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Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War» Forums » Reviews

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Xander Fulton
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"1904-1905: The Russo-Japanese War" is a game in Avalanche Press’s “Great War at Sea” series. As with all AP games, this product glows with high production values, from the great looking box and counter art, to the quality maps and other game material included. I’m something of a sucker for pre-dreadnought battleships, and the counter art in this game is particularly striking to me for this reason!

The game box is half-sized vs the larger AP games (same box size as is used in Avalanche Press's "US Navy Plan Orange", "Eastern Fleet", and other titles) and you can fit 1 Chessex counter tray in it if you don't mind the lid not QUITE closing all the way. Which is really quite alright.

Included in the box is:
- 1 counter sheets with 210 counters
- One (25” x 30”) strategic map for the ‘operational’ portion of the game
- One (25” x 25”) tactical map for the ‘tactical’ portion of the game
- Rulebook (16 pages, including full-page ad for other AP games and page of tables)
- ‘Game book’ (2 1/2 pages game rules, 9 pages of scenarios, 4 pages of ship data lines, 1/2 page of more game tables)
- One sheet of two ‘fleet composition’ cards to lay out fleets in the operation game (one for each side, must be cut in half for use)*
- Tactical map overlays for Chemulpo and Port Arthur*
- Blank player log sheet (will need to be photocopied for play), with ‘Miscellaneous’ ship data lines on the back.

* These are all printed on a heavier grade paper - similar to construction paper.

The game has two scales – an operational element, and a tactical element. In the 'operational' scale, fleets are moved on the strategic map with their contents unknown to the enemy unless revealed by coming into contact with an enemy surface fleet. In the 'tactical' game, combat between fleets that made contact on the operational map are resolved.

As with the other games in the series, players record their orders for their fleets in advance, and execute them simultaneously. For several missions in this era, orders must be plotted out for the entire game (or until the ship returns to a friendly port), and even ‘intercept’ missions need to be plotted out 3 turns in advance.

When two fleets meet, contact is rolled for. If contact is made, the game drops down to the ‘tactical combat’ system.

Here, each large ship (gunboats and larger in this game) has its own counter, while destroyers, torpedo boat and merchant counters represent several of the ships (up to 3 or 4 per counter).

The ship-to-ship combat in the game uses a minor variation on the ‘Great War at Sea’ rules. A few differences that pick up the feel of the period better are:

- Reduced weapons range. Instead of 3 hexes for primaries, primary guns in ‘1904-1905’ can only fire 2 hexes. Secondaries fire 1 hex (vs 2 hexes in other GWaS games), and tertiary guns can only fire at ships within the same hex (vs 1 hex in other GWaS games)

- Gunnery ‘effectiveness’ modifier table. This is used to reflect the varying quality of gunnery...well, effectiveness...in the fleets. The chart ranges from 1 to 7, with ‘6’ being full effectiveness (a rating of ‘7’ means the crew is firing the guns so well, the ship actually does MORE damage than the factors printed on the counter show). In most scenarios, the Japanese are working from an ‘effectiveness’ rating of 6 or 7, with the Russians much lower (frequently 4).

Ship stacking limits are 8 to a hex in this game, making for some rather snug piles of counters for pushing around the board. There is a minimum of 4 ships to a hex, and all ships of a fleet must be in adjacent hexes, reflecting the communications difficulties of the period. Ship counters are initially placed face down, so only a silhouette of the ship is seen, and only flipped over when within closer visual range of the enemy.

Combat proceeds much as it does in other GWaS games. Ships are rated for 3 gunnery types - primary, secondary, and tertiary (in addition to torpedo stats). Primaries can penetrate any armor; secondaries cannot penetrate heavy armor, but CAN penetrate light armor; tertiaries can only damage unarmored parts of the enemy ship. Roll 1 dice for each factor – modified by the effectiveness table - with '6's hitting, then rolling against the damage table for each hit.

Torpedo attacks roll on their own damage table, doing predictably more damage, but being much harder to aim (lots of penalty die-roll modifiers for battleships firing torpedoes). Destroyers and torpedo boats in this game can do a lot of damage left unchecked, however, which is as it should be.

