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Naval Wargame?

4 replies [Last post]
Joined: 08/18/2015

So I had a little time recently and just started brainstorming an idea for a rule set for a naval wargame which could potentially be set in either the 16th-18th century or perhaps some sort of fantasy universe. I haven't decided which I'd enjoy more. Since this would be my first attempt at anything like this (and i since I don't currently own any applicable miniatures), I've no idea whether this could be any good. I'm going to put a list of the ideas I've had to date, and if you all think they sound half-decent I'll start putting something together.

1. Modular warship design, perhaps in a manner similar to BattleTech. Would give players the utmost control over their ships and crew. This would include customizing room locations, armament, crew size, and crew skills. Would also need some limiting factor by ship-class to prevent players from building a single super-ship.

2. Point-buy system. A necessity in any game attempting to do 1.

3. Ship Classes. Some base-ships are inherently faster/larger/better armored than others. Speed influences movement rate, size influences number of rooms and crew (need berths for crew). Armor does exactly what you'd expect, as do cannons.

4. Delayed Ranged Attacks (including elevation control). This is what I think is new. Most wargames I've played are designed so that if you have a legal shot, you initiate a round of combat which is resolved instantaneously and somewhat randomly. My idea would eliminate some of that: Ships firing cannons would create little cannonball miniatures (would look like a little cloud of cannonballs with an arrow on the base indicating movement direction). These cannonballs would have a set move-rate based upon the specifics of the cannon fired (different cannons send cannonballs at different speeds). Cannonballs are moved simultaneously at the end of a round.
Elevation would be determined by players--place a little counter under the cannonball piece depicting how many rounds the cannonball is expected to travel before contacting an enemy. For example, ball A is fired at point-blank range, so it's counter is a '0' counter (cannonball hits if it encounters a ship on it's initial move. ball B is fired at a medium range, and was given a '2' counter. ball B would hit if it contacted an enemy ship during it's 2nd move. This could be adjusted for balance to ranges (0-1, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, etc.) which would hit during either of the listed turns.
Such a system would replace a lot of the randomness in most wargames with a high degree of skill as lining up shots becomes much more difficult, yet also more rewarding. Shots could also be used as 'Area Denial Weapons' by forcing an opponent to swerve in order to avoid a hit.

5. Crew. Crew would be organized by 'squads'--with 1 squad per 'berth' room in a ship. While a ship is activated, each individual (living) crew 'squad' can perform a different task: Ship A has 3 'squads' (a, b, and c). The player decides to have squad 'a' perform navigational tasks: reef/furling sails, steering, etc. Squad 'b' is assigned to reload Cannon Battery X, and squad 'c' is assigned to fire Cannon Battery Y. Each squad has a specific speciality and a specific weakness--chosen by the player when purchased (skilled navigators increase the movement speed/ turn radius of a ship, skilled loaders enable a different squad to fire the gun just loaded or can load a gun just fired, skilled gunners either have faster cannonballs, better accuracy, or more damage (haven't decided how that would work yet), and hand-to-hand experts would gain a combat bonus during boarding actions. Crew could also be stationed on deck for an action in order to prepare for or repel a boarding action. (such crew members could throw grappling hooks or something as well, yet are more exposed to cannon fire. Crewmembers die over the course of a battle, and cannot be replaced directly (you could transfer crew between ships (can't exceed the original max of actions though)--but you'd still get 1 action per round less overall)--giving each ship fewer actions per round. A successful hand-to-hand action could capture the enemy ship--enabling you to transfer crew to that ship for 2 under-staffed ships, or maybe rescue crew from a sinking ship.

6. Different types of cannonballs. Standard Cannonballs would attack the hull, various rooms in the ship, and possibly crew manning those rooms, dealing damage based on the specific cannon modified to some degree for a dice roll. Chain Shot (cannonballs connected by a chain--designed to shred sails) would reduce a ship's maneuverability due to tears in the sails by an amount corresponding to the roll of a d6. Whatever-the-heck-we-have-lying-around Shot (yeah, i forgot the official name of this kind--I'll look it up if I need to). This is essentially random objects such as nails, forks, knives, and other small object which are converted to shrapnel. This is designed to attack the enemy crew, and does spectacular damage to crew on the decks, but little damage to crew working deep inside a ship.

7. Delayed Sinking. As a ship sinks, it would still be able to perform minimal actions for the next 2 rounds. This would give a sinking ship the opportunity to fire pre-loaded batteries (no reloading) or transfer crew to a friendly--intact ship. Essentially, you can rescue you're drowning/sinking crewmembers to replace causalties on a functional ship.

8. Small ship count per player (maybe 4 ideally?) Players split into two (or more) teams with each player controlling 4 or so ships. Too many more and the game would take an inordinate amount of time. Too few and a players tactical options are limited.

9. A deck of "wind cards" depicting a certain degree to turn the wind dial left or right (ranging from 0% to 30%). This enables any wind bonuses to change without the random wind patterns found in some games--nor any notorious "fate card"-esque issues (if you know what I'm referencing--good for you!)

10. Non-lethal status effects for crew members. Probably controlled via a manner similar to that of Conflict of Heroes---draw a status effect chit out of a cup--add effect to squad.

What do you think? Those are my major thoughts so far...

Midnight_Carnival's picture
Joined: 06/17/2015
I'll call my big brother!

