses and getting ships through. Further, if the Eastern player interdicts certain routes, Western bases are captured or rendered inoperative.

S&tS also the strategic issue of allies and alliances. As the Conflict Level escalates, Western alliance nations may waver and sue for a separate peace (16.5 Committed Nations Armistice / 16.51 Early Wavering). Additionally, if the Western player fails to keep the sealanes open, bases fall as some nations may be overrun (16.52 Overrun) and drop out of the war. India and China appear in S&tS in a very interesting manner. India can enter the war on the Eastern side once enough Western bases are overrun. Once India enters the war China enters on the Western side. I recognize that these rules are very dependent upon a somewhat narrow interpretation of the political situation as seen in the early 1980s. The designer recognizes it as such and even has a specific rule, 16.53 Opinion, which encourages players to modify or suit the political judgements as they feel fit.

The last element of victory in S&tS is one of the more macabre wargames rules I have ever encountered. It concerns Level 5 Conflict – All out nuclear war. If the Conflict Level Determination Phase goes to Conflict Level 5 a special ‘end of the world’ procedure is executed:

17.6 Level 5 Conflict – If a Level 5 conflict was bid for the turn the Level 5 Conflict Resolution portion of the play sequence [is] used. Both players must examine the positions of all their SB [SSBN] type units. The BM [Ballistic Missile] range is on the back of the SB unit counters and may not be examined by the opposing player prior to a level 5 turn. The range represents the number of hexes distant that the SB unit may attack a land target hex….After totaling points earned by each player for SB units in range, each player must subtract from his total 10 points for each opposing target hex that did not have at least one of his SB type units in range to attack that target (regardless of the BM range of the SB unit). In addition, 1 point is subtracted for each SB unit that was in range to attack but was not within 14 hexes of a friendly CSAT [Communications Satellite] present marker….A Level 5 turn is always the last turn of the game, regardless of the number of turns that have been played.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Like many other naval games, Seapower & the State uses a God’s Eye view of the map with all surface and submarine units on a shared map. Given the scale of the map there are few restrictions on movement. Aircraft are assigned to a given base and can be assigned missions to particular hexes on the map.

There are relatively few movement restrictions in S&tS. The Panama and Suez Canals are present, littoral regions and the Ice Cap special rules. Weather may also have an impact.

The rule with greatest impact to maneuver is actually the Conflict Level. At Conflict Level 1: No Active Combat many movement restrictions, like neutral forces, change. Conflict Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat sees all the movement rules used in the standard manner. Conflict Level 3: Conventional a & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat sees the firepower of most units increase by a factor of 5 (tactical nukes) which will likely change a player’s scheme of maneuver.  At Conflict Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat all ships or subs in European bases are eliminated, all non-base hexes with 5 or more units are potentially eliminated. Three out of four aircraft and two out of three satellites are eliminated. The list of impacts goes on but you hopefully get the point – nuclear war at sea is BAD.

Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

Every platform in S&tS is rated for combat using two factors; an numerical strength and an alphanumeric range. Combat is resolved in ‘layers’ with the far standoff Range A going first and proceeding down to to Range D (Visual Range):

8.3 Range: The range concept is central to AA [Anti-Aircraft] and AS [Anti-Surface] combat resolution in that certain weapons systems can only be applied so far away from the location of the firing platform. As AA & AS combat is resolved for each range, simulating the phasing units moving deeper into the area represented by the hex, more weapons of shorter range will be able to contribute. Similarly, as the phasing units move away from the non-phasing units in the hex (if they break off combat before range “D”) the shorter range weapons will no longer play a part sooner. In addition, the actual localization and resolution of combat against submarine type units requires very close ranges, and hence phasing units that do not close to range “D” are prohibited from participating in these operations.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Counterforce in S&tS is abstracted into two factors – Defense and EW Rating. Combat is resolved by summing the attack strength of all attackers and comparing it to the summed EW Rating of all defenders. The difference is the attack superiority. the defender has to eliminate units with a total Defense value equal to the attack superiority.

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Since S&tS displays all units on the map, the game assumption is that the general location of all units is known. However, to attack, the targets must be localized (7.0 Localization / 7.1 General). To localize a unit the phasing player rolls 1d6 and compares it to the unit in the hex with the highest EW Rating. After some simple map a result is given in the number of units localized, starting with those possessing the lowest EW Rating. Modifiers are limited and center on submarines (silent SSBNs) or Trailers (i.e. ‘tattletales’) shadowing US carriers at the start of a conflict.

Both players also have access to RSATs (Radar Satellites) which are launched to provide coverage detection in different areas of the world. Seabed Sonar Sites (i.e. ‘SOSUS’) also can assist in localization.

