First Thoughts – “All hands on deck!”

Having played 5 or 6 games in quick succession of Victory at Sea: Battle for the Pacific, I’m not far off being able to write a review, but knowing me, that might happen next week, or more likely in a month or two. So, here are my first thoughts instead.

All the games I played were solo, either playing against myself playing both sides, or using the AI contained in the Tokyo Express downloadable supplement from Warlord Games.

Started by playing a game using the Fleet objectives table in the rulebook, rolling a die for each side to find their aim for the game. To be honest, this didn’t float my boat – pun intended – as I wanted something with historical context or at least a specific aim rather than a random battle for victory points.

Next up I worked my way through the Tokyo Express solo campaign, which contained three scenarios. Overall, I enjoyed it, but the game suffered from using a 3′ x 3′ play area, something I’ll dive into a little later. I was surprised by how well the AI worked and it presented a reasonable challenge to a beginner – Naval warfare tactics are all new to me.

Finally, I put together my own scenario. A small Japanese force find themselves blockaded in after dropping supplies to ground troops in the Solomon Islands and need to break out to join up with their retreating carrier group. Basically, a 6′ x 3′ play area with the Japanese starting at one end and the US at the other. The Japanese needed to make it off the opposite end, whilst the US made it as difficult as possible to do so. I used all the ships in the box and had a great time, with only 2 Japanese ships from 6 making it out, but the US paid dearly; both Northampton-Class cruisers were sunk, the Portland Class was crippled, and 3 destroyers went to the deep too – I’d call it a Japanese Victory! It’s a pity I didn’t think of taking more pictures at the time.

Victory at Sea: Battle for the Pacific
Japanese Destroyers make smoke to protect their Cruisers as the US move in. (You may notice that I haven’t gotten around to adding the turrets yet!)

Anyway, on to my thoughts about the game mechanisms.

I grew to like the attack system – roll x number of dice to see if any hit (x being determined by weapon type), any hits then get rolled for damage (Rolled against target armour, e.g. 3+), and any 6’s get rolled to see if there’s a critical hit. It was fast, or at least it was once I’d memorised the modifiers, such as for range, fast moving, torpedoes, etc. The game really could do with a player’s reference sheet, as there are few modifiers tucked away in narrative, such as the bonus for plunging fire. I had to keep flicking around the rulebook to find things that could easily have been grouped together onto a single sheet for ease of use.

Another thing to like was the critical hit system. Each time a critical is dealt a d10 is rolled and a table consulted. hits can be to Engine, Weapon, or Crew areas, or if things are going really badly, Vital Systems. The more hits you take to a system the worse things become, as the effects are cumulative, there’s also the chance of things escalating at the end of the round depending upon where you’ve been hit – but there is a chance to deploy damage control. Vital system hits see some major damage being dished out, often enough to sink a small or badly damaged ship. The Portland Class Cruiser in my scenario got hit in the rudder and could no longer make any turns for the rest of the game, though it was crippled anyway it did manage to make it to the end of the game – just!

The first few games I played were a bit of a disaster, mainly down to my ineptitude with tactics. I at first thought the game had some major flaws – devastating Torpedoes for one – but I quickly realised that I wasn’t using the ships to their best and that speed is everything. Once I got to grips with things everything balanced out. Destroyers were no longer going around sinking everything with torpedoes, and things became a jostle to find the best range and firing position whilst trying not to present your broadside to the enemy.

On the whole the mechanisms are simple to use and create a fast paced game, but do fall short of being a simulation when compared to the likes of Fire on the Waters or Seas of War, both of which raise the complexity several notches but play much slower.

I do have a few issues, though. Firstly, the game isn’t very user-friendly in its straight out-of-the-box state. You will have to paint the miniatures, otherwise recognition is nigh on impossible without squinting at the name on the side of the base. A player reference sheet would make learning the game so much easier and quicker. And it really needs some ship logs. The ship cards are class specific and this causes identification issues, for example: there are two Northampton-class cruisers and each has a card, but the cards are for the class rather than the specific ship so you have to come up with a way to identify which card is for which ship. Okay, so you can just write the name on the card, simple… but what about the destroyers? there are six Fletcher-class destroyers, all unnamed and identical, so you have to then identify both ship and card – I wrote a number on the card and model in pencil.

