Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Engage the enemy more closely.

"My God Mr. Wimpett, we have the weather gauge on them."  "Indeed Captain," replied the eager Wimpett, "the Admiral made a good throw of the dice."  "Tis well that we have some advantage Mr. Wimpett since both squadrons have a 100 gunner, three 74s and four 64s.  Odd how that worked out."

Both fleets had a "big" squadron and a squadron of 64s.  Holding the weather gauge the signal to make full sail was given and the "big" squadron leaped ahead to strike the head of the enemy line.  The daring of our 100 gunner was rewarded when a stern rake, double-shotted caused the immediate surrender of an enemy ship.  Unfortunately the bold move left the flagship isolated and began to be pounded on all sides.  The rest of our fleet was taking time to form a proper line of battle so although it ended up well, the flag was sunk before aid could be rendered.

Opening broadside on a bow rake.

Double-whammy with a stern rake that forced the strike, and another shot from the other quarter.

The rest of the fleet comes into line and begins to punish the isolated enemy squadron.

A confused melee results as only token effort is made to maintain formation, each going after an enemy warship.  Pity the enemy ship in the very center, getting raked from each end and taking broadsides as well.  [Each ship moves and fires or fires and moves, so the apparent over-lap didn't really occur.]

Another ship lost, despite a great position giving a stern rake.

In the end we had sunk or taken five of the enemy and recovered our own ship that struck for only the permanent loss of the flagship.  So a most notable victory.  As they say, back in the day.  Rules were (I think) Form Line of Battle.  Ships were 1/2400.  Four players and one afternoon of play on May 19th.  After a couple of enjoyable naval games we'll go back to pounding the ground next game.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Break Out!

The captains of the CSS Albermarle and CSS Manassas called to each other with speaking trumpets as their ships maneuvered perilously close together.  "If'n we don't break through the Yankee cordon we'll end up burning 'em at their moorings."  It required no audible response to see that the two agreed on the inevitable result of the Yankee advance.  Already the Manassas had miraculously survived the fight at New Orleans in '62 and now, a tired old ironclad ram she faced final destruction in the company of the new cornfield-built Albemarle.  (New ships to the collection so they had to be blooded.)

Upriver the Yankee flotilla waited. The flag was in the USS Essex, a casement ironclad veteran of many combats, accompanied by the USS Cairo a "Pook Turtle." An Ellet Ram, the USS Mingo trailed the Cairo. Unarmed except for a huge ram she represented in many ways the biggest threat to the Rebel warships given her speed and ram. One of the 90-Day Gunboats trailed the Essex.

The scene as the Rebel ships looked down the river.  Open water is off camera to the right.  The plan was to get the Yankees to commit then steer right around the double level island.  Only problem was all the Yankee ships were faster than the Confederate.  First hit of the game went to the Albemarle's forward 6.4" Brooke Rifle.

The Yankee return fire, though plentiful was less than effective.

As the Reb ships started their turn the Yankees vigorously followed.  Meanwhile the Ellet Ram lurked in the waters ahead.

Yankee fire remained largely ineffective as all ships focused on the Albemarle.  And why not?  With only one gun and that forward firing, the Manassas was no threat.  Still, the Albemarle's gunners were hot and did major damage to the stacks of the Cairo, slowing her hugely.

As we made the turn the Yankee fire became more effective.  Although quickly having the fight move away from her the Cairo put hits on both ships and the Essex was steadily closing to where her smoothbore cannons would be effective.

Eager to enter the fight the 90-Day gunboat misjudged her turn and grounded off shore.  Better than running fully onto the shore, she could at least pull off in time.  Meanwhile, the Essex struck the Albemarle a glancing blow which did no damage.  The Mingo and Albemarle then went head to head with the Mingo springing a leak while the Albemarle carried on.  The Manassas then got to ram the Essex while firing her 68 pounder point blank, but again the ram was ineffective and she just slide down the side.

The Essex now lost her stacks and was reduced to one knot of speed, just like the Cairo.  If the Rebs could get past it was clear sailing to new waters!
Alas, with the speed lost in the glancing ram attempt and her natural slowness the Manassas took too long to clear the Essex.  The latter's 42 pounds pounded the port side of the Manassas till her armor was breached and a fire broke out.  One which escalated as damage control failed.  Small consolation was the Gunboat over-taxing her engines and blasting her steam skyward.

As a parting blow the Manassas rammed the Mingo and opened up the flood waters.  Unfortunately the Manassas was now a raging inferno and only the river waters could put out the fires.  As the crew desperately tried to staunch the flow of water into the hull of the Mingo his captain took the only only course available and ran her aground.  As smoke and steam marked the final rest of the Manassas the Albemarle decided against being a hero and steamed off, no doubt to find her fate another time.

