Three new WW2 naval miniature rules, General Quarters III, Battle Stations!, and Victory at Sea, were all released within just a few months of each other. What is surprising is that it turns out the three rule sets are more complementary than competing. All three rules are designed for use with 1/6000-1/1200 scale miniatures.
All three games provide ample ship and aircraft statistics covering the major nations and equipment. VaS probably has the least and is missing, most notably to us, the U.S. Casablanca class ‘Jeep’ carrier. Thus you need to make up your own stats to fight the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Both GQIII and VaS provide additional craft data on their respective Web sites.
General Quarters III
General Quarters III, written by L.L Gill and published by Old Dominion Game Works, is the oldest of all three rules as it is an update to the classic GQII rules. The game is expanded from the original 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, 42 page format and now consists of over 50 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages. GQIII is the most detailed of the three rules and includes all aspects of WW2 naval combat such as ship gunnery, aircraft combat, submarine operations, morale, and even more esoteric topics such as mine laying and sweeping. The game scale is six minute turns with each table centimeter equal to 100 yards and uses plotted movement. A 10′x’10′ table is recommended. GQIII also includes rules for an operational level campaign game using one hour turns.
The rules are published as either a perfect bound rulebook, loose three-hole punched pages, or electronic PDF. Especially nice is that the purchase of either print edition gives you immediate access to the PDF files for everything, which can then be read online or printed. This not only provides immediate gratification but makes it easy to print off copies of the various charts, tables, and forms. Also included is special access to the official online forums for GQIII. The printed version is on high quality paper with color card stock charts and tables. A nice bibliography is provided but there are no scenarios included.
The GQIII rules are well written and include a nice introduction to naval miniatures as well as useful design notes, including actual naval info, sprinkled throughout. In fact folks new to naval combat may want the rules just for the actual naval information provided. Even better is that a number of options are given for various game systems. For example, the air rules are quite detailed with three phases per turn and altitude tracking in 3,000ft bands. If you would prefer less detail for aircraft there is a much simplified system that can be used instead. Torpedoes get the opposite treatment with a more streamlined system as standard but a more detailed treatment provided as an option.
GQIII provides very thorough coverage of naval operations overall but also with a fair amount of detail but not necessarily complexity. Much of the complexity is distiled into the handful of charts and tables, but learning to decipher the charts and tables takes some practice and regular play to achieve a level of comfort with them. The charts and tables are very clear and well laid out but not particularly intuitive. For example, the Gunfire CRT includes a bold horizontal line across some of the rows. Why? Well it is clearly defined in the rules but no clue is given on the card itself and it is not something you will remember if you have not played in awhile. This thorough but somewhat unintuitive data presentation is common throughout the game.
Interestingly, while GQIII is by far the most detailed of the three rule sets it represents ship turning in the most generic manner with all ship types using the same turning gauge (a design note explains the rationale behind this). This is probably the most accurate of the systems but makes no account for especially nimble or lumbering ships. On the other hand, the ship detail and options are by far the greatest of the three systems. Nation specific data is provided through separate combat charts for each nation as well as the specific ship data logs.
Victory at Sea
Mongoose Publishing recently released their Victory at Sea rules. VaS is a 96 page hardcover book with a few dozen coated-stock sheets of ship and aircraft counters to allow play without miniatures. Only 18 pages are rules with another three for campaign rules. The rest are devoted to scenarios and ship data charts. VaS is based on Mongoose’s Babylon 5: A Call to Arms space combat system and players of that game will be able to quickly learn VaS. VaS includes six well done generic scenarios and twelve historical scenarios. The game scale is 1″ equals 1,000 yards but the turn length is not defined (probably 10-30 minutes). A 6′x4′ table is generally all that is needed for play.
VaS provides rules for the major aspects of naval warfare including submarine and aircraft operations. Players role for initiative and then alternate moving and then firing their units one at a time. This system works well and eliminates written order logs. There are also special orders that provide flavor. The majority of the detail in the game is contained in the ship data charts that include all speed, turning, armor, target, and weapon values for each craft. Each weapon has a number of ‘attack dice’ used for to-hit roles and then a number of ‘damage dice’ used for damage resolution. It is a very simple system that produces reasonable results. Best of all is the great feeling you get when rolling a big fistful of dice (D6′s) for a battleship’s broadside!
