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Subject: The "Great War at Sea" family of games: what's the verdict ? rss

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Roger Hobden
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My attention to these games was attracted recently because of a thread of one of these games, Second World War at Sea: Horn of Africa, had a post stating that it was already out of print, despite having been published in 2013.

I have never had a chance to sample any of these games, but reading the reviews and comments make me more confused rather then less, because the ratings seem to go from "10" to "1", and the opinions clash considerably.

My interests are driven more towards the time period where airplanes did not play a significant role in naval conflict.

Which would be the top 5 or 10 games in the pre-WW II subsection of that series of games, and why ?

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J.L. Robert
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I'm not too familiar with the series, myself. But the variance in ratings is likely because the ratings come from a variety of voters, from actual fans of the series to those with an axe to grind against Avalanche Press.
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Ryan Powers
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Haven't played any GWaS games, but my general philosophy re: Avalanche and quality is: Big series game = good, individual game = buyer beware. There are definitely some good individual games, but I'd investigate thoroughly before purchasing.)

With that in mind, my guess would be a solid enough system. I'm with you re: naval games sans aircraft. I'd personally be all over trying GWaS if there was VASSAL support (that's reason I own very few, possibly zero Avalanche games regardless of quality at this point.)
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Andrew N
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I only have one game from the series, and I haven't played it against anyone else, so just FYI. I really like it, and I wish I had opponents. The operational game seems really neat, but it's not really solitaire friendly. The tactical game is simple, but very dice heavy. Not a problem for me, but that seems to be the main complaint I've heard.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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I tell folks to check the comments for a particular game instead of just looking at the aggregate rating. In this case, it's not too enlightening.

So, this leads me to make a remark about folks rating games, and a plea: Comment your ratings, folks!

Aggregate ratings are all fine and dandy, but it's the comments that really help folks determine whether they want to play a game or not. Consider the following two games, both rated 10, by their comments:

"Game A is a slick little presentation of naval warfare in the interwar period. It plays quickly and with a minimum of rules fuss, while still retaining the essential character of naval warfare in the time period..."

"Game B is a deep, intense experience of naval warfare in the interwar period. The rules and gameplay dig into the crucial details of the time period. Every contingency is accounted for..."

Those few sentences portray radically different games. Just a few sentences per comment can help a fellow gamer find the game he's looking for.
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Andrew N
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I definitely second everything Robb said, and would also say to read the reviews for a few games in the series. See if there are any from BGG'ers you recognize, and which ones have gotten a lot of recommendations (thumbs), and start with those first. They're not going to all say the same things, but if you read through a few of the better ones, it should give you a good idea what to expect.
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Colin Raitt
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I found no problems with the rules for this (unlike their version of Third Reich). Aircraft are quite weak in Bismarck. British carrier aircraft are poor. The Luftwaffe has cracking good Stukas but they aren't always available, have limited range, are land based and often grounded by weather.

Avalanche Press also produce the Great War At Sea series which might be more what you are after.
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Rich Payne
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I own a substantial chunk of the GWAS series, and they are good games, if they are what you're looking for.

Let me explain what I mean by that. If you want a detailed tactical simulation, go and buy somethimg from the Admiralty Trilogy. GWAS/SWWAS uses a 6-to-hit combat system that allows battles to be conducted, at the most basic level, without even a tactical map. While the games contain battle scenarios, they are not what the system is really about.

What it is really about is fuel use, logistics, allocation of forces to various tasks, moving troops and supplies, raiding enemy coasts and amphibious ops. The real action is on the operational scale, and the scenarios in any game provide examples of all of the above.

You should also know that while Jutland is primarily historical, about half of Mediterranean, and the vast majority of the books feature might-have beens or completely fictional wars of the interwar period: the US Rainbow plans are very heavily covered. That is 99.9% of the appeal for me, but it puts some people off.

I would advise picking up a copy of Pacific Crossroads, which was designed as an introductory game for the series. And obviously, stick to GWAS for scenarios before aviation became a decisive factor (although the series has many mainly hypothetical carriers and scenarios to use them in).
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Tom Shydler
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I found the strategic system to be boring and the tactical system to...not be tactical. Games where you "stack" battleships have a bit of built-in absurdity. Sold all mine, WWI and WWII.
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Roger Hobden
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wernervoss wrote:
I definitely second everything Robb said, and would also say to read the reviews for a few games in the series. See if there are any from BGG'ers you recognize, and which ones have gotten a lot of recommendations (thumbs), and start with those first. They're not going to all say the same things, but if you read through a few of the better ones, it should give you a good idea what to expect.


The proportion of gamers on BGG who like WW I naval conflict seems much, much smaller then the proportion of gamers who enjoy tactical or operational land WW II games, however, and are probably not even the same individuals …
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Roger Hobden
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Skiprydell wrote:
I found the strategic system to be boring and the tactical system to...not be tactical. Games where you "stack" battleships have a bit of built-in absurdity. Sold all mine, WWI and WWII.


Thanks for your feedback.

I would also be interested by the opinions of those who enjoy the system.
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Enrico Viglino
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Mallet wrote:


The proportion of gamers on BGG who like WW I naval conflict seems much, much smaller then the proportion of gamers who enjoy tactical or operational land WW II games, however, and are probably not even the same individuals …


True enough, but there should be a few dilettantes out there.
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Rich Payne
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Skiprydell wrote:
I found the strategic system to be boring and the tactical system to...not be tactical. Games where you "stack" battleships have a bit of built-in absurdity. Sold all mine, WWI and WWII.


