Sunday, 14 January 2018

Kiss me Hardy in the Indian Ocean

How better way to start the new year and new season of wargaming here at the Devon Wargames Group than getting some well needed winter sun and setting sail for the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean in the year 1782.

I have plans for developing my Age of Sail collection going forward with ideas of focusing on the naval conflict that developed during the American War of Independence.

I find this period more interesting than the early nineteenth century that tends to be the favourite of most wargamers in that it saw the Royal Navy rise up from a period of stagnation and mixed competency, following the victories of the Seven Years War to become the overwhelming power that it would be in the following century with a corresponding leap in tactics and technology from Admiral Rodney, mentor to Lord Nelson, braking the French line at the Battle of the Saintes, to the introduction of copper sheathing and carronades.

My initial collection of ships has been built to model the fleets of Admirals Suffren and Hughes who battled for supremacy and bargaining chips in the Indian Ocean in the last years of the American War of Independence that had by then become a global conflict.

Some of the chaps were keen to play Kiss Me Hardy (KMH), the Age of Sail rules from the Too Fat Lardies and so I dug out my cards and gaming paraphernalia together with the ships and threw together a scenario loosely based on the Battle of Sadras 1782 which sees a French fleet of one heavy and one light squadron bearing down on a similarly sized British fleet having caught the British admiral at a disadvantage down wind and having to bear up in line to fend off the advancing French.

The British fleet nearest to camera in line with the French, having the wind gauge, bearing down on them 

As well as using the standard rules and card deck I decided to incorporate Nick Skinner's thoughts on Admirals, Command and Control and Signalling covered in his article "I wish to amuse the fleet" in the Winter 2009 Special.

Too Fat Lardies - Specials

Command and control during this period was dominated by the line of battle and the development of tactics and signals to allow admirals to better command the ships at their disposal.

I am often amused at the  recent developments in Age of Sail rule sets that treat these ships and fleets rather like WWI aircraft where the individual ships happily sail in amongst the enemy and dogfight with each other without any consideration of the strict rules of engagement that the commanders of multiple ships were forced to operate under, for very good reasons.

These fleets and their commanders did not operate as a group of frigate captains, making individual decisions on where to point their ships, but were forced under very strict rules of engagement to fight as ordered by the most senior man on the spot who, not having the helicopter like view that a wargamer enjoys, tried to make sense of what was happening and relied on his relay frigates to repeat his flag signals throughout his fleet to get control of the battle.

This aspect may frustrate many wargamers who like to be able to do things when they choose in the order they desire, but if like me and others you are interested in exploring why these battles weren't fought like many games portray them, then a little frustration is well worth it if you gain a better understanding of why Admiral Graves failed to fight his way into Chesapeake Bay and why Rodney's victory at the Saintes eight months later was so dramatic in the developments of tactics and thinking. Not only that but a greater satisfaction at overcoming those difficulties and triumphing in the face of them only adds to the pleasure of the game.

Admiral Suffren leads his squadron into the attack

I have put together a pdf of the scenario briefings together with the individual 'ship stats.' should others wish to have a go and will make them available on my personal blog, JJ's Wargames for download.

JJ's Wargames

The British line at quarters prepare to receive the onrushing French

So to our game which, as well as inviting the players to get their heads around thinking ahead so as to signal the fleet accordingly, we also incorporated the "admiral/captains purse" procedure where the respective commanders were invited to roll two d10 and use the points generated to improve the ships which I had randomly created from the guide within the rules.

The French swoop in on the British rear

This is a really clever way of simulating the likely training that the commanders of the squadrons and fleets would have conducted at sea on their way to the theatre they would operate in, not to mention having the ships under their command repaired and fitted out to their liking within bounds prior to going to sea.

Thus for example you could push the budget by spending 5 points to improve the sailing qualities of one ship or for 2 points train a crew up to be 'fervently determined' making them more likely to fight on than strike their colours.

As part of the command and control aspects I rewarded the French admiral's better command profile by giving the French two 'Commander's Signal' cards within the deck as opposed to just one for the British admiral.

The war in the Indian Ocean presented commanders with theatre-specific concerns in that casualties to crews were much more difficult to replace due to the fleets operating in a back water theatre and this fact together with the great reluctance of crews to surrender and face a death sentence in a prison camp on the Indian mainland, meant that both fleets tended to shoot into the hull than try to dis-mast and disable their opponents. Thus all firing was assumed to be at the hull.

