Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts: A Game of Naval Warfare 1906-1918 is the premier game from the small new publisher Steel Dreadnought Games. Naval Thunder: COD is a tactical naval warfare miniatures game. It is available as a PDF only publication and it comes with two versions of the main rulebook (both in black and white); a graphics heavy version and a print ready version with no background or images. The graphics heavy version is 50 pages and includes a number of period photos as well as a page of color counters. The print ready version is 45 pages in a basic, straightforward layout with a few tables and graphics. The game also includes a two page quick reference card as well as 45 pages of ship data cards (78 ships) for the Kaiserliche and Royal Navy only. The cards are similar to those in Starmada and fit two to a page (destroyer flotillas one to a page). The cards are clear and contain the relevant information but unfortunately contain no image or even silhouette of the ship they represent.
The rules themselves are relatively straightforward and rely on a host of optional rules to provide a lot of the detail (i.e. chrome). They are clearly written and we had almost no issues while learning the game. The turn sequence consists of three basic phases: movement phase, shooting phase, and the end phase. Movement is conducted using a typical written order system with simultaneous moves performed by class (there is also an optional rule for ‘I Go, You Go’ without written orders). Unlike many naval games, Naval Thunder: COD correctly accounts for the fact that smaller ships do not necessarily turn faster than larger ships (this was a change from the V1.0 rules). In WW1 this was especially common. Slow turning large ships is a common misconception and house rules are usually needed to address the problem. It is nice to see Steel Dreadnought Games address this issue in the rules. With poor or no radio communications formation maneuvering (command and control) was one of the bigger problems in WW1 naval warfare compared to WW2 and Naval Thunder includes some nice rules for division and formation movement. Destroyers actually represent destroyer flotillas of 2 to 20 ships not single ships. Somewhat oddly they are still represented with a single ship miniature, not template of any kind, on the table. This feels somewhat odd, especially for larger flotillas, and visually having a somewhat larger base with a two to three ship models on it would seem more natural to represent the flotilla rather than just the single miniature.
The combat system is obviously the area where Steel Dreadnought Games spent most of their time. It has that nice balance of detail and simplicity that gives a great feel without an excessive amount of die rolling, charts, or modifiers. The armament detail provided for each ship is greater than that in the Victory at Sea series and weapon mounts have specific arcs and guns also specific short, medium, and long range values. Like movement, gunnery begins with a written order phase where main gun and torpedo targets are recorded for each main battery/torpedo mounts (secondary guns do not require logging). No pre-measuring is allowed. Each targeted ship gets a splash marker placed on it for each ship that is firing on it. This is actually a fun part of the turn, especially in medium and larger scenarios, as you get a real feel for ships that are getting pummeled as the splash markers build up [note: the Litko Aerosystem splash markers are ideal for this]. For guns whose target is indeed in arc and range now get to fire. To-hit is rolled per gun type on a D10 with a base Target Number based on target size and then modified for range, rate of fire, maneuvering, and some misc modifiers. For each hit scored you have to determine damage. The amount of damage done is based on the penetration value of the firing gun vs. the armor value of the target modified by a range modifier. The greater the final penetration value is than the armor value the more damage is done from none, to half, to full damage. Applied damage subtracts from a target’s hull value. Critical hits are also possible. Critical hits include bridge, rudder, fire, flooding, weapon mount, engine room damage and more. In addition to the basic fire mechanics, the power of larger guns is also represented by having larger ships fire, and resolve their fire, before smaller ships.
The End Phase includes damage control rolls, command checks, and some general clean up. Damage control rolls can remove fire, flood, rudder, and bridge critical hits but not hull damage. Command checks are basically morale rules and a failed check will result in a ship leaving combat (being removed from play). The more damage a ship takes the greater the chance it will decide to flee instead of stay and fight. At the end of a scenario there is a chance any ships that fled will be counted as destroyed. Command checks are a nice concept but there is an oddity in that there is no allowance for the current mobility of a ship. Thus a ship that is significantly slowed or even dead in the water can suddenly disappear from combat.
A lot of historical flavor is added to the basic Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts rules through the use of various optional rules. Bad British shell design, collisions, funnel smoke, and plunging fire are just a few of the optional rules players can add. The optional rules allow players to add in the areas they feel are important and make the game lighter or heavier as they desire. The optional rules are well done and add considerably to the historical accuracy of the game.
Perhaps what is most notable about Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts is what it does not include. There are no historical scenarios or formation lists of any kind included in the game. Obviously for veteran historical gamers this is a minor point but for gamers new to historical naval gaming this is a major oversight. At least one starter scenario would have been nice to see. Steel Dreadnought Games is producing a separate product, Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts – Battle Orders, that addresses this omission and for the price of the rules it is hard to complain too much about the lack of scenarios, but it is something of which new gamers should be aware. As previously mentioned, the lack of ship images/silhouettes is also disappointing.
Overall, Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts is a solid first effort for a new publisher and it will be interesting to see how the system expands over time. Players looking for a bit more detail than the Victory at Sea system should give it a look. We are not fans of written order systems especially for both movement and firing (but the optional movement rules alleviate this somewhat). For smaller games this is not much of an issue but as soon as we got more than a half dozen ships per side we simply dropped the order rules altogether and used our own house rules for alternating movement and firing actions. Perhaps Steel Dreadnought Games will produce something similar as an official option in the future.
Note, this review was updated to address changes with the Version 1.1 rules.
Steel Dreadnought Games also has a WW2-era rule set, Naval Thunder: Battleship Row as well as a WW2 expansion, Naval Thunder: Bitter Rivals, which adds more ships and thirteen scenarios.
Also see our look at Battleship Row and Bitter Rivals.
Note, Steel Dreadnought Games provided us a review copy of Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts.