In the miniatures gaming community, we all pretty much know who’s got the monopoly on the naval warfare sector. In a stark contrast to the land-based warfare miniatures genre – a genre so diverse as to contain a huge variety of different miniatures rule sets from a multitude of authors – Miniature Naval War Games have two main culprits responsible for their creation: Dreadnought Games and Wizards. The former’s flagship naval masterpiece is the Naval Thunder series, and the latter? Why the world-renowned Axis and Allies, of course. From the sublime Naval Thunder: Battleship Row to Bitter Rivals and Axis and Allies’ five naval warfare games, the list below is rich with sea-based miniatures action, all ripe for brief reviewing to discern their merits and demerits.
Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnoughts
Clash of Dreadnoughts is Steel Dreadnought Games’ first naval venture, bringing the multiple naval scenarios of WWI to your tabletop. The rules are highly versatile, allowing participation of between 2 and 20 players and with the relatively short playing time of around 2 hours.
While the pack contains no miniatures whatsoever (you’ll have to provide your own), the comprehensive rule set facilitates a multitude of naval scenarios and realism that the Axis and Allies games struggle to match.
Naval Thunder: Battleship Row
Battleship Row is an answer to the rhetorical question of miniatures-based, World War II naval battle re-enactment. Following on from Steel Dreadnought Games’ debut naval title, Clash of Dreadnoughts, Battleship Row’s main appeal is its accessibility. Instead of hundreds of pages of complex rules, it instead contains a concise set of parameters to enable a multitude of surface, air, and submarine combat scenarios.
Unlike Axis and Allies however, with Battleship Row you’re merely paying for a set of printed rules; you have to fork out for your own miniatures or utilise your own, making it less than ideal for true beginners in the board gaming field.
Naval Thunder: Rise of the Battleship
2009 also saw the release of Rise of the Battleship, a prequel to Clash of Dreadnoughts which recreates the tactical scenarios of the pre-dreadnought era, specifically that of the Russo-Japanese war.
The rules of this 48-page expansion result in a much different experience than Clash of Dreadnoughts, placing an emphasis on tactics due to the technological restrictions of the era that result in a lack of weapons range and limitations on the physical speed of the vessels. If you enjoy this extra tactical dimension, it might also be worth checNking out Rise of the Battleship II.
Naval Thunder: Bitter Rivals
Bitter Rivals represents the largest expansion of the Naval Thunder series to date. Building on the core rule set laid down by Battleship Row, Bitter Rivals introduces a staggering collection of well over 100 new classes of ship hailing from all of the relevant nations (Germany, Britain, France, and Italy. Beginners will also greatly appreciate the 13 high-fidelity historical scenarios, each of which enable beginners in particular to ease themselves into the fast-paced and highly-detailed gameplay typical of Naval Thunder’s gameplay.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea
The miniatures of Axis and Allies’ originally land-based warfare gaming expand to the seas in the War at Sea rule set. Unlike the Naval Thunder collections, the base set of War at Sea contains pretty much everything you need to set yourself up. This includes 64 highly detailed miniatures with corresponding stats cards and double-sided battle maps to play on.
The War at Sea miniatures game is aimed more at those looking for fast-paced fun with slightly less emphasis on ultra-realistic historical detail. War at Sea is also an ideal collector’s board game due to the abundance of included miniatures and the presence of historical vessels such as the BSS Bismarck and the USS Enterprise.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea: Surface Action
Surface Action is a neatly-packed expansion for the War at Sea series, offering no major expansion to the original rules but instead offering 40 additional miniatures. These miniatures are intended to expand the navies of your existing War at Sea collection, introducing additional carriers, cruisers, battleships, and aircraft to your fleet. Sporting the usual fine detail of the Axis and Allies miniatures series, each miniature is realistic in design and a welcome addition to the War at Sea set.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea: Flank Speed
The second expansion of Avalon Hill’s War at Sea miniatures series, Flank Speed introduces another 40 finely-detailed miniatures into the equation. Ships unique to this collection include examples of varying rarity, from the common HMS Saumarez to the rare HMS Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, this set is a little light on aircraft but submarines and water-borne vessels are in abundance, as are the corresponding stats cards.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea: Condition Zebra
This third expansion to the series contains a further 40 miniatures to add to the navies of the base War at Sea set. As with the other expansions, this set is ideal for collectors wishing to put their miniatures on display, or existing owners of the original War at Sea base set looking to expand their forces. Expect more unique vessels and aircraft here, but again, no augmentation of the core rules.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea: Task Force
Ships unique to this expansion are the main reason to purchase this Task Force set. Collectors will find the USS Yorktown and the Graf Zeppelin German vessel to be of particular interest, though the significantly increased quantity of aircraft will also be of interest to aviation fans.