As well as gaming with Andrew’s Napoleonics, the players at the Fairfield club have become very nautical lately and I had a chance to join in. I played Trafalgar a few weeks ago, and Signal Close Action Fast Play on another night.
In the Trafalgar game, I was looking after two British ships, Kingo had a couple of ships too, and we faced Geoff and Greg. Most of my fighting was against Geoff and I was doing fairly well, but one of my ships was forced to sail off the edge of the world in the last turn to avoid collision with one of Geoff’s. The Langton rules allow the entire battle to be moved further onto the table if the action is crowded onto one side, which is a good idea.
In the SCAFP game I walked in just as Kingo’s Spanish squadron was suffering from a friendly fire incident. If you give your ships a fire order then they must do so, even if the enemy are nowhere to be seen, and you’re in line abreast formation. Which is either a pretty bad rule – all the guns are under local control so the gunner wouldn’t pull the lanyard if the only ship in front of them is, say, your flagship. Anyway, said flagship was only lightly damaged and Kingo kindly allowed me to take her over. After a minor course adjustment I brought her into position directly behind a French (enemy) frigate at close range. A close range stern raking broadside from my 112 gunner took the frigate to within an inch of being sunk outright, and she struck.
I didn’t play any further part of the action as I struggled to turn my ship around. Kingo successfully boarded one French ship but both of his ships suffered rudder damage (once from a bow rake, which would taken some fancy shooting in real life!) and they began running downwind with their prize. In another friendly fire incident the French sank the frigate that had struck (pour encourager les autres?) which allowed me to quip ‘You’ve sunk your battleship!’ The game ended when Kingo declared that he had no ships left that could manouevre or fight.
The one thing I didn’t like about both games is pretty fundamental, and that’s the turn sequence. Both games use an ‘I go you go’ system so you end up with a situation like this: Two ships start off sailing parallel to each other. Ship A’s turn comes up so it turns and sails across Ship B’s bow and gives her a bow rake. Ship B’s turn comes up so she sails across Ship A’s stern and gives her a stern rake. etc. You get these swirling dogfights, where in reality if the ships were sailing at about the same speed, they would remain parallel or collide. In Trafalgar there is a slight penalty to shooting when you do this, but the advantages given to raking outweigh it. So sailing in parallel will not happen in either set of rules unless you get your opponent to agree to not crossing your stern if you move first. Fixing that would not be impossible. Perhaps something like the Wings of War secret card draw system might work. Alternatively there could be ‘no go’ areas in front of ships that have not yet moved, and behind ships that have moved to represent the sea space they will or have just occupied.
Another aspect of the games which could do with toning down is the skill rolls. Both use skill rolls to do things like tacking, but it’s too easy to fail – for example in Trafalgar an unrated ship only has a 41.67% chance of tacking or hoisting their sails, otherwise it’s roll on the foremast damage table. Tacking was complicated but not that hard! Kingo’s entire squadron was dismasted after a run of bad luck last Friday. This should probably be toned down to only suffering damage on a fumble, otherwise suffering speed penalties, say, as the sheets are hauled in slower than they should be.
To see if there is a better way I forked out the princely sum of £7.00 on Kiss Me Hardy, the Too Fat Lardies’ take on Napoleonic naval action. On the face of it, KMH looks like it may have some advantages. It’s still I go you go, but the order in which everyone goes is random (it’s card based) as is the order in which everyone fires. So you might be able to move to rake someone, but without a fire card that’s all you can do. Tacking is more realistic, a failure leaves you head to wind and going nowhere (your sails are loose and your crew are struggling to sheet them home), rather than being taken aback (which would be a fumble – you’ve turned into the wind without loosening your sheets). Radically, ships turn in against circular templates instead of pivoting on their rear corners, and small ships are handier than larger ones, using a smaller turning circle if they wish. I’ll try to have a game soon with these rules.