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

News and Upcoming Articles: More from Slitherine, JTS, and Indie Developers

I thought I’d take a moment to look at some of the news stories circling around and give everyone an update about what will be showing up on the blog in the next couple of weeks.

Panzer Battles: Moscow After Action Report

Wargame Design Studio

Like many who keep their finger on the pulse of the wargaming world, I was happy to see a new blog post from Wargame Design Studio, who have been working with John Tiller Software on some excellent titles, about their latest: Panzer Battles Moscow. I’m personally very excited for this, and the blog post, which included a playtester’s AAR, did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. Here’s hoping development progresses smoothly and we can all get our hands on it sooner rather than later

Here’s the blog and AAR. Definitely give it a read!

Warhammer 40k Battlesector Announced

From the developers of Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock comes Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector, a new battle level turn based wargame that sees the Blood Angels face off against a Tyranid swarm. I’m a big fan of the two other Slitherine Warhammer games I’ve played, Warhammer 40k: Armageddon and Warhammer 40k: Gladius, so I’m keen to see what Black Lab Games can do here. With a 20 mission campaign, a skirmish mode, and (my favourite) both live and asynchronous multiplayer, it looks like there’s a lot to offer. I’m going to be keeping an eye on this as more information becomes available.

Here’s a link to the steam page for Warhammer 40k Battlesector.

Lets’ Talk About Wargames Upcoming Content

We’ve got a lot coming up in the next couple of weeks so be sure to check back in for daily content across here, our YouTube channel, and our podcast.

Reviews & After Action Reports

We’re looking at getting four reviews published in the near future, including a look at John Tiller Software’s Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign, Indie titles Maneuver Warfare and GemWizard Tactics and, next week, the latest expansion for Slitherine’s Fantasy General II.

We’ll also be positing another History-Gaming After Action Report, this time form Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign, and perhaps one from an undisclosed tabletop game. Only time (and my flagging sanity) will tell!

For video content, today, Friday February 12 at around 6PM EST we’ll be playing War of Rights with members of our discord and (maybe, if I can think and march at the same time) talking about the American Civil War and its representations in videogames. That will be on our Twitch channel, but will also go up on YouTube next week.

Lastly, stay tuned in the next week or two as we’re about finalized our latest podcast episode. I won’t say exactly what’s going on, but Jack and I are very excited to share it with everyone.


Thanks for all your support across the blog, YouTube, and our Podcast. We’re so excited to see our number of visitors shoot up and are inspired to keep delivering the kind of content you want to see. Really, thank you.

All the best!

-Joe Fonseca