Monday, December 31, 2018

DANG 2018 - The Siege of Charleston

This year’s DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) was The Cradle of the Rebellion – The Siege of Charleston. The game covered Union attacks on Confederate fortifications and the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina between July and September 1863. Historically, there were only a couple very minor naval skirmishes during this time. But Confederate General P.T. Beauregard, who oversaw Charleston’s defenses, had requested that the Confederate ironclads attack the Union forces to break the attack on the forts, setting the stage for a nice hypothetical action.
A little something to get players thinking about the action
Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:30 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things and talking about the projects we are all working on and planning.
I too a pre-game photo of George's Housatonic, since I wasn't sure it would get into a battle
After that we split into two sides with three Confederate players (David S, George, and Arthur) and five Union players (Kevin, Bill, Dave C, Dale, and Scott).

The Union players had to pick an avenue of attack (Sullivan Island or Morris Island) and work to reduce the Confederate forts and batteries along that route so the Union Army could capture the island, while maintaining a tight blockade on the city. The Confederate players got to choose the ships for their fleet (based on available designs and limited resources) to support their fortifications and blockade runners.

Each campaign game turn represented action for a week, with the campaign lasting for a maximum of 8 weeks. During a campaign turn, each side assigned their ships to missions for the week. The missions included attacks on enemy ships, bombardment of the fortifications, escorting supplies or blockade runners, and blockade duty. After resolving the missions, a check was made to see how far the Union Army advanced during the week.

With the background and rules covered, both sides selected their ships for the campaign and the Union players decided to assault Sullivan Island (a departure from history). We started the first week with two potential battles – one over getting supplies through to Sullivan Island and the other in a blockade zone.

In the first battle, the Union sent a monitor and two 90-day gunboats to stop the Confederate resupply run. The Confederates got an early warning of the approaching ships and called out their ironclads to support the wooden cruiser that was covering the resupply. This was a night action, so visibility and firing ranges were short.
Union monitor and two 90-day gunboats hunting for rebel supplies
Confederate cruiser escorting the supplies
The Confederate ship, CSS Ajax, kept its distance as the Union ships approached. But the appearance of two ironclads, CSS Palmetto State and Chicora, changed the situation.
CSS Palmetto State
The ships traded shots, but an early critical hit on the gunboat USS Chippewa slowed down the gunboat, allowing Palmetto State to close.
Things don't look good for Chippewa
Chippewa tried to run, but it kept taking hits. Eventually catching on fire and then surrendering. Outnumbered in ships and ironclads, the remaining Union ships decided to withdraw from the action. The Confederates had some light damage done to their ships, but were happy with the overall results of the battle.
Chippewa on fire and running out of luck
In the blockade zone, the Confederates spotted three Union ships and the escort decided to cut loose the blockade runners and return to Charleston. The Union ships went after the blockade runners – catching one while two others escaped into the night.

With the missions resolved, the results of the Union Army advance were Checked. Sullivan Island had seven batteries (four small and three medium size) and Fort Moultrie. The Union troops landed at the north end of the island and on the first week took two batteries.
Battery Marshall and Battery A fall during the first week
Seeing the Union advance on Sullivan Island, the Confederate defense council talked over the best ways to slow the advance. They knew they had limited ships and that the Union could easily withstand or replace their losses. Talking through their options, they believed their best option was to make a major attack on the Union ships bombarding Sullivan Island, which they hoped would stall the Army’s advance. The Charleston shipyards had promised to deliver three new gunboats and an ironclad over the two weeks. So, the decision was made to wait two weeks and then conduct a daytime attack on the Union ships off Sullivan Island with all their ships in the Charleston fleet.

On the Union side, the initial plan seemed to be working – so they maintained their blockade and bombardment strategy. This set up the naval battle of Sullivan Island.

