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Subject: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1802 rss

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Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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Excerpt from Log of HMS Walpole

17 May 1802: Lat 48' 28" N, Long 5' 27" W, Winds fresh due S. At Sunrise one sail spotted on horizon NNE, helm turned to investigate. Halted holystoning of quarterdeck and sent men to mess should ship prove unfriendly. Midshipmen hoping for another Dutch merchant.

Our best day-glass reveals her as a French 80, likely escaped from Brest blockade in storm of last week, but without any frigates or squadron of any sort to accompany her. Turned helm to NNW in attempt to gain the wind gage. Beat all hands to quarters, sent men aloft to reduce to medium sail. She flies the tricolour bold and makes no ruses with false flags. Even with a full crew and heavier broadside, the French have oft been reluctant to invite a duel at anywhere near even odds. Is something amiss? Yet there are no other sails to be seen.

My French adversary is taking mirror course to mine to also gain the wind. We shall meet bows at this rate. It shall be a battle of nerves to see who will turn and bring their guns to bear... and therefore fire the first broadside down the other's bow. Unless there is some change. She comes on steady - the nerve in this Frenchman!. I wonder if it's one of the old captains fighting since before 1893... none of their class of '98 would engage us, much less chase for the wind so boldly. Rare nerve I say!

The French still has hands aloft and he is making plain sail. A risky gambit - with her wide spread of canvas she will take the gage on me for certain. He can take the positional advantage if he chooses yet it presents a large target for our guns. Conversely I call up to the topmen to reduce our trim to fighting sail. Trim enough to manoeuvre and expose only what is necessary. By the textbook, as I always say. Now something must give - our bows shall crash if we both maintain this deadly course! My helmsman grows nervous yet holds his tongue. England must prevail.

The wily Frenchman gets the better of me. He turns hard-a-port and has completed filling his sails broad-reaching just as our starboard turn pays off. He surrenders the wind gage after all that fuss with his sails but we pay a mean price for it. His treble-shotted broadside pours down our bow, raking us from stem to stern. From the quarterdeck we hear the tumult below and resolve ourselves to repay in kind.

We send topmen aloft to make repairs to our cordage. As the smoke clears from his starboard we can see his rigging still acrawl with hands, now reducing his trim after this lightning-fast pass. The French takes a meandering course and we train on her stern. We cruise cautiously ahead and our debt is repaid with interest compounded! Before he can slip away we jink and fire down his backside, knowing full well that shot is crashing down more than the officers quarters! Right down the length of his gun deck in fact. Not a minute later we see the corpses tossed out the portholes. A cheer from our starboard battery tells me my hands are yet with me.

He gains on me and plinks away with his battery of long guns. We change course and close - we can yet service all our cannons, even being short hands. Yet our refitted 74-gun ship carries fewer of the reliable old long guns in favour of dozen new, stout carronades. A long-range duel plays into his hands. I shall take a page from Nelson: Engage the Enemy More Closely, as he is wont to say!

Again I get the better of him! With all that wind in his sails from his broad-reaching facing to the wind, he makes a wide loop downwind of me. We plot for a direct course at his stern then execute a tight turn. The hands below on the gundeck had to run to man the port side guns as our helm turned the SE. The gun captains must have had success in calming the crew, for never has fire been to accurate or deadly, much less after the hands are fagged out from servicing the starboard guns. These fresh cool cannons were patiently aimed and double-shotted, and positively wreaked havoc with a second raking broadside along his already-mauled stern! As the smoke clears his aft is little more than mass of splinters. The cheers again rise from our gundeck. The hands know from hard experience what this blow has done to our enemy. I take a moment to evaluate the effect of our broadside and behold a cannonball lodged squarely in his mizzenmast, and his men are pouring buckets of water on it. They too are gaping at this uncanny sight as much as I was! Had that ball struck a few feet higher he would have lost his mast!*

Here is where the desperation began to take hold and get the better of my adversary's judgement. He makes an ill-advised course change N, straight into the wind! Well-seasoned hands can tack after facing the wind, by working the rigging such that the ship stays underway after facing to the windward - the momentum of the ship can carry it through. But a raw crew, and from their blockaded ports? The volunteers from Brest have little experience with this sort of manoeuvre and we are positively licking our chops on the quarterdeck! With luck he'll get stalled and be a sitting duck! But this seemingly suicidal move by the French captain gives him the chance to hurt us dearly. Our helm was aimed noncommittal ahead slow, but by luck alone he can only bring his rear guns bear. We are saved. No major damage is sustained from the chaotic fire aimed at our hull. Matters are getting tense and the nerves on the quarterdeck are reaching a breaking point. All of this sharp turning at close range is out of the ken of any of our lieutenants, and never such reckless daring from the French!

