Recently I ran two games featuring night actions - or more properly I ran the same game twice. I thought I would commit some afterthoughts to the virtual paper in the Ethernet.
- An umpire is really, really helpful with any game featuring hidden movement or fog of war elements. Clearly a naval night action needs both (as do day actions in limited visibility like North Sea fog). In our group, we typically use a non-player GM for most scenarios so this was an automatic for us. In the past I've often had the GM take an active role, but I have to say I find the "neutral" GM leads to a much better game. Furthermore, it's fun to be the GM and not just so you can see heckle both sides afterwards.
- We used dummy counters and pre-plotted movement prior to sighting as per the GQIII rule book. It worked really well and the element of surprise was there until the moment that the last dummy was removed.
- In each of the two games we had newbies playing and (because I am a sadistic so-and-so) I gave them the no-hoper Italians. Actually, the GQ rule book suggests that newbies take the RMI or early war USN and the old salts take the IJN or RN. It does simulate the lack of experience in the crews and also gives a pretty easy hurdle to jump over in some cases! However, our landsmen acquitted themselves well.
- In this particular case, it helped to have the newbies play the more passive roles - in this case steaming on fixed patrols. It gave them less things to screw up and also gave them a few turns to learn the system. I continued this for the first couple of turns after sighting (that is after the RMI saw anything - the RN typically spots stuff much earlier), by having the old salts plot their movements and then we walked the newbies through moving their ships. In no time at all, the new hands were able to solo.
- I did not use the fratricide rules from GQ - although there were a couple of instances where there probably should have been the potential for "friendly fire". To be honest, it was a combination of faulty memory and a wish to be kind to players (and the GM). However, the GQ rules seem to be more appropriate for the Guadalcanal battles - where the USN hurt itself more than they hurt the IJN at times. Friendly fire doesn't seem to be a common event in the Med night actions. This may be related to the fact that the RN typically knew where their own ships were and the RMI had no idea where the enemy was until they started blowing them apart!
- For the players, there is a definite learning curve and it chiefly involves patience. Just because you spot something doesn't mean you should open fire on it! In fact, the side with the intelligence advantage will get the best bang for buck by waiting until they can properly capitalize on it. Get you sights locked on, get in proper position and then open up.
- In the GM's role I should have given the players a memory prod in tactics at time. A few comments like "you may want to wait", "do you want to use searchlights or star shell" can take the place of tactical doctrine and training.