Friday, 24 January 2020

All at Sea - First Games, New Rules

HMS Unicorn  32 in action with Tribune 36 8th June 1796. It was during this action, 50 miles west of the Isles of Scilly, that HMS Santa Margarita 36 successfully engaged Tamise 32, the set up for our first scenario

This week I finally got around to arranging with fellow Age of Sail enthusiast Jack to get together to try out some rules with the new collection of 1:700th ships.

I am very much in the process of deciding what rules to use with this collection and have pretty much come to the conclusion that it will be two distinct sets, given that I am planning to do same big battle games as the collection grows; but initially I am quite keen to set up some single and small group engagements which will require a more granular set to capture the individuality and differences between the ships involved.

One set of rules that caught my attention as I have looked at alternatives to my usual turn to set, Kiss Me Hardy was War By Sail written by Thomas Jensen at Ostfront Publishing.

The aspect that really caught my eye was that the rules incorporate the types and number of each type of gun carried by the ships ranging from 1550 through to 1815 and are designed to allow the gamer to model that precise set of guns carried by its historic predecessor, which might not necessarily be the standard armament for its type.

That said, there are other aspects of the rules that were not quite as I would want them, but as I have always subscribed to the policy of changing parts of any rules to fit my own requirements, long before the modern trend of rule writers to include that suggestion within their rules, I simply decided to give these a go incorporating some initial changes and getting Jack's input as we played through three scenarios to test out the ideas.

The principle adjustments were to change the initiative based sequence of play to one of using cards as per Kiss Me Hardy to determine when specific actions such as moving, firing and boarding could occur, together with player held cards for pre-setting what the ship/ships would do once their move card appeared, namely Starboard/Port turn, Straight Ahead and Tack. The changes also included incorporating turning into movement as a whole rather than, as the rules are written, with movement straight ahead, separate from turning decisions.

We also added in a d6/d3 variable to the movement rates for the models to make that slightly less predictable, with the better trained ships crews, British, getting the choice from rolling two die.

The other main aspect was the setting up of the games, all chase scenarios, with a pursued and pursuer, with still some work needed to get the distances between them balanced from the start, as we were using the ten move variable end system outlined in the rules to decide when the scenario came to an end.

The first scenario we played featured a Spanish built frigate captured in 1779 during the American War of Independence and renamed HMS Santa Margarita, seen here in 1782 cutting adrift the French prize Amazone

Thus said, the result of each game was not really the point, but more, how it played as regards testing the changes we made. In that our games developed as we moved from one to the next, with notes made on the crib sheets as we went, to capture what worked well and cross out what didn't.

So for our day of simply playing with the model ships, I selected three historical scenarios, mapping out where the engagements occurred, using the headings and wind as detailed in the accounts to set up and with the ships stats based as closely to those of the ships that took part rather than any generic setup.

The French frigate Tamise, in our first scenario, had three years previously been His Majesty's Ship Thames, 32 gun frigate, as seen above, until its capture by Uranie on the 24th October 1793

The first two engagements were between a French and a British frigate with two years separating them but with the British captain, Thomas Byam Martin the same in both actions but captaining two very different ships, reflecting the change in the size of frigates and the armament carried as the French Revolutionary War progressed.

Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Thomas Byam Martin in 1849

The final scenario saw the tables turned and us getting out the big ships with three French 74's in pursuit of HMS Alexander 74 in 1794 and a rare occasion when a British 74 was captured during the Revolutionary/Napoleonic conflict.

I have illustrated each scenario with a map showing where the actions occurred, together with an account of it from William James' 'Naval History of Great Britain', together with an account of how each game played out

The first of our three scenarios took place about 50 miles west of the Scilly Isles in 1796 between HMS Santa Margarita, a former Spanish built frigate captured during the American War of Independence and Tamise the former British frigate HMS Thames

'On the 8th of June, at 2 a.m., Scilly bearing east half-south distant 17 leagues, the British 18-pounder 32-gun frigate Unicorn, Captain Thomas Williams, and 12-pounder 36-gun frigate Santa-Margarita, Captain Thomas Byam Martin, discovered, about three miles on their lee beam, three strange ships of war; which, on being neared in chase, were ascertained to be two frigates and a ship-corvette. 

They were, in fact, the French 36-gun frigates Tribune, Commodore Jean Moulston, and Tamise (late British Thames), Captain Jean-Baptiste-Alexis Fradin, and 18-gun corvette Legere, Lieutenant Jean-Martin-Michel Carpentier. These ships had sailed from Brest on the 4th, in company with the 40-gun frigate Proserpine, Captain Etienne Pevrieux, who had since parted from them in a fog.

