Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on Movement

Typically, movement rules get short shift in many naval games.  Most rule sets use plotted movement rules (you know two steps forward, two left turns then straight ahead) and don't give much thought beyond that point.  I have some issues with everyone plotting movement and then revealing them simultaneously including

  1. It slows the game down.  Get a rules lawyer or a chess player in the game and things slooooowww down with players going through all the "if he does that and I do this options".
  2. It results in too many maneuvers.  Take a look at the tracks of the major actions over time - straight lines and gentle curves with a few major course corrections.  A case in point is the track of HMS Lion at Jutland - a 180 degree turn when the High Seas Fleet is spotted then a turn east to head off Hipper's battlecruisers.  Otherwise Beatty made small changes in course to change the range slightly, avoid destroyer attacks and the like.  Now compare the tracks in most tabletop actions - they look like toddlers' doodles by comparison - spirals and lots of changes in direction (often without any obvious long term plan).
  3. It's too easy to get directions backwards.  If there was one incident that drove home the problems with plotting movement, it was the sight of Von Spee's squadron getting it's T crossed at the Falklands instead of opening the range as desired.  With all the gyrations of maneuvers the player got his left and right backwards.
  4. It forces players to think relative of position in the sea, when in reality they should thinking relative to the position of the other squadrons.  Fixed landmarks make a lot of sense in land games, but at sea it's the enemy's fleet that's the benchmark - and that is a moving target.
Reading battle narratives it is clear while that admirals try predict their opponents moves, most course changes are made in reaction to enemy moves or combat results. Course changes are made to keep the range at its most favourable point, or in attempt to place your ships at the favourable range (this may mean running away when facing long odds or torpedo attacks!).  Alternately, a course may be maintained to block the enemy's passage or cross his T.  

While I've never commanded a squadron of ships in battle, I have skipped a sail boat in a regatta. Even with the objectives of fixed marks (bouys for you lubbers) to round, you find yourself constantly placing your boat  in position relative to your opponent.  If you are ahead, you want to go to the same side of the course as your opponent and vice versa if you are behind.  And just watch the boats jockeying for position coming up to a mark.

Of course not every rule book uses plotted movement, and a discussion of alternatives will follow in a future post.


  1. Hiya,

    A very thought provoking post - I will be interested where this takes you as I have wrestled with this and gotten nowhere! I thought about using a set of rules where the relative positions were used and basically the ships were static - merely opening and closing the range but this assumed that ships were lined up and heading in the same direction and at similar speeds. Obviously in the real world this happy state of affairs would not come to pass! There is a set of rules by Pzr 8 that cover naval games using zones which may be worth a look - check out to find them and see what you think.

    All the best,


  2. DC

    Thanks for the link - I'll have a look this weekend, if my wet basement and stacks of marking allow.


  3. I haven't commanded a squadron in battle either but have done officer of the watch maneuvers on sweepers and destroyers (yes long long ago ) .

    There is still a lot to be said for ye olde alternate move with either an initiative roll (or some other mechanism to decide who moves first) with the choice to go 1st or second. No poj t ot the 1st player zig zagging in an attempt to fool the other player. The 2nd side's move is then an adjustment to maintain/open close the range.

  4. Hi Peter,
    Peter Dunn advocated alternate moves ship by ship in his 1970 work Sea Battle Games. I did fight a fairly large (~20 ships per side) Napoleonic action back in the day using his rules, and it went pretty well.
    I have dreamed for years of doing a WWII campaign using his simplified global war system. That's all I need is to start collecting ships too!


  5. John

    I loved the campaign system in the Dunn book too. You can thank me later when you've got a fleet part way painted and are thinking of new periods to game!