23 March 2021

Casting Off: Looking at the Full Rulebook

Hi all, its Neil here and I now have my full rulebook for Victory at Sea by Warlord Games so I thought I'd take a look at it.  My plan is to see how it compares to the quick start rulebook and whats new in it then look at from reading it how playing games looks by looking at the GW style game types of Narrative, Open and Matched play as these are my main games.  So its now time to get stuck in to the book!

Rules

The first part of the rulebook is just the quick start rules so it has the basics of the game such as ship cards, how the game turn is structured, how to move ships in the movement phase, how to attack other ships in the gunnery phase and how things are wrapped up in the end phase.  Also from the quick start rules are the Orders for your ships, the traits that ships, guns and aircraft can have plus how aircraft are handled in the game.

New in the full rulebook are the Additional Rules section which brings in rules for Bad Weather and Night Battles modifiers for the game as well as rules for Star Shells and Searchlights to help your ships in night battles as well as expanded rules for Radar and Advanced Radar which help ships in both Bad Weather and Night battles as well as detailing how they can be used to see through smoke.  There are also rules for Torpedo Nets and Barrage Balloons which are used for historical scenarios to add additional types of terrain.  The last part of Additional Rules is the Squadrons rules which are for large battles only to group ships together to speed up these massive fleet engagements.  This section is mostly for doing more narrative leaning games though the rules for how Radar and Advanced Radar interact with smoke will be used in normal games.

Another new section basically adds a whole new game mode by adding rules for Submarines.  Submarines can't be used with surface fleets without opponents permissions rather the subs are for use one of the three submarine specific mission. Submarines play very differently to surface ships with hidden deployment rules for how they setup, rules for running at different depths and what they can do at these depths as well as special movement rules for when they're running deep.  Submarines require your opponent to detect them before being able to attack them, which can be done by any military ship though ships with the Sub-Hunter trait are better at it.  This gives the game a Cat and Mouse feel where one player is hiding their subs while the other is seeking them.  The submarine rules are a very narrative style gaming experience with very set scenario types.

As well as submarines, the full rulebook add another type of unit which are the Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) which act more like aircraft than the larger surface ships in that they can move in any direction and can only be targeted by the light guns and AA guns on ships that are fast enough to track them as small targets.  MTBs attack like aircraft as well requiring to be in base to base to make attacks with their weapons.   When selecting a fleet, if you include one or more MTBs you can include a single battleship or carrier in your fleet so it forces you to play a lighter force if you're wanting to include torpedo boats.

The last new rules section in the full release add in how you interact with land and how to add shore batteries to your scenarios.  The land section adds the rules that actually make it block all lines of sight though you can use observation flights and radar on rare occasions to fire over land as an over the horizon attack.  Land is also dangerous for ships with 10+ hull points to get close to as if these ships get within an inch then the ship runs aground, which stops its movement and reduces its Flank Speed to 0 for the battle.  While aground the ship can still fire its weapons though it may not fire torpedoes nor may they use Orders or if the ship is a carrier it may not launch or recover aircraft.  The second part of this is the rules for Shore Batteries, which can be used by a player defending land (though doesn't actually define that so its up to players to define it themselves when arranging a game).  You can either build your own Shore Battery by picking what weapons are part of it, adding armour and choosing how many hull points it get which together will give it a points cost to use when fleet building, with the other option being to choose a historical shore battery which have a pre-made setup.

Rules-wise you could play the game with only the quick start rules though there will be a few things you miss out on being written down like the extra radar rules plus the rules for land.  There are some bits which are still at loose ends or not really full defined like Deep Deployment for carriers where its unclear on quite a few things like how many flights you can deploy at the beginning of the game, whether you can recover flights from the board by moving them off or how attacking them and dog-fighting off board works exactly.  Hopefully the FAQ, which I've heard is currently being worked on, will fix these rules issues that need tightening up.

Fleet Lists

The rulebooks contains lists of ships for the Royal Navy, US Navy, Marine Nationale (of France), Regia Marina (of Italy), Kreigsmarine (of Germany) and the Imperial Japanese Navy.  These list contain a number of surface ship classes divided between battleship, carrier, cruiser and destroyer sections as well as submarines, aircraft and MTBs.  The majority of the ships (and their refits) are historical though there are a small number of "paper" ships that were never commissioned, finished or even laid down to give players more "what if" gaming possibility as well as some "what if" refits such as a refit for Hood if she'd survived her encounter with Bismark that was planned.  These fleet lists have a good variety of ships in general, though the Marine Nationale and Regia Marina are smaller than the others in number of different ship classes.  I'm going to talk mostly about the Royal Navy who get a good selection across all the different categories with the majority of ships being ships that were fully commissioned and fought in WW2 with a small handful being "what if" ships such as the N3 battleship and Lion class battleship and a few that were completed just after the end of the war such as the Tiger class cruisers.