The first French ships form line on the windward side as the rest look to get on the leeward side and double the British rear

With both commands set up and happy with their respective squadrons agreed, each having two, one of ships of the line and one light squadron, we shuffled the cards and began play with the scenario representing the afternoon of battle and thus just twelve turns for the respective sides to drive a result.

 Superb 74
Gibraltar 80
Eagle 64
Inflexible 64
Magnanime 64
Monmouth 64
Juno 36
Chaser 20

The French command soon identified an opportunity to swoop in on the rear of the British line attempting to use the wind to allow their three closest ships to move around the British rear and double up with their comrades shooting into both sides of the British line and leaving the van out of the action.

Heros 74
L'Orient 74
L'Annibal 74
La Severe 64
La Sphinx 64
Le Vengeur 64
L'Artesien 64
Le Brilliant 64
Cleopatre 40
La Subtile 24
La Sylphide 20

As the French close on the British rear, the British line commences a turn (red marker) in column to come about with the wind

Suddenly aware of this potential threat the British admiral signalled his line to turn in column with the wind to double back on the French looking to protect the rear most ships.

As the French closed the range to medium the British rearmost ships HMS Monmouth and Inflexible opened up a damaging initial broadside on the fast approaching enemy ships

Monmouth and Inflexible open fire on the French as the two lines start to engage, note three of the French ships attempting to get around to the rear

However when the French return broadsides erupted the French fire proved equally destructive and HMS Monmouth's foremast shuddered under the fire before toppling with the wind onto the starboard bow.

The better ship sailing qualities then came to the rescue of the two most rearward British ships as the French vessels trying to get around their rear only managed a few medium range shots before the British managed to extend the range and then the French managed to mess up their tack to get on a parallel course thus allowing the British to extend the distance still further.

HMS Monmouth loses her foremast as French roundshot rips into her hull at effective range

As Monmouth and Inflexible battled it out with four French opponents gradually getting the worst of the exchange but giving a good account of themselves in the process the van of the British line turned with the wind accompanied by the two frigates to head back and help their hard pressed comrades.

The French mess up their tack allowing the British line to move further away.

Despite the French failing to get three of their ships around the British rear the arrival of more French ships began to pummel the two rearmost British vessels and the French admiral prepared to signal his light squadron to detach and race over towards the battered British vessels and take them under tow.

Inflexible and Monmouth now badly damaged attempt to break contact and fall out of the line

With the French 40 gun frigate Cleopatre leading her two consorts La Subtile 24 and La Sylphide 20 towards the now struck Monmouth and badly damaged Inflexible, a race developed between the opposing light squadrons to reach the two battered British 64's first.
The British van arrives to help relieve Monmouth and Inflexible

However the prompt signal to altar course by the British now offered some hope of preventing the French from capitalising on their early success as the Flagship HMS Superb 74 accompanied by HMS Gibraltar 80 and HMS Eagle 64 started to come up on the French van with the British admiral signalling "to engage the enemy more closely" thus moving into short range.

HMS Juno throws a line to the now struck Monmouth.

The three British ships opened up a devastating initial broadside, leaving the French flagship Heros battered and forced to drop out of the line, also leaving Admiral Suffren badly wounded, and thus removing the extra command card from the deck.

HMS Superb, Gibraltar and Eagle open fire on five French opponents badly damaging the French flagship Heros seen dropping out of the line (right centre), leaving Admiral Suffren badly wounded below deck

With just two turns remaining the light ships raced towards the British line with the British 36 gun frigate Juno getting to the struck Monmouth first and managing to throw a tow line aboard causing the French Cleopatre to fire off a despairing bow chaser that caused little damage.

The final turn saw the opposing fleets pass on now opposite courses as the light started to fade and the respective commands prepared to break off.

The last exchanges of gunfire saw the French get a critical hit on the British flagship Superb causing a fire aboard and additional hull damage, but with the British now in a position to prevent the capture of their damaged ships.

The final picture shows the two fleets as the action closed, with the battle judged to be a marginal French victory based on the damage caused to the British ships, all be it finely balanced with the wounding of Suffren and the likely impact of one of his less able subordinates taking command of the French fleet.

