Weekend Warror: Bismarck

My good friends John and Theresa S. dropped by last weekend, which provided an opportunity to play some of my favorite games such as: Bismarck (Avalon Hill, 1978). We actually played two games that weekend on sequential nights, as John was learning the game (as the German player) for the first time.

Game 1 -- (Not pictured). John made the classic run around Iceland with his two ships. The visibility from weather, basically the most important variable in the game, was very much in my favor (usually a "1", i.e., any single ship or plane can search a zone), and I found him handily. I pulled the battleships Hood & Prince of Wales into battle (just as happened historically), and John pulled a novel screening move with the Prinz Eugen. So I bit my lip and fired at the cruiser, sinking it, but this allowed the Bismarck to pull away and withdraw. Thereafter I was unable to pin it down again for the rest of the game, but at least kept him away from the convoy lines. (Turns out, John had skirted the extreme edge of the map board where I failed to search; next time I need to get in the other player's head more.) So this ran out all the time in the game, ending in a tie with 16-16 victory points, after 7 hours of play.

Game 2 -- A much more action-packed game on the next night. Here's a view of my side of the table, as the British player, with Searchboard and Time Track as of 2400 hours on May-24:

John got even trickier on this game, first by sending the Bismarck & Prinz Eugen out of Bergen separately, and then doing some back-and-forth movement in the North Atlantic instead of heading for a direct breakout. I was only able to discover where he was by (again) fortunate visibility rolls and a "general search" success on the Chance Table. (Note to German player: this can't happen if you stay north of row E on the map.) So then I could envelop him in the upper-right corner, and once again pull the Hood & Prince of Wales into combat, along with several supporting cruisers in reserve.

Here we switch to the Battleboard for combat. This battle occurred in the middle of the night, so the ships started only 4 hexes away from each other (not the usual 6). Not wanting to let the Bismarck get away like the last time, I got very aggressive -- while the Hood lost its bow turrets on the first turn and had to turn tail, I sent the Prince of Wales steaming in to point-blank range. In the next turn the German ships savaged it with broadsides and sank it (flipped blue side indicates the sunk ship). Note to self: Don't get 1 hex away from the Bismarck, that sucks. Then John tracked down the damaged Hood and sank that, too. This put me at a great disadvantage in victory points for the game: down 30-0 after the loss of those capital ships.

Again John almost got away from me by zig-zagging further northeast before turning west again. I managed to find him with a cruiser and successfully shadow him from one turn to the next (the only rolls that weren't consistently going my way). Here I pin him down with about a half-dozen ships, land bombers out of Scapa Flow, plus a squadron of torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier Victorious.

On the Battleboard, first I hit him with 4 bomber attack runs and manage to land a midships hit on the Prinz Eugen with one of them. Then I initiate naval combat with the King George V (sister battleship to Prince of Wales) and the light cruiser Kenya (with several other cruisers in reserve). Since this is a high-visibility day turn, the ships start at the maximum 6-hex range on the Battleboard. 

Now, the Kenya is a much weaker vessel than the others in this combat (I debated including it, but felt I really wanted as many guns as I could bear on the event). In an attempt to protect it, I use John's discovery of screening it with the King George V -- to no avail; John nonetheless targets it and sinks it in the first turn. Important game rule: As soon as the Bismarck goes down, the game ends and players tally victory points. So since I'm so far behind in points at the moment, I'm actually compelled to fire everything at the Prinz Eugen and get those victory points before the game ends. This is successful (thank to the prior torpedo-bomber run), and now we are left with just the two battleships facing off against each other.

Fortunately, the dice continue to be in my favor, the King George V doesn't suffer from its usual malfunctioning gunnery, and it manages to deteriorate the Bismarck's weapon systems (already somewhat damaged in prior combats) and then finish it off as it attempts to withdraw. Victory points are now close but in my favor: 44-38 for the British victory. I think I got John intrigued by the game, and if the dice had gone a little more in his favor, he surely could have won! This game took only 4 hours because it ended early on May-24, running only about one-third of the total time track for the game. As usual, this also gave me some ideas to fine-tune house rules for future play, especially considering how to ease new players into the game.

Edit: Here are my current house rules for playing Bismarck:


  1. Interesting. I never played Bismark--one of the few old time AH games that I never obtained. Tell me, have you played Jutland? (aka the AH game most in need of a computer moderator ever) If so, any comments comparing the two?

    1. I've never played Jutland (unfortunately). I think that the "Advanced Combat" rules in the 1978 Bismarck are basically a copy of the Jutland rules? Definitely recommend Bismarck, at any rate, it's a delight (if you can find someone to play it with you).

  2. I think I get the whole French navy in response? Bring it on!