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Action off Ushant, 1803


The Age of Fighting Sail, Post Captain, 1/1200 scale

We hadn’t played these rules before, so this game was really about learning the system. Four of us took part, so we fielded four ships – two French 40 gun frigates (Bart’s Cornelie and Campbell’s Hortense) and two British frigates, Peter’s Aeolus (32) and my Naiad (38). All of us diced and rolled for regular crews apart from Bart, whose crew were raw. The premise was that these two French frigates were caught trying to slip out of Brest, and their British counterparts were out to stop them. The wind was a steady breeze, blowing in from the south-west. Post Captain is from the Old Dominion Game Works stable – the people who brought us General Quarters. Now, what I like about GQ (version 3) is its simplicity. The designers have thought it all through, so pretty much all you need to play the game is to be found on the ship cards, the playsheets and any turning or arc of fire widgets. At first glance Post Captain looked very intimidating – half a ream of rules, and a flick through shows they even cover full-scale landing actions and battles on shore. However, I was rather pleased that after a first skim through I found that ODGW had thought it all through. American rules are far more legal-looking than European ones, but once you realise they cross every “t” then it all falls into place. So, with four players, none of whom had played the rules before, we rarely needed to look up the main rules once the game got underway. That in itself is a real plus for the system. So, in this game the two French ships were approaching from the south, having slipped past  the inner blockading squadron during the night. However, posted off Ushant were these two frigates of the offshore squadron. That meant the French had to get past them to break out into the Atlantic. the two sides approached each other fairly cautiously, with Bart’s Cornelie squaring up against Peter’s Aeolus, and Campbell’s Hortense heading towards my Naiad. It was the Naiad that fired first, a rather mediocre first broadside that caused two rigging hits, even though I was firing on the down roll, and aiming at the hull! That was the high point. My gunnery got steadily worse after that. The Hortense manoeuvred into position to fire back, and tried to slip ahead of the Naiad. She fired as she came in, scoring two hits, one of which was a lucky “Yard and Rigging” hit. That meant I lost my main topmast yard. As I was under “battle sails” – in fact we all were – these topsails were our main means of propulsion. So, my speed dropped as the yard and sail came crashing to the deck. Meanwhile Campbell was still trying to get ahead of me.  It didn’t work though, and the Hortense turned away, only to find the Naiad passing across her stern at a range of 200 yards (6 inches). this should have been the perfect stern rake, but my five gun batteries scored absolutely no hits – my three carronades scored just one between them. So, it was a gloriously wasted opportunity.Meanwhile the Cornelie and the slightly lighter Aeolus got to within 400 yards of each other and began trading broadsides. In PC the game turn is divided into three phases (red, white and blue), and if you fire in one then you spend the next few phases reloading. The British reload in 2 turns, the French in 3. So, if you fire in the red phase of turn 1, a British ship can fire again in the red phase of turn 2, while his French opponent gets to fire in the white phase. This faster rate of fire was what kept Peter in the fight, as Bart’s gunnery proved more effective than Peter’s. Then Bart turned away, heading briefly into the wind before tacking round on a course that would bring him up to support the Hortense. Peter used this respite to turn to head Bart off.
The Hortense was drawing away again, and after hitting her hull a few times I decided to tack the Naiad, to head off towards her and the approaching Cornelie. That proved a costly judgement call. I failed my Tacking Roll, and the lubberly Naiad was left in irons. This meant she stopped where she was – in fact she drifted backwards slightly – and it would take four more phases to get her moving again. Meanwhile Bart’s Cornelie was heading my way.
The Hortense was drawing away again, and after hitting her hull a few times I decided to tack the Naiad, to head off towards her and the approaching Cornelie. That proved a costly judgement call. I failed my Tacking Roll, and the lubberly Naiad was left in irons. This meant she stopped where she was – in fact she drifted backwards slightly – and it would take four more phases to get her moving again. Meanwhile Bart’s Cornelie was heading my way. The Naiad got underway again just one phase before the Cornelie appeared 200 yards off her port bow. The French broadside caused rigging hits, but I’d already taken men off the guns to form a repair party when the foretop yard came down, and they were knotting and splicing anyway. I fired back, but again my gunnery was atrocious, causing just one hit, and whacking a shot into the Cornelie’s hull. Aeolus was firing at her too, as despite rigging damage she had arrived on the scene, and was firing on the Cornelie too. Peter knocked out one of the Frenchman’s port gun groups (guns are grouped in groups of three), while the Hortense – having wore round, was gradually turning her way back into the fight.That was where we left it. We had a late start, and an early pack up, but in two hours of gaming we played quite a few turns. this was pretty impressive given that we were fresh to the rules,. but as I said before the system was easy to pick up. We did a couple of small things wrong – for instance at the start of each turn a captain rolls to see if the localised wind eddies around his ship gives him a bonus or a reduction in his speed. We never got to use the rather intimidating boarding rules, and I’m glad to say nobody tried to collide with the enemy, but we certainly got the hang of sailing and gunnery. Everyone thought Post Captain was a great system, and vowed to read the rules more closely for the next game. Campbell in particular likes ramming things, while Bart is a boarder by nature… As for the outcome, it was pretty much a draw. the two British frigates had rigging damage, but not enough to risk losing a mast or spar (apart from my lost yard), while the Hortense was badly hulled and taking on water. To stay in the fight Campbell would have had to strip his gun crews to man the pumps and plug the leaks, or risk foundering. The Cornelie hardly got a scratch, apart from her gun losses, and a few hull and crew hits. So, the game was declared a gentlemanly draw, and we packed our toys away ready for the next time. The ships, by the way, are all Langton models, owned by Jack, Bart and I, while the 6×4 foot sea mat came from tinywargames.com.

 

 

 

 

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