Sea Devils (S&T 191)

Playings 2, 7 hours (1 CSN, 1 USN win)

The long list of unanswered game questions on grognard.com was a bad sign but I am a sucker for a new game subject so punched Sea Devils out. I played the campaign and pretty much agreed with the holes shown up by the grognard.com article. I made some changes and gave it another go resulting in a pretty even game. Heavy USN shipping losses just offset by all the CSN raiders sent to Davey Jones. The game is a bit like Zeppelin in appeal except Zeppelin works better and is not full of holes. Both are for the period buff rather than the competitive gamer and both can show a slice of the period. Victory is based on raiding or going to the right places and rolling a D6b for each raided area. It is often fairly clear where the CSN will go and a fistful of 6s will be as good a way for the CSN to win as any cunning strategy.

Starting with a minor problem; too much book keeping for little action. The USN plots ship availability on a log and the CSN plots movement and turns at sea. There is also some hefty sorting and a bit of guessing to work out each turn's new ships. The backs of all counters are blank so I wrote the arrival turn and availability (USN) or refit period (CSN) on all the backs. There was some space left so I squeezed on the port of arrival for CSN ships and initial zone for all ships that start the campaign at sea. Not all the ships are on the turn entry track so I made some inspired guesses based on scenario entry ships and the historical article for the others. 2 CSN ships do not match with the article and probably represent ships to be built in France that were eventually sold to other parties. One has no suggested game entry turn so I brought it on the turn after its sister ship. These 2 cannot appear in the conventional campaign so the exact turn is hardly crucial. Although I found the grognard.com crib useful I do not agree with the suggested entry turns from that source, preferring the historical article as a guide. I used little markers to show how long CSN ships had been at sea but used the log for USN availability. This could be overcome by using the + shaped step markers from the S&T Wars of the Imperial Age games. Very few ships are available for more than 8 turns and those few could have an extra marker. Considering the countermix is about the 100 level a few markers for this would have been welcome. Another useful batch of markers could show when ports are closed for CSN coaling; these change from turn to turn and are hard to sort out from the chart.

Having sliced the paperwork certain gameplay problems remain. The CSN have a number of ships built in Europe and as the rules stand these can be kept permanently in port by fast USN ships in the same sea zone. They cannot leave Europe, cannot raid and will be interned losing CSN points. Historically these ships made it out and did the business. An Ironclad, the Stonewall, appears in Europe but is automatically spotted and will be sunk. This loses a massive 150 CSN points with no reduction for any USN ships that it takes down on the way. It is cheaper to leave the Ironclad in port until the game ends. In the later campaign turns all the CSN ships can sit in port except the Shenandoah that the USN cannot catch. She can sail into the Pacific and with good rolls rack up some serious points while the other CSN ships are safe at home. These modifications together with a squared up order of reinforcement are a big help and I am beginning to see the game under the mistakes. If you put the time into it Sea Devils will repay the effort. This is not a game to be played over and over again but it is worth punching and playing once or twice after certain modifications. Don't play it straight from the rules.

Modifications

Solitaire moves: I gave up on plotting everything for solitaire play and adapted the sequence of play and searching. The USN moves 1st then the CSN moves unplotted but the USN can search zones that begin with ships of both navies. CSN ships that cannot raid in deep water zones may not enter them. The CSN movement could be further limited but as ships need to return to port to refit, have to coal and two ships cannot raid the same zone their options are limited if the CSN is trying for optimal raiding points. This solitaire system guarantees that a CSN ship will be searched for once if the USN moves ships into that zone but gives the CSN a good chance of avoiding all USN ships after that. Well placed USN ships will limit the CSN's ability to raid if they want to avoid all USN ships.

Uncommissioned Ships: Uncommissioned CSN ships cannot raid but have a movement factor of 11. The ships can now get out of port when they are built. Fast USN ships will catch them on a 1 or 2 in 6 chance.

Auxiliaries: CSN Auxiliary ships are placed on the same sea zone as their parent ship at the end of the 1st turn that the parent ship successfully raids. They must be placed on a coastal zone or they are forfeit. I think that these counters represent merchant ships taken by the CSN and converted to raiders. These rules simulate that theory.

Confederate Prestige: The Confederate prestige increases by 1 for all markers when a raider successfully leaves the sea zone in which it is commissioned. There must be some way to increase prestige to bring the French ships into play. This option requires a raider to be built in Europe, leave port, enter another port, get commissioned and leave that port again without getting sunk. Worth a bonus in my opinion.

The Stonewall: This CSN Ironclad is not automatically detected when it 1st leaves port in Europe. This gives the ship some chance of making it across to the CSA. The counter now has a purpose and the USN must think about catching it.