Friday, December 29, 2017

DANG 2017 - Seastrike!

This year’s DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) was Seastrike. The game covered a hypothetical war in the 1980s between two countries armed with weapons from the Western Powers. The opposing navies are basically a mirror image, with each having the same class of ships, except for their missile boats. Each side also had a squadron of attack aircraft and multi-role aircraft. The tactical game would use the Seastrike advanced rules, with some modifications for ranges and the addition of a CIWS weapon, which is carried on a couple of the ships in the game.
A nice photo of a Harpoon missile launch to get everyone in the missile mood
The campaign consisted of three scenario areas where the battles would be fought and a reserve area where ships could wait to be called as reinforcements for a battle. Each side had a “home” scenario area with a land-based command center, while the third scenario area was an international strait that separated the two countries. In honor to the old Avalon Hill generic wargames (and because I didn’t want to take the time to write up full histories for each side), I named the two sides Big Blue and Great Red, and the third scenario area was dubbed Avalon Strait. The basic victory conditions for the mini-campaign were to win two out of three battles. Although I set up a points system so that players needed to ensure that they still had a decent size navy after the battles for the post-battle positioning.

Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:00 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning, and munching on some breakfast snacks.

After a short review of all the rules (probably too short), the teams moved to their own areas to talk over how they would allocate their discretionary spending money to upgrade their fleets. The upgrades list included modifications for their ships, special armaments, and even spying on the enemy. Both sides picked some obvious upgrades, such as buying some air-launched surface to surface missiles for their strike planes, to some less obvious ones like improving the silencing on some submarines to make them harder to detect.

With the pre-game spending done, each side created task groups with ships and assigned them to the scenario and reserve areas. This is where the players did something that I didn’t really expect. During the setup, they asked if they needed to allocate a task group to each scenario area, I said no (I should have said yes). So, instead of planning to fight three battles, each side allocated a token force to their home scenario area and piled all their other ships into Avalon Strait. This meant that the Battle of Avalon Strait would decide the whole campaign. For the Battle of Avalon Strait, Big Blue brought their cruiser and all their frigates to the battle, splitting the ships into two task groups. Great Red brought their modern frigates and missile boats, split into two task groups, and their two extra quiet submarines. Both sides also put up four planes on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the strait. The surface task groups started on the edges of the strait, while the submarines set up in the middle of the board.
Blue frigate task group
Blue cruiser task group
One of the Red mixed frigate-missile boat groups
After moving and launching some helicopters on turn 1, both sides called for airstrikes.
Red players moving their ships
Blue groups done moving
Great Red couldn’t get any planes off the ground and even had some crash (a problem that would plague the Red air force all day). Big Blue’s airstrike made it into the area and Red’s CAP intercepted and shot down a couple planes. The other planes moved to fire missiles and drop bombs. There was some minor damage from one of the missiles, but all the bombs missed their targets (which would become an issue for both sides).
Blue airstrikes not hitting much
The ships continued to move closer. The Blue cruiser group closed in on the reported position of the submarines and sent out a few helicopters to search area. But the extra quieting on the subs helped keep them undetected.
Red helicopters lead the formation
Blue helicopters start their sub hunt
On the next turn, one of the Red submarines had closed into torpedo range and started firing. The sub was only able to get fire control solutions on a couple smaller ships, sinking one and damaging the other.
Torpedoes loose!
On the next turn, the surface force from both sides continued to close. Meanwhile, the Red subs continued their attack on the Blue cruiser group, sinking the cruiser (the group’s flagship) and one other ship. At the end of the turn, the cruiser group failed a morale check and was ordered to exit the area.
Opposing forces continue to close (sorry for the fuzzy photo)
Blue's cruiser sinking after torpedo hits
The other Red sub sinks a frigate
During the withdrawal, a Red sub got in one last shot, sinking another Blue ship. The group started out with seven ships, but only three were able to withdraw and one of those was damaged.
One more Blue frigate takes torpedo hits (with the failed morale die in the background)
Knowing that winning this sector would decide the war, the remaining Blue task group continued its charge toward the enemy. Their attacks sank a Red missile boat and frigate, but return fire sank two Blue ships.
The Commander of the Blue frigate group orders "All ahead, flank speed."
A Red missile boat goes down (the first ship loss for Red)
A Red frigate take missile hits
Return fire sinks two Blue frigates
Over the next couple of turns the Blue and Red forces started to intermingle, making it hard to pick out the different sides. Meanwhile, the second Red task group began getting into missile range of the remaining Blue ships.
Both sides move into pistol range
A couple more Blue ships were sunk, which pretty much sealed the fate of the Blue group and it failed its morale check. They had beat up the Red group they were facing, which also failed its morale check, but the remaining Red group had not taken any hits and controlled Avalon Strait.
More Red ships close for attack
More Blue ships take hits, while more Red missile boats move in from the right
With the battle, and war, over, we talked over what had happened. The Red subs proved to be decisive to the game, sinking four ships, damaging another, and forcing the Blue cruiser group to withdraw for no losses. None of the players expected the subs to be that effective. On the other hand, the airstrikes turned out to be a bust, which really surprised everyone. Both sides expected air power to play a major role in the game. While helicopters turned out to be useful for anti-surface work, they didn’t make up for the ineffectiveness of the airstrikes. A lot of that was the luck of the card draw, but we also had to remember that in the 1980s bomb attacks on ships were still not that effective.

