Sunday, January 20, 2013

Battle of Cape Henry

Josh and I drove to DC yesterday for a Close Action battle hosted by Albert Parker. We had eleven players total: Richard Kunkel (admiral), Heather, Will, Dave Cross, Josh and I for the French, and Jim Rumizen (British admiral), Al Cook, Albert, Mike Bosworth and Steve Becker for the English. We were using Albert's twelve-direction movement, which takes more effort than the standard six-direction but is well worth it.

The scenario was the Battle of Cape Henry from 1781, Destouches vs Arbuthnot, which is Scenario 15 in the Rebel Seas book. The Royal Navy has eight ships, ranging from the 98 gun London to the Adamant, 50; the French also have eight, ranging from Duc de Bourgogne, a small 80, to a captured British 44 gun two decker, Romulus; both sides were about even in points and crew quality. Both sides start in line ahead, close hauled with the wind on the port bow, the British pursuing the French. This scenario is unusual in that heavy seas, and the way ships heel to leeward, mean that ships need to close their lower deck gunports on the leeward side; this means that all ships are penalized when firing downwind, but not upwind.

The French plan was to wear, engage the head of the British line at medium range, and--according to the admiral--keep reversing course with successive wears to keep the range open. I don't know what the British plan was, but from comments among the British players, it seems no one followed the plan anyway--the military maxim is "No plan survives contact with the enemy", but this may have been "No plan survives contact with my subordinates."

On the first turn, the British continued in line ahead, and the French wore...most of the French wore. Turn One is where the French plan started coming unstuck, a little earlier than is usually the case. The Romulus, which would be the third ship in the French line, didn't complete the wear; she therefore was an obstacle for the rest of our line to detour around, while Provence and Eveille sailed straight toward the enemy. By turn 5, the leading elements of both fleets were in action, but Neptune was still trying to get past Romulus without a collision. This left a gap between the first two French ships and thee rest of the French line; why the Brits didn't keep in line and sail through the gap, I don't know. Busy pursuing our lead ships, I suppose, or the British having bad luck with their signal limitations.

The lead two French ships tried to withdraw from the Brits but had to turn to avoid the French admiral who was sailing by. They got trapped and by turn 8 they had collided and fouled with Robust. Eveille was stuck in a position where she couldn't shoot effectively so Josh, her commander, formed boarders--I believe that's the second time I've seen it done in ten years. Unfortunately Robust managed to get loose just before Josh could launch his attack. Nonetheless, a dogpile was forming, and they always seem to attract other ships, as people try to maneuver to protect their teammates or take close range shots at immobilized enemies. That's what happened here. My notes for Turn 11 read "To the west, London and Adamant collide and foul. Main island still a scrum. Mass drifting and fouling."

On turn 13, southeast of the main glob, Heather's Neptune and my Conquerant nearly got two Brits to collide with us; they escaped only by the favor of the dice. As the game wound down, I boldly sailed right to the edge of the traffic jam to deliver some close range rakes; Neptune prudently kept a little farther away from the mess and engaged one of the few remaining mobile Brits; Duc finally got into the action after a long detour to leeward, and Romulus, 44, suicidally attacked the 98 gun London.

The game was called due to time at turn 16, which was good because I'd tempted fate a little too long; by some good maneuvering and sheer luck I'd managed to get my shots in while keeping out of enemy firing arcs, but on turn 17 I would almost certainly have gotten stuck, with four Brits around me. The damage count was about even for both sides--the French would have been ahead if Romulus hadn't chosen to attack London and Adamant. The battle was undecided when we left, but the consensus was that the French had the advantage; call it a very marginal French win.

A weird battle with a mass melee instead of neat lines of battle, but fun and interesting for all that..well, it was for me--I imagine somewhat less so for those who spent half the game fouled and immobile. I think Jim Rumizen did a commendable job as the British admiral, particularly with the signaling limits imposed by the scenario; new players Heather and Will also did well.

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