Combat Commander Archivist
Move! Advance! Fire! Rout! Recover! Artillery Denied! Artillery Request! Command Confusion...say what?!
Since there was time in these days after Christmas, my good friend Marc and his son Risdon and I had planned to play a big Flying Colors scenario. We decided to devote as much of a day as we needed. We chose Trafalgar and had it set up by around 9:30 in the morning.
Marc commanded the English fleet. I played the French ships and Risdon took the Spanish. He and I sat so that the maps were lined up A, then B, then C, from the left. Our combined fleet stretched out left to right along our 1/3 of the board. The British came in diagonally toward us, from Marc's side of the board. The wind was direction "6" and conditions were "calm" all of which meant that we were scraping along beating at one move per turn while British had the wind gage, bearing down on us reaching with 4 MPs per turn.
The scenario setup is historical. Nelson had his fleet in two lines which he used to sever the combined fleet's line and wreak havoc. Marc indicated that he would attempt this strategy as well. Risdon and I considered what we might do to counter this. In the meantime, it would mean some seriously damaging rakes for the British. They would need nerves of steel against our line as they tried to penetrate it.
We decided on a couple of older rules and house rules. We played that any "T" crossed at three hexes or less was an automatic rake with +2 hull hits if it was a stern rake. (We like the carnage the automatic rake provides!). In addition, based on past plays, we decided that ships that are grappled or fouled cannot target rigging but hulls only.
Off we go!
The Scenario's Historical Description (from the rulebook): 21 October 1805 - Nelson and Collingwood discover a combine French and Spanish fleet under Villeneuve near the Straits of Gibraltar. Moving in two columns, the British split the enemy's line of battle. The combined fleet breaks down into confusion and Nelson wins his greatest victory, but at the cost of his own life.
The winds were slack in the waters off Trafalgar. The French and Spanish, making a last ditch to tip the war in their favor and end British sea power bravely made sail. Creeping along, beating to windward, they were a huge line, but moving slowly. Sails were spotted. There was the British fleet in two long lines, on the beam reach, bearing down quickly upon the combined fleet. At the head of one line is HMS Victory leading the way into battle. It is the flagship and aboard is the fleets Admiral, Horatio Lord Nelson, the bane of the French and Spanish fleets! At the head of the other line is the Royal Sovereign with Admiral Collingwood. They are set to penetrate the combined fleet's line right down the middle, sweeping past such powerhouse ships as the Santissima Trinidad (one of the largest warships ever during that period) and Admiral Villaneuve's own Buccentaure.
The action commences with long range shots from the combined fleet. Testing the range, they are and seeing whether they can do an odd bit of damage here or there. Lord Nelson bravely heads straight at the enemy line. Fire is exchanged in small amounts. But the Heros, a French ship, manages to "cross the T" as Nelson's Victory closes in. This results in a rake which tears into the Victory something fierce. Shrapnel is flying everywhere. There is the shout of a sailor! Admiral Nelson has been hit and wounded. [Marc rolls a "9" on a leader hit check since Victory took damage]. It's not clear whether it is severe or not. Time will tell. The British close and the combined fleet continues its steady advance.
The British ships have advanced within raking distance themselves. They begin to pour fire into the French and Spanish. The Victory, with brave Admiral Nelson, ploughs ahead, balls shredding its sails and rigging. Ropes disintegrate, the sails fill with holes but still she runs down upon the French and Spanish. No wonder the British fleet has an Audacity of 2 [A number indicating the aggressiveness and nerve of the fleet; it adds modifies certain die rolls and combat effectiveness]. B
Bravery this day is not rewarded but punished! The San Augustin, has the Victory in her sights. She fires a broadside. With terrifying force and a thunderous roar, the flagship is smashed. "Admiral!" a sailor cries, but it is too late. Lord Nelson lies dead upon the deck, his once resplendent uniform now drenched in blood. Will the loss so soon of England's favorite Admiral weaken their resolve? Will it cause the Union Jack to falter this day?
