Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fighting Sail

What better way to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the victory by USS Constitution over HMS Guerriere than to play a sailing ship battle? Okay, I didn't really plan to play a game because of the anniversary, I was working with Mark Waddington to set up a game day and it just sort of worked out that way.

The primary reason for involving Mark was that he was supplying all the ships for the game. I think he started scratch-building the ships in mid-2010 and finished them up earlier this year. The 1/600 scale models are the ships available in 1812 and 1813 on Lake Ontario, which will covers the main battles on that lake during the War of 1812. Mark did a great job with these ships. The ships look really great and are very sturdy (the masts are brass tubing). For rules, I was introducing my own heavily modified version of the Prevailing Winds rules from Thoroughbred Miniatures. While I liked the gunnery in the original rules, I didn't like everything about the movement rules or very much of the boarding rules. So, I changed the things I didn't like and added some new stuff to come up with the rules.

The game was taking up a slot in the "Truants" gaming schedule (this is the group educators and other absconders that Kevin and Mark started to play games on Fridays during the summer, Kevin posts more about their games on his blog). I wasn't really sure how many people were going to show up for the game, so I had plans for a small scenario, with about 10 ships, and a large one with 16 ships (the Battle Off Burlington AKA the Burlington Races). We had 9 people show up for the game and because of all the players, everyone thought the bigger battle was the way to go, so we started setting up for that. Admittedly I had a few misgivings about going with the larger battle, since I didn't think that many of the players had experience with Age of Sail games, but I went ahead with what the crowd wanted (which may have been a mistake, but more about my mistakes later). After quickly going through the rules, we were ready to start the battle. 
The front portion of the British line. (L to R: Earl of Moira, Royal George, and Wolfe)
British center (L to R: Lord Melville and Earl of Moira)
The British force was made up of six ships; a pair of 20+ gun corvettes (Wolfe and Royal George), a 16 gun brig (Earl of Moira) and 14 gun brig (Lord Melville), and two 12 gun schooners (Sir Sidney Smith and Beresford). The British start the battle in a bad position. The do not have the weather gauge and while they have a heavier broadside, their ships are armed primarily with the shorter-ranged carronades.
The front of the American line (Gov. Tompkins in the foreground, with General Pike towing Asp)
The Americans had 10 ships, two 20+ gun corvettes (General Pike and Madison), one brig (Oneida), one large schooner (Slyph), and six smaller schooners (Governor Tompkins, Conquest, Ontario, Asp, Fair American, and Pert). Most of the American ships carried long-guns that could deal damage at long range, but since most of their ships were smaller, they wouldn't be able to take much damage. 
The American fleet ready for battle
The British plan was to continue sailing their current course, letting the Americans close, and then tacking to put themselves on an opposite course from the Americans. The Americans planned to put the wind to their back and close with the British. As the Americans closed, the General Pike, the American flagship, opened fire at long-range with her 24lb battery. The attack did only minor damage to the British flagship Wolfe, but it showed the British that they had a long way to go to get into gunnery range for their carronades. 
General Pike opens fire!
The British decided to change course, tacking to put themselves in a better position to fire at the oncoming Americans. Unfortunately, a couple of their ships failed the tacking rolls and ended up "In Irons" for several turns. The Americans continued to use their long-guns with great effectiveness, making the British situation that much worse. As the game progressed several of the smaller American ships came too close to the British and paid the price as the British carronades smashed their hulls. Just as things were starting to look better for the British, a critical hit dismasted their flagship. It was shortly after this that we called the game.

The action drawing to a close
The Americans lost the schooners Slyph and Gov. Tompkins, the brig Oneida was dismasted (by a critical hit), and several other small schooners were beat up. The British lost the schooner Beresford and the flagship Wolfe was dismasted. While this wasn't a decisive action, the victory edge seemed to swing in the Americans direction.

Overall, Mark's ships were a hit, the rules worked okay, and most people seemed to have a good time with the game. There are some items I need to revise/change in the rules, along with some minor corrections and cleaning up. Some of the major items are: I need to change how the order of movement is determined, make the turning rules clearer, clean up the crew rules, and tone down some of the critical hits. I also need to look at making the ship records a little easier to read. We didn't get a chance to try out the boarding rules, so I'm not sure if they work. But boarding was really meant for smaller actions (gunboats vs. gunboats and other small ships).

I did make several mistakes setting up and running this game. The first was going with the larger scenario. I think the smaller one would have been better since none of the players were familiar with the rules and some weren't familiar with Age of Sail games. The second was not going over the rules better with the players to make sure they understood how to move their ships (there seemed to be a lot of issues with turning and tacking in the game), how crew manning worked, and the various advantages/disadvantages of their ships. My other mistake was getting into a couple small tiffs with some players about the rules. This put me in a somewhat negative mood during and after the game, making the whole experience less enjoyable for me and probably the for the other players too.

The positives are that it seems like there are only small changes needed for the rules and the gunnery worked pretty well. Now I just need to get to work finishing my ships, so that I don't have to borrow Mark's!

1 comment:

  1. Dave:

    Thanks again for hosting a great game; I really enjoyed the rules and seeing those marvelous ships up close. BTW, I corrected my blog entry of the game - initially I had though you built them, but now know it was Mark. Best, Dean