So, which Destroyer did I say was which!

So, now you can identify which ship is which, but what speed was that destroyer doing when it moved? No idea because I didn’t write it down. Has it used its one-shot torpedoes from the port side, or was it starboard, or was it another ship entirely? No idea, I didn’t write it down… You get the picture!

You have to keep track of things, not just those mentioned above, but stuff like critical hits or issued orders. There are counters to show which systems have been hit, but you’ll have to refer to the table to see the exact effect and you’ll have to record if a weapon has been damaged, as these are randomly rolled for. The game really needs a ship log to record everything on and could easily have been included, either to photocopy or download, as it is, I’ll be creating my own.

My second issue is one of scale. The ships are 1/1800 and obviously are representative, but this scale is far too big in my opinion. The games I played felt claustrophobic as the ships ended up on top of one another and made the physical action of movement quite awkward – trying to fit templates between ships, or having to ‘hover’ the ship above others in order to determine exactly where it would be placed.

As per the rules, ‘The maximum range a ship can attack a target at is 30inches’, which for the ships in the box is extreme range. working on this it becomes nigh on impossible to hit anything until you get to short range, around 16inches or less – you hit on a roll of 4+ with a D6, long range gives a -1, extreme -2, and if you’re firing against a fast moving ship, which is any of the included Japanese ships if they’re moving at max, then that’s another -1, another if the target is a Destroyer. So, you can see why I said speed is everything, it makes you very difficult to hit.

All the above basically compacts the effective range of the included ships, and everything starts converging into a space a couple of feet square. You can employ spotter planes to enable longer than 30inch ranged attacks, but only against stationary targets on land or anchored ships. So, when you have 6 cruisers that are 5inches long, and 9 Destroyers that are 3inches long, all operating in a confined space, you can imagine how tight things get. This could so easily be rectified by using smaller ships, say 1/2400, preferably 1/300 or even 1/6000, the latter two would suit the range scale so much better. What the game would be like with a full fleet in operation, battleships and carriers included, I have no idea.

So, to round off I will say that this is just my first thoughts and with a few more games under my belt my perspective may change. I really like the game mechanisms, and Warlord Games have announced they are releasing a Hardback Rulebook, which will include scenarios, fleet lists, and more; I’ll probably invest in that. However, I doubt I’ll be buying any more miniatures. For me, the scale is just wrong, and it also makes collecting a fleet pretty pricey – I’ll probably drop to 1/300 or 1/6000 and create my own ship logs.

8 thoughts on “First Thoughts – “All hands on deck!”

  1. An interesting read, Justin! 🙂 Good idea to have a starter game before painting anything.

    I must admit, I like larger scale ships, even if it makes everything look closer. My WW2 coastal forces and ACW ironclads/gunboats are 1:600 scale, but I generally use smaller ship types anyway so it doesn’t look too bad (but anything smaller than a 6ft x 4ft table doesn’t really work). Since a lot of Pacific surface actions took place at night, the closer ranges may not be as unrealistic as you think.

    I’ve always had to produce my own ship cards to record stats and damage and am currently trying to move to digital copies in Excel so I don’t need to print anything. Not sure how fast your ships are, but you could put small dice or tokens next to them displaying their current speed.

