This is probably one of the hardest wargames I have ever played. I say that with almost all praise because if you want a challenge then this is a game for you. I once said that if you were the ADD type then Distant Guns wasn’t the game for you. Neither is Jutland. This is a game that requires a lot of time and a lot of patience. If you don’t like games that require a lot of input over a long period of time, then pass on this game. Otherwise it will frustrate you to no end.
First, let’s look at the single missions. The missions vary from single warship-on-warship attacks progressing through small unit battles all the way up to full-scale fleet battles using the exact warships present at the Battle of Jutland. My advice is to start out very slow with the single mission battles. There is a temptation to jump into the big, full-scale fleet battles, but this will become confusing very quickly.
Ship control is simple and relatively complicated at the same time. You have the ability to control ships individually as well as controlling divisions of ships, and even the entire fleet if that is what you want to do. Ship selection involves right clicking on a ship, bringing up the ship instruction setup and then giving the orders. You have the option to order one ship, ships in that division or the entire fleet based upon the selection of this one ship. Ships can be turned immediately, turned in order or you can have the ships turn immediately and reform.
While in this menu you also have the ability to give speed commands to your ships. Ships in a group will only go the speed of the slowest ship in the group. If you have a ship that receives damage, you can disengage the ship from that particular task force and move it independently. Trust me; you will want to do this from time-to-time.
The right click menu will also bring up the combat commands you can give your group. Ships can be ordered to attack the nearest ship, independently attack ships they view as a threat, launch torpedoes, or hold fire if that is what you want to do. Like in real life sometimes the ships don’t necessarily do what you want, but that is certainly realistic.
The interface is certainly more than adequate for the tasks at hand but it takes quite a bit of practice to figure out exactly what you want to do. The larger the formations, the more the confusion. When you start getting into the major battles involving hundreds of ships the potential for confusion and disaster increases exponentially. Distant Guns and Jutland are cousins of each other with very similar interfaces. Even though I have played them extensively, I will still screw up on a fairly regular basis.
It does tend to make you appreciate what the real Admirals had to deal with when they tried to control their ships. They didn’t have the advantage of flyout views, small little maps in the bottom right corner of the screen, or even the ability to zone in and find out specific information on damaged ships. Most of the time this kind of information wasn’t found out until long after the battle was completed. At the same time, standing on a bridge trying to signal other ships via wireless would be ridiculously time consuming and, well, not fun at all.
The gunnery in Jutland has brought a lot of discussion on some of the boards. You have one side that seems to think that the gunnery model is way off, and that for all the shots fired you don’t see too many hits. The other side states that the gunnery is probably accurate for the time period and that you shouldn’t see dead-on hits every time you see these ships fire at each other.
In reality both sides have a legitimate complaint. The gunnery does mean that you have to wait a long time to actually get a conclusion to a battle. You can see ships fire salvo after salvo then not see the results of your battle. I also agree that the German AI tends to be more accurate than the British AI. I think this has something to do with reality, the Germans tended to be more accurate than the British, especially at long range but that was due to better optics on the German ships over innate abilities. The best British ship gunnery-wise was the HMS Queen Mary, a battlecruiser that was ranging in and hitting the German battlecruisers before she took a critical hit that caused her to blow up. It was no surprise that Queen Mary was also one of the few Royal Navy ships to be equipped with upgraded range finders.
There have been some curious problems. On occasion ships seem to hit with a lot more accuracy than they should. I have noticed that in many engagements my Royal Navy ships seem to get the worst of the battles but I can’t say that happens every time. That is what is maddening. There are reports of Royal Navy battlecruisers getting pasted by long range shots by pre-dreadnoughts, and while I haven’t seen it there have been enough complaints about some strange and repeated shots hitting that the issue should be taken seriously. I know SES is. At the same time I haven’t seen some of the odd behavior, except for the exceptionally deadly light cruisers that seem to tear up every single destroyer I send at them.