Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Take on Cruel Seas

I have mixed feelings about Warlord Games. I like Bolt Action and Gates of Antares for quick skirmish games, but I didn't care for Black Powder and, after reading the basic rules, passed on Blood Red Skies. When the announcement came out that Warlord would be doing a WWII coastal forces game, I was intrigued and decided to pre-order a Cruel Seas starter set.

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
The ship models look very nice and the larger-scale will provide good visual battles. One issue with the model sprues is that they could use more weapons. I'll be interested in seeing how Warlord supports the line with future releases. I'm also hoping for some separate weapons sprues (and crews), so you can do a little more customization of the models to show boats at different time periods.
Sample sprues - torpedoes (left), Royal Navy MTBs (center), and German S-boats (right)
Because I pre-ordered the starter set, I also got a submerging U-boat miniature as a bonus. It is an interesting choice for a miniature subject. Especially since the 20mm gun still has the crew and they don't seem too concerned about being left behind.
Diving U-boat with the S-boat sprue for size comparison
The starter box also included a painting guide, which is a nice touch. Especially for people that don't know much about WWII coastal forces.
S-boat painting guide
There are also data cards for each of the ships, which show the ship information (speed, weapons, hull points, etc.) are used to track damage. The cards are a nice touch, especially for newer players.
Royal Navy (left), tanker (center), and S-boat (right) ship cards
The physical components in the box are good and can get players started on playing games pretty easily. Next up I went through the rules.

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.

Questionable things:
- 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.

Missed Opportunities
- 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.  


  1. I've gone through my copy and was pretty excited getting it, but couldn't agree with you more on your review. I felt exactly the same. Though I think I can house rule some stuff.

    I'd be interested on your thoughts comparing PT Dockyards Flaklighter II, that is if you have it. It was meant to play with 1:600 if I remember correctly.

    Thanks for the review and happy New Year!

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for the comments. Cruel Seas seems to have brought out a lot of interest in coastal force stuff, which is good. Hopefully there will be some interest in the 1/600 scale stuff too.

      I haven't played Flaklighter II. I've pretty much stuck with David Manley's Action Stations, but I'm looking forward to seeing his new rules.

      I hope you have a Happy New Year too.


  2. I received the "Collector's Edition" boxed set for Christmas. While I like the minis, I was a bit miffed at the price point ($190, if the web site is correct) and the fact that the "game mat" you get is just a paper mat. The only extras you get in the collector's set is a hard-bound rule book and a merchant ship miniature (that is badly warped, but fixable). A but underwhelming - although I am thankful to my dear wife for the gift!

    1. Thanks for the comments. The merchant ship seems nice (hopefully your model can be fixed) and I like the other ship models. The Cruel Seas products do seem to be a little pricey. But I'm not really involved in the industry, so I don't really know the costs. I hope you get some use out of the ships.

  3. DaveShoe, When you, Kevin, and Here Sullivan "decide to go coastal" please keep me in mind
    I appreciate the reviews and added comments