Campaign can be a mess if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. This guide will help you get started on your conquests, and provide some general tips.
Note: Dreadnoughts is still being actively developed and some features remain subject to change. I will try to keep this guide as up to date as possible.
Table of Contents
First things first; this game is still being actively developed and most things are subject to change. This guide will be up to date as of September of 2023.
If you’re looking to recreate historical ships as accurately as possible you’re gonna be a bit disappointed. The devs have done a helluva job modeling ships as best they can but in order to balance the game some metrics are way off, specifically displacement, roll/pitch and what equipment is available for what ships. As an example here’s my recreated King George V and the armor is way thicker than it should be and displacement is nearly 15,000 tons more than it should be. I wasn’t intending to make an absurdly powerful ship but those amounts were needed to get the pitch/roll under control so keep in mind that making historical ships won’t be exact copies.
I will be providing a few examples of successful designs I’ve had but this won’t be a building tutorial. Experimenting with different designs is a key feature of the game and where a lot of the fun is.
Campaign Start – Choose Your Nation
Your first choice will be choosing what nation to play. There is universal tech each nation gets but each one will have their own types of hulls, bridges and funnels. Don’t feel as though you won’t get certain guns because you aren’t playing a certain nation, you’ll get everything. That being said I am going to separate the nations into difficulty categories.
Note: All campaigns I play are on Normal and start in 1900. Increasing the difficulty really only gives the AI a GDP bonus and does nothing to battle difficulty as far as I can tell. Your starting year is important however as it determines your starting tech, GDP and standing with other nations.
1890 is the Pre-Dreadnought era and it’s a pain. Guns are inaccurate as hell and all ships are slow. More annoying than anything else.
I find that 1900 is the best starting time as you’re close to getting true dreadnoughts and there isn’t a single country that’s actively outpacing the others. For example Austria-Hungary no longer existed by 1930 but they can be played as a “what if”. However as you can see I’ve gone roughly the same time in each campaign. France is my current one, but I’ve done successful Japanese and German ones as well.
As far as difficulty goes here’s a rough ranking of each nation:
- Britain – Easy
- US – Easy
- France – Easy
- Italy – Easy/medium
- Austria-Hungary – Easy/Medium
- Japan – Medium
- Spain – Hard
- Russia – Hard
- China – Hard
Italy and Austria-Hungary are special cases as the difficulty largely revolves around how you get along with your neighbors. Friends – Easy; Enemies – Medium
Spain, Russia and China are all nations that by this point in history were not major naval powers anymore and they struggle in this game. China in particular is usually the punching bag in each of my games with Spain not far behind. They also don’t really have any unique designs due to a lack of real life examples so only play these if you want a real challenge.
Welcome to Campaign, Now What?
You’ve chosen your nation and are ready to rule the waves. Now what? First order of business, go to the finance tab and max out your transport budget. The single most important thing to you is money, measured by your GDP. Transports are your non-combat merchant fleet that you have no direct control over but there isn’t a single reason to ever lower it from the max. Each turn more transports are build which reflects in your economic growth. There is currently no cap, the game will display 200% as a max but it won’t stop growing. Just look at what I got Austria-Hungary to in this campaign. I’ll go into how this works during wartime later on but this should always be your first thing you do every campaign.
Next is increase your shipyards. You should always be building more of them. Even though the largest battleships cap at roughly 120,000 tons, continuing to build shipyards after that point increases your overall shipbuilding ability. Shipyards capacity is used not only when building ships but also refitting and repairing them so you always want more as it allows a larger fleet to be maintained.
Tech is also important but less so, it should be your second priority. Crew training will be last. More money will allow you to max everything at once instead of picking one over the other.
If you had the game auto generate a fleet feel free to go to your shipyard and laugh at the stupid designs you have, but they’re gonna have to do for the time being. Don’t worry they’ll be replaced soon.
Now is also the time to see what territory you have, what fleets are stationed where, and what your major ports are. You won’t have to move anything but just keep in mind what you’re working with.
Unrest and Naval Prestige are things you need to pay attention to at first but as time goes on you’ll probably be able to ignore them.
Unrest is how happy the general public of your nation is.
Naval Prestige is how well regarded you are in the public’s eye.
Depending on random events you can gain and lose unrest/prestige as you go but war is a main contributor. Do good in battle, take enemy territory and unrest will drop and prestige will rise. Lose ships/territory and the opposite will happen. Government types don’t yet matter in game and elections will happen every few years regardless of what they are.
If unrest is low the government stays the same. If it’s over 25 a new government will take power and drop unrest to 0 and you will be unaffected.
If unrest ever reaches 100 your nation will undergo a revolution and if you have low prestige you will be expelled from the country and your game will be over.
However if you have high prestige you will again remain unaffected by the revolt as your country will no see you as a cause of it. I’ve never seen a cap on prestige but once you get it over 100 you really don’t have to worry about it and by proxy unrest also can then be ignored as well.
