Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Jutland Part 3: Setting the record straight

 
 
The famous Otranto barrage designed to keep the Austrians honest and scene of a number of tactically interesting actions involving smaller vessels.


Despite a train cancellation on the journey home last night I was able to spend some quality time reordering the files and notes around the Jutland rules project. It was a strangely therapeutic experience and more importantly has served to focus my thought process. The following post is very much a 'retrospective clarification' of exactly what it is I am trying to achieve and more importantly, why I am trying to achieve it. Some of this may well fall into the category of 'stating the obvious' but it is relevant.

Jutland was the epitome of the big fleet battle - I am quite sure we all agree on that score. The Avalon Hill game of Jutland reflects this and is designed to enable the gamer to recreate the action in a manageable fashion. The rules are concerned with capital ships and the smaller ships, the light cruisers and destroyers, whilst important are very much supporting players. The game mechanics reflect this to the extent that light cruisers and destroyers are represented by formation counters, each containing any number of ships. In short, they are abstracted out. This is fine as for Jutland as we are concerned about the battleships and battlecruisers. For this level of operation the game works extremely well.

What about smaller actions then? Destroyer sweeps, 'hunt the raider' actions, shore bombardments and a myriad other non-fleet sized activities.

The Jutland tactical rules are not really suited to use for single ship games and in my opinion struggle with even small squadron sized actions - why would they need to be concerned with such engagements as they are designed for use with whole fleets.  As they designed for fleet actions, specifically THE fleet action, the smaller scale stuff is of less importance.

Therein has lain my problem and although I had reached this conclusion some years ago I had to relearn it....

It is not a new phenomena. As wargamers we read about a battle and then raise a force that represents a small part of it. We then try and use that small force to fight the larger battle we have read about - or (in this case) vice versa. The problem is that we invariably have a set of rules that are not suited to what we are trying to game. I am not saying that everyone suffers from that but I have seen and experienced it first hand.


The small but very useful looking Austrian Navy. The Otranto barrage kept the Austrian surface fleet honest but was a lot less successful keeping the submarines penned in.


The majority of naval actions I have fought have tended to be quite small in terms of the number of models - usually around a dozen or so a side. With this in mind I want a set of rules that will enable me to fight an action to a conclusion in a couple of hours gaming time and with around a dozen or so models a side. A typical force (and this is VERY general) may be division of battleships (say 2 or 3), a couple of cruisers and half a dozen destroyers. For something of this size every ship is important and has a role to play. Clearly then, using Jutland would not be suitable, focussing on as it does the challenges of fleet level command.

It is not all doom and gloom though as the core systems of Jutland (which are very soundly thought out) can be used at a lower level of operations and still give a satisfying game. By 'telescoping' the rules down a notch so that all ships from destroyers upwards have some form of damage record card it will ensure that the lower level flavour is not lost in higher level processes.

On the face of it then the approach will be similar to that employed by Paul Hague in the original version of Sea Battles in Miniature. Essentially ships smaller than an armoured cruiser used a different calculation for their vital statistics (damage points etc) than the bigger ships. This is quite easy to factor in really as various prohibitions were employed around what types of ship could fire at what. For example battleships could not fire their main guns at a destroyer nor vice versa. Jutland also had provision for this but not for scoping out smaller ships.

In a nutshell then, I am devising a set of rules that will work at the lower end of the tactical scale - primarily by treating smaller ships as individuals similar to the larger types - using most of the mechanics from Jutland but with some subtle changes. By setting a series of baselines for ship types based on any of the following - guns, armour, tonnage etc I will be able to model their characteristics more readily but still maintain the Jutland 'big ship' flavour. These rules will include big ships as a matter of course - think as what I am doing as adding the 7/8th of the iceberg to the 1/8th that is above sea level.

That is the plan then.

