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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A Game Design Lesson From "Jutland"

This is Steven Petrick posting.

One of the grandfathers of Star Fleet Battles is an old game by Avalon Hill called "Jutland" about the largest naval engagement of the first world war.

When I first picked up a copy of this game, I promptly returned it to the store because it had no "gameboard" (by design). It was in essence a kind of "miniatures" game in that your cardboard playing pieces actually maneuvered on the floor which took the place of open water, and I was just not interested.

After much more gaming experience I actually did pick up a copy.

The problem in one sense was that I did have a lot more gaming experience, and that led to the game quickly being broken.

The Germans could maneuver their columns to do the "battle turn away" maneuver, and their destroyer flotillas could lay "smoke."

The British could do neither of these things.

Battles eventually devolved down to the Germans laying smoke, forming a line, waiting until the heads of the British columns came through the smoke, blazing away, then turning away while the destroyers laid smoke again. Repeating the maneuver again and again.

The only thing the British could do (in order to avoid being destroyed in detail by constantly coming through the smoke screens) was not engage, i.e., the games became stalemates.

Obviously, historically, this was not the case. Laying smoke while effective was not that effective, and while the battle turn away was something the Germans had repeatedly trained for (and why they were able to use it to disengage from the British historically), it would not have worked in conjunction with smoke as effectively as it did in the game. It becomes one of those things that you wonder why the playtesters did not spot it and do something to fix it before the game was published.

Now, German destroyers laying smoke screens was an optional/advanced rule, but it probably needed something to limit it, perhaps limiting the number of times an individual German destroyer flotilla could "make smoke," which would allow the British in turn to simply not penetrate any such smoke cloud, but maneuver away and allow it to dissipate. That would at least have forced the Germans in turn to only use it to mask a maneuver or cover damaged ships.