July 1996, by Bruce Biskup
First off, I would like to apologize to all of those who though that I would be writing this column regularly. It seems that I am not yet disciplined for the rigors of the regular columnists. However, the good news is that at least I have been working on new games.
What is new
Since I wrote the last Rambling, Joshua and I have completed many things here at BoneGames and changed others. We are no longer with our pals at 3I. More importantly though, Joshua and I have released the new version of Barons of Fyn. Barons of Fyn was the first game we produced for BoneGames and this was a major revision to the game. We rewrote many of the rules to make them more clear and eliminate some bugs. We were able to add new cards and Eddie Bauer was able to create new art for us. I tried my hand at the illustrations and I can attest that I am very grateful for Eddie’s assistance. I personally think that we are pretty much finished with Barons so I do not expect any more changes or revisions. It is a great group party game for those of you who have not tried it yet; I highly recommend that you take a look. (The nice thing about writing my own column is that I can shamelessly plug my own games.)
Some New Titles
We at BoneGames are currently working on several new titles. Among the most promising are two card games that Joshua has been working on and a new naval game by yours truly. The card games are titled Quick and Royal Wars and use a standard playing deck of cards. Both are in beta testing and feel free to get a copy of them at our new Beta web page. (Editor’s Note: both of these games are no longer available.)
Queen Victoria’s Navy
However, the game I wish to discuss in detail is my new game Queen Victoria’s Navy. QVN is an outgrowth of my earlier game effort, Sovereign Seas, and an even earlier effort back around 1992. At that time I was a graduate student at Texas A&M University. My graduate research at that time was very demanding and I needed a diversion to keep my sanity. While browsing the only game store in town I purchased 3W’s game titled Salvo! Salvo! is a tactical simulation of naval warfare during WWI. It is a simple game with very simple mechanics. Needless to say, I thought that the game could use something more and like many gamers, I went to work trying to create a game more to my liking. Principally, I wanted a tactical game that gave me a better feel for the detailed differences between the capital vessels of the time. More importantly, I wanted a higher level game so that good players could place their fleets into a favorable position to achieve decisive results.
I will digress at this point to help explain the last sentence of the previous paragraph. In most naval games that I have played, the tactical scenarios are based on historical encounters. In these scenarios, the combatants are already into the final phase of an engagement, namely coming within gun range of an opponent. In the big picture of the engagement, there is the mission or why the combatants are out at sea in the first place. Next there is the initial contact between opposing forces. This usually occurs between scouting forces and then the capital ships respond. Finally, there is the actual combat at gun and torpedo range. I wanted a game that allows players to experience all of these levels of play in a naval engagement.
I see little reason in trying to refight the WWI battle of Falklands Islands since the outcome should already be certain. To refresh your memory, the WWI battle of the Falklands was where Admiral Von Spee’s squadron of armored cruisers came upon the Falkland Islands intent on raiding its coal stores and capturing the island’s governor. Instead, the German admiral came upon a powerful British squadron that was dispatched to catch the Germans. Included in the squadron were two battle cruisers. Both of which were faster and more powerfully armed than any of the five German vessels. Of the German vessels that took part in the battle, only the light cruiser Dresden escaped destruction. This is the crux of the problem with refighting many tactical naval scenarios. Historically, no commander wants to fight a pitched battle. Instead, an admiral wants significant superiority on hand to overcome the enemy. Therefore, most historical naval battles are not an even fight and there will be a marked advantage by one side over the other. This tends to not make for a great game experience.
The game I wanted to play was a combination strategic and tactical game where players make high level decisions such as force deployments and missions in order to accomplish some concept of success. These decisions would be executed on a strategic level board in a region and any combat resulting from these decisions would be fought out on a tactical board. If a commander makes good decisions, then they should get the glory of fighting a battle of annihilation against their foe. Likewise, if they make poor decisions, then they get to play the role of Admiral Spee and experience defeat in detail.
By now, you might be thinking that I sat down and designed a cool strategic level naval game. Well, that is not how it happened. In fact, I did not even really work on the game until 1993 while I was unemployed and looking for a real job. The game I was working on was the original Sovereign Seas naval game. This game is a tactical level game simulation naval combat from 1860 to c. 1905. I choose this period for several reasons: 1) there are not very many games covering this period; 2) there are not many historical naval engagements in this period so I could protect my ideas from historical purists, and finally; 3) naval gunnery during this period was rather primitive so it is simple to model and implement in a game. Sovereign Seas and the simpler Sovereign Seas Lite were BoneGames’ first wargames and I am happy with the results we achieved with them. However, in the grander scheme of things, the games fell short of what I had in mind for the game I was contemplating in graduate school. The main problem I had with Sovereign Seas was that the game was slow and too cumbersome for large engagements such as the battle of Lissa. To play the strategic/tactical combination I will need a tactical system that is pretty fast. Sovereign Seas was not going to fast due to the use of ship logs. Hence, I began the development of QVN.
QVN is my response to my perceived short comings of our Sovereign Seas game system when taken in the strategic/tactical environment I had envisioned. Book keeping is kept to the minimum since the game is counter based with the majority of the pertinent information on the counters. This reduces the individual feel of the vessels but was the only way I could think of to keep the game enjoyable but fast playing. Other than the methodology I used to create the gun factors, the game mechanics are essentially a further development of the Sovereign Seas system. Because of the size of the database I am using, we had to change the way we package our games. Joshua and I have always tried to deliver complete games from BoneGames. With QVN, the size of the product files has forced us to deliver them in parts. Hopefully, as Internet bandwidth gets faster or we start commercially producing QVN we will be able to once again deliver a complete game (rules & pieces). For now we have decided to deliver the game in two parts. The first part is the rules and the second part is the Battlesets. The Battlesets will contain the counters for two or more historical navies and some historical and a-historical scenarios to play them with. Currently the only Battleset we have produced is Crisis in the Adriatic, which highlights the Italian and Austrian navies. In the future, we hope to release more Battlesets with the next one planned detailing the Russian, Japanese, and Chinese navies. I also hope to expand the QVN game system to cover WWI, the interwar periods and possibly WWII. Finally, I hope to design a strategic system that fits over the QVN system.
I hope you have enjoyed some of my thoughts about QVN. I will try and make a better effort to write these postings on a more regular basis. Next time I hope to talk in more detail about Joshua’s new game ideas and to possibly review Avalanche’s Press new game Great War at Sea Volume 1. Until them, thank you for your interest in BoneGames.
Editor’s Note: Queen Victoria’s Navy is now out of print.