Last weekend we gave Fireball Forward’s Fire at Sea: Battle of the Denmark Straits a go. I first got to know this game through a video on Little wars TV’s YouTube channel. I downloaded the free rules and its components and had quickly skimmed over its 8 pages. This might be a something I’d like to play from time to time. Having read, that you’ll need a square board with an 8 by 8 square grid to play it, I got an idea to play it on a small surface. I started searching for 3D printable ships, which I found on Thingiverse. At that moment I printed some very tiny ships and started to build a dedicated game board. Check out the tutorial of how I built it.
This naval wargame pits you and an opponent in a historical sea battle between the British and the German navy in the North Atlantic during WWII. The game is a rules system and scenario in one. The victory conditions and the turn orders are very much scenario i.e. historically motivated.
The game is played in five phases and in semi alternating turns. In the movement phase the British player moves his ships first, then the German player moves his ships. The shooting phase is opened by the Germans. The damage is determined simultaneously. Then both players try their skills to repair damage. Finally both players check their captain’s morale. Then a new round starts with the British player going first. Skill tests are checked with 2 D6 and modifiers vs. a variable target number. Damage is determined by drawing cards from a deck of standard playing cards.
The free game comes with everything you need to play, except the board, 2 six-sided dice and regular playing cards. You just need to download the files and print them. I did this at 50% reduced scale to suit my reduce game scale and to have an A5 booklet. The download contains the 8 page rules booklet and a page of tokens to print, ship reference sheets, captain cards and even ship markers if you don’t have any physical models.
After setting up the table, which was very quick, we decided on who was going to play which fleet. I went for the Germans with the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen. The first ship was commanded by Admiral Lütjens and Kapitän Brinkmann, the second ship was under Kapitän Lindemann‘s command.
David’s British Royal Navy had Captain Hamilton and Cpt. Tovey on the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood.
Every Captain comes with a card with stats, points and special abilities. These come in handy during play for boosting actions like navigating, shooting, repairing and testing morale.
The game play reminded me a lot of Battletech, a game I really enjoy. It even uses 2 D6 against a modified target number to test your actions. After some maneuvering of the ships we got them into position to shoot on each other. I really like the modifier system.
The Bismarck landed its 1st hit on the Hood‘s Gunnery Radar. After a hit, damage is determined by the card(s) you draw. The ships react differently to the symbols on your card. In general 2-10 numbered cards tend to reduce the hull value of a ship, whereas Jack to Ace go for other vital parts of your ship reducing maneuverability or shooting to ammo explosions making your ship sink immediately if you roll a 10+ on 2D6. We really enjoyed this mechanic, as it’s generating suspense by quickly escalating damage effects.
After that successful hit, the Hood was able to land a hit on the Bismarck causing no damage, but making the German Admiral and Captain miss their Morale check. If that happens, your ship needs to set course in a way to steer away from your opponent. Very annoying!
Ending Fire at Sea
Ultimately the game lasts quite a long time. We played for 3 hours and no victory conditions were met. The British ships were eventually nearly unable to maneuver and shoot. The Prinz Eugen had 1 Hull point left before it would have sunken. Thus only the Bismarck was more or less unharmed. We then decided to bring the game to an end without fulfilling our respective victory conditions. But that didn’t bother us. The game was great fun nonetheless.
There’s one thing we couldn’t find in the rules, was the definition of broadside. We couldn’t find the mentioned diagram in the rules. We interpreted this rule as having your ship and the enemy’s ship aligned in parallel anywhere on the board, as long as you could draw prolonged lines from your square’s edges to the other ship. If both ships were at least partly within the 2 extended lines and parallel to each other, then they would be in broadside to each other. This house rule may be not as intended by Mark Fastoso, the game’s designer, but it worked for us.
There’s also a full version on Wargame Vault and supplementary scenario on the Fireball Forward website which we might try one day. But I really like the small scale, simple and elegant rules of the free version.
In conclusion, the game is very easy to pick up. You’ll need a turn or two to grasp the mechanisms, but afterwards the game runs very fluidly, despite adding/subtracting all the modifiers. You’ll very quickly grasp the math. Although in the beginning it’s hard to damage the ships, it doesn’t take long to get into shooting range. You’ll need to get closer to the enemy, load them with splash markers and get your ship into broadside to the enemy ship to blast them to the sea ground. That’s where a big portion of the strategy lies in this game. Plus using all of your captain’s cool special abilities.
This game is definitely a keeper! We highly recommend it to everyone interested in trying out a naval game! It’s the perfect gateway game for that sub-genre.
Also don’t forget to you read our tutorial of how to build the board and the components.