Monday, December 31, 2012

Some Book Reviews and Last Post for 2012

As part of my last post of 2012, I wanted to talk about a few books I read during the year. None of the books are very new and I'm limiting this post to ones that might interest naval gamers.

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Oulaws' Bloody Reign, by Stephan Talty

This book covers the exploits of Henry Morgan during his 30-year career as a pirate/privateer in the Caribbean. The book primarily covers the Morgan's attacks on the Spanish Empire at sea and on land, including his attacks on the major Spanish ports in Panama and South America. It also looks at the general political situation in the Caribbean during that period. Talty talks about the difficulties of organizing pirate expeditions, maintaining control of those men, and what happened after the expedition. Talty also notes early in the book that not a lot of records were kept from this time, but he does a good job of filling in details. Although one thing I didn't really like was that he invented an ordinary pirate character for the book that he would use to explain the difficulties of the common buccaneers. I thought this was the least effective part of the book and could have been explained just as well without the invented character.

Empire of Blue Water is a nice little history of the Caribbean in the late 1600s. For gamers, it gives lots of ideas for pirate raids and what the troops (pirate and Spanish) were like.

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian Toll

This is Ian Toll's second book. His first was the wonderful Six Frigates, which covered the early history of the American Navy, so I was expecting a lot. After the wide-ranging time frame covered by Six Frigates, I was a little disappointed that Pacific Crucible was only covering 1941-42 (and only from Pearl Harbor through the Battle of Midway). But that disappointment soon disappeared as I got further into the book. Rather than just covering the same basic military history of Pearl Harbor, the early American responses, the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, Toll delves deeper into how these historical events came about and the strategic views for each side. There is a really good explanation of the Japanese thoughts and goals, including how the Army and Navy took over the Japanese government and their general lack of cooperation with each other. There are good sections on Admirals Nimitz, King, and Yamamoto, along with the relationship and meetings of Churchill and Roosevelt. The book also draws on a lot of eyewitness accounts for the battles.

I found Pacific Crucible to be a quick and interesting read. Even if you are familiar with the first six months of World War II in the Pacific, I think you will read something new or see events with a different twist. I'm hoping that Toll will continue writing the history of World War II in the Pacific, but I think it will take a lot of time to do that in this level of detail. For gamers, there is some good information on the Wake Island relief force and other early American raids that aren't gamed very much, along with there are lots of little ideas that can be added to your games. Overall I really enjoyed the book and recommend it.

If By Sea: The forging of the American Navy - from the Revolution to the War of 1812. By George Daughn

I reviewed Daughn's 1812 book in another post, but never posted anything about his first book. As the subtitle says, this book cover the American Navy from the American War of Independence (AWI) through the War of 1812. The thing that really sets it apart from the other books on the early U.S. Navy is the focus on the AWI time period; about half the book covers the period from 1775 until 1783. Daughn does a good job covering the wide variety of ships and actions during this time, from Boston Harbor to the Bahamas raids and John Paul Jones. The book is worth reading for those sections alone. Which is a good thing, since the book only covers the next 30 years in broad strokes. It hits on all of the major actions and events, but not in much detail. It isn't that the writing or information is bad, it is just done better in other books.

If By Sea gives a good overall history of the American Navy through 1815 and especially during the American War of Independence. I felt the last half of the book wasn't as informative as the first half, but that might only be because of other books I've read. For gamers, there is a lot of different stuff here, although they are all pretty small actions.

2012 in Review
Looking back on what I posted about plans for 2012 (look at the end of this post), I did get through some but not all of them. I didn't do very much work on my 15mm Age of Sail stuff, but I did complete a bunch of 1/600-1/700 scale ships and some of the 'grab bag' items (the Galactic Knights spaceships and some aircraft). So, it was too bad of a year. I haven't really thought about projects and plans for 2013. I will probably just pick out a few projects here and there without any set goals in mind. I do need to figure out what I want to do for Enfilade 2013(I've already got some ideas kicking around). Drumbeat 2013 is coming up in mid-January, but I think I will just attend and play games rather than running games.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and thank you for reading my meandering posts and adding comments.

