A trip on the briny

Battle of the River Plate

This was an adapted rules playtest, taking the Axis & Allies War at Sea game and moving it to a hexagon cloth.  Unfortunately several photographs of this game were unusable.

For my small (6ft x 4ft) table I translated the game’s sea areas into 3 hexagons per area as a starter.  This can be varied according to the size of the table, but in effect meant that one 6cm hexagon represented about 200 metres of real life and the model ships were twenty times too big.

I decided that if ships began to reach “the end of the world” all models would be shifted to bring the action back onto the centre of the table.  Therefore the game would progress for a number of turns before the Graf Spee was deemed to have reached the protection of Uruguayan territorial waters (or had been sunk in the process).

I rolled 5xD6 for the number of game turns, which resulted in 20 turns.  The Graf Spee rolled a 5 turn lead on the British pursuing ships (HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles), but the 20 turns would begin when the British arrived.

Graf Spee Plate 01.jpg


The pursuing force approached from the SE corner of the table.  HMS Exeter in the centre, flanked by HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles.

Force G Plate 02

Turn 1

The Germans won the initiative roll 4-3, and therefore (counterintuitively) moved second.

The three British ships steamed approximately NW (see note). Exeter continued directly ahead while Ajax and Achilles swung west and then resumed course to the NW, the idea being that the two lighter cruisers would attack from one side while Exeter moved to the other side of Graf Spee to split her fire.

A note on compass directions.  Standard compass directions are generally given in increments of 90° (N,E,S,W), 45° (N,NE,E,SE, etc) or 22.5° (N,NNE,NE,ENE,E,ESE, etc.). Hexagons work in 60 degree increments. A truer conversion of the hexagon directions would be close to: NNW, W, SSW, SSE, E, NNE.  For game purposes I used NW, W, SW, SE, E and NE. North and South are excluded.

Conversion of movement rules.

All the ships in this specific game occupy two hexagons.  All have the same speed of two sea areas in the base game:  By using 3 hexagons per sea area they would all move at 6 hexagons.  However by converting 1 hexagon to 10km/h I researched the maximum claimed speed for each ship, and adjusted accordingly.  Graf Spee moves at 5 hexagons per turn, Exeter, Achilles and Ajax at 6 hexagons per turn.

I also had to include rules for steering.   All ships reduce their maximum speed by 1 hexagon per 60° turn.  Large ships must move at least 1 hexagon forwards before the first turn and at least 2 hexagons forwards between turns in the same move. (This gets around the argument of “But I just moved two hexes at the end of the last move”). Large shops will pivot around the stern hexagon.

The Graf Spee continued W at full speed (5 hexagons).


Rule conversion. Ranges are given in the standard game as 0, 1, 2, 3 and occasionally 4 or even 6 sea areas.  Allowing for the ship itself to occupy the centre of the area, this was translated, in hexagons from the ship, as 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13 hexagons.  Also, using hexagons the arc of fire for front and rear gun turrets could be taken into account.

The ships were 22 hexagons apart, so no shooting was possible.

Turn 2.

The Germans won the initiative 3-1, so the British moved first.  All ships moved NW and then turned W.

Graf Spee continued W.

(The positions were adjusted to keep the shops on the table.)

All ships were still out of firing range.

At this point I calculated that with a speed advantage of 1 hexagon it would take 10 turns before the first British ship could come within range of Graf Spee’s guns (which have an extended range of 4 areas = 13 hexagons).  I moved the game on by 9 turns as a straight pursuit.

Turn 12

The British won the initiative. All four ships steamed W.

Graf Spee was able to reach Exeter at extreme range of 13 hexagons with her main armament.

At this range the full die roll is 3 dice. However, firing astern, only one of her two triple 11″ turrets could fire, so I allowed two dice.

Rule: if fire is divided between front and rear turrets, and the result is an odd half, the player may round up either, provided that the total for the ship is not exceeded.

Graf Spee rolled 2, 3.  4+ is needed for a hit, so no damage was done.

Turn 13 Plate 04

None of the British ships could reach Graf Spee with their 6″ or 8″ guns.

Turn 13

The British won the initiative roll 6-4 and moved second.

All they could do was to try to close the gap between them and the Graf Spee.

Graf Spee fired again at Exeter, scoring 1,2. Still not good enough.

Turn 14.

The Germans won the initiative roll 5-2.  The British steamed W at full speed to close on the Graf Spee, who turned NW to bring her full armament of 6 x 11″ guns and 8 x 6″ guns to bear on the Exeter.

Exeter fired first with 4 dice (two twin 8″ turrets at the front of the ship). A lucky shot scored 3,4,6,6.  A 4 scores one hit and a 6 two hits, so 5 hits were scored. Graf Spee’s armour rating is 4, so she suffered one damage point.  Ajax and Achilles were still out of range.

