Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A close-run thing...French and Dutch sailing ship action in 1796.

The date is June 21st, 1796.  France is in the throes of revolution and the Terror, and her armies are trying to gobble up territory around her borders.  The Revolutionary Government has decided to send the French navy to test the willingness of the tiny Dutch Republic to fight, rather than submit to France's control.  The fleet is not a large one, but then no admiral wants to risk failure and the wrath of the Directory...and the guillotine!

Admiral Malcolm deBailey, an English Scotsman seeking fame and fortune, has volunteered to take a fleet to capture or destroy a Dutch fleet that has taken advantage of the British navy mutinies to scour the seas for some privateer booty of their own.  He has under his command the Tonnant (74), Neptune (74), Aigle (64), Berwick (64), and a lone scouting frigate, the Sybille (36).  The sure-minded Brit has decided to engage two Dutch squadrons: first, under Commodore Bingham, the Brutus (64), Wasenaar (68), and the Argo (40); second, under Captain Eubanks, are the Haarlem (54), Erfprins (54), Delft (50) and Amphitrite (36). 

The game is called Form on The Admiral's Wake, written by my friend Brian Dewitt.  They use hexes for movement, and game mechanics are controlled by cards that are shuffled and turned in each game turn.  The rules are very simple...literally two pages...and in my opinion are a blast to play.  I truly get caught up in anxiety and anticipation waiting for just the right card to come up so I can pull off my tactical masterpieces on the table.  There are cards specific to each nationality, and cards that apply to all at once.  Some cards are move only, some are turn only (which is indeed separate from movement), some allow reloads for crack/elite crews, some for all get the idea.  Some nationalities have more cards than others; I'm assuming Brian did his usual thorough research in coming up with the fact that the British and Americans reload faster than others, move more often than others, while the Spanish and Russians move less often than most.  French are pretty average, as are the Dutch.

This was our weekly gaming get-together, although this week only three of us could make it.  We've played the rules before, so the game went quick.  We set up with the French under Malcolm on a reaching position and running on course to cross the Dutch line.  The Dutch under Ron and Rob were also reaching before the wind.  Things went fairly evenly for the first turn; the French came down towards us and we moved towards them waiting to see who turned first.  I didn't bother to take photos at the beginning of the game because it really didn't seem like it would be much to see...Malcolm would ride down, cross our T, we'd founder around and laugh and then game over for the Dutch.  However, as you roll at the end of each turn for wind direction change, Ron rolled and sure enough, the wind shifted one hex-side the French were running down upon the Dutch and we were close-hauled...crap!!  Now there was no doubt that the French, with the wind behind them, would easily pull well into position to cross the Dutch T.  We were separated into two squadrons, with Commodore Bingham ahead and to windward of Captain Eubanks. Ron was in place to take the worst of the cannon my mind I was hoping Malcolm would be so busy pounding Ron that I could slip around the front of his line and take out his lead ship (or two!).

Sadly I don't have photos of the first few turns but the maneuvering played out with the poor Dutch unable to do much as Malcolm's French heavies crossed the T of our lead ship of the line (but fortunately at too great a distance to benefit from the rake bonus) and then the French squadron turned to gracefully move down the starboard side of the Dutch fleet (which had somehow managed to shake into one long line astern of the flagship, Brutus), exchanging broadsides as they went.  Malcolm's dice were they often are in sailing ship games!...and he dealt out far more hits on Ron's squadron than Ron was able to give back.  It wasn't long before the poor Wasenaar was pulverized into a crippled hulk, barely able to keep sailing.  In fact, after the French passed by Ron's squadron and began exchanging broadsides with my ships, the Wasenaar didn't even attempt to wear ship...Ron just sailed it straight out of the battle!!  It was already starting to look ugly for the Dutch when Lady Luck, that oh-so-fickle dame of the gaming table, evened the odds.  Ron rolled a broadside at the Berwick, which had taken some damage already, and hit with five out of six dice AND scored a critical hit.  (When you roll d6 to hit, you also roll one d12; if the number on the d12 is equal to or less than the number of hits you scored, you get a critical hit).  There are 12 possible critical hit results; a 12 is a major explosion that sinks the target.  An 11...which Ron a minor explosion that deals an additional d6 hits.  He rolled a 6, which put a total of 11 hits on the poor Berwick and broke her back on the spot.

The next few turns are a blur; the Dutch were wearing ship and praying for reload cards (once you fire, which you can do on any action card, it takes two reload cards to fully reload your broadside), while the French were passing through our lines and blasting back at us.  During this, poor Brutus took the brunt of the hits and became crippled and eventually struck her colors.  It fell to Captain Rob to pull his squadron together and attempt to turn a slight defeat into a major victory for the Dutch.  Ron bravely pursued the action with his frigate, too. 

