Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rule Germania, Germania Rule the Waves

We played our first game in the Great Wee Fleet project on Saturday. For me, it was the first gaming I've done since late February. It was an odd feeling of somewhat returning to normalcy.

Kevin Smyth and I had planned it for a few weeks. We decided on an encounter between a small American squadron and a small German squadron, mostly because I had some German ships painted and Kevin had lots of Americans he was eager to get into action. I contribute just two of the German ships, Kevin supplied the others and the whole lot of the Americans.

SMS Gazelle
SMS Arcona
Each squadron had 4 ships. The Germans were the following:

  • SMS Gazelle, a protected cruiser mounting 10 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Arcona, basically a sister or cousin to the Gazelle—Conway's has them as sisters, but Jane's makes them different classes
  • SMS Iltis, a small gunboat with just 4 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Luchs, another small gunboat in the same class as the Iltis.
Steve Puffenberger and I shared the command. I took Gazelle and Arcona (the ships that I brought to the game) and Steve commanded the two gunboats that Kevin supplied. The ships started in line ahead with Gazelle leading, followed by Arcona, Iltis, and Luchs.

The Americans were:
  • USS Atlanta, the "A" of the ABCD ships that were the beginning of the American Steel Navy way back in 1883, she was a protected cruiser with 2 x 8" guns and 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Detroit, an unprotected cruiser mounting 2 x 6" guns and 8 x 5" guns
  • USS Concord, a gunboat mounting 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Nashville, a gunboat mounting 4 x 4" guns
Kevin commanded the two cruisers and Dave Schuler commanded the gunboats. Atlanta lead the line, followed by Detroit, Concord, and Nashville.

The rules we used were Fire When Ready! by David Manley. The rules seem to be scaled to battleship actions. Ship damage is accounted for using two values: ADV is the damage value above the waterline, BDV is the damage value below the waterline. ADV damage affects whether your ship can fight, BDV damage reflects whether it can still float. ADV is BDV plus increased values for armored bits. BDV is calculated at 1 point per 500 tons displacement up to 2000 tons, at which point it's calculated as 1 point per 1000 tons +3. This gives a reasonable amount of damage that can be taken for larger ships that might be 15000 tons or more. As I mentioned in a previous post, we're looking at gaming actions with smaller ships. Even at 1 point BDV/ADV per 500 tons, you still have very low defence values. After discussing it, Kevin and I thought that 1 point per 100 tons was feasible. I worried that maybe that would generate defense values that were too large, but it turned out to be spot on.

Since we were using 1/1250th scale models, we also used inches for measurement, i.e., 1" =  1000 yds, rather than 1cm = 1000 yds.

Both lines of battle moved at only moderate speed. The German cruisers were fast at 21 and 22 kts, but to keep formation at the start, they had to keep down to the flank speed of the gunboats, which was a mere 13 kts. None of the American ships was particularly fast and their line started at about 14 kts, I think.

Our initial shooting was a bit dismal. We opened up at about 4000 yds, well within medium range. My first shots were failures even when I hit. Arcona got a hit on Atlanta, but my 5 x D6 damage dice only scored a '6', which was no damage at all. 

On the second turn, things got dicier. Steve's ship Iltis got blasted by a salvo that wrecked her upper decks and took out 3 of her 4 4.1" guns. There was nothing left for her to do but turn away and head out of the battle zone.

At this point, my dice rolling turned from failure to fantastic and stayed that way throughout the game. I pasted the Atlanta and Detroit for a couple turns inflicting steady, though unspectacular damage on them. I was not much hurt by any of the fire at me.

The German cruisers benefited from having a large battery (10 guns!) of all the same caliber. There are advantages in determining damage depending on how many guns are firing. The German cruisers could bring 4 guns to bear forward or aft and 5 to port or starboard, which gave me 5 damage dice if I hit with a broadside of 4 if hit a target ahead or astern.

With Steve's gunboats in dire straights, I split off the cruisers into a flying squadron to start moving full and turn about to go around the end of the American line. Going faster also helped me to avoiding getting hit. The Americans split off then as well, with Dave's gunboats coming my way with Kevin maintaining mostly the original course with his 2 cruisers, countered mostly by Luchs, Steve's remaining gunboat, though I maintained them as my targets as long as I could.

Breaking up the formations
Due to my speed, I was able to get in quick and cross the T against Dave's gunboats. That proved disastrous for him. I got significant hits with my 4.1" guns and did a world of hurt with nothing much coming back at me. The Arcona also managed to get a torpedo hit against the Concord. For a change, I rolled poorly and inflicted much less damage than I could have. Nevertheless, the Concord was hurting. Gazelle tried a torpedo shot at Nashville, but missed.

Normally, torpedo damage is 1 x D6 points against both ADV and BDV. However, because we pumped up the defense values, a single D6 would be a pretty anemic effect even if you rolled a '6'. I hadn't figured out what that would be before the game, so we just went with using 2 x D6 damage. As I mentioned, I rolled poorly and got, I think, 5 points damage against Concord.

Concord was bad off, but Nashville still had some fight in her. The next turn, I swung around to go broadside to broadside with Dave's line—moving very slowly now because of damage. Nashville got a good shot against Arcona, which up to that time had little damage, despite being hit a few times by Kevin's cruisers. In response, both Gazelle and Arcona fired at Nashville and left her not quite a wreck.

At this point, we called the game. Of Steve's gunboats, the Iltis had been much damaged with with her ADV nearly shot up and only a single working gun. Luchs was still in fairly good shape, although one lucky salvo from Kevin's cruisers might easily change that. Gunboats are brittle. Kevin's cruisers were still in the fight, but were near the 2/3 damage mark that might have sent them away. The American cruisers were slightly heavier than the Germans, with around 32 ADV/BDV. The Germans were 27. Arcona was hardest hit—mostly from the Nashville's last salvo—while Gazelle was nearly unscathed, with a lot of ruin left in her.

The game was a German victory.

We feel very vindicated in bumping the ADV/BDV up for the small ships. The game wouldn't have lasted three turns otherwise. The damage we took in a single hit would have wrecked or nearly wrecked any of our ships if we stuck with the formulation in the rules. We'll probably vary it to 1 point per 200 tons as we introduce armored cruisers to the game mix. That will make gunboats even less worthwhile in the battle line, but then gunboats have no business going up against armored cruisers anyway.

I commend the services of Purple D20 above all the brave actions of my seamen. I didn't bring any dice to the game, so Kevin loaned me some of his. I used one purple die throughout for my hit determination rolls. Apart from turn 1, I never missed a salvo, consistently rolling above '10', usually above '15'. I even rolled a '20' for my torpedo hit, which was the minimum I needed. The torpedo from Gazelle missed, but it was still a roll of '18'.

Lila, Lila über Alles, über Alles in der Welt
I was also happy to be able to use my new, nifty spalted tamarind Wyrmwood dice tray. It arrived just before the plague shut everything down and I've been itching to get it into action these past three months. I was not disappointed.

I have more HAI ships coming from Germany that will fill out my wee Japanese flotilla. I may get another couple German ships. I'm not sure how much I'll do after that. I still have my Lyzard's Grin Japanese and Chinese fleets for Yalu that I have to complete.

I expect more pre-dreadnought gaming through the summer. We've got a full head of steam as we move out of the lockdown.