1/600th Portable Wargame Ideas

 
A quite superb book
 
I have mentioned a number of times of my fondness for Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame system and this has been recently reinforced (as if it needed any such assistance!) by his recent sequence of games set in the Shin Valley on the NW Frontier. My plan is to use these rules and my collection of Heroscape tiles in conjunction with the 1/600th Tumbling Dice models I have been acquiring. I have flirted with a number of ideas for campaigns to represent using this method with contenders being the Arab Revolt - including the Sanusi and the Iraq version in 1920, the NW Frontier - including Waziristan, WW1 in the Caucasus, WW2 Western desert or something in the Aegean or possibly even something 'imagi-nation-ish'. Luckily the size of figures means that several armies can be represented using one basic paint job.
 
For any of the above conflicts a desert type paint job on the Heroscape tiles would suffice. As long at the result is suitably arid and barren it would be fine.
 
The interesting thing about the Sanusi affair is that much of the terrain fought over would see troops of a very different kind contesting the same area in WW2.

 
The following passage taken from Amazon gives you a good idea of what this particular conflict was all about.
 
"This is the exciting story of a forgotten war, fought out on the fringe of the great First World War campaigns. At its centre stands Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif, the Grand Sanusi, a charismatic Arab leader caught between the rival war aims of the Turco-German alliance and the British Empire. In November 1915 HMS Tara, a requisitioned ferryboat, is torpedoed by a German U-boat off Sollum on the north-west coast of Egypt. The 92 survivors, nearly all Welshmen, are handed over to Turkish and Sanusi soldiers across the border and sent as prisoners of war deep into the Libyan Desert. The Turco-Sanusi Army then overruns Sollum and pushes into Egypt. The British, occupying that country, are caught off guard and forced to launch a military campaign to expel the invaders. Over the next few months, four battles are fought before Sollum is retaken and the threat contained. Finally, the Duke of Westminster leads a large column of Rolls Royce armoured cars and Model T Fords into Libya to rescue the Welshmen. Based on original source material, The Sanusi's Little War tells for the first time the full story of the Turco-Sanusi invasion and the subsequent military campaign. The author describes secret German missions and Turkish efforts to win over the Grand Sanusi. He reveals the fascinating role played in the campaign by British officers, particularly Leo Royle. Most unexpected of all is his discovery that T. E. Lawrence played a role in these events".
 
 
So you have Turkish trained Sanusi regulars and irregulars against Imperial troops with armoured cars and aircraft. this has the makings of something rather interesting and more importantly, slightly more conventional than the more usual Arab Revolt.
 
 
One for the project pile to be filed under 'Contender'.
 
 


Monday, 20 November 2017

Jutland Part 2: 2 steps forward and 3 back...

 
One wonders how history would have played out had a certain Commander Jellicoe not escaped from the sinking H.M.S. Victoria

You know that feeling you get when you think you have something virtually sewn up and then something crawls out of the woodwork and proceeds to unstitch pretty much everything you have done so far?  Well that is what has happened. 
I was typing a few notes up on the Mac last night when I happened to browse an old folder of files called Wargame Rules. This is the folder that includes a vast number of downloaded rules for land battles for various periods. At least that is what I thought was in it. As I idly scanned down the list of files (with some real corkers there that will need revisiting at some point) imagine then my surprise when I came across some old files relating to Jutland. These files are at least seven years old, probably longer, and represent a fairly comprehensive revision to the Jutland rules incorporating all the various updates from the AH General and Boardgamer magazines and some additional items from yours truly.
 
In short, pretty much everything I have been wittering on about recently….
I thought I had moved all of my Jutland related files into the Jutland folder but somehow had not done so with these. In my defence I have also changed computers twice since these were created so that is possibly how they have fallen through the gaps.
As well as the revision to the rules I had even gone as far as drawing up fairly comprehensive ship damage charts for both the Royal Navy and the High Seas Fleet.
In truth I had completely forgotten about these revisions and am more than a little embarrassed at myself for having overlooked them. Had I not done so it would have saved me a lot of time.
 
