Saturday, April 30, 2011

Battle of the Starter Sea -- analysis and strategy for the Axis & Allies War at Sea 2010 Starter -- Part I: The IJN

The current Starter Set for the War at Sea Axis & Allies naval miniatures game provides an interesting tactical puzzle for the players as well as being a good introduction to the game system.

At less than 50 points worth of units per side and just a total of 8 pieces it's definitely on the smaller side, but there's a considerable amount of reply value as the Starter shows that you don't need battleships to have a good game.

Each side has its strengths and weaknesses but they're evenly matched and good play will generally prevail even in a game as dicey as WAS. Either side can win, but winning consistently will mean paying close attention to both sides' values and special abilities.

The Axis side is represented by a pair of surface ships supported by one sub and a patrol bomber, giving the Japanese player a wide variety of threats.

The centerpieces of the Japanese force is the Heavy Cruiser Haguro, which fought throughout the Pacific campaign and met its demise in the last surface action fought during the Pacific War.

At 18 points it's the highest valued unit in the set and it justifies that high value with a nice array of powerful attacks. At a range of 0 or 1 the Haguro will roll 10 dice with its main battery gunnery, which is the highest total available in the set. This is 2 more dice than the base roll of the Allied forces' counterpart, the USS Montpelier, and is enough to almost guarantee getting at least a hit on the Montpelier. The Haguro's advantage drops off rapidly with range, however. At range 2 the Haguro only rolls 9 dice, while the Montpelier still rolls 8 and may roll 9 dice if it's still undamaged and has its Radar Fire Control SA. At Range 3 both ships roll 7 base dice and an undamaged Montpelier actually has a 1-die advantage. The American cruiser, if undamaged, also has a Range 4 shot of 8 dice. So the Haguro generally wants to close the range if possible. The Haguro's secondary gunnery factors of 4-4-3 are adequate to pose a threat to either of the enemy destroyers, but its AA value of 7 is only enough to occasionally abort the American Avenger and it will take a very good roll to shoot it down.

The Haguro's nastiest punch rests with its torpedo battery. With 3 dice at ranges of 0-1 and 2 dice all the way out to Range 3 the Haguro threatens instant death to any Allies ship within range -- the Montpelier being just as vulnerable as the Allied destroyers because of the Long Lace's 3-point slam.

The Haguro's special ability of "Tough Cruiser" is useful, with two Allied DD's in the game. Most of the time DD gunnery will fail to damage the Japanese heavy cruiser.

The Haguro in the larger game: The Haguro is the third Nachi-class cruiser to appear in the game and arguably the best of the lot. The Myoko from the base set is vastly too expensive at 24 points to justify a competitive purchase, there being cheaper ways to get a +1 flagship. It will probably only be used in games with class restrictions or historical scenarios. The Nachi from the Task Force set costs 1 point more than the Haguro, which probably doesn't justify its "Cruiser Killer" SA. Overall the Haguro is one of the better values among the IJN heavy cruisers with powerful surface gunnery and a strong torpedo battery.

The Terutsuki makes a good consort for the Haguro, although it's a mistake to consider it an escort for the larger ship. It benefits from the Haguro's proximity much more than the Haguro does from the Terutsuki. Dispatching the Terutsuki off independently (perhaps to seize an objective) is nearly suicidal as long as the Avenger is around -- and the weak Japanese AA means that the Avenger will be around. A bomb attack from the Avenger is almost certain to at least cripple the Terutsuki. The Terutsuki should stick to Haguro like its shadow, providing an extra chance to abort the Avenger, an additional anti-DD gunnery shot and a extra torpedo factor or two.

The Terutsuki in the larger game: The Terutsuki is pretty comparable to other IJN destroyers, although its "Rapid Fire" SA may be attractive if you expect to face a surface-heavy build.

The I-25 submarine is actually the No. 2 unit on the IJN side and the Japanese player will face an early decision on employment. It's tempting to send it to operate away from the Haguro-Terutsuki pair, but a bit risky as the Allies have three units that can credibly attack it. I think it's better to operate within supporting range of the surface group to force the Allies to choose between ASW efforts and dealing with the Haguro. I think it's worth stacking the I-25 with the surface units the first few turns to keep the Avenger from scoring early on I-25 until the main battle is about to begin.

The I-25 in the larger game: It's cheaper than I-26 and has a better SA than I-19, so its worthwhile considering for IJN builds.

Betty is the weak sister in the IJN lineup, but the G4M1 is hardly useless. The key, I think, is to be patient. Resist the temptation to try for a potshot torpedo run in the first turn or two, as all this will probably do is cost you the Betty for no result. The Montpelier's Heavy Antiair and the decent AA values on the other ships, combined with the miserable defenses of the Betty, mean there's little chance of getting through. On the other hand, if the Allied player splits off one of the destroyers to hunt I-25 or try to grab an objective then the Betty should strike. A little luck and the Allies will be down a DD. The Excellent Endurance SA will give you another chance if, as is likely, you get aborted the first time.

The Betty in the larger game: This Betty is the same 6 points as the Base Set version of the plane and the SA's are comparably useful -- which is to say not too much given the short expectancy of the plane against USN AA fire.

So the basic approach for the Japanese is to maneuver the Haguro/Terutsuki pair as a unit, looking for a chance to combine against part of the Allied fleet is the split up to grab objectives or otherwise slug it out at close range with guns and torpedoes, with the aide of the I-25. The Betty should be used cautiously at first, saving it for use against an isolated DD or a cripple.

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