At the Height of Battle: Quick Rules Review

A little while ago my wife and I actually managed to get our new miniatures from MT Miniatures onto the tabletop for a little skirmish. We haven’t really had the time to do any proper research into any historical engagements during the Imjin War, so we stuck with the tried and true method of dividing our forces and going in for the kill.

At the Height of Battle is a relatively simple rule set covering naval actions in East Asian waters in the middle ages. The starter kit that we purchased (unboxing here, painting here) had ships for the Imjin War, Japan’s fateful attempt to invade China through the Korean Peninsula.

I love simple, easy to play rulesets. I find that I have more fun when I have to worry less about granular details, especially given how busy I am these days. So bear in mind that I have that bias going into the explanation.

At the beginning of each turn both players work out the command phase, which handles morale, sinking ships, and other housekeeping. Then its on to the activations. At the Height of Battle uses a set of three cards per side that act as an initiative deck.

When your side’s card is drawn, you are free to move and fire with each unit under your control. Units are divided into squadrons with a flagship. There are rules to keep squadrons together, which help keep games looking fairly accurate, and highlight the chaos when a flagship is taken out of the action. Movement is either done by sail or oar, (or in some special cases by paddle) and is a simple system of pivoting by degrees and moving in inches. The wind must be taken into account when using sail movement, but we found that it was often more economical to use oars.

When it comes to shooting, ships have both heavy artillery, representing major armaments like catapults and cannons, and light artillery representing small arms. Each ship can fire its heavy artillery only once a turn, but can fire small arms each activation. Both have different bonuses to the opposed die that makes up combat, and successes will deal different amounts of damage, with heavy artillery more likely to deal significant damage.

It’s a good system, but we ran into one snag during our test games. Ships took “crew casualties” far too often. After the first “crew casualties” result, which halves boarding ability, further “crew casualties” results don’t do anything. So we found that almost every ship took this initial hit and then slapped at each other with boarding actions until one side took the win at the opposed die roll. Our proposed house rule is to continue halving boarding ability, rounding down, until it hits zero, for each subsequent “crew casualties” result.

When a fleet has taken half casualties, they roll for morale, given the rating of their commander, and might be forced to flee. There are plenty of other rules for ground batteries, shallow waters, capturing enemy vessels, etc. Everything you’d like to see in a quick play naval rule set.

Overall we had fun, and with the minor adjustment to crew casualties, we think we’ll be playing this one again in the future. Now I just need to do some research, and go back for more ships!


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Good, clean ruleset that offers a fun and light wargaming experience, with some minor tweeks to make it work better for us. As a complete package, At the Height of Battle is a great buy to dip your toes in miniature naval wargaming.

Here’s the website, we get nothing from you visiting it!

We now have a patreon!

The ‘Battle’ of Chemulpo Bay: The Russo-Japanese War 1904-5 on the Tabletop

I’ve been wanting to dip my toes into the proverbial waters of tabletop naval wargaming for quite some time, but other commitments, cost, and a lack of experience has really hampered my ability to really dedicate any time to the subject.

I thought it might kick start things to go the cheapest possible route and download some paper warship counters, find a simple ruleset, and give naval wargaming a test to see if it was something I wanted to put money into. Here is the first results of that little experiment

IJN Asama

Getting Started with Naval Tabletop Gaming the Cheap Way

I knew I wanted to do game the Russo-Japanese War. It’s an important part of my thesis so I know more about it than most other comparable naval campaigns. I think the ships on both sides are very pretty, having a thing for pre-dreadnaught battleships (See below!) And finally, it seems a short enough campaign that eventually gathering and painting miniatures for each ship would be an accomplishable task.

The first thing I did was sit down and take a peek at with the intent of finding the cheapest components that I could that still seemed pretty enough to plop on a table. I know they’ll never compare to proper miniatures, but it’s a step in the right direction for me

Aboard the IJN Mikasa on a research trip in 2019

I saw that Long Face Games had a full Russo-Japanese War campaign titled White Bear, Red Sun, and that they also had supplements for the Boshin War 1868-69 and WWI lake battles in Africa, two other periods that I have some interest in, the former especially. I dove in and purchased the campaign pack. It was quite affordable. I then took at look at the counters provided and wasn’t very impressed, instead deciding to go with Agema’s pretty counters for both the Japanese and Russian ships. It was then just a matter of cutting the counters out, pasting them onto cereal cardboard, and then getting down to reading.

A Review of White Bear, Red Sun

The booklet comes with a brief overview of the Russo-Japanese War, a full campaign ruleset that is meant to be completable in a day or so, and the full Broadside & Salvo ruleset.

There’s quite a lot of content in the rules and campaign supplement

Broadside & Salvo is a fun, fast playing, simple ruleset designed to get fairly sized battles out on the table and done in a couple of hours. I’m generally more in favour of that kind of game these days, though I do wish I had the time to sit down and chart maneuvers and calculate gunnery, it’s just not the reality I live. Broadside and Salvo does tick all my ‘gamer’ boxes though. There’s a struggle for initiative, a simple combat resolution that has each side rolling dice, the odd chance of something catastrophic happening, and enough rules in place to keep ships moving about how they should. I’ll need to get more games in, but at the moment, I’m pretty happy with my purchase and will keep playing with this until someone leads me astray.

The Battle of Chemulpo Bay, 9 Feb 1904

This was the smallest action that I thought I could get away with. It’s honestly not much of a battle, but rather the second part of Japan’s surprise attack. Rear Admiral Uryū Sotokichi with six cruisers and some torpedo boats (8 by White Bear, Red Sun’s reckoning) gave an ultimatum to Vsevolod Rudnev of the Russian Cruiser Varyag and the gunboat Korietz to vacate the port or be attacked there. The two Russian ships opted to attempt a breakout. They were unsuccessful in the face of Uryū’s ships and were forced to return to Chemulpo.

The outnumbered Russians deployed on the right. Their task was nigh impossible.

In my refight I opted to give the Russians a few paths to victory. If they could manage to get any two Japanese cruisers to silenced or better (heavy damage in Broadside & Salvo) or escape off of the Japanese table edge, I would call it a Russian victory. Anything else would be a Japanese victory.

The Battle took very little time, but the Russians managed to put up a decent fight. Varyag put up some impressive fire on Uryū’s flagship Asama. It wasn’t enough to slow the volume of fire poured on by the two Japanese cruiser squadrons, and eventually she sunk. The Korietz, surrounded by the end of the game, opted to strike colours.

Varyag, already damaged, opts to rush close, spending Command Points, for a close range shot on Asama

The fire resolution is simple, with a single opposed role, modified on both sides, being the entirety of it. Rather than fire for every ship in a squadron, if the target is the same the supporting ships merely add a +1 modifier to the outcome of the combat. I quite like how it handled the engagement.

Initiative and maneuver are key in Broadside & Salvo. Gaining the initiative, and then having the command points available to enact every desired action in a turn is key to overcoming the odds. There is a single modifier for ‘crossing the T’ in Broadside & Salvo, and white it may be simplistic, it does promote trying to outmauever the enemy.

Varyag burning in Chemulpo harbour

A Long Voyage Ahead

I enjoyed this little engagement almost as much as I did reading up on the battle beforehand. I think I’ll stick with Broadside & Salvo for now, mostly because I plan on putting together enough of a force of miniatures to refight Tsushima with a club at some point, and I think everyone would appreciate it finishing in an evening. The main thing now is to track down some affordable miniatures and get painting.

Thanks for reading,

-Joe Fonseca