Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sixth Fleet - Operation Minotaur

Casus Belli is an old French wargaming magazine that was a pleasant mixture of articles and scenarios on many different games. In 1988, they published a scenario based on the idea of a war between France and Libya. It was called "Operation Minotaur".

I like this scenario because it fills a gap in the scenarios from the original Sixth Fleet core rules. With so many different nationalities included in the game's counter mix, it was practically begging for a scenario that didn't feature the US Navy. Although I love Sixth Fleet dearly, it was so totally focused on Cold War matchups that it felt like it was missing out on potential scenarios that featured local conflicts between powers in the region. This scenario helps to tilt back the balance a bit.

In "Operation Minotaur", we have a similar setup to what was featured in the "Libyan-American War" scenario but instead of the Americans this time, it is the French who are angry at Libya (3 guesses as to why). The name of the operation seems pretty clever as Libyan-backed terrorism is seen as the minotaur that kills innocent young men and women while the French are set up as Theseus, who will finally slay the monster. Maybe I'm reading too much into it though.

In any case, the Libyans must have done something real bad to anger the French because they have just dispatched a carrier (the R99 Foch) and its task force along with several submarines. The French objective is to bomb targets in Benghazi and Darnah. The more hits they can get on these two targets, the more VPs they score. Hitting Tripoli, for some reason, is worth zero VP. I have a feeling this was done for balance issues but maybe the scenario notes help explain the logic behind this.

Foch-ing Cool: The Clemenceau Class Foch (R99)

Although the Foch is an impressive piece of military equipment, it isn't rated quite the same as the Nimitz in this game. Indeed, while the Nimitz had a whopping 9 hit capacity, the Foch only has 5. Whereas the Nimitz carried a wide assortment of planes to do its business, the Foch has two squadrons of Super Étendards, an Alizé (an AEW version) and a squadron of F-8 interceptors. Still, this seems like more than enough to get the job done.

Les Super Duper Étendards in mid-flight

The Super Étendards fly at low altitude and high speed, so each time they get within range of Libyan CAP missions, the Libyan player must roll a "1" on a six-sided die to intercept. Another interesting special rule is that the Libyans might get advance intelligence of a French attack. Each time the French try to hit a base hex, the Libyan player rolls a six-sided die. On a "1" result, his CAP strength and base anti-air strength are increased. Another special rule states that the French get a +1 bonus to attack Libyan subs as they are noisy. The odds are very much stacked against the Libyans but it seems like the scenario designers were trying to go for some realism with these options.

The setup for the Libyans has a Mig-23 and an Su-20 each in Tripoli and Benghazi. There are two Libyan subs (Fateh and Albdr) starting off near the coast. Two PCS boats are in Tripoli and two are in Benghazi with a final one sitting in Darnah.

The game is 9 turns long. The Libyans score VPs by damaging or destroying the French forces. If they can damage the Foch, they score 20 VPs and if they destroy it, they get 100 VPs! The game goes to the side that can score the most VPs by the end.

I was warned that this scenario was a fairly one-sided affair for the French so I decided to try and see if I could finish the scenario without any French losses. On the other hand, I decided to play the Libyans as aggresively as possible. They will try to use their submarines to detect the French task force arriving in the area and then send a swarm of PCS ships to attack the French all at the same time. It is a big gamble but if it pays off, we might be able to sink the Foch!

Turn 1

Strat Air Allocation:

The French want to find at least one of those Libyan subs before they can detect or do any damage to their task force. They assign one Atlantique recon plane based in Nimes to scour the waters near Libya. The other Atlantique is assigned to Tactical Coordination in The Tyrrhenian Sea .

In the CAP phase, the Libyans put up a Mig-23 and Su-20 in Benghazi. They keep the MiG-23 and Su-20 off CAP in Tripoli. Hopefully, the subs can detect the incoming French and the Libyans can scramble their air force from Tripoli to hit their fleet as it comes south.

