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Second World War at Sea:
A Battle (Scenario) Primer

By Nick Rider
February 2017

Let’s face it. The poor lowly tactical maps in our Second World War at Sea boxed sets have all been unfairly overshadowed by their much larger and more glamorous operational siblings. They are the ones that lie quietly on the sidelines while the others are being praised for their exquisite loveliness. And when it comes time for an operational scenario, it is the humble little tactical board that waits obediently in the box expectantly hoping that two task forces might stumble into one another or that a battered enemy flight might get through the combat air patrol to bomb the fleet. Anything to get out there and have that tingly feeling of cardboard pieces scratching their way across its surface or the anxious pounding of die rolls dropping suddenly around its edges.

Okay, maybe I am anthropomorphizing a little too much. Mushy sentiment aside, the battle scenarios really do not get much publicity and I feel that the time has come for us battle scenario underlings to rise up and lavish the praise our favorite scenarios deserve.

When first opening the box, battles are the easiest type of scenario to set up and begin playing. However when it comes time to refer to the rules book, the instructions that apply just to battle scenarios are tightly enmeshed with those used for operational scenarios. Therefore with eager curiosity I dove into the pages of the rule book to separate battle rules from operational rules and the following is the summary of my investigation.

This is intended to be a short, helpful guide to any SWWAS player in understanding how to play an average battle scenario as soon as the pieces come out of the packaging. If there are additional rules, they are found in the scenario booklet. Also, even though this article applies mostly to battle scenarios, it can be of assistance when transferring combat to the tactical map in the context of an operational scenario. Nevertheless, to determine how a battle on the tactical board fits into the overall picture of an operational scenario you must refer to the series rulebook.

1. Set Up.
• Non-initiative player sets up first; Initiative player second.

• Divide Task Forces (TF’s) into one or more stacks, each with a maximum of twelve and a minimum of four ships (unless fewer ships are in the TF.) Capital ships and large transports count double. Multiple-ship counters count as one ship for stacking purposes. Keep different TF’s separate.

• If required, set up the island marker in the center hex and/or designate land hexes per the scenario rules.

• Determine from the scenario book which direction your TF enters the board. Starting with the non-initiative player, alternate placing stacks in the dark Direction of Entry (DOE) hexes. If you run out of room, you may use the light blue hexes on one side of the DOE. If you need even more room, use the light blue hexes on the opposite side of the DOE. When multiple TF’s enter from the same DOE, keep them separate. For example, one TF uses the light blue hexes on one side of the DOE and the other uses the opposite side. A third TF would go between them.

• There must always be an empty DOE between you and your opponent. Move the initiative player’s stacks one DOE away from the non-initiative player if necessary.

• Ships unloading cargo must be two hexes away from designated land hexes.

• Once set up, the initiative player shifts all his stacks towards or away from the non-initiative player’s stacks until they are at the maximum spotting range adjusting for time and weather (see Sighting Ranges Table). Shift the non-initiative player’s stacks if needed to keep the initiative player on the board. Ships might still be shifted off the board. If they do, they must enter at same DOE as soon as possible.

Now for the battle! Follow the impulse sequence in the series rules using these guidelines:

2. Dynamics.
• During a movement impulse, stacks can do one of four things: move, stay in place, divide, or combine (observing stacking limitations). Stacks move at the speed of its slowest ship and may not move when it divides or combines. Obviously ships do not move through land hexes. Ships unloading cargo may not move on the first turn. Stacks of one side may enter hexes occupied by stacks of an enemy side as long as stacking limitations are met (a total of 24 ships.) Ships can be scuttled at any time . . . just remove them from play.

• The destruction of half a ship’s hull factors reduces its speed by 1. In most cases this causes the whole stack to move slower, but there is one exception. On the movement impulse after the ship has lost at least half of its largest gunnery or hull factors, it may separate from its stack. This allows the rest of the stack to move normally while the separated ship moves at reduced speed.

• A ship becomes dead in the water if it loses all its movement. Hulks that are dead in the water may not move unless they are towed. Towed ships move at a speed of 1 only on impulse 10 or 11. Designate a ship to do the towing. Battleships (BB) and battlecruisers (BC) may tow anything. Armored cruisers (AC), heavy cruisers (CA), and light cruisers (CL) can tow all cruiser types, escort carriers (CVE), coast defense ships (CD), seaplane carriers (CVS), destroyers (DD), destroyer escorts (DE), torpedo boats (TB), and transports. Destroyers may tow other DD’s, DE’s, TB’s, or small transports. A ship cannot tow more than one other ship. Tows may be broken at any time.

• A ship that moves into a hex containing an island or is adjacent to a land hex risks grounding. Roll 2 dice per ship, add 1 if it is a capital ship. On 11 or higher, the ship may not move. Refloating can be attempted on impulse 22.

• A stack that exits the board when outside spotting range and whose speed is equal to or faster than the opponent’s speed, leaves the battle. If the stack is either slower than the opponent or is still within spotting distance, it stays in the battle. Shift all other stacks an equal number of hexes in the opposite direction until the exiting stack is readjusted back onto the board. If this still results in ships leaving the board, then the original stack may leave the battle.