The rules are very clean and simple. Of course this simplicity comes at a price. There is no morale in VaS and aircraft are woefully underpowered. Guns are given a maximum range but a standard measure is used for plunging fire for all guns. There are also a few oddities such as invulnerable destroyers — The result of an odd artifact of attack modifiers due to speed — and overly used spotter planes. In addition, ships turn the slowest in VaS than in any of the other games with destroyers taking four turns to make a full 180 degree turn, which seems much too slow for the scale. It also incorrectly assumes smaller ships always turn faster than larger ships. Hopefully Mongoose will correct these issues in the future but until then the VaS forums have plenty of house rule options to cover these deficiencies. In addition, Mongoose has provided more fleets and game replays in its Signs&Portents online magazine.
Note: See our review of the VaS expansion Order of Battle.
Decision Games publishes Battle Stations! Battle Stations!. BS! is a fast play set of naval warfare rules. It is a 80 page, saddle stitched, black and white rulebook. Only 25 pages are actual rules and the rest include a nice selection of historical scenarios and the ship and aircraft data tables. Also included are game charts and turn gauges on card stock as well as 120 1/2″ die cut markers. Game scale is 30 minute daylight turns and 60 minute night turns with 1″ equal to 1,000 yards. A 6′x5′ table is generally all that is needed but there are larger scenarios using larger table sizes.
Battle Stations! is an interesting mix of aspects of both GQIII and VaS. The rules are more detailed than VaS but vastly simpler than GQIII although the air rules are very similar to GQIII’s campaign air rules. Oddly, turning is the most detailed of all the titles with different turn-radius templates for different ship classes but it makes the mistake of assuming larger ships always turn slower than smaller ships. Yet the data charts are the ultimate in brevity with each ship/aircraft taking only a single line of data. A very intelligent and elegant system provides a lot of technical and historical coverage in a very concise amount of data. Each line includes a ship’s speed with slow, medium, and flank values; fore, broadside, and aft gunnery values for primary, secondary, AA, and torpedo batteries along with point-blank, normal, extreme range, and armor penetration values; deck and belt armor values; ship size; and more. Combat is a simple process of comparing the appropriate attack rating with the target’s armor and rolling on a Combat chart for the appropriate range. This results in a miss, damage (with up to four damage levels), or a critical hit. Like VaS, there is a damage control phase where any damage can be repaired.
Unfortunately Battle Stations!‘s rules are loaded with typos and errors. Rules are often contradicted by given examples and/or the game charts. There is a FAQ available and it is almost required for play. Sadly, it is itself poorly organized and contains typos of its own. The errors are mostly obvious and veteran gamers, especially veteran naval gamers, will not have much trouble deciphering the mistakes in the rules, but newcomers may be very confused.
All of the wonderful flavor and streamlining in BS! comes at a price — The game can simply be boring. A full broadside attack from a battleship is simply a single die roll (using a D20). All too often you will then see your hard earned hit removed in the damage control phase. It is an elegant system but not particularly exciting.
To help us compare the games we played the Bismarck scenario from VaS a few times. With BS!, after more than a few turns (and a few hours of simulated combat) both sides had only achieved a few hits (roughly a 15 or better is needed for a hit on a D20) and neiter side had inflicted any permanent damage because of damage control. The games were all cut short due to simple boredom. In contrast, the same scenario played a few times using VaS produced not only lots of carnage but one game was even close to a historical result and was great fun. On the other hand, Battle Stations! was better for a carrier strike scenario and produced a more accurate result. Although, with house rules VaS does just as well. It is too early for us to say BS! is broken, and it is possible we are misunderstanding something altogether, but distilling 30 minutes of gunfire down to one fairly bloodless die roll just does not feel right. It is easy to play ten turns (5 hours of simulated time) of BS! with very few hits being scored that are then negated by damage control rolls. We did not play a full scenario with GQIII but ran through some ship movement and made a few gunnery rolls. Movement is easy, especially in divisions, but gunnery takes a bit of effort until you get comfortable with the system. Overall GQIII feels good if you like the detail.