Friday, December 28, 2012

DANG 2012 - Lords of the Lake

DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) for 2012 was a War of 1812 game on Lake Ontario titled Lords of the Lake. The game covered action on Lake Ontario during the summer months of 1813, when there was the most naval action and the highest chance of a decisive battle. The campaign was one of my own design, using some ideas from previous DANG games and the tactical rules used for battles were a modification of the Sail and Steam Navies rules from Bay Area Yards.
A view of the battle to come
Everyone began arriving at my place just after 9:30 AM and we spent a little while catching up on things, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning. After that we split up into the sides with Mark, George, Dale, and Scott taking the British squadron and Kevin, David S., Charlie, Paul, Dave C and Arthur taking the American squadron. Each side got their briefing and began planning their actions.

Each side had the same orders (although they did not know that), which were:
  1. Achieve control of Lake Ontario. If you cannot gain full control of the lake, it is important that you do not lose control of it. A disputed lake is better than one in enemy hands. 
  2. Provide support to our naval forces on Lake Erie by providing material and manpower. 
  3. Support army operations on the Niagara peninsula 
A view of Lake Ontario
The game ran from July to September in bi-weekly campaign turns, with each side assigning missions to their ships for the turn to achieve their orders. The missions included: patrols, escorting convoys, supporting land operations, training, interception, and repair/refit. Each of the missions had certain restrictions on how ships assigned to that mission could react to enemy ships in the same area.
The Americans get their briefing
The Americans started the game with a couple purpose built warships and a bunch of smaller converted merchants. The warships were primarily armed with carronades, while the converted merchants were armed with long guns. The Americans also had two warships that were still being completed, the large 26-gun sloop of war General Pike and 10-gun schooner Sylph. The ships could only be completed if supply convoys, which ran once per month, got through to the American yards at Sackets Harbor. The Americans also received additional crew from the ships blockaded in New York and Boston that they could use to man their ships or send to Lake Erie to help naval forces there.
The British Captain's Conference
The British started with five warships with one more under construction. The British ships were all armed with carronades, but were overall better ships than the existing American counterparts (however, the General Pike out-classed the larger British ships). The British convoys were set to provide supplies to army forces on the Niagara peninsula or to the naval forces on Lake Erie. The British also received additional crew (in their case from ships in Quebec) that they could keep or send to Lake Erie.

With everything set, the campaign began with each side making plans for the first two weeks of July. The Americans formed a strong escort for their July convoy (which was carrying the main armament for General Pike) and patrolled off the American base of Sackets Harbor. The British decided to refit their larger ships (upgrading the armament) and send the other ships out to train. Both sides wanted to see what the other was thinking and didn't feel confident in trying to engage the enemy right away.

During the second half of July the British continued to train their crews and sent a few ships on escort duty. The Americans received word from their army that some troops were available for an attack on the British Army's stores at Burlington Heights and decided to commit most of their fleet to supporting the operation. The attack turned out to the very successful due to the naval support.

When the calendar turned to August, the British Army was screaming for naval support saying that without it they might be pushed out of the Niagara peninsula. The British Lake Squadron commissioned a new ship (the 14-gun brig Lord Melville) and sent all their ships to support the army. Meanwhile, the American Army was chomping at the bit to follow up the successful raid with an all out attack, with naval support. The Americans commissioned the 26-gun (all long guns, including two pivot guns) General Pike and sent it on a training mission, while most of the rest of the fleet was sent to escort their August convoy (which was carrying the guns and final naval stores for Sylph). But the Americans did send three small schooners to support the army. The two groups supporting the land operations spotted each other and the Americans decided they were in a bad spot and ran back to Sackets Harbor. A few lucky die rolls and the fact that most of the British ships were square-riggers, as opposed to the fore-aft rigged American ships, allowed the Americans to escape. One of the ships had a mishap shortly after the escape that heavily damaged the ship's masts and putting her in the yard for the next two weeks. With full naval support, the British Army was able to turn back the American attack and drive the Americans back to Fort George.

During the final two weeks of August, the armies on each side calling from more naval support; the British to push the Americans back across the Niagara River and the Americans to fight off the British attack. In Kingston, the British knew the General Pike was ready to fight and felt the only way they were going to beat the heavier American ship was to have better trained crews. So, they decided to ignore the army's calls and send all the ships out to train. The Americans decided to send a handful of schooners to support the army, while the rest of the squadron patrolled lake looking for the British. The Americans spotted the British ships and started to pursue them.
The operational map used to determine the position for tactical battles
The British did not feel they were ready to face the Americans and turned back to base. Initially, they were able to keep their distance, but a sudden shift in the wind allowed the Americans to get within gun range. With that we moved to set up the first, and only, battle for the campaign.

