MOAB this year had me clearing the decks for action in my first tournament of Broadside: Empires of Steel, a home-brewed game by Andrew Tanner and Ben Wynn. I was drawn to WW1 naval as one of those ideal moments in military history, when the rock-paper-scissors balance of units makes for an excellent tabletop game. Battleships threaten cruisers, which threaten destroyers, which threaten battleships. Plus the game designers had kindly supplied me with a French fleet of utterly cool steampunk machines in return for painting them and taking photos.
The tournament consisted of five rounds across Saturday and Sunday with fleets worth 600 points. That’s a decent sized force, but nothing like Jutland, so we could get through each game in under 2.5 hours.
First round was against Aaron who fielded a Royal Navy fleet consisting of battlecruisers and light cruisers. What, no destroyers? I soon learned the British can make up for it with torpedoes mounted on everything else (remember this lesson for the last round). With 3 pre-dreadnought battleships, 2 armoured cruisers and a ridiculous 8 destroyers (in 2 squadrons), I felt ready to swarm anything. We were both inexperienced with the rules and got off to a slow start, especially with so many ships to activate! The scenario was “Out of the Fog”, which pits opposing battle squadrons against each other with scattered reinforcement opportunities. I finally got all 13 ships on table against Aaron’s 7 or so bigger ships and when time was up, he had edged ahead in the body count by taking out several of my weak destroyers.
Round 2 saw me face David, who I soon discovered was a playtester of the rules… Oh great! He had an intriguing Italian fleet, consisting of a big nasty dreadnought (this was a recurring theme with the more experienced players), an armoured cruiser, several light and protected cruisers and a squadron of powerful destroyers. The lesson from this game was David’s use of a “destroyer leader”, a light cruiser which can really help destroyer command and control. The combat mission was “Stand Off”, where both fleets are sailing to navigation points before sunset after 6 turns. Naturally I ignored the objective and drove my fleet headlong at the Italians, though by game end David had sunk more of me and neatly achieved the objective with his flagship, protected cruiser and a destroyer or two. My plethora of weak destroyers was no match for good destroyers supported by light cruisers and the pre-dreadnoughts couldn’t keep up to use their guns with much effect.
By now I was quite exhausted moving my horde fleet and dropped a destroyer from each squadron. I also swapped the pre-dreads for a couple of nice Courbet class dreadnoughts, France’s first true dreadnoughts (though not her most powerful). Adam, my third opponent had a German fleet, finally the bad guys! This is when I faced the most powerful ship of the tournament, the dreadnought Bayern, with horrific range-band 18 guns and armour protection 2, as good as it gets. Still, his floating palace left him fewer points for everything else and his fleet wasn’t large, a mix of cruisers and a couple of destroyers. With the combat mission being a good old fashioned “Open Sea Duel”, all was not lost. However, Adam did something I’d never seen before, using the “evasive action” order on his big ships rather than “gunnery control”. He could shake off my aiming (splash) markers and get in close. My cheap destroyers with a paltry 2 torpedoes didn’t have much impact other than to sink and the day ended in another French defeat.
On day 2, I resolved to try a destroyer leader (a fast protected cruiser) and fewer, more powerful destroyers with 4 torpedoes each. I kept my pair of dreadnoughts, screened by a pair of armoured cruisers. This was the most balanced force yet and I had more confidence in the rules. Unfortunately in my fourth match against Sean’s American fleet, we misread the “Attack at Dawn” combat mission. It should disadvantage one fleet by silhouetting them against the sunrise and making them easier targets, whilst the other fleet is disorganised with its screening ships behind its battle squadron. Our misunderstanding saw me disadvantaged on both counts, with a disorganised AND silhouetted fleet! Sean was another experienced player with a single monster dreadnought, USS Nevada, supported by a mix of cruisers and destroyers in similar fashion to Adam’s German fleet. Needless to say, both French dreadnoughts were sunk at long range and my poorly placed destroyers could only sink an American light cruiser, miles from the main action. Despite the French slaughter, the game was great experience, a demonstration in how crucial the placement of capital ships, screening ships and destroyers can be. And I found the destroyer leader to be a handy addition to my fleet. Sean is also a meticulous modeller and his ships even had masts and rigging represented, an absolute marvel to behold in 1/1500 scale.
Keeping my balanced fleet composition, the fifth and final round was against Ken and his “Aussie” Royal Navy fleet, in a “Spring the Trap” scenario. My fleet was bunched together and Ken had reserves arriving on my flank. My job was to steam out of the trap and wipe out his battle squadron before being flanked by cruisers and destroyers. Ken eschewed dreadnoughts in favour of nostalgia, his flagship none other than the battlecruiser HMAS Australia. The light cruiser HMAS Sydney was there too, along with armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur and a smattering of light cruisers and destroyers. The game started relatively well for the French, putting pressure on the Australian battle squadron. But then the flanking force arrived and I realised I hadn’t escaped the trap. The remainder of the battle was a game of manoeuvre, as the capital ships slithered beneath the waves, leaving fast cruisers and destroyers to mop up with “come about” and “torpedo run” orders being barked from every bridge. Remember Aaron’s torpedo ships? Well Ken took this to a new level and loosed off torpedoes from destroyers, light cruisers, armoured cruisers AND his battlecruiser! It was a bloodbath, each of us losing well over 400 points, Ken achieving a minor victory. But what a game!
So I lost every round but enjoyed myself immensely, making new friends and gaining my Officer of the Watch Certificate in this great game that is Broadside: Empires of Steel. With some background reading on this fascinating era, I hope to become a true dread head, playing many fleet actions on the high seas back at the club.