Friday, January 20, 2012

War at Sea Rules Alternatives, Costa Concordia

It’s amazing how the pure physical conditions of life can sometimes disrupt plans for working up novel outlines, scouting out potential new positions, or working on a blog that’s worth reading. This week it was the Great Seattle Snopocalypse of 2012. The snow days for the kids weren’t so bad, but we lost power for a day and a half and had to get along without heat, lights, TV, the Internet, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s turned into something of a lost week for me… but, on the bright side, I did fun stuff like teaching my girls to play Serenissima, building a fire in the fireplace, and reading stories by candlelight. Anyway, on to the good stuff: Atomic Dragon Battleship!

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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Change facing by up to 3 hex sides means: Choose any facing. Is that what you meant?

  3. A hex has fives sides though, right? So if you start with one particular facing, and have the option to change up to three facings, that still leaves *one* facing that you cannot achieve in a single turn.

  4. Which one? Instead of turning 4 hexsides right, you can turn one hexside left. With 3 hexsides, you cover every possible direction.

  5. Yes, change facing by 3 hexsides = choose any facing. That was what I intended. The maneuvering rules are essentially: Begin by moving into the hex directly ahead. In that hex, choose any facing. Continue moving by moving into the next hex directly ahead of you. Choose any facing there, too. OR, if you don't want to begin by moving into the hex ahead of you, stay in your current hex and choose any facing, but go no further. What this does is prevent you from going any real distance "backwards" on a move, although you can turn around easily enough so you can begin steaming that way next turn.
    I think that some movement restrictions are an important qualification to the facing rules. The idea is to impose a new "hard choice" on players, something for them to think about and consider, and maybe exploit their enemy's inability to do so. The best way to pose a fun decision point here is to balance "go where you want" against "face the way you want." And there is a little bit of sim value in this rule, in that most ships take a couple of minutes (at least) to complete a 180-degree turn, and therefore can't cover distance "backwards" as quickly as they can by continuing ahead. The rule I proposed exaggerates this quite a bit, but it's pretty simple, which is certainly a goal in the War at Sea engine.
    Now, for a little MORE sim value, you could designate a subgroup of ships--say, anything with the Destroyer type--and give it less restrictive maneuvering. Maybe Destroyers can keep the universal maneuvering of the current game (i.e., begin a turn by choosing any facing, then move as described above). They can turn around and skedaddle out of danger more nimbly than larger ships. Better sim, a bit more complexity.

  6. How do you feel about this?

  7. And perhaps DDs would would get some extra torpedo evasion ability as well?

  8. Wow, Neural, that's pretty quick work! I'll be honest, I haven't tried out the proposal enough to know whether the "in between" hexes that are half-broadside and half-ahead should be broadside hexes or not. Off the top of my head I think I'd call them ahead/astern hexes, not broadside hexes. That will help out the submarines a bit, which otherwise really hate these rules. Or you could call them *both* ahead/astern AND broadside hexes, which is basically saying give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker. Oh, and Rodney and Nelson should still take the attack penalty for firing ahead -- the number 3 turret on those ships was not superfiring and could not fire over the number 2 turret.

  9. Sounds good :). They've been discussing these rules in the forumini already and the consensus seems to be that these advanced torpedo rules should only matter for range-1 and greater. How do you feel about this?
    Oh, and I updated the arcs of fire:

  10. Hi Rich, just wanted to say we appreciate these latest rules variants, and your ongoing involvement with the War at Sea community in general. I think the torpedo rules are particularly interesting.

    I'm also a Seattle area resident, and thought you might be interested to know that the snow-enforced downtime over the last week was enlivened by a series of "no-battleship" UK vs Italy duels fought against my 9 year old son

  11. Neural: You can make a good argument that run times should be shorter at close range. However, a 40-knot torpedo travels about 400 yards per minute, so a shot of 4,000 yards is still a ten minute run time. Oh, and aircraft did indeed drop from pretty close ranges, normally 1,000 to 1,500 yards IIRC. So I guess I'd have aircraft-dropped torpedoes resolve immediately.

  12. Unknown: Thank you! I have to say, nothing makes me happier than hearing about dads playing War at Sea with their kids. It's just awesome to think I had a small part in providing a good memory for both of you. As it turns out, I have daughters, and they're not terribly interested in WW2 stuff. Oh, well. At least I can get them to try good boardgames every now and then.

  13. Slight calculation mistake there, Rich.
    40 knots is 1,345 yards per minute or 13,450 yards in 10 minutes.

  14. Doh! You are correct. Yes, 40 knots is 4000 feet per minute. I had "nautical mile is 2000 yards" in my head and went on to confuse yards and feet.

  15. Rich - IJN Fuso here.

    Thank you for W@S. This one game has given me hours (days?! weeks?) of enjoyment. If you're ever planning to be in Atlanta, send me a PM on the forumini. At the very least I owe you a beer. And I'm sure our W@S group would love to play a few games with you. And that doesn't even consider the D&D crowd.

  16. If WotC brings you in freelance for some design work on WAS products maybe you could pitch set of 'Expert Rules' that come in some kind of a fixed starter with a hex map. (that of course is if we see any more WAS products... alot of ifs in there...)