#WargameWednesday – That sinking feeling… #SecondWorldWaratSeaCoralSea (Avalanche Press, 2010)

I love naval games. Just look at my Twitter handle or BoardGameGeek user name – RockyMountainNavy. So it should not be surprising that in the late 1990’s and through the 2000’s I bought many naval games. One of the more prolific publishers was Avalanche Press and their War at Sea-series including the Great War at Sea and the Second World War at Sea. Each game is actually two games in one; an operational campaign game and a tactical battle resolution game.

In 2010, Avalanche Press rolled out Introductory games for each series. Second World War at Sea: Coral Sea is the introductory title supporting that line. As the publisher’s blurb states:

Coral Sea is the new introductory boxed game for the Second World War at Sea series. It covers this key battle and is intended as a gateway for players new to the world’s most popular series of naval boardgames. The Japanese player must establish new bases in New Guinea and at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands; the American player must stop them. Forces are very closely balanced, and victory will rest with the player who can best make use of his or her resources.

The game is rated as 2 out of 5 in complexity with a playing time of “30 minutes to many hours.” I recently pulled out Coral Sea to give it a go. My reaction to the game is decidedly mixed; I like the operational aspects of the game but was reminded just what a chore playing the Second World War at Sea-series really is.

The rules for Coral Sea come in two books; Series Rules (24 pages) and Special Rules (8 pages). Mechanically the game is quite simple. In execution, it becomes long, repetitive, and a bit disinteresting. Back to that in a moment.

Set up for a campaign game, even with the low counter density (45 “long” ship counters and 100 1/2″ squares for ships, aircraft, and markers) should be fast but instead it takes time. I spent a good 30 minutes just setting the game up! Not only did I have to place the counters, but copy the Log Sheets (one for each side) and Data Sheets (five pages). This is NOT a pick-up game.

Each turn in the operational game is four hours of actual time. Each hex is 36nm across. Operational Scenario One covers the time period of 1-10 May 1942. That’s 60 turns! Each turn has the same 12 phases that both players have to step through together. 

After checking the weather and assigning aircraft to Air Patrol missions, both players go to the Orders Phase. This is the first great analysis paralysis opportunity of each turn as the players have to plot movement a various number of turns in advance based the mission of the task force. Task forces with a Bombardment or Transport mission plot their movement for the entire scenario or until six turns in a friendly port are passed. This is especially painful because the fastest ships move three spaces a turn while slow ships (like transports) only move one. Fortunately, in Coral Sea each side has only a few task forces, and in the case of the Japanese player at least two have transports and will therefore preplot their slooooowwwww advance across the ocean.

Once plotting is complete, the Air Search Phase with searches and ASW patrols is carried out. If there is an air strike to be launched, in the Air Mission Assignment Phase the orders are written out. This is followed by Naval Movement, Submarine Attack, and Surface Combat (resolved in a separate Tactical Board). Air Strikes and an administrative Air Readiness Phase follows. Players then execute a Special Operations Phase which is all those activities exclusive of the above. The turn ends with an Air Return Phase and then it all starts again.

Simple and straight-forward. Even a bit realistic (preplotting shows delay in orders execution or pre-planning). It works, as long as one is ready to repeat this process 60 times (or 180 times in the 1-30 May 1942 Operational Scenario Two) for a game.

All that for an Introductory game.

I am not going to go into my dislikes of the tactical combat resolution system. For a taste of my opinion I refer you to an old GeekList where I compared World War I Tactical Naval Combat game systems. With that said, maybe a very simple tactical combat system fits this system because it is already a looooonnnnngggg game.

Remember, this is an Introductory game.

coral_lexington
Courtesy APL

As I get older, I am coming to appreciate the luxury of larger counters. This is not the case in Coral Sea which has awesome 1″ long ship counters but 1/2″ aircraft counters crowded with information in tiny fonts – fonts too tiny for my old grognard eyes to comfortably take in. I could also use a pair of wargame tweezers to move or examine stacks of tiny counters.

coral_a6m2
APL

I forced myself to play Operational Scenario One to its conclusion. I took me almost three hours of play time. Thirty minutes of set up and three hours of play.

For an Introductory game.

Looking back, I guess the game makes for an adventurous retelling of the battle but finding that narrative-vibe in-game is hard when slogging through 720 phases across 60 turns.

As an introduction to the Second World War at Sea-series, Coral Sea shows that one needs to be greatly committed to this game system and invest lots of time for little action. For me, it’s going to be a long time until this title – or any other Second World War at Sea-series game – lands on my table again.

Wargame Wednesday – SWWAS Eastern Fleet OpScen 1 – Come in, Rangoon!