My brother is making tiny minatures for a WWII themed naval wargame, he had some ideas for the gameplay.
I'll send him a link to this site and maybe he'll have some better ideas than I do?

Joined: 12/27/2013
While reading, and before

While reading, and before reaching the 8th point I was leaning heavily to 1-3 ship limit (although you said no singular super ships). The amount of stuff tracked, both in tokens and mentally might be borderline too much even with 4 ships when the action really gets going. I've only played couple of really streamlined naval games so it's just a hunch.

I'm guessing the delayed attacks are this game's bread and butter. Not having seen the thing play out, I'd not dwell on how it might make the game really sluggish, but one thing I see here that you want to have some level of realism with shot angles and slow sinking and whatnot. How fast you think the ships are moving per turn? I mean a ship wouldn't move that much at the time that iron balls shot from a cannon (quickly glancing at wikipedia: max distance 2000 meters and muzzle velocity of max 400 m/s, so that's 5+ seconds of movement at maximum range).
If you want to have the realism of slow moving ships the game will bog down too much I think, and if you opt for fast moving ships there's a weird dissonance between mechanics simulation-wise.

I do like the shot angling however, and the different ammo types could be incorporated such that you need to angle your chain shots so that it hits enemy ship sails with the "2" counter on it.

Much of this could be averted by just going to fantasy/sci-fi theme and make them shoot magic or missiles theme- and sim wise.
Games Workshop's Battlefleet Gothic (which I've only spectated) had almost the same exact thing with torpedoes, but the regular pew-pew combat was much more streamlined.

Overall I do like this, especially the crew management, which might be the no.1 thing for me in any tabletop or PC game alike.

The best actual advice I can give though, is that great care should be given to making the actual strategies work and have meaning. Many of these games I've played degenerate into shoving boats into each other's faces just to get them shooting as soon as possible. Something like you'd miss a turn to position yourself (not shooting) to give you a benefit that'd compensate for the decision of not shooting...

Joined: 08/18/2015
Thanks for the advice! I've

Thanks for the advice! I've decided that you're probably right--my ideas would make for a better fantasy-themed game than a realistic one, so I'm going to run with that. As far as ships being too complicated to control several, here is what I'm thinking for ship sheets (includes basics of crew as well). If you've played BattleTech, the concept is very similar as that does a great job of providing the necessary info to players with out a lot of excess. At this point, I have no ruleset for how ships function, so my example is just how things could potentially work. The plan is that, similar to BattleTech, players could copy ship stats out of the rulebook for pre-designed ships (Quick/Easy to jump into game) or for those who prefer the ultimate in customization follow a defined rule set to create their own. Take a look and see what you think---I think that 4/person would be about right with a sheet like this...

Warship Chart:
Sample Warship:
If you can't see the images well, you may need to print them in order to see all my pencil lines.

A few comments on the design---i forgot to draw a little box labeled "Status Effects" in the bottom-right corner. This space would be used to keep track of effects such as fire (could be incited by fireballs), poison, etc. I've dumped the idea of crew-squad specific status effects for global, ship-wide status effects. It's easier to manage and track for players that way. (The little arrow represents a ship's starting crew---notice that there is no '11' but rather a '10 + 1'. This is because I've decided no one ship should be able to perform over 10 actions in one round. (even that might be a little high and could change).
When a ship is activated, it takes its actions moving down the Crew Squad list. For the example ship, this would mean that the Navigators perform the first action, the Loaders the second, the Gunners the third, and the Wizards the fourth and final. This adds complexity and strategy to the design of ships, but simplifies how the game would perform in action.
For crew casualties, a player would put a strike through the name of the squad (say, through Loaders on the example) and shade the '4' box on the crew track. This ship would now skip the 'Loaders' action and go straight to the 'Gunners' action---giving it a total of 3 actions. Rescued crew would result in penciling in a 'rescued' squad which gets no bonuses to any action (not familiar with this specific ship) at the next available space in the crew squad list. (Even though the Loaders are dead, this is after the Wizards).

Standard cannons will fire projectiles at a very high speed (likely impacting on the initial, or subsequent round for long range) giving them a more realistic feel. I also intend to add stuff such as Arcane Cannons, which could launch much slower, yet more powerful fireballs, or maybe even Poison Clouds, depending on the cannon. The Wizards should be able to use magic for their action (weak, could increase the power of the next spell by studying in the Arcane Repository) and would be able to choose from weak fireballs, to fog clouds (obscure vision), to repairs.

Joined: 08/21/2015
Hi I'm Midnight_carnival's

Hi I'm Midnight_carnival's brother. The discussion looks like it has moved on somewhat, but here are my suggestions, for what they're worth:

The system outlined for tracking shot movement sounds a lot like the way WWII wargamers seem to account for torpedos (which move much slower than cannon shells). You could use fireships/boats as a rough analog for an age-of-sail period game. There were also mortar or bomb ships which fired large projectiles in a high trajectory slightly slower than cannon-shot.

Alternatively, if you wanted to keep a historical theme with this mechanic, you could always go for ancient naval warfare, as javelins, arrows and catapult projectiles are all very much slower than cannon balls, while some ancient oared warships (greek triremes) were surprisingly fast, and not _that_ much slower than later sailing vessels when going at full speed (for however long they could maintain it, anyway).

Either could be incorporated into a fantasy setting, of course.

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