Strategic Command Pre-Release Special - Naval Combat08 Nov 2016 0
As a supposed wargame connoisseur/aficionado, especially of the WWII era, I am chagrined to admit prior ignorance as the third installment of the popular Strategic Command series from Battlefront.com approaches release. Previous iterations include World War I and Global Conflict, among others, plus expansions. As you may have already heard or read, Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe (SC3) is scheduled for release November 17th, this time from Slitherine/Matrix, but still developed by Fury Software, the good folk who brought you all the rest. In fact, I had an opportunity to take some of Hubert Cater’s and Bill Runacre’s valuable time just prior to release (they are the developers at Fury; Bill is the designer, Hubert the AI programmer), and we were able to discuss some of the game’s features, especially of the naval game, about which I – curiously – found myself most inquisitive.
I say “curiously” since I normally avoid playing the more naval-oriented sides of such period conflicts, i.e., Japan, the U.S.A., or U.K. Yet, even as I played as the Axis in the current beta version, I wondered about some ‘specifics’ of naval detection for submarines (especially seeing that the Allied AI seemed to be able to catch mine with relative ease!). Turns out that, as I suspected, there are percentage chances regarding how the game calculates detection at sea, yet which seem to add up to very reasonable determinations for the naval detection/evasion side of the game. Let’s get to specifics!
Q&A with HUBERT CATER and BILL RUNACRE
Wargamer: Hi, Hubert… Bill. I appreciate you taking the time for my questions. Can you explain the naval detection routines in SC3, especially for submarines – i.e., how likely they are to be spotted as well as their chances for evasion?
Hubert Cater: Subs running in Silent mode can only be detected by a DD, but even here a DD can only detect a sub in Silent mode 50% of the time. Due to randomness, [the number of times detected out of total ‘tested’] will vary in every game [or] in every series of tests.
The idea for only allowing DDs to detect subs was to try and mimic and encourage this type of battle in the Atlantic between Axis subs and Allied destroyers. So a sub running in Silent attempting to move through a screen of CV, CA, BB, etc., is possible, and the only time an SS will be detected [by units other than DDs] is if its move ends adjacent to or under an existing and hidden enemy naval unit.
Wargamer: Makes sense, as that’s essentially what destroyers were designed for. Do I understand correctly that detection is automatic only if a sub ends it move adjacent to an enemy, regardless of type? Yet one could theoretically move right through virtually any number of ‘screening’ units?
Hubert Cater: Yes, so in theory a sub running Silent could move straight through any number of screening units that are not DDs, which is why it is important for players to use DDs. Of course, yes as well if they end their move adjacent to a previously hidden naval unit, then contact will be made... Sort of like popping up in plain sight sort of thing.
Wargamer: Are the chances different in the open ocean than, say, in the English Channel or another more restrictive waterway, e.g. Gibraltar?
Hubert Cater: Currently there is no difference here, as this is a general function/implementation for the game. However, in tighter areas like the Channel a couple of strategically placed DDs will definitely increase your odds of detection as a sub has no choice but to funnel through and pass by a DD or two, whereas out in the open ocean passing by a DD is much less guaranteed due to the extra space and options for movement.
At Gibraltar, an Axis sub cannot actually pass through the strait there without using the set naval loops, and if you place a DD in the arrival area on either side, detection will also be guaranteed as a sub will arrive ‘adjacent’ to a DD. Of course, a[n Allied] player will have to have those DDs on hand, and if they do this helps to mimic the difficulty and high risk that a sub would have undertaken to pass through the narrows there.
Wargamer: Makes sense, especially if you’ve seen Das Boot!
Hubert Cater: I have seen it!
Wargamer: I’ve also noticed that, after they dive, my subs have been detected immediately on occasion, by naval units and carrier-based aircraft. Is this also WAD; what are the chances of this, by various unit-type?
Hubert Cater: That’s a difficult one for me to answer without knowing the exact circumstances and sequence of events, as often a sub that is found after a dive is simply from another naval unit ending its move adjacent to it.
The basic principal for a diving sub is that it will automatically run ‘Silent’, which helps with further evasion, but since a dive is only a few hexes, the only locations it could have dived to could be obvious to any enemy naval units. So, if there are enough enemy naval units in the area, and they were already moving as part of a FLEET movement, then finding a sub that has dived and further attacking it is quite possible.
