Thursday, August 14, 2014

Transposing Naval Scenarios Part One

When I was in my teens, my guitar teacher used to have me transpose the chord progressions from Beatles tunes to different keys.  He did it as a learning exercise and also for practical reasons like finding a set of chords that worked in first position.  The exercise reminds me of something that gamers do regularly : take a scenario from history and use if in another period if setting.  C. S. Grant does that in his scenario books with games based on battles like Fontenoy, Thermopylae, Sedge moor and Flodden which can be used for ancient, medieval, hires & musket or modern eras.  When I am bored I like to think up ways of doing this with naval battles from history.

Case in point would be the Savos Island games our group (and the Mad Padre) played last year.  The genesis came from my reading a history of the Guadalcanal campaign (Neptune's Inferno).  There are series of nasty, brutish and short naval battles that have been played many times using US and Japanese fleets.  I wanted yo game the fights but didn't have the "right" ships.  In this situation there are two options.  The Sylvain option involves considering building the entire fleets for the Pacific War.  Yes he has threatened to build all of the ships required, but he may have been cured!  The Tim Gow option involves taking something on hand and making it work - much more to my taste, attention span and budget!  I had WW2 ships from the Mediterranean theatre.  A glass or two of red wine for lubrication and a think through and Bingo!  Savo becomes Savos and we're dealing with Italian amphibious operations in the Aegean interdicted by the a Royal Navy.

So here goes the Dummies Guide to Naval Transposition.  For simplicity I will use Red and Blue fleets in place of the IJN and USN.

Step One Identify the key features of the scenario

  • Blue is escorting a fleet of transports that have successfully landed on Red territory
  • Blue has detached a squadron to guard against Red's forces.  The Blue squadron is patrolling a straight that stretches from one board edge to the other, but there is an island midway in the straight so Blue needs to split his forces into two groups.
  • Blue plots his patrols in advance and should move at economical speeds until contact us made. I used string to mark the patrol areas and scatter dice to note where the head of each column lies on turn one.
  • The scenario takes place at night, spotting, identification and target acquisition will be critical.  There should be a chance of "friendly fire".
  • Red has a force of roughly equal size to Blue but should have significant advantages in fighting ability and spotting ability.
  • Red is ordered to pass through the straight and attack the transports.  Red plots his course in advance and follows his plots until contact is made..
  • Red cannot linger and needs to get his squadron away in good shape to fight another day.  Historically US air power ruled the skies over Guadalcanal and lame duck Japanese ships caught in the area come day break were quickly sunk.
  • In historical context Red wins if he exits the board yo attack the transports.  However, Red also wins by crippling the Blue squadron at low cost.  Historically, The IJN achieved the latter at Savo Island and withdrew without bothering the transports.
  • Blue wins if the Blue squadron is able to sustain the patrol lines and the transports are safe.  Historically the USN achieved this in later actions in the campaign.
Now taking these key points and translating them will come in part two.


  1. Good post Peter. I remember that displaced Savos Island game very fondly. I've always loved the idea of naval wargaming but, unlike Sylvain, balk at the idea of building the necessary fleets. Maybe once I finish my 6mm Napoleonics project I'll consider navwar minis and try out your ideas here.

  2. Mike
    I am glad you enjoyed the game. We've played it a couple of times and it gives a good fun shoot'em up with a nice tense build up prior to contact. If you go naval, my advice is start with the smaller stuff destroyers and cruisers so that the scale of the actions stays easy to manage. The battle wagons are fun to read about, but the smaller stuff does most of the fighting.