The Confederates sent their whole fleet out for the early morning attack – the ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora, and Milledgeville (a hypothetical ironclad design), the wooden cruisers Ajax, Tallahassee, the cottonclad sidewheeler Calhoun (based on the CSS Oregon), along with two Drewry type gunboats named Ashley and Cooper. On the Union side, the bombardment group was made up of the New Ironsides, the Passaic class monitors Passaic, Lehigh, and Catskill, and the sloop Housatonic.
Union bombardment force arrayed for battle
Confederate gunboats and Palmetto State
The rest of the Confederate ships
The battle started off with the Tallahassee trying to use its speed as armor and get behind the Union line. But long-range fire from Union ships damaged the cruiser, set it on fire, and eventually forced it to surrender.
Tallahassee taking early damage
Tallahassee on fire and screwed
The other confederate cruiser, Ajax, did not have much luck either. Ajax got a little to close to shore and ran aground, then was pounded by Union monitors as she was trying to get up to speed.
Ajax aground
Ajax under attack from the monitors
On the other side of the Confederate fleet – the gunboats Cooper and Ashley moved forward and took shots are the trailing Housatonic. The gunboats hit the sloop several times and started several fires.
Housatonic takes some damage
But the Housatonic’s well-trained crew was able to put out the fires and return fire on the gunboats, inflicting a magazine critical hit on one and damaging the other.
Gunboat goes boom
In the center, the three Union monitors moved to take on the Confederate ironclads, while New Ironsides provided long-range support.
Confederate ironclads move forward
Closing with the Union monitors
The Calhoun steered clear of the center, taking long-range shots at the Union ships. But return shell fire set the cottonclad on fire. Other damage would slow down the sidewheeler, putting the ship out of action.
Cottonclad on fire
The iron ships traded shots, with the Union's 11 and 15 inch guns causing heavy damage to the Confederates and a critical steam line hit on Milledgeville.
Ironclad close action
Steam line damage to Milledgeville
Chicora took heavy waterline damage from a New Ironsides broadside. Damaged and slowly flooding, Chicora almost rammed Housatonic (or maybe it was the other way around), but her fate was sealed as she was caught between the two big Union ships.
Chicora and Housatonic slide by each other
Chicora caught in the middle
With most of the Confederate ships heavily damaged or out-of-action, the remaining forces announced a withdrawal, ending the battle.

The Confederates did succeed in disrupting the Union fleet’s support of the land action for the week, but it was at the cost of most of the Charleston Fleet.

With our gaming time drawing to a close, we decided to roll off the rest of the Union Army advanced for the remaining weeks of the game. Both sides made die rolls to support their land forces (Confederate resupply and Union bombardment and Army assaults). At week 8, Fort Moultrie was the only Confederate fortification left on the island and the Union players rolled their final attack – but it failed (the Union side needed to roll an 84 or higher on a d100). The Confederates won the overall campaign, but their fleet and most of Sullivan Island were in ruins. If this was a historical situation, the Union probably would have stopped the attacks on Charleston and pursued attacks elsewhere along the east coast, leaving the city for Sherman to attack.
The land map showing Fort Moultrie still in Confederate hands
Another DANG is in the books. Overall, the game turned out pretty well and everyone seemed to have a good time. We used Sail and Steam Navies for the tactical battle rules. They worked out fine, but the Confederates did not really have much of a chance against the Union monitors. We did talk about how the battle might have turned out if we had used different rules and the game seemed to rekindle some interest in the era. So, we might seem some more ironclads battles in 2019.
DANG 2018 players

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Take on Cruel Seas

I have mixed feelings about Warlord Games. I like Bolt Action and Gates of Antares for quick skirmish games, but I didn't care for Black Powder and, after reading the basic rules, passed on Blood Red Skies. When the announcement came out that Warlord would be doing a WWII coastal forces game, I was intrigued and decided to pre-order a Cruel Seas starter set.

My box arrived and out of the box things look mostly good. Although my box only had one set of Royal Navy MTBs and four sets of S-boats, leaving the Royal Navy very outnumbered (I've contacted Warlord about this, but the only response has been that they are very busy).
Most of the contents of the Cruel Seas starter
The ship models look very nice and the larger-scale will provide good visual battles. One issue with the model sprues is that they could use more weapons. I'll be interested in seeing how Warlord supports the line with future releases. I'm also hoping for some separate weapons sprues (and crews), so you can do a little more customization of the models to show boats at different time periods.
Sample sprues - torpedoes (left), Royal Navy MTBs (center), and German S-boats (right)
Because I pre-ordered the starter set, I also got a submerging U-boat miniature as a bonus. It is an interesting choice for a miniature subject. Especially since the 20mm gun still has the crew and they don't seem too concerned about being left behind.
Diving U-boat with the S-boat sprue for size comparison
The starter box also included a painting guide, which is a nice touch. Especially for people that don't know much about WWII coastal forces.
S-boat painting guide
There are also data cards for each of the ships, which show the ship information (speed, weapons, hull points, etc.) are used to track damage. The cards are a nice touch, especially for newer players.
Royal Navy (left), tanker (center), and S-boat (right) ship cards
The physical components in the box are good and can get players started on playing games pretty easily. Next up I went through the rules.

The rules are a good introductory (easily accessible) set of rules, making for a good coastal forces gaming entry point. There are basic rules, to get players feet wet, advanced rules, for a little more depth, and 8 scenarios. The rulebook includes a basic history, information for different fleets, and a ship roster with additional ships. Overall, a nice introduction to coastal forces in WWII.

