Fleet Power Basics
Fleet Power is an operational level gaming system depicting naval operations in the maritime domain. The purpose of the game is to provide a “sandbox” for the exploration of the relationships between naval capabilities, information, and decision-making.
Central to these relationships is an understanding of how the components that make up a Fleet’s combat power can be orchestrated to seize and hold initiative, then exploit it to achieve operational objectives that enable accomplishment of strategic goals.
The game is played at the “high tactical/low operational” meaning you are worried about “major muscle movements” of your forces – where to establish operating areas to patrol or strike from, and when and how you move between them. Unlike “low tactical level” games like Harpoon, where you “drive individual ships around” so as to unmask particular weapons systems, and make specific “Tactical Action Officer” weapons system employment decisions’ in the Fleet Power game system your role is the “Task Force Commander” with a variety of air, surface, subsurface and other assets under your control. You can get out your “1,000 mile screwdriver” and try to get in the cockpit, but the more you do that, the more you compromise your understanding of the “big picture” and making it harder to maintain situational awareness (SA) in your current OpAreas – and contribute to increasing the degree of “friction” within and between your units..
The game is played in “Game Days” which are divided into as many as 16 or as few as 2 “operations phases” depending on the map and time scale chosen. Hex size can range from 16nm to 64nm – smaller than 16nm and greater than 64nm some of the assumptions underlying the game mechanics breakdown. Air operations are constrained to 150nm-ish “Mega hexes” (e.g. 3 hexes across at the 48nm scales, 5 hexes across at the 32nm scale, 7 hexes across at the 24nm scale and 9 hexes across at the 16nm scale.)
These are typically matched to produce one hex of movement being 4, 6, or 8 knots for ships or subs. The “standard” scale is 24nm per hex and 8 operations phases, each representing 3 hours. This results in one hex of movement for each 8 kts of speed. One can add rules foe special cases like “creeping” subs that move one hex every other turn (4 knots).
Other scales are possible based on what you are using the game for – education and exploration regarding types of operations in a certain locale, or more abstract “concept development” to see how changing a certain capability affects a player’s thinking about how to accomplish a set of objectives.
The game pieces that players give orders to are generically called ‘units’. Each one represents a Task Group of surface ships or an individual submarine. The nature of submarines and their operations make it difficult to combine them into cooperative Task Groups (though this could be an “advanced capability” that could be explored). Aircraft operate form Air bases in Air Wings made up of squadrons of individual types of aircraft.
A basic game scenario is 4 days or less in duration and avoids the need to track logistics and unit readiness (friction points). Basic game scenarios can be completed in 2-6 hours of play time depending on the complexity. A long scenario will represent 10 days to 3 weeks and will have a random variable involved in determining the last turn so the players can’t “game the finish”. These will take multiple days to play, or can be played “asymmetrically” by email.
Open vs. Closed Form Play:
The game can be played in an “open form” manner on a single map with the use of “dummy” markers to retain some secrecy as to where the enemy units are, or as a “closed form” game where each player and the umpire has a separate map and set of playing pieces, and only units revealed by ISR efforts are placed on the other players map. “Open game” style of play tends to be more tractable for “spare time play” and engender more mutual discussion about what is happening in the game, while the game is being played. The vision for the game involves the idea that the outcome of a playing of the game is not nearly as important as the path taken to get there, and the discussion (even arguments) about the journey. This philosophy harkens back to the “Glory Days” of NWC Wargaming, where – while often who won could have career implications on the defeated, the value of the game was in the consensus building that occurred as a group of professionals who enter the game with often wildly divergent perceptions of “how the fight should go”, leave the game, at a minimum, educated to the range of other points of view, if not the recipient of a totally new one inspired by the dialectic nature of the gaming experience.
The differences between the “open form” game and the “closed form” from game are left to the umpire to implement as he deems will most appropriately fulfill the objectives of the game. For example, all dummy units may be removed, or some may remain representing some knowledge of background shipping, which may be intermingled with enemy units. Players may roll their own dice, or the umpire may roll them secretly in order to ensure the game does not “go off the rails” because of a lucky die roll. Of the Umpire may delineate separate “Task Forces” that are treated independently for purposes of “force-wide” game effects. Thus the particulars of the closed form game are left to the umpire’s interpretation.
Sequence of play
New Day Phase (during the last turn of a day – for an 8 phase game, the 0300 turn.
Force Readiness Segment – in the advanced game there is a die role for “force wide friction-point reduction (in real world terms, the Commander’s Update and Component Synch briefing), otherwise units that have been taken off task or placed on “stand-down” the entire previous day shed ¾ of their friction points.
Naval Planning Segment – players fill out the Daily Intentions log for each of their units. In a large single player game this can be onerous, so in a face-to-face 2-player game, players use can use other methods like initiative cards to assign the order in which they activate units to move in . There are a number of ways this can be done, from assigning units “initiative” points to putting a card for each unit in a deck, shuffling it, and drawing cards in various ways to determine the order of movement. In multi-player team umpired game, each player may only have a single unit, and an actual Fleet Commander discussion the plan with them, and they then have to plot based on what they discussed.
Air Tasking Order (ATO) Segment – In the basic game, the scenario provides the number of aircraft of each type are available each operations phase – in effect the “ATO is pre-arranged” listing the units available, their composition and home base. The player then uses the Air Mission Log to plot the air missions for the next operations at the start of the current one (if the turns are 4 hours or less) or can plot “same turn” if the turns are greater than 4 hours.