HMS Warspite – Indian Ocean 1942 (wikipedia)

Situation: The time is early March, 1942 and the Japanese are sweeping through Burma. The British have ordered the evacuation of Rangoon while the Japanese are landing forces along northern Sumatra. Covering the Japanese landing is a powerful cruiser force of five cruisers and four destroyers. The Royal Navy is covering the evacuation with a single carrier (Formidable), the battleship Warspite, two cruisers, two light cruisers, and four destroyers.

Strategy: VPs are accumulated based on landing transports; so the transports are the targets.

Battle Resolution: The RN transports are located by air search the first turn and attacked the next. Lucky hits by the G4M Betty bomber results in sinking of two transports. Not an auspicious start for the allies. The RN surface force fakes north then turns to the south and dashes towards the Japanese landing beach arriving one turn ahead of the covering force. All the Japanese transports are sunk. While the RN surface force slips away the Japanese covering force is harrassed by Swordfish torpedo planes off Formidable. Surface action is avoided. The Japanese covering force starts a high-speed dash towards the Rangoon transports and easily outruns the British. While loading in Rangoon, the transports are savaged by the Japanese cruisers. Both sides retire after losing all transports.

Comments: Ugh. Not a very fun scenario. The victory conditions create an unrealistic situation. The ONLY British focus should be the evacuation of Rangoon. The Japanese need to stop the evacuation. Both transport fleets are bogged down by speed 1 escorts which slow them tremendously.

Suggested Changes: Delete the Japanese 1st Southern Expeditionary Fleet. Start the British transports in Rangoon (historically the evacuation of Rangoon started 6 March) and depart 7 March for Calcutta. The RN covering force starts anywhere north of maprow Z, the Japanese Malaya Force anywhere south of maprow AB. For Victory Conditions change to read “The Allied player receives double the usual number of VPs for transports that unload in Calcutta and the usual number of VP for transports that unload in any other allied port. The Axis player receives double the number of VPs for every transport sunk.”

SWWAS – Coral Sea Session Report 20 Sep

Finished my SWWAS-Coral Sea Operational Scenario 2.  After fueling, the US fleet moved quickly across the Coral Sea and struck the Port Moresby Invasion Fleet until the transports were sunk.  IJN Shoho proved ineffective as they could not mount a sufficient attack against the US carriers.  By the time the heavy IJN carriers arrived it was too late.  The US carriers were able to stay away from the IJN long enough to survive.

SWWAS – Coral Sea: Set-up and Planning Phase

Started a game of Second World War at Sea – Coral Sea.  Playing Operational Scenario 2 which is a 60-turn (10 day) scenario taking one from 1-10 May 1942.

Historical Accuracy: The set-up seems historically accurate for the most part.  Comparing the task force division to Paul Dull’s Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy one can see that some groups were combined but all the units are present.

Initial Setup – Japan: The Japanese start out with four task forces; the Port Moresby invasion force in Rabaul, the Tulagi invasion force at sea NW of Rabaul, the Close Covering Force (carrier Shoho and assorted cruisers) and a scouting force (seaplane tender).  The scouting force is far to the SE, near the area of the US carrier set-up. The Carrier Strike Force (two heavy carriers) will not arrive until turn 10 (end of second day) along the north edge of the map.

Initial Setup – US: The US starts out with four task forces; two carriers (one at sea and another inport Espiritu Santo), the fleet train (two oilers and escort) and the seaplane tender Tangier (far to the north).  A surface force of several cruisers, light cruiser and destroyer arrives Turn 15 (near end of Day 3) along the southern edge of the map.

Strategy – Japan: Victory conditions are driven by the need to invade Tulagi and Rabaul.  Both need to be invaded for scenario victory.  Both invasion forces have Large Transport (3 landing points which take a total of 18 turns to land).  Ideally the invasion forces should wait for the Carrier Strike Force to arrive before sailing.  In keeping with the historical situation, the Japanese order both forces to immediately sail by near-direct routes to their invasion beaches.  The Tulagi Force will sail along the northern edge of the Solomon Islands but approach Tulagi from the west using the straits.  This is a risk but needed for the most direct approach.  The Port Moresby Force will sail just offshore (two spaces) but for the most part direct from Rabaul to Port Moresby.  The Covering Force will sail south from Rabaul and be ready to cover either invasion force.  This placement puts the Tulagi Force closest to the US carriers with little search coverage beyond what they organically provide.  It is hoped that the scouting force will provide early tracking of the US carriers and provide intelligence as to the direction and intentions of the US commander.  (Bottom Line: Invade and hope to pick up some additional points by sinking US ships.)

Strategy – US: Carriers to rendezvous west of Espiritu Santo and refuel from fleet train.  Stay to the south and east to intercept and destroy Tulagi Invasion Force.  Land-based air from Townsville will be used to attack Port Moresby Invasion Force.   In order to maintain covertness for the carriers Tangier’s seaplane will be used to track the Tulagi Invasion Force.  (Bottom Line:  Sink the Tulagi Force and stay away from Japanese land-based air and carriers; Port Moresby is expendable.)