The rules themselves are pretty straightforward. Players put a fleet die for each ship in a bag or container. A die is drawn and then that side picks a ship to move and shoot. For movement, a ship can be stopped or move at Slow, Combat, or Full speed. Wake markers are used to show ship speed (and there is an advanced rule that inexperienced crews can lose control when crossing a wake). Turning is done at each 1/3 speed increment (so, if you are moving Slow, you can make one turn and you can make 3 turns at Full speed). Gunfire also takes place at each 1/3 speed increment move, with torpedo fire happening at the end of a ship's movement. Gunfire is a 5 or less on a d10 to hit, with a bunch of modifiers. Damage rolls are a number of d6s based on the type of gun attacking. Torpedoes move in a straight line and have a chance to detonate if they contact another ship. The advanced rules add in critical hits and repair rules.

There are some things I like in the rules, some things that I find questionable, some things I didn't like, and some missed opportunities. I've listed most of these below:

- I like the negative To Hit modifier for firing ships that are moving at maximum speed. This is especially good for the small MTBs/MGBs, which were not the most stable gun platforms when moving at high-speed.
- There are some interesting ideas in the Advanced Rules and additional weapons (Wake Crossing, Hull repair during battle, mortars).
- There are a good number of scenarios covering the most common coastal force encounters (although the set ups often only talk about British and German craft, so there was a missed opportunity to make it more generic and include ships from other sets they are selling).
- The index and bibliography are nice touches.

Questionable things:
- Movement is a little odd in that you can only move at one of three set speeds and nothing in between. How ships turn was not explained very well, but the latest rule errata tries to clarify that.
- Spotting and visibility rules, which would seem to be an important part, are only used in one scenario and advanced rules related to spotting/visibility don't seem to be linked to any other rules. But the maximum recommended play area of 4' x 4' (120cm x 120cm) is pretty small (especially for the scale), so maybe they just decided you didn't really need visibility rules.
- Torpedo dud rate is based on firing crew quality, which just seems odd.
- Generic torpedoes with no differentiation between 18" and 21" torpedoes. They also include the Japanese 24" 'Long Lance' torpedoes, but only give them an increased speed and range.
- Generic aircraft. I think they could have given a wider variety of aircraft with different dice ratings, instead the Corsair works like a CR.32, a Stuka, and a Val. Although, this really is not a big deal, since it is primarily a naval game. So maybe this is more of a missed opportunity.

Things I didn't like
- Plumes, the rule seems a little backwards. If I understand it correctly they are saying it gets easier to hit a target the more people that are shooting at the target. The rationale appears to be that you can use previous shots to adjust for the next shot, but that should only work for one ship. Other ships firing would be more confused by all the shots hitting the water. This is one rule that I would suggest not using.
- The rulebook itself just doesn't seem like it was fully reviewed and polished. There are several inaccuracies in the histories, photo captions, and ship data (the rosters say a Hunt Type III destroyer has four twin 4" gun mounts and 4 quad 40mm mounts, while a Fletcher class destroyer has 5 x 4" guns). Warlord Games has posted the first set of errata for the rules that doesn't correct all the issues, but that just reinforces my opinion that it wasn't quite ready for the printer.

Missed Opportunities
- I think there should have been a heavier focus more on smaller boats in the Ship Rosters and showing developments over the war. In my opinion, there are too many large ships listed. There is only one British MGB type listed, many of the American and German boats are listed with late-war armaments, and there aren't a lot of small boats for other countries. Given the size of the models, it seems like it would have been better to use more smaller ships, which could also keep the price a little cheaper too. This could have led to boxed sets for German coastal attack (S-boats vs. MGBs, merchants, and escorts), British coastal attack (MTBs vs. R-boats, merchants, and escorts), Pacific attack (U.S. PT boats vs. Japanese barges and gunboats), etc. Larger ships could have been added in a later supplement.
- Better Campaign rule layout. They could have put together a set of linked scenarios as a campaign, giving players more of a reason to come back to the rules and setting up supplement releases with more scenarios and campaigns. But the current rules are pretty vague on what to do.

Summing it all up, I would say that Cruel Seas is a good introduction to coastal forces in WWII. If you have an interest in the subject and haven't already taken the plunge, then this is a good starting point. If you are already playing with a set of rules you like, then there isn't much reason to switch. The models are nice and the size for smaller ships is appealing (doing a MGB vs. S-boat or US PT boat vs. Japanese landing craft battle in this scale would be visually appealing). But there are a limited number of ships in this scale (although I expect Warlord Games to keep putting out ships), limiting the types of scenarios that can be played.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Completed Ships for DANG 2018

Over the weekend I finished painting and basing the four ships I was putting together for DANG 2018. You can see the unfinished work in my previous post and here are some photos of the completed ships.
All four ships together
All the ships go a basic paint job with wooden decks, dark gray or black hulls, and wooden masts. The sidewheel housing was painted an off-white (although it appears very white in the photos). I also added some after-market ratlines to three of the ships, but didn't do any other rigging.

