Monday, March 25, 2013

Battle of the Atlantic, Take 2

Mark Campbell put on a Close Action game in DC as a playtest of a hypothetical scenario which pits an elite British force against a line of American super-74s and super-44s. I participated in a previous game at Historicon 2012, reported here. This time, I was the British admiral, I had several advantages--I had time to study the scenario, I had motivation to study--the enemy admiral being Lee Tankersley, I knew I couldn't just wing it--and almost all my players were experienced.

The scenario opens with both fleets in line ahead, close hauled, on a collision course with the Americans a couple of hexes closer to the intersection. The Americans have heavy frigates, effectively about the same as a normal 74, in parallel line a few hexes to windward. The British second squadron is also a few hexes to windward, but behind the first squadron.

I don't always stress staying in line, but in this case I did; and I stressed that we should stay at least 7 hexes away from the enemy, given their abundance of short range carronades.

We started with first squadron turning starboard in succession, coming into broad reaching with the wind (and Americans) off our port side. The Americans maneuvered to close the range by a couple of hexes; I ordered  first squadron to wear and open the range, an order which Mark described as "perfect--exactly the right thing to do, at exactly the right time". I admit to some qualms as the line turned, moved, and turned, but when it was done we accomplished the maneuver with no collisions, everyone in line and no one blocking fire of anyone else. I was quite pleased.

Quite pleased with first squadron, that is. While we were doing aquatic ballet and leaving half the Americans leeward and without targets, a couple of my second squadron ships decided it was time to play chicken with the American battle line--apparently forgetting completely about the whole "stay seven hexes away" part. These two ships got hammered but they also dished out a lot of damage and disrupted the American line; and even when they struck, they had the American admiral's ship Ohio trapped between them.

Meanwhile, the enemy frigates had swept around the furball and come down to attack the head of our line. I ordered my lead ship to tack--pausing first to be sure it was Joshua commanding that ship, so I could trust that it would be handled properly--and then ordered other ships to follow. They worked their way to windward, came down on the Americans, who were still disordered, and handed out stern rakes as they passed by, dismasting Franklin and forcing her to strike, and lining up to rake the hapless Ohio as well.

Meanwhile, the rest of our line moved to windward to engage the frigates. Ocean guessed badly on a maneuver and discovered that getting shot at by three American heavy frigates is just as bad as getting shot by three normal 74s, but she helped block the enemy line of movement. My own ship, the 100 gun San Josef, got pretty badly battered as well (and failed 3 of 3 moral checks, sigh). However, we forced two of the frigates to strike, and the third one was stuck and obviously doomed. The fourth and smallest--captained by a nine year old girl--slipped out of the net and escaped, battering Ocean as she passed.

With eighteen turns complete and a snowstorm bearing down on DC, we called it. The Brits had six ships effective, San Josef and Ocean seriously damaged, and Benbow and Black Prince struck. The Americans had Franklin, Independence and Guerriere struck, Ohio and Constitution immobilized and doomed, Delaware severely damaged, and three super-74s and the little 38 gun frigate still effective. A convincing British victory, and a good game.

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