Tuesday 4 December 2012

Harpoon and other things

I have been meaning to post a number of things here, but I have had a number of real life issues interrupt my gaming. Still, part of the reason why I make models and play games (and occasionally blog about said activities) is to provide myself with a pleasant distraction from tedious everyday matters. I also note that Gowan of Gowan's 1/72 scale models, has given me a blog award that is going the rounds currently. It was very kind of Gowan to do so, and I encourage those who are not familiar with his blogs to check them out, Gowan does very interesting work.

Harpoon is one of those games that I have always wanted to play, but never quite found the time to do so. So when my friend Steve suggested that we give it a go, I leapt at the opportunity. We used Harpoon 3.2, which seems to be the last edition produced by GDW.

GDW: maker of great games.

While Harpoon appears at first look to be an overly complex game, it is actually very similar to CD, in that it boils down to having a great number of sub systems within the rules to handle various possible interactions within the game. The rules suggest that you play the first scenario as an introduction to the game, so Steve and I did exactly that.

Faded black cloth - usable for sea and space games!
 The first scenario is set in the Gulf of Sidra, and pits a US Spruance class destroyer DD- 970 USS Caron, against two Libyan Osa II class PTMs - the Al O'Wakh, and the Al Katum. Play balance in this otherwise unbalanced scenario is given by the quite strict US rules of engagement, the US player can only fire once fired upon, otherwise the scenario is very one sided.

USS Caron - Model is from a set of plastic model ships purchased from the Warehouse. Photo effects have been added using GIMP.
The game began at 0400Hrs Bravo. The first turn was an intermediate one, in which both sides managed to get within detection range and even managed to detect each other, and each other's radar. This resulted in the play dropping into tactical turns of 30 seconds each, and movement becoming frustrating slow. On the second turn the Al Katum and the Al O'Wakh changed course in order to begin their missle run. This prompted the USS Caron to issue a warning - "Turn Away, Turn Away, or you will be fired upon!" on all frequencies. Naturally this warning was ignored.

The Al Katum, and the Al O'Wakh. Ship counters from the Harpoon box set. Photo effects  created in Gimp.
The third turn saw the Libyans not just keep to their heading, but increase speed. At this point Steve threw his rules of engagement out the window and fired two Harpoon SSMs. He also continued broadcasting the warning. The Libyans detected the Harpoons, and decided to press the attack anyway as they were as good as dead anyway.

USS Caron launches the first pair of Harpoons.
 The game is now one of seeing if the Libyans can get in range to fire their SSMs before the Harpoons strike, and failing that can they survive the incoming Harpoons? Sadly, a few rapid calculations show that the Harpoons will arrive well before the USS Caron is range of the Libyan SSMs, and that the odds of the Libyans shooting down the incoming Harpoons is extremely minimal, as is the chance of the Harpoons missing - but still the chance exists!

Six Harpoons head toward the Al Katum and Al O'Wakh.
 Steve decides to deal to this by launching more Harpoons - The USS Caron will launch eight Harpoons at the Libyans by the end of the game - enough to sink each one four times over! It should be noted that throughout the engagement the USS Caron is repeating its warning message. This seems odd to the Libyans as they had already detected incoming waves of Harpoon SSMs.

The first four Harpoons find their mark. 
The remaining turns of the game are spend plotting the incoming missiles, moving the Libyans as they continue to head desperately towards the USS Caron, and hoping for freakishly good dice with the Osa's autocannon against the incoming Harpoons. Alas, my hopes were dashed when on turn 11 the Al O'Warkh was hit by two Harpoons, and then on turn 12 the Al Katum met the same fate. In game time this meant that the actual engagement from first detection to final sinking was only six minutes!

After the game I teased Steve about what his defense would be at his court martial for sinking two radar contacts without any visual conformation of identity, nor proof of hostile intent. Still, I enjoyed the game, and I will just have to make sure that I play scenarios with balanced forces when I play my more trigger happy friends.


  1. Lovely stuff.How long did the actual game take?

    1. From memory the actual game took a very leisurely ninety odd minutes. Most of that time was taken up with figuring out where rules were, and reading the examples, and also with general shooting the breeze. It was a very social game, but the next one will go much quicker as we are both now a lot more familiar with the rules.

  2. Wow thats really a cool game, though I think that the US team should be punnished for breaking the rules. good game though the conclusion was a bit predetermined.

    1. One the US rules of engagement had been modified, it did become rapidly apparent that the Libyans were in for a beating. I can't say that I blame Steve too much for modifying the ROE, as if I had gotten into missile range and fired he was going to have a hard time dealing with eight Styx SSMs coming his way. The real problem for Steve is that he used far too many Harpoons to sink my Libyans, so that if he then bumped into more Libyans later on, he would be down to guns and torpedoes only.

  3. In war, as in many other things, it's not easy being African. Yet I can't help thinking that the Libyan player would have had the more fun... I dare say the game system is really geared towards modern-day naval actions. Could it be adaptable to, say, WW2? I'm sort of collecting of Naval Wargame rule sets - the fewer brain cells required the better - so when something like this shows up, I'm interested.

    1. Harpoon has stats for a number of exWW2 vessels, such as the General Belgrano, so it wouldn't be impossible to use it for WW2. Harpoon is the moderns rules for the 'Admiralty Trilogy' set of games - the WW2 version is Command at Sea. More information is available at this website: http://www.clashofarms.com/naval-war.html

      I would be keen to see how a WW2 game plays out.

  4. Hurray for Harpoon. I still have my boxes and books around, but haven't had a foe to play against for years...

  5. I picked up the rules, and a heap of supplements, on Trade Me about two or three years ago, but I had always been keen to give them a go. I just have to persuade Steve to play some of the 'South Atlantic War' scenarios.

  6. A willing foe and searoom...

    Always good to see another NZ Harpoon game.

    1. Hopefully this will be first of many Harpoon games!