KMH played well and gave a very entertaining game with the command rules working seamlessly with the core rule set. I really like the way they play, but have reservations on using them to play larger games as I feel they like many of the other widely used rule sets, they try to straddle the lower and higher command roles.

That is to say the rules incorporate all the detail you would want for ship to ship actions but that level of detail becomes rather laborious when playing as an Admiral of say three or four squadrons in a fleet.

With the additional cards controlling movement for ship to ship engagements I think KMH would still be a rule set of choice, but for the larger games I have in mind, I think I might have found a more appropriate set to use, more anon.

Thanks to Nick, Jack, Ian and Bob for producing a very entertaining afternoon and to Steve L for the loan of his very nice Tiny Wargames sea mat which only added to the fun.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Dark Age Delights at the DWG

Regular followers of the club blog will know that with the size of club we have become in recent years we like to put on three or four historical period games at each month's meeting.

This month's meeting was a bit different as we traditionally have our end of year game, renamed this year in honour of Gus Murchie and so our normal sequence of posts covering our multiple games will not feature .

So to make up for what would have normally been another game post and to provide a little inspiration to keep painting over the Xmas break, I have put up some pictures of some of Nick's collection of 28mm Dark Ages figures that I photographed back in the summer of this year.

The club can boast of some lovely figure collections among the members and we have some very good painters and modellers among our number, Nick included.

The really nice thing about joining a club like the DWG is that you can get to try out periods and rules you might not have played before, meet and make new friends who share a similar passion and get to share and learn from others when the time comes that you would like to build a collection of your own.

The other great aspect is that when you want to get your new collection of toys out on the table you have a ready made set of friends who are just as eager as you to start playing and having fun.

If you are an experienced gamer with established collections and rules that you would like to play on a regular basis or if you are new to the hobby but keen to get involved then you are welcome to check us out.

If you are looking to join a Wargames Club and think the Devon Wargames Group might be for you, why not come and join us on one of our club meetings on the second Saturday in the month and try it out for free to see if it is for you.

We look forward to welcoming you to our great hobby.

Happy Xmas and see you in 2018

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Gus Murchie Memorial Game - AWI, Muskets & Tomahawks

General Nicholas Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany - F.C.Young 
Traditionally at the Devon Wargames Group our December meeting has only one large game, instead of the three or four we would normally run, where all the club can come together to play in one game.

If you look back through our archive we have had some great club games covering the Dark Ages, Wars of the Roses, American Civil War and and the Glorious Revolution to name a few.

This year we decided to set our chosen game in the American War of Independence and loosely based on the Battle of Oriskany fought during the Saratoga Campaign of 1777.

Battle of Oriskany 1777

The chosen rule set was our 'turn to' big game set of skirmish rules for black powder games, Musket & Tomahawks.

In addition our end of year game has now been re-titled, this year, the Gus Murchie Memorial Game in honour of a former member of the club who sadly passed away a few years ago and whose banter and passion for the hobby is a great loss to our club and is sadly missed by all of us who knew him. I know Gus would have thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck in with our big game yesterday.

Happy wargamers anticipating a day of fun and with a buzz of chatter as the toys get sorted

Another tradition has been to place the organising of this kind of game, which requires the skill of a cat herder to get the figure lists drawn up and the terrain requirements, not to mention who might be appearing on the day to play, in the hands of an expert, but as we couldn't find one we relied on Chas to get things sorted out, and what a fine job he made of things.

Troops still getting put out as players get their heads around their particular force mix
Chas doing a bit of cat herding

On arrival in the morning the tables were rapidly arranged with cloths and terrain to replicate a section of road leading through the woods of up-state New York simulating the route our American supply column was following en route to relief the garrison at Fort Stanwix.

The American column starts to take shape
Et voila - a supply convoy en route to Stanwix

Nothing too complicated here with the American team simply trying to defend the road and get their supply wagons through with the forces of the Crown determined to prevent any such thing.

