Rule the Waves 2 - Strategy & Advice for new Admirals

By Charles Ellis 08 Aug 2019 6

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when starting a new game of Rule the Waves 2. I cut my teeth on its predecessor and have had a pretty decent run with this iteration – and yet even I get stuck every now and then. So many options, so many factors to be mindful of. It would be impossible to cover all of the factors at play here. Instead, I’m going to highlight some overarching factors you should be mindful of starting out – moving on to some more focused elements that the reader might otherwise have to find out the hard way!

Note: I mention Rule the Waves 2’s manual a fair amount here. For those wondering, it’s hidden in your Rule the Waves 2 install folder. Don’t ask me why it’s not elsewhere on the internet! Default install location will be the C: drive in a folder named ‘NWS’.

Naval strategy is built strategy

I owe the quite excellent youtuber Military History Visualised for that line. There is no simpler way of saying it. What happens in the battles you fight in Rule the Waves 2 is in large part defined by the decisions you made many, many turns ago. Ships take so much time to design and build that, once a war starts, you are unlikely to have the chance to recreate your fleet before the war ends, win or lose. Don’t have enough battleships? Tough. Outperformed by the enemy’s carriers? Too late.

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Therefore, you must always be abreast of what the enemy has, and what is coming. What you are building should also reflect where you’ll be fighting. The chances are you mightn’t need to rely on carriers so much if you’re fighting in areas with plenty of coast nearby (the Baltic and Mediterranean are prime examples here). Similarly, if you’re going to be adventuring the Pacific, or far from your own bases, carriers suddenly become critical. It’s all down to where you are and how you expect to fight. As the Japanese and British found out however in two world wars, how you expect to fight can be very different to how you actually fight.

Change is constant

One of the things that Rule the Waves 2 truly captures is how technology changed the way naval warfare was fought. At the beginning, it’s pre-dreadnoughts engaging one another from only a few sea miles away and spending most of their time missing. By the end, carriers with jet aircraft are engaging one another from hundreds of sea miles, whilst the fast battleships that remain act as, at best, convenient anti-aircraft positions.

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The changes that you’ll see will be at times rapid, even disorientating. A war fought between battleships with the odd airship spotting stuff will be followed, potentially, by a war in which all those same battleships are annihilated by land-based aviation whilst their adversaries sit and watch. I know – it happened to me – I lost that war, badly. With that in mind…

Watch your tension

Mousing over the events given to you at the end of each turn will generally give an idea of what they’ll do. Think about this stuff carefully. A war can give you a lot of prestige very quickly (so long as you win it!) It’s okay to lose a prestige or two, if it means you avoid war as a minor power with the US or Great Britain (where you are highly unlikely to come out ahead in anything, let alone prestige!) Arms control treaties are also something to look out for.

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I am quite happy to turn into General Jack D. Ripper for a turn if it will mean that I avoid having to scrap half my battlefleet in the process. Similarly, tempting as it is to sell every kind of technology you have to all comers, think about what kind of technology is being given away. For that reason, I avoid selling high quality guns or destroyer tonnage upgrades, even to my best allies. In a decade they might’ve turned Fascist (or worse: Communist) and will be looking to fight a total war every chance they get. 

Look at the map

At the beginning of any game you want to look at your position within the world. The kinds of ships you are going to build and the way in which you play will be heavily dependent upon what dominions your nation has and its location relative to other states. For example, the USA is relatively cut off from the rest of the world, has some colonies and, not least, has a large area to defend. It is probable that its entire navy will never be in one location to fight but instead will be spread across multiple theatres.

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Large numbers of “good enough” ships, potentially ones with longer range, might be a good starting point for them. To contrast: Austria-Hungary’s navy is underfunded, surrounded by enemies and hasn’t a single colony. On the other hand, it might play the entire game and never leave the Mediterranean, so designing for one big deciding battle mightn’t be such a bad idea.

Technology

Technology works differently in Rule the Waves 2 to other games. You can put a technology on high priority all game and still have it go nowhere for most of it. Be prepared for that, but at the same time don’t stress. Your enemies will have problems too – it often quite amusing finding out what they don’t have. I myself like to prioritise all the “soft” technologies – that is fleet signalling, damage control and engineering techs.

