Mine Your Own Business!

By MXSavant 09/21/05

The humble mine or, more properly, minefield could rightly be called the Poor Man’s Fleet. They don’t move around much, they don’t track down the enemy, but if you use them well, they can be fiendishly annoying.

Credit Yankee ingenuity for the invention of the sea mine. David Bushnell (who also invented the world’s first submarine) is credited with their invention in 1776 during the American Revolution. These gunpower-filled wooden “Bushnell’s Kegs” were not particularly reliable, but they gave British ship captains the howling heebie-jeebies (that’s a technical term) and so filled their role of helping control access to certain waterways. Mines evolved some in the years that followed. Captain Farragut’s famous line, “Damn the torpedoes, Captain Drayton, go ahead” at the Battle of Mobile Bay referred not to modern self-propelled torpedoes, but to what we would call mines. The Confederates made some refinements to “torpedoes” and during the war managed to sink a total of 27 Union ships by using them.

By World War II mine warfare had reached a high degree of sophistication. German mines in the Baltic effectively prevented the Soviet fleet from sailing for the duration of the war. In the Pacific Theater, the allied campaign “Operation Starvation” used mines along Southeast Asian shipping routes and Japanese harbor entrances to effectively destroy the remainder of the Japanese merchant fleet. Remarkably, one enemy ship was sunk for every 35 allied mines that were deployed.1

Mines in Silent Death are relative newcomers, but they’ve added some spice to the game since their introduction in Silent Death: Space Junk. The house book Q’raj Void Protectorate includes ships that use mines, including a mine-layer variant of the Stingray warhound. Like satellites and platforms, they are intended to control access to areas of the board, and they do so cheaply. As they exist now, mines are largely an anti-fighter weapon. They attack at 3d12 and do medium damage. That means that taken roughly, the typical attack roll will turn up at somewhere between 18 and 22, which is enough to overcome most fighter’s Defensive Value. Medium damage will inflict – again, roughly estimated – about four to eight points of damage. Most fighters could probably withstand one or two hits from a minefield and survive. However, plowing through a larger Mk. 40 or Mk. 50 minefield would shred most single-seat fighters and even cause significant damage to gunboats. Most warhounds, on the other hand, could probably blow through a minefield with only minimal damage – an important point to keep in mind.

One interesting characteristic about mines in Silent Death is that they come in two flavors: real and fake. On the table, a mine counter only indicates how large an area it covers. But mines can be fake, which means that if a ship flies into the fake minefield, it won’t be attacked. I used to sneer at the idea of using fake mines, but I’ve come to see that they have a few uses. For instance, a fake mine set amid a string of real mines can function as a “sally port” through which a defender can slip through a minefield and launch a flanking attack on an incoming enemy. The problem is that once that’s done, everyone knows about the gateway through the minefield, but as they say, c’est la guerre.

Mines don’t lend themselves to very many sneaky tactics, although they can be used in devious ways. One QVP satellite, the Ba’al Mapteach (“Key Master”) has a mine-laying bay, which gives the satellite the ability to put itself in the middle of a Mk. 50 minefield at will. This can give the player using them the ability to throw up new barriers on the fly, as it were, or create a minefield anvil for his attacking force’s hammer.

When attempting to breach mine fields, fighters should stay clear unless the minefield is fairly thin (Mk. 10 through Mk. 30), and/or the ship has serious Damage Reduction. Minesweepers are a new weapon for clearing mines; in fact it is the only weapon that has any effect on mines. One thing to consider when selecting mines you wish to deploy is that the largest size, Mk. 50, is notoriously difficult to remove even with the minesweeper. The minesweeper has a very short range. This means that if it is standing just outside a Mk. 50 minefield it will suffer -1 because it will be at extreme range. The rules state that you have to do five points of damage, plus one-tenth the mark number of the minefield. So, to eliminate a Mk. 50 minefield you have to do ten points of damage against a DV of 12. Now stop for a moment and think what that means. If the weapon uses 2d8 + ADB and damages at “high + 1″. The only way you will get that is if you roll double fives or greater, or if you have a d10 ADB and it happens to roll a nine or higher. It doesn’t take rocket scientists to see that this will not be easy, especially if you lack an ADB of less than a d10.

Those of you who enjoy designing ships for Silent Death might like to take a crack at coming up with some designs that could make that job easier. However, for those of your who can’t wait, I’ll present a couple of mine-using ships in my next installment.

Good hunting!

1. Oceanography and Mine Warfare. Ocean Studies Board, Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources, National Research Council. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 12f.