DGS Games

GrogHeads Reviews Order of Battle: Kriegsmarine

Battles in the North Sea at the Atlantic rage through WWII ~

Avery Abernethy, 19 August 2017

After the successful invasion of Norway in 1940, German naval combat was largely limited to submarine warfare, commerce raiders and costal defense. Order of Battle WW2: Kriegsmarine is the fifth supplement in the Order of Battle series. The Kriegsmarine single-player game puts you in the role of the commander in chief of the German Navy and provides extensive what-if options to WW2 German Naval operations. I purchased Kriegsmarine and played it through three times.

All Kriegsmarine scenarios have main objectives which require completion to advance to the next scenario and secondary objectives which weaken your opponent in subsequent scenarios, provide extra research points, extra units, or some other advantage. You start in 1939 with the conquest of Danzig, Poland. Your initial core forces are a tiny naval contingent and a lone tactical naval bomber. Danzig also provides several non-core unit land forces used to take several objectives. Oddly, German Marines make their only appearance in this scenario.

Although Danzig was a fun scenario, it highlights weaknesses of Kriegsmarine. Sending your tactical bomber hurling towards the harbor entrance is the only means of accomplishing the secondary objective of preventing Polish minelayers from placing any mines at the entrance of the harbor. Doing anything else initially with this bomber such bombing an oil depot, supporting your Navy against the Polish Fleet, or scouting means failing this secondary objective. There are multiple means to accomplish the main objectives, but successfully checking all of the boxes required following one plan of battle. Although not all scenarios required following a narrow script to meet all victory conditions, several did.

Kriegsmarine has multiple scenarios relying mostly or completely on submarines. This is an accurate simulation of the problems the German Naval command faced for most of the war. Your long run success in Kriegsmarine rests on effectively using your submarine forces. Because Germany lacked air power over most of the Atlantic, the only means of taking out British Battleships or Battlecruisers is via wolfpacks or softening up big targets with subs until your destroyers, cruisers, and occasional battleship can finish off the weakened unit. The small German surface fleet could not win a surface fleet toe-to-toe slugging match with the British in WW2. This is true in most Kriegsmarine scenarios.

Using submarines effectively is not easy. Subs can stay submerged for three consecutive turns. Subs must remain surfaced for three consecutive turns to fully recharge their batteries. Surfaced subs are extremely vulnerable to dive bombers and naval gunfire. But destroyers cannot use sonar and move in the same turn. Nor can destroyers fire their surface guns and use sonar.   Putting these factors together, the German surface fleet can bait enemy destroyer screens to charge forward over submerged submarines. The subs then safely nibble on Battleships, Battle Cruisers and Cruisers while your surface fleet bombards the charging destroyers. Without an effective destroyer screen, the combination of German Cruisers and subs can chop up the British Navy.

The way submarine combat versus merchant ships is modeled was just strange. In some scenarios, merchant ships have one hit point. In later scenarios merchants have four hit points and eventually eight hit points. I’m unaware of any great leaps in Allied maritime technology which made merchant ships eight times more difficult to sink over the course of the war. Yet this is what we see in Kriegsmarine. I think the design problem is how torpedo damage is modeled. Requiring multiple torpedo hits to sink warships is reasonable. Unlike merchant ships, warships have large crews trained in damage control and also have multiple water tight compartments to limit damage. The difficulty level selected establishes the maximum number of hit points for all allied ships. A better design decision would have been to limit merchant ships to a maximum of three hit points. This would allow a single torpedo to occasionally sink a merchant ship while maintaining the need for multiple torpedo hits to sink a surface warship.

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Players must make a critical choice in the Kriegsmarine campaign. You either take no technology upgrades to allow Germany to build aircraft carriers by the 1942 North African invasion or you take incremental technology advances and build no carriers. This choice is forced by the technology tree. In my first play-through, I took incremental technology advances. I could not complete one of the North African invasion secondary victory conditions. The next to last scenario is an attack on Scapa Flow by the German fleet. Without carriers winning this scenario requires a radically different strategy.

 

In my second play-through I took no technology advances for more than half the game to llow the purchase of aircraft carriers. Using that strategy plus careful use of my submarine forces gave me easy wins in the last three scenarios. It is possible to win the game without carriers, but the easier path is a technology rush for carrier construction.

On the bright side, Kreigsmarine allows the payer to save a replay of an entire scenario. This can be posted to show how the player went through every turn from set-up to conclusion. That was a neat feature. On the down side, Kriegsmarine had an annoying game sound. A three note trumpet blast announced the start of each German turn. My bugler was tossed overboard pretty quickly. The rest of the sounds were good. Very rarely the game would not load the next scenario in a sequence. Exiting and reloading the save game fixed this problem every time – so this was a minor annoyance. The game controls were logical. The large and mini-maps were all useful.

Kriegsmarine required updating my core Order of Battle game. I could not get the upgrade download to work through either the core game or through a zip file from the Slitherine website. But a query to the Slitherine help desk provided a solution within twelve hours. Although I’ve not mentioned it previously, Slitherine has always given me good tech support quickly.

 

Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University


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