We’re fast approaching the 95th anniversary of the greatest sea battle of all time that didn’t involve American aircraft carriers; that is, of course, the Battle of the Skagerrak, more popularly known as Jutland, that took place in the North Sea from May 31 to June 1, 1916, between the two most incredible battleship fleets of all time: the Grand Fleet of the United Kingdom and the Hochseeflotte of Imperial Germany. But few outside historians and gamers will remember those terrible days, when mountains of steel crammed with the heaviest artillery the world has ever seen traded punches on the iron-grey, empty waters of the North Sea.
One of the most overlooked areas of modern simulation gaming is naval combat, particularly in the age of the great battleships of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Of all the game designers to look at tactical combat on the high seas, very few have done so in the mold of great early naval simulations like Age of Sail, that early effort to simulate ship-to-ship naval combat in the Napoleonic era. Fortunately, Norm Koger and Jim Rose, and their Storm Eagle Studios, have stepped up and filled the gap with two of the most entertaining tactical combat games I’ve played: Distant Guns and Jutland.
Distant Guns has been around for several years. I have both the original version and the enhanced 1.5 version, and it is the only computer game I know of that simulates predreadnought battleships: Battleships, usually with four very heavy guns and batteries of smaller artillery, the predecessors of the behemoths of 1914, and of the Pacific battles in World War II, though by then battleships were reduced to anti-aircraft platforms and fire support for infantry. But between 1914 and 1918, the battleship was still the queen of the seas, and in Jutland, which is Distant Guns‘ successor, they all sail again.
We live in the age of downloadable content. These days, we buy a game, and then we buy add-on packs that increase functionality. Add features. Add content we want to see. Storm Eagle Studios is sensitive to the wants of its customers, because our corner of the market is a small one and very demanding. Jutland, on initial release, dealt only with those two terrible days in 1916. The ships were all there, in their 1916 trim, but only part of the two great fleets fought that battle and fans wanted more. Storm Eagle delivered, first with a pack of new ships that brought the U.S. Navy into the action, with Admiral Rodman’s 6th Battle Squadron, the American dreadnoughts that sailed across the Atlantic in 1917 to form part of the Grand Fleet on the U.S. entry into World War I. Now, that’s interesting stuff. Jutland features an easy-to-use scenario editor. I once built a quick fight at 20,000 yards’ distance between the German battleships Kaiser and Kaiserin, and the American New York and Florida.
After half an hour at extreme range, Kaiser was on her way to Davy Jones’s Locker, Florida had out of control fires and a quarter of her crew dead, and New York’s captain and executive officer were both dead. Watching that, and other fights, play out on my monitor was sobering for me, and testament to what those sailors faced in battles like Jutland, and the clash of battlecruisers at the Dogger Bank.
That was another weakness of the original Jutland. It was missing some of the crucial events leading up to the grand-daddy of all ironclad gunfights. One of the enduring “what-if” scenarios that naval historians play out centers on an encounter of Admiral Franz von Hipper’s I Scouting Group with the Grand Fleet’s battlecruisers in January 1915, led by the flashy Sir David Beatty. In real life, that action devolved from a British intercept of German signals traffic, that tipped the Grand Fleet off to a planned raid on the British east coast. In the ensuing melee, the German armored cruiser Blücher was lost with 800 dead, Hipper’s flagship Seydlitz was badly damaged, and Beatty’s Lion likewise, taking the British admiral out of the battle at the crucial moment.
The “what-if”-ing centers on a misunderstood signal, that caused Beatty’s entire force to concentrate fire on the disabled Blücher, a obsolete armored cruiser that really had no business tagging along with I SG’s battlecruisers, while the bulk of Hipper’s force escaped to the Jade. What if the British hadn’t got their signals fouled up? What if Lion hadn’t been disabled, allowing Beatty to stay in the center of the action? What if Hipper had managed to sink Lion and one or two of her sisters, given that we now know British ammunition handling was inferior and German gunnery generally superior? Gamers wanted to play out these scenarios. And Storm Eagle Studios has answered the challenge.
They’ve released Jutland: Ship Pack 2 – Dogger Bank 1915, which includes all of the British and German ships that fought at the Dogger Bank. Several of these include the much-requested German armored cruisers Roon and Yorck; the Germans did not have many armored cruisers, and it is good to see them here.
It also includes an Easter egg, which has not been advertised: Several French armored cruisers of the Montcalm class, which are absent from the original releases.
Additionally, Ship Pack 2 comes with scenarios to play out, requiring the new ships.