Second World War at Sea:
Ode to the Options

By Nick Rider
March 2017

It’s time for us SWWAS battle scenario geeks to speak up once again. On this occasion it is to sing a chorus of praises for the masterful set of optional rules concealed at the end of our series rulebook. Let us lift our gaze from the majestic pull of the current battle on the tactical board! Let us stay the hand that is poised to cast the fateful die roll! And let us guide our frantic thoughts away from the cares of the data sheets!

Ready? Alright, let’s calm down and get to business. There is a lot to get excited about with the optional rules for the SWWAS battle scenarios. Unfortunately, the least used part of the rulebook tends to be the last few pages. Usually by the time a player reaches section nine, he or she has graduated from the point of being a “desperate seeker of knowledge” to a “confirmed SWWAS nut” eager to prove his or her worth on the field . . . I mean sea . . . of battle. Though I can sympathize with the zeal that drives one to play the game right away, forgetting about the optional rules prevents players from enjoying all the benefits of the game system.

The optional rules are a vital tool to understanding the unique challenges faced in WWII surface combat and without them SWWAS players may forever be trapped in a less satisfying form of game play. The optional rules I list below are intended to make this eventuality less likely.

As in my last article of April 2014, this is intended to be a short guide that is helpful to any SWWAS player in understanding how to play an average battle scenario. Additional rules can be found in your scenario booklet. This article can assist operational scenario buffs to some extent, but to determine how a battle on the tactical board fits into the overall picture of an operational scenario please refer to the series rulebook.

1. Set up.
If desired, the scenario may be played without the disengagement rules.

When setting up for scenarios that seem particularly barren, roll one die before play. If the result is 1 or 2, place an island in the center of the tactical board. This optional rule does not apply if the scenario already has rules relating to coastline or islands.

2. Formations.
Formations are stacks of ships that operate together. When setting up, each player may designate one capital ship formation (comprising capital ships with/without light ships and/or transports), one or two light ship formations (light ships with/without transports), and/or one transport formation.

The stacks that make up a formation must set up in three or fewer contiguous hexes. Each ship’s bow (the end with gunnery factors) must point initially towards the center of the board. The bow is the front of the ship and the stern is the back of the ship. A formation can move only in the direction where its ships’ bows point. A ship may only move across the hex sides that their bows point at.

Formations turn together. Capital ships turn a maximum of two hex sides and all other types turn three hex sides per turn. Formations change direction by turning after their movement or simply turning without moving. The exception is when the formation is performing a maneuver.

There are two maneuvers that a formation can make when turning: The first is turning in line ahead and the second is turning in column.

Turning in line ahead looks similar to the movement of a snake. To perform a turn in line ahead, the formation must be in a single file line. Then, following their leader, each stack moves to a designated hex where the turn is to be executed. Once the hex is reached, the formation turns and resumes moving in the new direction or simply stops.  Each following stack that reaches the designated hex turns in the same way as its leader until the maneuver has been completed. This may take one or two movement turns to complete the whole maneuver.

Turning in column requires each stack in the formation to be facing the same direction. To perform the maneuver, simply turn each stack simultaneously to face another direction. All previous maneuvers must be completed before turning in column.

Stacks may combine with or separate from a formation during the movement turn. To combine, the new stack must be adjacent to the formation and pointing in the same direction as the formation’s stacks. To separate, move the formation and leave the stack in place.

Formations can be abandoned at any time. Once abandoned however, the stacks may not return to formation at a later time.

3. Gunnery.
When firing at night into a hex containing friendly vessels, you run the risk of hitting your own ship(s). Roll one die each time a ship fires into the hex. On a result of 1, all the hits apply to a randomly selected friendly ship. This also applies when ships are firing in the same hex as the target. Ships in line ahead formation do not suffer from friendly fire.

Ships in formation do not block the line of fire between firing ships in the formation and the target.

A line of fire is the direct route from the firing ship and its target. To determine the line of fire, take a straight edge and line it up with the center of the firing hex and that of the target hex.

Ships shooting through their bow arc (through the hex side their bows face) may use only 75% of their factors. Ships shooting through their stern arcs may use only 50% of their factors.

Lines of fire that pass through a hex side to the front or behind a ship get a +1 modifier.

When hitting an opponent’s heavy armor with secondary factors at a range of two or less, there is a chance that it will still penetrate. Roll one die. A 4-6 result causes damage as normal.

There is also a chance that tertiary factors may penetrate light armor at a range of one hex or less. Roll one die. A 4-6 result causes damage as normal.

4. Torpedoes.
Capital ships may not fire torpedoes through their bow or stern arcs. Light ships cannot fire torpedoes only through their stern arc.

Add a -1 modifier to torpedo die rolls if the torpedo’s line of fire runs through a target’s bow or stern arc.

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