Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Project Jutland - Roll the Bones

So in November 2016 at the Royal Armouries in Leeds; Project Jutland got "played" for the first time, it was fantastic to get the ships on the table and get some dice rolled. It wasn't a perfect day but a lot of lessons were learnt and a good time was had.

The first thing to realise with Jutland is that there really isn't anything else like it, you can have the best set of WW1 Naval rules going that work great on a club night or during what you think is a "big" game, however when it comes to the BIG one you need to make fairly radical changes to your baseline to get the whole thing to work. The rules you end up with, will without doubt contain compromise and the skill is to compromise in areas your group are happy with.

I think the part we enjoy the most is the dice rolling for hits, the sense of randomness about determining hit location and then the nervous dice rolled to calculate if the shell has penetrated the armour  (or even gone off !) and if so what damage is caused. These are the areas I tried to keep the same cutting corners elsewhere, this won't be everyone's cup of tea and that's fine. I have looked at many different ways of doing a game of this size and it's the games that count all the guns the same or class armour as heavy or super Heavy etc or don't record damage and that don't work for me. It probably my Engineering background that thrives on the technical data and the subtle but vital differences between a German 12" gun and a British 13.5" (Light and Heavy for the true geeks !).

Naval Wargamers in general are a strange bunch (myself included) and as I have said before it is really a niche area within a Niche hobby. Naval wargamers more than any other Gamer will disagree about virtually everything in a given set of rules, too complicated, too basic etc etc Post something on a forum and watch the opinions fly ! (Just don't mention Turret Rings or basing !) For those reasons I can never see a generic set of popular Naval rules in the vein of say Bolt Action or Flames of War so it was very much a case of developing the game for this set of players.

So rather than do a traditional AAR in this post I have decided to use this opportunity to discuss the staging of the game, the rule changes we made and what is needed to make the whole thing run smoothly in the future. A full AAR will come when we get to fight this over a two day event.

Starting Point - I have looked at this a bit in previous posts and decided to start the game when Marlborough opens fire at 13000 yards on the German Fleet, what people want to see are the long lines of Dreadnoughts on the table fighting it out and not a couple of German Torpedo Boats looking at a Danish Trawler in the middle of a massive table !

So Run to the North is coming to an end, the head of the German line is engaged at about 10,000 yards with the 15" Battleships, the British columns, each of 4 Dreadnoughts, is just finishing their manoeuvre into line. The Battlecruisers are still engaging each other in front of the main line whilst the 3 British Battlecruisers who missed the initial engagement are steaming into the action.

Defence and Warrior are badly damaged  (seen burning in the pics), Warspite is spinning round with a broken Rudder and of course 2 British Battlecruisers have already been sunk. I had also allocated historical damage to the ships involved in the earlier actions.

Table Size - After much discussion, twisting of maps etc a minimum table size of 18 feet by 8 feet was decided on. The 8 Foot width is an issue with stretching and reaching and by luck we ended up with a 7 1/2 Foot width which was surprisingly workable. This allows the whole of the Grand Fleet to be on table (remember that the battle line is 12 ft long) and the head of the High Seas Fleet  (the front 8 Dreadnoughts)  moving onto table at the start with approximately 1.5 new ships moving on table per turn. Using a firing ground scale  (for ease of ref) of 1cm = 100 yards Marlborough to Konig is 1.3 meters (apologies for mixed units), Konig to Warspite 1m, the rest works itself out.

Manoeuvre Units - Our normal rules count ships as individual units however for a game of this size I went for the Division  (usually 4 ships) for the big stuff whilst the Destroyers are grouped as half flotillas of 3 to 6 ships. Everything follows the leader and formation changes can be done easily. I was able on the back of that to produce ship charts for the manoeuvre units which reduced paperwork dramatically.

Movement Orders - Our standard OP is to write our moves down per ship on the rear of the ship cards,  so a typical order might be 10F, 8S, 3F however to cut down on this we decided to skip orders completely opting to allow players to move as they saw fit, obviously within speed and turn circle limitations and then only write when needed (for example when opposing fleets are in close proximity). When playing amongst friends this is fairly easy to facilitate.

Number of Players - This is where we fell down on the day, we had people drop out and the club decided to put two games on at the event so I was really struggling for players. No 1 Son got press ganged and even then we only had 5 players ! Minimum I think is 8. Split 5 British, 3 German. Certainly at the start you have got only really the German Battlecruisers and 8 of the Dreadnoughts in action giving 5,4 and 4 Capital ships each with a split of the light stuff. For the Brits a Battlecruiser Commander, then 3 players for the line with a final player for the 15 inch ships again Light stuff split between.

Reality vs Playability - one of the age old gaming questions. Do you want a system where the Germans have no chance of a large calibre shell hit (between 1900 and 1945 in the action the Germans managed 2 hits to the British 37) or something that reflects the advantages that one side had compared to the other but still gives a game with interest for both sides. I'm firmly in the latter camp and although it might not work for the purists I want a "game" at the end of the day not a test of my ability to look up my damage. The reduction in detail already mentioned will reduce our version of reality as we make the game more and more playable, there is a point of compromise, finding it is the key.