A cursory glance has shown that I was on the right track with my recent thinking so I will make a point of harmonising the files into something approaching a system so I can get a definitive draft prepared. I will make this available in due course but for now I need to tidy things up and make a mental note to be a little more careful where and how I store things....


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Jutland Part 1: The Blooding of the Guns



The damage record sheets from Avalon Hill’s Jutland

I  mentioned in my last post that I have moved on from trying to adapt the tactical rules from Jutland into something more ‘wargamey’ to instead making use of some of the ideas and mechanics contained therein  in a self designed set of rules. Surprisingly enough I had made a fair amount of progress with this for my ill-fated Jutland project so the work of making sense and adding some coherency to the whole thing in theory should not be too difficult.

The first thing I want to outline (or rather, think out loud) is the firing mechanism. As it stands I am using many elements from the Jutland system but with a few of my own twists. I shall outline how the Jutland system works and will then describe my ‘take’ on it.

Jutland the board game uses a system of gunnery factors for the ship in question which is cross-referenced on the appropriate column of the gunnery table and a single d6 is rolled to determine the number of hit points scored. Gunnery factors are also key to the damage system as they are the hits first scored against a target ship (more of which later) reduce the target ship’s own gunnery factor. The number of hits scored is modified by the range at which the firing ship engages the enemy. This means that long range fire typically reduces the number of hits scored whilst the closer you get the more damage is caused. Gun types have maximum ranges and are defined by typical ship types rather than calibre. For example, anything from 11” upwards is rated as either PB or BB. There are also sizes for CA, CL and DD. There are also restrictions on which gun types can Fore at what category of target, for example DD rated guns may not fire at ships classed as PB or BB. There is also a critical hit option so if a ships rolls a 6 to hit then there is a further roll to see what the critical hit is. I should also point out that a single game turn represents 10 minutes. Capital ships do not have any secondary weapons although the optional rules appearing in the AH General magazine allow for this.

Straightaway there are a number of issues arising. Try as I might I have been unable to work out how the ships gunnery factors were calculated - even to the point that I had an email exchange with the game’s designer, James Dunnigan, a few years back. Sadly he could not remember how he worked it out but given it was around 1966 he designed the game it is perhaps understandable! Most of the capital ships have 1 gunnery factor per barrel and the factors are grouped into turrets on the ship damage record. there are some crucial differences though. Take the Queen Elizabeth class armed with 8 x 15” guns. They have a gunnery factor of 12. I took this as being the base of 1 factor per barrel times 1.5 which works out fine. Hurrah you might think (at least I did), bu Jove he’s got it! Sadly not as if you look closely the numbers do not quite add up.

The factors for the Royal Navy ships follow a largely consistent approach in that the 15” gunned QE and R class all come out at 12 factors for their 8 x 15” with 4 x 3 factor turrets on the damage sheet. The 10 x 13.5” also come out at 12 factors meaning, for arguments sake, the number of barrels has been multiplied by 1.2. If you take the 8 x 13.5” gunned ‘splendid cats’ - Lion and Tiger etc, this comes out at 9.6 or 10 factors when rounded up. You can see what I mean by looking at the picture above.

Then comes the High Seas Fleet.

For reasons lost in the mists of time the only ships in the High Seas Fleet that seem to follow the RN lead of 1 factor per barrel for 12” or 11” armed ships are the Westfalen class battleships and the pre-dreadnoughts. Given that all the Germans capital ships at the battle were armed with 12 or 11” weapons it would be logical to assume that for the most part the gunnery factors would match the number of guns carried. Why then is there the discrepancy?

There are lots of theories as to why this may be. Is it allowing for the advantage that the Germans had when ranging in? Is it because some of the later ships had a superior version of the 12” gun to the bulk of the 12” armed RN battleships? This could be the case but does not allow for the 11” armed battlecruisers. I have no objection to adjusting the capabilities of a ship to reflect a specific combat situation where it is a known quantity but when the rationale for doing so is absent we have a problem.

