1st round attack value of all combinations is 12, meaning you should average 2 hits. (Odd number cruisers fleets have a value of 11.) Facing a equal sized fleet, figure to take 2 hits back. Any fleet without any cruisers can take 6 hits. Cruisers weaken their fleet, they can only take 4 or 5 hits.
Any fleet with 2 battleships to tip maintain their full attack value on turn 2. The 6 sub fleet can still take 4 hits, but their attack value has dropped to 8 on the 2nd round. The 1BB + 4 sub fleet can also take 4 more hits, but it's value is down to 10. The 2 BB + 1 Cr still has an attack value of 11. The 3 BB and 2 BB + 2 Subs still have an attack value of 12. Odds are good for 2 more hits except the 6 sub fleet and 4 cruiser fleet will only get 1 hit.
2 more hits back and the 4 cruiser fleet is gone. 2 BB + 1 Cr has 1 tipped BB left.
The only fleets with 2 units left are 3 BB, 2 BB + 2 Subs, 1 BB + 4 Subs and the 6 Sub fleets. The 6 sub fleet may not be able to score any more hits with just 2 subs left, I suggest they submerge and hope someone lives to tell the tale. The other 3 navies can expect to got 1 more hit in round 3. The 3 BB and 2 BB + 2 subs fleets with 2 BB left have they best odds.
So if I want to build a replacement navy to fight with, I am not going to buy any cruisers.
Now each ship has other bonuses besides just their attack value.
BB can shore bombard and the ability to take 1 hit without sinking.
Cruisers can move 1 extra sea zone.
Subs can slip past a hostile sea zone without having to fight.
Playing tournament rules allowing more naval movement decreases the cruisers utility. It is still the best ship to chase down a roaming sub or transport, but that seems to be the only point in it's favor.
My friends think they can place a cruiser in SZ 5 and shuttle British troops to Russia with impunity. Reading up on the rules reminded me that 1 suicidal German sub can wipe out the transports in SZ 6 by sailing under the cruiser.
So that may be the reason to buy 2 subs and 2 BB instead of 3 BB if I have to rebuild the German fleet. But definitely no more cruisers for me.
You framed the argument in terms of a "slug fest", which the Cruiser won't win bang/buck.
HOWEVER, you're assuming that everything you buy can get to the fight, which isn't necessarily the case. Sometimes you can buy a cruiser so that it can participate in a fighter the next turn, THREE SPACES AWAY.
The intangible here is all of those subs/BBs you mentioned might not be able to make it to the fight, where the crusier could.
They're also useful for tooling around Africa.
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