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting in S&tS is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. Players also have access to Anti-Satellites (ASATs) and can even alter the orbit of their RSATs to destroy or preserve those assets.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

The C2 rules in S&tS are actually a bit subtle. In the Movement Segment, rule 6.31 Logistics defines stacking limits and a requirement to touch bases throughout the game (carriers and nuclear ships are exempt from this rule). Different classes of bases can supply different numbers of ships – or aircraft. Players must pay attention to the ‘supply lines’ of their fleet. The price paid for not having ships in supply (or even ‘overstacking’ in supply) is brutal – unit elimination.

Buried within the Anti-Surface Combat rules is another subtle C2 rule – 10.33 Central Command. This rule, based on doctrine, requires the Eastern player to be within a certain range of a Communications Satellite (CSAT) to conduct certain attacks.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

There are no rules in S&tS that I can identify as explicitly C2CM-related with the possible exception of ASATs that can be used against CSATs. That said, the improper application of the C2-related rules creates, in effect, a C2CM situation.

Final Verdict

Seapower & the State is strategic wargame that is the embodiment of CAPT Hughes’ concepts of naval warfare. It is also the only naval wargame I know of that addresses a strategic World War III at sea. The game is deceptively simple with only 14-pages of rules, a simple map, and rather plain counters. By today’s standards it looks like a cheap DTP effort. The reality is designer Stephen Newberg has created a relatively simple model of a worldwide – potentially nuclear – conflict that captures the essential essence of why navies fight (and the potential for nuclear Armageddon) using Firepower/Counterforce, Scouting/Anti-Scouting, and C2/C2CM elements.

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* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

#Wargame #FirstImpressions – Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2019)

BLUF – A mechanically simple wargame that builds a believable narrative of combat but is slowed by many rules.

I CAME OF AGE IN THE 1980s. At that time, I was heavily into naval wargaming and studying the latest weaponry so of course some of my favorite wargames were the Harpoon series by Larry Bond. I started out first with Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983) but quickly moved on to Harpoon 3 from GDW (1987). I eventually joined the Navy (1989) just at the end of the Cold War; which is to say I joined a Navy in flux for although I fought in Gulf War I we still trained for the Cold War. Thus I found myself in the Vest-fjord of Norway in 1991 not long after the attempted coup in Moscow. The war I trained for, the Cold War at Sea, was ending and I (thankfully) never had a go at the Soviets.

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USS America (CV-66) operates in the Vest-fjord of Norway during Exercise NORTH STAR 91 (Cruise Book)

Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) allows wargamers to see what a “Cold War gone hot” might of been like. It focuses on NATO and the Atlantic, although the Mediterranean is also included:

Blue Water Navy covers the war at sea, air, close-ashore and low-earth orbit from the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and West over the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Cuba. The game models the full order of battle that could be expected in 1980’s wartime, from multi-regiment Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bombers to multiple US carrier groups. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

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F-14 Tomcat from CVW-1 escorts a Russian bomber near USS America (CV-66) during Exercise NORTH STAR 91 (Cruise Book)

Blue Water Navy is large both in game scope and game contents. The two-piece 30″x45″ map uses areas spanning approx. 500nm to depict the battlespace from the Gulf of Mexico to the Kola Peninsula to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Over 700 counters represent groups of ships or aircraft (although to be fair about half are markers, not units) and each turn is 2 days. Play time is rated at 1-3 hours for shorter scenarios and 8-16 hours for a campaign.

To try and make this all work, the game uses a form of the Ops-Events card-driven mechanic:

The game is card driven, with each card providing points to move or trigger special events such as ‘KGB Assassinations’ and ‘Space Shuttle’. There is also a reaction mechanic where most cards can be used in the other player’s turn to perform a spoiling event such as ‘Raid Aborts’ and ‘Friendly Fire’. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

To avoid the “God’s Eye” problem of wargaming, the rules feature robust detection rules:

The heart of the game is detection. Task Forces can only be attacked once detected. By contrast, land airbases can always be attacked. The race to detect opposing Task Forces begins as soon as they enter potential striking range…. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

Here are some of my impressions after reading the Rules Booklet and playing the first short scenario, ‘The Boomer Bastion, 1983’:

Game Mechanics & Rules

Mechanically, Blue Water Navy is not very complex. The Operations Cards and possible Actions are fairly straight-forward. Movement is very simple; even detection is logical. There is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in Blue Water Navy; combat ‘strength’ is expressed in terms of d10 rolled, with a natural 10 being highly favorable and doubles often also having a favorable effect. Modifiers are few.