The French put the F-8 interceptors up on CAP with the Alizé over the Foch. There is only one F-8 squadron but having an AEW unit really helps to make interceptions more effective.

Both sides jostle for position this turn. The Libyans send their subs up on a course to intercept the French carrier task force when it passes west of Sicily. The French send their task force south and the two frigates are used to screen. The Libyans also send the Asawr and PCS1 north to 0722. With a 5 movement rating, they will be able to swoop in and attack once the Libyan subs detect the French surface forces.

End of Turn 1

Turn 2

The French started off the turn by activating their subs. They moved them on an intercept course with the Libyan subs, which were themselves on their way to set up a picket near Sicily.  The decision was whether or not to have the Rubis attack the Albdr but that would have left the French sub detected and in the midst of hostile waters alone.

The Libyans activated their subs and kept them moving. The Fateh moved to 0923 while the Albdr arrived in hex 1024.

The Libyans could do nothing with their air so they passed in the second action phase. The French activated surface ships and moved Task Force 1 to 1224, hugging the west Sicilian coastline and trying to stay out of Albdr's limited detection zone.

The French activated their air but there was no point to hitting Tripoli and Benghazi was just out of range. The Libyans decided to go for broke and activated their surface patrol boats in Darnah and Benghazi. PCS4 &5 stacked together and arrived in 1929 while PCS1 was in 0631 by the end of the turn. If only the French were foolish enough to hurry into the Central Mediterranean and be detected, the Libyan surface fleet could swarm them.

End of Turn 2

Turn 3

The French are frustrated at their inability to get their carriers moving south into striking range of Benghazi. It is time to hit the Libyan subs. All three French subs attack the Albdr but only the Daphné manages to damage it. The Libyans activate their own subs and attempt revenge by attacking the Daphné in return but fail to score any hits.

The French hope to detect the Libyan surface fleet in 0722 and attack next turn so they move into position in 1122 and stack together. Let's see if we can draw off the Libyans or destroy them.

The turn ends with the Libyans moving PCS3 from Darnah closer to the Task Force. It arrives in 0728 so now the Libyan boats are all within closing distance of the Foch and her escorts.  Although the real fighting has not yet begun, the tension is thick.

Sub battles just south of the French task force near Sicily. Turn 3.

Turn 4

Everything explodes in turn 4. In the strategic air allocation phase, the Libyans send their Su-20 in Tripoli up on a recon mission to find the French carrier task force and the two French frigates stacked together in 1122. Meanwhile, the French send up their Atlantique planes on recon missions in The Tyrrhenian Sea  and Central Mediterranean to detect the Libyan surface forces.

The Libyans can't penetrate the submarine screen around the French task force but they can definitely hurt the French elsewhere. PCS1 and Asawr move to 1022, adjacent to the French frigates, and launch their SSMs. They sink the Moulin and damage the Drogou. The Libyans gain 6 VP.

Well, so much for my plan to keep the French from getting through this ordeal without any casualties. Time for revenge.

The French activate their air units and start to erase the Libyan surface fleet. One Étendard destroys the Asawr and PCS1 in 1022 while the other takes out PCS4 & 5 in 0929. The French have 19 VP.

In the second action phase, the French get their submarines going and the Rubis sinks PCS3 in 0728 for 4 VP. The Agost sends Albdr to the bottom of the sea for 3 more VP.

As an encore, the French task force damages the Fateh and moves to 1027. From next turn, it will be able to launch air attacks against Benghazi.

In return, the Libyans decide to finish the job of taking out the French frigates. They send their MiG-23s from Tripoli out to bomb the Drogou and score a hit, sinking it.

Wow. What a turn. Everyone got hurt but the Libyans came out worse for wear. France has 26 VPs and the Libyans have 10. Libya is going to need some serious luck to try and recover from the near entire loss of their fleet.

End of Turn 4: The Libyan fleet is nearly destroyed.

Turn 5

And so it begins. The French start off the turn by sending off both squadrons of Super Étendards into Benghazi. The Libyans fail to intercept with their CAP and the French score 6 hits on the Libyan city. The French gain 10 VP.