The solution I have decided upon for this is quite simple. For the rules I am devising I will be using the standard of one factor per gun barrel and any differences due to the calibre of the weapon being employed will be factored in as modifiers to the damage effect. Taking the ships mentioned as an example I would give the 15” ships a +2 to their damage rolls whilst the 13.5 (and 14”) types would get a +1. Those battleships with a main gun of 9.4 or 10” would get a minus 1. The pluses and minuses will be explained further so don’t worry about the specifics for the time being.

I intend using the existing Jutland firing table to determine if a hit or hits are scored (based on the number of guns firing) and then to roll a d6 per hit to see what the effect is. I will also be using the Jutland based range effects on the number of hits scored - the to hit roll is made as normal but depending on the range can be tripled, doubled or halved. I prefer to roll a number of dice rather than just the one as I think it adds to the fun. The ‘roll to hit and then roll for effect’ adds a degree of uncertainty to the proceedings as it may be quite possible to score a number of potential hits that translate into no damage. Looking at the damage suffered by a number of the ships at Jutland it appears that damage effects could be variable depending on where was hit and what calibre was doing the hitting. 

The rolls for effect are very simple to implement. Essentially for each potential hit a d6 is rolled. 1, 2 or 3 means no effect, a 4 or 5 is one hit and a 6 is two hits. Aside from the modifiers to the damage inflicted due to the calibre of shell hitting the target there will also be a modifier adjusting for the armour type of the target. This is intended to ensure that armoured cruisers have their historic vulnerability to battleship calibre artillery. 

As an example (and I appreciate that you will have to take a lot of this on trust) take a look at the following to see what I mean.

H.M.S. Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth class dreadnought armed with 8 x 15” guns opens fire at the German battle cruiser S.M.S. Seydlitz at a range of 12,000 yards. There are no modifiers for range so the player commanding the Warspite looks at the column on the headed 8 to 9 and rolls a d6. The player scores 1, the best result (I may change these around as I prefer a 6 to be the best score and 1 the worst), meaning that Warspite has scored 2 potential hits. The player then rolls a further two d6 scoring a 1 and a 4. Sadly the 1 is a no effect (although the imaginary mast-high column of water would have given the bridge crew of the Seydlitz a deep sense of foreboding....) but the 4, plus the modifier of +2 for the 15” guns makes 6 which gives 2 damage points. 

How this damage is applied will be detailed later but for the time being these damage points would be taken from the main guns of the Seydlitz meaning that she has, in effect, lost two guns from the 10, or a turret has been knocked out.

The action continues.

S.M.S Seydlitz, down to 8 guns but at a range of 9,000 yards after some canny manoeuvring, opens fire on H.M.S. Warspite (no doubt circling furiously with her steering stuck....). At this range potential hits are doubled so with some good fortune things could potentially get very uncomfortable for the hapless Warspite. Rolling on the same column as the Warspite the Seydlitz again rolls a 1! This means 2 hits doubled to 4! The resulting rolls for effect come up as 2, 4, 6 and 4 meaning a total of 4 points of damage - 1 for each 4 and 2 for the 6. That would be a turret lost for sure and other damage as well. 

As I am writing this I am aware of a couple of things that will need to be nailed down - particularly as far as where damage is taken and that will form the follow up to this rather lengthy post.




















Friday, 17 November 2017

Naval Relativity

 
A rather atmospheric painting of the Battle of Jutland


The 1/2400th scale collection is moving along nicely so barring any unforeseen dramas is on schedule for completion at the end of the year. The other side of the project is of course the old chestnut of what rules to use. I have a vast number of sets for wargames in the period which of course will be a safe fall back option but I have a hankering to do something myself. It is with this in mind I have written this post as I wanted to share my rationale behind the thought processes involved. I hope it is of some interest and of course, comments would be greatly appreciated.

My fondness of the game Jutland is well known - as is my oft mentioned comment about the tactical rules being rather simple, brutally so if truth be told. Taking into consideration all of the various advanced and optional rules that have appeared over the years you get a tactical system that is better within the spirit of the game but does still not really cut it as a pure standalone tactical naval set.

