So, what do you find in the Box? First there is the rulebook (which is the same as in Fear God and Dread Nought, roughly 200 loose pages, punched for the standard (American) three-ring binder.
Then the scenario book, which is nicely bound and amounts to another 100 pages. Next comes the data annexes, these are 50 pages stapled together.
Further you will find a jumpstart booklet, which is a detailed session-report of the fictional battle between the German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz and the British Battlecruiser HMS Tiger with some light forces on both sides. The last pages are made up with some historical material regarding naval tactics.The Counters included in the box are on one and a half countersheet with 1/2" x 1" counters depicting ships from destroyers upwards. Another halfsheet with 1/2" counters contains various markers and the counters for the torpedo-boats. Unfortunately one of my countersheets was misaligned during the die-cut process and one half of the class-designation on the counters are cut off. While this is annoying, the influence on the game is marginal, since the counters contain no information other than the class and name of the ships. The artwork on the counters are superb depictions of deckviews of the actual vessels.
Finally there are 2 d10 included in the box, which are all the dice needed for the game. I substituted one of the standard d10 with one using numbers of 00-90 to help me generate the d100 results used by the game engine, but again the material in the box is completely usable on its own.
Rules and other game related material
as mentioned before, the rulebook is loose-leafed, but this allows to store it with the other rulebooks of the admiralty trilogy in one single binder. (and trust me, sooner or later you want to leave the Pre-dreadnought scenario and try yourself on the second world war or on modern naval engagements).
Unfortunately the rulebook is the biggest weakspot of the game, the rules are ordered in a fashion that strikes me as somewhat impractical.
same goes for the charts needed during the game, but with some labeling this shouldn't be much of a problem either. The biggest strength of the rules on the other hand is that they are peppered with a wealth of historical articles (the same goes for all the other book that goes with the game). And you will find rules for nearly every situation imaginable.
amphibious operations? Included.
Aircraft (plane and airship) vs. ship actions? Included.
Mines? Smoke obscuring the target? Land-based guns? all there.
The same level of detail is carried through the other books. The Data annex contains the data for all the surface combatants of this conflict, from the ancient Japanese Ironclad Fuso to their first post-war battleship Kashima. Every ship is reduced to a small set of data containing the armament, speed breakdown, armor rating, size class and some additional informations. Even complex ship-data are reduced to roughly the size of your palm. To start playing, you need to fill out ship-forms, which are either available here for download: http://www.clashofarms.com/the-cic.html or ready for photocopy at the back of the scenario book. To fill out this sheet, you need to decode cryptic passages of text like:
F/2A(1)3 MkVII BL 6 in/45//2 FA3
What does this mean? The ship (a British Highflyer-class cruiser) is armed with three single turrets (two firing in the fornt arc, one firing in the after arc) of 6-inch guns under the control of two FA3 range-finders.
In the data annexes you will find the data for virtually every gun and torpedo used in the conflict (and some more which could have been used in hypothetical actions).
The scenario book contains 19 historical scenarios, as well as 3 hypothetical ones (like the famous mutiny on the battleship Potemkin). the scenarios range from small cruiser actions to the massive battle of Tsushima.
The game uses simultaneous resolution of pre-plotted orders, so at the beginning of your turn you plot your orders, then both players resolve their movement and fire according to the orders given to their ships. Following that, the players roll for detection, move eventually existing aircrafts a second time, fire on them and other newly detected targets and finally resolve damage. For some extra level of realism, you can use realistic rules for command and control, so your actions are limited to the orders you can squeeze into the signal forms and maneuvers planned before the game.
Gun fire is resolved by calculating the chance to hit, which includes factors like visibility, range, speed, angular movement, number of barrels firing and subsequent fire on the same target. The shot is then resolved by a d100 die-roll. Damage is calculated by range, barrels firing and ammunition used. Every shot has the chance to inflict critical damage, which is dependent on the ratio of damaged received and total remaining damage points. These critical hits range from a lost halyard (used to send flag signals) to an earth-shattering KABOOM, as the main magazine explodes. To inflict most of the critical hits, the shot has to penetrate the armor, which is done by comparison of the penetration value of the used round and the armor of the target.
Torpedo shots are resolved by computing a firing solution (which uses tables and works surprisingly fast) and finally roll for hit when the torpedo strikes the intended target, (you can plot the movement of the torpedoes like you do for ships, but I simply houserule that torpedoes has a chance to hit, if the target takes no evasive actions, which produce an automatic miss).
Aircraft can inflict damage, but since none of them are used at the time, you can skip a healthy portion of the rulebook.
First and foremost: THIS IS NOT A GAME!
When you intend to play this as a competitive game, you won't draw any fun out of it. But use this game as a simulation tool for the various 'What If?' questions coming up with such a conflict, you will find yourself entertained for years. The simple amount of informations is incredible (like in every other game of the Trilogy) and you find a wealth of articles and small bits of information scattered through the whole game. Personally I value the degree of simulation very high, but you can reduce it to a great degree to suit it to your taste and demands. The sheer amount of paper that you are facing when opening the box could be shocking, but like in Advanced Squad Leader you will notice, that most of the rules aren't necessary for the game you are playing.
If you are willing to invest some time, you will find you rewarded with one of the best simulation tools of (Pre-)Dreadnought-warfare.
Another great aspect of the game is that it requires surprising little space. Of course you can play it on a playing surface that shames a pool-table, but in most cases a ordinary table is more that enough for small actions, if you choose your scale accordingly.
As a matter of fact, you didn't even need the counters or expensive miniatures, I play this game regularly on nothing more than a notebook and some Ship-reference sheets, using compass, dividers and rulers to generate something that looks suspicious like a real map of the battle, while slugging it out on some sheets of paper. Running out of space? The distance between ships becomes to small? Just move to a new sheet of paper.
One final question stays: How do the battles play out?
You won't find a quick deadly dance of death between ships, instead you have well-armored behemoths slugging it out at close range and shrugging of tremendous amounts of damage while they let loose on their opposite numbers with everything they got. My first battle, an action between only 7 cruisers played out in about 5 hours (with preparation the ship reference sheets, a quick snack taken during play and frequently look-ups in the rule book).
PS: if you own Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War by avalanche press, you could link both games to the ultimate monstergame regarding the naval aspect of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904/05.
Running out of space? The distance between ships becomes to small? Just move to a new sheet of paper.
Thank you for the review. This actually assures me towards buying it after removing the worries of high entry cost and time to complete a scenario. My only concern now is space. Will a standard table space of 24x32" be sufficient?
The table should be more than enough, I played cruiser engagements on a 12 x 16" sheet of paper with (if I recall correctly and done the conversation rigth) one inch roughly equals 2500 Yards (I used a metric scale, which is easily to adopt). Your table should be sufficient for most battles (maybe not Tsushima, but that depends on the scale used). I assume that with counters or miniatures you need to use a somewhat larger scale, but for small engagements (for training) you should be good, just adjust the scale as you see it fit.
I just want to let you know that I have a new game out. FLEET ADMIRAL Volume I Naval warfare 1890 - 1924.
You can learn more at: www.fleetadmirals.com
Hello Bill Madison!
Have enjoyed the Russo-Japanese War rules a lot - great comments earlier in this thread!
Last I heard your Fleet Admiral rules (I have an early version - the WW1 rules) had been given to the folks at Avalanche Press to produce. It has been a while now - are they going to be coming out sometime soon?
Thanks for the great rules sets!