Is the Victory at Sea Rulebook Worth Buying?

Like many people who bought the Victory at Sea starter box from Warlord games, I was surprised when I saw the thin rules booklet included in the game. The starter box for Black Seas, another recent game from Warlord, came with a decent-sized 90 page rulebook and the rulebook included in the starter box for SPQR (another Warlord game) was twice that size! When Warlord announced that the actual full rulebook would be released seperately at a later date (for £40, no less), there was plenty of grumbling from fans. Though I was disappointed as well, I eventually ordered a copy for myself. Below I have written short flipthrough of the book with descriptions of each section. If you would like to read my overall thoughts about the book, feel free to skip to the end of the article.

The Victory at Sea full rulebook is a hefty 275-page hardcover book. The cover art of the book is identical to the front of the starter box. The overall print quality seems very good, like most Warlord games rulebooks. The art and photos in the book are very attractive and do a nice job of showing off the official models (I actually like how they look, sue me).

The first section of the book covers the historical background of WWII naval conflicts. As someone who is not a WW2 naval history expert, this gave me a pretty good overview of the war. It also includes some sections talking about specific tactics used during the period, such as kamizazes and carrier actions. So far so good.

Now to the meat of the book — the rules themselves! To be honest, this was the first section that I flipped to when I opened the book. I was anxiously hoping that the base rules would be tweaked in the months between the release of the starter and this book, but it seems like they are completely identical. As far as I can tell, they are literally the same rules, copy and pasted from the starter booklet.

I had really hoped that the torpedo rules would be adjusted slightly, since I found them to be a bit overpowered in the games we played. Unfortunately, the torpedo rules seem to be unchanged in this book.

I was also looking forward to other game modes besides the one included in the starter booklet. Unfortunately, there are no other generic scenarios included in this book. Don’t get me wrong, War at Sea is fantastic, but it is not great for competitive or pickup games (especially due to the variable fleet point modifiers). Though there are some tournament recommendations included, I would have liked to see actual competitive play modes.

The next section is devoted to submarine rules. Submarines can submerge at different depths, which makes them harder to detect (and also increases player bookkeeping). There are many other special rules for subs, which will certainly make them feel much different than regular ships. These mechanics seem interesting, though they add a decent amount of complexity to the game.

For those who might find it odd to include submarines in conventional naval engagements, there are three special submarine scenarios included in the book. In them, one player uses only submarines against the other player who is defending an objective (i.e. convoy ships). These seem like fun alternate game modes, but they seem a bit limiting, especially for the player who can only use subs.

In addition to submarines, there are also rules for motor torpedo boats (MTBs) and coastal defenses. The MTB rules are much simpler than submarines and will likely be easier to incorporate into normal games. However, like submarines, MTBs were not normally used in large-scale naval engagements. The book even says that Cruel Seas (also from Warlord games) is probably a better game for them.

The coastal defense section includes rules for shore batteries, which work basically the same as weapon turrets on warships. They seem pretty simple, but they seem a bit boring and I doubt we will use them in any of our games.

The book includes 28 historical scenarios with background, setup information, and any special rules required. Though I’m not very knowledgeable about the battles, I think that these scenarios will appeal most to players who are looking to re-enact real engagements instead of casual players. However, they all have very specific requirements for warships/planes, and so realistically players may be a bit limited to which ones they can play.

I was surprised to see Pearl Harbor included as one, since it doesn’t actually involve any Japanese ships (just lots of planes!). It sure does require a lot of USN ships though (over 30 in total), which makes me wonder if anyone will actually play it outside of a wargaming convention.

The last half of the book contains fleet lists. I did not check if any point costs have been changed in this printing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they snuck a few in. While it is nice to see the stats for all the ships and planes in the game, I wish they would have printed USN and IJN lists and included the rest in an additional supplement book. That said, for players who want to use their own miniatures (and not use the ship cards included with the official ones), then this book is a must-buy.

The stats lines for the ships are laid out well on the pages. The only exception is the USN Clemson-class destroyer, which takes up an entire page due to the seemingly endless refit list for its ships ( and has tiny, barely legible text!). There are also some short historical notes for each ship class.

At the end of the book, there is a quick reference sheet. However, it does not seem like it is designed for photo-copying, which I find odd. Still, the game is so simple that really all you need is the attack dice modifiers and the critical hit reference tables, which could easily be fit onto a single-sided A4 sheet.

If it is not obvious from my comments above, I am a bit disappointed with the Victory at Sea rulebook. I was really hoping they would take the opportunity to re-write and tweak some of the base rules, but they are exactly identical to the ones from the starter. I may pick up some submarine models and try out their rules (and MTBs might be fun too). The rest of the book is practically useless to me. Maybe one day we’ll try to play one or two of the historical scenarios, but I think we’ll be sticking with the standard War at Sea scenario. The fleet lists may be useful for referencing opponents ship stats, but they’re not worth the cost of the book (unless you are using non-Warlord ship models).

As I was reading through this book, I kept on asking myself what else I wanted from this book. The rules seem pretty solid for the most part (except for those damn torpedos!). I wish there were more game scenarios that were better for casual pick-up or competitive games. It would have been nice if the historical scenarios would have included an option for point-based lists instead of only using historically accurate ships. Overall, I think that this book should have been shortened to 90 pages and included in the starter set, like the Black Seas one. The rest of the content could easily have been released as a seperate supplement.

If you’re one the fence about buying this book, I would probably recommend against it unless you really want to play with submarines and MTBs. Otherwise, the starter rules booklet and the ship cards are really all you need.

(Paul Spurgeon on Facebook pointed out to me that some of the new aircraft models also require this book to use, since they do not come with cards. Thanks, Paul, for this info!)

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