Classic Game Review: Dreadnoughts

Dreadnoughts provide an excellent opportunity for the player to attempt to perform better than the historical commander of the Bismarck. Like its companion game, Under Southern Skies, the solitaire version of the game has a strategic display which libraries the historical situation. The player attempts to elude the famous "Swordfish Squadron" and disrupt as much of the Allied shipping as possible. Once the player's ships encounter any Allied ship, the battle program is loaded so that the tactical battle may be bought. Unlike Under Southern Skies, there are no graphics for the tactical display and the two player game is entirely limited to the tactical display. The strategic display is a map of the North Atlantic with terrain features that picture the Norwegian, Spanish, French, German and Greenlandic coastlines, as well as the United Kingdom, Faeroes, and Iceland. The strategic display is both aesthetic and pragmatic. The tactical program lacks the graphic embellishment of Under Southern Skies, but contains much more information. There are several frustrations that keep the game from being as enjoyable as it could be.

First of all, the strategic game is extremely slow during periods of poor visibility. Since the human player has a battleship that can not catch light cruisers, cruisers and destroyer flotillas and the latter do not close range unless a heavy cruiser or battleship has the Bismarck in visual range, there is no real reason to give a visual display after every minor contact. Also, the artificial intelligence does not allow the allies to fight unless they have numerical superiority or are so close to the Germans upon discovery that they can not escape. Neverheless, the unnecessary visual displays and the long wait for loading the tactical program when not even one shot can be fired slows down the game significantly and diminishes the enjoyment of a potentially good game. Another problem with the game occurs during the two player game. Typically, the program will delete superstructure damage and the German has to start all over again (Note: This happened twice during the same game.).

In spite of these flaws, there is much that is pleasing about the game. It is extremely enjoyable to play against the computer and really experience (sometimes quite literally) the "fog" of war. The hidden movement by the Allies and the excellent use of weather, time and visibility makes each game a real adventure. The decision on whether to break radio silence or not when a floatplane is lost adds an exciting dimension to the game. After playing the game several times, it appears that it is better to lose a few floatplanes than to break silence early in the game. The game is also very satisfying to those of us who enjoy playing naval miniatures.

The damage displays are familiar to the miniatures buff and provide a comfortable feeling when one first encounters the game. Further, the rule book contains some of the finest documentation available for creating one's own scenarios using the battle program. The rules themselves are clear and concise and contain no ambiguities. Since the game bears so much resemblance to naval miniatures, the strategies are similar. When there are capital ships on the tactical display, it is usually better for the Bismarck to make them her primary target. Since the Prinz Eugen has a poor chance of penetrating capital ships armour, it is usually better for her to make a lighter ship her target. Further, I recommend that both the Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck use their secondary guns only on destroyers and convoys. There are two reasons for this suggestion. First of all, once the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen are engaged in battle, they will tend to lose their secondary guns first as they are more easily penetrated by smaller shells. Therefore, the player should use them while he has them. Second of all, once the German ships engage Allied capital ships, they will need all the primary gun ammo they can get.

Another point to remember concerns the strategic portion of the game. Note that when the player attempts to take a short-cut and head directly for the convoy routes, he is almost certainly spotted by the famous "Swordfish Patrol". However, if the player will use the historical route printed on page six of the documentation, he will often avoid baffling the "Swordfish Patrol" until later in the game. In this way, victory points will be total led up more swiftly.