3. Firing.
• A target must be spotted and in range to be fired on. Declare the target, the ships firing, and the factors used. Designate one ship to fire at full strength; the others fire at half strength (round up.) If multiple stacks are in the firing hex, roll one die for each; only the highest-rolling stack can fire this impulse. A tie allows both to fire. Ships in a multi-ship counter may fire at the same or different targets.

• Roll one die per factor and apply modifiers. For gunnery, fire primaries first, then secondaries, then tertiaries. A result of 6 or more is a hit. Total up all hits, determine damage, and take away hits that have been deflected by armor. Firing is considered to be done simultaneously. Therefore after both sides fire guns, apply damage. Then both fire torpedoes and apply the resulting damage.

• Ships that are dead in the water, towing, or being towed may not fire.

• Do not fire through hexes containing land or friendly stacks.

4. Gunnery.
• Primary guns have a range of six hexes. Secondary guns have a range of four hexes. Tertiary guns have a range of two hexes. A ship’s gunnery factors of a single type may not be divided against different targets. (Half a ship’s primary factors cannot be fired at one target while the other half fires at another.) Different factors however, may be used against different targets. (A ship’s primaries may fire at one target while its secondaries may fire at another and so on.) Ships in a multi-ship counter share hits, not the resulting damage. A result of 2 on a damage chart is a “dud.”

5. Torpedoes.
• Torpedoes have a range of 2 and may be fired only once unless they are Long Lances (marked as “LL” on a ship’s data sheet.) A ship’s torpedo factors may not be divided against different targets or saved for later use. 

• Japanese ships equipped with Long Lance torpedoes (LL) with factors of 2 or more may fire at a maximum range of four hexes. When firing at 4-hex range, divide the number of dice used by 4. When firing at 3-hex range, divide the number of dice used by 2. Hits at 3-4 hex range are applied randomly. Apply all hits (even to ships considered sunk by the LL’s) then determine damage.

• Ships with LL may reload once. On or after the same impulse on the next round, the ship may fire again. Torpedoes may not be reloaded or fired from a ship that has received a torpedo mount hit whether they are LL or not.

• All US torpedo factors in scenarios before Sep. 1943 must be divided by 4.

6. Applying Damage.
• For each hit, roll 2 dice and consult a corresponding Damage Table. Reroll critical damage hits and consult the Critical Damage Table. Record the damage and resume firing.

• Primary guns and torpedoes penetrate any kind of armor. Secondary guns may penetrate areas protected by light armor or no armor. Tertiary guns can penetrate only factors with no armor. Heavy armor factors have shaded boxes, light armor slashed boxes, and factors without armor are represented by blank boxes.

• “Primary” results on a damage table for a ship that has no primary guns become a secondary hit. If the ship doesn’t have secondary guns, then the hit becomes a tertiary hit. If the ship has no tertiary guns, then the hit becomes an AA hit. If the ship doesn’t have AA guns, then the hit becomes a hull hit.

• A “primary” result on a damage chart for a ship that has lost all its primary factors (due to previous damage) becomes a hull hit. Similarly a “secondary” result on a damage chart for a ship that has lost all its secondary factors also becomes hull hit.

• “Tertiary” results on a damage chart for a ship that has lost all its tertiary factors from previous damage become an AA hit. After all AA and tertiary factors are destroyed then the result becomes a hull hit.

• All gunnery results become “hull” results when a ship loses all its gunnery factors. A “torpedo mount” result on a ship whose torpedo mount does not exist or has been destroyed is ignored.

• Critical damage hits inflicted by tertiary guns are ignored.

• Armor values are ignored when applying critical damage results.

• Hull damage caused by primary guns at a range of six hexes destroys an extra hull box if a 10 is rolled on the gunnery damage table. This is called “plunging fire.” Hull boxes enclosed in a larger box are immune to plunging fire.

• When hitting a ship with light or no armor with a primary gun, roll an extra die. A result of 4 through 6 results in an additional box of that type being destroyed. This doesn’t apply if the result is on the critical damage table or from plunging fire.

• Add 2 to the result when determining damage caused by LL (except with a“2” damage result.)

• Japanese ships without LL may add 1 when determining damage (except to an original “2”.)

7. Impulse 22.
• Ships that are dead in the water may attempt to regain propulsion on this impulse. Roll one die; a result of 6 allows the ship to move at a speed of 1. A result of 1 or 2 means no more repair rolls may be made for that ship during the scenario.

• Grounded ships may also try to refloat. Roll one die; a result of a 6 frees the ship. Roll a second die, adding 1 if the ship has no hull armor. Divide by 2. The result is the number of hull boxes destroyed as the ships scrapes itself to freedom. A ship may lose a minimum of one and a maximum of all but one of its hull boxes.

• At the end of impulse 22, check for disengagement. Both players decide whether to end the battle or not. If they disagree, then each rolls a die. The initiative player adds one to his result. The highest rolling player decides to disengage or not. Re-roll ties.

• If the battle continues, determine initiative for the next round. Roll one die. A result of 1 through 3 gives the Axis the initiative; 4 through 6 gives the Allies the initiative.

• Otherwise the battle ends when one side either exits, disengages, is sunk, or four rounds have been played.

There are also a nice variety of optional rules that add a lot of value to the game experience. They are located at the end of the series rulebook, and someday I’ll write about them.

Lead your fleets in battle! Order a Second World War at Sea game now. Or buy three!