Indomptable is within firing distance of the Royal Sovereign. She too bravely aims to break the French and Spanish line. Admiral Collingwood, unaware of Nelson's fate, directs his captain straight at the enemy line. But shot pours in from Indomptable and suddenly Collingwood is stunned and bleeding from flying splinters. Now, both of His Majesty's top Admirals are dead or wounded. How will the resolve of the island nation's navy survive?
The Santissima Trinidad lets loose a tremendous fire aimed at the Victory. Already slowing because of rigging damage, the erstwhile Nelson's ship finally reverberates to the cracks and shudders of her masts coming down. She is now adrift. The Royal Sovereign, crossed by the Fougueux has also been dismasted! The Royal Sovereign and the Victory, the flagships of the fleet have been rendered dead in the water!
In the mean time, the front 1/4 of the combined fleet's line has begun to tack. The ships, swinging across the wind and beating leeward hope to claw up a bit and then they can begin reaching across the British lines as they continue along. It's a daring plan that will take some time to execute.
With the two lead British battleships now adrift, the British lines are converging fast upon them. They must turn to get out of the way, lest they collide with the Victory or the Royal Sovereign. Some break to port, some to starboard. Those that swing right are now running with the wind and still moving, but those turning port side end up beating into the wind and slowing substantially. [All movement is reduced by one because of the calm state of the scenario]. As the line disintegrates, they now approach the combined fleet line obliquely and without the knife edge that Marc had hoped to use to slice our fleet into pieces.
I figured that in real life, Nelson was pretty daring to try to cut the French line. So Risdon and I decided to be daring and bring the middle 1/3 of our fleet right onto the British ships. So we chose to tack all of the ships in the middle section. This would aim the French and Spanish right down the gauntlet of British broadsides. In fact, most of the ships would be able to be swept on both sides as would be sailing down the "channel" of British ships. While those ships headed into the maw of danger, the front third, which had tacked before, would beat up and then move to running, cutting across the line. Meanwhile, we planned for the final third of our fleet to continue across the map to cut the British line from the other side as it continued down.
But the tack goes awry! Most of the ships make the difficult turn through the wind, despite the close proximity of the enemy ships. But the huge behemoth, the Santissima Trinidad hasn't made it. She's fouled in the wind and is in chains. Not only she but also the Neptune and Redoubtable, all in chains! Now there are two drifting British ships and three fouled combined fleet ships. So the center of the engagement, where the two fleets are coming together has suddenly become a morass of stalled ships as sailors work desperately to bring the flapping sails under control and get them moving again. The Fougueux, near the end of the middle section manages a lucky shot with a hot ball of steel. Flames begin to leap aboard the Belle Isle (which had just turn out of the way of the Royal Sovereign). The French Heros, slayer of Lord Nelson, now preparing to come alongside the Victory and board her, takes heavy fire from the British Neptune. Somewhere the Heros has burst into flame and the men are scurrying to put out the flames.
The French Indomptable, having tacked, is now tucking in between the Royal Sovereign and the Belle Isle. She manages to exchange heavy fire with the Royal Sovereign and both ships burst into flames. But at the same moment, while the Royal Sovereign's men are distracted by the fire on their ship, men from the Indomptable throw across the grappling lines and storm aboard. After a bloody struggle along the decks, Collingwood is captured by some French sailors and the Royal Sovereign is now in the hands of the French. [This results from a successful melee between the Indomptable and the Royal Sovereign.] Things are looking bad for the British morale. Two commanders gone and the two flagships adrift.
Yet all the while, as the British close, their skill in firing at the hulls has made it difficult for the French and Spanish to advance. Slowly but surely the combined fleet is being turned into kindling and matchwood! The sailors of His Majesty's Navy, unaware that their leaders have been harmed continue to do their duty for King and Country. [The British make a successful break roll which keeps them in the game. This is required at the end of each turn now that they have lost a ship to capture]
[Wind check turn. The wind did not change but remained in direction 6]
What was to be a slicing of the combined fleet line by the British and a well timed turn into the face of the aggressor by the combined fleet has instead resulted in a chaotic mass of ships burning, dismasted, fouled and adrift.