The Libyan sub Fateh tries in vain to hit the Daphé and then moves east. It's all for nothing though because the Agost intercepts and sinks it shortly thereafter. The turn ends with the French moving their carrier task force east so the air units can hit Darnah.

Figuring that the CAP over Benghazi is largely useless, the MiG-23 and Su-20 are brought in for a landing during the CAP landing phase. Maybe they can score a lucky hit on the French task force next turn.

Super Étendards lash out at Benghazi for the first strikes.

Turn 6

The Libyans get their MiGs and Su-20s up in the air at the start of the turn and try for a hit on the Foch. However, the French F8s manage an intercept and score a hit on the incoming raid (taken on the Su-20s). The Libyan air units return to base.

French air units bomb Darnah successfully and score another 10 VP. Things look pretty bleak for the Libyans.

The Libyans mount a desperate air raid from Benghazi against the French carrier task force

Turn 7

The Libyans decide to shift back to CAP intercepts so no one is sent out on strategic air missions. The French are unrivalled at sea right now so the Atlantique recon pilots sit in Nimes and twiddle their thumbs.

France sends out one group of Étendards to hit Benghazi while the other hits Darnah. Libyan CAP cannot intercept them and the French collect another 12 VP this turn.

Turn 8

The French hit Benghazi and Darnah again. They now have 74 VP.

Turn 9

On the final turn, the French hit a minor snag when Libyan intelligence gets advance warning of their raid on Benghazi. Although CAP fails to intercept, the AAA value of the base hex is doubled. It still fails to score any hits on the French planes and they score 3 hits on the city. Darnah is hit again too.

The French total VP for the game is 82 while the Libyans have scored 10.

The Minotaur is dead. A look at the map at the end of the game.

Wow. I'm not sure the Libyans ever really had a chance. The ineffectiveness of the CAP, although probably realistic, might be causing some balance issues with his particular scenario. That being said, I did really enjoy the first part of the game where I was hoping for the French task force to make a misstep and get swarmed by the Libyan surface fleet. Task force 1 was bottled up near Sicily for nearly half the game, which is kind of impressive for the Libyans to pull off on its own.

Thinking back on it, I probably would have sent the Su-20 out on recon during the first turn Strat Air Allocation phase in order to detect the French carrier group. I could have then waited until the French got close enough to the Libyan coast to try and hit them all at once. The MiG-23 in Tripoli should have gone up on intercept to keep the French Atlantique planes from detecting any submarines. I think the Libyans can manage to do better than I did if they spread out their surface fleet as much as possible. Keep the French submarines chasing them while they close in and fire missiles every so often at the task force escorts. I would like to try this again with more "guerilla" style tactics employed by the Libyans. Here, I was trying to use swarm tactics but that doesn't really work if you aren't playing as the Soviets. In any case, I really enjoyed this scenario and I am sure that a crafty player can figure out how to get a hit off on the Foch somehow!

I want to say a big thank you to the good Docteur for kindly translating the scenario rules and sending them to me. Merci à vous!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sixth Fleet - Libyan - American War

Scenario 7 from Victory Games' Sixth Fleet is about a hypothetical war that brews up between Libya and the United States. After Gaddafi orders one of his subs to sink an American LSD filled with Marines headed to Beirut, Reagan orders airstrikes on Libya as punishment. This task falls to the US Sixth Fleet, specifically the USS Nimitz with its full complement of aircraft and carrier task force ships. Two American subs, the USS Drum and the Omaha (Sturgeon-class and Los Angeles-class respectively), are along for the ride.

April 1986: The Gipper is PO'd.

The US player gains 1 VP after hitting the bases in all three Libyan cities (Tripoli, Benghazi, and Darnah). Once they are all hit once, he must hit them all again to get 2 VP apiece for each city and he gets 3 VP for each city after hitting each them all three times.  To win, the US player needs 9 VP.

