Saturday, 1 February 2020

Post Captain - first naval engagement

My painting/modelling moments for the last week or so have been spent battling with more rigging on my Napoleonic ships from Warlord.  I built and painted 2 out of the 3 3rd rate ships that I was lucky enough to get for Xmas and struggled through the rigging process.  As these were my first 'proper' ships (as opposed to the freebies that came with issues of Wargames Illustrated) they included some ratlines printed on acetate...I managed to successfully fasten on 1 pair of ratlines before deciding that life was too short and that my blood pressure wouldn't be able to cope and the rest were consigned to the bin!

My fleet now consists of 2 3rd Rates, 2 Frigates and 4 Brigs (although 2 of these need to have their rigging re-done as I'm not happy with it) so it was time to get them on the table

3rd Rates


...and Brigs

I haven't actually invested in a set of Black Seas, the rules the ships were designed for.  I've read various reviews and the feedback on these seems to be mixed.  I suspect that, like Cruel Seas,  they are fine for a multiplayer game or for a quick evening game but there might not be much depth to them.  I haven't read them though so this might be very unfair.

When I think of Napoleonic era naval battles I don't really think of fleet actions or even squadrons.  Most of my inspiration for this comes from people like CS Forrester and Patrick O'Brian and most of the battles in their books always seem to be one on one clashes between ships and that is very much the level I would prefer to play at.  A bit of research for alternative rules threw up a couple of possibilities...

Signal Close Action from Langton Miniatures, which I suspect I have an early edition of somewhere in the loft, and Post Captain by ODGW, the same company who produce General Quarters.  I decided to get a copy of these as they seem to be aimed at players have a couple of ships each max.

The rules come loose bound (and annoyingly in the US format for ring-binders...I never knew there was a difference!).  ODGW very kindly give all purchasers access to their online library which also has a load of downloadable extras.  The rules include data sheets on lots of ships as well as a host of counters and QRFs.

They also provide templates for manoeuvring and for measuring ranges.  These come ready done for a variety of the usual scales for naval games and recently they have added some in 1/720 scale which is close match for the Warlord Games ships (1/600).  I was a bit concerned that this would make movement too big for our playing area so we actually used the ranges for 1/1000 scale which worked fine.  In hindsight I think we would have been ok with the 1/720 scale templates and I'd probably use this next time.

The first thing to point out is that there is a lot of complexity to these rules.  The basics of manoeuvring and firing are well explained but it gets more complex once there is a risk of colliding or boarding enemy ships etc.  The rules actually go into a lot of detail on boarding actions, landing crew onshore for cutting out operations, weather etc. For our 1st game we decided to keep things simple and avoid any of the more advanced rules

Each ship has a data card which has all the info you need represented clearly and this make it easy to record damage and find the info you need on sails, guns etc.

Each turn is divided into 3 phases (red, white and blue) for movement and firing but Captains also have to think about tasks like allocating crew to tasks over the whole turn.  This is easy at the beginning of the game when you have plenty of sailors lounging about on deck drinking rum and singing shanties but later in the game you'll need to man the guns, trim the sails, pump out the water pouring in through those large holes that have appeared in your hull and repair the rigging that has been shot away.  There won't be enough crew to go round (especially if you have taken casualties) so you won't be able to do everything you want to.  There is a bit of book-keeping required as some tasks, such as reloading or repairing rigging, are spread over multiple phases.  I know this can put some people off but it wasn't too onerous.

My initial plan was to give each of us a couple of ships each but my opponent Andrew sensibly suggested sticking to one ship each which proved very good advice!  We decided to refight a historical scenario...the fight between the frigates HMS Nymphe and the Cleopatre which took place on 18th June 1793.  Historically the French frigate suffered damage from gunfire and collided with the Nymphe, becoming entangled.  The French crew refused to attempt to board the Nymphe and, once they realised this, the British were able to board and capture the Cleopatre.  As you'll see our refight had a surprisingly similar outcome...

At the start of the game I had said to Andrew that we should avoid anything complicated like collisions and boarding...bear this in mid for later!!

The 2 ships began 1000 yards apart and HMS Nymphe quickly steered towards the French frigate, hoping to close the range and show off my superior British gunnery skills (actually both sides were evenly matched...the British had a 'Crack' Captain and could reload faster but otherwise there was little between them).  The opening salvo came from the French ship but was ineffective (even at fairly close range the guns were only hitting on a 1 or 2 on a 12 sided dice).

In response the British managed to inflict 2 rigging hits in the opening turn with a lucky shot.  The French returned fire with chain shot which caused some damage to the Nymphe's rigging and I quickly sent men aloft to repair the damage although this meant I wasn't able to man the short-range  Carronades which would have been useful when we moved nearer each other.

The French successfully managed to tack...not an easy task but one that is explained well in the rules for landlubbers like me.

In Turn 3 the ships had closed to 200 yards and a lucky critical hit from Nymphe took out the chains supporting the Mizzen Topgallant causing a Sprung mast  (a bad thing...this means there is a danger of the mast falling each turn) and more rigging and sail damage, slowing the Cleopatre.

Cleopatre then returned fire with more chain shot, firing on the up-roll (a shabby French trick!) which also damaged the British rigging...luckily I had successfully repaired the earlier damage so this wasn't great but not as bad as it could have been.

As his sails and rigging were pretty battered and Andrew hadn't been able to repair them, Cleopatre decided on a drastic course of action and as the Nymphe successfully tacked the French ship deliberately swung across its bows tangling the 2 ships together and causing damage to both ships.  In the collision the French  topgallant mast which had sprung earlier now fell completely, damaging other masts and obstructing the French guns.  The French Marines attempted to board but failed or refused, just as in the real battle.

At this point sadly we ran out of time.  The ships were tangled together but the Cleopatre had suffered a lot more damage and was unable to fire its guns as they were obscured by the fallen mast and rigging.  If we'd had time I would have ordered the British Marines and sailors over the bow of the ship onto the Cleopatre and I have no doubt that they would have swept away all resistance!!  😀

The rules were pretty daunting but by the end of the evening we were pretty much zipping through the complexities of manoeuvring (even tacking) and gunnery.  Obviously Andrew ignored my advice to avoid colliding and boarding but it did mean we got to test these parts of the rules out sooner than planned!  I have no doubt we got lots of things wrong but I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it certainly gave the feel of the kind of naval duel Forrester would have written about which is exactly what I was after.


  1. cracking write up - nice ships as well

  2. Alastair, I have a collection of pre-painted ships from the Sails of Glory range but I'm the opposite of you in that I prefer larger battles and simple rules! I have a copy of the venerable Trafalgar board game from decades ago which has four ships aside and am thinking of using the rules on a larger board with my models. Cheers, Anthony.

  3. Beautiful work on the ships and a fine looking game. It's not Napoleonic naval without a collision!

    1. I think I manage to crash in every naval game I play!

  4. Replies
    1. They are really nice models although the rigging is quite stressful to do...worth it though!

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