Grids and scales

David Crook – who writes the A WARGAMING ODYSSEY blog – is designing a naval wargame set in the early twentieth century, and in an exchange of emails we have been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using a grid of Hexon II hexes for naval wargames … something that I have done in the past but in an abstract rather than a realistically scaled way.

This set me thinking, and I sat down with a pencil and paper and started playing around with the numbers … and what follows are the results of my thinking.

Assuming that the distance from face-to-face on a Hexon II hex (which measures 10cms from face-to-face) represents a nautical mile, a ship travelling at a speed of one knot would take one hour to move from one hex to an adjacent hex.

This gives gun ranges of one hex representing 2,000 yards, two hexes representing 4,000 yards, three hexes representing 6,000 yards and so on.

If the ship were doing a speed of six knots, it would take ten minutes (i.e. one-sixth of an hour) to move from one hex to an adjacent hex. I chose six knots because during the period David is setting his rules in this seems to work as a common denominator for most major classes of warships; on average battleships do 18 knots (3 hexes), cruisers do 24 knots (4 hexes), and destroyers 30 knots (5 hexes). All the thoughts and ideas that follow are based upon this six knot common denominator assumption.

Now ten minutes can be a long time in a naval battle, with even slow-firing guns being able to get off two or three salvoes, so if we reduce the time scale to five minutes, this has consequences.

For example, if we change the ground scale to one hex representing half a nautical mile (i.e. 1,000 yards) from face-to-face, the move distances per turn will not alter but the gun ranges will, with one hex representing 1,000 yards, two hexes representing 2,000 yards, three hexes representing 3,000 yards and so on. As the Battle of Tsushima began with the ships firing at 10,000 yards and hitting each other at 7,000 yards, the tabletop distances would be between 100cms and 70cms.

As the average heavy gun salvo rate in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima was about one salvo every three minutes, it would seem to make sense to use that as the basic element of the time scale. In this case the ground scale reduces to one hex representing 600 yards from face-to-face, the move distances will not alter, but the gun ranges do, with ten hexes (i.e. 100cms) representing 6,000 yards.

Now all of the above works well if one assumes that one wants to fight a salvo-by-salvo naval battle … but as naval gunnery was still relatively inaccurate (most sources seem to indicate that only about three to five percent of shells actually hit their target and did any damage) this might end up as being a rather tedious wargame to fight.

So if we return to the original timescale where one turn represents ten minutes of real time, our pre-dreadnought battleship will fire three – possibly four – salvoes per turn. Assuming the latter, the ship will therefore fire sixteen shells and possibly – if they are very accurate and achieve a percentage hit rate of 6.25% – score one hit. In reality they are more likely to score one hit every two turns.

This begs the question as to whether or not the time scale needs to be changed so that more firing can take place each turn … and this opens yet another can of worms.

I cannot for the life of me come up with a way of realistically balancing the constraints of ground scale, time scale, and realistic gunnery … which is why I have always tended towards designing naval wargames where these elements are abstract rather than definitive.

Does anyone out there have a solution to this … or is it one of those wargame design problems that is best just ignored?


The Battle of Tsushima as depicted in a painting …

… and my attempt to model something similar to it!

It may not be art … but I know what I like!

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The Portable Wargame: Other people’s battles

When one designs and publishes a set of wargame rules, one is never quite sure how they will be received by people one does not know. Will they be a success … or was the whole thing just an ego trip on the part of the author? Well in the case of THE PORTABLE WARGAME, it would appear to have been a reasonably successful venture … and it hasn’t done my ego any harm either!

Over recent weeks I have featured two of the battles fought by Archduke Piccolo in which he used my ANCIENT rules, but have not yet mentioned the third, ENCIRCLEMENT OR BREAKOUT.

I really enjoyed reading these three battle reports as the rules seem to have resulted in what I would judge to have been reasonably accurate results.

A few days ago Jeff Butler wrote a blog entry about a naval battle he had recently fought using a developed and modified version of my Pre-Dreadnought Portable Naval Wargame rules (as yet only available as an online PDF download).

Reading Jeff’s blog entry reminded me that I need to give some serious thought to properly publishing the various versions of my naval rules sometime soon … and this has now moved up my list of ‘things to do’.

If my ego wasn’t inflated enough already, I recently received an email from a wargamer in which he stated that his ten-year-old son had said that ‘the rules are so simple you just concentrate on the tactics‘ and that he had ‘been trying to engage him (his son) in my beloved hobby. Your rules may have succeeded!’

That email gave me an immense amount of pleasure. Having spent most of my working life trying to inspire young people, that simple email was both humbling and made me feel that publishing my rules was a very worthwhile thing to do … and worth all the time and effort I put into writing and publishing them.


Please note that the photographs featured above are © Archduke Piccolo and Jeff Butler.

The next Portable Wargame book?

I’ve had a rather busy day today, but during a break from my Masonic researches I have begun to make notes for my next PORTABLE WARGAME book. The working title is DEVELOPING THE PORTABLE WARGAME and I hope to include things such as:

  • Rules for pinning and unpinning units
  • Fighting campaigns using the Portable Wargame Rules (with a short example)
  • A more complex version of the Early and Mid Twentieth Century Portable Wargame Rules
  • The Portable Naval Wargame Rules for the Mid and Late Nineteenth/Early Twentieth Century (with an explanatory battle or two)
  • The Portable Napoleonic Wargame Rules (with an explanatory battle)

This might actually be too much for one book, but I won’t know if it is until I begin to put the book together, and that is something that is probably not going to begin in earnest until later in the year. I will, however, keep my regular blog readers apprised of any progress that I do make.


