Review of board wargame Salvo! by Pevans

Once upon a time (1975 to be exact) Simulations Publications Inc. of New York published a board wargame called Dreadnought. This is a simulation of battleship combat. It is actually quite an abstract game, the attributes of each ship being reduced to four numbers: attack, defence, speed and range. The rules provide a number of scenarios for engagements, fought across a blank map­board (representing the high seas). The effects of gunnery are calculated using two tables and damage is applied as either halving or disabling the ships attack (guns) or speed (engines) factors. Dreadnought uses a simultaneous move system, with players secretly plotting the fire and moves of their ships. Additional rules cater for screening units (destroyers and cruisers), torpedoes, battleships' secondary batteries and so on. Despite its abstractness, the game is a reasonable simulation and works well (it is played by post). It is, however, out of print.

Now (1992 to be precise) 3W have published a board wargame called Salvo!. This is a simulation of battleship combat, which abstracts each ship to four numeric attributes: attack, defence, speed and range... Yes, the game is effectively a re-working of Dreadnought (though this is nowhere acknowledged). The changes do make it significantly different, however.

Land Ahoy!

What you get for your money is a thick paper map (22" x 16") showing some coast outlines in different colours, 200 ˝" cardboard counters, a 12-page rule-book and two dice. The counters represent WW2 battleships, cruisers and destroyers of various nationalities, plus markers to show ship speed and direction, targets, and damage inflicted.

In each turn first one player and then the other designates the targets his/her ships are firing on - taking into account the range of that ship's guns and the overall visibility (there are rules for the use of star shells at night and optional rules for using spotter planes or radar). The damage inflicted by the gunfire is then worked out. This involves rolling the dice twice and looking up two different tables. The first roll determines the effectiveness of the gunfire, depending on the attack strength of the ship. It is modified by such factors as range, whether the firing ship is also being fired on (those target markers come in handy) and whether or not the ship is firing broadside on. The resulting number is compared to the attacked ship's defence strength and the dice rolled against the resulting odds value to determine the effect. Damage can be against the ship's weapons or speed, reducing the attack strength or speed to two-thirds, a third, or zero. This is cumulative and 3W and 3S on a ship leaves it wrecked. There is also a chance of getting a lucky shot and blowing the target up at once.

Launch Torpedoes

Destroyers that are within range can then fire torpedoes. As this is after the main guns have fired, closing on a battleship with your destroyers is a dangerous occupation (battleships have secondary batteries to use against destroyers). The first player then moves his ships, followed by the second player. Ships' acceleration and deceleration is limited and it costs them speed (movement points) to make sharp turns.

Finally, players try to repair damage using damage control parties. The amount which each ship can repair is limited . Players have to keep track of this with paper and pen - a shame, given that everything else is handled with markers. For the next turn, the players reverse the first/second order to balance out the advantages of each.

The rules provide just ten scenarios, including two hypothetical ones, covering battleship engagements in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. The different coloured outlines on the map provide for a number of coastlines to be used - or ignored for a battle on the high seas. There are also optional rules covering mines, shore batteries, friendly fire and command control.

Evasive Action

The game plays reasonably well and provides a decent contest for two players. At long range ships only inflict small amounts of damage, but moving in close is a double-edged sword: your fire may be more effective, but so is the enemy's. Hence you get a cat-and-mouse game with neither player wanting to get too close until they have an edge. Once you've damaged some of your opponent's ships the aim is to separate those from the rest of the enemy fleet and finish them off, while protecting your own damaged ships. The major difficulty I see, is that the alternate move system makes it difficult to do this: it's too easy for ships to shadow each other.

Another problem is that there is no scope for destroyers to lay smoke screens - a useful way of cutting off some of the enemy so that you can concentrate your fire, or of protecting your damaged ships. Given that the introduction of one of the scenarios specifically mentions the use of smoke in the real-life battle, this seems a bizarre omission. Salvo! also suffers from an endemic board wargame problem: the huge stack of counters in a confined space. In this case, it's four battleships, speed/direction markers and damage markers, to which are added the markers of the ships firing on them.

Left Hand Down a Bit

There are a few minor problems, too. The British ships are dark blue, making it difficult to read the black printing on them. There are insufficient speed/direction markers for the larger scenarios. The rules don't say what happens to attacks at odds of less than 1:2. I assume that they don't count, otherwise any little destroyer could take a pot-shot at the Bismark with a 10/36 chance of doing some damage.

Comparing Salvo! with Dreadnought, the newer game comes off worse. The game system is pretty much the same, but Salvo! scores by having damage in thirds, which prolongs the fight more realistically. The target markers are a neat device, too - it's a shame that Salvo! doesn't quite manage to do away with the need to write anything at all. The provision of coastlines on the map is cleverly done and adds to the game. However, I much prefer Dreadnought's simultaneous move system. This adds an element of outguessing your opponent, raising the tension and providing a more realistic result. Dreadnought also has rules for smoke screens.

Finally, Dreadnought is the game for the naval warfare buff. It covers the whole battleship era (1906-45, compared to Salvo!'s 1939-45) and provides counters for each battleship, often with separate counters for each major re-fit (Salvo! has representative ships for each battleship class). Naval warfare buffs will also dispute the ratings given to each ship - British players have always reckoned that Dreadnought over-states the power of US battleships, while down-grading the British ones - a good pastime for the aficionado.

If you are interested in WW2 battleship fights, then Salvo! is worth having - if you don't already have Dreadnought (if you do, you don't need this game) and are prepared to pay the rather high price. An expansion set, Salvo! II, is also available.

Salvo! was designed by Michael Smith and published in the USA by 3W (now defunct). It is a wargame for 2 players. Pevans rates it 4/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 74, September 1993.

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