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:
- 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
This post I look at Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Simulations Canada in 1984. Battle Stations follows Seapower & the State, the strategic World War III at sea game from Simulations Canada and Stephen Newberg, and in many ways is the “same game, only different.”
In the Design Notes, Mr. Newberg writes:
So it seems that there is still a place for a fairly easy but broadly reflective modern naval game at the tactical / operational level. We found a need for such a game ourselves, since sometimes it is nice to play out a fast battle rather than a long war. BATTLE STATIONS! is an outgrowth of these desires. We had a well worked out existing data bae from the research for SEAPOWER & THE STATE and it seemed a good idea to use it.
BLUF – Battle Stations is an ultra-low complexity game that emphasizes ‘layered’ combat with little to no Scouting/Anti-Scouting model or C2 nor does it explore ‘why’ the naval battles are happening.
The back cover of Battle Stations enticingly hints that the game goes beyond a very generic “You sank my battleship!” approach to naval warfare:
The world depends on the sea. 90 percent of all bulk shipment between nations travel by sea. Much of the edible protein consumed yearly comes from the sea. Major nations hide their strategic deterrent under the sea. In the event of a Third World War the seas of the world will be the scene of some of the most intense conflict in the history of mankind. Such conflict will center on the shipping lanes and extend from the ice cap at the North Pole, through the transit straits and gaps, to the open sea of the oceans.
Alas, that is as close Battle Stations comes to a Hughes-view of why navies fight. Rule 7.21 Victory Points awards VP strictly on the basis of units destroyed. After the incredible insight seen in Seapower & the State this step back is shocking but admittedly in keeping with the low-complexity the designer seems to be seeking.
“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.
In keeping with the low-complexity approach to game design, movement is extremely simple. All sea hexes cost 1 movement point to enter while littoral hexes cost double. Aircraft do not move on the map but are assigned a hex within range of a base and can fly a set number of sorties in a turn.
“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.
Like Seapower & the State, every platform in Battle Stations 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) with a final anti-submarine resolution segment at the end. This layered combat (or as call it, the ‘Combat Onion’) is the heart of Battle Stations.
“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 Battle Stations is abstracted into a single factor – the EW Rating. Combat is resolved by summing the attack strength of all attackers and comparing it to the EW Rating of a defender. This comparison is rolled for on the Combat Results Table. If the number rolled is within the range on the CRT the unit is destroyed. The Defense value from Seapower & the State becomes the VP in Battle Stations.
“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 Battle Stations displays all units on the map, the game assumption is that the general location of all units is known. However, to attack, ships and submarines must be targeted (6.2 Targetting). At the start of the Joint Combat Phase is the Targetting Resolution Segment where players determine which ships have been targeted in the fight. Ships with a higher EW Rating have a better chance of NOT being targeted. Possible modifiers include a scenario-specific national assets and being a submarine. Aircraft are automatically targeted.
“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 Battle Stations is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. The higher the EW Rating the better chance of not being targeted.
“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 Battle Stations are very limited. There is no stacking limit for hexes although rule 6.8 Optional Nuclear Weapons may make one pause to put ‘too many eggs in one basket.’ The most complicated part of the C2 rules is actually found in 5.41 Aircraft Available, 5.42 Assignment, 5.43 Sortie, and 5.44 Upkeep Attrition. These rules call for assignment of INDIVIDUAL aircraft points to INDIVIDUAL hexes. If there is one area that low-complexity approach to the game fails, it is with this bookkeeping.
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 Battle Stations that I can identify as explicitly C2CM-related. Again – a low complexity game with little need to stretch C2 of the players.
If Stephen Newberg wanted to create a low-complexity modern naval game at the operational / tactical levels of war then Battle Stations fits the bill. Indeed, Battle Stations is almost too simple as the entire game focuses on the ‘Combat Onion’ with little attention paid to anything beyond an abstract layered combat model. Simple, fast, easy to learn and play but not very insightful.
* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.