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Gunboats and other small ships in Shipbase 7

May 5, 2011

One of the common criticisms of Shipbase III (published 18 years ago next month) was that it didn't handle small ships well. That was a fair call, I thought, so I spent some time over several years looking into the situation.

It's true, ships destroyer-sized and smaller, even light cruisers sometimes, evaporated in games when they were up against battleships and heavy cruisers in SB3 games. After some comparison tests, I found out the same thing happened in all the other naval miniature rules available at the time. The difference was that in SB3 the turns go much faster, so the players were playing far more turns in the same amount of time that they were used to doing using non-computer-assist rulesets. So, if a destroyer evaporated in two or three turns, that might only be about 20 minutes of an SB3 game whereas that might be two or three hours using one of the more detailed, non-computerized rulesets. The destroyer was lasting just as many turns in SB3 as it was in the other games, but it was lasting a lot less game-time.

Having said that, I have to agree with the basic point: small ships don't last very long in games when they're pitted against much larger, heavier-armed ships. It's true that, historically, some light ships were splinterized in a very short time by gunfire from larger ships, but in other cases the light ships lasted quite a bit longer.

Some gamers thought that, in the case of SB3 anyway, the problem lay in the design of the damage system. Personally, I think it has a lot more to do with unrealistically high rates-of-fire of the guns in SB3 and the other "old school" rulesets from that era. I based the SB3 rates-of-fire on ideal condition, theoretical or "firing range" data. The amount of shells fired in real-world battles tended to be a lot lower than the theoretical rates.

In other words, the guns really could fire that fast, but in the historical battles they usually didn't fire that fast for extended periods of time, for a variety of reasons.

Accordingly, I've scaled the rates-of-fire way back for most guns in SB7. Like most other numbers in the game, they can be adjusted to your heart's content if you feel the data is off, but I think the new ROF values give results closer to the real events.

I'm also putting in place a new damage system, based on discussions a number of years back on the NavWarGames discussion list on Yahoogroups. Rather than a straight percentage damage system based on a ship's displacement (tonnage), the new system focuses more on critical hits, with the sinking point based on flotation or bouyancy, with the number of "flotation boxes" calculated from the ship's length, beam, and draft, with a modifier for compartmentization quality.

The concept needs a lot of playtesting before I'm convinced it's the right way to go, so this will be considered a work-in-progress. Hopefully this'll result in a system that will work better for the smaller ships.

My question to you, dear reader, is this: are you interested in games that feature the gunboats and destroyers and torpedo boats and light cruisers and other small ships? There aren't miniatures of many of these smaller vessels, but they played a big part in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, and are likely to play big parts in hypothetical naval scenarios and campaigns set in the 1870-1900 period.

Me, I like the gunboats. I've painted up quite a few of them for the Spanish-American War and my project for a hypothetical war between the US and Germany set in 1898. That's one of my main motivations for getting SB7 up and running.

Any thoughts? If so, the new IrvaniaList discussion group on Yahoogroups is the best place to comment: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/IrvaniaList/.

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May 2011 articles
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The content on this page was written: May 5, 2011
Last updated: June 11, 2016