..... At 4 p.m. the Tamise bore round up, both to avoid the fire of the Unicorn, and to pour a broadside into the bow of the Santa Margarita; but the latter judiciously evaded the salute, by laying herself close alongside her opponent. This pair of combatants now went off by themselves, engaging with great spirit during 20 minutes; at the end of which the Tamise, having sustained considerable damage in hull, sails, and rigging, struck her colours.'

HMS Santa Margarita in pursuit of Tamise, our first scenario for the day

I chose this action to try out two relatively well matched combatants with two frigates illustrating the lighter caliber guns carried by these types, namely a main deck of 12 pounders and the upper decks using 6 pounders and the odd 36/32 pounder carronade.

The French frigate kept on running with the wind under her skirt

This game proved to be most instructive on how we needed to change some of the original ideas with the chase well modelled but the set up distances needing to be altered to better suit the ten to fifteen move scenario plan, and the need to move away from War by Sails, fixed movement rates and to include a variable element to them to stop each move being too predictable.

Then Tamis pulls off a surprise turn to deliver a broadside against her tormentor firing 6 pounder bow chasers in the pursuit 

The lighter cannon and there less destructive capability at the longer range gave a clue as to the need to better arrange the start positions of a scenario where one side is attempting to evade the other.

That said, the card play that randomises movement works really well in these kind of games where the pursuit vessel is keen to close on the target but has to be wary in case the hunted turns hunter as in our game where I ordered the French ship to turn broadside on to Jack's ship that charged straight on only to find itself facing a bow rake, which due to combination of poor French gunnery, range and light guns only managed to inflict a crew casualty and not the rigging damage I was hoping for.

Tamis about to escape having caused a few casualties to Santa Margarita during their chase action

The variable end to the scenario added another four moves to the ten turn end point, that saw the Frenchman escape with light damage to her rigging and a few crew casualties to HMS Santa Margarita, principally down I think to the ships being to far apart at the start. Another play test needed.

The gunnery section of the rules lived up to my expectations and I was looking forward to the next scenarios to see the difference using bigger and heavier armed ships and the card activation was as good as ever, but I would like to move towards using chits instead of shuffling cards each turn.

On to the second scenario with HMS Fisgard's encounter with Immortalité west of Brest in 1798 which saw Captain Martin now commanding the 38 gun, 18 pounder armed frigate Fisgard with 9 pounders and eight 32 pounder carronades on the top deck up against Immortalité armed with 24 pounders and 8 pounders together with four 36 pounder carronades up top.

HMS Fisgard 38, in pursuit of Immortalité 36, as depicted by Derek Gardner, 20th October 1798

William James sets the scene for this action;

'On the 20th of October, at 8 a. m., in latitude 48° 23' north, and longitude 7° west, the British 38-gun frigate Fisgard, Captain Thomas Byam Martin, while standing on the larboard tack with the wind at west-south-west, saw a strange sail due west, on the opposite tack, steering free. At 8 h. 45 m. A. M. the Fisgard tacked in chase, and gained on the stranger; who was no other than the Immortalite, pursuing her course to Brest, and which port, but for this to her unlucky encounter, she would very soon have reached. 

At 11 A.M. the Immortalite hoisted French colours, and commenced firing her stern-chasers. At 11h. 30m. a.m. the Fisgard hoisted English colours, and opened a fire in return with her bow-guns, still, with a fine moderate breeze on the quarter, coming up with the object of her pursuit. At half-past noon the Fisgard got close alongside her opponent, and a spirited action commenced.

So effectual, however, was the Immortality's fire, that, in 25 minutes, the Fisgard was rendered quite ungovernable, having her bowlines, braces, top sail-ties, back-stays, and the whole of her running rigging, cut to pieces. The Fisgard, in consequence, dropped astern; and the Immortalite, profiting by the occasion, crowded sail to escape. 

At 1 h. 30 p.m., by the active exertions of her crew, the Fisgard was again alongside her opponent; and a cannonade now commenced, more furious than the first. At the end of half an hour the Fisgard had received some shots so low in the hull, as to have six feet water in the hold. Still her resolute crew persevered; and at 3 p.m., after nearly an hour and a half's close engagement, the Immortalite, then nearly in a sinking state from the Fisgard's shot, and having her mizenmast gone close to the deck, and her fore and mam masts, and all her other spars, as well as rigging and sails, much cut; and having, besides, lost her captain and first lieutenant, hauled down her colours.'

This proved to be another great chase scenario, where I again took the role of the French captain in this case Jean Francois Legrand, with a 330 man crew and 250 soldiers aboard my 36 gun frigate and with Jack taking the role of Captain Martin and 281 man crew aboard Fisgard.