Which leads me nicely onto Visibility anyone with any basic knowledge of the battle will be aware of how vital in terms of engagement ranges and general visibility the weather conditions proved to be on the day. Earlier in the day during the Run to the South the advantage in this area was decidedly in favour of the German Fleet whilst by the time of our main fleet action conditions have now changed dramatically in favour of the British. I was reluctant to add too many extra die rolls to simulate the process, nor after 9 months and a considerable amount of investment did I want to leave ships in the box and use hidden movement.

I decided on having one overall table wide visibility range, set on turn 1 at 13,000 yards or 1.3 meters. At the start of each turn a pair of d6 was rolled, one plus and 1 minus and the result would increase  (or decrease) the visibility by 100 yards per point difference. It doesn't sound a lot but with the game starting with most of the British Ships out of visibility a small increment either way can make a massive difference, as the Germans found out in our game when a 500 yard increase in range brought a lot of large calibre shell attention.

The other aspect of visibility to consider are squalls. Areas of localised reduced visibility, often mobile and some short lived. I have seen some lovely "mobile cloud" models zipping round other people's games however in terms of  building and operating such a system I decided it would be too time consuming, so I looked for another method to reflect these squalls and it was sat staring at me in our existing firing rules (for large ships, light forces have an even simpler method) which I should probably explain.

So these are the dice we use for firing, straight from the X Wing FFG game, but actually just d8 with different symbols on. So basically  (without writing a full rule book) the firing ship rolls the red dice, the target hopefully rolls some green dice.

Your attack dice are determined on range, number of guns firing etc, standard fare and then modified by things like, adding a dice for target on fire, target broadside on, then dice are removed for firing secondary guns, turning etc giving you a number of dice in your hand. Roll them and each outline explosion symbol is a hit, each solid explosion half a hit.

The target then gets to roll green dice based on its difficulty to hit, based on size, speed, turns, intervening ships etc, each wavy arrow cancels out a hit. A really easy system, within 10 minutes a new player is usually quite happily working it out for themselves. It does give a greater number of hits than reality but as discussed above is strict accuracy what we want.

I was also really strict on what I determine as "pointless" firing, there is always someone who wants to fire a single secondary gun at a Torpedo Boat travelling at maximum speed at maximum range. It's often this kind of non critical gunnery which slows games down dramatically. I considered a time limit but went in the end for a set of rules based on ship type / Gun / range, that and saying No a lot !

For this part of the game all British ships receive 1 green dice per attack regardless of other factors, to represent the difficulties the German ships had with sighting at this stage of the battle.

I noticed that the focus or eye symbol on the dice was going unused so quite simply decided to use that as a method of determining if a "squall" had effected the firing. If the number of focus symbols in the targets roll equalled or exceeded that in the fires roll all shots missed.

Hit locations are usually dealt with by rolling 2 dice to determine a location on a deck plan for each ship, it works great for our standard game but for the behemoth of Jutland I looked at methods of speeding this up. Andy found a hit location computer program which had been designed for Battletech but had the ability to be converted to WW1 Naval. All the ships locations were digitised for the game. Unfortunately rather than speeding things up it actually slowed things down as people had to wait for 1 group of hits to clear before starting the next. For the next game I will either look at having 2 or 3 laptops running with the hit locator or revert to a very basic d20 system.

Torpedoes - needed an overhaul too, we have always used a fairly standard Torpedo track system with mdf strips representing the area again set of Torpedoes acted in one turn. But in a game of this size I didn't want all the inherent clutter that goes with a system like that. Let's face it very few ships were hit by Torpedoes in the actual battle so any system shouldn't take up that much time.

In the end we went for a "virtual" system, so you declare which group of ships (all single ship firing banned !) is firing at which group of ships. Measure the distance and each 5" is a turn so you can calculate which turn the torpedoes will arrive, the effectiveness reduces each turn and it's just a simple die roll to hit on the turn of arrival.

But my reading would suggest that the fear of Torpedoes out weighed their actual effect so I added in the ability for ships to turn away from a Torpedo attack. Depending on range if the target group turns away it can ignore the attack, however it is then forced into moving away from the threat for a number of turns. The system still needs a bit of a tweak but I think the basics are sound.

On the day we managed 8 turns of action, which with 5 players I was quite pleased with. 8 players and a quicker hit location system would get us up to the 12-14 turn area in a "show" day starting at 9.30 - 10 ending at 4pm with a lunch break. Running it as a game only with say a 6pm end, two days would definitely give a conclusion.

There were plenty of none critical hits, Warspite ended up retiring with her Rudder issues, we had a couple of turret losses but no ships sank. A glorious German Torpedo attack (glorious because it was me what did it) on the Invincible group failed due to some spectacularly bad dice.

At the engagement ranges the Dreadnoughts where struggling to do any serious damage against each other but as the British Ships slowly ranged in the extra numbers started to tell, the British decided to hide Lion and the remaining ships behind the main battle line which masked some shooting.

Really looking forward to giving the game another go with more players, watch this space.