If everything goes just right, he should be able to pull off a win in 5 or 6 turns. An American victory seems to be a matter of just parking the Nimitz a bit north off the coast and launching aircraft all day. But, as always, things are a little more complicated than that.  The US player gets no VPs for destroying Libyan units but the Libyans can reduce the US VP tally by sinking American ships.

The USS Nimitz. Incredible.

The Libyans have a small but slightly potent force waiting for the Americans. Three ageing Libyan subs are lurking in the waters of the Central Mediterranean. They also have 5 PCS with decent SSM attack ratings. Tripoli is home to a MiG-23 squadron and two Su-20 squadrons. Benghazi has a MiG squadron and an Su-20. Individually, these units are not much of a match for the Americans, but used together they can certainly hamper the US player's efforts by exploiting a few weak links.

Start of the scenario

I used to play this scenario and get consistent US wins. It was pretty boring until my gameplay with the Libyans improved a bit. Even then, it is still quite a tough order for the Libyans to garner a victory here and they need luck on their side to pull it off.  I'm sure most experienced Sixth Fleet players would know these tactics but these tips might be helpful for anyone who hasn't played the game in a while or someone lucky enough to have just discovered this gem of a game after all this time.

Here is what I usually do as the Libyans:

1. Put the MiG-23s on CAP above Tripoli and Benghazi. I usually put one of the Su-20s in Tripoli up along with the MiG-23 just to add a little "oomf" to the CAP.  The remaining Su-20s should sit where they are to provide a reason for the Nimitz to keep its CAP flying. The last thing you want is to have those F-14s join in on the fun because the Libyans will lose quickly. I never try any attacks with the Su-20s because they will certainly get shot down if they approach the Nimitz. They are more of a "fleet in being" than a real strike force.

2.  The Libyan subs should aggressively hunt the US carrier task force right away. You are going to lose them sooner or later (probably sooner) to American ASW efforts. You might as well try to rush them in and get a lucky hit on a frigate or destroyer. Even if you only manage to sink the Ramsy (reduces US VP by one point), that really puts the pressure on the American player to carefully allocate his strike resources.

3. The PCS ships should swarm the US player on the second day. The PCS ships are pretty safe in their base hexes for the first day unless the US goes to the trouble of allocating strategic air missions to detect them (and wasting precious air resources by actually going in and bombing them - the Libyan player could only hope the US might do something so silly). By the second day of game time, the US carrier should be within easy striking distance of the PCS ships. Send them out individually and try to swarm the carrier task force with SSMs (go for the escorts - not the carrier). With any luck, the US player's ASW rolls and sub rolls will not all hit and he'll be forced to send out some aircraft to take them out.

4. Bide your time. If you have managed to keep the US player off-balance by continually harassing him and forcing him to assign air assets to either shoot down or your CAP fighters or sink your PCS ships, he might end up in a situation where he pulls a Tomcat off CAP and uses it for air strikes. If that happens, by all means send in your Su-20s and see what happens. Before all of that happens though, try to keep as much of your navy and air force intact. It is worth far more as a potential threat than wasted on big gambles at terrible odds.

As the American player in this scenario, I always try to do the following:

1. Use the P3s to detect the Libyan subs right away. Keep the S3 Viking as an offensive ASW tool. Those Libyan subs are pretty fragile and you will probably score a hit at some point with it. Aggressively take out the Libyan subs as fast as you can with your submarines. Although they don't look like much, just one lucky torpedo shot at your carrier task force can make the 9 VP objective so much harder to reach.

2. Launch a cruise missile on turn 1 vs Tripoli and hope for the best. If it causes 5 damage to the base hex (page 23), one of the Libyan air units will be damaged. Reducing Libyan offensive air capability helps to potentially free up your Tomcats from CAP to go out and help on the air strike missions.

3. Never divert your air to any purpose other than bombing Libyan base hexes. Use your SSMs and subs to take out the Libyan PCS boats. This scenario is a real exercise in "economy of force" so you may need to divide up your air packages smartly. Instead of sending out big raids on a single mission each turn, try experimenting by putting 2 F-18s(1 strike, 1 escort) with an EA-6 Prowler to shoot down the Libyan CAP over Benghazi, which would pave the way for an unescorted A-6 strike on Darnah in the same turn.

