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Subject: Is your basement big enough for this game? rss

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MK
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Coshocton
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There are plenty of "board games" without a board - card games, for example - but few war games are ever put out without a board or at least a flimsy paper fold-out map.

Jutland, however, has no board. It needs no board. If Jutland actually had a board, it would be larger than the map for Campaign for North Africa. You literally must play this game on the floor, and it had better be a big floor with no obstacles, stationary or otherwise (e.g., cats, small children, sudden gusts of breath, etc.)

Jutland pits the British navy against the German fleets in the North Sea and Scandinavian waters during WWII. The British fleet is comprised of numerous ships with lighter armaments and armor, while the German fleet, though smaller than the British, is better armed in general and employs U-boats for submarine attack. Each player divides up his/her navy into different fleets, and keeps track of each fleet's location and movement on a small paper map, hidden from the other player (starting to sound like Battleship? Think again). Players maneuver their fleets in the seas more or less blindly until opposing fleets meet up in the same area - and then you go to battlestations.

This generally means it's time to get down on the floor and line up your ships for a fight. Using a very long ruler (usually provided, though you may end up needing to make your own) to calculate distances, players set their ranges and begin moving their ships to close range. The ruler is the movement key, as it not only determines how far and fast a ship can move but also how quickly it can turn. It also helps judge how far away an enemy ship is when firing upon it.

Statistics for each ship are tracked separately during the battle, so a fair amount of patience with record-keeping is necessary for this game (not far off from the level in Star-Fleet Battles - and, be prepared to make multiple copies of the record sheets!). Ships may be destroyed, of course, or may be able to escape the engagement when outnumbered/outgunned, though there's no real way to repair damaged ships out on the open sea.

Once an engagement is completed, one way or another, players return to tracking their fleets on the hidden maps again. If one player routed the other in a battle, he will usually try to pursue the wounded fleet to its end and prevent it from linking up with another, stronger fleet for assistance and a counter-attack. Of course, if that happens, it's time to get down on the floor again and fire away...

This is one of the few war-games that I actually ever enjoyed, even though I never once won (might have something to do with always being relegated to the German fleet...), and I suspect the unusual aspect of playing on the floor instead of a board contributed to this. It may also be the fact that the cardboard pieces were fairly detailed in their depictions of ships, unlike many wargames that reduce batallions and brigades to an abstract symbol with multiple numbers on them. To some extent, it was almost like playing a miniatures game - and, in fact, you could play this game with miniature ships instead of the cardboard chits, although you'd need detailed paint to distinguish one ship from another!

Jutland requires a very high level of tactical thinking (not necessarily strategic thinking) at the battle level. The German player, usually outnumbered in battles, must protect his ships from being surrounded and concentrate fire power on British ships one by one to wipe them out quickly, before they can gang up. Conversely, the British player must use his superior numbers to make up for lack of fire and lack of protection, and maneuver his ships to maximize damage and minimize losses if possible. Tactical planning of movement is critical, as being able to see where your ships can turn and move, and where they will end up, will help determine whether your ship can fire a broadside attack or end up at the receiving end of a broadside.

There is a small amount of long-range planning, of course, mostly concentrated on effectively dividing your navy into strong fleets, merging fleets when necessary, and so forth... but you can be weak on this end and strong on the tactical end and win, whereas no amount of pre-planning with poor tactical maneuvering will help you to victory.

Jutland also requires a LOT of patience - record-keeping, long battles that can take an hour or more to finish, etc. are all contributors to the length of play.

Naturally, this is no game for a casual gamer or even a casual wargamer, and some passing interest in naval battles is requisite to make this decently fun. But it is unusual enough in its design to be a good addition to a grognad's game shelf, and it plays well even if it is a long and involved battle recreation. On the plus side, of course, a game can be played over several sessions on different days, as there is no board to preserve - just keep the records and paper maps, and you're ready to begin again next Saturday.

Overall - if you're a wargamer and you find a copy of this, get it and enjoy.
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Paul Campbell
United Kingdom
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Dear fellow geek

One Minor correction - The Battle of Jutland was 31 May 1916. That puts it in WW1, not WW2 as quoted. Considerable difference in technology, strategies and training. If you compare Admiral Cunningham, Mediterranean Fleet WW2 with Admiral Jellicoe, Grand Fleet (Scapa Flow, Orkney) WW1, you will find his operational philosophy much more aggressive than Jellicoe, who was pre-occupied with preserving the fleet as intact as possible. I refer to Grand Fleet Battle Orders, drawn up by Jellicoe and agreed with Admiralty, citing 40 pages of strict battle proceedure, creating a spirit of compliance rather than opportunism, in 1914.
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