November 30, 2022

First Impressions of WDS’s Kriegsmarine

Peter Robbins, 6 June 2022

Disclosures

Please keep in mind as you read this article that I’ve only had about 4 hours of time with this game. Also, full disclosure, this was provided as a free review copy, so I did not lay down my own cold hard cash for this, but I will state that in early summary, I do think its worth its $39.99 US Dollars price tag.

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We’ll see if you agree after this quick first impressions article. Also, if this says anything about its worth, I am going to go and pick up other titles in the WDS Naval Campaigns series as a result of taking part in playing and providing my first impressions of this title. In particular, I plan on picking up WDS’s Guadalcanal Campaign title, as I think its varied scenario content may be more to my own tastes (more on that as we get first impressions below).Keep also in mind, I just spent the same amount of money for my family of four on food alone while watching Top Gun: Maverick, which I will give free press to here as, go see it; its well done. Also of importance : Had I played any of the other WDS Naval Campaign series prior to writing this article? No, and I steered clear of them as I’d owned a few of the land based campaigns, Marengo and Gettsyburg in particular, and did not feel from those titles that the interfacing involved in particular would transpose well to a naval wargame. I may have been wrong in that assumption. I am now a convert.

Let’s take a quick swim. We’ll do a deeper dive in a follow-up article and interview with the game designer.

Available Scenarios

First impressions here are, there are a good amount of them. I wasn’t floored by how many, and many are repeated as what-if variants there-of, very similar to all WDS campaign series games, but its a goodly amount overall. I’ve not delved into any of the larger size missions, as for first impressions I wanted to get to the meat of the tactical portion as quickly as possible, and then marinate a tiny bit in that aspect before writing quickly on it.

Here is a listing of what it provides:

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click images to enlarge

Ok, I honestly stand corrected. Just seeing them all laid out visually one after another like the above, there are a metric ton of them. This is a lot more than some other similar game titles. I’d say, the offerings are on par with other WDS titles. Not lacking here at all. Very comparable.

 

Campaign?

Yes there is one, but we’ll hold off dipping into the deep end of this pool until we do a deep dive follow-up article. Here are a some teaser shots before we later provide more details. It is setup mainly in a branching format, where you basically choose some basic paths of which scenarios to play out, and it looks like there are some thresholds you can set as to which scenario occurs next based upon the previous missions results. I’m actually quite impressed what they provide. Also of note, there is a campaign editor, so I can for-see the player community extending the life of this game for years to come.

Once you click continue on one of the choices you are taken to an associated scenario. Then you have it out in that scenario and the results are used to determine where you branch to next, rinse, repeat, rather cool campaign in this game. I’m unaware (yet) if you get additional graphical choices like the above mid campaign. I don’t know know if interlude choices if you will are supported. We’ll confirm that in the follow-up article and interview with the designers.

 

Movement

This is an area of the game that I’m particularly fond of. Its easy to manage and the divisions are very much scenario dependent as far as how the units are grouped (though you can detach and re-attach* individual elements). There may be more granular division setup than I’m currently aware of, but just from a first impressions perspective you –

  • Click on a lead (flag ship) element
  • Use the clockwise or counterclockwise buttons (marked and labeled Starboard and Port of course in this game, but fundamentally similar to all WDS titles, you are rotating the unit).
  • I am pleasantly surprised by the fluidity of the real-time movements and turning. This plays out much nicer than I’d originally expected for movement.
  • Change speed to Top or Stop speeds. Or increment them appropriately. It takes an appropriate amount of time for them to speed up to or slow down to those prescribed speed settings. I think this is simulated well.
  • If you just use the normal clockwise and counterclockwise buttons, then each ship will turn in succession (on a point that the lead ship turns, the following ship will get to that point and then turn, it will not turn immediately).
  • If you want to force all ships to turn in place (as opposed to succession), you just use the Group Clockwise or Group Counter-Clockwise buttons instead.
  • I’m really keen on this simple movement functionality. It is approachable, but retains fidelity.

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Notice in the above shot that each divisional lead ship (a.k.a flagship, as you see a flag, duh) is a grouping based upon the scenario setup. You click on the lead, use clockwise or counterclockwise button, and ships turn in succession. If you use the group version there-of, they will turn in place. Simple, effective. Works for me.

Below is an example of turning in place. I clicked on the flagship of the division. Then I click on the Group Turn Clockwise button until the course marker pointed N (North).