We sail the ocean blue …

During the lulls in my somewhat busy week, I have been giving some thought to the naval wargame that I want to design and take to the next Conference of Wargamers (COW2016). So far I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. The rules will use my ‘new’ Hexon II blue hexed terrain tiles
  2. The model ships will all be designed and built so that each one will to fit within a single Hexon II terrain tile (i.e. they will be no longer than 4-inches/10cm)
  3. The game will have rules based upon either my MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) or my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME rules
  4. The mechanisms will be modified to enable the rules to be used for simple one-on-one, face-to-face battles as well as ones involving several players per side

Not a long ‘shopping’ list of requirements, but one that I need to spend some time working on and play-testing.


There are no prizes for working out where the title of this blog entry comes from … it is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty.

When the balls whistle free
O’er the bright blue sea,
We stand to our guns all day;
When at anchor we ride
On the Portsmouth tide,
We have plenty of time for play.

Ahoy! Ahoy!
The balls whistle free
Ahoy! Ahoy!
Over the bright blue sea,
We stand to our guns, to our guns all day.

We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty.
Our saucy ship’s a beauty,
We’re attentive to our duty,
We’re sober men and true,
We sail the ocean blue


Contemplating my naval

Before anyone decided to write a comment about the face that the title of this blog entry should read ‘Contemplating my navel’, the ‘mistake’ is deliberate.

The fact that I now own enough Hexon II blue hexes to cover an area of approximately 9′ x 4′ has yet again turned my thoughts towards naval wargaming. Now over the years I have done quite a bit of naval wargaming, and have done my bit to help to popularise both Fred Jane’s Naval War Game and Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game. I have also designed quite a few of my own naval wargames, including MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) and THE PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME.

Until recently the naval wargames that I have fought using my Hexon II hexed terrain have tended to be quite small affairs (one or two ships per side) …

… but now I can begin to think about somewhat larger battles.

With this in mind I looked back at some of the battles I fought on my Heroscape blue terrain tiles using MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) …

It is 1914 … and the Greek and Turkish fleets approach each other.

Whilst the Turkish cruiser chases its Greek counterpart, the two Turkish battleships close on their Greek opponents.

… and I have decided that this is the sort of action I could set up and fight. Now all I have to do is to build some suitable model ships.


The Portable Naval Wargame revisited

Before looking at the possible introduction of some of the elements of my existing PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME rules into my ‘new’ Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules, I decided to stage a re-fight of one of my recent play-tests using my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules.

I rated each of my Rams as Ironclad/Coastal Defence Battleships and gave them temporary names. The model with the pronounced ram bow was named Rambeau (as per Archduke Piccolo‘s suggestion) and the other was named Furious (well it did get sunk twice during the first play-tests!).


Rambeau vs. FuriousAs before I set up an unencumbered 12 deep by 10 wide grid of blue Hexon II hexes. The opposing warships were placed on the rows of hexes furthest from each other and 5 hexes in from their respective left-hand column of hexes, with Rambeau being closest to the camera in the following image.

The battle began with the Furious trying to close the range as quickly as possible whereas the Rambeau turned to port in order to be able to fire broadsides at her enemy when the range closed.

Both ships maintained their courses …

… until their guns came into range. The Furious managed to hit the Rambeau twice, but the Rambeau was only able to do half that amount of damage to the Furious when she returned fire.

Events then began to favour the Rambeau, whose subsequent broadside did sufficient damage to the Furious that the latter was forced to turn away. The Furious was not out of the fight by any means, and her return fire inflicted further damage upon the Rambeau, forcing her to break off from the battle as well.

As neither ship prevailed, the battle was drawn.


ConclusionsI was somewhat surprised by the fact that this battle was so short and felt less satisfactory than the two Ironclad vs. Ironclad play-tests I had previously staged.

After some thought I came to the conclusion that the individual Ship’s Flotation Points and Critical Point (i.e. the point at which a ship is forced to break off action due to damage) in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules is too low for a single ship vs. single ship action. I also felt that the movement rates and turning rules in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules were not right for the size of the playing surface, and preferred the shorter and simpler movement rate and turning rules in the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules.

I do feel that the gunnery rules in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules work better than those in the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules, but that the option to disable an enemy ship which is included in the latter rules is something that I would like to think about including in any future pre-dreadnought era naval wargame rules.

The Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules do place great emphasis on ramming whereas my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules do not. (My original PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: 1860 to 1870 rules do included ramming rules, but I removed them when I wrote the pre-dreadnought version.) In the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules a rammed ship is deemed to be automatically sunk, which I think is too drastic a result. My personal opinion is that ramming should be used to administer the coup de grace to an already damaged enemy ship and not as a ship’s primary weapon.

My PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT include rules for locomotive torpedoes whereas the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules do not. Any rules that I do end up writing as a result of melding these two sets of rules together will have to include rules for torpedoes, but like ramming they should be seen as a coup de grace weapon rather than as a major warship’s primary weapon.

This was an interesting play-test, and it raised quite a few matters that require further thinking. I hope that as a result of this I will end up with a set of very simple, fast-play naval wargame rules for the ironclad era … and if I don’t, I will have had fun trying!


A recreation of Lieutenant Chamberlain’s Game of Naval Blockade

As I mentioned in my recent blog entry, some years ago I recreated Lieutenant Chamberlain’s GAME OF NAVAL BLOCKADE and demonstrated it at SALUTE. I subsequently took it along to a naval wargames event organised by John Curry aboard HMS Belfast, and today I found two of the photographs that I took of the game in use.

The game was designed to be set up quickly … and if the necessity arose (i.e. a call for all hands to go to their Action Stations) a game could be stopped and put away by the simple expedient of folding the board along its centre – with the ship models, islands, and rocks inside – and tipping the whole lot into a convenient draw in the wardroom.

Now that is a truly portable wargame!