Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Cruel Seas, Crueler Dice: A Look at Warlord Games' Cruel Seas

 One of the benefits of having one’s game club in a hobby store is that the owner tries to sell us on new kit.   Normally I’m not that interested in post-apocalypse dune buggies or Game of Thrones miniature games or whatever he’s flogging of late, but last week Vincent invited us to try Warlord Games’ Cruel Seas, and that seemed worth trying.

Cruel Seas is, of course, that 1/300 scale WW2 games featuring small boats that are all plywood, racing motors, and heavy machine guns, so maybe it is a bit like a post-apocalyptic dune buggy game after all.  In this game, I took two Kriesgmarine E-Boats, because E-Boats always looked big, cruel, and sinister in the Ballantines war books I read as a kid.   Bruce and Stephen each took a pair of plucky little British MTBs, and were tasked with protecting a small tanker that had to cross the game board alive.    I gather that this is the basic intro scenario for the game.

Movement seemed fairly simple, choosing between normal, combat, and insanely fast speed bands, which allow more or fewer turns depending on how fast one is going.   Movement order was determined by dice selection, and since there were five British dice and two German, there was a good chance I would be outmaneuvered.   Ships data and damage is quite simple, and is easily tracked on a little status card given to each boat.

My plan was simple.   Go forward as fast as possible, launch all four of my torpedoes at the tanker, and then get away.  Unfortunately, while one of my E-Boats moved second in the first turn, it then received a critical hit which forced it to move ahead straight with no shooting for one turn.  

 As you can see, my disabled lead boat got swarmed by the pesky British, which cheekily came within spitting distance, pelting me with lead, shells, empty beer cans, etc.  It didn’t end well for these Kriesgmariners.   They sank without getting a torpedo fired.

My surviving E-Boat now gamely raced in at Insanely Fast speed, survived a fusillade or two, and slowed enough to get its two fish in the water.   I WIN!!!!!   Well, not so fast, Padre.   While my fish were the fastest things on the table, the tanker’s dice came up, allowing it to do some adroit dodging like a waitress in a dodgy bar deftly evading an inebriated lout.  My fish sailed by, harmlessly, some Wavy Navy type came up alongside and hosed me with lead, and the next thing I new I was treading water and waiting for an uncomfortable ride to a POW camp in Dorset. 

So, Cruel Seas.  Things I liked:  the models that come in the starter set are cheap and cheerful, and looked sharp even with the hasty paint job Vincent had given them that morning.   The game played quickly and decisively.   Speed and maneuver are quite simple, leaving the player free to think about who to shoot.  Things I didn’t like:  well, getting sunk, for one.  I don’t know enough about what fast boat actions in WW2 were like, but this felt like a particularly fast and lethal game of bumper cars.  The random dice mechanism means that players have ample opportunities to get in close and blast an opponent’s boat at a particularly favourable angle.   In that respect, the game feels a lot like some of the American Civil War ironclad games I’ve played, only much faster.

Cruel Seas seems a lot like Wings of War or X-Wing, only with boats, and without having to worry about altitude or whether some tiresome fellow is going to Immelman on you.   The Warlord rule book is simple and packed with action photos (very nice) and promises exciting fleets - there are some bizarre Soviet boats that look like a T34 turret dropped on a fishing boat, and the idea of doing RN vs Italians in the Med is intriguing.

For me, while I have a soft spot for naval games, I think I will hold my fire on Cruel Seas.  I would rather play with smaller models representing bigger ships at longer ranges.   However, for a few moments, wearing a white turtleneck sweater, a battered cap, and shouting “Torpedo Los!” was good fun.



  1. Thanks for the review. It very much seems to be a much faster, deadlier, and wetter Wings of War.

    From the pics, was there about 4-5 turns in total? If so, it might be a little too quick for my liking. On my gaming nights, I like to pace things out so they fill the 3 hours. I guess 3 games of Cruel Seas would also work.

    1. The whole thing took maybe 5-6 turns in total. It went slowly (2 hours) because it was our first time. We could easily have re-played the same game with the same number of boats in half that time.

  2. We've played a few games of Cruel Seas and Curt's quite taken with the system. They give a good fun game but like you I prefer working with bigger ships in bigger actions at a bigger (1.e. 1:2400) scale.

    1. Cruel Seas does allow you to play with larger ships - corvettes, minelayers and minesweepers, even monitors I think, but I am with you, play smaller scale with bigger ships, so that the ranges are realistic and you're not playing bumper cars.

  3. I think I can see a lot of appeal for small craft inshore or riverine operations. Speaking of MTBs I recall reading a 'Fleetway' war comic about MTB vs E-Boat duels. Those Fleetway 'WAR Library' comics were great reads, with actual stories to go with the fine momochrome art work. The occasional naval ones such as that about the MTBs and another called 'Convoy', were among the best.

    You don't see them so much these days.

  4. That was a very interesting read Mike, and reflects many of the comments I have already read about the game. I have the 'Blood Red Skies' game and similarly many of the mechanics are quite clever and quick, it doesn't quite work for me. Perhaps, rather like Black Powder, the game could be much improved using their basic rules but modified using more satisfactory house rules.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hey Jason:
      The store owner, Vincent, also showed us a Blood Red Skies starter kit, but I have to say that the quality of the models seemed very low to me. The level of detail was low and the wings seemed warped. I can't say I was impressed.

  5. 'Smoke and fire upon the sea
    Everywhere they looked was the enemy '

    I saw some of this at Huzzah, looked good and the players seemed to have fun. I especially like the mat here! Reminded me of Officer of the Watch manouvres on the Sweepers when I was a young lad except they were slower and unarmed....well, except occasionally a grapefruit gun. However, I've just been listening to Hornblower audio books so.....

  6. By Turn 3, with one E Boat vs 4 MTBs, it certainly seemed like everywhere I looked was the enemy. I certainly can see how this game might appeal to an old sea-dog such as yourself. :)


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