You're kidding me, British troops attempting to join the end of the American column and they don't look very friendly
The militia with riflemen to their right shake out to defend the rear

The mechanism of Muskets & Tomahawks lends itself perfectly to this type of multi-player game where we had about twenty players at the table each with a mixed force of the different types of units, regulars, irregulars, provincials etc, that meant that with the use of a single card deck, managed by our gamemeister Chas, the card revealed would enable all players with that troop type, either American or British, to activate the unit class simultaneously.

As units were activated according to the card draw the deck would be used up and then reshuffled signifying the start of a new turn.

With the ambush sprung, American troops fan out from the road to protect the wagons
British troops head for the edge of the tree line to start peppering the column with musketry
British troops moving up on the unsuspecting column

With the method of play described, we happily rolled through the turns, blazing away at each other and in my sector of the table managing the American column rear-guard even exchanging sabre cuts as both sides cavalry got stuck in.

Keep moving chaps, don't stop for anything
With redcoats in the trees the American column shakes out into battle line.
I think those highlanders are ours - don't you just love those early patriot flags! 

It can be great fun playing on one large table like this, never really quite knowing how the battle is progressing a few chairs down from your sector of the battlefield until someone starts putting musket rounds into your troops from a totally unexpected direction.

Now they are definitely British
Not sure if these chaps were fighting or just desperate to be somewhere else 
British redcoats seemed to be everywhere!

Speaking from an American perspective, those pesky Brits and their Indian allies made full use of their ambush position, softening up the column good and proper from the cover of the tree line before advancing out on to the road to chop things up and finish off the defenders.

What did I say about Brits everywhere, Royal Marines looking particularly well turned out, but dress those lines Sergeant the Indians are watching!
"Why us Sarge? Because we're here sonny, now face your front and mark your target"  - Different film, but you get the idea.
"View haloo, here's to today's fox, what!"

At the rear of the column three continental units managed to string a firing line together only to see British light dragoons and Provincial light cavalry come stomping down the road backing up a unit of highlanders with Indians operating on their flank in the tree line.

If the Jocks would just get out of the way we might get this finished today
What you might call an abundance of cavalry
The thin brown and blue line - doesn't have quite the same ring!
Could that be Herkimer organising the rear-guard as the British cavalry bear down on his line?
"Steady, steady - let em have it boys!!"

Despite valiant resistance the American units started to get picked off one by one, leading to gaps appearing among the line defending the road.

Right you lot get over there and deal with those Brits while I just see how the wagons are getting on
I'm so glad we didn't get posted to Gentleman Johnny's command, I'm not sure he is up to the job.
By god sir, those look like regulars!

The British cavalry closing on the rear of the American column looked likely to overwhelm the American line forming to protect it.

Mind where you are walking Jock, these donkeys tend to loosen up when they get excited!
What happened to all that cavalry that were leading the way? Never mind we've got plenty more coming
Time to take stock and discuss what Santa might be bringing

It's amazing how all the fun can create an appetite, but we like to have that covered at the DWG.

It's amazing how hungry you get when the dice start rolling!

The British didn't have things all their own way as the American light cavalry made their mark with a dramatic charge that helped ease the pressure on the rear of the column.

Just when you need them in come the American dragoons - hoorah and down with the tyrant King George!
Things are looking bad for the rebel cause with large gaps starting to appear along the road
The shrinking American rear-guard has little rear to guard. 

Despite the odd success here and there along the route the British pressure just kept coming and one of the wagons was dragged off the road as property of his majesty the king.

Is that an American wagon parked up in British lines?
Emboldened British troops start to move out of the trees towards the vulnerable wagons
The last of the Americans go down fighting
At least the Xmas presents will get through to Stanwix

With four o'clock showing and things getting 'dimpsey' outside (that's a Devon expression meaning fading light) well actually it was dark, the Americans reluctantly conceded the field of battle to the forces of the Crown with a few of us quickly marched off to spend Xmas aboard a hulk in New York harbour.

The DWG excelled itself with another great end of year game with lots of good natured banter and laughs together with plenty of drama on the table.

Many thanks to all those involved for making the day and particularly to Chas for organising and managing the game.

We hope everyone who has seen and commented on the games at the club this year has enjoyed this window on our activities and will continue to follow the fun next year and as always we extend a welcome to anyone in this part of the world who would like to get into the hobby by coming along and joining in.

We wish everyone a happy, peaceful Xmas and look forward to bringing you some new games in January 2018.