Late game - turn 6 in first game. US player is unable to get enough hits on the Libyan cities for a victory.

I just went through a couple of plays of this and managed in both games to sink the USS Ramsy. My PCS boats had varied success, sinking another DD in one of the plays and getting nothing at all in the other. In both cases, the US player split up his air offensive packages to deal with the threats. This led to US losses in both games (6 VP in the first game and 8 VP in the other).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Carrier - Scenario 4: Air Search Officer

“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, "Come and find out".” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

What must it have been like, standing on the bridge of an American aircraft carrier in the South Pacific in 1942 or 1943? Looking over the vast calm ocean straight to the horizon and knowing that somewhere out there, someone was trying to find you and kill you and the only thing that you could do to avoid that was to find them and kill them first. It must have been terrifying and strange and beautiful all at the same time. Victory Games' Carrier (1990) designed by Jon Southard, tries to capture this feeling for the player.

So far, I've talked about a couple of scenarios in Carrier that revolve around striking the enemy. I've had plenty of good luck and fun with sinking Japanese carriers. However exciting that may be, all of that is the end product of many hours of searching, intelligence gathering, and analyzing and classifying information that still may prove faulty in the end.

As a solitaire game, how does Carrier simulate the uncertainty that surrounds this aspect of carrier warfare? It uses an elegant system of chit pulls and charts to determine enemy movement, sightings, and intelligence reports. Scenario 4 shows off this system quite nicely. Although the results of my playthrough were less than stellar, I hope my playthrough helps to show how the game system works.


We set up with two American carrier task forces beside each other. USS Enterprise is in Task Force 16 (hex 2718) while USS Hornet is in Task Force 17 (hex 2717). Both carriers have 4 steps (two counters) of SBDs to use for searching. There are no airstrikes in this scenario. The focus here is entirely on finding out where and what the enemy is.

Two US carriers with four steps (two counters) of search planes each

There are 12 markers placed on the map to the north. These represent initial reports of Japanese combat forces (denoted with the "C" on the counter). A marker could turn out to be a carrier force or nothing at all or somewhere in between. We have no idea what these are and it is our job to try and investigate as many of these reports as possible and sort out the good from the bad. If we do find Japanese ships in one of the reports, we need to get a location on them - the more precise the better.

Initial setup with US Task Forces (blue) and Japanese markers (yellow)

We do this by sending out search planes. When search planes are launched, they are put on a Search track. Each turn, they move farther out along the search track and can be activated once per turn to make a search roll of all enemy markers within the range stated on their current position of the Search track. This roll determines how much they find out about the enemy marker, which can vary from finding out lots of information (lower die rolls) to merely getting an approximate fix and a vague report of enemy ships to nothing at all. Of course, the planes can't stay out searching forever, so as they move along the search track they start to come back towards your carrier where you must get them down into hangars and servicing before you can launch them out there again.

The Search Track 

As the American player finds out more about a certain marker, the intelligence "level" rises to get more specific. So a Level 1 report might reveal that a marker is actually a carrier force. A level 2 marker will reveal how many carriers are in that force and a level 3 marker might tell you what kind of carriers there are (whether they are CVs or CVEs or CVLs) in the task force. A level 4 report will tell you exactly which ships are in the task force as well as air strength and escorting surface ships. The intelligence tables also leave room for levels to decrease or change entirely so that enemy carrier force might end up being an exaggeration by an over-excited search crew. You might end up sending a strike force out to bomb a coral reef. Life is like that.

The Japanese objective in this scenario is known. The enemy ships are trying to get to New Hebrides. This objective determines how the Japanese markers move. There are four phases each turn where Japanese markers move. We start off by rolling a mission movement die and then pulling a certain number of force activation chits as dictated by the record track. When we pull a chit that matches the number on a marker, we move it as directed by both the die roll and the compass shown on the marker's map section. There are 7 blanks in the force activation cups to make things interesting. The Japanese might be very active throughout a turn or they might move all their ships at the start of the turn or the end of it only.

