Prizes of War: The Toys
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I have a friend named Zut Alors. This is not his real name, but it is what he games under. I haven’t seen him in a while, what with the 16-hour days going on here in the game mines, but I count on him to keep me informed about interesting new developments in the wargame world.
I used to be very interested in the doings of other publishers, fretting that someone might publish a game in some way similar to something we wanted to do, or that they might sell more than we do, or that they or some sock puppet wrote something nasty about us on the Internet. And then I grew up. But it is worthwhile to hear of interesting ideas worth nabbing, and some time back Zut described a game he had played based on the premise that Germany defeated France in the First World War, seized the French navy and then conducted a naval war against Britain. Could we not do something similar for Great War at Sea, his favoritest game system ever?
That wouldn’t be hard, I allowed, and even drew up a list of counters for it. It then sat unused, until Jim Stear came along to infuse Great War at Sea and its sister series, Second World War at Sea, with seemingly boundless new energy. Having torn through Orange Waters and The Kaiser’s Navy, he was eager for more. And so I handed over Zut’s dream, a project titled Prizes of War. Soon afterward the project, intended as one of our standard 10-scenario downloadable supplements, was done — and now numbered 21 scenarios.
Having designed hundreds of Great War at Sea scenarios, that part really stunned me. Coming up with interesting scenarios is a lot harder than it looks. More than doubling the number called for in the format is truly impressive. And they’re really good. There are going to be many fun situations from which to choose, whatever your play preferences.
Prizes of War is now available for download, with 70 new pieces showing French and Russian ships in German and British colors following the surrender or collapse of one or both of those powers putting their warships under foreign control, or sale of them under the financial stresses of the Great War.
But what about the toys? We know why gamers love Great War at Sea: It’s the wonderful array of steel dreadnoughts and cruisers at your command. And Prizes of War puts more of them in the series’ two major fleets.
We promised you battleships, and Prizes of War delivers battleships. When the Germans took the Russian Black Sea fleet in 1918 they pretty much ignored the pre-dreadnoughts (not even bothering to man their own by this point in the war) and so is the case here. It’s the modern ships that count, and the French ships of the Courbet, Lorraine and Normandie classes are all present in both British and German colors. They’ve had their gunnery ratings re-configured to bring them in line with other ships from our Jutland game.
Only the Germans receive the four battleships of the Russian Gangut class; the British are assumed to no need to add a division of first-generation dreadnoughts with substantial maintenance needs to the Grand Fleet. They’re no better than what the Germans have, either, but the Germans are badly outgunned by the British and could make good use of four more battleships.
These are the true prizes of the new ships, big and fast with powerful main armaments. They add a lot to the German 1st Scouting Group, and are no mean addition to the Battle Cruiser Fleet, either. Or at least they are at first glance. But the four battle cruisers of the Borodino class are a classic example of “visible” versus “invisible” qualities in warship design. Their dozen 14-inch guns give them firepower equal to any other British or German battle cruiser, and they are almost as fast as any other, making 26 knots (good enough for speed class 2 in game terms).
And then the comparisons start to break down. We over-rated them in our Jutland game; they do not deserve heavy armor on their hull and this is a serious shortcoming. They’re also relatively short-legged, which doesn’t matter much in the bathtub-like Baltic Sea or even in the North Sea, but would if they were deployed just about anywhere else.
There are just four of these, the Russian Svetlana class in German livery. These ships, never completed for the Tsar’s Navy, were big, fast and powerfully armed and would have been a tremendous addition to the High Seas Fleet’s scouting forces, which already had two former Russian cruisers. Like the two ships building in German yards, they probably would have been re-armed with fewer 150mm weapons in place of their Russian 130mm guns. They carry the German names of port cities in the Baltic provinces, areas with a large German-speaking minority and earmarked for annexation to Germany.
The imperial ensign also flies over the Russian armored cruiser Rurik, a fine design but made obsolete before she even entered Russian service. She saw much use in the Great War, and her commissioning by the Germans would have probably been based more on reputation than actual usefulness.
Russia’s Novik-class destroyers (officially the Orfey class, but always called “Noviks” in both Britain and Germany) are substantial additions to either side’s light forces. Their gunnery is no better than most other destroyers, but they carry a heavy torpedo armament and good endurance. These are fine fleet destroyers that add much to the side that controls them.
The French destroyers of the Bisson and Bouclier classes are roughly equivalent to the more modern British or German destroyers. Both classes are lumped together in German service, with the older boats’ fuel bunkers assumed to have been enlarged when refitted for German use.
All of them are shown as “large” pieces like those in our popular Destroyers accessory set.
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