Cruel Seas is the new coastal forces game from Warlord,
the makers of “Bolt Action”, a set with which it shares a few features. CS
brings together a set of fast playing rules and background with a range of
1/300 plastic, resin and white metal models to form a complete game in a box,
supported by a number of fleet and ship packs. I was sent a starter set for
Nice dramatic box art to set the scene. Not sure what the guy with the grenade is doing though
Opening the box you find it pleasingly packed with
“stuff” – the 100+ page rule book is beautifully produced and filled with
glossy illustrations of the new models and with pictures from a variety of
Osprey publications. The box is reassuringly heavy. You get five sprues of boat
– three Vosper “Type 1”, three Vosper “Type 2”, two S-38 and two S-100
schnellboot. Another sprue contains 16 running torpedo markers, and yet another
sprue has a host of transparent blue splash markers. There is also a fold out
paper play seascape, high quality heavy card counter sheets that include damage
markers, top down views of some terrain and a coastal tanker ship, data cards
for the ten supplied boats and the tanker. There is also a bag of dice, and
“plume” markers that are used to show the speed of craft on the table. All
supplied in a decent box, it creates a very good impression of a well
presented, self-contained game.
An overview of the card components of the game. All of
stout quality. Also shown is the model tanker that is available separately
(there is a 2D large counter representing the ship in the starter set)
The rules themselves are quick and simple. The basic
rules for movement, gunnery and torpedo attacks are 8 pages long, advanced
rules take up another 16 pages. A further 15 pages add terrain, “tiny” vessels,
aviation, additional weapons and submarines. The density of information and the
profuse illustrations mean that is nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. The
rules themselves are simple and straightforward, written to appeal to newcomers
to the hobby, and are described early o as “guidelines” – an interesting point
that I’ll return to.
The book is
“perfect bound”, looks great but even after a week of use the binding is
starting to fail and the pages are coming loose. Not good.
The basics of game play are simple. A die is put in a pot
for each boat that each side has. Draw a die at random, that indicates which
side can activate a boat. Choose a boat, move it, fire and launch torpedoes. In
this regard it uses the random draw mechanism that Warlord used in “Bolt
Action”, and it works well. Gunnery takes place during movement, torpedo launch
when a boat’s movement has completed. Boats sit on “wake” templates that show
how fast they are travelling, which is a nice touch, and crossing a boat’s wake
can catch out inexperienced crews. Another nice touch. Gunnery involves rolling
to hit with each weapon mount, modifying depending on things like crew skill,
range, boat and target speed etc. If a hit is scored roll a number of d6 equal
to the value of the weapon and inflict that number of damage points. Reroll
sixes and in the advanced rules apply critical hits that affect crew, weapons
engines and other bits of kit. Craft are sunk when they lose their last damage
point. Torpedoes drive across the table at the same time as their launching
vessel (or at the start of a turn if “orphaned” when their boat is sunk or
leaves the table. If they cross a model then roll to see if they have hit, roll
to see if they are a dud and then roll a very large number of d6 for damage.
Very quick, straightforward and fun.
Moving on to the models, these are decently produced,
well detailed with a minimum of parts that build into good representations of
the Schnellboot and Vosper types they portray. A few liberties have been taken,
for example the masts on the Vospers look like tree trunks rather than the fine
structures that the real boats used – I suggest binning the masts and replacing
with dressmakers’ pins with the points cut off – obviously the stocky masts
provided are there for sturdiness and to reduce breakage in play but they do
detract from an otherwise decent model. The “Type 1” Vosper has an option for a
20mm cannon on the foredeck, which you are going to want to take as the “early”
Vosper armed only with twin HMGs is at a severe disadvantage in the game.
Vosper "Type 2" (actually a 73' Type 1)
Warlord's display S-38 and S-100 models
Closeup of one of Warlord's S-38s
boats have no options, the S38 has a 37mm gun aft, the S100 a flakvierling,
despite the 37mm or 40mm being the more common weapon and the data card
supplied being for a 37mm armed boat. Its easy enough to play with whatever you
would like to assume the aft gun is, but there is plenty of space on the sprue
for an additional gun or two (a 37mm and single 20mm would have made a whole
range of options available). The introduction to the rules says that 1/300 was
chosen in part because it allows crew figures to be added and boats don’t look
right without them – but none are supplied. Some “figures” are moulded in with
their weapons but these are just blobs that look more like seats than people.