Both sides agreed that there were things they would have done differently if they had known more about how the game would play out, so maybe there will be some interest in using the Seastrike system again for a rematch. The system is pretty easy to understand and provides clear results.
The 2017 DANG crew
It seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves and lots of food and drink was consumed. I was hoping for a couple smaller battles instead of one large one, but the large battle was fun too. With DANG XVI in the books, it’s time to start looking at some other projects and (maybe) think about a Seastrike rematch. On a side note, I did back the Kickstarter for the Naval Battle in Archipelago game, which is the spiritual successor to Seastrike, so that might get some time on the table too.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

DANG 2017 - Aircraft

With DANG 2017 just a few days away, I wanted to get up some photos of the aircraft that I'll be using for the game. The timeframe for the game is the 1980s/90s and, as with the ships, I wanted to use Western powers aircraft. I decided to look through the 1/600 scale aircraft from Tumbling Dice and Picoarmor (really Oddzial Ozmy) for my choices. Since it is a little harder to get Tumbling Dice aircraft, I went with the moderns from Picoarmor. In addition to helicopters for the ships, I wanted each side to have a group of strike aircraft and multi-role aircraft and settled on getting some French and American planes.

For the side with the American planes, I selected A-4 Skyhawks, an old favorite, and F-16As.
F-16 multi-role fighters
A-4 attack planes
For the side with French planes, I chose the SEPECAT Jaguar (a plane that doesn't get into many battles) and the Mirage F.1 (which seemed to be exported everywhere in the 80s - 90s).
Mirage F.1 multi-role fighters
Jaguar strike planes
On the helicopter side, as with the aircraft, I wanted widely used and exported versions. So I went with the Lynx (although the Picoarmor version is the land-based Army version and not the navalized version) for the majority of shipboard helicopters.
Lynx side-view
And overhead view showing the rotors
The helicopters from Picoarmor included a set of thin plastic rotors to cut out and place on the helicopters. The plastic is sticky backed, which I found a little hard to work with since I kept leaving fingerprints on the sticky part. But it does provide a nice effect. I used a red and blue tail flash as national identifiers for the game (borrowing from the old Avalon Hill Tactics II game where the opposing nations are Great Red and Big Blue).

I also wanted some heavier helicopters for use on the cruiser. I originally wanted to get some Sea Kings helicopters, but they were out of stock. Instead I went with the land-based version of the UH-60. My thought was that the Army would buy the helicopters and let the Navy use them as troop transports on the cruisers. So, in the game, these helicopters can't be used for anti-submarine work and only have a limited attack capability.
UH-60s with their printed rotors
Overall, I think the aircraft turned out okay. Sometimes I have a tough time getting the details on the small aircraft to come out exactly as I would like. But they will work for gaming, especially for gaming where they are any real national markings.

I'm not sure what metal Oddzial Ozmy uses for there figures, but I found it a little hard to work with when cleaning some of the flashing and drilling holes for the flight rods. But the quality of the casting is generally good and they have a pretty good variety of WWII and modern aircraft.

