Queen Victoria’s Navy: Introducing the Beta

November 1997, by Bruce Biskup


To many of my Ramblings’ readers out there, this may seem a little like déjà vu since I am writing to announce the completion of the latest version of Queen Victoria’s Navy, v. 3.0. QVN v. 3.0 is a compact, tactical game of naval combat for the period from 1880 to ~1907. Those of you who have been reading this column for some time now will know that I have been working on a tactical naval wargame for over 5 years now. QVN v. 3.0b is a direct descendant of my original naval game: Sovereign Seas. This time I think I got it right. This month’s Ramblings will be dedicated to my Designer’s Notes for this game.


QVN started out as an update to the original Sovereign Seas. That game was playable but tedious for large fleet engagements. The original QVN was intended to be small, fast to play, and would require little paper work. To fix these perceived problems with Sovereign Seas, QVN introduce several new features such as standalone counters that were double sided. The original QVN was an abysmal failure. Even an attempted update to QVN was unplayable. QVN was too large and the double sided counters were too tedious. The board was cluttered due to all of the utility counters.

Another problem was that I wanted a campaign game to overlay the tactical game. Fleet actions do not occur in a vacuum. The campaign game was to ensure that non-balanced encounters occurred. To date, I have not yet progressed beyond the conceptual design phase of the campaign game, because the tactical game was much too complicated. I did not want to create a monster naval game; rather I wanted to make a playable campaign game. Soon after we released QVN last summer, I pretty much stopped work on it and pursued other game designs.

I didn’t come back to QVN until after I went to Origins. Joshua and I had been experimenting with a much smaller format for our games and Combat Operations was our first attempt at using that format. After that experience, I convinced myself that QVN could be made to fit into the smaller format and that it would force me to focus on only the important parts of the game. The result of those constraints is that QVN 3.0 is now much cleaner and simpler than my previous attempts.

The Concept

QVN is an expression of my interpretation of naval history and capability of the period from 1880 to 1907. I choose this period since those few decades represent the most developed era of naval technology before the advent of the HMS Dreadnaught. In addition, there is a dearth of actual naval combat examples and even fewer games on the period. This allows me as a designer to experiment more with the game design since I will not have to create a game conforms to the preconceived notions of my target audience. In QVN, it will be hard for ships to hit one another at medium to long range and those ranges will be less than 12000 meters. This conclusion results from my studies of gunnery technique of this period and historical commentary. In addition, torpedoes are tactically useless since their endurance and speed are too low.

For the game experience, I want players to tactically employ vessels on the board. This means that players will have to fight ship individually. A drawback to this will be that players will have a “god’s eye” view of the board, something that an admiral would never have. It’s a compromise, but one that is acceptable in a game of this complexity. It is hoped that this desire for low complexity will result in a game that can be played in an evening and hence will be played by my audience.

The Naval Gun

I played several naval wargames prior to my start of my work that has led to QVN v. 3.0. Most of these games were playable but lacked the detail that I prefer in games. I was disappointed by the simplistic modeling used to describe the ships. In too many games, gunnery factors were just a simple progression of gun size. From the beginning, I decided that I would base my gun models on three parameters: shell weight, muzzle velocity, and rate of fire. Taken together, these parameters do not just describe a weapon, but a weapon system. I fully believed that my modeling could be rather involved as long as the end-result was simple to implement. A look at the various ship lists in this game shows this. It takes only 2 characters to describe a weapon: one letter to denote weapon penetration at short range and another number to denote how much damage in inflicted by a hit. The steps I made to get this point are fairly involved and subject to constant change but remain at the heart of the combat system.

The chance of hitting with a particular weapon is another grey area that I have tackled. Reading accounts of the few naval actions that occurred during this period it is quickly realized that the chance of hitting with a weapon is rather slim. In the Spanish-American war, the US ships scored less than 3 % hits with all types of weapons. The lack of fire control and realistic training seems to me the biggest reason for this lack of accuracy. By the end of the period covered by this game, combat ranges had increased to 12000 meters. The Russian’s fleet at Port Arthur was hitting the Japanese vessels at this range without the help of telescopic sights. From this evidence, I have purposely made it difficult to hit with the gun tables. The basic premise I used in designing the gunnery tables was 30 % to hit at short range. This system makes rate of fire an important factor since weapons with a higher rate of fire will result in more hits. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true, and the gunnery table will be updated slightly before the game is released.

There exists in numerous sources detailed gun data for British and U.S. weapons. Unfortunately, usable data is sparse for other nationalities. I imagine that if I could read French or Germany, I could make use of excellent data from those two countries. Luckily, many navies relied on British gun manufacturers to arm their navies. I ended up using comparative analysis to rank each weapon based on what information that I was able to obtain. Until I obtain better data, this will have to do.