Immortalité and Fisgard go broadside to broadside

Again I was content to play down the turns by running, but always looking for an opportunity to turn and bring my 24 pounder main battery to bear with its slightly better range over the British ship, and the strategy worked up until the closing stages of the chase when the Fisgard got close enough to turn to port and deliver a crashing broadside as I prepared to escape; that completely dismasted the Immortalité and together with a morale check from the additional crew casualty added to losses from a previous strike saw the Frenchman haul down his colours, right on the last turn.

HMS Fisgard lets loose a powerful broadside just as Immortalité looked set to escape, dismasting the French frigate and seeing her strike

Following our messing about with the small boats together with a quick lunch, Jack and I set up the final game for the day pitting the 74s of the Royal Navy and the Marine National with the historic clash between Admiral Nielly and Captain Richard Bligh.

This is how William James described the encounter between the two sides in 1794;

'In the latter end of October, or beginning of November, Rear admiral Nielly, with the five 74-gun ships, Marat, Tigre, Droits de 1'Homme, Pelletier, and Jean-Bart, the Charente, Fraternite, and Gentille frigates, and Papillon brig-corvette, sailed from Brest on a cruise to the westward, and, as it was understood, to endeavour to intercept the homeward-bound Lisbon and Oporto fleet. 

On the 6th of November, at 2 h. 30 m. a.m., latitude 48° 25' north, longitude (from Greenwich) 7° 53' west, this squadron fell in with the two British 74-gun ships Alexander, Captain Richard Rodney Bligh, and Canada, Captain Charles Powell Hamilton, returning to England after having escorted the Lisbon and Mediterranean convoys to a safe latitude.

The two British ships, when first seen, were to leeward of the French squadron, steering north-east, with the wind at west. The Alexander and Canada immediately hauled upon the wind, on the larboard tack, and, at a little before 4 a.m., passed the strange ships, the nearest distant about half a mile, but without being able to ascertain their national character. Shortly after wards the two British ships kept a little free, letting out the reefs of their topsails, and setting studding-sails. At 5 a.m. it was discovered by the night-glasses that the strangers were standing after the British ships; whereupon the latter crowded all sail, and hauled more to the eastward. At about daybreak the Canada passed the Alexander, and, steering a more northerly course, brought herself on the latter's larboard bow. 

Two ships of the line, one bearing a rear-admiral's flag, and two frigates, now went in chase of the Canada; and the remaining three ships, one with a commodore's pendant, and one frigate, pursued the Alexander.

..... The Alexander continued firing her stern-chase guns until early 11 a.m.; when the advanced ship of the three in chase of her (believed to have been the Jean-Bart) ran up and brought the British ship to close action. So well-directed a fire in return was opened by the Alexander, that, in half an hour, the French 74 was compelled to sheer off and call a frigate to her assistance.

The French commodore, in the Tigre, next advanced, but would not come fairly alongside: notwithstanding which, the Alexander, in about half an hour, shot away the head of the Tigre's main topmast, her main yard in the slings, and her mizen topmast. A third ship now took the latter's place, and used her endeavours to compel the Alexander to surrender.

This unequal conflict the British 74 sustained until some minutes past 1 p.m.; by which time she had her main yard, spanker-boom, and three topgallant yards shot away, her three lower masts shot through in many places, all the other masts and yards more or less wounded, nearly the whole of the standing and running rigging cut to pieces, her sails torn into ribands, her hull shattered, and on fire in several places, and her hold nearly filled with water. 

The French 74 , Droits de l'Homme in pursuit of HMS Alexander, 6th November 1794

The other ships, also, which had quitted her consort, were rapidly advancing, and the French admiral already threw his shot over her. Captain Bligh, therefore, justly deemed any further efforts as a needless waste of lives, and ordered the colours of the Alexander to be hauled down.

As far as could be ascertained, the Alexander's loss amounted to about 40 men in killed and wounded; including, among the latter, one lieutenant of marines, the boatswain, and pilot. The Canada, owing to the high firing of the French, sustained very little damage and no loss, and reached a home-port in safety.

According to the French papers, the Alexander's two principal opponents were very much disabled, and sustained between them a loss in killed and wounded amounting to 450 officers and men.'

For this scenario we had the French coming on in a general chase, with each successive French ship one move behind the one in front.

Again the variable movement helped upset any plans of the French arriving en mass with the lead 74 Droits de l'Homme pulling away from the other two looking to slow down the Alexander to allow her consorts to come up and finish the fight.

With the wind up their skirts the two opposing 74s are set up for our final game

The initial contact saw both opposing 74s exchanging broadsides with the Frenchman getting slightly the better of the exchange.

Then in the next move the card play took a hand with the French ship attempting to get across the bows of the British 74 thwarted by the Alexander getting in a combination of moving and firing before the French ship could reply, by which time it could only bring half its broadside to bear.