In the Advanced game the players fill out an “ATO” for each air base listing how many aircraft of each type are launching each air cycle. Air cycles can be anywhere from 80 to 120 minutes depending on the turn structure (trying to get an integer number of air cycles per turn – i.e. two 90min cycles in a 3 hour ops phase, and three 80min cycles in a 4 hour turn. While the game will aggregate air cycles together over a turn to determine aircraft available, the specifics of when aircraft are taking off and landing are important for accelerating reliefs when a threat is arriving (when super-cruise REALLY comes in handy) and most importantly when dealing with shot down or “chip-light” (broken) aircraft and tracking when the “hole” in the ATO cycle comes up again.
The ATO is also used to determine the number of friction points that the air squadrons (rows) and deck crews (columns) accrue. In the example, 160+ sorties per day ‘round-the-clock’ is a VERY busy flight deck – a tempo that would begin to degrade aircraft availability well before the end of a 3-4 day basic scenario (though for simplicity’s sake we willing suspend our disbelief).
Operations Phases – The individual Operations Phases (by default 8 per game day) consist of an ISR segment, and 2 alternating pairs of Air Operations and Naval Operations segments, and a Damage Control Segment. Yes it’s a lot of phases and segments, but this assumes one wants a fairly high degree of interactivity in the Air these can be compressed when using fewer operations phases per day.
ISR Segment – players allocate ISR points and determine the SA Level in each of their OpAreas. The higher the SA level, the greater the chance that enemy contacts can be sorted out of the background noise. Failure to “keep the bubble” (i.e. get successes on SA rolls) will reduce the SA level. Based on the results of the ISR segment, players may attempt to revise the unit’s orders for this operations phase, but will accrue either adverse table shifts on encounter and engagement rolls, (or accrues friction points in the advanced game)
Air Operations Segments – Execute Air missions for this segment according to the Air Mission Log. (as plotted last Ops Phase). “Persistent” missions (like AEW, DCA, ASW Patrol, and Tanking) are assumed to “relieve on station” maintaining a continuous presence, while missions like OCA, Strike and Recon usually “fly out” in the first segment and “fly back“ in the 2nd. (the exception is the Deck Launched Intercept mission that is turned around in a alternating air segments as though the Carrier’s life depended on it (which it sometimes does…)
When aircraft move into mega-hexes adjacent to one another, the players resolve the potential for an ‘encounter’ which can result in an interception attempt, or a retreat away from danger, depending on the type of aircraft and it “guidance”, Fighters with “aggressive intercept orders: will attempt to “chase down” enemy aircraft, but can be “suckered away” from the path of a larger strike. No Intercept orders restrict the fighter to ONLY resolving an encounter with enemy aircraft entering the mega-hex. There are “normal” and “cautious” in between, as well as a distinction between “Active” or “passive” radar states during the intercept (passive relying on direction from another source like a ground radar control station or AEW aircraft.
When encounters lead to aircraft in the same mega-hex, then an engagement is resolved, consisting of a Beyond Visual Range combat round, a transition round, (where there is an overlap between radar homing missiles and some high CL IR homing weapons ) and a Within Visual Range round where all weapons may be employed. When losses occur, morale checks determine if the remaining aircraft withdraw. (or the player may attempt a “recall”.
When using larger hex scales and time frames, an alternative “aggregated” air battle system is used (which can be used in smaller scale games at the players discretion) to generate “plausible” results without the more explicit determination of who is interacting with whom.
Naval Segments – in the first naval segment, naval units move half their movement allowance (fractions round down) and the remainder in the 2nd movement segment. This facilitates face to face play where players use the card draw, or other methods to determine the sequence of moves. In umpired play, the 2 segments can be combined (sandwiched between the 2 air segments) with the “Umpire’s discretion” rule coming into play to determine where potential encounters occur. In complicated situations where multiple units are converging on each other, an “incremental movement table” is provided (a la “Star Fleet Battles”) to determine who among multiple units encounters whom in what order.
When in proximity to shore and shipping lanes, the OpArea system with its SA levels determines when enemy units are determined to be present. In face-to face- play dummy units I the OpArea are removed, as all the units are on the map. (except perhaps for some subs). When enemy units are detected, then, as with air operations, whether they encounter each other is diced for, and if that occurs, then depending upon the “detection level” each side achieves, those relative values are used to determine who (if anybody) engages, and if it is mutual, “who fires effectively first”.
Damage Control Segment – when ships take damage, they take one or more dice rolls and can be put into either a “mission kill” or “sinking” status. A player has ONE chance (a long one) to make a “save” against a mission kill (based mostly on crew proficiency – i.e all the “buttoning up” of the ship, and stationing of repair and firefighting parties throughout the ship. If these preparation do not preclude the :mission kill” from happening, such damage is considered beyond the crews capability to repair at sea.
If a ship sustains even damage, and fails it’s rolls so as to be “sinking”, the player may make damamge control rolls to attempt to keep the ship afloat long enough to limp back to port (or in the case of less humanitarian types, to act as a missile sump as long as possible. Each ship has a number of “flotation points: based on its size. Each DC segment a roll is made for each sinking ship – if it is failed, the ship loses a flotation point. When a ship loses its last flotation point, it sinks. Missiles tend to do “topside damage with an increased chance of a “mission kill” while torpedoes and mines have a higher chance of causing “sinking” status, and may cost flotation points as well…a heavyweight torpedo against a ship can sink it outright by costing it all its flotation points (i.e. breaking it in two…) if it gets lucky.
So that is an overview of the game. Next I will cover the Command and Control system of logs in more detail. Play testing has demonstrated this to be a necessary evil in this level of naval game, because allowing the player to fight as though his force had been assimilated into the Borg Collective gave players WAY to much ability to just do “drive-bys” that was too susceptible to “gamey” play. Although in 2 player “fun” gaming it can be relaxed as indicated above.