Turn 1:

In Phase 1, we pull 2 chits for the Japanese force and move markers 8 and 5. I decide to move my US task force 16 northwest from hex 2718 to 2619. This gets us a bit closer to the general area of the Japanese markers.

TF 16 moves up 

I decide to launch two air search steps of SBDs from the Hornet and Enterprise this phase. I could have decided to launch all four air steps together from either or both carriers. As it stands, having only two steps searching on each search track means that I will suffer a +2 die roll modifier for all search rolls. My plan is for the remaining search planes to follow them up after a short time to catch anything the first search planes happen to miss. I am hoping the second wave of search planes will also be able to help confirm sightings on anything that the first ones happen to find.

Both TFs have two steps of search planes on the first space of the Search Track.

In Phase 2, C1 moves SE from 1924 to 2024 and the other 2 Japanese chits are blank. The Americans can do nothing right now so it is off to Phase 3.  C7 and C3 both move southeast. In the fourth phase, all the other Japanese chits are pulled. C2 moves southwest while C9 and C4 move east.

My search planes aren't far out enough to catch anyone at the moment so there is little to do but move on to turn 2.

US and Japanese marker positions at the end of turn 1

Turn 2:  

At the beginning of the turn, the search planes I launched in turn 1 have now moved ahead on the Search track to the 4-7 spot. They may now be used once in the turn to search for any Japanese contacts that are from 4 to 7 hexes away.

In Phase 1, we pull 3 chits for the Japanese. C4 moves southeast from 1715 to 1815. The Japanese are slowly getting into search range now. One thing to note here is that the Japanese might move differently around US air sources such as carriers and US airfields. If the Japanese are 8 hexes from your carrier force at the start of their move, you need to compare the mission die roll to the distance at which they begin. If the Mission Die Roll exceeds the distance in hexes between the Japanese counter and the US air source, the Japanese might not move at all or they will attempt to move laterally so as to keep their distance from the US air source while still heading for their objective.

For this reason, it is sometimes better for the US player to wait for the Japanese to slowly enter his search range rather than try to barge ahead towards Japanese contacts. Presumably, they are aware of possible US forces out ahead of them and are reacting to your movements at the same time too.

I moved TF17 northeast to 2617 but I am not sure if this is a smart move as now C4 and C3 are within 8 hexes and may refuse to move into my search range. On the other hand, the US player can only move a task force in phase 1 and phase 3 of this turn so it is now or never if I want to move both carriers this turn.

TF16 and TF17 both launch their next two steps of search planes. The SBDs go up on the search track in the 0-3 hex box.

Search tracks with SBDs at different ranges.

In Phase 2, the Mission Die Roll is mercifully low and the Japanese will follow their assigned mission movement. C8 and C9 both move southeast. Hornet may be able to catch them if I can get it moving up soon enough.

In Phase 3, the MDR is again low (result is a 1) and the 2 chit pulls send C2 and C7 southeast. Task Force 16 (Hornet) moves Northeast. It is now in search range of C7. TF16 is in range of C7 C8, and C1. My gut tells me to pull the trigger and make my search rolls now but there is always the chance that C3 and C5 will come into range next phase if the Mission Die Roll is low enough.

In Phase 4, we get a 4 for the Mission Die Roll, which is great. We pull all the rest of the Japanese chits and C5 and C3 move southeast into our search range. Now it is time for us to make our search rolls.

The Enterprise searches roll lousy and miss 3 of their searches. They manage to approximately locate C7. Since this is a level 0 force, we get to pull a chit from our other cup to see what it is. It is revealed as a dummy - a false report, a day dream, a mirage.  C7 is removed from the map.

Hornet's search parties have better luck. They locate C3 and find out that it is a surface force. It's bittersweet though - the victory conditions double your points for finding a carrier force. Oh well. Maybe next turn.