The Americans set up with the two newest ships, General Pike and Sylph, leading the way, followed the rest of the squadron.
The American squadron ready for action
The British had their heaviest ships, Wolfe and Royal George, in the lead followed by the squadron's brigs and schooners.
The Royal Navy squadron beating to quarters
With the setup complete, we paused for a moment to issue grog rations to the crew (I looked up the recipe and made enough for everyone to have 4 oz tot) and give the standard Royal Navy Thursday toast "A bloody war and a quick promotion!"
Both sides ready for action
With that we were ready to get the battle underway. The Americans had the wind gauge and they started a turn to close with the British to get within long gun range.
Americans turning to close, but not maintaining good formation order
After a few long range shots, the British decided they needed to close to bring their carronades into action.
British closing the distance, while maintaining an orderly formation
The battle moved on as the lead ships exchanged fire while the trailing ships tried to get in range and angle to get their guns to bear.
Americans moving into position
More movement, while the British check ranges
As the battle raged, the lines became a little more disorganized (and we neared the edge of the table, so it was time to shift everybody back to the other edge).
The lead ships engage, while the trailing ships maneuver
The General Pike was using its pivot guns to fire chain shot to slow down the British flagship Wolfe. The damage slowed Wolfe, causing Royal George, which had been taking damage from Sylph, to move up to try and draw the American fire.
Royal George moving to support the flagship
Seeing some disorder with the lead British ships, General Pike turned to cut in front of the British. Meanwhile the rear American ships had left their position in line, were trying to get a off some shots at the British rear and get on the other side of the line so the British would be taking fire from both sides.
Pike trying to cut off the lead ships while the trailing American ships try to get behind the British
The lead ships got involved in a big scrum, with ships bumping into each other and firing at very close range. The American fire blasted the lower hull of Royal George and her crew was ordered to abandon ship as the corvette began to sink. Wolfe sustained a lot damage and the crew struck after taking heavy casualties. While the two Royal Navy big ships were done, their carronade fire had caused a lot of damage to General Pike, with half of her rigging shot away and almost half the crew dead or wounded. Sylph was also stuck in the scrum, but hadn't taken much damage.
General Pike (lower left) and Sylph (lower right) play bumper boats with Wolfe (upper left) and Royal George (upper right)
In the middle of the American line, the schooner Governor Thompkins stuck after her captain was killed and taking heavy hull damage.

With their two largest ships out of action, the remainder of the British squadron decided to break off the action. Beresford, the tail-end British ship, turned and fired a few shots to slow down the pursuing Americans on the right side of the squadron. Because the other Americans had to turn to avoid the group of stopped flagships and Governor Thompkins, the British ships could put on full sail and were able to pull away from the action. Given the ship losses, the battle was judged a win for the Americans. As the referee, I sort of forced the British into this battle (although the dice did show the wind change that led to the Americans catching them). In my defense, it was getting toward the end of the campaign and I wanted to make sure we had a good battle.
Ship positions as the battle ended
With the battle over, we talked over the situation for the last month of the campaign game. The British decided they would spend the last month of the campaign in port. The Americans would try to support army operations on the Niagara peninsula and repair their damaged ships. In early September word also arrived from Lake Erie that the Americans had won the battle there (there was a die roll for this that was modified by the amount of crew and materials each side sent to Lake Erie).

A quick review of the orders for each side showed that while the British had lost their two largest, they didn't lose total control of Lake Ontario (although they did concede it for the last month of the campaign). The Battle of Lake Erie went to the Americans and the Americans were in a better position on the Niagara peninsula than they were historically. With all that in mind, the 1813 campaign was declared an American victory, but it is really just a set up for more battles in 1814 (when both sides would add 50+ gun frigates to their squadrons).

Overall I thought it was an interesting campaign game and a good battle. Thanks to everyone that participated. Unfortunately, Kevin had to leave just before the battle to help out his son, who was involved in a car accident. Kevin's son is fine (just bumps and bruises), but the car was totaled.