Rate of fire was a difficult issue to resolve. Many sources give the British large caliber weapons a 2 round per minute rate of fire beginning with the 1880s. This included the monster 16.25″ muzzle loading rifle cannon of the HMS Inflexible. I do not know if the data I have is for realistic training conditions or manufacturers trials. Gleaning what I can from several sources I took the approach that the rates were normal for the British and underestimated for everyone else. I am currently performing a quality check on all of the vessels listed in the game. Those vessels with all-around loading will keep their current rates of fire. Those vessels without all-around fire will have a –1 column shift applied to the battery. Rate of fire effects are most apparent in the Quick Fire (QF) weapons of 5″–7.5″ caliber where some of these weapons inflict 2 points of damage. This is a result of the high rate of fire of the weapons and not unnecessarily the strength of the gun. The premise here is that higher rate of fire is better since not only are more shells going out to the target but more shells means that the gunners have more opportunity to correct the aim. As stated above, this is not necessarily true at long range and the game will be modified to reflect this.

One other simplification I used was to restrict each ship to a maximum number of 4 different batteries. Some vessels of this period had up to 12 different weapons mounted on the ship. I grouped the tertiary batteries and some of the secondary batteries into similar groups so that the ship control log would be simplified. Typically, I grouped weapons into pairs and counter two lesser weapons as equivalent to 1 of the better weapons. Purists can argue with me but this approach greatly reduced the detail of the ship control logs and I believe that the game will be much playable because of this choice.

I did not base the gun data on ammunition quality because I really do not have good information on this. What I do know is that during this period, gun shells changed from being just steel to chromium steel to capped chromium steel. Quality of ammunition was not consistent, even in the British Navy. Shells were quite defective. The Japanese comment that at the battle of Yalu River (Sine–Japanese war 1890s) that several large caliber Chinese shells appear to have been filled with concrete rather than explosives. In the end, I decided that I did not want players to track ammunition type so I have ignored this important detail. I did incorporate shell weight into the gunnery tables. A 12″ is not just 20 % larger than a 10″ shell. The 12″ is actually much heavier since the volume is proportional to the cube of the diameter. The effects of this are not that apparent since the impact of shell weight tends to be masked by the effects of a lower rate of fire by the larger weapons.

The effects of all of the factors that I considered can be debated to long length. However, I have tried to logically incorporate the most important factors into the game. As I become better educated, the game can be tweaked to include the new information. Fortunately, the game engine for QVN v. 3.0 is robust enough of a design that tweaks like this can be incorporated without major reconstruction of the rules.


Torpedoes were very much an undeveloped weapon in the time period covered by this game. The torpedoes of this period were too slow and short ranged to be really effective weapons unless delivered by surprise. This last conditional was the main reason for the Japanese surprise night attack by destroyers on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur. Even so, out of 18 torpedo launches at stationary targets at a range of less than 1000 meters, only 3 hits were scored and no ships were sunk. It will almost be by pure luck so I would not count on torpedoes to carry a game. The effects of underwater hits are even more difficult to gauge. Suffice it to say, ship designers under appreciated the need for underwater protection until after WWI. However, the threat from torpedoes during this period was minimal. Again, the lack of good information hampers the designer in making logical decisions. I decided to make torpedoes more powerful than the 12″ guns in the game. If a player can successfully hit with a torpedo, then the target will be severely damaged. Making that hit will be difficult though.

The Ships

Comparing ships between opposing navies is an art at best, guesswork most of the time. Speed and hex scale were the two easiest problems to solve. I settled on a hex size of about 500 meters per hex since such a scale gives 3 knots per hex. This scaling allows capital ships in perfect condition will travel about 6 hexes for a 5 minute turn. The concern here is with matching hex size with turn length. I want players to maneuver around each other rather than crashing into one another. I believe that the choices I have made balance this requirement.

Hull size is another matter altogether. I assigned a hull point for every 600 tons of deep load. Deep load was chosen to give as wide a possible range for ship hull sizes. I must admit that the model I used is simplistic. A more extensive analysis would result in this endeavor taking too much time and produce an unduly complex game. The system can be easily tweaked. Ships that historically appear stronger can be given more hull points. Weaker ships can be represented with less. In the end, I think it will work.

