Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On Crueler Tides - Cruel Seas AAR

This past weekend I joined Bill and Sam at John's home for a game of Cruel Seas.

I haven't had much experience with Cruel Seas, apart from one test game back in the Before Time when we could gather for our monthly club meetings. I had, however, seen the rules be somewhat disparaged online. It seems like Bill and John had been tinkering away, especially with the critical hit table, after Bill's smaller boats had riddled John's destroyer in short order.

The scenario was a convoy ambush. The Japanese had two convoys moving through a series of small islands. A Kagero-class destroyer led a small group of Daihatsu-class landing craft, while a Escort Type Hei minesweeper was accompanied by a patrol of Sampan. This was an expanded version of a previous scenario that Bill, Sam, and John had played previously.

Bill and Sam were the Americans in this fight, and controlled a flotilla each of Higgins and Elco boats.

The first game was over fairly quickly. John and I, as the Japanese players, randomly rolled to see where we would start. We ended up over 70" beyond the starting Japanese deployment area, virtually on top of the pre-deployed American boats.

John's starting position almost had him touching Bill's Higgins boats, which halted and opened fire. The small boats mounted apparently massive guns, as the Kagero-class destroyer was riddled. Multiple critical hits added even more to the damage total.

Rather than play out that game, we decided to reset and instead deploy the Japanese flotilla from its starting edge.

Thanks to the relatively slow movement of the Japanese ships, the destroyer and the escort crawled on to the table, as did the accompanying troop transports and supply ships. 

With the high speed of the American PT boats, Bill was already able to launch his torpedoes at John's destroyer. 

John's game was going to be less about naval combat and more about how to thread needles as Bill launched wave after wave of torpedos. 

While Sam's approach was only a little more cautious, his plan was the same...

Bracket my ships with torpedos, and then open fire with the "big" guns!

What you can't see here are the looks of discomfort that were plastered on both John's face and my own. The American ships were brutal by the rules of Cruel Seas. While John and I could only throw one or two shots out a turn (the Daihatsus and Sampans were nowhere near close enough to the action to help), the small Higgins and Elcos could fire in support of one another, sending out either four or eight shots each turn! Not to mention that they could also launch torpedos freely up to four times.

Additionally, there was the size difference. Thanks to shooting modifiers, Bill and Sam often needed to roll less than or equal to a 7 on a d10. According to those same modifiers, John and I needed to roll a 3 or less.

Suffice to say that the same only lasted until turn six, when both the Japanese large ships were so damaged that another round of average shooting was going to see a definitive finish. Rather than let the game devolve into a shooting gallery (or even more so!) for Bill and Sam, the American claimed victory once again.

There was some lively debate over the rules. It definitely seemed like critical hits were too easy to generate (just rolling a 6 on a d6, and Bill's boats could easily do that), and that the rules are very much stacked against the large ships, which are slow, massive targets, and under-gunned compared to smaller vessels.

To counter that, we'll be trying the scenario again but the Japanese will have kamikaze boats accompanying them to try and counter the speed and firepower of the American boats. The slow speed of the Sampans and the essentially unarmed Daihatsu leave the larger Japanese ships completely isolated.


  1. Thanks for sharing this AAR. I was interested in learning more about these rules and how they play.

    1. They're interesting, but we've been shopping around for other rules that could potentially do the same thing. "Narrow Seas" from Long Face Games (available on Wargame Vault) may be used in our next game.