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Below you can see the battle cruisers turning in place as opposed to Sharnhorst waiting to turn in succession to maintain line.

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Time Compression

Similar to how time compression is handled in NWS sims such as Rule The Waves 2, or Steam And Iron, you can compress time rather easily from Paused, to Normal time, to then Increase or Decrease compression. This works very nicely. I tend to get things setup and then kick it higher into gear to about 4X speed, and then stop once something squirrely is occurring and I want to adjust how things are setup. Bravo. Simple interface. Easy to understand and use.

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The red button with small “t” on it in the shot above is Pause. The Black one is Normal Time. The Yellow one is to Slow down the time rate. The Green one is to make it Faster, as the tooltip shows in the shot. I think it goes from 0 (Paused) – to – 10X

 

Detection

What the heck do the circles mean? (Read The Manual Peter, or, why I should never have to read the manual* is my retort). We paste the user manual description of these range rings further below.

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Schnell Boat example, showing the range and arc of available torp mount, which is on its bow. (Blue arc in the below picture). You additionally see in this pic how weather will effect a scenario. Not only difficult for you to see your own ships, but enemies will have a harder time hitting you, and vice versa, your gunners will have a tough go at it as well.

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One, hopefully very simple adjustment to this in the game is, PLEASE , oh my gravy PLEASE add a simple text overlay describing the range rings***. Make it a simple button on / off to show or hide the text descriptions of the rings. It never fails that I forget in my older age what each of them mean and then make a poor decision as a result (that’s what I tell myself but they are really just my poor decisions).

For the sake of clarity while you see the screenshots throughout this article. Here is a copy paste of what they mean from the User Manual.

  • The Blue circle shows the maximum range for firing torpedoes, if the selected ship or aircraft is capable of firing torpedoes. (Article Note: this is usually represented in firing arcs)
  • The Red circle shows the maximum range of the secondary armament of the selected ship, if the ship has secondary armament. For aircraft, it shows the maximum range of the carried load, if any.
  • The Black circle shows the maximum range of the primary armament of the selected ship. For aircraft it shows the maximum flying range of the aircraft and the half-maximum flying range of the aircraft.
  • The Yellow circle shows the current maximum visibility.
  • The Magenta circle shows the maximum range of any radar on the selected ship or Target. When this range extends past the horizon, then a second ring is drawn showing the distance to the horizon.
  • The Teal circle shows the range of any AAA on the selected ship.

Ship-produced smoke is taken into account on the visual indicated range. So does weather from what I can tell in the short time I’ve had in the game. Radar also does play into detection, which in some cases, especially during night scenarios, will mean the difference between detections or being in the blind. This can equate to life or death in a naval match-up. As to whether radar is also utilized for fire control, I cannot tell if that occurs yet, but will read up on it further in the manual before I do a deep dive scenario walk thru follow-up.

Here is an example of inbound unknown aircraft.

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The light blue circle around the Gneisenau is the AA range near the ship.

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As they get closer, they are identified by class. You do not have to target inbound aircraft, your friendly AI pals take care of letting fly the ack-ack.

As with most WDS campaign series games
“This plays like a simulationist level board game, without acting like one.”(Gratuitous-Self-Quote 2022)

As you play the game you think to yourself, well, this is rather simple. But then you continue to play the game and say to yourself, hrrm, there is something more here underneath. Then you start thinking to yourself, ok this is brilliant, my first impressions may have been wrong. Again, I would say => See all WDS titles. Most are like this. They appear very simple at first, but then you over time see the ingredients for the nice tasting resulting cake.

 

Gunnery

Targetting is extremely simple in this game. You select the firing unit, and then you select the target unit with right click. That’s it. No saying nearest leader, or nearest unit and letting it go. THOUGH the AI automatically will do just about that. Again, a bit of a no-brainer here. Its a simple interface. Enough said. You are not seeing individual gun arcs or ranges, though for the mains and secondaries you will see of course the appropriate range bands (described perviously as far as coloring of those range bands).

Below shows you how the targeting lines show up, as a dotted line. The AI basically chooses for you at first, but you can adjust this by right-clicking on a new target.

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Torps

Not a lot of control over this, similar to gunnery. Which if you are looking for set it up and forget approach wargaming, hey, its easy. If you are within range, the ai involved with your unit will fire the torps when they are damn well good and ready to. I don’t know the level of variance in the decision involved. Likely visibility of target, range, angle of approach, I’ll try and grill the designer/devs when we chat with them on this and Gunnery overall. I’m hoping I’ll be pleasently suprised in what is involved under the hood, but I cannot tell by playing the game alone.

