#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 5 -Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower (Simulations Canada, 1984)

(Part 5 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

Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower (Simulations Canada, 1984)

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.

Why Fight?

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.

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.

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

“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

“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.

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 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.

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 Battle Stations is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. The higher the EW Rating the better chance of not being targeted.

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 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.

Final Verdict

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.

#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.

IMG_0577


* 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.

ubDo49W0SlWveMmiDh8NIQ
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)

d7yJyNRUQkm8Ikqd9fm9Ug
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)

 

#Wargame Retroplay – Rockets Red Glare (Simulations Canada, 1981)

I HAVE BEEN PLAYING WARGAMES since 1979. In my early years, I really was more a tactical wargamer than playing operational or strategic-levels. I also was firmly rooted in  the World War II or Modern-eras with a healthy dose of science fiction games. So I am not sure when, or even how, I ended added Rockets Red Glare: An Operational & Strategic Study of the War of 1812 in North America to my collection. This Stephen Newberg design published by Simulations Canada in 1981 has sat on my gaming shelves for years unpunched and unplayed. This past week, while looking for a weekday evening game, I pulled this one off the shelf for no other particular reason and opened the rulebook.

My gawd…I have missed an incredible game.

Presentation

By today’s standards, the presentation of Rockets Red Glare is very underwhelming. It has a desktop publishing feel to it. The dark pink(?) rulebook is 12 pages (including cover) without page numbers. The rules are presented using the classic SPI rules structure (A / A1.0 / A1.1/ etc.). Although the page count is small, each page is a wall-o-text with few graphics. The baby-blueish map over a white background with tan or blue text is functional but won’t win any graphical awards. The map actually has three sections; the Strategic Map, the Operational Map, and various boxes and tables.

pic98181
This one is a boxed version…mine is just bagged (Courtesy BGG)

Playability

Rockets Red Glare is in many ways a classic hex & counter wargame. Two players, a very intricate Sequence of Play, cardboard chits, and dice rolling against a CRT (Combat Results Table). Rockets Red Glare is also two (nearly three) wargames in one.

Each turn represents one quarter of a year and starts with the first game using a Strategic Turn. Using a map of North America stretching from Boston to New Orleans, as well as the waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and off New England, the British and American players vie for dominance. Most importantly, the Strategic Turn features a Naval Phase for both players where the war at sea takes place. Although part of the Strategic Turn, these Naval Phases virtually count as a separate game unto themselves!

Following the Strategic Turn, play shifts to the second game in the Operational Turn which is played out on a map of the Great Lakes border area between the US and Canada. Here, in addition to the expected land combat, there can be naval operations on the Great Lakes.

Mechanics

Amazingly, playing the two levels of war in Rockets Red Glare is accomplished using a common set of counters and fairly unsophisticated rules. Three mechanics of the game jump out at me; the Naval Phase in the Strategic Turn, Land Unit movement, and Combat.

As a long-time naval wargamer, the war at sea has always interested me. Rockets Red Glare pits a small US Navy against the might of the Royal Navy. It portrays this war as a cat-n-mouse battle between individual US warships and Squadrons of the Royal Navy. The a US ship encounters a Royal Navy Squadron, a die roll is made against the squadron composition to determine what individual ships are actually met. This simple mechanic keeps the counter density low and adds a nice fog-of-war element to each battle. For instance, Squadron ‘E’ is rated as 3L, 3F, 1B. When encountered, the American player rolls a die against each category (Line, Frigate, Brig, or Troopship). If the die roll is equal to or less than the number, one of that class is encountered. Individual ships are picked from a set of face down counters meaning the actual ship may be the best, or the worst, or even a detached vessel (no encounter). Naval Combat uses the Strength Difference but each ship is rated A/B/C where A causes a column shift to the left (unfavorable) and C causes a shift to the right (favorable). A simple way to show a quality rating!

There is no movement factor on the Land Unit counters. In the Land Phase of the Strategic Turn, units instead have a number of movement points based the season. In the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance based on the season. As easy as this is, it did bring up one of two gripes I have with the game.

As I already stated, in the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance. As a unit (or sick of units) moves they draw down against this movement cap. The rules recommend using a piece of paper to keep track of MP expenditures for the turn. I created a simple player board track of 10 boxes using a 1x and 10x counter to cost down. Although the map is already full, I think a low-use map edge could of been set aside to support this important mechanic.

Land Combat uses a classic Combat Odds CRT. Like Naval Combat, Land Units are rated with A/B/C Class. As with Naval Combat, the Class provided a favorable or unfavorable column shift to the CRT. A very easy way to show troop quality. Additionally, on the Strategic Map, each hex has an Intrinsic Defense Strength. This mechanic again keeps the counter density low yet portrays the need to “battle” through certain areas.

