Saturday, July 1, 2017

They're Not Targets, They're Merchants!

Too often, naval gamers are guilty of thinking about merchantmen only as targets for well, pretty much everything else on the table really.  In fairness to those gamers though, game rules usually treat the lowly merchantman as nothing more than a target.

I think it takes a campaign game for the merchantman to truly come into its own.  We think of supply convoys as belonging to World War I or II, but this is not the case.  Even in the Napoleonic Era, armies had to be fed and supplied  and navies did as well.  After all, sometimes the most convenient ports for your naval strategy are not the richest ones where supplies are concerned.  Escorting a convoy of food and supplies through a rapacious enemy squadron can be a fun scenario for us,  but was a recurring duty that Admirals from all nations faced during the Age of Sail.  No matter what sort of naval campaign you want to run, the simple fact is that you're going to need merchant ships.

With that in mind, here are some pictures of those unloved workhorses, my merchant fleet.  At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I'm not going to show individual ship photos in this post.  Instead, I'll break them down by manufacturer, and only show an individual photo if it's a one-off ship.

Most rules break merchants down into different sizes, and so it makes sense to start with what most rules call "small merchants."  There's not really a hard, fast rule about where the size break is between a "small" merchantman and their larger relatives.  For our purpose here, if the maker of the miniature calls it a small merchantman, then it's a small merchantman.

First up are the models originally from Skytrex, now sold by  Red Eagle Miniatures ( These first two are called "bark" on the website, but as you can see in the photos, the mizzen mast is not fore-and-aft rigged. 
The sterns on these ships are completely smooth, so you can detail them however you like.  Looks like the owner of the left ship didn't do a very good job of fake windows.

Skytrex sold the ship pictured below as the troop transport Buffalo, but Red Eagle just calls it a generic troop transport.  I think it makes a perfectly good small merchant, and Red Eagle must agree with me because that's what they have it listed under..  I don't like the Skytrex sails and masts, so for this one I replaced them with a small frigate set from Langton.

Another one-off ship is the West Indiaman from GHQ.  As with all the GHQ sailing ships, the hull is beautiful but the masts are flimsy and I find their ships hard to rig without bending the masts.

Next we come to the mainstay of my small merchantmen, the Langton small merchant.  The hull form is very similar to the Skytrex bark, except that the Langton hull has side galleries and decorations on the stern. 
The ship on the far right of the photo is a purchased one.

Even my Langton models have a one-off, however.  The ship below is a small Great Lakes schooner that I bought just to see how small they are.  As you can see from the photos, the answer to that is, "pretty darn small."

Up next are the medium merchants, and I only have two of those. The first one is from Langton
This is a purchased ship, and I just realized there is no running rigging.  Oops!

When I bought the ship pictured below from Skytrex, it was listed as, "medium merchantman The Pitt."  Red Eagle lists it under the same name, but calls it a medium East Indiaman.  To me though, she looks a little small to be an East Indiaman, and so that's why it is on a base size that Langton recommends for unrated vessels.

Finally, we have those big boys, the Large Merchants.  When handled aggressively, they can even convince a cautious enemy commander that they are ships of the line, instead of targets.  For a quick  example of this, see the Wikipedia article about the Battle of Pulo Aura, fought on Valentine's Day in 1804 (  In looking at the pictures of these large merchants below, it's easy to see how a case of mistaken identity could come about
Fly the right flag, maneuver aggressively, and it just might work.

I think there is only one stern design for the Langton large merchant

This is a purchased vessel.
Skytrex/Red Eagle also puts out a large merchant, and while smaller than the Langton one, it still looks the part.

I do have some other ships that could be used as small merchants: poleacres, xebecs, and a lateen-rigged barque.  They are more limited in where they could be used though (they are primarily Mediterranean rigs), so I will put them in the post on unrated vessels.