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Tactics in
Fading Legions




Destroyers, a Toy Story
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2010

You can never have enough toys. We built entire game series around that premise and kept them sailing for many years. But this week we've launched what might be the greatest toy infusion of all: 700 (seven hundred!) "long" ship counters for the Great War at Sea and Second World War at Sea series with the special Destroyers and Transports downloads.


In the Great War at Sea series games, large warships (battleships and most cruisers) occupy "long" ship counters with a top-down drawing of the ship in question. These are really popular (evoking childhood memories?) and from the start, we had fans asking for more ships on the bigger pieces. Smaller warships (destroyers, gunboats, torpedo boats and some small cruisers) are banished to small ones, with no cool drawings, just a silhouette.

That decision came during production of the very first game in the series. Putting every ship on a full-sized counter, it soon became evident, would cause a number of problems. There's no point in going into them, because most of them don't really apply to game production today (this was, I think, 15 years ago). But anyway, the original edition of Great War at Sea: Mediterranean had to be limited to two counter sheets; we could get a few more by chopping off the bottom few rows of the counters for another game that would be printing alongside it. To make everything fit, I hit on the solution of putting everything with secondary or primary gunnery strengths on the "long" counters, and those with no guns or just tertiary ones (including light cruisers) on the small 1/2-inch square counters.

The game fit in its production footprint and was wildly successful, but I always regretted not having used the large pieces for the all the ships. That was never going to be a real possibility, at least until we launched our line of special downloads.

With the new Destroyers download, these little ships now have the same full-sized pieces with top-down illustrations as their bigger friends. We launched the first two of the three sheets in 2009, saving the toughest job for last. For some reason, I thought that 280 pieces would cover all the destroyers that occupy multi-ship counters. But counting the number in so many different games and accounting for overlap between them apparently threw me off. Two sheets' worth was not enough, requiring a third sheet to bring the count to 420. We released the first two last year but it took a while to get all the drawings for that third sheet done. Finally, it's ready.

At least seven artists have contributed ship drawings to our two naval game series; quality is in the eye of the beholder and has much to do with utility. The finest drawing at full size is the 1944-era Yamato drawn by Terry Strickland for Leyte Gulf, at least in my opinion, but it's actually too detailed when shrunk down to fit on a 1-inch-long bit of cardboard and much of that fine detail turns into gray muck. The trick is to conduct a little "slight of eye" trickery. The most effective drawings have only some detail, and much of that rendered in very basic shapes. Terry caught on quickly and the other Japanese of Leyte Gulf are very well done. She's a real artist, now making her living from her paintings (something not many artists can claim in this economic environment) but she still consults with us from time to time and I learned the basics from her.

I drew a lot of destroyers for this set: There are 56 drawings among them and exactly half of those are unique to Sheet Three. And I think I got better with experience, both here and with other recent sets like the Dutch ships for Spice Islands and the revived High Seas Fleet for The Kaiser's Navy. One of the keys I didn't really grasp when first starting as a wargame artist (I guess I can call myself that now) was the need for contrast between the ship and the background color of its counter. The decks are as close to the colors actually used as I can make them, but sometimes you have to change for contrast's sake or to keep a dark color from swallowing up the detail. I think I went too heavily green on the Austrian destroyers (who painted their light craft in an even darker shade than the one used in the counter set); the Japanese are pretty close to their practice but I lightened them a little to preserve the detail work.

With 56 destroyer drawings now safely tucked into the archives, we're going to have to come up with some wider use for them. The obvious choice is a Great War at Sea: Destroyers game or games, giving more attention to smaller fighting ships and their fearsome battles. The Great War at Sea game system is meant for battleship combat, and it does that pretty well, but in so doing it leaves the little ships with little to differentiate one from another. A 1,000-ton destroyer was far more capable than a 262-ton torpedo boat, but when compared to a 30,000-ton dreadnought both are close to insignificant (except for their torpedo armament and anti-submarine capability, but even then they're usually shown with identical strengths).

But that's well into the future. For now, we have a huge new addition to the fun of Great War at Sea. I can't say they were fun to do — just the third set probably represents 60 or more hours of tedious work on the ship drawings alone — but they are going to make the games even more fun. Fun is good. Every Great War at Sea game published to date is represented, including the downloadable Reichsmarine.

Most of the new pieces are multiple-ship counters, susceptible to the same rules as their smaller counterparts included in the published games. I was really tempted to give each individual destroyer its own single-ship, named piece, but the game scenarios weren't designed that way — they list the numbers of destroyers from each class that are present. So the new pieces needed to match up with that. But there are some destroyer leaders that are now represented as one ship per counter: a handful of Austrians, some British, and a lot of French (most of those from U.S. Navy Plan Gold.). No special rules are required to use these new pieces; just substitute them for the little ones that came with the game, and carry on as before.

It's a satisfying conclusion to a tough project, and best of all it represents another promise to our fans finally fulfilled. Over coming weeks we'll be doing our best to get even more of those marked off the list, so watch for more releases of games and supplements both old (to meet those obligations) and new (to help pay for those obligations). It's a busy and exciting time here, and should give all of you a lot of extra fun.

Check out all of our Great War at Sea games and supplements!