Graf Spee returned the fire with primary and secondary guns.  At a range of 10 hexagons her primary (11″) guns rolled 10 dice and her secondary (6″) guns a further 5 dice.

Here there was a problem of interpretation.  Should the total hits be accumulated, or separated between primary and secondary guns?  The rules state: “A ship like Yamato can attack three times in one Surface Attack phase, using its main, secondary and tertiary gunnery”, but also “Ships with secondary and tertiary batteries can attack with all batteries in the surface attack phase”.

The difference was that the total hits scored were 7 for main guns and 5 for secondary guns.  Exeter has a a”vital armour” rating of 9, so if amalgamating the attack she would be sunk, but if separate attacks, merely crippled by two hits exceeding the armour rating of 3.

I opted for the separate attack method, as it would in exceptional circumstances allow a one volley sinking, but normally not.

Exeter took 2 damage points. With a Hull Points rating of 3, she was now crippled. This meant a reduction of 1 to the armour and vital armour ratings (now 2 and 8 respectively), and a speed reduction of 3 (one sea area) to 3 hexagons.

Plate 05.jpg

Turn 15

The Germans won the initiative roll.

Exeter moved at limited speed and turned NW to bring Graf Spee within her broadside.  Ajax and Achilles continued W to outflank Graf Spee from the S.  Graf Spee moved NW and then turned to bring Achilles into broadside range.


Ajax vs Graf Spee. Range 10. 5 dice roll 1,2,2,5,6 for 3 hits. Insufficient.  Achilles vs Graf Spee. Range 10. 5 dice roll 1,1,4,4,5 for 3 hits. Insufficient.

Graf Spee vs Achilles ( ship in range and direction of all guns) 10 hexagons is 10 dice for main guns. Hits on 2×4, 1×6 is 4 hits, equal to armour rating. Achilles takes 1 damage point. (Graf Spee forgot at this point to fire secondary guns!)

Turn 16

Germans won the initiative.

Ajax and Achilles swung NW to approach the Graf Spee. Achilles then turned W again to bring her broadside to bear while Ajax continued towards the stern of Graf Spee.

Exeter swung broadside on to Graf Spee in the hope that one more shot would be possible before she moved out of range.

Graf Spee moved W, then turned SW to engage Achilles.


Exeter was out of range and masked by Ajax in any case.

Ajax employed her full broadside of 8×6″ and 4×4″ guns at 7 hexagons (6 dice) for an insignificant score of 1,1,2,3,3,6 and only 2 hits.  Achilles could only bring her forward guns to bear. 4 dice rolled 2,4,4,5 for 3 hits, but 4 were needed.

Graf Spee returned fire against Achilles with 11 dice main guns and 5 dice secondaries, scoring 8 and 0 hits. Achilles was now crippled, but just survived a sinking.

Turn 16

The Germans won the initiative.

Ajax was the only British ship with any speed left, and moved NW before swinging W.  Achilles continued W at reduced speed.  Exeter pursued but with little hope of rejoining the battle.


Achilles at 5 hexagons with forward guns. 4 dice rolled 1,3,3,4 for one hit.

Ajax at 7 hexagons with forward guns , 4 dice rolled 2,4,6,6 for 5 hits. Graf Spee took another damage point and was now crippled, reduced to speed 3.

Graf Spee replied against Achilles with her rear turret.  Main guns. 6 dice (rear guns only) roll 1,1,2,5,6,6 = 5 hits. One damage point sank the Achilles.

Secondary guns against Ajax. Rear guns only. 3 dice roll 2,2,3 for no effect.

Turn 17

British won the initiative roll.

Graf Spee moved W before swinging NW to bring all guns to bear on Ajax.

Ajax copied the manoeuvre, while Exeter tried to close up at reduced speed.


Graf Spee vs Ajax.  Main guns at 8 hexagons. 10 dice. 1×4, 3×5, 3×6 for 10 hits. Ajax critical armour is 9, so she was destroyed.

Ajax returned fire before going down. 5 dice. 2×6 is 4 hits. Graf Spee took a third damage point and sank.

Plate 07

Final result.

The pocket battleship Graf Spee was sunk for the loss of two cruisers and a third severely damaged.

Using the game points, the Germans lost 21 and the British 2 x13 and (say) 12/2.

The British won the game by destroying the Graf Spee, but overall in the war would be 32:21 down.


As a solo exercise and a first foray into the rules, adapted or otherwise, I think it works as a game.  I will use this system if ever I progress on my “WW2 – the whole damned game” campaign.  I will continue work for our gaming group to play larger battles.  I have all the forces for Cape Matapan ready for basing.  Maybe one day…

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General Whiskers

Wargaming butterfly (mainly solo), unpainted model figure amasser, and Historical Re-enactor of the black powder era.

One thought on “A trip on the briny”

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