C7 is revealed as a dummy force while C3 is located and appears to be a Japanese surface force.

Turn 3:

In this turn, the Japanese get 3 chit pulls in the first phase, 2 in the second, and 3 in the third. The Americans can move one ship in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd phases. Hopefully, we can catch the rest of the undetected Japanese forces and sort out what is happening out there.

Our search planes in the 4-7 box move to the 1-3 box as they are returning to the carrier. Our second wave of searchers is now up in the 4-7 box.

In Phase 1, C5 and C1 inch closer to our task forces, probably oblivious to our presence.

In Phase 2, it seems we have gotten as good as it is going to get with Task Force 16. No other forces will be moving into search range this turn, so it makes sense to see what is out there. We go ahead with our rolls and find out that:

C1 is a Medium-sized Japanese force. Whether it is a medium-sized carrier task force or surface force or (in the standard game) a transport force, we have no idea. We just know that there seem to be quite a few ships in this one specific area.

The next two rolls for C8 and C5 are blown.

C4 is revealed as Surface force. It is only approximately located so if we were playing a standard game, an air strike would need to more accurately locate it before they could try and hit it.

In Phase 3, C9 moves southeast to 1924. TF17 responds by moving northwest to 2517. It is now in search range of four forces. It manages to accurately locate the C4 surface force but no further information is found out. The other rolls are unsuccessful in either locating or further identifying the other contacts.

End of turn 3 search results. I sure hope C1 isn't a carrier force!

Although it doesn't really matter at this point because we have no searches left, we move the rest of the Japanese contacts. C4 moves to 1914 while C2 goes to 2011 and C8 moves Southeast to 1922.

Victory Points:

We managed to accurately locate three forces (C4, C1, and C3) at level 1 intelligence for six VPs. We get one additional VP for finding a dummy force.

According to our result table, we get: "Your inept searching allows the Japanese to hit your fleet with a surprise attack, in which you are killed."  Oh boy!

"Hey guys! Let's shift the search patterns a bit. I think there's something out there!"

Doing Better

I think the biggest problem I had here was with how I used my search planes. By only sending out 2 steps at a time to search, it really hurts your results on the search die roll table. It would have made far more sense to have the Enterprise send out two steps at a time as we did but to have the Hornet follow up behind with a four-step search team to help further identify and classify what the first search team found. Using teamwork, I think the carriers could have focused in on half of the contacts out there and coordinated their air search and movement together.

I have played this scenario a few times now with varying results. My best scores (which are still not that good) usually happen when search planes are launched with four steps and at varying intervals. This is a tough scenario though! I played through to 6 turns once and managed to identify only half the Japanese forces on the map.

At the very least, I hope this playthrough gives you a better idea of how Carrier works and you can see the elegance of its core design shine through.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Carrier - Scenario 3: Climax at Santa Cruz

Continuing on with my learning of Carrier from Victory Games (1990), I have just tried scenario 3. This scenario is meant to teach movement of ships. In this game, Japanese task forces are given objectives that they are attempting to reach so the good news is that not everything out there is trying to sink your little carrier force. On the other hand, letting the bad guys drop off thousands of fresh troops on Guadalcanal will probably not help your victory point tally at the end of the day.

Scenario 3: The Battle of Santa Cruz

There are basically two kinds of enemy forces of various sizes in this game - carrier forces and transport forces. Japanese carrier forces will tend to try and approach and attack your carrier if it is within a certain range. Transport forces will run straight for their objectives and hope for the best. The big problem for the player in Carrier is to sort out which force is which and determining how big these forces actually are. Reports of enemy contact are represented on the board and these might represent anything from a large carrier task force to a coral reef that some jumpy airman reported back to base as a large ship. These reports gets more accurate and detailed as you send out search planes and get intel back from other sources.   The catch is that you don't have time and resources to search through every piece of intelligence so you take what you can get and react to the situation as best as you can.

