This page describes the minor props and toys I crafted for General Quarters. None of them are strictly necessary, but all of them streamline play a little and make the table more attractive.
When playing campaigns, it's good to reduce set-up times as much as possible. One of my ways of doing this is with deployment tiles.
Each deployment tile is a 1 square foot, self-adhesive floor tile (available cheaply at any home improvement store) with a piece of cloth adhered to it. I use the same cloth as my "sea" cloth so that the tiles match the table.
To keep deployments secret, I provide 1 foot square box tops (12" x 12" x 2.5"). I found these at The Container Store. They are collapsible, making storage and transportation easy.
During play, when a player's fleet leaves port, he is required to deploy it in formation. When two fleets meet, The deployment tiles are moved onto the table with their existing formations already laid out, and all the players need to do is start moving at GQ game rates. Players are allowed to adjust their deployments freely during map movement, but as soon as the referee declares an encounter, the deployments go onto the table as they are. Since players never know what direction the enemy may come from, it's important that they think a little about their formations ahead of time. This adds a nice, quick, personal command dimension to the game which is often either missing or dragged out in pickup games. It also gives players a chance to hang themselves with poor deployments. If you leave your transports unscreened at the rear, it's only a matter of time until an enemy task force wades into them from behind like wolves among the sheep...
Since I use 1:6000 scale miniatures with a ground scale of 8 cm to the nautical mile (just over 3"), a square foot is plenty of sea room for several squadrons operating together. However, I give players the option to use as many tiles as they wish, in any orientation they wish, under the assumption that an admiral has only his own self-discipline to keep him from scattering his fleet across the sea from horizon to horizon.
Originally, I made turn templates by reducing the templates in the book on a copier (so that each side was 1 cm across) and printing them on cardstock. This worked fine, but was ugly. Cardstock is also so lightweight that little pieces of it tend to blow away every time you set down a large, flat object, like a rulebook or clipboard of SDSes.
Next I made my own "combo" templates out of clear plastic that combined a 15 cm ruler with a turn template at each end, and a vertical side that could be laid down to measure gunnery arcs. These were very useful for a while, but very labor intensive. I only made two.
Eventually, I concluded that measuring distances in cm was too fiddly, and slowing the game down. I decided that I wanted all measurements to be done in inches or with pre-measured devices like my gunnery range finders and torpedo range finders. Unfortunately, at about 3" to the mile on the table, one inch isn't granular enough to represent minor differences in speed, so I decided the minimum measurement I'd use was 1/2". My SDSes reflect this.
My turn templates are cut from styrene sheet, and are 1/2" on each flat (and, being octagons, 45° angles around each point). To blend them into the scenery a little better, I painted them a deep blue that complements the sea cloth color without matching too closely (I don't want them getting lost...).
To facilitate picking them up or putting them down in the midst of tiny little formations of eentsy-weentsy shippies without making unintented movement adjustments, I put a steel brad through the middle of each one. This made the center of each turn template magnetic.
To pick up and move around the templates, I made magnetized sticks by expoxying tiny little 1/8" round NdFeB super-magnets (from www.wondermagnet.com) on the ends of 6" lengths of 1/8" clear plastic rod. These short rods grab hold of the brad in the middle of the turn templates and can lift them, turn them, or stand straight up (if the top of the brad is flat enough).
As it turns out, the clear plastic rods with magnetic ends are also useful at grabbing my steel ship bases, for those cases when you want to fish one wee ship out of the midst of a messy formation (like, say, if it sinks).
Accurately cutting the plastic turn templates into octagons was a little bit difficult - it's very easy to get uneven sides. Ironically, after I was finished making mine, I discovered that I already had some Woodsies Octagons of exactly the right size, pre-cut and waiting in a drawer. If you decide to do this project yourself, I recommend going to a craft store and getting these. If you just glue a dowel to the center of a Woodsie octagon and spray paint the whole thing blue, you can have a couple dozen cheap turn templates in about 3 hours (and most of that time spent waiting for paint and glue to dry).
I got this idea from my friend Doug Ferrell, who invented them for his own WWII 1:6000 scale miniatures.
I created little oval markers that are labeled with the numbers 1 through 6. When a ship takes its final hit and begins to sink, one of these oval markers is put alongside it, showing a white number 1. In the last phase of every turn, a d6 is rolled for each of these oval markers; if the die score is less than the number on the marker, the ship goes under and clears the way for movement through the area. If the die score is equal or higher, the marker is flipped or replaced to increment the number up by one. The markers stop at 6, so there's a small chance for a ship to hang around as a navigational obstacle for a long, long time.
There are a few nice things about this system:
- The markers look nicer than little dice, which is what we used to use.
- Dice used for this purpose have a tendency to get picked up and rolled by accident, losing track of the sinking ship and it's status. The markers have only one purpose, and the meaning is obvious at a glance.
- The random "sinking check" makes it uncertain how long a ship will remain afloat, impeding movement, combat, sighting, etc., just like real life.
- In case I ever make some rules that encourage players to pick up survivors (an important aspect of many real life battles, which sometimes led to further shooting), the random float time and unique markers will assist the adjudication of this activity.
To make these markers, I bought a bag of Woodsies Ovals, and pulled out all of the smallest sized ones (they're about 1" long and 3/8" wide). I painted them all blue, painted each side with a big black splotch (to look like an oil slick), and wrote the number prominently in white ink. I also spent some time making the blue match my sea cloth, but that's because I'm insanely picky about aesthetics. A simple spray paint blue and a blotch of black would look just fine. If you don't want to try writing in white ink or paint, you can buy white rub-on transfer letters instead. Whatever you do, I suggest dullcoating the finished product to protect your work.
I know, I know, an oil slick is anachronistic for most WWI era ships - but there's no such thing as a "coal slick", is there? I tried painting the markers with specks to represent detritus, crewmen, lifeboats, etc. It doesn't look right, so I went back to the black splotch.
Small ships taking "evasive action" is a common feature of GQ games, but it was always hard to keep track of which ships were evading during combat. I settled that with some markers.
For years I had a sheet of styrene molded with a "cobblestone" pattern, for some project I never got around to. One day I finally decided that the cobblestone would probably look like wavy sea surface if I painted it dark blue and drybrushed it with a lighter blue. It turned out it was no good for basing ships (the uneven surface is difficult to adhere anything to), but when I cut it into 1/2" squares and painted them with curving white wakes, the evasion markers were born.
This prop takes almost no time to make, and it helps a lot as a visual aid. To save time and effort, you could just slice some thin balsa or sheet styrene or card stock into the right size pieces, paint it a blue that matches your cloth or ship's bases, and drybrush a curving wake on each flat. You'll have dozens of the buggers in less than an hour.