All of that excitement seems to be contagious. For though I'm certain I ordered a starboard turn, my helm turned to port**... on a parallel course to the stalled French 80-gunner. Which meant we too were now heading straight into the wind. And the French had started their tack even before us! Oh cruel fates! As his men ran aloft to tack, we felt the wind start to fall from our sails and we blasted a deadly rain of iron at him, the closest yet we had engaged. Our cannons struck home, and from this range we could see the effects even through the clouds of smoke***. His braces were cut so we know he wouldn't be pulling away fast. His gundeck was obviously disorganized, as only a quarter of his cannons were manned, and his quarterdeck was red with the blood of brave French officers. Our men wanted to keep firing, but the gun crews felt the lash of a bosun's club in order get them aloft. We still had the momentum from our accidental port-ward turn, and we had only precious moments to tack the ship around. Otherwise we would be dead to the wind, "in irons" as they say, and adrift. And speaking of that very predicament, that is what we saw happening to our enemy. The reckless French had not only turned into the wind, but was now fighting that momentum and trying to re-tack back to the Starboard to take a NE course. The Gallic lubbers made a miserable show of it, and a brief moment of calm prevailed between irregular fire as both crews were largely aloft desperately trying to harness the same fickle wind.

Now it was our turn to tack into that gusty breeze, and the hands moved more eagerly about it after we saw the helpless French ship in irons. We know a similar fate awaited us if this move was not executed! Both vessels drifted S with the wind blowing in our faces. Our sails started to fill! Huzzah! But the same could not be said for our adversary, who could now be seen shouting at his men to now tack NW and follow our course. A few cannons fired to little effect, and I was interrupted from my thoughts as a young midshipman reported that repairs to the cordage were completed. Nevermind that now the plentiful holes through our canvas had more than undone these diligent repairs. They are ordered to again secure the loose rigging forward until such time as we are within pistolshot.

As we pay off and get underway again, we take a few parting shots from the immobile French vessel and cannot return the favour. We pray that the winds die before he can get his hulk moving again. We see his braces still unrepaired and the crews are still clearly in chaos over there. Things have never looked better for His Majesty's servants. But then we see those sails slowly fill and we curse****. The victory will not be so easy as that but the advantage remains firmly in our grasp. Sporadic French fire continues, but our new heading means we still cannot bring our guns to bear.

We are now engaged broadside-to-broadside, for a change. With a more organized crew, less damage, and less guns dismounted we will gladly take the exchange.

Soon amid the smoke and chaos, we lose sight of our enemy. We only discover his position when we are mauled from right ahead! The wily fox has not given up yet, and somehow fired right through the smoke windward of him and into our bow. But as often happens in these close engagements, as he passes by his tail must show, and I in turn rake his stern. Never have two gun decks been so mercilessly mauled by shot as on this bloody 17th of May.

The series of events plays out again like a staged performance. We cautiously inch forward to await a commitment from the hulk to our starboard, only to see him take wind and cut right ahead of us and again rake our bow. Of all the nerve and persistence! This jackal can't long keep this up! Yet again, by passing over my bows he shows his tail, a tail which we lay into with every cannon we can bring to bear! This time it proves to be the last straw. His rigging in tatters, a lucky shot cracks his mainmast! A cheer rises from all around us, and the cannon fire has slowed to nearly a halt aboard the French vessel. The men pause at the guns when they see the tattered tricolour dip and finally come down from the hulk off our side.

It is nearly afternoon by the time we are prepared to board her, and it was a doubtful thing that the limping hulk would be of any value as a prize. We have captured and her and set a course for Portsmouth, and already she has more water below her deck than air. We ourselves cannot stay at sea either. We too must return to a friendly port to press more hands and take in fresh yards. England prevails, yet this latest contest may signal a new streak of cunning and boldness on the part of the Napoleon's captains.