That said, combat in Blue Water Navy is very procedural and, although the core mechanic of rolling multiple d10 is the same, every combat type is handled differently (and even within warfare types, such as air, different engagements are not always handled the same way). The use of Player Aid Cards (PAC) is absolutely essential. When coupled with the detection and reaction rules and the interaction of weapons systems (such as SAMs vs missiles or aircraft) this dramatically slows the game down.

Blue Water Navy also lacks an index (though the PAC has rules references). This can make finding essential rules a chore. For instance, the shorter scenarios use a ‘smaller’ Ops Track with different rules found in an unnumbered section at the beginning of the Scenario Book.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Blue Water Navy feels very organic. There is a very natural (dare I say, realistic?) feel to the flow of combat. Battles in Blue Water Navy build a narrative. In my scenario play, a US nuclear fast attack submarine (SSN) entered the Soviet Bastion hunting for Boomers (SSBN) and was intercepted by a Soviet SSN which got a shot off but missed. Now alerted, a Soviet MPA aided in the search supported by a surface ASW group. Facing off against this threat, the US SSN eventually was lost, but not before it exacted a heavy toll on the Soviet surface ASW group. This in turn set the stage for another US SSN to get into the bastion and, with Soviet ASW forces attrited, it was able to sink a Boomer. Another US SSN faced off against a Soviet SSN but lost out to the Rocket Torpedoes of the Soviet Victor III SSN.

Seapower & the State meets the Fleet-series…sorta

When it comes to Cold War navy wargames, the standard against which all others are held, even today, is certainly the 1990s Fleet-series by Victory Games. When it comes to strategic World War III at sea, I also fondly recall Seapower & the State by designer Stephen Newberg at Simulation Canada (1982). In many ways, Blue Water Navy attempts to cover the scope of Seapower & the State using Fleet-like mechanics. Interestingly, Stephen Newberg is credited as an advisor to Blue Water Navy!

I rate Blue Water Navy a qualified success in depicting World War III at sea. Blue Water Navy has the strategic coverage of World War III at sea (operations planning & events, movement, detection) but it takes an extended time to play because combat delves deeply (too deeply?) into the operational-level of warfare. The rules are generally simple but no two combats are resolved in the same manner thus slowing play. I like the game and I want to get the other short scenarios to the table. Maybe in doing so I can build up a rules-familiarity to speed play. Only then would I dare to attempt a campaign game.


Feature image – Blue Water Navy box cover (credit – self)

 

Scattered to the winds – Organizing Battle Stations for Game of the Week

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Note to self…placing a plastic compartmented game box on edge is NOT a good idea!

Really wanted to get Battle Stations (Simulations Canada, 1984) to the table tonight for my Game of the Week but first I need to organize all the counters. Well, a good chance to really look at the game components.

Rulebook – Eight pages including the cover and back page which double as the box front and back. Rest is five pages of rules (double column) and one page player aid with tracks and Combat Results Table. Upon closer inspection, all the actual rules are in five columns of text the rest being scenarios (~three columns) and Designer’s Notes and Charts & Tables (~two columns).

Map – the 16’x24″ map is divided into four areas; The Northern Gap, The Eastern Mediterranean, The Southern Sea of Japan, and Open Waters. Each hex is 24 (nautical) miles across. So not a lot of maneuver given every game turn is about five hours (an interesting design choice…not your usual 4 or 6 or 8 or 12 hour turn).

Counters – Small (1/2″?) with lots of data crammed onto the little space. So little the ship class is not shown; one must cross-reference rule 9.1 UNIT ID NUMBERS TO CLASS LISTINGS to determine what each counter is.

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A Spruance-class “CG” and an un-targetted Kashin

By today’s standards a very DTP-like production job. But the real heart of the game is a simple combat model.

After movement in order to attack a ship must be targeted. This is a simple die roll (with just a few modifiers) against the Electronic Warfare (EW) rating of the target.

Different units can attack at different ranges, rated as A thru D and AU. Ships like aircraft carriers can attack at Range A (23 hexes) down to smaller ships or aircraft only able to attack the same hex (Range D). Ships are also given ratings for different types of attacks. These include Anti-Air (AA), Anti-Ship (AS), and Anti-Underwater (AU). Combat consists of multiple segments counting down the range. At each range, units compare attack strength to the EW rating – rolling the given die range results in a hit and destruction of the target. Combat is fast and deadly. That’s even without using rule 6.8 OPTIONAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

Rule 7.8 SEAPOWER & THE STATE INTERFACE points out that Battle Stations shares the same data base for units as the strategic game, making them easy to use together. I seem to recall reading many years back on CONSIMWorld that the designer does not have the formulas or other info to recreate the unit values. That’s a shame since the simplicity of Battle Stations could make it an interesting quick-play naval combat game of the modern era.