    I’d imagine you’ll be able to get plenty of ships in whatever scale you want. I know that Shapeways have loads of printed ships in the common smaller scales. I’ll be following your progress with interest – if you ever get stuck for info (which rarely happens in these internet-supported times) I’ve got Conway’s World Fighting Ships 1922 – 1946 which covers WW2, plus some Osprey titles as well, and you can drop me a line from the Contact page on my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, John.
      It’s not that I don’t like larger scale ships, they’re certainly more esthetically pleasing, but in this case I think it’s to the detriment of the game.
      It felt very claustrophobic and the closeness of the ships made for awkward positioning.
      It doesn’t help that I’m only using a 6′ x 3′ playing area at the moment, the larger table is in the loft!
      As I’m new to naval games I didn’t really know what to expect and I think coming at things from a predominantly board game background gave me different expectations. When I buy a set of wargame rules I expect to put some work in myself, but when things come in a starter box like this, then I think things should be a little more user-friendly in order to grab those that are new to the genre.
      I will follow your example and make up my own ship cards, as you say, with the internet it shouldn’t prove too difficult.
      As for models, I’ve been looking at NAVWAR and Davco 1/3000, but I’ve no idea which would be the best – also Magister Militum do a 1/6000… it’s driving me round the bend trying to decide what to do. I’ll probably end up buying a few of each and seeing what I prefer.
      Thanks for the offer of help, I’ll certainly keep you in mind – on that note, what book(s) would you recommend for ship stats?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it’ll maybe just come down to getting used to how it looks and plays. As far as scale goes, it maybe depends on the ships you intend to use – if you want battleships the smaller scales will no doubt be better, but the ships look less impressive. I think 1:1800 or 1:2400 would be too small for me even though you can get some really nice models (GHQ Micronauts I think are very good). Big bases don’t help either, but you can’t really escape bases of one kind or another!
        I use my Conways 1922 – 1946 book for general stats (if you can get a copy, it probably won’t be cheap), backed up by the Osprey New Vanguard series for more specific detail. Having said that, Wikipedia probably has quite a bit of material, although I’d always cross reference against my books. Whatever you decide, it’s worth persevering with!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’ve just started looking at 1/2400, but not sure if they would be small enough. I’d like to do large fleet actions as well as replicate historical scenarios, such as the sinking of the Hood. Going too small, though, brings in the issue of aircraft, they’re just so tiny!
        I’ll look out for those books, though I’m a bit of a way off putting anything together at the moment – thanks for the recommendations 😀

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the early thoughts Justin. I’m not surprised that the miniatures have proved too big. I don’t mind using 1:3000 models, they are as cheap as chips, and at this scale I don’t think there’s anything much between the different manufacturers. Aircraft at 1:600 – 1:1200 work fine with 1:3000 ships, you can just imagine you are viewing the scene from above so the aircraft are nearer to you! 1:6000 is just too fiddly for me…

    The issue of how much record-keeping is OK is one of those eternal wargaming questions. Personally, I prefer to use visual clues (smoke, wakes, shell-splashes, markers, dice, etc) wherever possible to avoid having to update separate written sheets; though I don’t mind referring to stats sheets as necessary. Maybe you could simplify the rules and record-keeping for the destroyers so that you can manage the cruisers more easily?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve just ordered some Davco 1/3000, all the ships required to fight the Battle of the Denmark Straight – the Hood, Bismarck etc – looking forward to it, and I’ve now several sets of rules to try out!
      I like the idea of slightly larger scale aircraft, I think that’s the way forward., and I agree, after having seen some, that 1/6000 is probably a little too fiddly.

      I don’t mind record keeping, I just think that, as a starter box, this should have gone some way to make it easy to record things. Even downloadable ship logs or something. It’s the hassle of having to put these things together one’s self that annoys me, lol. But as you say, that’s the life of a wargamer, and I’ve done it before, but I feel it’s time that manufacturers joined the 21st century and helped us out a little.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. thisisthethud Nov 27, 2020 — 20:16

    Hi Twiglet, interesting review, looks like with a few tweaks it could be a good game. I think you’d like the Atlantic Raiders game that my brother developed. He has a doctorate in WWII history and it shows in his attention to detail. In battle anything goes, if Hood sinks Bismarck so be-it; but historical events like operation chariot are fixed, and events like Mers-el-kebir could go either way. You have to play Axis as the aggressor and victory is dependent on whether you can delay D-day; the whole war takes about 15-18 hours to play out. Of course with Covid you’ll probably never get a chance to see it

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Ian.
      You never mentioned your brother was a Doc, that explains a few things, all those wargames the pair of you have developed over the years, though I still haven’t been privy to playing one yet!
      We should set something up to play on-line or through e-mail?
      I’ll drop you an e-mail at some point, I won’t rush, as I know you won’t reply this year, lol!

      Liked by 2 people

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