Some people are into heavy metal, meaning armored vehicles. Then a smaller subset is into heavier metal trains. Once more we cut the group down to those who are obsessed with the heaviest metal battleships and battlecruisers. To me, they are elegant and stately in their deadly beauty. It is no wonder that for a hundred years or so the guns and armor of these behemoths were the epitome of weapons, and also a nation's ego. To send your mighty ships across the globe was a hallmark of a nation's place in the sun. Even the most backwater nations would strain their economies to own at least one battleship.
The world in WWI waited with baited breath for the clash of the German, and British titans. In what should have been a Wagnerian finale in 1916 off the coast of Jutland, the German fleet twice sailed into the blazing guns of their more numerous cousins. Due to their greater durability, and a Valkyrie like death ride of the German battle cruisers into the hell of British 15" guns, the German navy survived, but not to fight another day. The Kaiser hadn't wanted to risk his pretties anyway. I beg your indulgence for this paean to these marvelous gods of the sea. Now to the matter at hand.
Naval Warfare Simulations have tried to give the wargamer the chance to experience WWI from a captain, admiral, and naval high command seat. Have they succeeded, and if so how well?
The game comes with several well written manuals to help you in your quest for maritime dominance. These are:
Scenario Editor Manual
The first absolutely amazing fact about the game is its size. the entire game with the expansion is less than fifty MB. The size brings us back almost to the days of floppy disks. True, it is in 2D and has minimal colors, but what they have stuffed into this bag of goodies would make Santa proud.
The game itself can be played out in scenarios that are tactical in size, and an hour of game time. To operational scale ones that can last several days. The nations that can be played are as follows:
US, Germany, Britain, Italy, Russia, Austria Hungary, Turkey, and France.
You have the ability to fight anywhere in the world. It comes with a scenario, a ship editor, and a battle generator with multiple options. There are thirty two scenarios. Here is a small list:
The scenarios range from simply duking it out or laying mines and bombardment, to even launching primitive airstrikes.
HERE IS THE PREFERENCE SCREEN
The game models weather, night and day, and various visibility. One thing that the game models, which is truly annoying but historically accurate, is mechanical breakdowns on the ships. You will sometimes be all set for your next foray, and then when halfway there find one or two ships have had to turn back. It adds to the 'what if' nature of the game.
The campaign expansion adds a total of four campaigns:
North Sea 1916
Germany Stronger 1916
The North Sea campaign gives an armchair admiral the chance of playing 200 weekly turns. It includes over 800 ships of all types and sizes. You not only have to battle it out with the enemy admiral. Your countries entire naval program is in your hands. Training, organization, and maintenance are all up to you.
The campaigns add immensely to the game and immersion. Every turn of the campaign you are given a mission or a choice of missions to accomplish. The missions are assigned a point value toward victory if they are completed. This adds a cat and mouse feeling to the game. Unlike the scenarios which are usually ingrained already in players' heads from reading about them (although the scenarios do not always play out the same and there are alternative history ones). With the missions in the campaign game you have absolutely no idea of what is over the horizon. The Grand Fleet may be out for target practice at the precise spot your mission wants you to be. Juggling the need to complete the missions, and also deal with regular maintenance and the chance of mechanical breakdowns is nail biting. Add this to the already very up in the air nature of naval warfare and it becomes a bit maddening. A few, or even one hit on your ships can completely turn the situation around at any second.
Submarines, although in their infancy, were a major part of the war at sea. A quick look at the reason for ship losses in WWI will show that many more were torpedoed than actually sunk by gunfire.
Submarines have their own patrol area, and can attack ships that enter it. Always keep destroyers near your capital ships. They make it harder for a submarine to attack, and increase the chance of the submarine being spotted. Of all your ships, weather affects your submarines the most. Calm seas make them easy to spot, and in rough seas it is hard for them to stay at attack depth. Per the manual, "a sea state of 2 to 5 is optimal for subs".
Although both sides used submarines in their operational planning, they never really fulfilled their role. The navies tried to use them as spotting forces, but the game shows their historical failings in that role. In the game, their reports are only correct about 50% of the time. The game also shows the fear that navies had at the time of submarine attack. This is shown by having false reports of submarine, and torpedo wake sightings.
You will also have to worry about anti-submarine warfare or ASW. Some destroyers will always need to be held back and unassigned to carry out this function.
BRITISH AND GERMAN FIXED MINEFIELDS
The other weapon that caused a large amount of ship losses and damage was mines. The game has two distinct types of minefields. most scenarios, and campaign turns show the fixed minefields that both used in the war.
The player can also make his own minefield, either by having it as an objective to fulfill or as his own decision. Player laid minefields do disperse as time goes by. Enemy laid minefields can be detected and will then show on the map. The different countries took a dissimilar approach to laying and removing mines. The British used specially built minelaying ships, while in other navies some of their other classes of ships could also lay mines.
The navies at the time had two main fears never realized in the war: that a retreating fleet would lure the attacker onto a minefield or into a waiting group of submarines. This never happened with submarines because of the infancy of the ships themselves and their communications. While mines at the time were the ultimate dumb bomb, it really would have been the height of folly to attempt to lure another fleet onto a newly placed minefield. The chance of mines floating free was a very real hazard, and more than a few ships were struck by their own side's loose mines.
Your crew's training and ship maintenance cannot be overlooked. For many days of the war, ships (especially capital ships) were in their bases, and not at sea. You will see your crew's training level drop during the campaign due to rustiness. Your ships will also need to be refitted every twelves months. Letting your ships get close to or go over the one year mark increases the chance of mechanical failure. The game does come equipped with a 'Fleet Engineer' button. Clicking that will show you all ships that need refitting.
Some ships will also be able to be upgraded during your time as admiral. This will show up in the turn events.
The AI in this dwarf sized game is non-pareil. You will need all of your wits about you to even play the British side with all of their built in advantages. Things will seem slow and calm. The next minute it is full steam ahead. Then you realize that a few of your best ships are still in dry dock for maintenance. Shiver me timbers, the electronic Scheer has humbugged you.
As far as other games like Steam and Iron, the games it brings to mind are Warship and Battlecruiser from thirty years ago, and The Great Naval Battles series from twenty years ago. This is not a knock on the game whatsoever . I spent hours playing those games, and will spend plenty more playing this one.
Once you have picked up this little gem, continue on in your naval adventures and pick up Steam and Iron The Russo-Japanese War, and see if you can outwit Togo.
Game: Steam and Iron with Campaign Expansion
Developer: Naval Warfare Simulations
Software Publisher: Naval Warfare Simulations
Review Date: 7/30/16