The last mechanic I will discuss, and my second gripe with the game, is Victory Points and VP tracking. Rule D3.2X Victory Point Events is actually found on the map. There are nine events that generate victory points. Rule D3.1 Victory Points – General warns that, “Since the sums can be very high a calculator is useful….” THEY WEREN’T KIDDING. To determine the winner, the VP is reduced to ratio:

At the end of the scenario the player with the higher total compares his total with the lower total and produces a ratio. In all scenarios if the higher player has a victory point ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 or greater he is the winner of the game. If the ratio is less than 1.5 to 1.0 the game is considered a draw.

This has to be a mistake because, using the Rules as Written, the higher total will always win and there can be no draw. I think the intended rule may be a VP ratio equal to or greater than 1.5 is the winner and a ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 is a draw.

Historical Flavor

I am not heavy into 19th Century gaming outside of the American Civil War. The only other War of 1812 games I have is the lite wargame 1812: The Invasion of Canada from Academy Games and the unfortunately closely named Rocket’s Red Glare from Canadian Wargamer’s Group in 1994 which is more a set of miniatures rules. Rockets Red Glare does something that I have rarely experienced in a wargame; mix two levels of war (Strategic & Operational) as well as Land-Sea into a single functional gaming system. It certainly feels true to the themes of the war. The large Royal Navy against the small US frigates. The generally more experienced British operating at the end of supply against the numerous but less-experienced Americans. Indian allies for the British. It’s all here and can be experienced in a wargame of around 2 hours playing time.

Support

As an older game, there is not a lot of support available for this title. Compass Games published a new edition in 2013 as the issue game in Paper Wars 78 (Spring 2013) but it is out of stock. Even BGG has only errata for the second edition and nothing for the first.

Bottom Line

For wargamers this game is a relatively quick, easy to play, very insightful game of the War of 1812. The need to play the two levels of war and control both the land and sea campaigns makes this a very different game from many others. If for no other reason than to experience a game of this type, I recommend it to you.

For wargame designers, there is a lot to unpack here. I the last few months, I have heard the phrases “wargames are models” and “paper models” thrown around a lot. Rockets Red Glare is a paper model of the War of 1812 that successfully integrates Strategic and Operational levels of war as well as Land and Sea campaigns together. There is a lot that can be learned by today’s wargame designers from this Stephen Newberg classic.

#Wargame #Retroplay – Line of Battle (Second Edition, Omega Games, 2006)

I have always loved naval wargaming. I mean, just look at my Twitter handle  -@Mountain_Navy. My favorite rule sets, The Admiralty Trilogy series from The Admiralty Trilogy Group, tend to be more “simulations” than “games.” However, there are two games in my collection that I don’t give enough love to. Simulations Canada’s Line of Battle (and companion Battleship) are playable games that model an important aspect of naval warfare in their era. The games may be lighter, but the insights they deliver are deep. What they do need though is a graphical refresh.

To fill time on a rainy Saturday afternoon I pulled out Simulations Canada’s Line of Battle (Second Edition) designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Omega Games in 2006. This game is a revised and updated version of Line of Battle (First Edition) published by Simulations Canada in 1986. The game is a tactical simulation of naval combat between capital ships in the period of 1914-1924. Counters represent individual capital ships or groups of 3-8 escorts, each hex is 1,000 yds across, and each turn in six minutes of time.

Components

This is a classic hex & counter wargame, with a four-part paper map (nice ocean color) and 420 very small 1/2″ counters. The counters are choke-full of information – too much information for my older grognard eyes to see. The rulebook is written in a bullet/subbullet-style – not that bad to read but there are no rule numbers nor index. The voice used also seems to assume the player has a familiarity with wargames and even states, “these games are necessarily complex.” Although the rulebook is 46 pages the actual rules are covered in about 22 pages and of those five are Optional Rules.

IMG_0352
Yup, that’s a magnifying glass (not included)

Gameplay

The Sequence of Play is a very straight-forward series of Phases; Weather – Plotting (Optional) – Movement – Combat – Command. The most interesting parts of the game are the combat model and Fleet Fatigue and Fleet Demoralization rules.

