We finally got around to grabbing a copy of Steel Dreadnought Games‘ new World War Two naval miniature rules Naval Thunder: Battleship Row along with the first expansion Bitter Rivals. Battleship Row is based on their naval system debuted in their World War One ruleset Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts. While Clash of Dreadnoughts fell just shy of beating out Mongoose Publishing’s Victory at Sea: Age of Dreadnoughts as our favorite quick-play naval rules, Battleship Row is the set that sends Victory at Sea to the bottom.
As before, Naval Thunder: Battleship Row and Bitter Rivals are PDF only publications. With Clash of Dreadnoughts you got two versions of the rules, both a graphic heavy version and a print ready version. In Battleship Row you get only one version but it is still easy to print and looks considerably better than the Clash of Dreadnoughts rules. The new cover art on both books is excellent and very cinematic.
Battleship Row is the main rulebook for WW2 combat and is 66 pages long and includes two introductory scenarios. Also included is a pack of ship data cards. The pack contains 44 pages of ship data cards for Japan and the United States (44 Japanese ships and 46 U.S.). Unfortunately, the data cards still do not include any ship art (not even generic silhouettes for each class). Surprisingly, and most impressive, a Data Card Printing tool is also included. This is just a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet but it includes all the data for all the included ships along with page templates that can be used to print out the ships you want. Being able to print PDF pages is already a huge improvement over photocopying printed book sheets but this tool allows you to print just what you want, and if you desire to tinker with any of the stats it is easy to print sheets with the custom stats as well. This was a very thoughtful addition by Steel Dreadnought Games and they should be given praise for its inclusion. Even better, if you are like us and forgo the written orders, you can use a few lines of the chart to include your own ship art by deleting a few of the plot lines and inserting a graphic space below the main ship name. Hopefully Steel Dreadnought Games will do this with their next go around and at least include generic class silhouettes on the sheets. It does aid in play and looks nicer as well. Lastly, a Quick Reference Sheet, some miscellaneous play sheets, and a page of color tokens are included.
Bitter Rivals is a force and scenario expansion for Battleship Row and is 44 pages long and adds rules for Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. 77 pages of ship data cards are included for the new nations. Bitter Rivals includes 13 historical scenarios with nine taking place in the Atlantic/Mediterranean and four in the Pacific. Each scenario includes historical background and outcome, force selections, victory conditions, and special rules, and a map that details force setup and entry.
Battleship Row has no dramatic rules changes from Clash of Dreadnoughts but introduces some minor improvements plus, of course, the new rules to deal with World War Two-specific naval actions. While the changes are subtle they make an already solid ruleset even better. Steel Dreadnought Games continues its habit of introducing core rules with a large set of optional rules that players can layer on for additional realism and flavor. The additional rules are very well done and generally what make the game shine. Battleship Row includes a number of optional rules including acceleration, agile battleships, alternating activations, destroyer squadrons, plunging fire, night battles, unreliable radar and variable command ratings to name just a few.
The biggest change from WW1 to WW2 of course was the introduction of carrier air warfare. Battleship Row includes a very novel approach to the subject. Essentially initial air battles are fought as paper exercises with a final attack occurring on board. The idea seems sound and should provide far more realistic results than Victory at Sea, but we will need to play out a few games before we can form a proper opinion on the system. Submarines are another addition and they are also included as an abstraction that fits well within the system.
If you have any interest in WW2 naval miniature gaming it will be well worth your time to take a look at both Battleship Row and Bitter Rivals. We look forward to additional expansions and would especially like to see a Leyte Gulf scenario pack.
Litko Aerosystems has also been busy. We love to use their Micro and Mini Splash markers with games of Naval Thunder and you might also find their Micro Flame, Micro Artillery Strike, Mini Smoke Screen, Flaming Wreckage and Naval Torpedo tokens useful in your games as well. They can be used to reduce bookkeeping and look great on the table.