* possible critical hit, failed die roll
** I got my part and starboard mixed up but we went with my written order. Lesson learned!
*** This barrage took out Scott's first rigging and crew section. He ended up with 3 criticals and a morale check, and the 'quarterdeck casualties' crit caused a second morale check. The second one failed so the French morale rating takes a crucial drop: all skill checks are at -2 now for him, from bad to worse for Scott there.
**** His disheartened and French crew had a -2 to skill checks, and tacked against the momentum to force an additional -3. By comparison, my British hands have a +2 and chose to go with the momentum.



Some closing thoughts on the game system:

This was our first game of Close Action and I really enjoyed the session and the system. I used the sample British 74 Ship-of-the-Line that comes pre-filled out, and my gaming pal Scott used the French 80.

The wonderful tension in the game is plotting 1-6 hexes of movement, factoring in your facing to the wind, and trying to predict your position relative to your enemy's. Damage is incremental, so a one-turn mistake will rarely cost you the game. But enough little errors will certainly hurt you. Skill checks, gunfire, resolution of critical hits, and morale are all very simple.

We managed to use lots of extra detailed stuff that we didn't expect to come up, such as repair, tacking, repairing crits, drift, dismounted guns, multiple morale checks in one turn, and more. Never did these present a problem. The only confusing part of the game is the cases where you turn to a less-favorable wind facing and take turns 'free' as long as your forward movement does not exceed your new wind facing speed. I think that's how we played and I'm not even sure we did that correctly. The 'corner-cases' for movement are the only onerous rules in the game. I look forward to a multiplayer game because it is fun, simple, and evocative.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Re: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1899
dr glaze et al wrote:
Not a minute later we see the corpses tossed out the portholes.

Holy crap!! Is this game really this cool, or are you taking "I rolled a six" & turning it into a paragraph?

How long did this session take to play?
 
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Re: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1899
Well, actually I DID roll a six. Thanks for asking.

But I got a heap of crew casualties due to 1)close range, 2)the stern raking fire [doubles crew kills and gives a bonus], and 3) it was my initial broadside [more bonuses: the first broadside was often simultaneous and the only one actually aimed!].

So yes, I used my artistic license a bit to describe the result of that one. Considering Scott lost a good fraction of his entire crew in one instant, the bodies would have had to go SOMEWHERE in a hurry for him to return fire a minute or so later.

Thanks for the kudos!
 
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Re: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1899
kuhrusty wrote:
How long did this session take to play?


Well, first time on the table, so even small duel took like three hours. But now we know our broad-reaching versus our close-hauled and so on, the same duel would be like 90 minutes flat.

Adding more people would hardly add any time: you plot and move simultaneous. Gunfire is really easy and you cross out boxes, just like Federation Commander or Silent Death. Plus adding players would mean we get to use the great signalling rules to limit communication, which looks like another great part to this system.
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Re: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1899
dr glaze et al wrote:
Adding more people would hardly add any time: you plot and move simultaneous. Gunfire is really easy and you cross out boxes, just like Federation Commander or Silent Death. Plus adding players would mean we get to use the great signalling rules to limit communication, which looks like another great part to this system.

What would it take to get a multi-player game of this at BGG.CON? You can't just bring the rules, right; you need a big hex mat and something to use for the ships? Could those be borrowed from Pirate's Cove etc.?

(I was going to say, if BradyLS brings his "Just Go Straight At 'Em" stuff again, maybe you could borrow his bits, but looking at pictures from last year, the ships look like they're probably stuck on fairly large cards, and he's using a blue sheet, not the table-sized hex mat I remembered: http://www.rozmiarek.info/gallery/BGGCon2005?page=9)
 
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Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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Re: Log of HMS Walpole 17 May 1899
Holy Cow. How did I miss that last year??

I can try to sneak the stuff into a box and bring it along, but folks will get antsy listening to the long-winded explanations of broad-reaching versus close-hauled, etc.

We tried using PotSM figurines, but they were a wee bit too big for the hex grid. I should keep my eyes peeled for cheap paper maps with a larger grid.

On the other hand it's totally worth the little bit of baggage space for the payoff in case we can rope two or three others into a small fleet action. But how will we have time enough for you to teach me EastFront AND me to teach a bunch of us Close Action??
 
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Ben Vincent
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I'll play. And I already know what close hauled and broad reaching mean. (Would it help if I brought along an ASA Sailing manual?)
 
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The more the merrier!

Seriously, if can can scrape together a total of 5-7 it will be ideal. Enough to crete chaos and use the signalling rules, but not too many that play will be bogged down.
 
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