In this scenario, you luckily start off with enough information to know who is out there and where they are. It is October, 1942 and the Japanese have two carrier forces. Force 1 is CV Shokaku and Zuikaku with CVL Zuiho and escorting surface ships. Force 2 consists of CVL Junyo and two destroyers.

Japanese forces - Force 1 (left) and Force 2 (right)

At intelligence level 4, we have precise information about the composition of these forces. Force 1 starts off in hex 1921 and Force 2 is in 2024.

How the historical battle played out

The US has two carrier task forces. TF 16 has CV Enterprise and BB South Dakota with a host of escorts. TF 17 consists of CV Hornet and a healthy complement of ships. The scenario lasts for one game day (12 turns). The Japanese are undetected at the start and not located. A table from the scenario regulates what the Japanese forces do in terms of whether they attack or are located. For the first two turns, the Japanese carriers just move. After that, the gloves come off.

Add TF 16 and TF 17 ready to go with CAP launched.

Starting off 12 hexes away from the US fleet, the Japanese move towards our position. My plan is to try and "slide" both carriers around the Japanese axis of approach so that I can bring all my planes to bear on one enemy carrier while being further out of range of the other. On the other hand, I need to be careful not to move too far away from either enemy carrier force because the Japanese will simply then move towards their objective, which is Guadalcanal.  CAP is launched immediately with four steps of F4Fs circling above the carriers. Each carrier places another two steps of fighters on deck just in case we get attacked by the Japanese.

Starting Positions - Scenario 3

On Turn 3, we catch a lucky break and detect and locate Force 1. Air Strike 1 is assembled and brought up from servicing and then launched.

Air Strike 1 in Servicing while planes marked for Air Strike 2 in Hangar. F4Fs on deck in case of attack.

One turn later, the strike arrives and makes contact with the Japanese carriers.

Air Strike 1 about to make contact with Force 1

Despite a Japanese CAP level of 4, we take no step losses. The Japanese AAA is also ineffective. We get 3 rolls and decide to split them up with 2 rolls on the Shokaku and 1 on the Zuikaku. The Shokaku takes a whopping 6 hits (heavily damaged) and the Zuikaku takes 2 hits. Air Strike 1 turns around just as Force 2 moves towards our carriers and it is located. Air Strike 2 is hurriedly assembled and launched.

As Air Strike 2 approaches Force 2, we roll for surprise and get a "10". There are planes on the deck of the Junyo. CAP is unable to shoot down our planes and there is no AAA. With two rolls against the carrier, we score 3 hits on each roll. CV Junyo is sunk and goes to the bottom of the Pacific.

Air Strike 1 has fueled up and launched again at Force 1 to take care of the rest of the Japanese carriers. Meanwhile, the Japanese finally make a move against the Hornet.Two steps of Japanese planes are shot down as they approach. CAP kills off one and AAA takes out the other. None of the Japanese planes make it through. Air Strike 1 arrives over its target a short while later and gets three rolls again. This time, the Shokaku is sunk and the Zuikaku is heavily damaged. To my chagrin, the Japanese CAP and AAA take a chunk out of my attacking force.  I threw up Air Strike 2 again and finished off the Zuikaku before the end of the scenario.

Three Japanese carriers at the bottom of the Pacific. The counters at the bottom show the hits. Upper right on the unit counter is the hit capacity of each ship.

Nothing feels quite as good as sinking three Japanese carriers in a single day. I managed to pull it off in scenario 3 but the difficulty level is still pretty low at this point. I'm facing a couple of targets with precise information. I wonder if things will go this well when I've got a series of unknown forces coming for me? I guess we will find out in scenario 4.

One thing I love about Carrier is how it really makes you feel like a commander. You make your best decisions based on the intelligence you have and then you fling your pilots out to face the enemy while biting your nails and waiting to hear back how they did. You have very little control over things once your aircraft arrive on target except to decide where to take losses and how to allocate attacks. Great stuff!

Now treat yourself to a nice video about the historical battle. Here ya go: