Friday, April 25, 2008

Jutland: Duel of Dreadnoughts review

With a mere four pages of rules (and not full pages, at that) Jutland: Duel of the Dreadnoughts is undoubtedly the lightest historical wargame published in Command Magazine.

It was an early example of designer Ben Knight's minimalist approach to wargame design, with everything stripped out but the essence of the situation. In this hex-and-counter wargame depicting biggest naval battle of World War I all the usual details standard in naval wargames such as critical hits, turrets, detailed maneuvers and such are subsumed into a very simple game system concentrating on the characteristics of the FLEETS rather than the individual ships. This game is clearly about the forest, not the trees.

The game, which was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 8, covers the battle proper, starting with the initial contact between scouting cruisers at 1530 hours. The game scale is one nautical miles per hex and 12 minutes per turn. Units are divisions and squadrons of warships.

The 4-page rule book describes a game of low complexity by wargame standards. The map is a modular expanse of ocean hexes that have to be cut out into nine sections. The starting positions are printed on the map, helping this game have a short set-up time of less than five minutes.

There are 100 counters (another 100 counters that came with the magazine are variants for several other XTR games.) A division of capital ships, representing 2-4 vessels, is comprised of the counter representing the ships themselves, and associated targeting counters for the main and secondary batteries. Light ships are represented the same way except each step are strength represents 2-3 light cruisers or destroyers and they have only one targeting counter.

Ships are rated for speed, torpedoes and armor strength. The targeting counter lists a "caliber" (attack value) and range. The Imperial German ships are black counters with yellow print while the Royal Navy ships are a hard-on-the-eyes red on dark blue.

The game turn uses a straightforward IGO-HUGO sequence with players dicing for the initiative. The low roller launches torpedoes and then moves his ships, followed by the second player doing the same. There's a die roll for visibility (the trend is for it to decrease over the course of the game) and then both sides assign target counters to enemy ships. Once all the counters are placed combat is resolved.

The number of firing ships is cross-indexed with the range on a gunfire table to determine how many dice to roll and the hit number. For example, the four fast battleships of Battleship Division 5, firing at the German Battle Cruiser Division 1.1 at a range of 10 hexes would have their fire strength of four quartered for a total of one die to roll with a hit on a "1." The same battleships firing at a point-blank range of one-hex would roll four dice and hit on a 1-4. If hit, the "caliber" of the gun is compared to the armor value of the target. For the fast battleships the caliber is "11" and the BC 1.1 armor value is "8." The armor value is subtracted from the caliber and a die roll compared to the difference, in this case "3." If the die roll is equal or lower, then an enemy ship is sunk or disabled and marked off the roster.

Torpedoes work similarly.

And that's just about it.

Victory is based on losses with the British getting a bonus if the end of the game finds them closer to the south edge than the Germans. The exact end is uncertain as visibility tends to decrease as time foes on. The game ends when visibility drops to four hexes or on turn 24.

The game is easily playable in one sitting and should not take the two-four hours discussed in the designer's notes.

There is just one scenario.


(Conditional Yes) For Wargamers: A simple and playable wargame that allows a large and complex naval battle to be played quickly. On the other hand, it may suffer from being neither fish nor fowl. Players who prefer land games are unlikely to be won over while naval gamers may miss all the details they love.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(Conditional No) For Euro gamers: If you want to fiddle with a hex-and-counter wargame this may be the ticket, but the game play is still a little clunky compared to most German-style games.

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