These things, silently and without fuss, make your fleets better and better, often without even requiring refits. Having the finest ships is all very well, but signalling errors could make them useless, or worse: sunk. Do always, however, pour as much of your dollars as you can into research, you change it at the bottom of your screen. Now, with that said:

Don’t wait for the scientists

My advice when dealing with technology is not to wait. It’s very tempting, particularly when your scientists promise that they’ll be reaching a new technology “soon” to hold off production until they do. Oftentimes, the difference between having ships available at the start of a conflict and at the end of one means that having ships building sooner rather than later is generally better. It can be maddening to find yourself having to upgrade the guns on your vessels as soon as they’re built, but I find it worth the trouble, when the alternative is an undefined amount of time where nothing is being built.

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It’s perhaps less than what we might consider “maximum efficiency”, but only after the 35 turns or more of building a dreadnought have been played out do we find whether a war would take place or not. Better to not take the risk. The only exception here I find is just at the dawn of the dreadnought age, where laying down a new class of pre-dreadnoughts when, in a few turns, the first dreadnoughts will begin construction would be somewhat sub-optimal.

Training is worth it

It would be easy to be leery of putting a large sum of money into training up your fleet in, say, night fighting or torpedo warfare. Let me say this: if you have the spare change, it is worth it. At times it is frightening how efficient your ships can become under the right conditions in nailing every shot they fire. Now, admittedly, the costs associated with such improvements can be a significant problem for you. With larger navies with global concerns (Great Britain and the USA spring to mind here), it might be worth just having the extra ships so you can cover all your bases. For navies where the decisive battle is everything (looking at you Germany), extra training might well be worth your consideration. Talking of night battles:

Fear the daylight

When dawn with her rose red fingers shines once more, watch the skies. Post 1930 or thereabouts, aircraft will be out in force, all loaded with ordinance just waiting to be put to work on your precious capital ships. There are ways to mitigate this (like sticking as many AA guns as your ships will fit on board), but it remains that aircraft are cheap and can give everything afloat a bad day if they hit. Night battles (particularly without radar) are their own problem, but at least you have at least some control then. During the day, expect the sky to be filled with aircraft from dawn ‘til dusk. Begin developing your aviation industry long beforehand; and be prepared to refit ships with extra AA if need be. AA guns are relatively light on tonnage and, in numbers, are worth every penny for the defence they provide to aircraft.

“The man who fights and runs away…”

Know when to cut your losses. Very quickly it will become the case that the navy you have is the one you have built from scratch and with much effort and angst on the part of your finance department. You do not want it lost in an afternoon because you thought you’d get that last enemy battleship over there where those destroyers are circling suspiciously. In battles, damage can often accrue over long periods, flooding can increase over time and ships founder due to changing weather.

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It is often better, once you have your win and the enemy has lost a couple of important ships, to retreat to base rather than risk it all. One or two unlucky torpedo hits can turn a victory into a draw or worse. The danger of overextending is all the greater once aviation comes into play, as the enemy’s ships don’t even have to be near you for your ships to be torpedoed into nothingness by repeated attacks. Remember, if you are close enough to a friendly port you can dock your ships there even whilst the battle is being played out. It might make the difference between “heavily damaged” and “sunk”.

Let aviation do its thing

As 1920 came around and I began to deal with what aircraft, I found it hard to get a grip on what aircraft can and can’t do. The manual covers this partially, but I feel that I should cover the business in a very straight forward “idiot’s guide” manner.

Land-based aviation you have no control over. They do their thing, they launch their raids, and that is that. Don’t waste time worrying - they’ll turn up, or they won’t.

Close Air Patrols from carriers are handled automatically by the AI aboard those carriers. There is a panel for this where you change their frequency, but my experience has been CAPs have done well without my interference, particularly when supporting a large group of warships with generous AA suites.

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Reconnaissance, Naval Attacks and Escorts are all handled under the “airstrike” interface. Their direction and targets are handled like the standard system of giving ships orders. Click on the reticle  at the top of the interface, click on where you want to them to go. On the list of available aircraft (that’ll rise and fall depending on what’s going on), click on the checkboxes to get the aircraft you want. You can change the number if you wish. If you want to change the aircraft’s mission, right click on the aircraft in question and it’ll give you a list. I find it to generally work, once you are done, to hit “Launch Strike” immediately and get back to the rest of the battle. The aircraft have a generous search area, so as long as you send them in generally the right direction you can be confident of picking up something.

Fair warning, both sighting reports and the claims made by your pilots should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s impossible to tell, but it is entirely possible that the dozens of “torpedo hits” you might rack up over the course of the game are mostly duds and misses. Don’t get too excited if you get a train of them - wait for the post battle results screen.