One of the biggest problems I have experienced in trying to 'wargameify' the rules has been the difficulty in reverse engineering the ship specifications - namely the gunnery and protection values. I looked back over all my noted on the subject and whilst they have a number of valid observations are still very much in the 'hit it and hope' category. With the advantage of some time away from the project and with the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes I can see that in some cases the ships were probably factored based on their historical performance in the battle rather than by the pure translation of their technical specifications.

 
Photo-shopped I know but what a picture!


The 'pure translation of their technical specifications' is a very common part of the naval wargame and in my opinion every set of naval wargame rules should show how the ships were factored - especially when wanting to add a ship not featured. Naval wargamers usually set great store by their knowledge of the ships of their chosen navy - I know I do!


A well known picture with a coloured twist. S.M.S. Seydlitz after the battle - and very lucky to be there!


The Jutland approach then, of modelling ship characteristics to suit a specific scenario, whilst working well within the confines of the game being represented itself, loses out when they are used outside of this, either hypothetically or for other historical refights. Essentially then, what is needed is a baseline of characteristics for all ships - a common standard if you like - upon which the rules can be built. Using Jutland as is, even with all the add-ons, is, in my opinion not going to cut it.

For me personally this is scary stuff. Much as I love the game it is not going to fulfil my immediate needs for a set of naval rules covering 1905 to 1920.

With this sobering yet strangely liberating thought in mind it puts a lot of what I was trying to do previously into a far better context. Instead of trying to adapt an existing set of rules my efforts will be concentrated on drafting a set of rules based on the Jutland system rather than attempting to take it into a direction it was not really intended for.

I genuinely believe that the core mechanics of the Jutland game system could be used as the basis of a very good tactical game of naval combat but that any such undertaking needs to have some clearly defined parameters around what does what, when and how.

Naval Wargame Rules based on Avalon Hill's Jutland

Taking all the above into consideration I shall now set out my stall in respect of the core principles I will be working with in the formulation of the rules - a kind of mission statement I suppose. I will expand on each area in later posts but for the moment the key areas are as follows. The points marked with a J are taken directly from the game rules.

Guns

1. 1 gunnery box per actual barrel - regardless of size.
2. Guns are rated by ship type i.e. - BB, PB, CA, CL and DD (to be defined) - J
3. Two stage firing i.e. - fire to hit and then fire for effect
4. Gun types will have variable effects against target types based on calibre of weapon and armour of target.
5. Range effects as per rangefinder from the game. - J

Damage

1. Guns destroy ship systems whilst torpedoes sink ships. - J
2. Critical hits - as they add flavour! - J
3. Protection/Flotation value calculated by a clear formula
4. Use of fore/aft and port/starboard hit locations and gun based Protection/Flotation hits.

Torpedoes

1. Hard to hit with but effective when they do
2. 'Comb the tracks' option to negate an attack. - J
3. Limitations on types using these weapons and the numbers available. - J

Movement

1. Use of turning devices and national restrictions. - J
2. Use of long/short move (see Barry Carter's book) if grid based.

General

1. Use of damage record sheets - J
2. Working to a 6ft by 4ft playing area with maximum daylight gun range around 3ft and maximum ship movement of around 1ft.

So there you have it, a brief outline of what I want to do - all I have to do now is to do it!




Thursday, 16 November 2017

Squire Haggard of Haggard Hall R.I.P.


 
Squire Haggard (on the right) in action - no doubt concocting another money making scheme whilst consuming industrial quantities of anything alcoholic....
 

Not exactly the good squire but the actor Keith Barron who died yesterday and who portrayed him in the TV series back in the 90s. Keith Barron had a long career on screen and stage and was best known for his part in the comedy series Duty Free (very Brian Rix-ish in the farcical sense) during the 80s and also for his role as the Squire. He appeared in many TV programmes and also in a couple of films - the link gives the full details. For those of you who have never come across the good Squire his Journal was penned by Michael Green (famous for the 'Art of Coarse....' series) as a parody of a late 18th century gentleman's diary - think Boswell crossed with Blackadder.

