Dec 22, 2014

Naval War: Writing my own ruleset

Well, as promised in my last post I'm going to try writing some more stuff on my blog.

Currently I'm tinkering with my own naval rules. I've played War at Sea for quite some time and think it is a fast-paced, entertaining game. It lacks detail, but in some way that exact fact makes it what it is; because a player doesn't have to be concerned with every nut and bolt of his ships the game can work with entirely different mechanics than most naval games to give it its unique touch.

After War at Sea I've read up on many different rule sets, and in time I've made an observation:
Practically all other naval games (limiting myself to WW2) are trying to be a simulation of sort, some games are more a simulation than others, but most games have put the most effort into modelling the effects of armor, shells, penetration, weather, speed, maneuverability, etc.

Thing is, that amount of detailing also makes the games very predictable, since most ships can't move beyond a couple of inches per turn, shoot with extremely predictable accuracy, can't turn more than a few degrees and all stats of the ships are static, it is impossible to have any aces up your sleeve. That was something that War at Sea excelled at, because of the Special Abilities of each unit, the games became much more unpredictable and much more a game than a simulation. Something that might not be to everyone's taste, but was certainly very satisfying to me.

So now what? War at Sea has been discontinued for a while although the community at the War at Sea forum are doing a terrific job in keeping the game alive, and with it; the only 'gamey' naval rule set I know of.

So, not finding what I'm looking for in other available rule sets, I've been working on my own set, which is a monumental task.

First I had to set the objectives; what am I looking for exactly?

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Well, War at Sea was a very fun game, but it lacks in the detail department. But how to increase detail without becoming another simulation? IMO the key lies in the Special Actions, they were the thing that made War at Sea unique and fun, but also made the game complicated for bigger actions. Each ship having at least 2 special rules makes playing larger actions a big game of memory because one would have to memorize and keep track of 30+ special actions. So If I would like to increase complexity by adding a little bit of detail, I would have to reduce the 'downtime' of the many special abilities. From there I started to formulate my objectives:

- A medium amount of detailing:
I'm not concerned about the water depth, the amount of rudders on a ship or the exact difference between the US 5" guns and the British 5"guns. I am however looking for an amount of detail that lets me 'cross a T', which immediately brings about other details, for to be able to cross a T the game needs to differentiate between forward and rear guns and have a movement system that supports facings.

- Action and unpredictability:
I want a game that keeps my opponent guessing for my next move and me for his. This requires a bit of leeway to the abilities of ships. As in most games ships operate at the peak of their capabilities during the whole fight (as long as their stats permit it), I will need to 'average' the capabilities of the ships. In that way special actions can be used to make the ships operate at higher speed, greater accuracy, etc, which brings unpredictability and a gaming element to the game. Furthermore a system of command & control needs to be implemented to influence and regulate the capabilities of the ships.

- Fast play:
An action with just a few ships per side should play out relatively fast, which is, if both players are familiar with the game, about an hour. Larger actions (10-20 ships per side) should be possible within 2 hours.

- A minimum amount of bookkeeping:
No table littered with counters and no extensive bookkeeping. So keeping track of hullpoints is ok, but writing down detailed orders at the start of the game is a no-go.

- Inclusiveness for both players: (by lack of a better term)
Players should not be sitting idly during the turn of the other player. There should be dice to roll, anticipation of what he is doing next, and most important, it could be his move any time now...

I think that's enough for a start. Next post I'll elaborate about the core mechanics I've thought up...

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