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

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Thomas Herrlich
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After my short test-game, now a full review.

Material

Inside the usual wargame-box you find a 25"x30" operational map covering the area around the Japanese mainland, the Korean peninsula and the Yellow Sea. There is nothing much to be said about the map, it's well, functional, not the most beautiful map I've seen, but it's usable and conveys some sense of an actual sea-map.

Furthermore you will find a 25" by 25" tactical map printed on semi-glossy paper, pretty much industry standard.

The various units of the game are represented by 70 1" by 1/2" counters depicting capital ships (pre-dreadnaught battleships, coastal defense ships, armored cruisers and cruisers) 123 1/2" counters representing smaller ships like smaller cruisers, gunboats, destroyer-flotillas, torpedoboat-flotillas, merchant cruisers, merchantmen and various other combatants. Furthermore you will find 17 1/2" markers. All are printed on the standard-issue cardboard, which is of somewhat lower quality compared to the dense, bright-white cardboard used by GMT, but serves their purpose. The artwork is superb, all units are depicted in detailed top-views for the double-sized counters and silhouettes for the 1/2" counters. The backsides show generic silhouettes of the ship-classes.
Despite the large amount of information on the counters everything is available at a glance.

While the counters are top-notch, the play-aids are decisively sub-standard. they are printed on thin cardstock, but retain the look and feel of cheap photocopies.
Last but not least you get the standard rulebook (8 pages) and a scenario-book (12 pages). While these serve their purpose, their age is visible compared to recent publications.

Overall the components are functional, but not comparable to newer games.

Tactical subgame

The tactical subgame exists solely to resolve the game-situations created by the operational sub-game. keep that in mind.
Most game-functions are resolved in a 'Bucket-o-Dice' mechanism, which means that you throw a number of dice accordingly to the gunnery-factors of the firing ship. Ships are rated for primary guns with a range of 3 tactical hexes (reduced to 2 in this game), secondary guns with a range of 2 (1) and tertiary guns with a range of one (these can only fire in the same hex in this game) as well as for torpedoes (hull-mounted launchers are penalized with a DRM of -1, while deck-mounted launchers suffer no penalty). Maneuver happens in an impulse-based manners, with faster ships ale to move sooner and more often that ships with a lower speed rating. to solve problems arising from the lower speed of the ships involved, a new speed-class was added to the game (1 slow).
damaged is resolved by rolling 2d6 on a hit location table for each hit secured and then check for armour penetration (primary can penetrate heavy armour, secondary medium and tertiary light armour). When the armour was penetrated secondary guns have a chance of penetrating heavy armour at point-blank range) then the according box is crossed out on the ship data sheet.

This data sheets enable the ships to slowly loose the ability to fight in a nice 'fuzzy' way, instead of just flipping them to their 'reduced' side like many other games would have done. This mechanism of damage-resolution makes for nice game-situations, as it is absolutely possible for a ship to loose it's entire armament while staying perfectly afloat, while on the other hand a ship can be sunk by a critical hit or by having all it's hull-boxes blown away, while the guns are still intact.
Critics often mention that the the tactical subgame in GWAS and SWWAS is only rudimentarily implemented, keep in mind that this is only a too, to resolve game-situations created by the operational game. For an independent game, this system wouldn't be satisfactory, since it lacks lots of tactical finesse which is found in systems like Fear God and Dread Nought or Seekrieg it is more than adequate for the job it is designed to do and produce comparable results given the premise that the players are willing to press the attack to the same degree.
to represent the greater amount on which the weapon-systems of this time were dependant on the judgement and performance of the gunners (most guns, except the primaries were fired in local control) the gunnery-factors were modified by a value representing this soft factors, which are furthermore dependant on the time spend at sea without leave and a starting value which includes training and experience of the crews.
Overall the tactical system is easy to use and produces useful results, even if the losses are much higher than in reality, which is a common disease of wargames, since players are more willingly to sacrifice cardboard that an actual commander to send real people to their deaths.

Operational subgame

Now to the very heart of the GWAS-game system. Ships are pooled into fleets which are moved over a square brick-pattern on the operational map and roll for engagement every time two hostile fleets occupy the same seazone. Fleets can perform missions like raid (to hunt down commerce-traffic on sea-lanes marked on the map), bombard (to score VP by shelling cities and harbors, but must follow a pre-plotted course and have their gunnery-factors halved due to the ammunition used), transport and escort to shepherd the two missions mentioned earlier to their destination. Finally there is interception which allows greater freedom of movement, but still requires the layer to plan two turns in advance (three for the Russian player) which leads to some quite interesting Cat-and-Mouse-Chases in which every player tries to predict the opposite sides movement and plan theirs accordingly.
Furthermore the player can decide to lay an clear mines, conduct air-searches (not covered in this game for obvious reasons, even if bonus contend on the publisher's website add rules for tethered ballons which give boni to contact rolls and help in mine-searching)and submarine warfare (also not covered for lack of submarines in the theatre). To add further factors which must be considered in the players plans every ship has a limited supply of fuel (coal, or in games set later, oil) which prohibits torpedoboats to rush with full speed towards their targets and force players to take more economic approaches instead of overly aggressive ones.
Overall the operational subgame enables the player to game seawar on a much broader scope than usually found in games, without adding to much layers of rules to the game.

Scenarios

The scenario-book contains several battle-scenarios covering all major engagements of the war from small ones (e.g. Cruiser Action of Uslan) to the Battle of Tsushmia. Operational scenarios cove all of the stages of the war, on the Port Arthur area as well as the raids of Admiral Jessen from Vladivostok. Furhtermore there are options to link booth several battle-scenarios and operational scenarios to longer campaigns. Balancing is (as expected from a historical wargame) usually favorable for the Japanese player, but the Russian player is always in striking distance to be able to beat the odds or force the Japanese player to take unacceptable losses.

Final verdict

The game is typical for Avalanche Press, some components are great, while play-aids are usually of inadequate quality. The rules are short, but often lack crucial illustrations or examples. The system itself is well done, but sometimes oversimplify things. Scenarios are plenty and well researched.

Recommended for everyone interested in this period of naval warfare, but not an optimal entry into the GWAS-system, leaving out several complicated mechanisms are compensated by a large amount of special rules.


Overall a d10-7 out of d10-1d10-0

Bonus

If the tactical system is not sufficient for your demands for accuracy, then Great White Fleet should add some detail to the tactical game, without giving to much trouble with the transition between multiple game-systems.
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