My next post will have the after-action report from DANG. It should be an interesting game.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

DANG 2017 - Ships

I’ve had a busy time at work lately, but I’m finally getting some photos of the ships for this year’s DANG up.
Example task force
and a similar force for the other side
As I mentioned in my previous post, the timeframe for the Seastrike game is the 1980s/90s and I picked ships from Western powers. The opposing navies are basically a mirror image, with each having the same class of ships, except for their missile boats. All the ship models are 1/1800 scale from Shapeways using the Frosted Ultra Detail material. I used a medium gray for the base hull color for one side and a light gray for the other side. For size comparison, the squares on the mat in the photos are 2 inches.

I figured each side would need a fleet flagship and since carriers or battleships wouldn’t be available, I went with the Tiger class helicopter cruiser. This is reminiscent of older gun-armed cruisers that were sold to South American navies.
Tiger class helicopter cruiser
I also thought each side should have some older ships that waiting for retirement, but can still have some use. For this I picked some Gearing FRAM class destroyers. These destroyers don’t carry missiles, but they are still useful because of the helicopter they carry.
The older Gearing FRAM destroyers
I also wanted to give each side a newer British ship, so I went will a Type 42 (AKA Sheffield) class guided missile destroyer.
Type 42 class DDGs
The main fighting force for each navy is provided by a group of six modern guided missile frigates. Two each of the U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry class (the model is really the Taiwanese Cheng Kung class), the Dutch Jacob van Heemskerck class and Kortenaer class.
Cheng Kung/O. H. Perry class FFG
Jacob van Heemskerck class (back) and Kortenaer class (front with the helicopter deck)
I also included some smaller corvettes/frigates in the Vosper Type 5 (sold to Iran as the Alvand class) and the Belgian Wielingen class.
Wielingen class (back) and Alvand class (front)
Rounding out the surface forces are the missile boats for each side, which is the one place where the two navies are different. One side uses German Type 143 and 143A class missile boats.
Type 143 and 143A missile boats
While the other has a pair of La Combattante III missile boats and six Chinese Type 037 II missile boats. The Type 037II boats are really out of place here, since the first one was built in 1991 and it is Chinese. But I wanted to have something a little different for the game and this class meets that goal.
La Combattante III (back) and Type 037 II (front) missile boats
Finally, each side gets four German Type 206 submarines.
Type 206 submarines
I need to do a few touch-ups on the ships and mount them on bases. Then I’ll work on painting up the aircraft for the game.

It will be interesting to see how the players organize their equal forces to give themselves an advantage during the game.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Planning for DANG 2017

With November almost over, I’m finally getting around to preparing for my yearly naval game: DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game). We had our DANG voting earlier this year and for this year's game the voters selected Seastrike!
The box cover of the last version of Seastrike
Normally the games up for vote are historical real or what-if actions. But over the past couple of years I’ve added in a couple imagi-nations type games, where the idea was to pick a historical era, let each side build a navy (within some guidelines), and let them fight it out. This year, I was persuaded to put the old Airel game Seastrike on the list for voting and, much to my surprise, it came out on top.

For those of you that don’t know much about the Seastrike, it small-scale modern naval warfare game that claims to provide a simplified but realistic simulation of the planning and tactics of modern naval combat today. It includes rules missile boats, corvettes, frigates, destroyers, submarines, helicopters, and multi-role aircraft and land-based sites. There are rules for ships up to cruiser size, but no aircraft carriers. Ship and aircraft movement is pretty simple and combat is resolved using special cards, included in the game, that are drawn to check for fire control lock-on and show the damage caused to ships by the major weapons groups. Overall, the rules should be easy for players to pick up.
A sample of the Seastrike combat cards
The next problem was coming up with miniatures and a campaign scenario. Because all the ships were going to be on the smaller side, I decided to check around for some larger ships. During my search, I came across the Amateur Wargames Figures store on Shapeways, which makes a bunch of different modern ships in 1/1800 scale. With the ships somewhat sorted out, it was on to figure out the campaign scenario.

Based on the rules, I wanted to set the game in the 1980s/90s and, rather than it being a superpower proxy war, I decided it would be a short war between two long-time rivals that were supplied weapons by Western Powers (think Greece vs. Turkey or Chile vs. Argentina). The idea being that these two rivals sat on either side of a vital strait and the West has decided that weapons (in our case ships and planes) would be sold in basically equal batches. That way one side wouldn’t get the upper hand on the other and cause problems. But for this campaign, both side are ready to fight, even if it is with equal forces. The campaign will consist of three scenarios, with each side allocating ships to each scenario before it is fought. The side that wins two out of three battles will win the war. Although players must also ensure that they have a navy for the post-war bargaining. There will be some pre-game twists that allow players to purchase modifications for their ships, special armaments, or political/spy maneuvers.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. I think it should be an interesting, quick, and fun game. I'll post updates on the ship and aircraft miniatures as I get them painted.

