There are few board games out there more detailed, more accurate, and generally more impressive than the Naval Thunder series from Steel Dreadnought Games. Anyone that knows anything about miniatures or board-based gaming will likely attest to this fact, as well as recommend that new players cut their teeth on this series.
The review here focuses on two of the company's greatest releases: Battleship Row, and its expansion pack Bitter Rivals. The former lays down the basis for an easy-to-learn combat system whose ease of learning doesn't translate in any way to a lack of complexity in its results. The aircraft and submarine rules as well as the potential for customisation of scenarios in Battleship Row is perfectly complemented by its expansion Bitter Rivals, which introduces a staggering amount of new content including well over a hundred new ship classes from the nations of Italy, Britain, France, and Germany. This short review will attempt to look at both these products in a little more detail.
Firstly, Battleship Row isn't miniatures starter pack, meaning that when purchased you receive with it no miniatures that will represent the various ships and vessels that form an integral part of the game's combat. What you do get in Battleship Row are rules, scenarios, and dedicated stats that pertain to a variety of US Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy vessels (in the form of data cards), with this content costing $16.95 . This can be purchased as a PDF from Wargame vault.
The game itself is presented in a very understandable way, with the gameplay being quite easy to pick up if you happen to be a beginner. The framework of the rules also represents quite accurately the real-life nature of naval combat, which is demonstrated most readily in the disconnected nature of the aerial and submarine combat from the surface-level play. This disconnect comes from the aerial combat and submarine manoeuvres being played in separate turns to the ship-based surface combat.
The turn-based nature of the game adequately reflects the very real divide between the submarine/aerial combat and that on the surface, with the aerial and underwater effort often being situated many miles away from the action on the surface of the water.
Ship data cards that are included with the content detail information about each vessel, providing numerical data that can be entered into the gameplay itself. Data includes values concerning the hull, speed, the class of each ship (battleship, cruiser, or destroyer - these each perform slightly differently in the movement and the attacking phases of the game), main battery information, torpedo data, aircraft (if any), and orders (movement, shooting, and torpedos).
The turn order, which dictates the phases in which the game is played, has the aircraft and submarines act in the first turn, followed by the movement phase and then the shooting phase (movement and shooting is determined largely by the size of each vessel, with larger ones moving first and the smallest moving last in order to reflect their relative speeds), and then the end phase (this includes things like damage control).
One of the great things about Battleship Row is that it also includes an optional rules section, which can be employed once the player is familiar with the basic rules. These rules allow players to increase the complexity of the game as well put their own flavour on it with options for customisation of various features. For example, using the optional rules allows you to make even a one-on-one skirmish between ships a fairly complex affair, whilst also scaling down the complexity if you decide to start playing with entire fleets.
In all, Battleship Row isn't anywhere near as complex or perhaps realistic as other titles like the Harpoon series from Larry Bond, but it is a perfect game for people looking to get into Naval Wargaming.
The gameplay of bitter rivals is based on that of Battleship Row, but the talking point with this game is the content it brings to the Naval Thunder framework. This pack effectively expands the theatre of conflict to the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North Atlantic, including a massive selection of vessels from the fleets of Germany, Italy, Britain, and France's navies. The expansion introduces a staggering 130 new classes of ship, which includes merchant and transport vessel data cards for dedicated convoy games.
What the above content does for the game is not only expand the historical context and the physical theatre of conflict, but also gives individual flavours and styles to each country's navy, with rules included that are unique to each of the nations involved in the conflict. The 13 additional historical scenarios only make stronger the flavour of authenticity that Naval Thunder already possesses, and the additional scenario rules allow you to experience situations like dealing with minefields, the breaking down of your ships, and the introduction of batteries based on the shore.
Bitter rivals is therefore a fantastic expansion that can seriously increase the longevity of the Naval Thunder series, allowing experienced players to increase the size of their navy, the complexity of the games, and the historical authenticity of their scenarios. Steel Dreadnought Games is the only official site linked to the series, so check it out for yourself to experience one of the best naval warfare board games out there.