Armor and armor protection presented another set of compromises. During the period covered by the game, armor progressed from wrought iron, to steel, to Harvey steel, and finally to Krupp cemented steel. Luckily, there are several sources that compare thickness of each type of armor to one another. It is a simple matter to come up with a standard scale and convert all other armor sizes to that scale. I used 1″ wrought iron. Again, this is a rather simple approach since it assumes that the armor was consistent in quality.

I assumed that naval guns at short range will fire weapons in a direct line towards the target. This is certainly not the case but allowed to use the thicknesses listed in my reference books without resorting to an additional calculation for angle of impact. It is interesting to note that universally, naval officers believed that armor was better than what the thickness appeared to be since the ship would always by pitching and rolling. It was unlikely that a round would hit a layer of armor at a perpendicular angle. This seems to be the case since it was observed that very few vessels at the battle of Tushima suffered penetration of their armor belts by large caliber rounds.

In QVN v. 3.0, each ship system (hull, belt armor, turrets, secondary guns, etc.) could be given an armor rating and that was how it was done. Belt size again was another issue. Ships were constructed overweight which submerged their belts. Other vessels had poor arrangement of armor. Without specific information on the ship design, I used the ratio of the length of the belt to the length of the ship and applied that ratio to the total number of hull points that the ship has. Where I had no information on the length of the belt, I used a ratio of 2/3. Looking closer at my sources, this is overly optimistic and I will probably change it to 1/2 for the release version of the game. Initially, I had the portion of the hull not protected by the belt to have no protection at all. I have since used the thickness of the deck armor for those portions. This seemed to make more since to me. Other than shooting up the decks of capital ships, I did not want the tertiary batteries sinking battleships.

What is Damage?

This is a most difficult concept to quantify. Players should look at damage as multiple effects and not a discrete event. Weapons may be lost due to crew casualties, machinery damage, or outright destruction. Hull damage represents the cumulative effects of heavy rounds buckling the hull plates and causing additional mayhem. One item I have left out of QVN is specific damage caused by fire. Fire is really the main killer of ships in this period. As the game now stands, I assume that fire is already incorporated into the damage tables. I am reprising this decision and may add fire as separate result of an attack.

Other Things

The ship control log is a compromise between the ship control log of the original Sovereign Seas and my disastrous attempt at detailed counters in the original version of QVN. I was able to simplify the control log by simplifying the gun descriptions. Gun batteries were grouped into 3 categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. I allowed for the possibility of up to 4 separate gun batteries on each ship to accommodate the fact that some vessels had up to 12 different types of guns mounted on board. Having a much simplified control log allows for the game to be much simpler. I experimented with the layout a few times until I had a format that I liked. Hopefully, players will not find it too tedious to use.

The design of the combat table is a direct result of my decision to make gunnery difficult. The 2 die six system makes for a nice bell curve distribution. I initially thought of using EOR (editor’s note: EOR is what we call our Even Odd Randomizer) but with numerous batteries per vessel, EOR would become tedious. I then looked to 10 sided dice as a percentage or straight. Neither approach seemed right. Finally I looked at the 2 die system. A nice thing about this decision is that it made the table modifiers simple column shifts. Once players have identified the appropriate column to use there are no more modifiers.

All of the scenarios are ahistorical. They could have happened but didn’t. About the only farfetched scenario is the Great White surprise. The Japanese had not finished the refitting of the Russian vessels captured during the Russo-Japanese war by 1907. This was done so that the game mechanics could be developed independent of the need to be able to recreate the outcomes of a historical battle. This may seem strange at first but is really just an attempt to keep the initial game as simple as possible. Many war games have rather simple core mechanics. Most of the rules are there to recreate a unique historical need. I am still proofing my game mechanics for QVN. The rules to recreate a historical battle can be added later.

QVN v. 3.0 is our second game using our new, reduced format. I have found that this reduced size makes it easier to focus the game. Rule additions have to be weighed as to what they add. Nice to have but not necessary additions are removed. The format looks nice too.

“But Where is…?”

Much had to be left out for the game to fit on 4 printed pages. Some of the concepts left out that I would like to have included: multi-ship units (torpedo boats & torpedo boat destroyers), weather effects, crew quality, smoke, mines, coastal artillery, multi-player rules, and historical scenarios. Fortunately I am considering a companion to QVN that would add these features to the game. Essentially, such a product would be the advanced rules and not a campaign game. Hopefully, QVN will be successful enough to warrant my continuation of this work.

In Conclusion

In the end, I want QVN to be a simple, playable, and enjoyable game. It should be a game that players would want to play with their opponents. Nothing would be better to me than to hear that a few people out there actually play the game and enjoy playing it. That is the ultimate indication of how successful that QVN v. 3.0 is. Let me know what you think of it.