Now we catch up to the pictures I took.  This first one shows my Haarlem passing between Aigle and Tonnant (Neptune has broken away from the squadron and is out of camera) and Haarlem has caught fire from the close-range blasting she is getting.  Just upwind of the Tonnant (on the left) are my two smaller ships Erfprins and Delft, with Ron's frigate in the background.  I'm not sure where my little Amphritite has gone to!
A closer view of the above: Haarlem bracketed by Tonnant and Aigle.  Hang on, brave lads!  Support is coming!

 At this point, in this picture above, Haarlem has fallen behind the French heavies but one of my smaller ships has managed to fall in behind the Tonnant...albeit with flames spreading from her rigging!
 This is a picture of what joy looks like...I just needed one more lucky hit to force Tonnant to strike her colors and here it was...two hits AND a critical hit.  Tonnant was no more.  It was turning into a pyrrhic victory for the Dutch.  Malcolm decided to start running, but as we found out, there are more move cards for the Dutch, plus there are more move cards for undamaged or uncrippled ships...and that was my squadron!  The French had suffered so many hits while moving down our combined squadrons' line that now every hit drove them closer to the crippled point.
Tonnant, surrounded by my squadron, being pummeled into submission.

 In the interest of playing the game out, after running before the wind for several turns, Malcolm and his French were finally caught by my squadron and so the Frenchman turned with fear and vengeance in his eye, and in one lucky turn of shooting beat my poor Haarlem to the gunwales and forced her to strike (the little white ring on the main mast).  Meanwhile, brave Delft (50) is going toe to toe with the remaining French heavies.

 Delft managed to inflict enough damage to slow the French ships of the line enough for the remaining small ships to catch up and it was like hyenas on a pair of wounded lions.  Being practically undamaged for most of the game, my little ships were far more maneuverable than the French wounded giants, and I was able to get into position to inflict some serious rakes on them.  In the picture below, Aigle finally strikes to the Delft after one fierce round of boarding action!
At this point it was time to call it a night.  Sybille wisely left the area of battle to seek out French reinforcements, and the Dutch sailed home to claim a very close-run thing.  As always, it was another very enjoyable game of sailing ships!

Monday, June 13, 2016

My "new minis" meet my old minis...more on my WSS collection.

This is a follow-on blog to my previous post entitled "New minis, new friend," in which I describe the beautiful 6mm Baccus collection I acquired from my new friend Alan in Australia.  As soon as I knew it was on it's way to me, I ordered some bases from Litko so as to rebase some WSS figures I already had.  The bases arrived, and the rebasing commenced!  First, I converted the Baccus figures I already had to the bases that matched my new collection.
The figures came off the old bases fairly cut fingers or damaged figures.
 After a couple of nights' work, I had four more British regiments and seven more French regiments ready to be based and made pretty for joining the standing armies.

Honestly I have to admit that sometimes I might, just perhaps maybe, have more figures than I realize.  All along I was thinking of a box with two Baccus armies that I picked up in a Historicon flea market some years ago, and then when I dug out the boxes to start blending the armies together I realized that I had more French and Bavarians that I had purchased from a guy in England a few years ago.  They were on the right sized bases, but they were based in two ranks rather than three ranks as my new Franco-Bavarians were.  No matter, says I; I can live with that slight difference.  Although the bases are the brighter green ones below, once I repaint and flock the bases they'll all look like the darker bases.

Notice the difference in the two-rank vs three-rank units; each unit will still only represent one battalion, so the number of figures per base is irrelevant.
There's only one problem at this point; I realize that I now have a total of 18 British-Dutch infantry units but I have a whopping 28 Franco-Bavarian infantry units.  Now, I know there are plenty of wargamers who put a lot of stock in the invincibility of the "thin red line" but that's a pretty big difference.  So, let's look at my options.  First, there's the obvious...just don't put all those French on the table at once.  Really?  You mean, have figures that I don't actually play with?  Isn't there some rule against that in the Gamers Code?  Ok, seriously now, there's option number two: buy more Baccus British infantry and paint them myself.  That's the option I usually go more!  That's probably the option most attractive to me so far, but there is actually a third option.  This one I'll take your thoughts on, because as the pictures illustrate it's not the optimum option.

I have in my possession a vast collection of 6mm WSS (or maybe SYW...hard to tell at this scale!) of another brand.  I know the brand but I won't mention it because I don't want to slight them.  I do not intend this comparison to be a slight or a statement of preference; I sincerely just want to illustrate the difference in size of my available resources to see what  you all think about mixing them in an army.

 The other brand is painted quite well, with King's colors and Regimental Colors for all of the British, and regimental colors for the French.  If I use them, I would have more than enough British to even the balance of power.  I wouldn't mix figures on a base; I would just base up the slimmer figures in regiments.  They would compare something like this below:

Baccus on the right in the pic.
With the new Litko bases being about a millimeter thicker and the slimmer figures being on thin cardstock that I'm not about to destroy to rebase them, it will actually make them about the same height as the Baccus figures. 