Tactical play is very simple - perhaps too simple at times. The Admiralty Trilogy covers tactical combat in this era much better. In the original GWAS:Mediterranean, the ship pieces were not even put on a map, simply being abstract representations of the ships in two fleets that were in combat. I tend to use the basic combat rules when playing operational scenarios because they are much quicker, but using the tactical rules from SWWAS can make things a bit more interesting if you're playing your battles of the tactical map.

The game is really about the operational aspects, and if you want detailed tactical simulation you will be disappointed, as you would if you bought OCS to experience the tactical detail of ASL laugh
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Rich Payne
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calandale wrote:
Mallet wrote:


The proportion of gamers on BGG who like WW I naval conflict seems much, much smaller then the proportion of gamers who enjoy tactical or operational land WW II games, however, and are probably not even the same individuals …


True enough, but there should be a few dilettantes out there.


That will be me then
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Tim Benjamin
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I love the series even though the Great War at Sea: Dreadnoughts tactical module and a significant number of 'rules gap' fixes are needed.
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Roger Hobden
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vulcan558 wrote:

The game is really about the operational aspects, and if you want detailed tactical simulation you will be disappointed, as you would if you bought OCS to experience the tactical detail of ASL laugh


This is exactly what I find interesting.

I don't want to start worrying about the angles of fire and similar minutiae.
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Rich Payne
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Mallet wrote:
vulcan558 wrote:

The game is really about the operational aspects, and if you want detailed tactical simulation you will be disappointed, as you would if you bought OCS to experience the tactical detail of ASL laugh


This is exactly what I find interesting.

I don't want to start worrying about the angles of fire and similar minutiae.


That's good news, because the tactical rules don't worry about them either
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Scott G
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This series of games has GREAT scenarios. However, I did not like the overly simple "battles" and buckets of dice system. But since you are not too interested in tactical battles, it may suit you well. I prefer 1979 AH Bismark system.
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Martin McCleary
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I have games from both the WWI and WWII series. The approach is similar in both: they model, as already noted, task forces / groups of ships.

Tactical resolution is on a separate map and is resolved fairly abstractly, there are rules for ship speeds, torpedoes, and main guns vs secondary vs tertiary, etc. Finding the opposing fleet is very much a challenge and is a main component of the system.

None of the ones I have fit comfortably on a smaller 3 x 5 foot table. You need space for the operational and tactical map as well as all the charts that keep track of airfields and their aircraft.

These games also take a while to play so if you have a fellow player be prepared to put a fair amount of time into it.

They are both good games series if you like a higher level view of a naval operation. For folks into tiny tactics this is not the series for you.
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Warren Bruhn
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Rallye72 wrote:
They are both good games series if you like a higher level view of a naval operation. For folks into tiny tactics this is not the series for you.


We "folks who are into tiny tactics" often like to have an operational campaign game to give the tactical battles meaning. I have not personally used The Great War at Sea family of games for this, but it gets mentioned on the naval miniatures forums. I'd recommend either Naval Thunder or Fleet Action Imminent for resolving the tactical battles.
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Enrico Viglino
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wryone wrote:
This series of games has GREAT scenarios. However, I did not like the overly simple "battles" and buckets of dice system. But since you are not too interested in tactical battles, it may suit you well. I prefer 1979 AH Bismark system.


How easy would it be to convert GWAS to other tactical systems?
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Robert Hammond
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I'll chime in and for what it is worth repeat much of what has already been said.

I do like the operational aspects of the game. All the more so because my limited experience with the GWAS system has been through double blind games. Played double blind even the tactical game had some interest.

Having said that, the tactical system is rather quick and dirty and is there to allow a quick resolution of the engagements that develop from the flow of the operational game. If you are not prepared to accept that then yes, the tactical game is underwhelming, but can easily and seamlessly be replaced by a more sophisticated tactical such as the already mentioned FAI or another tactical game of your choice.

I'll second the previous comment about adding the "Dreadnoughts" supplement to the base game.

I'm no big fan of AP, and I do think they have dropped the ball by not allowing these games to be _supported_ by VASSAL, but that is their call. Still I am fond of the gaming experience this system has provided me and would recommend it to anyone interested in the operational aspects of naval warfare during WWI.

[edit for the inevitable typos...sigh]
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Robert Hammond
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calandale wrote:

How easy would it be to convert GWAS to other tactical systems?


Quite easy I would say. The only interaction between the operational and tactical systems that would need consideration are the effects of damage on the speed ratings of the ships when returned to the operational game and the affects of combat speed on the fuel consumption of the ships.

Given that the GWAS system specifies the length of a "combat turn" and most tactical games do likewise, it should be a simple calculation to determine the appropriate amount of fuel consumed during the tactical game.
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Roger Hobden
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So what would be the shortest, longest, and average lengths of the scenarios of Great War at Sea: The Mediterranean, and Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War ?

1 to 4 hours ?

5 to 8 hours ?

9 to 12 hours ?

More then a day ?
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Tim Benjamin
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The Operational scenarios vary by more than a factor of 10 in both number of turns and number of ships involved (typically more turns include more ships). Usually 1 side has to do pre-planning (written orders) for some/many ships/fleets for the entire length of the scenario. Once that is finished the Operational turns can be under 5 minutes each, even with several+ ships/fleets on each side. However, large fleet battle with the Great War at Sea: Dreadnoughts tactical rules can take hours. So a given (shorter) scenario can have no 'intercepts' and play in a couple of hours (after pre-plotting) or all day+ if there are many tactical battles.

PS I'd have a scenario set-up continuously if I had an interested ftf opponent so scenario length is unimportant to me, one ends and the next starts.
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