I stand corrected in that at least in the short time I’ve attempted their use, you have to select your firing ship, then CTRL+ Right Click the spot on the map where you wish to fire the torpedo towards. At least in the default torp settings for the game, it is all dead reckoning. Which is kind of fun to have to predict but when I first fired a salvo, I had no idea of how to properly set a salvo. There may be TDC and AI involved in advanced settings but I’ve not explored the advanced settings in this first impressions article.

Below, the three white dots there at my torps in the water, going wayward miserably as I think I mistakenly thought you just clicked on the target, not where you wanted the torps aimed! This is easy all said and done, but not entirely intuitive. Once of course you fail miserably a few times at this, you learn where to right-click.

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You’ll notice in the picture below that I now do not have a arc indicator to port (the left side of ship) as I’d already fired the three available torps in that direction. In this below pic, I’d already battered the enemy battlecruiser and no need to fire the torps on starboard side.

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Damage Control

Ok, something had to give here. This couldn’t be a perfect game. Damage control, is non-existent. The AI will cover attempting to repair in whatever order is programmed into the game. That is fine, but if you are looking for granular control over this, it does not have it. Now, does it profess to include this? No. So, bugger off Peter. Ok I will. Seriously though, I think what would go many nautical miles distance to improve the title is perhaps some form of after action logging that shows you what was going on under the hood of damage, shot by shot. Perhaps that would scratch my itch in this regards. I can tell its got some fidelity, but I don’t know conclusively it does. The most feedback you get is “DD Hit” (with the name of the ship if available), and then you see a % of 100 total regarding its current state ; of course,that is how all WDS titles handle the fidelity of damage and morale loss to most units. Though in some cases, you get more data.
Design/Development Suggestion: I’m hoping over time we may be able to get more detailed status with a button click after selecting a unit?

 

Aircraft Missions

I was absolutely surprised by the intuitive nature of the available aircraft missions. I wasn’t expecting this at all, given the detail lacking in damage control I was like, oh I guess I’m just going to be able to click over here and they go here, click over there and the aircraft go there and do their own thing. I was wrong. This is a really nice area of the game. Some screenshot samples are below.

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Below is an example showing the planes that are in Spotting mode which means they are being prepped for take off on the carrier deck. But in this case, there is a Fire on deck, which is keeping the aircraft from being able to be launched. Additionally in this pic, you’ll see I have the carrier heading in a WNW heading, into the wind, which is where I need to be to present enough lifting force for take off. “To Spotting” means that the aircraft is in a state of readiness as “spotted” on the catapult.

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Weather also does factor in to your ability to take off a flight from the deck. You sill see a simple text note next to the plane icon on the unit marker saying “cloud” and a crossed out aircraft image. Any time you see a crossed out aircraft image, parameters are not right for taking off flights. There is also a hangar to spotting ratio text in green aircraft carriers that shows the balance and number of aircraft on the deck. This will affect your ability to recover aircraft, so clear the darn deck before your flights make it home. That’s all they need, your greedy little flights spotted for take off when they are white knuckeled attempting to land on low gas.

These next two screenshots will show you how readiness for take-off is depicted.

In the above screen, you will see in the Aircraft Dialog (which you get to by double-clicking on any air capable surface unit or base). “Hangar” means its in the hangar, duh. “To Spotting” means its getting prepared on deck for take-off. “Spotted” means its all checked out and setup on catapult if available and then “Ready” means that the pilot has additionally signalled they are fully ready to take off. At that point, to make them actually take-off, you have to use the Command / Launch All menu item or associated button. Now, the [Launch] button is also available there in the Aircraft Dialog. You will see Search, Patrol (equivalent of CAP, Escort or Intercept duties*) or Strike Mission in the text to depict what type of overall mission they are in the process of.I’ve not messed too much with the other buttson. If you hit Spotting, it will clear the deck and get those planes back to the hangar to get them out of the way of inbound planes that are attempting to land! Always a good button to remember.

