Sunday, 3 March 2013

Schnell Rules for Schnellboot, Hunters on the Shoreline, Pz.8 Coastal Wargame Rules

I am embarking on WW2 coastal forces as a gaming "genre."  Since most battles are at night, air power plays a lesser role (this is the reason I have always preferred WW1/pre-dreadnoughts), there is an interesting mix of cat-and-mouse stealth and frantic, high speed, close-range combat.  I also like the fact coastal forces (in contrast to the bigger ships) saw almost constant action, in some varied and unusual locations (Black Sea, Baltic, Aegean saw some interesting battles).  There is a weird mix of high tech, and jury-rigged ships. Converted landing craft and barges with anti tank guns and heavily armed sailing yachts served alongside 40kt S-boats with Lurssen effect rudders, or super agile minesweepers with vertical propellors

The S-Boot; stealthier, faster, tougher and more sea-worthy than its rivals

High speed, flimsy boats, heavily armed with automatic cannon means combat should be short, sharp and bloody. I would like the rules I use to reflect this. The two main rules I found, Flaklighter and Action Stations, were meticulously researched and detailed.  In fact, they would be handy as reference material. However I reckon the average WW2 coastal action would be over well before I finished a single game turn, given the amount of minutinae and record-keeping. 

Under the premise that it is easier to complicate a simple rule set, rather than simplify a complex one, I went looking for a fast play ruleset upon which I could "add to" if needed.

The Best Rules are Free
Ironically, the rules that seem to best suit my needs are freely downloadable.  The first ones I came across that fit my "fast play" criteria were from the Panzer 8 series of "one page" wargames series, which have a fast play ruleset to fit almost every genre, including Pz.8 Coastal Wargame Rules.

Speed was recorded using a d6, making it easy to record speed changes.  30mm and smaller guns were grouped as a "fire factor" whilst 37mm and larger scored individual hits.  Hits were scored on 4+ rolls (modified for range and speed). Super simple. Damage is easy too - compare weapon attack + d6 to ship defence + d6 - the margin determines if ships are either Damaged, Wrecked or Sunk.  Heavy guns can be knocked out separately.  These rules were inspired and distilled from Schnell Rules for Schnellboot and Hunters on the Shoreline.  Pz.8 also has simple rules to allow submarines to be involved.

The Fairmile D is my favourite MTB for "looks" - and with its size, radar and impressive firepower it was arguably the pinnacle of allied MTB design

Next, to Hunters on the Shoreline.  (by the author of Flaklighter). It was also a pretty straightforward game. Ships moved 1cm per knot of speed, and it had more thorough visibility rules (a good thing, given the paramount importance of spotting in night actions). It used a similar firing system to Pz.8 (fire factor for small weapons, individual hits for bigger guns) albeit using different dice types (d8s, d12s, etc) but its damage system was much more involved - MTBs had "buoyancy points" (a.k.a. the dreaded hull boxes) of which were only 5-10 for a MTB but could be up to 100 for a destroyer.  In addition there were 7 hit locations.  I felt all the extra recording was not worth the cost, over the simplicity of Pz.8 - its damage system is comparable to that of the more complex commercial rulesets. HotS also has rules for smoke and for using depth charges against surface targets.

The numerous Russian G-5 hydroplanes were only 14-16 tons (they had an easily corroded aluminium hull). In light conditions, the two 800 or 1000bhp aircraft engines push them along at 49 or 56 knots (and an incredible 63 knots when not fully loaded!)

Finally, the elusive "Schnell Rules for Schnellboot" by David Manley (also the author of Action Stations). After exploring many dead ends and broken links, I found them in the files of the narrow seas yahoo group. It shares movement similarities with Hunters of the Shoreline with the fastest MTBs topping out at around 30cm/move. 

The spotting rules, though still simple, are the best yet, with dummy markers to add uncertainty. Firing uses a d20, modified as usual by target size and speed. Weapons fire is grouped by "type" (i.e. HMG, 2pdr, 20mm, 30mm, etc) and is thus a bit more detailed and fiddly than the "fire factor" approach of Pz.8 and HotS.  

However the damage system is excellent - with Damaged, Heavily Damaged, Wrecked or Sunk (4 "levels" compared to Pz.8's 3). Speed, maneuver and weapons can also be knocked out.  It is a little too complex to simply use markers on the board (like Pz.8) but it adds extra 'grittiness' without bogging down. 

SRfSb also has rules for aircraft, starshells and flares, an alternate torpedo resolution method, depth charges. There is also the chance of random visibility or fires caused from gunfire hits illuminating the vessel. SRfSb also has the most comprehensive list of vessels and stats.

Whilst all the rules are solid fast-play options (with a special nod to Pz.8's 0-record keeping approach) I am opting for Schell Rules, due to its similarities with the excellent Bulldogs Away modern FAC rules, simple but meaningful damage, and easy compatibility with Action Stations' more complex rules.

PT Dockyard sells a wide range of coastal forces in 1/600, as well as publishing the Flaklighter rules

I find it interesting both SRfSb and HotS are by the authors of the more complex rulesets Action Stations and Flaklighter respectively. This is good, allowing me to "borrow" concepts from the more complicated rules with confidence, whilst enjoying the more playable, simpler rules.

I plan on borrowing weather rules, auditory detection, firing guns causing auto-illumination; gun crews "losing" their target due to "night blindness" caused by muzzle flash, searchlights, damage control, and especially mine warfare (as mine laying was an important part of coastal missions)

I am also aware of "Attack with Torpedoes" which is supposed to be a slick rules set; but as (AFAIK) it is available only from America (which has godawful postage costs - I don't fancy paying more for postage than for the rules themselves) I'm going to regretfully give them a miss.

Recommend? Well, sure, they're all free, so what are you waiting for? Ironically, I find all the fast play rulesets offer reasonable detail and are better "games" than their commercial big brothers, which are bloated and overcomplicated in comparison.  I would however recommend picking up either Flaklighter or Action Stations for their reference value and the ability to add in more complex rules if you choose.

There is plenty of useful material in the narrow seas yahoo group and I like the look of the campaign (also free) from the Coastal Command series.


  1. So many good options - want I want is a character filled campaign system which incorporates a fast play tactical game. Maybe a conglomeration of these could work...

    1. The Pz.8 rules are fastest and easiest, but maybe a tad TOO minimalist (I'm presuming you're using 3-6 S-boats)

      There are a few campaign generators out there. The Coastal Command one could be easily adapted.

      I think the tools are there.

  2. There is another set of rules in an Too Fat Lardies Special, named Coastal Patrol. The special is 2011 Summer Special, you can find it at the Too Fat Lardies web shop. Not free, I am afraid. The rules are interesting, with a lot of Fog of War, and not heavy nechanics.

    1. Snap! I was just discussing these with Paul in an email. Mechanics interesting, with usual TFL cards playing a role, but the damage is a bit dense i.e. lots of individual hit locations.

  3. Just played my first SrfSB on my tennis court with s100, vs fairmiles, armed trawlers and a night with moonlight for illumination....excellent fun :) The scale was 1 inch instead of 1 cm, and the area a bit larger than your normal tabletop...