Plan of Action
Once your first steps are done it’s time to plan what you want to accomplish; what territory you want, who you’re willing to fight, and what sort of fleet you want. Let’s start out with ship types.
Battleships: The ultimate authority on the oceans. Largest possible ships with the largest possible guns. Can also be fast depending on how they’re built. Also the largest investment in both time and money.
Battlecruisers: Take a battleship, lose some armor and make it faster and you’ve got a battlecruiser. These can be risky to use as they will normally outclass normal cruisers and destroyers but usually lose in a head on fight with a battleship. They’re good in a pinch if you’re tight on money and need some power but be careful on over relying on them. They’re still expensive and much easier to destroy. A good use is stationing them overseas as flagships of your secondary fleets where they’re unlikely to run into your main enemy but can be used for raids, or use them as a second battle line with battleships leading the charge.
Cruisers: Cruisers fall into 2 types; Light and Heavy. Heavy cruisers are good support for battleships as they can carry up to 11 inch guns and be reasonably armored. I typically follow the historical US model and forego mounting torpedoes on heavies. Light cruisers are more suited for destroyer and submarine hunting, but can also be used as minelayers. Lights are also useful in supporting battlecruisers in raids thanks to their speed. I typically use the highest yield HE shells possible on them to start endless fires.
Destroyers: The eyes/ears of the fleet, destroyers are cheap, easy to build and can be very deadly when fitted with large torpedo racks. They’re quite easy to kill so expect them to be your most common losses but it’s useful to have many on hand at all times. In battle they screen for the fleet, spotting enemy ships for your larger combatants and will regularly fight other destroyers. Like light cruisers they can also be used as minesweepers, minelayers or submarine hunters.
Transports: You don’t have the option to make the design of your transports but you may run into enemy ones in battle or have to protect yours. They move slow, have no armor whatsoever, and can realistically only defend themselves from destroyers with usually 2 small guns. Their AI makes them always try to flee the battle but they usually cap out @ 11kts so they’re easy to chase and sink.
All nations start with their historical territories. Expanding that territory can be somewhat complicated and sometimes out of your control. While at war you have the option to do Naval Invasions in any coastal area you have naval supremacy in. When this happens the map will show a red sphere around the target port. All you have to do is move fleets into the sphere and maintain more tonnage than the minimum. The game will give you a change of success, which is determined by how much tonnage you have in the sphere and if any enemy fleets also occupy it.
The game may also give you random events saying a minor nation is a threat to you and your government wants to invade and take control of them. The process of doing this is exactly the same but you don’t have the option to choose which nation to invade, the game will choose based on relations you can’t see.
The final way of expanding territory is your land army. This form you have no control over at all. The game will choose to attack a neighboring territory and each month progress will or will not be made. Considering some territories are fully landlocked I’ve never bothered trying to figure out if naval presence has any real effect on true land battles and I’d just ignore them.
Allies are both good and bad. They can be a great help during wars but you can be brought into wars you didn’t want to be a part of. There’s also 2 different types of allies; Full and Minor
Full allies are any other playable nation you aren’t playing as. All being allies means is you will defend and declare war together. No trade bonus, no sharing ship designs, nothing like that.
Minor Allies are any nation in game that isn’t playable but can become your friend (Belgium, Ireland, Ottoman Empire, Etc.). Again no special trading but they can buy ships you build for them and sometimes will buy ships you mothball. If you get into battle near their territory they will send their own ships to fight along yours.
Full allies are easier to make than minor ones. You can attempt to improve relations with other nations both positively and negatively. Minor allies you don’t have any real control over. The game will just tell you they are now your ally after some time of good relations you didn’t even know you had. That being said, be careful with both types but for different reasons.
Full allies can affect your standing with other nations and potentially drag you into wars you want no part of. Minor allies won’t cause you wars but they may buy a bunch of your ships, abandon you, and side with one of your enemies and possibly use you own designs against you.
War is Bad… Early On
I know this seems counterproductive in a game about battleships, but you want to avoid war, at least at first. When you first go to war you get a massive boost to your monthly income, I don’t know the exact amount but it multiplies by at least 300%. This isn’t permanent however, this boost will only apply while at war and it can be prematurely dropped. Let’s go back to transports and your GDP.
Transports belonging to you will automatically pass back and forth between your territories but won’t be visible on the overmap. Enemy ships in your territory can sink your transports and you can do the same to your enemies. Some may be caused by actual battle and the rest will be randomly chosen by RNG. Any transport losses you incur will negatively affect your GDP by lowering it progressively. Being at war and not being able to properly defend your territory can lead to a struggling economy while other nations flourish.
As an example; in my Austria-Hungary campaign I managed to stay out of war for 17 in game years. In that time I developed an economy larger than all other nations combined and could build hundreds of ultra expensive ships if I wanted to, money was no longer a problem and I was free to build anything. By comparison, in a recent Japanese campaign I went to war with Italy earlier than I planned and pretty much stalemated. Transports were being destroyed but somewhat slowly so my GDP was more or less stagnant. In that time France and the US became economic powerhouses with more than double my GDP. Their fleets grew out of control and even if I had a technological edge I was vastly outnumbered at that point. Money you earn each month that you don’t spend is put into your overall Naval Fund and you are allowed to keep as much as you want. Always keep a surplus in case you run into trouble as you’ll have some breathing room to get back on track. IF your overall Naval Fund goes into the negative you’ll get 1 bailout from your government, but go into the negative again and you’ll be fired and your game will be over.
The End of War
When peace is signed between 2 warring nations the victor gets to claim war reparations of the loser. How much can be claimed is based on how many victory points you gained vs. how many your enemy got. You’ve got 3 choices of stuff the claim; Ships, territory and money. Everything you claim has to add up to the amount of war reparations you earned. Any amount you don’t spend on ships or territory is automatically converted to money.
Ships are usually terrible, outdated designs but you can claim one of your enemies most expensive ships to get a rough idea where they are in terms of tech and then scrap it for cash.
Claiming territory is something you need to be careful with as you need to make sure you can properly defend it. For example, Italy has no core territory in the South Pacific and claiming Borneo when you have no other close territory makes it an easy target for other powers in the area.
I’m not going to go too in depth with tech as each nation has different starting levels and it really depends on how you’re playing/what you want to build, but there are a few important things regarding it.
- Free Priorities. Research into new tech is always happening. The speed of it depends on how much you have invested in your tech budget. You are always given 3 free priorities you can apply to boost individual tech lines. NEVER USE ALL 3 AT ONCE! Free priorities will boost the tech line they’re applied to but will slow everything else as a trade off. I don’t have the exact ratios but as a rough guess; 1 – 50% faster, 2 – 35% faster, 3 – 20% faster. Using 1 freebie is perfectly fine as you boost a tech line of your choosing and minimally slow everything else. Using 2 is acceptable at times if you are close to finishing 2 lines you need but remember to turn them off once you’re done. Doing this you can easily outpace everyone else in tech.
- Tech to prioritize. For the most part there’s no truly “useless” tech. However there’s some that’s much more useful than others.
Examples are: Hull Strengthening (Battleships), Engines, Boilers, Rangefinders, Large Guns, Control Station, Turret Mechanisms, and Gun layouts.
Now armor is important but once you get Krupp 1 each armor type is a minor improvement at best. Torpedoes are a bad idea on battleships as they’re too much risk and not enough reward. Submarines you don’t have any direct control over so they’re aren’t worth investing in. Cruisers and destroyers have already been covered and depend on the type of fleet you want but I’d use at least 1 of them for submarine hunting and minesweeping.
To each their own with how they want to build their ships but I’ve found quite a few tips that have been successful in pretty much all of my campaigns.
- Bigger isn’t always better. Guns in game have a mark for how technologically advanced they are and most of the time a smaller, newer gun will outperform a larger, older gun. Before finishing a design take a look at the gun specs. Example is a 14 inch mark 3 shooting faster and similar distance to a 15 inch mark 3. Shell damage will be less but it’s not really noticeable but the 14 inch gun will be weigh less and hence more room on your ship for other stuff.
- Be careful in your shell choices. Having an absurdly powerful gun with armor piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) is great but at times the shell penetration can get excessive, leading to overpenetrations and the shell fuse not arming and hence a liability. On the opposite end giving a large gun semi armor piercing (SAP) will devastate lightly armored ships but be useless against broadside battleships. A good rule is to use either standard shells or capped on battleships. Capped sacrifices some explosive power for armor penetration but not excessively. Building into AP on destroyers and light cruisers is completely useless as their gun calibers are far too small.
- Even if you don’t have exactly what you want on your ship, start build it anyway. Say you want to recreate the Iowa Class and have everything but the guns, with your tech still being @ 14 inch guns. Start building it with the 14s anyway, as it’ll take 20-30 months to build. In that time you can research the new guns and refit the design when they’re complete instead of waiting to start building and wasting time. 4 months for a refit is better than waiting 12 months to develop new guns. With refits you can change everything but the hull itself so keep that in mind.
- Auto Resolve can be biased. Be careful using it as the AI for it can be janky. Early it’s no big deal, especially if you’re still using your starting fleet but once you’re using your own designs be more careful as your designs are probably more expensive than AI ones. AI is supposed to auto resolve based on tonnage present in battle but I’ve had battles where I had 2 battleships, 2 battlecruisers and 4 cruisers vs a lone destroyer and somehow auto resolve decided I lost both battlecruisers and 3 cruisers were damaged while the destroyer was completely undamaged.
Here’s a few examples of ships I’ve built from some of my campaigns. Some are historical and some are just random.
Obviously every game won’t be the same but for the most part I’ve found these techniques work with pretty much every nation. The devs are regularly adding new hulls and making modifications to prior added stuff so things may change. If anyone has any ideas for this guide feel free to let me know. I’m nowhere near a pro gamer type but I’m a naval history nerd that loves reading and studying warships of the 20th century.