Scott G
United States
Harrisonburg
Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Second World War at Sea – Bismarck – Commerce Raiding in the North Atlantic Review
Great Scenarios Using a Simple Maneuver and Buckets of Dice Combat System

Introduction

As a fan of Avalanche’s components and historical research and a huge fan of Avalon Hill’s old Bismarck game, especially the 1979 2nd edition, I was excited to get SWWAS: Bismarck. Despite its alphabet title, AVP’s Bismarck shares the same limitations of other SWWAS and Great War at Sea (GWAS) titles while offering some real information and insight to those who are interested in naval games.

The Good – Components, Research, Scenarios and Support

The goods are the standard goods for AVP titles. The map is good looking covering the B-I-G gap to the Spanish port of Ferrol. The components are nice, at least by traditional hex and counter wargame standards. The game uses the standard plotting movement and search system of GWAS and SWWAS titles with a die roll to see if you make contact when you wind up in the same space. AVP even includes four little die for you to use, though you’ll probably want to substitute a lot more and larger dice when you play. In short, if you’ve played any of the other games in the series, you’ll have no surprises with this version of Bismarck.

I liked how the ships were rated – the numbers on the counter signify primary – secondary – tertiary fire values along with speed above the ship, AA in the crosshair symbol to the lower right and torpedoes, if any, at the lower left. Capital ships get one inch long counters while auxiliaries and many DDs get standard half inch counters. Unlike say, Battle Stations!, all the ship ratings made sense to me. The German heavy cruisers can soak up a little more punishment than the British treaty cruisers due to their additional displacement (8 hull boxes versus 6, with the German Pocket Battleships getting 7 boxes). The Bismarck will need her historical luck if the Hood and Prince of Wales find her. As with Bomb Ally, airpower generation is handled abstractly, you don’t know the exact make up of each side’s air cover until you start to play the scenario.

What really sets the game apart is the included scenarios. The designer, Mike Bennighof clearly enjoys military research and alludes to his early fascination with the Bismarck campaign on the AVP website (which is a tremendous resource). He’s done a great job and the five battle scenarios and nine operational scenarios do a great job covering the early war (1940 – 1941) in this theater for commerce raiding. He also includes a hypothetical match up that might easily have occurred, between the Bismarck and the USS Texas, so major bonus points for that! As with most WWII Atlantic games SWWAS Bismarck includes rules to bring in the Graf Zeppelin. What’s especially impressive about this though is that you have to roll to see if she enters with an early or late air group. It makes a big difference if she threatens the Royal Navy with Me109s and Stukas or Arado 195s, 197s, and Fieseler 167s, none of which I had really heard of before learning about them off of the AVP website. About the only thing missing that I would have really liked to have seen the results of Dr. Bennighof’s research and work would have been a Norway scenario. This would have also made great use of the included French ships and allowed a much different feel than the cat and mouse aspect of most convoy raids.

The Problem...

My primary complaint is that the combat system is way too simplistic. Your maneuver choices basically consist of opening or closing the range and then rolling “buckets” of dice to resolve hits. In his online designer notes (http://www.avalanchepress.com/BismarckDesigner.php), Dr. Bennighof justifiably criticizes Avalon Hill’s included ships and scenarios, however, I wish he would have borrowed more from its combat systems. Even AH’s Bismarck “Basic Game” combat systems are far superior, in my mind, to those included here. Possibly this is because the SWWAS series started in the Pacific where there was much more focus on airpower. I am tempted, and would not be surprised if others, used alternative systems for resolving the combat generated through the operational scenarios of this game.

So on the plus side you get nice components backed by some solid research and tons of awesome online content and support to back it up. The downside though is that the core of what the game should be about, ship combat, is pretty simplistic. You make the call!

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

AVP’s Website for Bismarck, including a full index of the considerable online resources available for it is available here:
http://www.avalanchepress.com/gameBismarck.php
9 
 Thumb up
1.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
oystein eker
Norway
Unspecified
sola
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks - still have it unplayed.

Time to blow away some dust.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Chris Geggus
United Kingdom
Brentwood,
Essex
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks for that. Whilst subject, scale, content etc. are all high priorities with me, I think that your description of the combat has probably stopped me from wasting my money.

