Monday, 6 February 2017

A Heart-breaking Encounter

After so much hype to myself, I was immensely looking forward to the ANF's third playtest of Napoleonic naval rules, fighting Glorious 1st June using Heart of Oak rules.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glorious_First_of_June

With the assistance of colleagues I was able to deploy the entire fleets of both sides using Sails of Glory models with reasonable accuracy. The obviously inaccurate ships of the line were three-deck British 2nd Rates, for which 1st Rates had to do duty, and the various very large French 80 gun ships for which we had to use Third Rate 74s. I therefore look forward enormously to the issue of 'Redoubtable' from Sails of Glory. That said, the lines looked reasonably close to their historical counterparts when deployed, we all agreed, especially from a distance. And we had three commanders a side, which was ideal. The frigates provided some scenery. 


Unfortunately, this was the high point of the battle. The basic problem with the rules, which I ought to have identified before even trying them out, was the one minute turn. Even starting the action I thought as late as possible - when historically firing started - had two contradictory and unfortunate consequences when fighting a battle on this scale. First, firing concentrated on one vessel from six or seven (why not?) resulted in appalling battle damage in a single minute. Ridiculous. Secondly, sailing, whilst easily understood and plausible, resulted in minute mm moves. The imbalance rapidly proved destructive to the entire game, a bitter reminder of how an awful set of rules can kill off an action. Within a minute or so, the British did make the turn to starboard as historically, but they never had a chance of getting to grips with the enemy.


A further problem was that differences in sailing qualities amongst vessels, combined with rigid selections of sail, resulted in the line disintegrating within a few minutes. That cannot be right - certainly some ships did fall behind from time to time, but the entire principle of the line of battle relied on the ability of the majority of ships to keep station. 



Within a couple of minutes we had ships on both sides on fire and heavily damaged, which was equally unrealistic. 




All we managed to get to, after no fewer than eleven turns, was the British line getting somewhat closer to the French, and some tacking by the head of the French line, one ship of which managed to dismast itself in the process, which seemed excessive: no one would even try, with that kind of risk. 



It was evident that had we continued, the British would lose several ships, with others crippled, before they would ever get a proper chance to return fire. Howe's successful strategy would have been suicidal, and he would have known that and not tried it. 


We realised these rules might work for a few ships, but they simply did not scale up. Not so much rain stopped play as pain stopped the day. 

I was in a position of owing my colleagues a significant apology.

But there has been a bright lining to this cloudy game. Our conclusion was that none of the rule sets we've seen so far: Signal Close Action (especially in its latest complex incarnation), Form Line of Battle and now Heart of Oak can ever achieve our goal, which is to have a very high chance of fighting through a major naval encounter in a day or two, with a result that comes within the boundaries of historical plausibility - a naval version of Shako. On the other hand, Heart of Oak sailing mechanics may form the basis of a decent set of rules with approximately fifteen minute turns, a move getting done in about half an hour or so, a move of a dozen cm or more with several heading changes incorporated. Even the firing mechanics might work, the idea of fire at will is quite attractive, But the firing rules must definitely be stripped of the entirely unrealistic 'points' system that has cursed so many naval wargames rules and which forms the basis of rule sets that are designed to achieve this same goal: ships of the period may sink because of fire, but otherwise they generally did not, and were surrendered by their crews not because they were either about to sink but because they were surrounded by superior foes. Science fiction ships may plausibly have 'points', but the entire approach is not valid for naval wargaming IMHO: critical hits' ought to be the only hits that a set of naval rules count, which will need boosting along with restrictions on concentrating fire. Finally, the signalling system seemed pretty reasonable in principle, but the idea that it could all happen in a minute was implausible. I have been charged with producing 'Fleet', a substantial modification to Heart of Oak, and I will do just that once we've play tested Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls. My colleagues deserve a decent set of Napoleonic fleet action naval rules, and if there are none out there, then I need to put my thinking cap on and develop such a set using Heart of Oak as a basis. Wish me luck.


22 comments:

  1. Good Luck!

    This was a huge action, on the scale of Trafalgar! It is fairly easy to make running out of Hull points (Or whatever) cause a ship to strike or check morale, rather than be sunk. To handle battles at this size, IMHO movement must be done by squadrons.

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    1. But that causes equally bizarre results, e.g. ships striking whilst out of range of the enemy, as per FLOB. No, surely what is needed is to junk the entire 'points' system as simply inappropriate and unnecessary. Striking should be a morale issue caused by damage, outnumbered and surrounded, etc. Fire, if it happens - rare- can sink a ship. Movement by squadrons - maybe initially, yes, but individual ship commanders did a lot to achieve victory once one got in close. Let me see what I can come up with as a modification of Heart of Oak and put it up on line for comment

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  2. yes the concentration of fire and accurate movement are the critical items in any such a 'scale-up' of naval action rules systems

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  3. Hi Julian - I haven't tried a naval game like this for many years but the rules may need to be a bit more abstract to get a result in a days gaming. I look forward to seeing how you get on.

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    1. They certainly do. I'll post the rules up on line as soon as they are properly playtested and will be very keen to get comments.

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  4. Impressive naval encounter, nice ships and pictures...

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    1. Thanks Phil, but it was very frustrating. I won't give up on this, but it requires a lot more work on a set of rules. I am surprised a similar evolution in rules for Napoleonic naval hasn't taken place as it has for land wargaming, but it quite evidently hasn't.

