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Posted on Aug 21, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Carriers at War

By Mike Tomlin

Depending on the scenario and side being played the player will usually have more than one carrier task force plus one or more support groups comprising battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Supply groups consisting of tankers sail in support, and although task groups can run out of fuel if badly handled, it didn’t happen once to this writer.

The main challenge of CAW is to locate the enemy carrier forces and launch an effective strike without allowing the enemy to strike first. This presents significant issues, particularly for the US player who is outreached by the Japanese search and attack planes. It is basically a strategic game of hide and seek, and "chasing the weather"-hiding your strike forces under heavy cloud formations-is both recommended and vital. The US seemed to be under constant attack while sailing under clear blue skies. Using the weather and indirect approaches will offer a greater chance of getting in the first strike that can be critical to success.

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Control of search planes is limited to selection of appropriate arcs, from a total of eight, around the task group or landbase, the computer handling all matters thereafter. CAP patrols are also handled by the computer subject to the player selecting an appropriate number of fighters for assignment to that role, from the total available in the group or base. When a fleet or base is attacked, the computer automatically attempts to launch all available fighters. Launching of strikes is also simplified with the player selecting the target, then depending on range and availability, picking the aircraft for the mission and selecting launch. After that all action is handled by the computer.

Air attacks at sea are broken into small flights of from one to six aircraft that attack in successive waves. The fleet is displayed on a simple top down screen and flights of planes appear, attack a single vessel, to be followed by subsequent flights after a simple key press. Damage of each vessel attacked is represented as structural damage and/or raging fires in a simple graphic. Once damage reaches a critical level, that ship will sink. The player has no control over any of this action and once a strike is launched, or commences attacking his fleet, can only sit and watch. Indeed it is very frustrating to watch limited and dwindling air resources repeatedly attacking the wrong targets instead of zeroing in on the carriers – but no less realistic for that! There is a suitable randomness to combat results so that one is never sure whether a strike will result in crippling ship loss, or the destruction of all of the planes.

The player controls the movement of his or her ships, and the launching of attacks, but the key to the game is in finding your opponent before finds you. Search planes and submarines will send in contact reports, but these are not necessarily to be taken at face value. Locations are mostly accurate, but claimed sightings should not be trusted. If the enemy possessed every carrier reported in a single scenario the player would be well advised to head for home as soon as possible. The key to the game is to sift the reports with a critical eye and try and determine which are accurate and which are not. But do not delay too long as the side that correctly launches first will often win.

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