You are right. Nowadays we should be getting better or enhanced combat rules (as much as anything else) in these sort of games, rather than the basic dice-fest approach, particularly when compared with games that are 30 years old. I think the designer seems to have missed something here. I am inclined to agree with your viewpoint regarding the original Pacific theatre games versus Atlantic and all its very different approach to naval combat. Or else he just could not come up with a methodology that fitted into the size and cost of the game. It would be interesting to hear from the designer or anyone else connected with the game.

Nice review - appreciated.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matthew Barratt
United Kingdom
Royal Leamington Spa
Warwickshire
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I get the feeling that the tactical system was designed not to overwhelm the players with a multitude of decisions when fighting a battle the size of Jutland, at the expence of being somewhat short on decisions when one German raider faces a handful of Brits.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Xander Fulton
United States
Astoria
Oregon
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
MBarratt wrote:
I get the feeling that the tactical system was designed not to overwhelm the players with a multitude of decisions when fighting a battle the size of Jutland, at the expence of being somewhat short on decisions when one German raider faces a handful of Brits.


Certainly an important point - and to keep in mind, the 'core' of the game is not the tactical battles, but the campaign. IE., the campaign in GWaS/SWWaS is not merely a 'scenario generator' for a tactical wargame engine. The combination of operational + tactical details IS the game. It would be like complaining that the corruption track on Knizia's "Lord of the Rings" game doesn't have as many interesting decisions as the encounter boards...it's not really fair to pull out one piece of the game and stand it on its own against a different game entirely purpose-built to do that one thing.

Now, COULD you use the campaign as a scenario generator for another game system? Certainly. And could you 'fight out' every encounter in "Lord of the Rings" on its own battle board? Without doubt - in fact, there is an add-on that does exactly that.

The question is really how much time you want to dedicate to it. If re-enacting the entire 'Jutland' scenario in absolute detail is critical to you, and taking all summer to do it is fine, then "SWWaS: Bismarck" as a campaign with "Seekrieg 5" for the battles may be exactly what you want.

I think there is a lot of "out of the box" value in the current implementation, though. It does present tactical choices (open range/close range, with which ships doing each, who to target with what, where to fire, how to manage damage, when to try to retreat or push an attack, etc) without becoming so bogged down in minutia that the overall operation is forgotten. After all, how well Bismarck fights Hood in a one-on-one battle is largely irrelevant to the war itself. The question of Operation Rheinübung was how well Bismarck, Prinz Eugen, and supporting cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft could impact Allied shipping. Indeed, a better campaign would have no warship duels at all!

Quote:
the objective of the Bismarck is not to defeat enemies of equal strength, but to tie them down in a delaying action, while preserving her combat capacity as much as possible, so as to allow [Prinz Eugen] to get at the merchant ships in the convoy. The primary target in this operation is the enemy's merchant shipping; enemy warships will be engaged only when that objective makes it necessary and it can be done without excessive risk
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Rinehart
United States
Woodstock
Georgia
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Great Scenarios Using a Simple Maneuver and Buckets of D
I welcome the simple combat system. I own both this one and AH's Bismarck. I really enjoy the operational aspect of both games much better than the actual combat. For me, it's the thrill of the hunt or trying to run the gauntlet that offers more gaming fun. Plus, as others have said, if you want the uber detail use another system or roll your own.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Dauphinais
United States
Chesterfield
Missouri
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It is a nice review as other have said.

I do not agree that the Basic Combat System for TAHGC Bismarck '79 was better than that for Avalanche's SWWAS Bismarck. One particular problem with the Basic Combat system for Bismarck '79 was cruiser attrition of the Bismarck by the British since there were not even rudimentary armor penetration rules.

This is not to say that Avalanche's SWWAS rules could not be better, but rather that they are not junk. The only really troubling flaw for me is primary gun fire being allowed at DD/DE/TB class vessels. However, that can be fixed with a house rule. Note that the surface combat rules are an improved version of the WWI rules used for GWAS that have their ultimate origin in Benninghof's Black Sea Fleet game that was published by Pacific Rim. The GWAS rules were revised for SWWAS with WWII surface engagements in mind such as the night actions that occured in the Solomons.