No doubt accessory packs will be available to upgrade models in the future. One
omission though – no assembly instructions included, which makes fitting the
“crew” difficult, and the arrangement of some weapons not obvious. And beware
looking at some of the “official” photos of assembled models online as they
have weapons in the wrong places (37mm guns mounted in the 20mm “pulpit” on the
S38/100 for instance, and the 6pdr guns on the Fairmile D - part of the Royal Navy fleet pack - reversed, the shielded manual gun at the bow, the automatic gun at the stern). Despite these issues the models do look good, they are
quick and easy to assemble and will get the newbie playing very quickly.
A close up of the tanker model, available separately
Ship data card for the S-100 Schnellboot
So, all looks good, but when you get into the rules
themselves a few cracks start to appear. The biggest one, and the area that has
caused most controversy in the first few days of release is in movement,
something that should be easy.
Movement is simple, but the way that turning is
resolved means that a large merchant tanker moving at its full speed (say 12
knots) is considerably more manoeuvrable than a schnellboot at the same speed. The rule
itself is ambiguous, it is supported by an illustration that doesn’t match the
text – but the clarification that confirms this odd situation appears in the
gunnery section several pages on. And stationary ships can turn 90 degrees on
the spot, regardless of type. This allows an interesting counter-torpedo
strategy where a ship stops and simply pivots on its stern to avoid all but the
There are many other examples of “oddness”, things that
are missing, inconsistent or just wrong”. In no particular order:
Warlord have introduced their
own descriptions of the Vosper MTBs with the 70’ type described as a “Type 1”,
the 73’ as a Type 2” (the “Type 2 actually being a 73’ Type 1, the Type 2
having 2 torpedo tubes and an automatic 6pdr).
The rules on minefields are
missing a critical table with hit probabilities. Magnetic mines hit every time
of craft on a “1”, despite separate lines in the text for tint, degaussed and
other ships – obviously each should have a different number. Pressure mines can
be avoided by travelling fast – in fact the opposite was true.
Russian ships are not allowed gunnery directors (or fire directors as they are referred to here). But Tashkent (included in the data tables) and other Rusian destroyers were equipped with directors. And radar.
S Boats carry reloads, but no guidance on how long to reload.
darkness was a key feature of coastal forces actions, yet the rules covering
this are extremely limited and don’t reflect reality. The searchlight rules for
example suggest the rule writer doesn’t understand how they work, nor the tactics
that governed their employment.
There is an interesting selection of additional
weapons, including a German AA flamethrower which the text said aircraft flew
through with impunity, but which as a 10% chance of downing an aircraft. The
selection of additional odd weapons is predominantly German though – no Blacker
Bombards or Holman projectors, which would have been a nice touch.
The Fubuki destroyer is described as large but
was bigger than several of the ships listed as Huge.
There a re a host of errors in the ship data tables. For example, Flower class corvettes are listed as having 3" guns rather than 4", Marinefahrpram and MZ ZMotozaterra should be Shallow draught, Italian MT explosive boats are referred to in the data tables as Linse, and they don't even get mention in the rules on "Tiny boats", despite the MT explosive boat being the most well known - and successful - craft of its type.
Several vessels that were armoured to some degree aren’t listed as such in the data tables – the “Type 2” Vosper for example featured an armoured bridge, as did the Russian river gunboats (as well as armoured turrets and machinery spaces). But the effect of armour, at least in the case of the S-100, seems overblown, able to resist 40mm HE shells.
The critical hit table
reads OK for hits on small craft but doesn’t work so well for bigger ships. Are
all weapons on a destroyer going to cease fire for a turn because of a critical
Torpedo critical hits cause significant
damage but only cause a single torpedo tube to be lost – fine in an MTB, but in
a destroyer or torpedo boat with triple or quad tubes the damage would cause
the other tubes in the mount to be lost. A simple change, but it would have
been good if it had been there from the start.
Mines cause serious damage, yet
no critical hits. And the German Navy is credited with the first use of
magnetic mines (actually the RN in WW1, first use in WW2 was by the Luftwaffe).
37mm and larger guns that miss cause plumes around the target that obscure it (this wasn't really an issue in coastal forces actions, but anyway...). Three or more plumes gives a +1 to hit, making it easier to hit the target.
Surfaced submarines are listed as Small in the text, Medium in the data tables.
Which means they are invulnerable to torpedoes using the rules as written
(Medium and smaller craft, and shallow draught vessels cannot be hit by
torpedoes, although modifiers are included to allow it).