Perhaps the best way to show the differences between the systems is to run through a simple combat example. The KMS Bismarck is firing on HMS Hood at 21,000 yards:
GQIII – There are no applicable modifiers and the Kriegsmarine Gunfire CRT at that range gives a result of “1+ BA”. That translates to hits on a roll of a 1 or a 10 on a D12. Bismarck has four main turrets with two 15″ guns each. That gives four D12 rolls. Let’s say we manage to roll one 10 for a single hit. If we were shooting at a lesser armed target we would check the Equivalent Hits table to see if we would be able to effectively multiply our hits. Now we need to see if we damage the Hood. The Hood has an armor value of “BA”. We then refer to the Gunfire Damage table and cross reference the Hood‘s armor with a D12 roll. Let’s say we get a 5. This indicates we hit a ‘Main Turret’. But the result is in the darkened area that indicates we must be able to penetrate the Hood‘s armor to have any effect. Our Gunfire CRT result of “1+ BA” indicates we can penetrate the Hood‘s armor and thus we knock out one of the Hood‘s turrets (Hood‘s choice). If we had rolled a 12 we would have gotten a critical hit and a roll of 5-7 on the Critical Hit table could result in the Hood exploding! There is a Damage Control phase in GQIII but only damage such as rudder, flooding, or fire can be repaired. The Hood‘s turret will stay destroyed.
VaS – 21,000 yds would be Long Range in VaS (over 20″) and that gives a -1 modifier. If we assume we are abeam of the Hood then there is a +1 modifier for no net modifier. We are well within the Bismarck‘s maximum range of 40″. The four 15″ turrets give us a total of eight attack dice. We need to equal or exceed the Hood‘s target value of “4+” to hit it. We roll our eight D6 and get four hits. Now we need to roll for damage. Each hit by the Bismarck gets three damage dice for a total of twelve D6′s to roll for damage! The Hood‘s Armor value is “5+” but the Bismarck‘s guns have the “AP” trait that gives a +1 to damage and we are at “Long range” and thus plunging fire gives us another +1. Thus we only need 3+ on a D6 to damage. We roll our twelve dice and get four hits including two that are a 6 and thus Critical Hits. The Hood player marks four hull hits off his sheet (28 hits will cripple it and 41 will sink it). But we also have our critical hits so we roll 2D6 for each critical. We roll a 7 and an 11 for an ‘Engines’ and “Weapons” critical hit. We then roll a D6 on the Engines table and we get a 3 for a “Props Damage” result that adds another hull hit and a crew hit and gives the Hood a -2 to its speed until repaired. We then roll on the Weapons table and get a 5 on our D6 for a “Turret Destroyed” result that adds another three hull hits, four more crew hits, and also starts a fire! The Hood player rolls to randomly determine what turret gets marked as destroyed. So the final damage is eight hull hits, five crew hits, a -2 speed, a destroyed main turret, and a fire. VaS has a Damage Control phase but you can only fix special effects and fires. So the Hood player rolls to repair the -2 speed effect and gets a 4 on a D6, which is not enough to repair it so it remains for another turn. In addition, the Hood player has to try and extinguish the fire. He needs a 7 (D6 + 4 command score) but rolls a 2. The fire kills two more crew points and remains burning.
BS! – The Bismarck has a broadside firepower of “A15″. 21,000 yards is normal range for the Bismarck and thus it hits the Hood‘s belt armor of “A18″. Firepower minus defense (15-18) results in a -3. Let’s assume the Hood is approaching us and thus we get a +1 die roll modifier (from the FAQ). We roll a D20 on the Combat table. We roll a 13 that, with our +1, gives us a “D1″ result. There was no chance of a critical hit at all. A “D1″ means a ship is damaged but there are no ill effects. But then we come to Battle Stations!‘s Damage Control phase. The scenario takes place in 1941 where Britain needs to roll a 1-12 on a D20 for EACH hit received during the turn to repair the damage. The Hood player rolls a 12 and the hit is removed. The Hood has suffered no ill effects from the Bismarck.
While it will certainly come down to a player’s preferences and the goals of a given scenario or gaming session, we suggest that GQIII is best suited for games with 1-12 ships per side. In comparison, VaS works well with 1-20 ships per side and Battle Stations!‘s brevity means gamers can easily handle 25-50 ships (and does not seem well suited to games with less than 12 ships per side). Of course depending on temperament and familiarity these values can easily vary for different players. Ultimately the choice is yours and you will probably be happy with any of the rule sets as long as you understand their strengths and weaknesses. Happy sailing!