 

Development Roadmap Wishlist (Improvement Suggestions)

  • More detailed Status of the ship as far as overall damage. There are several text or visual markers added to the ship over time, but they are not terribly verbose or helpful.
  • Text description overlay (on/off button) for the range rings.
  • Text Tooltips for the unit markers. There are a lot of varying icons on display on the unit markers in the left-hand side of the interface. A simple toggle for turning on the tooltipping may be wanted. As perhaps as you learn the game over time you don’t want the extra information, but I don’t know who would not want to know what a particular text element means and not have to re-look it up in the manual. RTFM. Yeah, I know but I’m lazy. We all are.
  • Next Unit and Previous Unit buttons. For larger scenario maps, it can be difficult to not only see your own units, but definitely I’ve had issues with my old eyes being able to readily click on them. Yes, you can click on your most recently viewed units and get auto scrolled over to them, but a next or previous unit toggle through button, would I think help a great deal.
  • More granular cardinal directions for courses. Just at least one more step in detail I think would suffice. Naval wargamers want more granular control that land lubbers. Its just in our blood. Whether this needs to be an advanced setting, so be it. That would be fine.

All said and done, that’s not a long list. Nor is any of it a terrible game stopper. The game is very solid and playable as is. I could live without the above, and I can be convinced something else should be considered in their place if folks can think of better indications.

 

Comparison To Similar Naval Wargames

This wargame stands on its one in a really nice little hide-away of being more graphics detail and feedback than say, Rule The Waves 2 or Steam and Iron (of NWS company) while remaining of course much less 3d graphics oriented than lets say Ultimate Admiral : Dreadnoughts, War On The Sea, or Atlantic Fleet. I’d put this title squarely on the radar of any naval grognard who is looking for more of a simulationist board game than a 3d simulator. This is a low- to mid-level approachable wargame, with mid to high level fidelity under the hood. It is a nice mix. It scratches a particular itch for naval wargamers that not many other titles do.

 

The Bottom Line : Is It Worth It?

I’m a cheap bastard. I hold no punches on that. I will be as honest as I can be when reviewing a computer, board, or miniatures based wargame. Almost all games are worth SOMETHING, but are they worth what the company is asking for, is the true bottom line.

Is Kriegsmarine worth $39.99 of your hard earned money? Yes. Absolutely. It does warrant a few small changes I think to augment its already solid debut (and I hope to work directly with the designer/developer to make the suggestions happen), but unequivocally, yes its worth it.

I’ve tried my best to show you above what you are getting. I freely state, Buy It. Its good. I don’t say that lightly. It has a few things that could be improved, which I lightly touched upon above, but all said and done, its a great offering. Bravo to the designers and developers on this product.

 

Resources To Check Before Purchase:

Read all of the pdfs they offer freely online before making a final decision to purchase

  1. Go to the product website
  2. Then near the bottom right hand side of the product’s webpage:

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Notice where I placed the big green arrows. All pertinent files, other than the campaign description pdfs are found online (FREE) Read them and I think you’ll find yourself clicking the button to BUY the game. Make sure to also read the Advanced Play Guide, that was a very helpful file to convince me of the fidelity underneath the hood of the game*.

 

Reviewer’s Background & Approach To Reviews

So, who the hell am I to write a computer based naval wargame review?! I’m quickly approaching 50 years on this Earth. I’ve been wargaming since about 1986 approximately when I was 12 years old. That first wargame was none other than Battletech. Yes, you heard it, I called that a wargame. It had miniatures, you shoot stuff, and yes, it stole from Robotech prolifically but I was amazed and star struck and that is what gets a kid interested in something. I was a wargamer for life after. Prior to that year, I’d been deep into Moldvay D&D and Star Frontiers, each of which we also had miniatures and bashed Yassirians to death with their needler rifles, so you could count that as a “wargame with words” as I used to call rpgs.I started to get into naval wargaming in particular a bit later, approximately the year 2000, when i first started interacting with a local wargaming group called the Triangle Simulation Society. My first “real” naval wargame was Iron and Fire, by David Manley. I’m really glad that was the first as it was approachable yet maintained a great level of fidelity. These are two qualities which I look for in any wargame, regardless of genre, regardless of medium or format. Can someone off the street walk up and play the game with little instructions other than a one to three page cheat sheet, and maybe some help with the GM, but not feel that obscene level of ANGST we get when trying a new rule set (and which many times over has made me walk on by a table once I see the players arguing over which sub-rule was in effect or bashing each other with tape rulers – yes I’ve seen this happen).

I will always rate a game, regardless of genre or medium based upon that combined factor of: Approachable Fidelity. This I will then usually combine with a gauge of Time To Play a typical match; more so when I’m reviewing table-top board or miniatures games when it matters a bit more than with computer games you can save.

 


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