The British Neptune fires on the Mont Blanc as she comes up into the fray. The Mont Blanc lights on fire. By now, the Heros is down to zero hull strength and is danger of sinking. But the Mont Blanc manages to return fire into the rigging of the Neptune and she lights up like so much tinder. But the Mont Blanc is not moving fast enough. The San Francisco de Asis can't steer clear and within seconds her masts are tangled with those of the burning Mont Blanc.
A little farther back, the Buccantaure, Admiral Villeneuve's flagship, has fouled with the Temeraire. Ships are crunched together and everything is smoke and confusion. [Ships normally drift in the direction of the wind each turn but due to the calm conditions, they only drift on the even turns.]
But by now, somehow, whether it is signals passed up the halyards or word of mouth from sailors who are within shouting distance, the British fleet knows that it's two lead Admiral's have been lost. It was Nelson who had once said that England expects that each man will do his duty. But on this day, the morale is too shaken, the sadness too sudden and great. Without Lord Nelson and with the front of the line smashing against the combined fleets side, the British Fleet fires a few last broadsides and then turns away, leaving the combined fleet. Shaken by their loss of Lords Nelson and Collingwood, His Majesty's Navy breaks off in sullen shame! Marc rolls the Break check, with various modifiers ending up at -4 because of Lord Nelson's death. He rolls a "3" which means a "0" and thus the British have given up!
On this day, Trafalgar goes to the Spanish and French. Villeneuve is hailed as a hero and the French no longer must yield to a navy which once soundly blockaded them but today has run home with their tails between their legs! Now His Majesty, the Emperor Bonaparte, can once again contemplate that bold and dashing plan of sending his men across the Channel to take England once and for all! But wait...those Russians need whipping.....
Flying Colors is loads of fun. Once the shooting starts, it doesn't let up. I'm a big fan of the O'Brian and other authors' series of Napoleonic naval warfare and I think Flying Colors does an admiral--I mean, admirable--job of streamlining the play for large engagements such as Trafalgar. I have no doubt that, had the British not broken off, we'd have been there quite a bit longer! And it might have gone worse for the French and Spanish. But it was worth it to see the look on Marc's face when Nelson got hit in the first turn and died in the second!
I know that the designer has updated the rules (Marc and Risdon have the newest version). It would be a nice thread for Michael to list the major changes and their rationale (because some of them I don't like...such as no automatic raking).
The three of us have played several battles including some of the smaller scenarios and some "roll your own" where we each picked out a few ships and slugged it out. It was a real treat to have time to play a big battle like Trafalgar, though.
Marc commented to his son that he had several books on a shelf that detailed the Napoleonic wars and the big naval battles. After trouncing the British today, I said to Risdon, "I guess we can go pitch those books now!"
And all this before one in the afternoon!
Re: Trafalgar! History Rewritten Before One in the Afternoon
I love it! Nobody ever believes me when I say the Franco-Spanish fleet can win at Trafalgar ... I'd say you hit upon a pretty good strategy!
With regards to changing the rake rules, it was to eliminate what one of the reviewers here on BGG referred to as "Richthoffen's Syndrome" (you rake me, I rake you, repeat), as well as to enhance the durability of ships (keeping them from going down too quickly).
Re: Trafalgar! History Rewritten Before One in the Afternoon
Mark, that was an excellent review of our last battle, and I appreciate that you mentioned that my British fleet was chewing up the Combined fleet nicely. The difference in audacity ratings and the advantage the British have when targeting the hulls of enemy ships makes a substantial difference once the fleets close, and had I not lost lost Nelson and Collingwood so early in the action I believe the outcome would have been very different. I have been enthralled by every aspect of sailing ships, particularly from this period, from the time I was a child and first saw a wooden model my grandfather made. Until I lost this scenario though,I never appreciated the audacity, the sheer guts that Nelson must have had to attempt to break the line as he did, nor his genius in knowing that his sailors' experience and elan would be enough to overcome the initial and apparently suicidal disadvantage of sailing ever so slowly directly into their broadsides. Would I approach the same way next time, follow Nelson's dictum? You bet!
Very well written AAR, almost reads like a dispatch after the action. I had the privelage of walking Victory's decks and seeing the spot where Nelson fell and where he died and the orriginal of the painting of that scene that is all the history books. A very moving experiance.