Friday, December 10, 2021

Nothing Ever Goes as Planned (2021 remix)

 I have been running convention games for quite a few years now.  The one thing that's guaranteed, is the rule which says players will come up with things that you didn't expect.  With that in mind, let me tell you about the 2021 convention game I ran last weekend.

The scenario was entitled, "Another Boston Massacre?", and was a "what-if" scenario that included the USS Independence (the USN's first ship of the line), USS Constitution, and the members of a British blockading squadron.  The number of British ships were variable, but could be up to four.  On the day, there was one US player and one British player, so there were only 2 ships available to the Royal Navy.  One of the two ships was HMS Saturn, a 58 gun razée frigate (cut down from a 74 gun ship of the line) specifically converted to fight the American 44 gunners, and HMS Bulwark (74 guns).  All in all, I was looking forward to a pair of right smart fights between the pairs of opponents.

The Post Captain rules that I use for small battles have a three-minute turn that is broken down into three one-minute segments known as Red, White and Blue.  You will sometimes see the markers that show this in the photos.  The US squadron consists of Independence in the lead and Constitution following.  Constitution's orders are to break out into the Atlantic (i.e., exit the far map edge).  Independence is there to provide support and, if possible, combat test this brand new ship.  Obviously, Independence should avoid being captured!  The British squadron consists of HMS Bulwark (74 gun Large class) in the lead and HMS Saturn following.

As the battle started, all ships started to maneuver seemingly independently, as you'll see below.  

Beginning of the White segment of Turn 1

End of the White segment.

The end of the first turn saw the British go from line astern to a quarter line, while the US ships continued to separate from each other.

End of Turn 1

As turn 2 progressed, it was clear that the British player had picked out his targets and was closing on them.

End of Turn 2, Red phase

Then, Bulwark opened the ball with the first broadside of the game.

Bulwark fires the first broadside.

It wasn't a spectacularly accurate broadside, but it did do some damage.  The very first shot of the game took out the captain of IndependenceIndependence couldn't get enough guns on Bulwark to waste an opening broadside, so she fired on Saturn as that ship came down towards the fray.

Beginning of Turn 2,  Blue phase.

While the US crew was only rated as Regular (the rates are Elite, Crack, Regular, Green, and Raw), they were definitely sharpshooters.  There were 10 12-sided dice rolled with hits on a 1-5, and 8 of the 10 hit!  One of the hits was a critical hit that smashed Saturn's wheel.  This meant she had to maintain her course until the wheel was repaired.  Turn 2 ended with Saturn taking a shot at Constitution as she closed into the battle area.  

End of Turn 2

 When opposing ships are within 400 yards of each other, both sides roll for initiative in each phase.  The winner can either move first, or have the other side move first.  The British won, and chose to have the USN move first.  I think the British plan was to get behind Independence and stern rake her.  Good plan, but the RN player apparently misjudged the speeds, and the inevitable collision occurred.  

Oops.  Beginning of 3 Red.

This British decision also let Constitution close the range and deliver her opening broadside into Saturn.

Constitution adds her opinion to the discussion. 3 Red.

With Constitution running with the wind, and Saturn unable to change course, those two ships rapidly drew away from each other, while Bulwark and Independence remained locked together.  At the end of the turn, Bulwark's captain decided not to try a boarding action, and cut his ship loose from the American vessel.  All this time though, the British and US Marines have been firing at anything and everything on the upper decks of their opponents.  The carnage is terrible; the Bulwark's captain is hit, the Independence's 1st Lieutenant goes down, British marines and American crewmen are dropping like flies.

In the beginning of Turn 4, the Independence starts to move away and Bulwark turns to follow.  As she  does so, Constitution slides by and puts a broadside into her and Bulwark returns the favor.  The US frigate then starts to raise sail so she can escape the area. 

It's rude to leave without saying goodbye.

Saturn has sailed off the board, unable to repair her wheel, and Constitution is running for the open ocean.  Only Bulwark and Independence are left.  The two ships of the line take up parallel courses about 50 yards from each other, and proceed to pound away.

Last photo, as the view hereafter is unchanged.

 During these exchanges, Bulwark had her wheel shot away, which disrupted the British players plans considerably.  Since the lower gunports of Independence are so close to the water, she cannot fire her lower guns on the leeward side, effectively cutting her firepower in half on that side.  The British player did tell me afterwards that his plan was to get to leeward of the American, but it never did pan out.

With time running out, we ended the game.  I adjudicated it as a minor US victory, since Constitution was able to get past the blockade with relatively little damage.  Much like real life, I can't tell you which broadside caused what damage. What I can do is show you some before and after shots of the opposing forces:

Royal Navy ships before

Royal Navy ships after

US Navy ships before

US Navy ships after

It does look as if the Royal Navy is the worse for wear.  However, with as many critical hits as this game had, the situation could have been reversed with a single die roll.  The interesting thing about this system is that the opposing player cannot see what damage he has done unless it would be clearly visible (say, a mast falling or a fire).  Had the British player known how many crew factors Independence had lost, he might have been more willing to chance a boarding action.  For reference, each Crew circle is 24 men, and each Marine box is 16 men.  Overall, a very interesting game and both my players assured me that they had an excellent time.