Bonus Round: How to draw a pretty ship

By special request, I’ve been asked to do a little tutorial on how to draw ships good. Make sure all your guns and everything else are fitted first and the ship designer tells you everything is “all okay”. To begin with, you want to make sure you have asymmetric funnels and superstructure turned off. They’re really only good for carriers and will otherwise lead to much angst and no reward. Next, get some funnels. The little “…” buttons activates the funnels, mouse over the ship’s hull and click on it. Each “…” corresponds to a funnel. The funnel will automatically go on the ship’s centreline. It is generally realistic to put funnels in the middle third of the ship. If you don’t like your choices, use the “X” to remove it.

Once those are done, move on to the superstructure. “St1” through “St6” give you a box – if the “line” box is ticked, it will not fill, if it is not then you will get a lighter area that will give the impression of a ship’s upper works and superstructure. Each left click draws a line to that point. You have 10 clicks for each “St” so don’t worry about running out. Once you have the shape you want, right click, and the line will be reflected on the other side. If you don’t like what you’ve drawn, click on the relevant button and mouse over the ship’s picture. The line will vanish automatically. If you’re running into a bug where the drawn shape is slightly crooked, I find it best to zoom in.

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Feel free to experiment. The system works so the “St6” will cover up everything beneath it, so you want to work down the list. I like to begin with a few straight lines to delineate quarterdecks and forecastles. From there, I’ll generally add a bridge/compass platform with perhaps a tower or two above it. Draw on reference material here. Games like World of Warships are perfect for looking at what ships of the era looked like. Focus upon the overall effect, rather than perfect detail, it’s just not possible. I like to be fairly sparse early on, particularly with destroyers. As the years go by, the amount of “stuff” above the hull progressively increased, culminating the kind of “pagoda” masts that many Japanese ships are famous for. 

Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things – Colonies in Rule the Waves 2

With colonies, I find the first thing to ask oneself is: “do I need overseas colonies?” The fact is that running overseas colonies is a whole lot of bother. You are required to allocate ships to hang around to keep an eye on your subjects, and that’s just in peacetime. In wartime, things get hairy. As is the nature of Rule the Waves 2, the game will do its level best to throw the worst possible situations it can think of at you. So, you can expect that that colony you forgot about half way through the game will have modern raiding ships arrive off its coast at some point, and there will be nothing to do but grin and bear it.

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Let’s get some definitions out of the way. When I refer to colonies, I mean your state’s possessions that are situated outside your home region. There is an important distinction here that bears repeating. Your home region is where all your ships are built and the one to always defend above all else. The home region is the only region that matters when the game is calculating whether you are being blockaded or not. It is always better to lose a colony or two to an invasion than to be blockaded. A colony doesn’t look good on the victory point tally. A blockade leads to creeping unrest, defeat and, potentially, the collapse of your nation’s government. The replacement of a democracy or a monarchy (even a bad one!) by fascists or commies is likely to result in a whole load of angst for your navy. I think you see the picture.

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So much for why you shouldn’t have colonies. Here is why you should. First and foremost, colonies give you cash (more on that later). Second, and perhaps most importantly, it is possible for nations without oil to gain access to oil with colonies. When, as the game progresses, all ships in your navy require oil, you can understand why this would be a big deal. Zooming in further, colonies are pretty much required to project power in regions other than your home region. Whilst it is possible to put ships into regions where you have no bases, if they take damage or run out of fuel in wartime they are likely to be interned in neutral ports. Whilst they aren’t, strictly, sunk, they are out of action for the duration of the war. If half your battlefleet is interned for lack of fuel, you can understand why that would be a less than ideal outcome. Note that if you have allies, you can base your ships in their bases as well. Finally, overseas colonies provide real estate for you to put airbases on. Depending upon the region you’re operating in (Northern Europe and the Med are the best examples here), land-based aviation can be a critical, if not decisive, factor in battles. Bear this in mind if you wish to bring the fight to nations in those regions, who are likely to have well-developed airfields that will cheerfully deluge you in aircraft. Bring fighters and cross your fingers.

