A Brilliant Combat: The Battle of Manila Bay, 1898 – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Fun and fast-paced naval action game. High quality components for the price. Easy to learn. Unique and interesting subject matter.
Failed Basic: Movement rules are somewhat confusing. Needed one more editing pass for rule clarification.
In A Brilliant Combat High Flying Dice Games’ (HDFG) continues their fine tradition of designing games around historical events that are usually ignored by game manufacturers—in this case, producing an introductory-level wargame of the naval actions during the Spanish American War’s Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898.
After the explosion of the American war ship Maine in Spanish-owned Cuba’s Havana Harbor (and prodding by various yellow journalists including media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who viewed war as good for the newspaper business) President William McKinley’s administration found itself in a war against Spain and that country’s last few colonial territories. Spain had been considered one of the dominant naval powers, but the modern cruisers of the US Navy found the Spanish vessels to be almost obsolete and nearly swept the sea of Spanish influence before Spain sued for peace, after just 10 months of warfare. The end result was that America was now considered a naval power to be respected, and the United States gained control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
As stated above, this game focuses on the Battle of Manila Bay, in the Philippine Islands, a battle in which the Spanish fleet was all but decimated by the American forces. Alternative scenarios are also provided, including one in which the German Philippines fleet decides to engage the American fleet in battle!
The four-page rulebook is very straightforward. Each unit represents one ship or a coastal artillery unit. The types included are the Auxiliary Cruiser, Battleship, Cruiser, Armored Cruiser, Destroyer, Gun Boat, Protected Cruiser, Torpedo Boat or Coastal Defense Battery. Each unit is rated for protection value, primary and secondary batteries, ability to ram and any torpedoes carried.
The turn sequence is a five-step process: initiative, movement for player 1; movement for player 2; combat; and the end phase. During the end phase, players may attempt to repair their ships and crippled ships may drift or run aground.
Movement is not some pre-plotted nightmare found in some of the ship games of yesteryear. In this simple system undamaged ships move up to two water areas, damaged ships move one. If a ship is crippled, until it is repaired, it may drift. It could drift off the map or maybe run aground—either way, not good, right?
Combat is equally simple but exciting. Ships and batteries can fire none, some, or all of their primary and secondary batteries. The angle of the firing ship to the target ship may provide problems, as ships firing over their bow or stern can’t bring all of their guns to bear on the target. As in real life, a broadside can be deadly to a targeted ship. Hence, maneuvering is all-important.
Some ships are rated for ramming—this can be deadly when a larger ship rams a smaller ship. In one game I played, the most damage done by the obsolete Spanish ships was when the cruiser Reina Cristina rammed and sunk an American gunboat and a torpedo destroyer. Those were the only two sinkings the Spanish accomplished in that battle; all their shots either missed or only slightly damaged the more modern American ships.
The damage done during an attack is rated as “disruption,” “damage” or “crippled.” One more hit after a ship is crippled and it sinks. Critical hits are possible and can send a ship to the bottom pretty quickly.
Rules for mines are included, and those infernal devices can also ruin a sailor’s day pretty darn quick.
The counters are very attractive, top-down views and are very easy to read. They come unmounted, so the player will have to glue them down and cut them out but for the low price of the game, this shouldn’t keep player’s away. If the purchaser wants, HFDG will glue and cut the counters for an additional $5.00.
The 11 ” x 17 “map is beautiful and very functional.
A full battle can be played in an hour to an hour and a half and, since there are only four pages of rules, this game is a great way to introduce new players to wargaming.
The feature scenario is the aforementioned Battle of Manila Bay. This scenario is very challenging for the Spanish player as, initially, most of his ships are at anchor and one is being repaired. As the American fleet steams in, it is critical for the Spanish player to make good die rolls in order to get his ships out of port. In the battle I played, the Spanish sank two American ships (both by ramming) and lost 8 ships and one coastal battery.
Two other alternative scenarios are included. In one, the Germans fleet steams in to support the Spanish, which makes for some interesting and much more balanced action. In the second, the Spanish reserve fleet (which historically was recalled back to Spain) is allowed to engage the American fleet in support of the Manila fleet. Plenty of variant rules are included to add to the replay value. Designer’s notes are also included.
There are a few problems with the game. Map-marked shore batteries are not completely explained. Movement rules are split between the movement and combat section of the rules. I think one more editing pass might have sent these minor issues to Davy Jones’ Locker.
All in all, A Brilliant Combat is a brilliant game. Good work, HFDG—let’s see more games like this!
Armchair General Rating: 92 %
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 4
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!