I am currently playing the First Sortie Operational Scenario versus Pat McCormick on ACTS. This involves the first German sortie of the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst in the Fall of 1939. We are playing with the enhanced submarine rules variant from the Avalanche website. So far it has played out fairly well.

The unlucky Scharnhorst took some hull hits from a torpedo from a British sub before it could get out of the North Sea. Howevever, both the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst successfully got through the Scotland/Faeroe passage. Just after coming through the passage, the Rodney and Nelson (plus some destroyers) got a lucky surprise sighting which cornered the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. Both German ships took damage, but got away after getting a lucky speed damage hit on the Nelson. The two German Raiders have split and the British are getting a bit nervous (I hope!). The Strasbourg, Repulse and Furious have entered the map to join the chase. There is also a side show going on off Norway with British Light Cruisers trying to intercept what they hope to be the German Liner Bremen attempting to sneak back home from the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Germans could potentially sortie a small Light Cruiser task force of their own at any time -- though it will not be able to use off-map movement for raiding. So far the scenario has been great fun.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ryan Hanson
United States
Washington
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
I actually think the combat system works fine. As has been said many, many times, the meat of these games is in the operational realm, involving complex interactions between submarines, aircraft, convoys, surface task forces, raiders, carriers, mines, etc. The combat system has to resolve itself quickly because as it is the games take forever to play.

It's justifiable to say that the combat system does not suit your tastes, or did not meet your expectations, as this is all your personal opinion. To say that it is "bad", "ruins the game", "overly simplistic", etc, is unfair and fails to recognize that the combat system works exactly as intended, a rapid and fairly accurate way of resolving combat during an operational game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mark Mokszycki
United States
Snohomish
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I agree with Ryan. He has perfectly articulated my feelings about the GWAS/SWWAS games and combat systems.

The "big picture" operational aspect and the cat and mouse nature of these games is what's so appealing. Sure, you could add a more complex and realistic combat system, but then it would take much longer to play. The game would also lose much of its intended audience.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Scott G
United States
Harrisonburg
Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hansolo88 wrote:
To say that it is "bad", "ruins the game", "overly simplistic", etc, is unfair


I did not say any of these things. I said it did not involve a lot of decisions and did involve buckets of dice. If this was Jutland I would agree, a nice operations game with a quick tactical resolution is called for, but this is no Jutland, it's two German ships versus whatever units the Royal Navy can intercept them with. Does this ruin it, of course not, but should a review of the game highlight it, yes.

While I agree the cruiser issue is a legitimate concern in the 1979 Bismarck game, it's tactical system does allow for decisions and I really like the miniature feel of the advanced game rules.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Colin Raitt
United Kingdom
Boston
Lincolnshire
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I think the tactical system is quite well done. Surface ship commanders could choose speed, course and target. Guns should be fired as fast of possible so there is no decision to make. The single load of torpedoes might be held for close range or fired asap. Threatening a torpedo run is a desperate tool to control the enemies heavy ship movement. SWWAS covers these quite well. Optional rules have crossing the T. I would have added making smoke, firing arc for each gunnery point, ramming and let subs onto the tactical map.

HMS Hood's speed of only 2+ was a surprise. Seems her condensers had worn out.

The designer's comments on Bismarck not being designed as a raider were aimed at her fuel. 13 fuel boxes at fuel saving speed 2 gives a range of 104 hexes. Just enough to go from Bergen round Iceland, disrupt a convoy and on to Brest. Only the relatively well patrolled North Atlantic is within range. Raiding the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans would need close support from oilers. Lutzow and Scheer in contrast have 22 fuel boxes.

There are some speed oddities. Speed 1 equates to 4.5 knots on the operational map, which seems too slow even allowing for a zig-zag course.

On the tactical map in a 1 hour round a ship gets 1 more move than it's speed eg speed 2 moves 3, speed 1 moves 2.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Carlos
Spain
Sevilla
flag msg tools
mbmbmb
Speed 1 equates to 9 knots on the operational map.

36 nautical miles / 4 hours = 9 knots.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.