So in the end the Albemarle escaped and the Manassas was lost.  Considering she was actually lost in '62 maybe not such a bad result.  The Mingo might not be reconstructed given the level of damage, while the Cairo and Essex would be out of action for some time, each reduced to one knot of speed.  The captain of the gunboat could look forward to endless teasing from his fellow captains.

Rules are "Steam and Black Powder" by Neil Stokes, published by the St. Paul Irregulars.  Playing time was a bit over two hours with part of that spent explaining game nuances to the player new to the rules.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A weekend of gaming

To help Bill Protz celebrate his belated birthday, a group gathered for gaming, good conversation and dice rolling.  In the morning the 17th Bengal Lancers needed to do a reconnaissance from Fort Grant to determine if the Thugees under the mighty Khan were approaching.  I volunteered to share referee duties with another during the scenario.  The Thugs had a 24' table to work with and placed their troops on a map.  The lights were then turned off to simulate a pre-dawn march and we saw how far they could move in ten minutes before the lights came up. 

The Thugs decided to deploy forward to ambush the troopers right away, presumably before they could gather any military intelligence.  Personally, I would have held them back, in the gaps between the woods, maybe with a unit dismounted and facing the rear to shoot lancers in the back after they rode past.  But, they attacked right away and after two turns we refs had nothing to do.  So we amused ourselves developing special rules for things like this:

At first it looked very difficult for the lancers, with enemy cavalry on all flanks.

But the advantage of close-order troops vs. open order and the lance bonus on first contact meant in the end that although the reconnaissance was defeated, the cost to the Thugee cavalry was huge.  Fire from the battlements of the fort and a sortie by infantry in support also brought grief to the Khan's forces.  I'll leave other commentary to the players.

After very pleasant lunch and delicious birthday cake the group divided for two games.  The first was the assault on Fort Grant by Khan and his Thugs.  Although I thought I took pictures none turned out.  I'll leave it to Bill or others to report on the desperate fighting after the walls were breached and the Thugs entered the fort.

I played in a French and Indian War meeting engagement.  Bill and I had the French with three small line battalions, a smaller converged grenadier battalion, a good-sized group of miliciens Canadien and a war band of natives.  Four light guns rounded out our force.  We were faced by four larger British battalions, one of which were grenadiers, three guns of unknown weight and the ubiquitous Roger's Rangers.  Oh how I hate those little green men!  I had expected we would be playing Drums of War Along the Mohawk, Bill's rule set for the F&I period, but we used the more familiar Batailles de Ancien Regime (BAR).

As commander I hit upon the flawed plan to take the grenadiers, natives and milice with the lightest gun on a flanking maneuver.  The natives and milice, being open order types, could go through the woods and became engaged with the Rangers right away.  Our grenadiers, wanting to stay formed took the long route and ended up never being engaged. 

Again, I have no idea what happened to my pictures, but given the result it is perhaps better there is no record.  <grin>  While I had the pleasure of surrounding, meleeing and routing the Rangers, the British line in their best tradition went "hi-diddle-diddle, straight up the middle."  A combination of a joker in the hole, eight or more straight red cards and hot vs. cool dice we could not stand up to the onslaught.

Despite disappointing results, it was a great day.  Whether you call us Old Schoolers, old farts or just gentlemen, the games at Bill's are always characterized by good-natured kidding and active competition.

Sunday my friend Bent Olson introduced me to SAGA.  Todd took a 6 point Irish "army" while I was given Normans.  For those like me who are unfamiliar with Saga it is a skirmish game in the spirit of the currently fashionable systems.  That is to say, vaguely historical with a lot of gamey flavor.  It is a competition game where much like Maurice or Flames of War there are national specialties or gimmicks.  You roll Saga dice every turn to determine what options you can use in the action phase.  Most are offensive though a few can have a defensive nature.  Combat is resolved in any order desired in terms of missile attacks, movement and melee so as a former tournament chess player I felt I had an advantage being able to visualize a "combination" to get to the position I wanted.  Whether such perfect coordination belongs in a game I'll leave for others to decide.  Meanwhile, the pictures I took speak for themselves.  Yeah, my camera worked Sunday.


In the end the combination of Norman archers and killer cavalry left the Irish broken and returning to their swamps.

All played on a 3x4' table in about three hours with LOTS of time taken explaining abstract concepts to the slow-to-understand, like me.  I'm sure that if I played again it would go much, much faster.

However, much like my exposure to Maurice I have a hard time reconciling the options on the battle-board with anything historic or realistic.  If it was fantasy and the Normans were Rohirrim, which is how I always saw them pre-movies, then fine, but as soon as you call it historical I have a problem.  I'll play it again if given the chance, but for now I'm not going out to purchase the spendy (IMHO) rules and high-gloss supplements.