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So – with all that in mind, you’ve got a colony, what do you do with it? Firstly, it’s often wise to stick some harbour guns on it. The chances are they won’t be used – but there is nothing more annoying in that single battle you’ll fight over there than finding out that all that fiscal conservatism on your part has now left your ships no refuge. As the years roll around, those guns also receive AA defences, which, if the enemy chooses to interdict your airfields, can prove useful as well. Equally annoying can be when you find out your colony (or indeed the region you are fighting in), hasn’t got an airfield. I know for myself, who generally plays in regions where you can expect a lot of land-based aviation, I tend to design my ships with the assumption that there will always be aircraft overhead in some form. Most of the time that assumption holds. That assumption does become a problem if, instead of running about the Club Med, I find myself fighting off a colony deepest darkest Africa with not an aircraft in sight. Bonus points when the enemy has brought aircraft.

So – as a rule of thumb, by about 1920 I aim to have at least one airfield in each region I have colonies in. If tensions begin to rise with a neighbour, I’ll generally begin expanding those airfields too. The chances are, if war does happen, the airfields won’t be fully upgraded (they take 12 months) but they will soon and that could be all the difference. Bear in mind that land-based aircraft can become a money sink, so be judicious in developing your infrastructure. As of the latest patch, you can put your airfields on reserve status, saving precious cash, just be sure to activate them before war breaks out.

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So much for aircraft. What about ships? Firstly, as the game will remind you tirelessly, you must satisfy a certain amount of overseas tonnage. This can be done by moving ships to those regions manually or by putting them on “Foreign Service”. There is a difference. Foreign service is the easier one. It handles the whole thing for you. Ships rotate around non-home regions the tonnage requirements will be satisfied and no worries for you. It’s less bothersome, but it does take a certain amount of control out of your hands. If war comes, it is entirely possible for all the wrong ships to be in all the wrong places. The alternative, moving ships to a specified region gives you more control, but they won’t move about and it can be easy to lose track of them, or find yourself with hopelessly obsolete ships overseas that aren’t worth the shells it’d take to sink them.

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There are, however, limits to what you can stick overseas. This is affected by the capacity of the possessions under your control. The value it gives is based upon the tonnage of your ships taken in thousands of tons. In other words, a region with a capacity of “100” can take 100,000 tons worth of shipping. If you go over that limit, bad things start happening. Let us leave it at that. Port capacity can be upgraded, but it is slightly tricky to find the relevant button (I know I had trouble finding it for this article!). For reference, it can be found under the “Base Overview” tab and right clicking on the specific base you wish to upgrade. If you’re like me and prefer to work through the map so you actually know what you’re upgrading, it can be done through the “Map” tab as well. In that case, left click on relevant flags and away you go.

Even in peacetime, having ships overseas isn’t just for show. When colonial crises occur, it seems that the RNG of those events are heavily affected by how many of your ships are in the area. If you’re Austria and there’s a colonial crisis in the Caribbean, it’s probably best to just ignore it. Meanwhile, if you’re Japan and Korea breaks out in violence, the strength of your forces in the area makes it worth pressing for the strongest outcome. The chances are you’ll get it.

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Finally, a bit on design. It should be obvious that, when you’re an overseas empire, you’d want to avoid designing short range ships. It’s probably worse than you think however. In wartime it is not possible for short range ships to move from one region to another at all. So, if you didn’t need encouragement enough already, don’t build short range ships if you’ve got colonies.

Beyond those basics, things get interesting. Longer range ships are very tempting, but the trade-offs get worrying fast. Hard factors like an extra turret or inch of armour can be hard to balance with soft factors that take place outside the battle. I’ve not been able to balance it myself; and tend to stick with medium range. It appears that range makes the biggest difference when a ship is set to raiding, but your mileage may vary. Beyond that, I’ve found it generally best to follow historical practise and build “good enough” ships rather than “amazing” ones. If you’re, say, Britain or the US, it’s been my experience that you want some sort of presence everywhere, rather than a few super ships that sit in your home region whilst your opponent gobbles up your empire.

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I’ll leave you with the advice I started with. Do you really need colonies? It can often be the case that the bump your nation’s economy receives when you don’t take colonies is the better option. If you start with them, or if you want to bring the fight to the enemy, then go crazy. But it requires that your gameplay change to suit that.

So there we have it, a (massive) basic guide to Rule the Waves 2. The key thing to remember here is: experiment. There are all kinds of peculiar things that are possible in RtW2. Mess up once or twice? It really doesn’t matter. This may not be the last we have to say on the subject. The business of shipbuilding could fill a guide up on its own, and battle itself another on top of that. But, for now, good luck, and enjoy.

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