My box arrived and out of the box things look mostly good. Although my box only had one set of Royal Navy MTBs and four sets of S-boats, leaving the Royal Navy very outnumbered (I've contacted Warlord about this, but the only response has been that they are very busy).
|Most of the contents of the Cruel Seas starter|
|Sample sprues - torpedoes (left), Royal Navy MTBs (center), and German S-boats (right)|
|Diving U-boat with the S-boat sprue for size comparison|
|S-boat painting guide|
|Royal Navy (left), tanker (center), and S-boat (right) ship cards|
The rules are a good introductory (easily accessible) set of rules, making for a good coastal forces gaming entry point. There are basic rules, to get players feet wet, advanced rules, for a little more depth, and 8 scenarios. The rulebook includes a basic history, information for different fleets, and a ship roster with additional ships. Overall, a nice introduction to coastal forces in WWII.
The rules themselves are pretty straightforward. Players put a fleet die for each ship in a bag or container. A die is drawn and then that side picks a ship to move and shoot. For movement, a ship can be stopped or move at Slow, Combat, or Full speed. Wake markers are used to show ship speed (and there is an advanced rule that inexperienced crews can lose control when crossing a wake). Turning is done at each 1/3 speed increment (so, if you are moving Slow, you can make one turn and you can make 3 turns at Full speed). Gunfire also takes place at each 1/3 speed increment move, with torpedo fire happening at the end of a ship's movement. Gunfire is a 5 or less on a d10 to hit, with a bunch of modifiers. Damage rolls are a number of d6s based on the type of gun attacking. Torpedoes move in a straight line and have a chance to detonate if they contact another ship. The advanced rules add in critical hits and repair rules.
There are some things I like in the rules, some things that I find questionable, some things I didn't like, and some missed opportunities. I've listed most of these below:
- I like the negative To Hit modifier for firing ships that are moving at maximum speed. This is especially good for the small MTBs/MGBs, which were not the most stable gun platforms when moving at high-speed.
- There are some interesting ideas in the Advanced Rules and additional weapons (Wake Crossing, Hull repair during battle, mortars).
- There are a good number of scenarios covering the most common coastal force encounters (although the set ups often only talk about British and German craft, so there was a missed opportunity to make it more generic and include ships from other sets they are selling).
- The index and bibliography are nice touches.
- Movement is a little odd in that you can only move at one of three set speeds and nothing in between. How ships turn was not explained very well, but the latest rule errata tries to clarify that.
- Spotting and visibility rules, which would seem to be an important part, are only used in one scenario and advanced rules related to spotting/visibility don't seem to be linked to any other rules. But the maximum recommended play area of 4' x 4' (120cm x 120cm) is pretty small (especially for the scale), so maybe they just decided you didn't really need visibility rules.
- Torpedo dud rate is based on firing crew quality, which just seems odd.
- Generic torpedoes with no differentiation between 18" and 21" torpedoes. They also include the Japanese 24" 'Long Lance' torpedoes, but only give them an increased speed and range.
- Generic aircraft. I think they could have given a wider variety of aircraft with different dice ratings, instead the Corsair works like a CR.32, a Stuka, and a Val. Although, this really is not a big deal, since it is primarily a naval game. So maybe this is more of a missed opportunity.
Things I didn't like
- Plumes, the rule seems a little backwards. If I understand it correctly they are saying it gets easier to hit a target the more people that are shooting at the target. The rationale appears to be that you can use previous shots to adjust for the next shot, but that should only work for one ship. Other ships firing would be more confused by all the shots hitting the water. This is one rule that I would suggest not using.
- The rulebook itself just doesn't seem like it was fully reviewed and polished. There are several inaccuracies in the histories, photo captions, and ship data (the rosters say a Hunt Type III destroyer has four twin 4" gun mounts and 4 quad 40mm mounts, while a Fletcher class destroyer has 5 x 4" guns). Warlord Games has posted the first set of errata for the rules that doesn't correct all the issues, but that just reinforces my opinion that it wasn't quite ready for the printer.
- I think there should have been a heavier focus more on smaller boats in the Ship Rosters and showing developments over the war. In my opinion, there are too many large ships listed. There is only one British MGB type listed, many of the American and German boats are listed with late-war armaments, and there aren't a lot of small boats for other countries. Given the size of the models, it seems like it would have been better to use more smaller ships, which could also keep the price a little cheaper too. This could have led to boxed sets for German coastal attack (S-boats vs. MGBs, merchants, and escorts), British coastal attack (MTBs vs. R-boats, merchants, and escorts), Pacific attack (U.S. PT boats vs. Japanese barges and gunboats), etc. Larger ships could have been added in a later supplement.
- Better Campaign rule layout. They could have put together a set of linked scenarios as a campaign, giving players more of a reason to come back to the rules and setting up supplement releases with more scenarios and campaigns. But the current rules are pretty vague on what to do.
Summing it all up, I would say that Cruel Seas is a good introduction to coastal forces in WWII. If you have an interest in the subject and haven't already taken the plunge, then this is a good starting point. If you are already playing with a set of rules you like, then there isn't much reason to switch. The models are nice and the size for smaller ships is appealing (doing a MGB vs. S-boat or US PT boat vs. Japanese landing craft battle in this scale would be visually appealing). But there are a limited number of ships in this scale (although I expect Warlord Games to keep putting out ships), limiting the types of scenarios that can be played.