For the casual gamer, the Great War at Sea connotes primarily Jutland and the U-boat offensive; more astute players would add Spee’s Far Eastern squadron’s adventures in the Pacific and German attempts to weaken the British distance blockade through small raids.
Other small but interesting skirmishes occurred, but the truly interesting aspects of the period revolves around the fact that the war represented the first test of naval developments that began in the late nineteenth century. Several computer games have attempted to portray how these innovations panned out.
WW1 not enough for you? We’ve got a general guide to the best naval war games you might want to check out.
Develooer: Turcan Research Systems LimitedPurchase: Free
Peter Turcan tackled the subject in 1992 with this game for the Amiga, Atari and Windows DOS. Players were admirals on the bridge of a flagship and communicated with his other ship’s through text messages. Battles included Jutland, Dogger Bank and Coronel. Although the graphics now seem crude, the interface represented the command and control problems that plagued the period. The game is now abandonware and still can be played with DOS Box.
Developer: John Tiller StudiosPurchase: Direct
In 2002, John Tiller developed the first truly modern World War I naval game. The interface and graphics are typical Tiller, with orders to groups or single ships being issued by toolbar buttons or drop-down menus. The game should be played at a group level from the flagship. The game recognizes group movements as “turn in succession” and “turn abreast”, with the Germans able to “battle turn in place”. Gun fire is automatic.
The main map shows ships almost as small dots, but clicking on one or more shows the ships in profile with parameters appearing with a right-click. The twenty-two scenarios include the different phases of Jutland and smaller battles like Helgoland and action with the Dover Patrol. Each scenario has an Order of Battle listing the capability of each craft. Submarines, smoke screens, torpedoes and aircraft are included as is the seaplane tender HMS Engadine. A scenario editor allows players’ flexibility.
Jutland – Pro Edition (Review)
Developer: StormPoweredPurchase: Direct
Storm Eagle Studios jumped everybody’s game with their 2006 Jutland. The 3D, multiple view graphics are unsurpassed, and the animation borders on incredible — including the ability to “ride” a shell to its destination. Handling camera angles takes some patience, but becomes second nature with time. Orders to groups or individual ships are given via an onscreen “fly-out” panel, offering historically accurate maneuvers and speed changes. Ship parameters such as guns and armor are comparatively accurate.
The add-ons, two ship packs and a map pack, provides over thirty scenarios, including the US Navy. The greatest feature is ten campaigns covering the North Sea in 1915-1918. These campaigns are strategic in nature allowing players to time raids, plan sorties and sow minefields. When enemy groups make contact, play drops to tactical level. A scenario editor and battle generator allow almost infinite replay.
Steam and Iron
Developer: Naval Warfare SimulationsPurchase: Direct
Naval Warfare Simulations (NWS) made its expected move into the World War One arena in 2012 with Steam and Iron. With over thirty scenarios, this game covers battles from the First Balkan War in 1913 to intervention in the Russian revolution in 1919. Battles occur in the Mediterranean and Black Sea as well as the North Sea and Pacific. The graphics may appear simple with ships as dots with flags when zoomed out and bird’s-eye 2D detailed outlines when zoomed in.
This system is actually advantageous because it allows large numbers of ships to be incorporated in a battle. In fact, this game is the only one showing Jutland in its entirety in a scenario instead of its separate phases. Right clicking a ship brings up a colored detailed silhouette of the ship. Players can choose between three modes with differing levels of micro-management. Simple speed and course commands for divisions and individual ships are given through clicks but force commands allow fleets to be controlled easily. The usual scenario editor is present. An expansion pack allows strategic play by using fleets and divisions in the North Sea and Baltic.
Rule the Waves (Review)
Developer: Naval Warfare SimulationsPurchase: Direct
NWS’ 2015 Rule the Waves ratchets up players’ responsibility several notches. Taking on the role of a very hands-on naval minister beginning in 1900, players are given an annual budget to maintain active and reserve ships, build and maintain docks, build and design ships while financing intelligence operations, research and training. Of these, the fascinating design detail will attract most gamers who, with technology and resources, can be the first kid on the block to have a Dreadnought-class battleship.
However, the other seven major powers are doing the same thing. Activity and scripted events can cause tensions to slowly rise to war level as the years pass. At that point, strategic moves are made around the globe. When contending fleets meet, the action is the same as in Steam and Iron. Players can be dismissed by overspending or losing too many battles. As the naval race and international crises are considered some of the causes of World War I, this game may give us the best historical insight and options of the games described.
World of Warships
Developer: Wargaming.netPurchase: Direct (Free-to-Play)
Wargaming.net’s naval MMPORG may seem an unlikely candidate for inclusion in this article because none of the battles are even close to realistic. However, the ship graphics and features are quite accurate. When playing a World War I era vessel, one’s teammates and opponents tend to have the same era vessels. Hence, it counts.
1914 Shells of Fury
Developer: StrategyFirstPurchase: N/A
Given the many World War II sub sims, discussing the granddaddy of them all, the 1916 Type UC II U-boat, gives balance. In 2007, h2f created the only World War I sub game. This sim is the equal of the best World War II sub games. The interface is about the same as the Silent Hunter series, with equally good graphics. The differences accurately reflect the performance of the older boat: range and submerged endurance is shorter, speed is slower, maximum depth is less and, because of carrying only eight torpedoes, most attacks are made with the deck gun. Sophisticated detection equipment is not available but destroyers don’t have depth charges so everything evens out. The game comes with several single missions and campaigns, a mission generator and a fine encyclopedia.
The games above should whet the appetite of any naval game enthusiast. For beginners, Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game and Robert Massie’s Castles of Steel are wonderful resources. Delve into this fascinating topic!