The game comes with a fairly modest amount of scenarios. 8 Battle scenarios (tactical map only) are included, as well as 11 operational scenarios. This product is fairly unique in the series in that it also allows for a type of ‘campaign’ game, stringing together a series of battle scenarios designed to replicate the historical flow of the war. There are two such ‘campaign games’ provided.

The scenarios are almost all historical encounters (or “almost happened” historical encounters), so the only ‘play balance’ present comes in terms of the victory conditions. If played using the ‘effectiveness’ table, the game flows more historically, but...the Russians have a REALLY hard time of it. IMHO, it’s better to forget that table entirely for the operational game for balance purposes. If the goal is to simulate historical outcomes, then by all means use it – it DOES do an effective job of that. But, it adds length to the turn time and balances the game against the Russians.

Overall, the scenarios provided are a rather entertaining selection, and provides for some interesting nerve-wracking decisions to be made by both sides. On paper (without the effectiveness modifiers), the fleets were fairly evenly matched, so the game can really come down to a test of skill at command and management of the luck of battle.
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Ian
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Re:User Review
XanderF (#475427),
Interesting review, this will be one I'll have to check out one of these days. What's the availability of this game though? Is is still in print or not?
 
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Xander Fulton
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Re:User Review
Red Metal (#476984),

Avalanche Press is a small company, as these things go (most wargame companies are), so they don't tend to "keep things in print" - they do print runs to stock the warehouse until an item runs out....then it's out of stock and gone until sufficient interest builds to do another print run (usually a few years later).

Currently their site lists the game as 'Very Low Supply' for $45 plus shipping. The game doesn't come up on eBay too often, but you can usually do better than that there (~$27 shipped), or trading for it here on the 'geek.
 
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Joe Lott
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On the Tactical combat front, I have a question. Assume Side A has a bunch of battleships with primary's. Assume Side B has a ton more guns in armored cruisers and the like, but only in secondary and tri slots and side A has initiative. I have run into this situation in a game, and it seems totally pointless. The ability of the BS side to move before fire, seems to allow them to stay @ long range. If the other side is faster, say 1+ or 2. During the second round of combat, the secondary player can move into secondary range with the 2 or maybe MAYBE the 1+ ships, but his 1 speed ships are never going to catch. There secondary and tritary guns won't get to fire, EVER. What's even worse, is that assume you had match up of 1 speed battle ships vs 1 speed armored cruisers. The AC's could never escape, and would slowly be blown to bits by the battleships if the battleships had initiative. If not the AC's could close and fight it out with their smaller guns (being able to close to secondary range.) Though they would be swamped by the massive amount of Battleship firepower, as the AC's would never get to use their tri guns, as pointless as it would be to fire them at a Battleship. All this it seems can be blamed on the way the combat system works, with the initiative player getting to move their ships before fire, and the non-int only after. Giving the init player a chance to keep the range they like. Even the fast 2 speed TBs won't do that much against a fleet of BS, getting only 1 shot, having to close, and not be ripped apart by the primary guns as the BS slowly back away from them.

Any comments?
 
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Robert Wesley
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YES! How about "LAUNCH Torpedoes!" then? hmmmm? What about dispensing "smoke" as well? Do I hear the plaintiff 'cry' of "RAMMING Speed!"
surprise
 
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Joe Lott
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apparently these are all rules I have not heard of or I have not read the book so well... also torps only have a range of 1 in 1904-1905 don't they?

Ramming spead? I wish

I mean, seriously, I have been pondering this and banging my head against a wall trying to figure this out...
 
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Rune Jorgensen
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This is what happened at the falklands. Some of Imperial germany's best armoured cruisers being blasted off the sea by two British battlecruisers. The battlecruisers have the advantage of range and speed.

If, however, a group of slow battleships meet faster ships with the same range, the faster hip will be able to dictate range, but once the range has been determined, the slow ships will fire back. This is what happened with the German battlecruiser Goeben and the Russian pre-dreadnoughts in the Black Sea a number of times, and the aged Russian ships gave a good account of themselves, forcing Goeben to abort its missions.

Although I look forward to the new, advanced tactical rules in the upcoming re-print of Great White Fleet, I think the system nicely produces results close to the historic, while still leaving room for alternative, still believable, results, and that is a good accomplishment for a wargame able to handle ships by the dozens per side. Tactical involvement at a reasonable speed.

Rune
 
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