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Posted on Apr 25, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Jutland, War in the North Sea and Baltic, 1914-1918 – Boardgame Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: Great historical depth. Over 50 scenarios representing fleets from every possible nation. Game play is smooth and steam-lined

Failed Basic: Tactical battles lose some of the period flavor by ignoring the role of formations. Linear combat

Jutland, the monster naval battle of World War I, was the pivotal, steel fisted round in the heavy-weight title match between the champion, Britain’s Royal Navy, and the upstart contender, the German Kriegsmarine. It is this May 1916 slugfest that lends its name to Avalanche Press’ latest board game in The Great War at Sea series; Jutland, War in the North Sea and Baltic, 1914 – 1918. While the game certainly has the player lace up their gloves for the famous battles like Dogger Bank, Helgoland, and game’s namesake, there is so much more in this weighty box. The players are given a ring-side seat for a full blow-by-blow account of each and every battle actually fought, or that could have been fought, in the North Sea and Baltic. The game presents a cornucopia of diverse scenarios representing actions that involve not just the British and German navies, but the Swedish, Dutch, Danish, French, American and Russian fleets as well. All of this is presented in a high quality package, with a well conceived rule set that is less about mechanics, and more about fun game play.

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The Great War at Sea series is a naval board game rule set that sits snuggly between grand strategy, and detailed tactical combat. Jutland plays out on a colorful strategic map of the North Sea and Baltic. On this map, players plot the path of fleet markers that represent, submarines, zeppelins, aircraft, minor ships and groupings of up to 50 capital ships. Movement, once plotted, is conducted simultaneously over a turn representing four hours of real time. When two fleets spot each other, a tactical battle ensues.

Tactical battles are where the real fun of Jutland lives. For large scenarios, where each side might have 40-50 ships in a fleet, a shortened basic combat system is available. In this basic system, each player fires their ships at the opposition based on the overall range of the opposing fleets; long or short. Each ship is rated for primary, secondary, tertiary guns and torpedo mounts. A simple gunfire system allows players to quickly fire, then record damage on the targets based on type of gun firing. Ships are rated for armor type, and relative ability to take damage. Advanced combat adds a hex based tactical map, where ship speed and range of individual ships play an important role.

The game is stream-lined enough so that even large battles like Jutland itself can be played within the course of a few hours. This is a wise design choice as it allows the game to go back and forth between the strategic and tactical games with ease. At the same time, the game provides enough detail so that historical nuances become important elements in game play; the fact that German battle cruisers are able to take far more punishment than their British counter-parts, as an example. But because the tactical rules are abbreviated, players who want to plot shell fall patterns, turning radiuses and chase salvoes are certainly going to crave more detail.

While the rules for tactical battles are optimized for fast play and minimum record keeping, results still feel very historical. In one Dogger Bank scenario, concentrated German long range fire on the BC Lion yielded enough damage to slow Lion down to a crawl. The German BCs, with superior accuracy, quickly diced Lion up, while the remaining British ships scampered away to fight another day; but not before they pounded the AC Blucher into a watery grave. This is very close to actual historical result.

While it is understandable that the tactical rules must be stream-lined to keep the play clipping along, there are some omissions that are a little puzzling. For example, on the tactical map, ship facing plays no role in combat at all. Ships are free to move anywhere with no turning penalty, and can bring all gun factors to bear, no matter what direction the target is in. These two rules mean that the role of formations and the linear nature of combat, two very important historical factors, are not present in tactical combat at all. Still, for players willing to forgive this omission, tactical battles are a great deal of fun to play.

The details of each major capital ship are presented in fairly good depth. Gun factors and speed are printed on ship’s counter with an overhead picture of the actual ship added for historic flavor. All ship types are represented from battleships to pre-Dreadnought armored cruisers and torpedo boats. The game also presents nascent aircraft carriers from both the British and German fleets. A hit record book, for tracking damage, has pre-printed entries for each ship in the game. Overall, the system is convenient and easy to use. But large battles still present a bit of a record keeping and counter management challenge. Casual players will want to stay away from the major fights.

Still, despite the administrative requirement, there is plenty of game for even players who have only a few hours. The game comes with over 50 scenarios representing major actions like Jutland and a good number of small and medium actions as well. Larger scenarios can have up to 50 or more capital ships per side, while smaller scenarios may only have a small handful. Most scenarios put the Germans against the British. However, there are a great number of situations representing action against the Russian navy, and even a few that bring in the, Danish, French, American, Swedish and Dutch navies. Scenarios present players with diverse missions like merchant raiding, mine-laying, shore bombardment, air attacks as well as those aimed at knocking out the opposing fleet. A minor issue is that some scenarios have slightly confusing conditions, but these are quickly settled once play begins.

Out of the box, Jutland is impressive even before a player cracks open the rulebook. Just like a well-forged tool that adds to the experience of DIY around the home, great game components add to the gaming experience. Jutland will not be found wanting in this area. The game components are very professional and of the best caliber. The board and counters are colorful and printed on high-grade glossy stock. The rulebook is clear and concise, and the game comes with a thick scenario book, as well as a forty-page ship hit record book. The package is so nice that purchasers will have a strong temptation to keep the game un-punched and collectable; but then they would miss out on the great game play.

Overall, Jutland is a great game, and a highly anticipated addition to the Great War at Sea series. Kudos must go to the game designers for providing so many scenarios and such great historical depth. Any gamer with even a passing interest in World War I naval combat can’t go wrong with buying this title-bout ticket; it is quite possibly the best seat in the house.

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1 Comment

  1. JAJA, UPYACHKA! UG NE PROIDET, BLYA!

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