Dec 1, 2014

Small scale naval action

The 1/4800 Tumbling Dice men-o-war have been sitting on my shelf for way too long without a baptism of fire. With ad-hoc modifications, we had played a small naval game using OPF Seafarers. You can find the rules on the Rules page IIRC. 
I have upgraded frigates of war to 2nd/3rd class ships of the line and 2nd class SoLs to 1st class. So in the end we have had two frigates, three 2nd/3rd and three 1st class ships of the line for each side.
For the small scale we have converted inches to centimeters regarding movement and shooting distances.
Instead of individual movement an I go - you go system was used. A flagship had to transfer signals to the units in range, when scoring a 1 in firing range or 1-2 in double firing range the orders failed. 
The wind was changing in 10 turns (didn't get that far into the game), this should have been controlled by rolling each turn, probably for both sides. 
Instead of fleet repair points, each ship had 2-4 according to its class. A failed defense roll resulted in both movement, defense and firepower being reduced, and the commanders had to choose which one to repair. For this, each ship was tagged and named - the bases are large enough to hold small tokens for this purpose.

The two fleets clash and smoke begins to emerge as different ships are firing at each other. The blue fleet had a straightforward approach but had to watch out for the island's shore and the wind.

A red ship was lagging behind as she failed to receive the signals at the beginning of the battle - meanwhile two blue ships outflanked the enemy by sailing past the island. It all gets very hazy from here, everybody is firing at everybody.

Wounds stacked high on some vessels but the blue fleet was the first to lose one ship, then another in the next turn, despite all efforts to repair it as it came under the fire of three enemy ships of the line. The blue commander then surrendered, the game lasted about half an hour and six turns.

Things to consider: 

Firing at a ship's aft reduces its Defense die, it's in the original rules but we started the battle ignoring it and my rule is that if something's forgotten, we do not change it mid-game. It's a huge disadvantage in itself that a ship cannot return fire.
Mandatory targets - either the closest enemy ship, overriding when a further one shows its aft.
Firing into smoke - reduces attack dice by 1. The smoke lifted and moved with the wind and made transferring signals harder - at a certain point it's going to be every ship for itself. If ships continued firing, the smoke would not lift. 
This could also serve as an advantage to use 'rested' broadsides - as ships may only fire once per turn (something that can be played out by reducing attack die by one type and shooting twice). This calls for further thought and ships will only be able to divide their attack dice as many times as many gun decks they have!
A similar bonus, opposite to the effect of smoke, could be applied to steady ships (moving very slowly or being anchored) where they receive a +1 to attack dice and receive commands more easily. This then calls for involuntary movements where ships not anchored will drift in a slow pace with the wind.

For this to be effective, a ship will not be able to fully halt or reach full speed in one turn. Slow ships of the line will be more sluggish and smaller, faster ships will gain greater advantages (it is not very wise to engage SoLs with a smaller vessel anyway).

The repair system is great as a choice always must be made, but at larger fleet actions it becomes tedious so if the fleets are expanded (or should I say when!) we'll return to fleet point repairs instead of repair points for each individual ship.

I go - you go is always disadvantageous and just like in Inter Arma, checks and safeties must be implemented so that the player that has the second go cannot exploit it - Maurice, while written for something entirely different, handles this well as shooting always happens before movement. So here's a sketch:
- Players roll for initiative at the beginning of each turn, player scoring highest wins or may pass.
- Player scoring lowest may pass again. Passes can be limited in number.
- If a player wins initiative three turns in a row, he must automatically pass and the other player cannot refuse.
- Combat is conducted.
- Players draw from a deck of cards and the number on the card drawn shows how many ships they can move. They do this in reverse order every other turn.
- They keep drawing cards until all ships have moved on both sides.
- Combat is conducted.

All of this makes Seafarers a more simulationist and less beer-and-pretzels game, but it enhances playabilty I think - I like the Age of Sail too much not to add these small tweaks that enhance the feel of the rules. It will not be a one page ruleset anymore - for that, there is the original. I'm starting to work on the rules right now - see what a single playtest can achieve?


  1. Agreed - and some interesting issues emerge.
    1. Firing directly into the stern. along the length of the target ship - a stern rake - could be a ship killer. It was the most vulberable part of the ship, and from directly behind, the least protected. Firing whilst crossing the bow of the target vessel - a bow rake - was pretty bad also, but not as bad as a stern rake.

    Warships could fire both broadsides at once, but in fact had full gun crews for one or other broadside, a reduced, 'skeleton' crew being retained for the unengaged side. To what extent the reduced crew could work the guns I'm not sure. You really needed only one man to fire it, but to reload and, in particular, run out the guns may have required more than the reduced crew, especially on the windward side of the vessel. At any rate, when the ship switched from one broadside to the other, the 'extra' guys would cross to join the reduced crew to bring it up to size.
    3. I think the dynamics of a seaborne action are such that a IGo-Ugo system is probably necessary. But maybe there are ways that could be modified to ensure the kind of player interaction that's needed to approximate the fluid sort of action such as you have described.

    1. As I have said, the original rules have a reduced Defense die for the rear 90° of any ship, we just forgot to get it in play. For firing both broadsides, I'm quite set on a ship 'dividing' its Firepower, just like in the original One Page Fleets rules, so a ship with d10 can fire with 1d8 on both sides, and it can be further divided to 2d6 if it's a two-decker.
      My problem with I go- You go is that it allows the reacting player to exploit enemy movement to a large extent and implementing checks and safeties such as in Inter Arma (to outflank a tank, the enemy must pass a test and when passed, may still move a reduced distance only) are not such a great solution in the age of sail.