HMS Alexander running as best she can but giving away a slight speed advantage to the French

The close range cannonade and the difference in weight of shot delivered bore its inevitable fruit with the French 74 taking a pounding and three crew casualties and a fire creating a 'bloodbath' and a morale failure that caused the Frenchman to strike.

However the British victor was in no place to follow up his success with the other two French 74s bearing down on him but not at the speed that would have stopped the eventual disengagement that saw the British 3rd rate make good its escape.

Droits de l'Homme led the French pursuit with the flagship Marat following, followed herself by Jean Bart.

So that was it in terms of games played and Jack and I had plenty to talk through afterwards with these three chase scenarios.

What worked well?
Being both confirmed Lardy enthusiasts, I think we both found the card play randomising when specific events occurred a more satisfying way to play rather than the sequenced play outlined in the rules. Unless resorting to writing down your planned move ahead of doing it, which is a tiresome way of playing, this method of play is a great alternative, although the card shuffling between turns is to my mind annoying and I would prefer using tokens in future.

The first exchange of fire as Alexander turns to engage Droits de l'Homme in an effort to blunt the French pursuit

The gunnery rules are really good and perhaps the stand out feature in War by Sail with each type of gun having its own stats in terms of range and damage causing ability. Those aspects combined with rolling for each gun fired in an attack to hit and then cause that damage makes the fire exchange really interesting in these small scale battles.

Alongside the modeling of the ships guns lies the decision points in the game for the respective commanders such as ceasing fire to make a dedicated reload of all the guns or just firing as she bears with each gun rolling a crew test to see if it is loaded in time to fire again. Likewise deciding on fighting fires, or fighting the ship, manoeuvring to contact, and the use of bow and stern chasers to target rigging to slow down a pursuer or chaser are there in the rules.

The British 74 gets the better of the exchange with Droits de l'Homme struck and on fire, but with Captain Bligh pulling away to escape the other two pursuing French ships. The counters are part of War by Sail designed to easily note damage, but can be recorded on paper instead if preferred.

The Lardy ethos also influenced the decision to use the movement rates as written but to add in a small randomised component of d3 or d6 inches additional or reduced according to the ships attitude to the wind. This again took away certainty that the players could look at the table and know definitely that after both sides had moved the distance between them would be a given one to the exact inch.

The time limited variable end to the scenario as taken straight from War by Sail really works well and with some slight modification could be added to to better reward certain outcomes in different scenarios such as a chase or a duel.

HMS Alexander making good its escape after dealing with Droits de l'Homme

What still needs work?
I am keen to create a collection of what I would describe as Chase and Duel scenarios based upon these historical engagements together with a tabletop set up for a generic fictional option recreating both types.

By chase and duel, I am simply catagorising these fights into ones where one side was looking to avoid action and thus being chased by the opponent to bring it on or where both sides were looking for a fight thinking that they had a good opportunity of winning.

The set up for the chase is still not quite right and I am planning to play some more games to get it to that right balance point where both sides have a good chance of getting a result in their favour. The duel set up should be simpler and with little change needed to the basic rules.

One other factor discussed was the element of better sailing attributes for better crews, able to get the most from their ship compared with less able opponents, but I think this will need more thought to see if the factor can be modelled without distorting the play balance too much.

Thanks to Jack for a very enjoyable day immersed in the Age of Sail and his input to working through these games. The plan is to get together again next month to run through the rules again in the light of the changes we arrived at, together with some new scenarios and some additional ideas we had, to test them with.

Next up - New ships have been added to the collection and work commences on the French fleet box set together with HMS Victory.

More anon


  1. Seems like an interesting set of rules, your models are lovely, by the way

    1. Thank you Anton. The rules have some really interesting ideas and concepts which although not completely to my satisfaction offer possibilities with a bit of work.


  2. Yes I agree the ships are superb. Thanks for a great AAR and assessment of the rules. If you are still looking for granularity you should consider "Post Captain".
    BTW I really like your sea mat. Where did you purchase it?

  3. Thank you.
    Is that Post Captain from Old Dominion/General Quarters or Post Captain from Studio Capitan Ltd?
    The sea mat is from Tiny Wargames and there is a link at the top right of the blog.


  4. Nice AAR. I may have to pick up the rules and put in the "Lardy" mods! I think the comment above refers to ODGW "Post Captain" which is designed for small actions and offers very detailed sailing and gunnery rules.

  5. Superb AARs and look at the War by Sail rules - love to see people adapting these rules to their own purposes, and just having a great time!

  6. Thanks for your comments chaps, glad you enjoyed the read.
    The plan is to run some further scenarios to test some of the tweaks we implemented in this series of games, and I've done away with card shuffling by introducing chits instead.