Wargamer: OK, it seemed odd that a sub dived (I’ve seen it only once, mind you), moved away a hex or two, and then was immediately attacked by carrier-based aircraft again. Not so odd that another one or two happened to be ‘caught’ right away by surface units; I just wondered what the chances of that were – or if the AI might be cheating! But it seems reasonable, now that you’ve clarified what was likely happening.
Hubert Cater: I’m assuming you are playing with FoW on? [Yes.] I’d have to really see the sequence of events for the carrier attack after a sub has dived, because… it is possible that a sub can be found again, or it was discovered another way. Essentially the AI would not be cheating here, as it understands FoW the same way a human player does, and this is across the board for all unit types and situations.
Wargamer: OK. How about the overall naval detection system? How do other units detect each other, including aircraft? [Hubert sought Bill’s input from here.]
Bill Runacre: Most naval units have an automatic spotting range of 1 hex, so they have to patrol the seas until they encounter enemy naval units, at which point an engagement would ensue.
Carriers and Escort Carriers can automatically spot most enemy naval units within 3 hexes of their location; the one unit type that isn’t automatically spotted at this range being subs that are running in Silent mode. Carriers can also launch air strikes that will spot enemy naval units that are either in the targeted hex or between that hex and the Carrier. [This is the same way that land-based fighters perform recon missions.] As with automatic spotting range, Silent subs would remain hidden.
Carriers can launch two strikes, while Escort Carriers can launch just one as they carry less aircraft. The air support these provide can be very useful when hunting down enemy naval units that are raiding your convoy routes, setting them up for attack by your surface fleet. In addition, and providing they haven’t used up all their strikes in locating the enemy, Carriers can bomb enemy naval units.
For the British, ideally they should send out a few Destroyer units with perhaps a Cruiser and a Carrier or Escort Carrier to sweep the seas, following the convoy routes. Canadian naval units can set sail too, assisting their British counterparts in protecting the UK’s vital convoy routes from attack. If Iceland is in Allied hands, then the UK will have the possibility to deploy some Maritime Bombers in Iceland, and also at St. John’s in Canada, providing useful air patrols for scouting and forcing enemy naval units to keep at a safe distance.
Bill Runacre [cont’d]: Maritime Bombers have greater range, and their automatic naval spotting ranges increase significantly when they are upgraded with Long Range air. Their use can reduce the Axis’s operational raiding area to the middle of the Atlantic, making them easier to locate and destroy, especially once the US also enters the war and is able to assist their British Allies.
When Spain moves towards the Axis following the fall of France, the Axis will be able to use selected Spanish ports to refuel and carry out repairs, including Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands, but if the war turns against the Axis then Franco will cease providing these facilities. In return, in 1943 the UK may have the opportunity to lease the Azores from Portugal, as they did historically, and this provides the Allies with another naval base in a crucial location.
From the outset of the war, it will be important for the Allies to invest resources in improving their own anti-submarine warfare techniques. Neglecting this aspect of the war would lead to the UK losing an important proportion of its economic potential, coupled with reductions in its National Morale. It’s also important that the Allies win the Battle of the Atlantic so that their troopships aren’t attacked and sunk in significant numbers when sailing from Canada and the USA to Europe.
COME SAIL AWAY WITH ME…
This conversation, dear readers, for one thing convinced me that the SC3 naval AI wasn’t ‘cheating’; I just ran into a string of bad luck – and likely good positioning by the AI! – where my subs were detected and sunk early. In any event, Hubert’s and Bill’s answers intrigued me to the point that I had to keep playing and ‘testing’ various paths and modes to convoy routes, as well as how often to move away using different patterns of waypoints, when to run Silent (and Deep!), in addition to keeping an eye on supplies so my sailors’ Morale doesn’t plummet. Oh, and apparently, in the meantime there are goings-on all over Europe to which I should also pay heed! But elucidation on all that will have to await our official review.
This article covers a game developed and/or published by members of the Slitherine Group. Please see the About Us page for more information. Jeff has previously been commissioned by Slitherine/Matrix to write a series of AAR's based on the game, which have been published over on their forums.