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.


  1. Nice! It’s been a looong time since I’ve done any gaming with Post Captain. (Just got distracted by other stuff). Looks like you did a good job hosting the game. PC works great with a small group of players.

    I’m loving the hoodie pic. 😀

    1. In all honesty, it's been a while for me too. Not necessarily distracted with other projects, but my game table has been taken over by junk. So, I guess you could say getting it cleaned off will be a project. . . . 🤷‍♂️

      The scenario was enjoyable, but I will admit to being a little disappointed. I wanted to see Saturn and Constitution slug it out. However, the 8 hit broadside that Independence put into Saturn went a pretty long ways towards defanging her. It just proves Nelson was right; nothing is certain in a sea fight.

      Most of the time, it seems that players want to engage from too far away, so it was interesting to see the two 74's pound away at each other from 50 yards apart. That was a bloody mess! There's no doubt that Bulwark was starting to hurt really bad, but another critical hit applied to a mast on Independence could easily have turned the tide. Definitely a scenario I wouldn't mind trying again.

    2. PS: The hoodie picture. I found that online, and showed it to my wife. She asked me, "Would you wear that" and I said, "Damn straight I would." The oldest daughter got it for me last year for Christmas. This is the first time I've been able to run a game and wear it. Won't be the last though; got tons of compliments.

  2. Great sounding game, sounds like the British player should have taken Nelson's advice and "engage the enemy more closely!" Nice hoodie btw!
    Best Iain

    1. Well, I don't know that the two liners could have engaged at any closer distance than what they finally did. It's tempting to quote Jack Aubrey's advice about "go straight at them," but in this case the RN was hard up against the wind and couldn't turn any further towards the US player.

      I also wonder if people who regularly play naval games have trouble with Age of Sail rules where figure scale and ground scale are the same. Sometimes, it seems like naval players think, "Oh, I can pass right through him since the figures are X scale and the ground is Z scale." Well, that combined with the fact that these ships aren't making a lot of speed. 6 movement factors in these rules equates to either 2.6, 3.6, or 5.3 knots depending on attitude to the wind. I do know that the British player was trying to get to the lee side of Independence so that the US player could not use his lower tier of guns.

      That hoodie. . . . When I saw it, that was the only historical naval hoodie I could find. Now, there are several different ones. There's one of Nelson's undress uniform that he wore at Trafalgar, and there are others available if you search under something like "historical hoodies" on Google. I've tried to convince myself that I need more than one, but I'm apparently not susceptible to my own arguments! Sigh. 😢

  3. Great AAR Brian. I found myself hoping Constitution would stick around and help finish off Bulwark or take advantage of Saturn's steering problem.

    1. Well, I know the US player considered sending her over to work on Bulwark. Part of that came from the way the scenario was designed, and that's my fault. I made getting Constitution off the table a main objective when I probably should have given the USN player a little more wiggle room in that regard.

  4. Excellent report, hope you come to MilleniumCon again this year

    1. I haven't been to MCon in several years. Maybe it's time to start coming back. The last couple of years were a COVID miss. For the other years though, there has been a fencing tournament on the same date as the convention.

      I've wanted to come back for a while, but schedules just haven't worked out like I wanted. I suspect it might be time to just make them work.