24 October 2014

PC Game Review: Warship Combat: Navies At War

If you enjoy naval wargaming, Navies At War is awesome, but prepared to be schooled by an AI that probably knows more tricks than you do.

Published on 6 NOV 2009 9:48am by Scott Parrino
  1. Christopher Dean/William Miller
  2. Naval Warship Simulations
  3. world war i, world war ii, turn-based, tactical, single-player, naval combat, simulation

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The Wargamer is pleased to present an Award for Excellence to Christopher Dean, William Miller, and Naval Warfare Simulations for their outstanding naval warfare simulation, Warship Combat: Navies at War.  Its clean and simple interface, accurate and detailed modeling of every aspect of naval surface comba,t and accessible, versatile scenario creation make it an example of the epitome of naval wargame design.

The Warship Combat franchise started in 2003 with the original World War II title quickly followed by a World War I release. Both games were patched and updated frequently. In 2007, Warship Combat: Battleships and Dreadnaughts combined the two wars and vastly improved maneuvering and gunnery features. Several themes remained constant throughout this development. Surface combat has been the sole focus; forget aircraft and subs. Historical accuracy for ship armor and capabilities, combat mechanics, ballistics, and environmental effects are hallmarks. Simplicity in interface and scenario creation has been mainstays. Constant research by the design team and a devoted, well-informed group of followers has culminated in Warship Combat: Navies at War, a product that rewards all the time and work involved.

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Bismarck fires.

 

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Bismarck repeats history with a hit on Hood.

Just the Facts

This game’s graphics are functional, not flashy. The screen, configurable from the default 1024x768 to full screen or scalable – is divided into four parts. The top shows 2D detailed profiles of the firing and then the target vessel against a dynamic 3D horizon and sea. Clouds and stars move with each turn. Muzzle flashes and smoke appear from the firer while hits create flashes about penetrating and critical hits. Small smoke clouds indicate non-piercing hits. Fires and smoke ravage stricken ships and smoke screens cover vessels trying to hide. Water spouts mark misses and straddles. Night action brings star shells and search lights. Effects of hits in terms of hull, flotation, superstructure, and weapon damage flash here quickly. Appropriate and lively sound effects accompany actions and events.

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Moonlight over a miss.

Below the visuals is the interface section. The workhorse of the game, players see command options, select them, and read status reports on course, speed, and damage. National naval flags indicate which side’s information is shown. Targeting is a step-by-step process and this section reminds players if they skip a required step. The information provided here keeps players appraised on the situation with very clear font. Using the F4 key brings up detailed data on selected friendly ships and enemy ships if fog of war is off.

The lower half of the screen is divided between the tactical map and ship deployment screen. The tactical map represents an 80,000 yard square area over which a grid of 10,000 yards increments can be toggled. Friendly divisions are represented by blue dots and the AI player’s by red. When a division is selected, colored concentric circles mark visual and radar range as well as gunnery and torpedo range. Tiny lines indicate course and selected divisions are highlighted in white. Some zoom capability would be welcome here as dots almost merge at extremely close range.

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Visual and gunnery ranges are marked on tactical map.

The ship deployment section is further divided into the player’s side below the AI’s. Ships belonging to a divisionthat has been selected on the tactical map appear in a top-down view. Ships’ icons are cornucopia of detail. The ship’s division and its place in line are given as well as its type and class. The icon turns colors if it is firing or launching torpedoes. Colors also show if a ship has been hit, straddled, missed, or is screened by smoke. The number of main battery mounts is shown on the bow with the number of secondary and tertiary mounts on the stern. Blocks amidships indicate hull, superstructure, and floatation damage by changing color. Another set of blocks indicate whether the three types of mounts hit, straddled, or missed the target. A string of letters and numbers under the firing ship shows rate of fire and selected ammunition. Symbols over the icon represent direction, damage, fire, smoke screen, or illumination and how many times the target has been ranged by enemy fire. Max and present speed are also seen.

The on-line manual provides all needed information. Its format may appear fragmented until users learn to use the hot-linked table of contents.  Switching to the manual during windowed or scaled play will answer any questions that may arise. The on-line nature allows for frequent and easily accessible updates. Tutorials may be found at http://forums.navalwarfare.org/showthread.php?t=1569.

At General Quarters

Play starts with players choosing either the World War II or World War I database. The next options deal with creating a player’s scenario or generating random scenarios. As many as thirty-two ships per fleet can be chosen. Plunging immediately into a fight calls for loading scenarios, downloadable from http://forums.navalwarfare.org/showthread.php?t=1516. Clicking on a scenario allows a choice of fleets, leading to game options such as AI aggressiveness, gunnery choices, radar, fog of war, dud ammunition, game speed, and other features including music and ocean sounds. Battle begins with the player’s divisions appearing in blue on the tactical map and the enemy often absent due to distance. Divisions’ courses can be changes by clicking on its name and moving an arrow through eight compass points the tactical movement phase. The info screen then prompts for evasive action. As with all binomial commands, left click is affirmative; right click negative. A right click starts the next turn after a report on both fleets’ strength.

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Divisions’ course and speed are set with clicks.

When the enemy comes into view, matters become serious. Players decide on course and speed relative to the opponent and if to start evasive action immediately. Speed is shown as maximum, current, and ordered. Changes to speed are accomplished by clicking on plus and minus signs with changes taking affect at the rate of one knot per turn. Usually, main batteries on capital ships can fire at extreme range. Firing ships’ divisions are selected from the tactical map, causing those ships’ icons to appear on the ship display for another selection. The same interface mechanic is used to select target divisions. The player can choose to hold fire, but the more shots fired, the better the ranging, so opening fire immediately is a good idea. Rate of fire comes in three types: ranging yields little damage if a hit is made but saves ammunition, spotted hits causes more damage but uses more shells and full rate of fire can wreak havoc but deplete magazines. Three types of ammunition are the next choices: armor piercing is necessary for battle ships but may pass through lesser vessels without exploding; common munitions penetrate lighter armors and will detonate on contact while high explosive does a job on poorly armored sections of ships. Selection of shell type should be a combination of the quantity per type ships have, target, and a gut feeling for the likelihood of hits. Right clicking through the gunnery option uses the previous firing parameters. As range closes in subsequent turns, players use the same targeting routine for secondary and tertiary mounts. Ships with torpedoes will be prompted when the range allows use, but here players should wait to close range. Shell flight is shown by red lines between ships with the “freight train” sound of shells. Torpedoes can be fired in multi-salvoes and set for narrow, average, and wide spreads. Night battles allow options for illumination by searchlight while star shells automatically light up main battery targets.

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A destroyer is lit up by searchlights.

Gunnery and maneuver orders are resolved simultaneously in three-minute turns. Animation can be seen in slow, medium, and fast speeds or can be skipped altogether to go immediatrly to a text report. Torpedo resolution spans more turns depending on the range and enemy maneuvers. Player fire is seen first. Gunnery hit chances and damage effects are calculated using twenty-seven factors including range, target size and speed, fire control, illumination, mount rate of fire, shell ballistics, weather, and crew quality. Torpedo mechanics use fifteen factors including target aspect, salvo spread, and sea state. The AI is unscripted and knows more tricks than most players. Every clash is exciting with replayablity at a maximum.

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A glance at all the variables that go into ships.

When damage occurs, a short message describes the kind of hit with a code indicating the severity. Particularly devatating events have special indicating such as “Shot passes through hull; ship flooding”. Even straddles can cause shrapnel damage. Possible damage to mounts is calculated per individual mounts. The text report is shown after each turn and overall damage can be seen by hitting F4 on clicking on a ship to view the status of twenty ship components. Repair or continued damage from fire and flooding comes before the nest order phase. When a ship is heavily damaged, options to disengage appear. Players can also make smoke screens during the tactical movement phase. The damage model allows for a relatively unknown effect: smaller caliber guns can “mission kill” capital ships by wrecking their superstructure so much that the behemoths become floating ashtrays. Battle ends when one side loses all ships, ammunition runs out, or one side exits its designated map edge. Victory is decided by points with weaker fleets receiving a positive multiplier.

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Graf Spee sets Exeter on fire.

Dream Battles

If variety is the spice of life, Warship Combat: Navies at War is a South Indian curry buffet. Potluck can be obtained using the quick battle generator and auto-deploy. Any nation can fight any other in any year at anytime. Players can massage some of the parameters after ships have been selected. Some match-ups can be surprising, especially if one or both fleets are designated as surprised.

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Players can choose many options to create a scenario.

Players wanting to create historical or hypothetical battles can click through the start-up options to get to the scenario editor. Here, nations, ship classes, year, weather, sea state, crew quality, and visibility can be set. Ship names can be customized and divisions deployed manually by clicking on the tactical map. The game’s data base is huge and growing. Not only are actual vessels available but ones planned but not built; e.g. U.S.S. Lexington built as the planned battle cruiser, not a carrier. Minor countries will be added as will older fleets; the Russo-Japanese War is already available.

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The British classes available in 1942.

Warship Combat: Navies at War will be enjoyed immensely by naval wargamers. However, this game takes us all to school. Insight into the intricacies of surface combat is explored in unprecedented depth. Education should be fun. This game is a graduate course in naval warfare and entertainment open even to undergrads.

System Requirements

Minimum Specs

Reviewer's Specs

400 MHZ CPU

64 MB RAM

16 MB video card or better

Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista

MicroSoft DirectX 7.0 or better

Windows XP home
Pentium(R) Dual-Core  CPU      E5200  @ 2.50GHz (2 CPUs)
1 GB RAM

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
DirectX 9.0c

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Gamesquad and Gaming Chronicle.

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