For a bit of closing humor, I finally got to wear the hoodie my oldest daughter bought for me last year:

The hat was borrowed, but I
will definitely be getting my own.

Thursday, December 2, 2021


The original plan was for this post to go up before Thanksgiving. Just a short update, and a promise of better future performance in the making posts department. Obviously, that didn't come to fruition.  So, I hope that all my readers who celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday had a nice one.

The shipyard has been fairly busy as we get towards the end of the year, as you can see from the photo below:

The partially-rigged French 80 and the British 74 Common hull represent the final two ships of the line for the Combined Fleet.    Yes!  Just two more ships, and the Trafalgar Project is 2/3rds complete.  You can expect a big "family photo" of all those in an upcoming post at some point.  Now as mentioned in another post, I don't have the all the frigates for the Combined Fleet yet, but those can be picked up at leisure once the battle line is done.  

I'm sorry, what's that?  Why yes, you're right, there ARE three sailing ships in that photo.  Very observant of you.  That third ship is HMS Saturn, and she has a rather interesting history.

HMS Saturn was a member of the Arrogant-class ships of the line.  Designed by Sir Thomas Slade (who also designed HMS Victory), there were twelve ships built to this design, the most famous of which was HMS Bellerophon.  Bellerophon fought in the Glorious First of June, the Nile, Trafalgar, AND was the ship that Napoleon boarded to surrender himself the first time.  A development from the 5 ship Bellona-class vessels, Saturn and her sisters were the epitome of the British 74-gun ship of the line.  

The Arrogant class ships, as built.

Ordered in December of 1781, Saturn was laid down in August of 1782, launched in November of 1786 and finally completed in May of 1787.  After completion, she sat in ordinary (the modern term is "mothballed") until May of 1790.  During the French Revolutionary Wars, she served in the Channel Fleet and the Mediterranean, where she was involved in the Battle of the Hyères Islands in 1795. [ères_Islands]  Her other major action was at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, but she was in the reserve and did not see action.  Her service after that was pretty typical: West Indies, the Med again, blockade duty off Lorient, then back to the Baltic.  In 1812 she was in ordinary again, and the 25 year old warrior faced a dismal future of either being broken up or used as a prison ship.  

Then the War of 1812 happened.  Everyone knows about the US frigate victories, and the Royal Navy orders not to engage American frigates in single combat.  Less well known, however, is the other British response to the defeats: the decision to acquire their own super frigates.  Instead of building new ships though, the Royal Navy took a more direct approach.  HMS Saturn and two other 74-gun ships (Majestic (1785) and Goliath (1781)) were cut down from ships of the line into frigates.  For these ships, it was done by cutting away the upper decks.  This process was known as razeéing from the French rasé meaning "to shave" so the ships were referred to as razeés. Instead of looking like the blueprint above, they now look like this:

HMS Saturn after conversion to a frigate

The thing to notice here is that the ship has kept her two original gun decks; only the upperworks containing lighter weapons has been taken away.  The guns do get changed around a bit though.  As built, Saturn carried 28 32 pounders on the lower gundeck, and 28 18 pounders on the upper deck.  After reconstruction, she carried 28 32 pounders on the lower gundeck, and 28 42 pound carronades on the upper deck.  This change increased her weight of metal (the amount thrown in a single broadside)
from 952 to 1,036 pounds.  For comparison, the weight of metal for her intended opponents ranged from 712 to 864 pounds and even HMS Victory only threw 1,220 pounds per broadside.

As it happened, the British razeés never did go head-to-head against their intended opponents.  Majestic did fire a few shots at USS President during her pursuit and capture, but fell behind when the wind strength dropped.  Apparently all three of the razeés were good sailors, but only in a heavy wind.  Saturn spent her time blockading New York, and after the war was put back into ordinary in April of 1815.  As I said in the previous post about USS Franklin/Independence though,  these sorts of what-if scenarios are why we play naval wargames!  If you're going to stretch history enough to let USS Independence out of port with Constitution, then it's no larger a stretch to move HMS Saturn from the New York blockade to the Boston one.  All this rationalization is just another way of saying that I built a model of Saturn so she could be put up against the US Navy, just as her designers intended.

In building my Saturn, I decided to go with the very late war black/white paint scheme for her.  It made sense to me; after all, in this incarnation she is only active from 1813-1815.  Also, I found a drawing of Majestic in that scheme, and it sealed the deal for me.  After all, with one paint scheme she could represent two ships.

And, with no further ado, here is my version of these ships:

To me, she is not a pretty miniature.  In fairness though, if you look at the above plan she doesn't appear to be a very pretty ship after the conversion.  And, it's pretty obvious that the miniature was designed right off the original plan.  At first, it looks to me as if her lower guns are WAY too far above the water.  After taking some measurements from the plans though, I think that my assumption about that was wrong.  

Unlike many of my ships, her first taste of action will come this weekend.  I am running the hypothetical breakout scenario mentioned above at our local convention held on the Battleship Texas this Saturday afternoon.  Expect pictures and a game report in the near future!

Oh, and the title of this post is not just a recitation of the ship's name.  The song "Saturn" comes from the 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder.  Yes, the same album that had the hits "Sir Duke" and "Isn't She Lovely."  Yes, it IS hard to believe it was that long ago.  You can check "Saturn" out on YouTube: