20 April 2021

Casting Off: Matched Play Musings

Hi all Neil here with a new Casting Off post with some more of my musing about how to create a matched play style of play for Victory at Sea.  Everything in here will be my ideas and opinions and are currently untested due to the COVID pandemic but hopefully I'll get to test them at some point.  Creating a more matched play style means looking at list building, battleplans and scoring, which I will discuss in turn.  Each of these are vital to creating a balanced matched play environment and will probably look very different from the section in the rulebook about gaming.  Being a part of the community for the game I know that points are a controversial issue currently, pending a FAQ/Errata at the moment, but for this it kind of doesn't matter what the points are either a more sensible Warlord issued set or a community generated set so long as everyone playing a game (or event) are using the same one.

List Building

The first part of building a matched play setup I'm going to talk about list building.  For this there are a few things to talk about like list building restrictions, how to handle named ships, whether to allow refits, how to handle the year and finally how to handle "paper" ships.

For list building restrictions I think the first would be to split the various navies between Allies and Axis along the historical lines and only allow players to build a list with ships from one of those two factions.  This would prevent to much min-maxing by mixing too many fleets together and keep it a bit more historical feeling.  The next restriction would be that if you select a Carrier you must select the exact flights you're using for it and that you can only select flights from the same fleet list, so Royal Navy carriers can only select from the Royal Navy flights list.  This currently seems to be a good amount of restrictions to frame list building while allowing a significant amount of freedom for Admirals to build their lists.  These are in addition to the limits of 25% of the points that can be spent on land based flights and that if you put any motor torpedo boats in the list then you may only take a single battleship or carrier, though I think that maybe with some testing these might change so that list building excludes land based flights and motor torpedo boats to have it as only the larger vessels to balance around and to make carriers more viable.  Something else I would probably also put as part of list building would be to exclude the civilian ships as not being warships probably shouldn't be in a matched play style game. 

The next two points of how to handle the named ships and whether to allow refits are linked in a way.  I would propose that the lists can include named ships and actually to allow players to make up a new named ships that are a copy of an already named ship, i.e you could take more ships than there were historically build to let admirals have more freedom on list building.  This would mean that you could allow refits, which allows further customization to give more diversity potentially and for the new ships have them take refits as the named ships they're copying.  For example if I was building a Royal Navy list and decided that I wanted a pair of Renown-Class Battleships I could either take "Renown" and "Repulse" or I could take "Renown" and then "Recognition" which was a copy of "Renown" meaning that these two could take the same refits if desired.  This would really need the game style to be properly balanced so not to heavily favour a single class which then just gets spammed in lists though the restriction to historical ships only could be a way to restrict an event so that certain ships can't get spammed and make the event a more "historical tournament" potentially.

The choice of year could be used to change up how things work for events so it becomes part of the tournament pack along side the points value though for pick up games I would suggest that it be defaulted to 1950 so basically all ships and refits are available to both players with players than able to modify the year if desired.

The last part is how to handle the "paper" ships, which means ships that were never built in real life but had been designed or in some cases cancelled before they're completed.  These ships can be covered by the ideas above, so they can be taken and if they don't have names then the player can give them names to use them in lists.

Battleplans and Scoring

Now that list building has been more formalized its time to look at the battleplans.  These are the missions being played and I think for a matched play style these want to move away from the primarily kill things based objectives of the rulebook towards a more objective based game maybe even with primary and secondary objectives in the same kind of way that Warhammer 40000 has gone with the new 9th edition.

In general the idea would be that the primary objective would resolve around holding objectives while secondary could include a bit more variety in exact scoring conditions.  The holding of objectives is something that doesn't exist in the current rules so needs to be built from the ground up but there are lots of other games that ideas could be drawn from such as Warhammer 40000 and Team Yankee/Flames of War to name a few.  My initial proposal would be to have the objectives be a point on the battlefield that you control by having the most ships within 6" with larger ships counting as more ships so for example a cruiser might count as 4 while a battleship or carrier counts as 10 so that destroyer spam doesn't become the only way to hold objectives.

Scoring would probably want to be progressive, meaning that points are scored each turn at the end of the turn rather than only at the end of the game.  This means that players can push forward early game to score points rather than being an incentive to hang back and snipe until right at the end.  The number of victory points that can be scored will be linked to the number of turns in a game, which currently stands at 8 turns.  For placing objectives they would need to fairly distributed across the map between the players, for placement I would probably lean towards a more Warhammer 40000 style for now of how they are placed on the table like the sketches below.

For secondary objectives these could take some of the existing objectives such as hunting down the most expensive enemy ship on the table or having to keep your most expensive ship safe.  Again to create a good selection would take a fair few more and to work out an interesting selection would take a while and some testing to make sure they're all sensible and achievable.

Deployment could also be something to be looked at and changed for the matched play battleplans but I feel that the current deployment map from the rulebook is sufficient with variety being gained by the placement of objectives between battleplans.

For creating a battleplan, i think my suggestions would be to have at least 3 objectives on the board with the simplest being 3 objectives on the centre line with one in the centre and the other pair 1/4 of the way in from each side.  This gives a nice balanced placement where both players are technically equally capable of getting to them from the go.  I've got some ideas for objective placement below for battleplans which all use the standard deployment zones as described in the rulebook.




These aren't really exact images but the idea is that its roughly right for placement on a 6 ft by 4 ft board.  Additionally there should be some terrain so that the map isn't completely open to allow the smaller ships like cruisers more chance to hang around objectives without being shot from maximum range by battleships in a different objective capture zone.  For controlling objectives my thoughts are that bigger ships are better so things like carriers and battleships would count more towards holding them then cruiser and especially more than destroyers and for actually controlling them I'd go with only counting ships within 6" of the objective point but I'm not sure yet whether I'd say most ships in that area with something like battleships count as 10, carriers count as 7, cruisers count as 4 and destroyers as 1 with MBTs and aircraft not being counted or whether to have it as the player with the largest ship in the zone controlling the objective.  The first option might favour destroyers as they're cheaper and want to get in close so hanging around objectives would probably be in their plan while the second means that a single battleship would trump any number of destroyers but that might be going to far in the other direction.  Something actually might be to have different scenarios use variations on these which might also help encourage more balanced list building rather than going all in at one end or the other.

The exact points scoring values would need to be tested but I would say that primary needs to have a greater potential than secondary objectives.  I would also suggest that both primary and secondary scores be limited to how much can be scored in total so that for example if there are 150 potential primary objective points then a player can only score 100 points maximum before they no longer get benefit from further primary scoring while for secondary objectives I'd suggest capping at around half the primary objective cap so in the case that would be 50 or by capping each secondary to a maximum value then having a player get multiple of these secondaries.  This allows for more consistency over points ranges without having primary or secondary scoring getting out of hand.

Conclusion

These are my current thoughts about creating a matched play style for Victory at Sea.  It does take a lot of inspiration from the 9th Edition Warhammer 40000 as I think that system is a good place to get ideas from.  I hope to get to test ideas out down my gaming club in future and then maybe I'll even create a "matched play pack" document to share around as well for more people to test and feedback to help improve it.  My next Victory at Sea post will hopefully be a hobby post as the Ark Royal is coming soon so it would be rude not to add her to my fleet.  If you want to see what I am currently painting check out my Instagram for WIP pictures.  If you've not seen my other posts about Victory at Sea then check out my Casting Off series and I'll see you again soon for new posts!


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