One thing with the fleet lists is that the points are a bit all over the place, especially when you compare between the navies which again hopefully might get a relook and a rebalance though I'd guess it might not be for a while from Warlord as there's not a whole lot of information coming back to Warlord because of COVID-19 currently.  If nothing's come out when gaming is back on the table, then I might try and work with local players to help work out some points feedback and changes to send back to Warlord but I'd definitely want some experience first.

Three Ways to Play

Grabbing the GW tagline of three ways to play, which are Open, Narrative and Matched play.  Not everyone plays the same way and that is is fine as everyone's hobby is personal and shouldn't be shoehorned into a single box.  This is my take on how to split the gaming styles along these lines which I hope is helpful for those who are coming as newer players to naval gaming like me.

Narrative for this game is probably the easiest to do as it pretty much comes in the book in the form of the Scenarios which give a number of the more well know or interesting battles as scenarios to play to see if you want achieve the historical outcome or prove yourself as a commander to change history.  The narrative style of play also include the submarine scenarios as they lend themselves to the narrative style really well.

For Open play, it is available in the rulebook as I'd say this is how the War At Sea section lets you setup games where you pick a fleet, roll up you objectives and fight the game.  This is the most flexible game type with the least restrictions on what players can bring to the table foe their surface fleets.

Matched play is not really a style that is covered in the rulebook as the War At Sea missions don't really fit the more competitive idea of Matched play so I thought I'd share my thought on how to build this style.  

For matched play I would suggest that there needs to be more formal list building parameters, mostly around things like splitting the nations into two larger lists that you can pick from being Axis and Allies made up of the various nations split between then and that carriers can only select aircraft from their own nation.  I wouldn't propose limiting number ships in classes initially as the choice between going capital ship heavy or light ship heavy in your list building allow for different play styles.  The most interesting part of list building would be around the named ships and their refits.  Allowing only named ships and to only allow each named ship to appear once it will limit the number of each class you can take in a list but it would exclude several classes in their entirety and if you're using named ships do you allow access to the refits as well for those ships.  Going with the named ships and refits would require setting a year even if its to allow everything.  This method would allow for tighter control and allow splitting the game into multiple time periods like an Early, Mid and Late war similar to how Battlefront deal with Flames of War to allow for more balance potential.  Another approach would be to rather than allow all the refits, only allow access to the basic ship profile which would allow for much easier balancing as you cut out the need to go down into all these refits to tune the balancing.  With just using the base ship profiles there would be a few ships that need a bit of working out such as the Kent-Class Cruiser that doesn't really have a basic profile.  I would be inclined to start with the basic version then when the base classes have been more balanced points wise then add in the named ships with the ability to create new named ships if you wanted to allowing more flexibility for sacrificing the ability to refit those ships and allowing ships that never had launched vessels.  One last thing for list building is that currently it looks better just to take aircraft flights independently using the 25% allowance rather than using carriers as you get to place them all at the beginning of the battle rather than needing to launch then or investing heavily into scouting points so potentially for matched play it may be something to look at whether to allow non carrier aircraft in Matched Play but that would be a decision that needs a lot of testing to put into place and when it comes to it whether you want to encourage carrier use.

Another part of matched play would be to create scenarios that revolve around more than just killing the enemy fleet, the way to do this would be to add in objectives.  Objectives give an alternative way of scoring which could be paired with a scoring scheme for destroying enemy ships as well to give more ways of playing the game.  You could take some inspiration from World of Warships both for how to place objectives as well as ideas of using terrain in setting up the battlefield.  This is a hypothetical take at the moment as I've yet to play a game but its something that once I've played a few games with the War At Sea rules I'd like to work out whether this works and how exactly to get it working.

If you've got ideas on how to construct a more competitive framework for the game, I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments and spark up a discussion on the topic.  I hope that this has been an interesting read and hopefully in the future I'll be able to come back with some more tested ideas for the "Matched Play" style.  Come back soon for some more Victory at Sea content in this Casting Off series and if you're interested in seeing what my current painting project is check out my Instagram.

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