Here are some closer views of the Confederate ships. First the cottonclad sidewheel gunboat.
Confederate sidewheel cottonclad gunboat (Thoroughbred TS29)
This was the one ship I didn't add ratlines to, since there wasn't much room with all the cotton bales. I think the colors turned out well on this one.

Next is the screw gunboat.
Purchased screw steamer (Thoroughbred TS33B)
I decided to go without any upper deckhouse on this model to give the appearance of CSS Macon (and Peedee), but added the mast (and ratlines) and pilothouse. It turned out to be a good kit to modify.
Confederate wooden vessels
I think both models ended up looking pretty good and will look nice on the table.

The two Union gunboats are next, first the Union sidewheeler. 
Union sidewheel gunboat (Thoroughbred TS33)
This is just a basic sidewheel gunboat and could be used for either side or for other wars. The kit comes with six guns, but I only mounted four.

Finally, the Union version of the screw steamer.
Purchased screw steamer (Thoroughbred TS33B)
This is the same kit as the Confederate steamer, but I used the desk house and added a raised forecastle. Those extras really make it look like a converted civilian ship. The kit is very versatile and could also be used as a transport. I angled the ship in the photo so you could see the ratlines a little better (I spent a lot of time putting them on, so I want to show them off a little).
Union wooden vessels
DANG is set for Saturday and I should have photos and a description up early next week. Before that though, I plan on putting together some initial thoughts on the new Cruel Seas rules and models.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Prepping for DANG 2018 - Planning and New Ships

In an earlier post I mentioned that the 2018 version of Dave's Annual Naval Game (DANG) will revisit the American Civil War. This year’s game is entitled Cradle of the Rebellion - The Siege of Charleston. The game will cover potential battles the Charleston, South Carolina area between July and September 1863. Historically during this time, the Union Army and Navy were cooperating to reduce Confederate forts on Morris Island. The Union attacks on the Fort Wagner failed to dislodge the Confederates (see the First and Second Battles of Fort Wagner), but it did convince them to evacuate the island in September. There were only a couple very minor naval skirmishes during this time, as the Union Navy tried to stop resupply and reinforcement attempts to the island. But the Confederate General P.T. Beauregard had requested that the Confederate ironclads attack the Union forces to break the attack on the forts, setting the stage for a nice hypothetical action.
Confederate ironclad Chicora attacking blocking ships in Charleston Harbor
For the game, the Union forces will be tasked with using their ironclads to reduce the Confederate forts and batteries around the harbor, allowing the Army to storm them, and maintaining a tight blockade on the city. The Confederates need to support their forts and the blockade runners, while trying to break the blockade. As usual with DANG, both sides will have some options to start the game and missions they must complete.

I’m borrowing most of the ships for the game from others. But I always like to put together some ships for each of the games. This year I picked up four new ships (a Yankee Gunboat, Confederate Gunboat, and two ‘Purchased’ Screw Steamers) from Thoroughbred Miniatures 1/600 Ironclads line. The kits are mostly generic that can be used for any number of ships from the era. I’m painting up the kits now, but wanted to post a few photos of the ships before and during construction.

The Yankee Gunboat is a sidewheel steamer that can be configured to represent a number of different purchased sidewheelers. It comes with six guns that allow you to vary the armament.
Unassembled Yankee Gunboat
The Purchased Screw Steamer is truly a kit-bashers type kit. It comes with parts to make a wide variety of screw steamers. It comes with three masts, a raised forecastle, two wheelhouses, a long cabin, and six guns. You can easily add your own cabin (using wood or plastic) to change the configuration and create different ships.
Unassembled screw steamer
For my ships, I used the included cabin for one to create a ship similar to the USS Aries and the other I left the cabin off to make something similar to the Confederate gunboats Macon and Peedee.
Assembled screw steamers (bottom and left) and Confederate Gunboat (right)
The Confederate Gunboat is a cottonclad sidewheel steamer, meant to represent the Jackson, Governor Moore, and General Quitman. But it too can be a somewhat generic ship.
A side view of the assembled ships
I’ll get a few photos of the painted ships up before the game.

This my seventeenth-year running DANG and is the second time we’ve played an ACW battle. Here are links to recaps of DANG from before 2010, the 2010 Lepanto game, the 2011 American Civil War river game, the 2012 War of 1812 Lake Ontario game, the 2013 Operation Landcrab game, the 2014 Cogs of War game, 2015 The Shores of Tripoli game, 2016 The Big Stick game, and last year’s Seastrike game.