Gaming: Today I think I’m going to step out of the theoretical ground of the last couple of posts, and muse about something more specific: What do I wish I’d done a little differently with War at Sea (aka Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures)? Overall, I’m pretty happy with the outcome of that design; it’s fast, fun, and serves as a good skeleton for layering on as many house rules and mods as you might want. But I still think I could have done a little better.
The first thing I wish I’d included in the game was a simple facing system. The classic naval tactic of “crossing the T” doesn’t appear in AANM because of the relatively high abstraction of ship movement and position. The reason we didn’t include this early on is because initial design drafts contemplated far more abstract versions of the game, where ships might be grouped into Task Forces fighting in an area of maybe 200 miles by 200 miles. Playtests of this approach showed us that ship dispositions were pretty boring in a large-scale game: You wanted your TFs together, so you wound up with “100 points in a box.” The shift to a more tactically focused game came relatively late in the process. Anyway, here’s a simple implementation of facing rules we could have used:
· Draw a game map using large hexagons, say 5” or so.
· Ships and submarines move by a) entering the hex directly ahead and can change heading by up to three hexsides when they enter a new hex, which counts as 1 movement, or b) remain in their current hex and choose any heading. This basically means you can’t make any real distance going “south” on a turn you begin facing “north.” Destroyers and PT boats might be able to start with a course change, and would have more ability to maneuver.
· Ships and submarines have arcs of fire: Ahead, Astern, Broadside. These basically correspond to shooting “out” of the hexside in front of you, behind you, or the two hexsides on your port or starboard.
· Submarines can’t make Broadside torpedo attacks (some older subs did have trainable torpedo mounts outside their pressure hulls, but maybe that could be handled with a special ability).
· Ahead or Astern Gunnery attacks take a penalty of -1 per die. This is an easy way to model reduced volume of fire from a limited number of guns bearing dead ahead or dead astern. Sure, we could present exact Gunnery dice for ahead/broadside/astern attacks for each different ship, but we’re talking about a simple patch we could add now to the game.
· Some ships (say, Rodney or Richelieu) would gain a negative special ability to the effect of “no Astern Main Gunnery attacks allowed.” Richelieu might also get a special for “no penalty for Ahead Main Gunnery attacks,” I suppose.
There you go – pretty simple, really, and you’d add some fun positional advantages and disadvantages to your War at Sea games. You could force your opponent to choose between moving toward the objective or guarding against having his T crossed, for example. However, be careful, since this makes Initiative *really* important. Whoever moves second gets a big advantage by being able to see exactly where enemy arcs of fire lie and moving accordingly. And submarines suffer from their non-broadside attacks.
Here’s another one: Delayed Torpedo Resolution. Our initial design wanted to make a stronger distinction between gunnery attacks and torpedo attacks for surface ships but really punished destroyers, so we relented in the errata and reprint and moved destroyer torpedo attacks to the same phase as their gunnery attacks. But torpedoes really should have run times of 5 to 10 minutes even at pretty close ranges, which is pretty close to about one game turn. So here is an alternative I wish I had thought of at the time: To simulate the run time of a torpedo attack, when you make a Torpedo attack against a unit, don’t roll the attack on the turn your unit fires its torpedoes. Resolve the attack on the following turn. Here’s how this would work:
· When a unit fires Torpedoes at another unit, place a Torpedo Attack chit on the target unit.
· Roll a d6 for each Torpedo Attack chit on the board at the end of the Movement Phase.
· Torpedo Attack chits “hit” on a roll of 5 or 6. However, a unit can degrade a Torpedo Attack to “hit” only on a 6 by choosing to evade torpedoes instead of moving in the Movement Phase. You could indicate this at the moment the ship evades by flipping the chit to a "degraded" side.
· Units evading torpedoes do not move. They remain in their hex. (If you use facing, too, the unit must change facing by 2 or 3 hexsides to evade.)
· Torpedo damage could be randomized—say, 1 to 3 points normally, or 1 to 4 points for a Long Lance attack. It bugs me that destroyers are always killed by torpedoes even though they often survived being torpedoed.
This doesn’t really change the timing of torpedo attacks from surface ships—when you fire the torpedo, it’s on its way, and if you’re blown up in the current Attack Phase, you still get to roll your dice next turn from beyond the grave. This does weaken torpedoes a little bit in that a torpedo attack in Turn X doesn’t affect the claiming of objectives in Turn X, but instead in Turn Y. But it makes torpedo attacks much stronger in that they’re much more likely to hit unless the targets choose not to move. Many times in real battles ships turned away from real or imagined torpedo attacks, and this rule creates that behavior in the game.
Both these systems are all about increasing the simulation value of War at Sea. Whether or not they’re worth the added complexity, well, that’s up to you. But if you’re inclined to tinker under the hood with your War at Sea game, maybe these will spark some ideas for you.
Politics/Current Events: As a former naval officer, I’ve been especially fascinated by the wreck of the Costa Concordia. Thank God the loss of life was relatively low; this ship had thousands of passengers on board, and the vast majority of them get to go home. One under-reported part of this story, IMO, is the sheer size of this ship. Costa Concordia displaced 114,000 tons, was 960 feet long, and could carry 3,700 passengers. That’s the size of an aircraft carrier! It cost $570 million dollars to build. By comparison, the famous Titanic was a wimp, at 46,000 tons and 880 feet. When you see those pictures of the ship lying on its side in the waters off that Tuscan island, you’re not just looking at a picture of an almost comically bad story of ship-driving (and apparent personal cowardice on the part of the captain), you’re also looking at half a billion dollars of capital investment on the part of Carnival Cruises half-sunk on a rock. During my active duty in the Navy, I saw cruise ships do ridiculous things in complete ignorance of sound navigation. On one occasion I watched a cruise ship drive right through the middle of a gunnery range that was in use, merrily steaming between a destroyer banging away in gunfire support exercises and its targets on Vieques Island. (We held fire, of course.) But it goes to show you that no matter how big and luxurious your cruise ship is, the sea still makes the rules. Hmm, there might be an adage in there.
Oh, and the best thing I heard the captain said: “I tripped and fell into a lifeboat.” Don’t know if that’s true or not, but if so, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time.
The Finer Things: Heat. In normal circumstances my house has heat, which keeps it warm in the wintertime. Heat is awesome. I really missed it over the last day and a half or so, and I am damn glad to have it back.