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Great War at Sea: 1898, The Spanish American War» Forums » Reviews

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Xander Fulton
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"1898: The Spanish-American War" is another game in Avalanche Press’s “Great War at Sea” series. This product was created as a special product for them, as it is one of the few in the series to included a mounted tactical board (not just a paper map, actually mounted!), as well as an operational map that is a glossy cardboard-like material. Very, very sharp looking, and a welcome change from the paper maps of other games in the series (although they are gorgeous as well, the maps in ‘1898’ are in a league of their own!)

As noted in my ‘1904’ review, I’m something of a fab of pre-dreadnought battleships, and so the art throughout this game is just incredible to me. The counter art is gorgeous, the maps are gorgeous, the silhouettes are incredible – even the ship art printed on the tactical map, box, and rules...all very nice!

The game box is full-sized (same box size as is used in Avalanche Press's "Bomb Alley", "SOPAC", and other titles) and you COULD fit 2 Chessex counter tray in it easily. I’m not sure why you’d need to, as all the game counters fit quite nicely in a single tray.

Included in the box is:
- 1 counter sheets with 180 counters
- One (8” x 22”) ‘card-mounted’ strategic map for the ‘operational’ portion of the game
- One (17” x 11”) mounted tactical map for the ‘tactical’ portion of the game
- Rulebook (20 pages, including cover, contents page, and 2 pages of tables)
- ‘Game book’ (2 pages game rules, 19 pages of scenarios, )
- Ship booklet (8 pages ship data lines)
- 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)
- Blank player log sheet (will need to be photocopied for play)

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 ‘1898’ 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)

- Fleets may ‘split up’. In most games in the series, all the ship groups are required to be in adjacent hexes – this is not the case in this game.

Ship stacking limits are 8 to a hex in this game, although this will rarely happen in this game (too few ships for most scenarios, and the ‘split up’ option allows for more flexibility). 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). Torpedo combat in this era wasn’t HUGELY effective, however.

The game comes with a modest number amount of scenarios, however in a rarity for the series, a LOT of the scenarios require parts from other products! 8 Battle scenarios are included, but of those 1 requires ships from ‘1904-1905: The Russo-Japanese War’. 12 Operational scenarios are included, however, of these, only SIX are playable with parts from this game! Operational scenarios 7, 9, 11 and 12 require the map from ‘US Navy Plan Orange’; scenarios 8 and 10 require the Western Mediterranean map from ‘GWaS: The Mediterranean’; scenario 12 also requires ships from ‘1904-1905: The Russo-Japanese War’.

‘1898’ includes perhaps the most comprehensive campaign game in the series. It links together, not battle scenarios designed to replicate historical events, but a series of operational scenarios. Played throughout, the campaign game is LONG, but it allows for the flow of the war to change substantially by player actions – including various minor nations (Denmark, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuala – ships all included in the game) reacting differently to each of the two warring powers – from neutrality through closing ports all the way up to declaring war!

A LOT of the scenarios in this product are ‘almost was’ or pure hypotheticals, perhaps due to the nature of the conflict. Enough historical scenarios exist to likely satisfy the purist interest in an untainted reproduction of this war – but the extra scenarios ARE quite interesting. In reality, of course, Spain was unprepared for the war and caught off-guard by the professionalism and determination of the US attack. With better preparation, more allies, and better leadership (which some scenarios provide for) the conflict could come out much more balanced and interesting from a gamer’s perspective.

As it is, must of the balance comes from victory conditions, with Spanish ‘victory’ achieved performing goals like “the Spanish player gains the VP of any ships that has not been destroyed by the end of the game” or “the Spanish player wins if he sinks any US ‘B’ or ‘CD’ type ship, or escapes with one or more capital ships”. A grim game from their side!

The historical scenarios are interesting, but the lopsided victory conditions can sometimes be frustrating. The hypothetical scenarios are really where the game shines, though.
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Michael Blayney
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Thanks for taking the time to write a great review Xander. Gave me a lot of insight into the game.
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