Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fix Bayonets: My first game of Sail and Steam Navies

Today was the second installment of Fix Bayonets.  Held at historic Fort Steilacoom, it's a nice little gathering at a great location.

I hosted a small ACW naval game using the Sail and Steam Navies rules I bought last month.  While I'd read the rules pretty thoroughly it was the first game I'd actually played.  I chose a scenario I'd run before with Ironclads featuring the large Union wooden vessels Niagara and Vanderbilt intercepting the Stonewall with wooden consorts in stormy conditions headed for Havana.
Confederate fleet enters the board, looking something like a hydroplane race.  From top:  Texas (Thoroughbred Alabama), Bat (Peter Pig blockade runner), Thoroughbred Stonewall, scratchbuilt blockade runner masquerading as Tuscaloosa after I left my actual miniature at home! Dopey me.
The Union squadron.  From top: scratchbuilt Niagara, Thoroughbred Kearsarge, and scratchbuilt Vanderbilt.  All scratchbuilt ships by Larry Enoch.

I hadn't counted on the small table (6' X 5'), which was kind of cozy for 1/600 scale, but due to the scenario conditions it worked out-visibility and movement were both reduced to 42"

There are some real advantages to S&SN.  The rules can be played off the ship cards and a one page quick sheet.  At least in theory.  The ship cards are color coded and are provided as part of the rules package that come in a 535 page .pdf on a CD-ROM.  The ships are rated throughout the war, so many have more than one card.  Because the game is basically played on the ship cards, it's important to have the capacity to print them out in color, which can be an expensive proposition.  I printed out the cards I needed and then laminated them with my handy home laminator.
This single exchange of broadsides between Tuscaloosa and Vanderbilt resulted in a magazine explosion and plunge to the bottom for the tiny Confederate ship.
Far in the background, the sloop Niagara is pounding the Texas to splinters, while the Kearsarge and Stonewall prepare for a one sided exchange.

Stonewall has sailed through her Union adversaries and isn't looking back.  On to Havana and victory.
The game itself is somewhat less important as I was trying to to get a handle on the rules and especially to see if the players liked them.   Nevertheless, a quick blow by blow is in order.  The Confederates entered the table somewhat the worse for wear due to storm damage.  The Stonewall, accompanied by the steamers Texas (freshly escaped from a French shipyard and fitted out in the Azores), the Tuscaloosa, and the blockade runner ran headlong into the open arms of the an American squadron searching for the French-built vessels.  The super-sloop Niagara, Cornelius Vanderbilt's armed steamship Vanderbilt, and the Kearsarge.
USS Kearsarge ignominiously ramming USS Vanderbilt.  Kearsarge, with her steering destroyed, had little choice in the matter.
 The game opened outside of the limited visibility, due to rain and fog.  Speed was reduced by 1/3, and gunnery suffered a minus due to high seas.  On turn two that changed as Niagara devastated Texas with her massive broadside.  Kearsarge and Niagara continued pounding Texas, while the diminutive Tuscaloosa tangled with the massive Vanderbilt.  Meanwhile Bat and Stonewall seemed to slip through the Union net.  Stonewall connected once with her massive 12 inch Armstrong rifle, tearing through Kearsarge, causing a boiler explosion, damaging steering and killing crew.  This bit of good fortune did not prevent Tuscaloosa from suffering a mortal magazine explosion after a one sided exchange with VanderbiltKearsarge, out of control, eventually collided with Vanderbilt, nearly sinking in the process, while Bat and Stonewall steamed for Havana--only to be interned and sold by the U.S. Navy.  Based on the scenario rules, the Confederates won.

I found the rules to be more playable than Ironclads without much loss of authenticity.  There are a couple of clarifications needed to some language-as with all rules. Everyone liked the simple order writing requirements.  Some differences in the game really did unbalance the game.  In Ironclads, Niagara's 150 pdr. Parrotts and 11 inch smoothbores would fire every other turn, as would Stonewall's Armstrong rifle.  In this game only monitor guns fire every other turn.  I truly don't have a problem with this but it made Niagara the grim reaper against wooden ships.  However, against armored Stonewall, hits pretty much pinged off with little opportunity to do serious damage. 

I'm anxious to try a bit more evenly balanced game in the near future.  I think Sail and Steam Navies is a winner.


Ray Rousell said...

Great report, the ships look very nice.

The Angry Lurker said...

I must admit I like naval games having played WW1 and Napoleonics, lovely miniatures and good batrep.