If you are interested in seeing the rule modifications I made to Sail and Steam Navies for the game, you can download a PDF of the changes here (Note: you will still need a copy of Sail and Steam Navies to use them). A file with the ship logs from the Lords of the Lakes game (the file includes the major ships operating on Lake Ontario during 1813) can be found here.
2012 DANG Attendees

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Final DANG Preparations

I'm working on the final preparations for DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game), which is set for Thursday (December 27). Right now I'm getting the final campaign paperwork together and organizing the gaming materials. I expect spend most of Wednesday setting up the play area (moving tables, chairs, etc.) and doing some last minute cooking for snacks.It should be a good time.

My only miniatures work for this year was putting together some gunboats that could be used as minor ships for convoys. The gunboats are done, however I didn't add oars to all of them (I did the first five and decided that was enough, I guess I can always come back to it later). Here are some photos of the final results
The Gunboat Flotilla (Mark's original two are in the front row, second and third from the left)
My lugger rigged gunboat (left) with Mark's original (right)
My lateen rigged gunboat (left) with Mark's original (right)
An oared gunboat and one without
I think the gunboats turned out okay. Not as nice as Mark's originals, but good enough for gaming. They probably won't see any action in the DANG game, but I do have plans to use them for other games.

I previously mentioned that the game will use the Sail and Steam Navies rules, with some modifications to cover the Age of Sail. For those of you that have been asking about the changes, I finally compiled all my notes into one document that covers the modifications. You can download a PDF of the modifications here (Note: you will still need a copy of Sail and Steam Navies to use them). The PDF also includes a modified quick reference card, but you can download it as a separate PDF here. If you want to try out some of the battles, I also created a file with the ships from the DANG Lord of the Lakes game (the file includes the major ships operating on Lake Ontario during 1813). You can get that file here. The ship logs were created with the templates from the Sail and Steam Navies Yahoo group and all the linked files are posted to that group. Comments about the rule modifications are welcome.

I'll put up the after-action report from DANG later this week and I have a couple book reviews I want to post before the end of the year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

DANG Gunboats

I usually spend November and December assembling and painting up miniatures for DANG (Dave’s Annual Naval Game). However, for this year’s game, Lord of the Lakes: The War of 1812 on Lake Ontario, Mark Waddington had already built all the required ships for the 1813 battles, so there really weren’t any ships for me to work on.

As mentioned in my previous post, I still wanted to do a little something for this year’s game, so I began working on some gunboats. Here are some photos and descriptions of my current progress. These gunboats probably won’t see any action at DANG, since I’m only planning on using them as the gunboats and bateaus used in convoys.

First off, I’ll show a picture of one of the gunboats Mark created. I’m using this (along with some drawings from a couple books) as the general design for my gunboats.
Mark's Gunboat, used as the ideal for my efforts
I started with some ¼” plastic sticks, cutting them to the correct length (I made them 1 ¼” long, which works out to around 60 feet) and then shaping them for siding.
Gunboat hulls being cut and shaped
Then I added some benches/platforms/walkways to the base hull and finally the gunboat sides. I made a couple types of gunboats, one with a rounded stern and the other is pointed on both ends.
Overview of completed hulls. The two on the left have rounded sterns, the middle two are double-ended, and the two on the right were partially completed gunboats Mark sent to me.
Another view of the rounded stern (forward) and double-ended (back) hulls
Next, I put together some cannons for the gunboats. I used a very small plastic I-beam for the carriage and a small rod for the gun. Because these were pretty small, I painted up the I-beam and rod before cutting them. That way I only had to touch-up the paint, instead of trying to hold the tiny gun and paint it.

Masts were the next part I need to work on. I decided to go with a mix of lateen and lugger rigs for the gunboats. The masts and spars were made out of small brass rods and then, following Mark’s example, I tried to solder them together. I haven’t soldered for many years and my lack of good tools and rustiness showed. You can see my handiwork in the photo below.
Lateen rigs on the left and luggers on the right. You can also see the guns (with red carriages) on the forward ends, with a few gunboats with cannon on the stern too.
I still need to clean up the masts, paint them, and add the sails. Then I will base the gunboats and add the oars. So, there is still a little work to do, but overall I think they are coming together pretty well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Planning for DANG 2012