In the Designer’s Notes Mr. Newberg lays out the core concept he is trying to model, the Immune Zone:

To me the key to this period of battleship development was the meeting of armor and long range gunfire in the concept of the Immune Zone. This zone is roughly represented in these games by the medium range defense value. The idea is that there is a range combination for each armor suite against each possible attacking gun type where the deck armor will defeat a shell that is plunging while the side armor will defeat a shell on a flatter trajectory. Of course, this means that this range is going to vary for the target ship with each different gun and shell type fired at it. This idea, and representing it without a ton of mathematics to resolve each firing and defending combination, is the heart of this design. The solution is not perfect; nothing is, but it works out well a vast majority of the time.

Main Gun Combat is resolved using a two-step process. Ships first use Ranging Fire to try and find the range of the target. Once found, combat switches to Straddling Fire where hits and damage can happen. Both are resolved using a single d6. For Ranging Fire, a single d6 is rolled against the Current Fire Control Value – a simple assessment of the quality of the fire control system, and if the result is the range band to target or less the fire becomes Straddling Fire. Straddling Fire in turn uses a single d6 roll added to the firing unit’s gunfire strength. If the result is greater than target ship’s Defense Value at that range band, it is a hit. Damage is another single d6 roll on a damage table broken out by target type. Possible damage includes Fire Control, Gunnery, Movement, and Flooding. Certain hits call for another roll on the Explosion Table.

I found it easier to just roll a three-die set (Green-Black-Red) for each Straddling Fire; the green die is for the gunfire value additive and if that result gives a hit use the black die for damage and the red die if an explosion is called for.

In my retroplay scenario, I gamed Scenario XII: Action in the Indian Ocean (Hypothetical) where an Overseas Squadron of the German High Seas Fleet meets two French battleships in 1914.

IMG_0353
The combatants – yeah, need a magnifying glass

A careful study of the counters amply demonstrates the Immune Zone concept the designer is looking to model. Although hard to see (unless I used my magnifying glass) the French battleships can shoot further (Short 1-6 hexes / Medium 7-19 / Long 20-25) than the Germans (Short 1-4 hexes / Medium 5-12 / Long 13-16). The French have a problem though firing at Medium range because the best they can muster is a gunfire value of 18-23 (17+d6) which will not penetrate the German Defense Value of 28. Indeed, the best range for the French would be to keep it at their Long range (20-25 hexes) with is totally beyond the range of the Germans guns yet will deliver a gunfire value of 7-12 against a defense value of only 5. Of course, it is also the range where it is hardest to convert Ranging Fire to Straddling Fire. In this scenario, the French are rated Below Average which gives them a negative modifier on the Ranging Table. At Long range they need to roll a 6 on a d6 to convert Ranging Fire to Straddling Fire.

The Germans on the other hand want to keep the French at Medium range, but since their guns are shorter range they need to close the distance. A good range for the Germans in this scenario is 7-12 hexes; Medium range that delivers a gunfire value of 23-28 against a French defense of 25 – a 50% chance of a damaging hit. All while being immune to French fire!

Taken together, the French need to stay beyond the German Immune Zone while the Germans need to dive into the French Immune Zone and get closer to be somewhat effective. This struggle of ranges and penetration is not forced upon the players by any rule but by an analysis of the values and probability and can be resolved in a short series of die rolls.

Two other rules I found interesting are actually Optional Rules and deal with morale. I cannot think of any other tactical naval combat game beyond Simulations Canada’s Line of Battle or Battleship that have morale rules. The first rule is Fleet Fatigue; that is, the number of turns the fleet fires or is fired upon before they lose effectiveness or even become demoralized. Fatigue can be recovered by not firing or being fired upon. If the fatigue level falls too far, the fleet is less effective and if it falls too far they must roll for Fleet Demoralization. Other conditions, like having 50% of the original battleships damaged or one-in-five battleships sunk may also trigger Fleet Demoralization. A demoralized fleet must withdraw by the most expeditious route. These simple rules capture not just morale but other factors such as training, readiness, and leadership in a very simple fashion. They also tend to make these games a bit more realistic and avoids many “fight to the death” situations.

At the end of the Designer’s Notes, Mr. Newberg states:

I find myself still, after a large number of years, particularly pleased with this pair of games. The design managed to display the core concepts cleanly, and leave the players able to concentrate on tactics , rather than process, and they have aged well. To my knowledge, they are still the only tactical board game representations of this scale to get the concepts to work out properly.

This is no small boast, but I have to admit Mr. Newberg delivered with Simulations Canada’s Line of Battle. If there is room for improvement, it is in presentation. The counters are too small and overloaded with information, the rulebook could probably be rewritten into a much more approachable style, and the play aid cards desperately need rework to be more graphically intuitive. These changes are all hallmarks of more modern games. Simulations Canada’s Line of Battle has the right heart (the Immune Zone concept) and game play is already streamlined; with a little graphical TLC this could be a great “modern” boardgame too!