Aircraft are included
but air attacks are limited to bomb and torpedo attacks. No strafing or rockets
(the former a particular gap since strafing attacks were a significant cause of
damage to coastal craft , especially when caught in daylight). Later text suggests that strafing attacks may have been included but were omitted. Aircraft can be
attacked out of sequence by a vessel’s “flak” guns – but the rules and tables
don’t define which guns they are. And can a weapon used previously in the turn
for anti ship fire be used as an AA weapon in the same turn? Or having fired at
an aircraft can a surface target be engaged? Instinctively the answer is no but
the rules don’t say one way or the other.
Players roll to determine whether a
torpedo that hits a ship is a dud – the table in the quick play sheets at the
back is different to the table in the rules.
Semi automatic guns cause 2 extra
damage points – what constitutes a “semi automatic” gun? Apart from the Molins
6pdr none are mentioned. So what about 40mm and 37mm guns? Are the ones listed
in the rules automatics? Semi automatics? Assuming they are automatic what
happens with a craft armed with a non-automatic version (such as the 37mm guns
on the MO-4, US anti tank guns on PT boat foredecks, some early British
2pdr/40mm guns on MGBs and MLs?)
The selection of boats in the starter set is odd if you know the subject but understandable – MTBs vs S Boats. That’s OK I guess in that it “pings” the
most popular types, except the RN built and operated MGBs to engage S boats, so
the mix is historically wrong. Even worse, none of the short RN MGBs are
included in the data tables (the only MGB is the Fairmile D in its MGB/MTB
guise). The other issue this causes is
that, being way more heavily armed, the German boats eat the Vospers in the
introductory scenarios. Mixing a 72’6” MTB with options and an early MGB with
40mm and 20mm fore and aft would have made for a more realistic and playable
mix as well as providing a new different hull with a host of variant
possibilities (several gunboat options, MA/SBs, cut down to make ASRLs etc.).
The Soviet list doesn’t include MO and BMO type gunboats despite them being
used extensively at sea and referred to extensively in the historical
discussion. Yet the Soviet list includes four varieties of riverine gunboat –
all with errors (57mm guns? Armour?).
The British section of the data lists shows
which Large craft are treated as shallow draft. But similar information is
missing from craft of other nations. Meanwhile the monitor Abercrombie
listed as shallow draught (and so “immune to torpedoes”) whilst the Flower
class corvette – with a shallower draught – is not. Here are other errors,
simple enough to fix, but these examples set the tone. And there are oodles of
errors. Many of the Osprey boat illustrations have incorrect captions,
This is a selection, there are others.
A selection of S-100 and S-38 class boats. One of the
S-38s here (left) has been converted into an S-30, with the 20mm moved aft and
the 37mm gun used on one of the S-100s in place of the flakvierling
The S-30 and S-100 conversions
A couple of Vosper “Type 1” MTBs. Both sport the optional
20mm on the foredeck. The model on the left also has a spare 20mm in place of
the HMGs to make a late war model. Masts have been replaced with pins.
A half flotilla of Vosper “Type 2” MTBs. Again, masts replaced with pins.
Quality control has been an issue on early supplied sets,
many coming with missing components. Fortunately, Warlord have a good rep for
dealing with these issues so a quick email to the company should bring the
missing bits. And later sets seem to be free of these issues.
The upshot of all this is that, to a seasoned campaigner,
the game appears rushed, thin on playtesting, thin on proof reading and
organisation, and lacking review by those with more than a passing interest in
naval wargaming. And getting the detail right, removing ambiguities and soforth
is essential in a game that is being presented in part as a starter set for
newcomers to the hobby and the genre.
Warlord have produced some excellent land
games and the models and game components are well up to that standard, but in
the rules they have attempted something out of their comfort zone with a lot of
things that are just plain wrong – and which could have been made right before
publication with just a little effort.
Cruel Seas is, I think, an excellent introduction to naval wargaming and
judging by the interest on Facebook and elsewhere it is proving to be a popular
seller, and as an ardent supporter and promoter of naval wargaming I really
wanted this to be great. But those with some knowledge of the subject will be
annoyed and put off by the errors (see the extensive Facebook discussion on the
topics highlighted above and more), and newcomers run the risk of believing
“that was the way it was” because the rules said so. Shades of Warhammer
So in summary, a good start, plenty of issues, hoping the
second edition will clear these up at tome point in the future. And at the time
of writing Warlord have just released a ten page errata sheet where some of the issues above have been addressed, 13 days after
release of the rules. You can download it here: https://www.warlordgames.com/announcement-cruel-seas-errata-v1/