So now it's crunch time; do I buy more Baccus and sell off the slimmer guys, or just use them and not worry about the slight size difference?  I'm open to comments.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New minis, new friend

Several years fact, the first year that Historicon was held in Fredericksburg, Virginia...I came across a deal in the flea market.  I have always been enamored by the Marlburian period of history; one of my favorite books is The First Churchill, about John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough.  I've had some armies in 15mm for the period, but never a British army.  So this deal was a box with a starter army of French and British in 6mm.  The figures were Baccus, so were beefy enough with some detail, and the paint jobs were quite good.  Without even counting the figures I snatched it up, looking forward to finally getting my hero (so to speak) on the table.  Sadly, once I got them home and really counted noses I discovered that I had about six battalions of each side, and about the same number of cavalry units, with four artillery pieces per side.  Definitely a starter army, but not much more than that...and I have become well-known in my gaming circles as one who likes the armies big, the battles big, the spectacle big...I like big games and I cannot lie!  Suffice to say that this purchase found it's way to the gaming storage area and has never seen life on the table-top battlefield.

A few weeks ago I saw a post on TMP of someone who had a WSS lot on auction on ebay.  I clicked on the link and saw my of a beautifully painted collection of British AND Dutch with an opposing force of French AND Bavarians...6mm...Baccus...enough to play on it's own to my standards but by adding my box in the basement to it I would have the mother of all Marlburian collections ready to put on huge (in my mind, at least) games.  Just one problem: the seller clearly stated that he would only post within Australia, where he lives.  Nooooooo!!!!!  It was like a bad dream...just what I needed to finally get some Marlburian gaming going and yet so out of reach!

I went out on a limb, sent the seller a message through ebay asking if he would consider letting me bid on his auction.  Turns out he is a very nice guy, and after a couple of email exchanges we were corresponding daily...he was actually pulling for me to win the auction, and I was calculating the exchange rate daily to see if I should modify my max bid.  Before the auction even ended I realized I truly enjoyed chatting with my new Aussie friend, and was a regular visitor to his own blog site.

After a week of nail-biting, upping my maximum bid several times and hovering over the computer, I finally reached zero hour...and it was mine.  It was such a great feeling!  Now for the patience part...I had to wait on the postal service of several countries to get my armies to me.  God must have had one of his wargaming angels watching over this package; it was mailed by Alan on the 23rd of May and arrived at my house in Virginia on June 1st. week from Australia to Virginia!!  I'm convinced Marlborough's ghost was riding watch on that airplane ride!

Now, waiting for miniature figures (painted ones) to arrive is always nail-biting enough as it is.  You never know how well the seller is going to pack the little soldiers for travel.  I've had guys promise me they have shipped tons of figures with nary a scratch, only to hear the box rattle when I'm turning it over to open.  I've had pikemen that were so entangled I've had to walk away for a few hours to calm down; chipped paint where the figures banged against each other because the packer thought a few Styrofoam peanuts would keep the (metal) figures from settling and bumping each other.  Tip to seller: just because you carry the box flat and steady to the post office doesn't mean it's not going to be tossed, flipped, rolled, dropped, run over by forktruck (seriously...tire prints on the outside of the box!)...or just disappear entirely with only a "We're sorry" note from the postal service.  So coming from Australia...Alan promised he had packed them well, so I held to that and waited.  When I opened the box, I couldn't believe my eyes. 
Each stand was individually wrapped in bubble wrap, then taped closed.  Each artillery stand, each limber stand, each command was amazing!  Nothing budged inside that box, nothing rubbed.  Alan even laid them out neatly in rows and by nationality, then put a label in place so I would know that!!  At first I was opening cavalry and artillery, then my wife handed me something and asked what it was...

I couldn't believe it; he had even carefully folded a piece of cardstock over the infantry and wedged it between the ranks of figures so that the flag staffs (which are very thin metal and quite bendy) wouldn't get broken.  My admiration for my far-away friend, which was already in place, grew even more.  I have never had someone take such care to make sure the miniatures they sent arrived in perfect condition.  My wife said it right: you can tell when someone paints the figures themselves, because they pack them with tender, loving care.  She has seen me unpack quite a few armies, and has become quite wise in the ways of shipping miniatures.
I'm a little OCD...I line the armies up on parade as we unpack them.

Here are a couple of shots of the armies.
The Franco-Bavarian contingent, lined up for inspection.


 Here is my attempt of spot-lighting Marlborough's finest.

Now I have to rebase the old armies that I had; I've already ordered bases from Litko to make the change.  Once that's done, I'll muster the entire force for a follow-up posting.  Of course, once I get them into a game I'll have to post that too.

June 1st truly was Glorious!  My earnest hopes that the armies were as prettily painted as the ebay pictures suggested were answered, and they arrived in excellent condition.  Best of all, I have a new gaming friend in Australia who I look forward to chatting with.  This is the perfect example of why I love this hobby!  Thank you, Alan, for the care you took in packing these boys off to me.  Good on ya, mate!