The journal of the good squire


The journal is unbelievably funny and for most part consists of the Squire, his son Roderick and manservant Grunge 'carousing with prostitutes and servant girls, imbibing copious amounts of Madeira Wine, evicting the poor, expectorating on and firing his pistols at poachers, dissenters and foreigners.' The good squire was always heavily in debt and at one point undertook the Grand Tour in order to avoid both his debtors and a potential duel.

It is very funny and whilst not politically correct in any sense of the word actually reads as one would expect a diary of the period to be written.

 
My old friend Geordie will appreciate this one....


The cute pair of critters above are of course Groundhogs and whilst it is not the actual Groundhog Day (February 2nd next year is the official date I believe) a chance comment on my last post gave me pause for thought. I will post my thinking in more detail later but the reference to the above animals was of course to my current 1/2400th naval/Jutland rules revisited - as I have been there before.

I suppose it was inevitable and certainly the project concerning adapting the rules into something more 'naval wargame friendly' is very much unfinished business. However, I have come up with something that should address this and enable me to finish it off.

That will be the next post then.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Revisiting Avalon Hill's Jutland

 
A piece of gaming history


You may recall that I am a huge fan of the Avalon Hill 'board-game without a board' of Jutland. I had planned to use a variant of this for my ill-fated refight of the battle to coincide with the centenary last year but unfortunately I left it too late to organise properly. The ships raised for that particular undertaking have long since departed - my scale of choice was 1/2400th rather than 1/3000th although with hindsight this was a mistake - and I have no immediate plans to revisit the action using models anytime soon.

Anyway, the reason for this post is simply because as part of my ongoing naval activities with the 1/2400th 'overseas' set up circa 1910 -1914 I had occasion to drag out all the material I have amassed for Jutland. There is rather a lot of it!

The most surprising thing about this game is that I do not actually own a complete copy of it! I have the counters, rules, plot maps, task forces boards, time record sheets, range finders and measuring sticks but no box to put it all in! To be honest the collection is probably too big to fit in the old style box anyway....

 
The compilation of all the articles from the Avalon Hill General


The game featured in a number of editions of the old Avalon Hill General as well as the Boardgamer magazine and so I have copies of everything ever published by way of variants, additional rules or changes to the core system. There are also additional ship stats available including the remaining ships that saw service in the North Sea, the fleets for Russia (Baltic and Black Sea), France, Italy, Austria and Turkey). There is even a variant that exists covering the battle of Tsushima. With the Mediterranean set up there are some very useful plot maps available which is really handy as I am a huge fan of the map search system employed in the game.


 
One of the plot maps. In the base game there are two pads -one for the Germans and one for the British. the maps are identical but the flip side has the ship damage record for each side.


Replacement counters for the base game as well as for all of the various other fleets and additional ships are available from a number of sources - I own those for the rest of the North Sea (those that did not feature in the original game) as well as for the nations mentioned above which means that there is a lot of potential away from the traditional theatre of operations.

The rule system for this game is designed to be quick and to fit within the context of the strategic map movement. In this is does the job admirably however, as a standalone set of naval rules they are a little on the 'light' side. If you add all of the rules additions in from the magazines the game plays in a more satisfying way but I think there is still room for some TLC in a couple of areas. Bearing in the mind the rules are designed for fleet actions between dreadnoughts the ships at the smaller end of the scale (light cruisers and destroyers - lumped into a generic 'light ships' category) are poorly served. To use the rules as they are then for the kind of action I envisage fighting (roughly around 6 to 12 ships a side) would be a little on the light side so some more detail would need to factored in. One has to be careful adjusting a set of rules so as not to unbalance  them or lose the author's intended flavour but I am confident that with the help of all the additional written material available - including the designer's (Jim Dunnigan) original notes this can be tackled sympathetically.

That is what I am going to do - essentially to pick up what I was trying to do 18 months ago but did not finish.