With the Museum of Flight game out of the way and things slowing a bit at work, I can finally start preparing for my yearly naval game: DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game). This year's voting ended in a tie (that is the second year that the voting ended in a tie) and the winner was decided with a coin toss. This year's game will be "Lord of the Lakes: The War of 1812 on Lake Ontario."
British ships on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 (Enemy in Sight by Peter Rindlisbacher
There is a lot you can do with the naval war on Lake Ontario, but our mini-campaign will cover the critical months of July to September 1813. This is after most of the ship building for the year was complete and when both sides had opportunities to bring the enemy to battle and secure a decisive victory on the lake. However, both sides also must realize that they could lose the war by losing their fleet and that not losing might be more important than winning. Historically, there were four encounters/battles during this time period and I'm hoping that my game will generate about the same number. 
USS General Pike and Wolfe face off (Burlington Races by Peter Rindlisbacher)
I've started writing out the basic rules for the running the campaign. The game will play out with operational turns (each lasting two weeks) where each side will assign ships to required and optional missions for the two weeks. The missions include patrolling, interception, supporting land forces, escorting convoys, along with ship repairs/refits. The ships assigned to missions will have the chance of meeting and generating tactical actions. We will use Mark Wadington's beautiful, scratch-built 1/600 scale ships and the modified Sail and Steam Navies rules for the tactical actions.
USS General Pike opens fire, from an earlier game
Mark built all the needed ships for the time period the game will cover, but I'm planning on building a few gunboats and cutters that will be the supply ships for the convoys. This will also give me gunboats and small ships for future games on the Great Lakes or in the Chesapeake Bay area. I'll post information about building the smaller ships later.

The game should be a lot of fun and it looks like I will have a packed house for it. This is DANG’s eleventh year and here are links to recaps of games from before 2010, the Lepanto game from 2010, and last year's American Civil War river game.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

2012 Museum of Flight Game Day Recap

Another NHMGS Game Day at the Museum of Flight is over. This year we had our information table and five gaming tables set up under the museum's Blackbird and around 30 NHMGS members and guest showing up for the games. As the museum opened I was at the information table and a man and his son came up to me saying they had come to the museum specifically to learn more about the group and games. We talked for a little while and I directed them over Wings of War table for some WWI action. There were also several other museum visitors that joined in the action throughout the day.
Overview of the gaming/display area before the museum opened
A view from the other side of the Blackbird later in the day
Here is a view of the information table. We had the usual figures, rule books, and reference material to show the different aspects of the hobby. A couple people mentioned that we should have had the NHMGS banner attached to the table to show who we are. So, there is something to think about for next year.
Rules and references
The French 100 Years War army drew a lot of attention
The morning session had a Wings of War WWI game, our home-brew Golden Age Air Racing game, an Axis & Allies Navy game, a Check Your 6 Jets Korean War game and some DBA games with winged Polish Hussars (although none of my photos of them turned out).
Wing of War getting set up
Target for today
The Astoria crew also brought along a scratch-built German Mannesmann giant triplane (it did not get into the game)
Air racing ready to go
Racing through the first lap. It was a tough race with only 3 planes, out of 8, finished the race
The Axis & Allies naval game with lots of carriers
A Check Your 6 night battle over Korea
DBA and DBR games
In the afternoon we had a Wings of War WWII game, a WWII platoon-level game using the Fire and Maneuver rules (the game was run by the rules designer), a Pike and Shot game with the Black Powder rules, a Check Your 6 Jets game with a Top Gun scenario (sorry, but no photos of this one), and more DBA/DBR.
Some Stukas with Me-109 escorts make their way over the English countryside
This Stuka found itself in a bad situation
Fire and Maneuver game set up
Some German units move to engage
Allied force, including a Sherman tank, move up
Pike and Shot - the battlefield is set
And the forces engage!
I didn't get a chance to play in any games this year, but it was still fun to see the other gamers and talk with the museum visitors. The game day is always a good opportunity to show off the hobby to the general public and the museum is a really great forum for it. We always get questions from people that have never heard of the hobby. This year there were even a few comments from younger kids about this being "sort of like Real-Time computer games." Everyone seemed to have a good time and we even set a date for next year with our museum contact. So, be sure to mark down Saturday, November 2, 2013 on your calendar as the next game day.
Kevin says "See you next year."