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  5. Nice post Julian.
    Certainly no need to apologise to any of us!
    While the game was even less exciting than a game of association football, the camaraderie, humour and 'men's shed' aspect was all there as ever--especially great to have Stephen and the two Perthite Mark's there. Mark H's own post attests to the enjoyment that he derived from the game (http://onesidedminiaturewargamingdiscourse.blogspot.com.au/2017/01/heart-of-oak.html)
    Then there was the shear 'spectacle' of seeing all of those ships on the table--marvellous effort by you in gathering most of them and rounding up the 'troops' to bring along the rest. THAT's the sort of naval wargaming that we want to do!!
    Added to that we have the very real prospect that we'll have a workable set of rules that suits the games that we like to play at the ANF in the not too distant. Let's face it, like all models, one only needs to get somewhere around 60-70% to capture most of the essence of the system being 'simulated'. It should be relatively easy to achieve that. There will then be several games to iron out the worst of the bugs, a fine prospect...!
    On, on!!

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  6. As the French admiral I thought the game was playing well. That my van turned into the wind to engage the enemy... Well, what can you say? (love ya Julian).

    One minute per turn, mm moves and as Julian has identified rapidly accumulating hull damage meant there were going to be problems.

    BUT

    This was our first attempt with these rules. It was a massive attempt. Most players had not read the rules (correct me if I'm wrong). It was fascinating to be using a 1/1000th ground scale as well as model scale. We had probably deployed our ships too close. We also (based on a comment I had on my post of this game), should have been adjusting the sail settings to keep in formation (something I don't agree with, but still).

    For games of this size, just like army level actions with Napoleonic land forces, you have to assume the unit/ship commanders know their stuff.

    Some issues could have been addressed for this scenario by specifying crew and ship quality, rather than leaving it to the dice.

    BUT

    Fabulous Julian! Thanks so much for the time and effort you put in to research, collect and motivate us all to play (and it was also f'ing hot as the day wore on). We could ask for no more. Great endeavour. Well done, mate!

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  7. Surprised you didn't think FLoB would allow a major fleet action to be fought in a day or two. I've played in a few recreations of Trafalgar and other big battles using the rules which were completed well within a day (the quickest was a game at the old Southampton club that was done in 3 hours). That said, a fleet level set of rules that concentrated on what admirals are thinking about and doing rather than individual captains is something that I think would be rather useful, and indeed is something that I've been working on for a while

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    1. I think it could do, actually. As a matter of interest though, do you happen to recall how many ships were actually sunk (not striking) during any of those battles? Southampton was my old home town, as it happens.

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    2. Ships actually being sunk (shattered or lost due to fire) were pretty rare. I can't remember exactly how many times but not many fingers on a hand needed to count them I think

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  8. "ships striking whilst out of range of the enemy, as per FLOB" How does that happen, other than fire damage?

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    1. I apologise, this was Signal Close Action, not Form Line of Battle. My colleagues found the sailing rules in FLOB problematic, and the loss of the Alexandre was perplexing to be sure. We resolved to press on and try other rule sets as a result.

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  9. May I suggest the rules "Admirals" from War Artisan. They are a free PDF set of rules available from the the website below.

    One player can easily handle 16-30 ships. The rules are elegant and give the correct period feel without huge amount of record keeping. The aim of the author is to give you the feel of what it was to be an admiral and not a mere post captain.

    http://warartisan.com/rules

    Elliott James

    elliottwjames@comcast.net One of the Jeff's playtester.

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    1. I've taken a look and yes, they do look interesting at first sight I think we will try them out in a playtest. I like the way the damage rules work.

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    2. Thanks for alerting us to these Elliot. Having now skimmed them and then read them in more detail, I ditto Julian's comment, that they look interesting and well worth taking the ships for a 'spin'.

      I appreciate that a clear and elegant 'system' is presented in just 12 pages of rules (16 if you include appendices and the 'Grand Tactical module'). I'm impressed that they are an innovative 'system', clearly aimed at trying to represent historical actions in a simple and effective manner. Well done Jeff! I get most annoyed with so-called 'new' rules that have nothing, new apart from a few pictures, pilfering ideas from various existing sets (without any recognition of the ideas or inspiration) and adding nothing to the hobby apart from 'yet another set'. Sadly, these abound in Napoleonic land wargaming.

      To parrot and expand on Julian's comment above, the use of groups, gunnery, apportioning of damage and even boarding/collision rules seem excellent. They simply and, it would seem, effectively get around the problem of players a-historically having their ships gang up on one opponent.

      I'm not sure about having ships remain as groups though. I 'think' that I'd prefer some sort of 'telescoping' rule (all puns intended--Peter Anderson will enjoy that one if he's still reading, I'm sure) whereby you begin operating as groups or squadrons and then get down to individual ships once the action gets messy and begins to break-up. Sort of similar to the rules Impetus (for Ancient-Mediaeval land warfare). Ships becoming 'stragglers' will in part represent this, but not the 'switch' to more individual ship to ship combat. However, I stress that I 'think' I do...

      It may be that, I find it completely unnecessary to add such detail. Obviously Jeff did.... As with companies and other detail from smaller-scale rules that I do not 'miss' in Shako (our preferred set for Napoleonic land warfare) I may well be happy to 'lose' specifically moving and calculating for individual ships so that we can recreate large naval actions in the same enjoyable, realistic and appropriately-scaled manner as we have for Borodino, Lutzen, Bautzen, Waterloo and so forth.

      Only a proper play-test of 'Admirals' will tell.

      Thanks again for bringing them to our attention. Whether or not we adopt them or adapt them for our purposes, I think that we'll be the better for having tried them.
      Cheers,
      James

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    3. James,

      Do feel free to talk to Jeff - "War Artisan" himself with any questions or concerns. He would also welcome your feedback on your experiences. Playtesting is always best when done with people who do not game with the author.

      Elliott

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    4. Thanks Elliot.

      No doubt we'll have a few queries after our play-test. That won't be for a few weeks yet though...

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  10. You might find this interesting:

    http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=427226

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