We've played a wide variety of games for DANG, so I don't really feel too bad about taking a detour away from a truly historical game this year. Here are links to recaps of DANG from before 2010, the 2010 Lepanto game, the 2011 American Civil War river game, the 2012 War of 1812 Lake Ontario game, the 2013 Operation Landcrab game, the 2014 Cogs of War game, 2015 The Shores of Tripoli game, and last year's The Big Stick game.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Some quick thoughts on ARA San Juan

As a former U.S. Navy submariner and general naval enthusiast, I try to keep up with naval events around the world, but I reserve a special place for submarines. This past week I’ve been following the news (and lack of news) on the Argentinean submarine San Juan.
ARA San Juan, a TR-1700 class submarine
For those you that haven’t been following the story, The Argentinean Navy lost contact with the submarine last week. Information about the sub’s last contact and other details have been trickling out all week. Reports of possible satellite contact, flares, life rafts, and underwater noises have raised hope that the crew was trying to contact rescuers. But it has been more than a week since there was confirmed contact and with reports coming out today about an explosion near the sub’s last know position, hope that the sub and crew are okay has diminished.

This latest incident, along with the news coming out of the U.S. Seventh Fleet this past year, is just another reminder of how dangerous being in the military and going to sea (and in particular going to sea in submarines) is, not that we really need that reminder.

I know that submariners are a particularly crafty and innovative bunch, so I still hold out hope that the crew of San Juan (including Argentina’s first woman submariner) will be found safe. But the realist in me knows that time for the search and rescue operation is running out and I expect that it will turn into a search and recovery operation soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Photos from the 2017 NHMGS Game Day

Sunday was the NHMGS game day at the Museum of Flight. We had seven games, spread over two game periods, with 30+ gamers.
A view of the gaming area under the Blackbird
Our information table packed with painted figures, rules, reference books, and old curmudgeons
The morning session games were:
Rorke’s Drift in 28mm. The terrain and figures were really great and it looked like a desperate situation all around. The Zulus had overrun the hospital by the time the session ended.

All Quiet on the Martian Front, with some interesting looking stuff. Especially the giant land battleship.

Close Action Napoleonic Age of Sail game with some very nice, fully rigged 1/700 miniatures. This game also ran in the afternoon game period.

In the afternoon there was a Star Wars Armada game with lots of players. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Sven Lugar ran an old-fashioned Fletcher Pratt naval game, but I did not get any photos of that, because I was helping to run a game on the air attacks at San Carlos in Falklands.

Before the bombing runs started, each side had to make decisions about forces and deployments. The Argentinians selected two flights of Armada Skyhawks and a flight of Daggers for the attack and planned their approach. The British posted four Sea Harriers over the landing zone, with two more patrolling the expected approach paths and two more on ready reserve at the carriers. We resolved the off-board issues and the Argentinians rolled very badly. They had one plane abort and three others shot down before they event got on the map (maybe my off-board activities are a little too harsh).
Target for Today
The remaining planes choose to attack HMS Fearless, the amphibious assault ship, and bypass the much closer and easier target of HMS Antelope, an Amazon class frigate. The Sea Harriers swept in and knocked down three more attackers. One A-4 and one Dagger were able to get close to Fearless. The Dagger dropped its bombs and got a hit on the large ship, but the bomb turned out to be a dud. The A-4 was lined up for its attack, but before it could release its bombs, gunfire from a Sea Harrier knocked out its bomb system. It was not a good day for the Argentinians.
Daggers bypassing the frigate
Target in sight!
Closing in for the attack
Bombs away! One hit, but its a dud!
Overall, our gamer turnout was good, but I think the sunny weather (after a week of mostly rain) and being Sunday with a Seahawks football game limited museum attendance. We did get a chance to talk with several people about our hobby and even the ones that didn’t stop to talk seemed to take a peek at all the painted figures. The game day is always a good opportunity to show off the hobby to the general public and the museum is a really great forum for it.