 

Thoughts on Range in Battle Stations! (Simulations Canada, 1984)

My exploration of Battle Stations! for my Game of the Week continues. The game is a low-complexity simulation of modern naval warfare (at least as it was seen in the 1980s looking into the 1990s). As I played this week, I have come to like the “low-complexity” of the rules, but as a naval enthusiast I am questioning several of the design assumptions that contribute to that simplicity. In particular is the use of range in anti-air and anti-submarine combat.

Range is a central concept in the combat model of Battle Stations! Each turn (representing about five hours of time) is divided into movement and combat phases. The Joint Combat Phase is further broken down into a Targeting Resolution Segment and multiple Range Resolution Segments. In each Range Resolution Segment, the range counts down from A to D and AU (anti-submarine attacks).

PnJ8O3gMTMSm5nY7FFU2kA
US Navy CG with AA value of 5, AS value of 5 at range C, AU value of 7, and EW value of 3

Ships have ratings for Anti-Air (AA), Anti-ship (AS) combat with a range (A-D), an anti-submarine value (AU), EW rating, VP value and movement (see image above).

For AS combat, Range Resolution Segments are directly tied to the range value on the counter. This is easy to understand and an easy way to represent the different range capabilities possessed by a given unit. However, range in AA combat is tied to ship type, not a particular range:

6.31 AA STRENGTH: AA strength is not tied to a hex range, rather to a unit type. In ‘A’ range resolution segments CV type units may participate against opposing aircraft up to 23 hexes away from the unit location while CH, BG, & CG type units may  participate against aircraft up to 8 hexes from the unit location. In addition, aircraft with AA strength may participate against opposing aircraft in the same hex while other unit types may not participate at all.  In ‘B’ range resolution segments CV, CH, BG, & CG type units may participate against opposing aircraft up to 8 hexes from the unit location while aircraft with AA strength may only participate against opposing aircraft in the same hex and other unit types may not participate at all. In ‘C’ & ‘D’ range resolution segments all units and aircraft with AA strength may participate against opposing aircraft in the same hex.

On one hand the AA range rule reflects the extended range of AA combat, but tying engagement ranges to a unit type is too much of a simplification for me, especially given the game designers showed they could portray AS range capability. The rule works for aircraft carriers (CV) – maybe too well as range 23 is 575nm from the carrier! I know the F-14 Tomcat with the AIM-54 Phoenix was a long-range hitter…but Battle Stations! may be a bit too generous! Even AA range ‘B’ for CG seems generous. In 1984 (the time this game was published) the first Ticonderoga-class cruisers were entering service with the US Navy. The combination of the Aegis combat system and SM-2 missile was state-of-the art for its day, but the SM-2 could only reach 90nm (~4 hexes) – far less than the 8 hexes allowed in Battle Stations! It was not until the introduction of the SM-2 Blk IV-ER in 1998 that an AA range of 200nm / 8 hexes was achieved.

The AA range rule also makes me question the design assumptions behind the AU Resolution Segment. All anti-submarine warfare is resolved within the same hex. This limitation seemingly ignores the range that ASW aircraft or helicopters could operate. Again, a rules simplification that reduces complexity but loses a chance to portray modern ASW combat at ranges beyond the classic WWII dropping of depth charges in the wake.

In 8.0 DESIGN NOTES, designer Stephen Newberg describes BATTLE STATIONS! as:

…a fairly easy but broadly reflective modern 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.

I agree that Battle Stations! hits this mark, but then he goes on to say:

Since the idea was to produce an easy game we kept the details down, but the data base, with a large number of individual capability ratings for each unit, allowed us to keep the system reasonably accurate, even though it included complete air, surface, & submarine interactions….

In the final analysis, I have to agree that “reasonably accurate” is more than good enough for Battle Stations! Sure, if I was the designer I would make a few different design decisions, possibly at the cost of some additional complexity. I don’t think it would break the design, but make an improvement at the edges. But I am happy that Mr. Newberg was the designer and not me for although I question some of his decisions I still get to enjoy Battle Stations! 38 years after it was first published.

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

x8%UbNwwSQe6sqirzzdOUQ
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.

PnJ8O3gMTMSm5nY7FFU2kA
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.

 

Game of the Week 19 March 2018 – South China Sea battles with Battle Stations (Simulations Canada, 1984)

I want to get to my newer Compass Games South China Sea (2017) but before I do I am taking a step back in time to see what earlier operational-level modern naval combat games were like. This week I am taking a deep dive (no pun intended!) into Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower published by Simulations Canada in 1984. The South China Sea actually appears in this game as scenario 7.62!