Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Close Action" Age of Sail Naval rules at The Portal

    Andrew, Greg and I had a go at a first game  with these rules by Clash of Arms games (not to be confused with "Signal Close Action" by Rod Langton) a few months back at The Portal gaming center of The Time Machine hobby store in Manchester, CT. Technically, this is a boardgame (2 paper map sheets and cardboard ship counters are included), but it works at least as well as a miniatures game. On the surface, it is similar to the old "Wooden Ships and Iron Men" boardgame, and the related "Ship 'o the Line" Miniatures rules . 

Close Action rules, by Mark A. Campbell, and published by Clash of Arms Games. 

Andrew set up the CA introductory scenario, playing the British (4 frigates), while Greg and I had the French - 3 Frigates and a sloop. I don't have a lot of Frigates in my collection, so we had to borrow some Spanish Ships to augment my British Frigates, and some Dutch ships to augment my French ones. The goal of the scenario was for the French to escape from the British. Andrew mistakenly played for closing to action, while Greg and I shuffled off to, well somewhere far from the RN. All but one of our 4 ships would clearly make it away, losing only the smallest to the British pursuit. A good review of writing orders and sailing with no real shooting!

Greg had to leave, so Andrew and I re-used the same ship sheets/stats (like SotL, these are rather a pain to set up), and agreed to have at it so that we could learn the rules. I again took the French knowing that in a straight up fight victory would be all but impossible against a stronger, better force.  Here, the first of the "Jolly Tars" close upon my line. 

Continued maneuvering to effective range by the British Squadron. 

I kept my line as tight as possible, hoping to rake one of more of the British ships as they closed. 

I did fairly well with the opening shots, but the range was still too long for any decisive effect, especially with my inferior crews. 

The action becomes general!

Rakes, collisions, musketry from the marines in the tops - all sorts of action!  Boarding however, although allowed in the rules, is usually fairly futile. 

The tidy lines disintegrate, and the fight  becomes more a series of duels. 

After some earlier success, the heavier weight of the British broadsides, along with their superior crews began to tell.

As my ships lost rigging and hull sections, French morale began to nosedive... and with it, their combat performance!

A sandwich, perhaps Monsieur?

We made many msitakes alopng the way, as is to be expected playing a new rules set. 

The Collision rules, which are very important, were easily the most troublesome aspect to get down; this is typical for Age of Sail games, in my experience. 

Top down view of the later stages of the action

In CA, orders are written for each ships movement and crew tasks, and then the orders are carried out. The author suggest the rule are at their best when one player command a single ship, or failing that ships from diverse squadrons, to model the limited communication and coordination possible in fleet actions once the battle was underway. 

I'd disagree - first of all there are few settings where that many players can be assembled, and second, for any thing but veteran players, the chaos of writing orders, the effect of your enemy's orders, the varying capabilities of the different ships (all 74's are definitely NOT the same in these rules!), and the degradation caused by combat damage combine to make close coordination far more difficult than it might seem!

Approaching the "Far side of the World" (title of one of the excellent Patrick O'Brian Auibrey/Maturin novels of the RN ijn the Napoleonic Wars). 

Down to just two French ships vs all four British remaining, the rest of my ships strike and call it a day... Rule Britannia!

    We learned a lot from this game and enjoyed it enough that a follow up game was planned for the inaugural running of Portal Con in Manchester, CT for mid January. Unfortunately, that day saw an ice storm strike the state. I ventured a mile down the road from my home before deciding the roads were too unsafe and had to phone in a cancellation. Andrew ran the game himself using the mapboad and counters, which went OK, if not as visually satisfying as the 1:1200 models! Hopefully we will get to play again before too long!

    Based upon this certainly inadequate trial of the rules, they seem a quite good simulation of naval combat in the Age of sail. The rules are fairly complex, with a lot of detail and chrome. The combat mechanics are probably the simplest part of the entire game!  The set up time for the ship sheets is a significant negative; the large number of scenarios included in the rules (with two more expansions available - "Monsoon Seas" and "Rebel Seas"), on the other hand, is a big plus. 

    There is an independent commercial  product available to automate the generation and print out of ship sheets for these scenarios -The Naval Register. This costs $22 plus $3 shipping, and an extra $7 for each of the add ons - thus  $39 for the whole package. I'd say if you plan on playing these rules more than twice, the savings in time and the improved format of the ship shapes would seem to make this purchase a pretty obvious choice. A pdf of the manual for this product is available for review on line as well. 

"Hearts of Oak", the official March (?!) of the British Navy
(originally from an Opera written in the the 18th century - Capt Maturin in the O'Brian books complains that he detests the lyrics!)


  1. Looks like a tense battle. How would you compare CoA's Close Action with WSIM? I played WSIM much in my younger days and could probably still pull it from the shelf and play again without a great deal of trouble. Elegant game.

    1. I have never played WSIM, but did play SotL, the miniatures game derived from it a number of times. Both games, BTW, were written by the late Craig Taylor, co-author of Napoleon's battles. SotL was simpler than CA, but still fairly complicated, and also had those darned ship sheets to complete.

      CA is definitely more complex. It is also very "Tablelicious" - thyere are a great many tables for resolving the results of very actions (not just combat - possoible collisions, tacking, and more). It probably works best with a veteran GM who know the rules well, and one captain (player) per ship. The author of CA basically states that he wrote it in large part to correct some inaccuracies in WSIM, especially boarding and the effects of long range fore.

      Years ago, we played quite a bit of Dave Arneson's "Don't GIve Up the Ship". Those rules were certainly simpler but still took a LONG time to play!

  2. Nice looking, I have been trying to glue together some 1/2400 ships. slow going.

    1. Assembling sailing ships for wargames is often a pain in any scale, although I think it is worse with smaller scales. They do look nice when they are done. I don't add more than the most minimal rigging, though!

  3. Good looking game. I prefer a naval game without calculators and protractors.

    1. Well, no protractors needed due to the hex grid. No cacullators needed (but many tables as noted).

  4. Thanks for the insight into the rules Peter, and it is great to see your ships in action.

    I note your comments about the rules being transferred from the boardgame but, in your opinion and having had an initial run-through, could they be adapted to play without the hexagonal overlay on the sea-mat?

    1. Certainly. However, if you're going to play without a grid (and I understand the aesthetics of that), then I suspect you'd be best to use a set that is designed for use without a grid to start with.

  5. I always find age of sail games very tempting indeed, though lacking the skill to build and paint the models, I often think, as Jonathan noted, that I should dust off my copy of AH's WSIM in the 1976 bicentennial edition box - many happy memories there.

    1. You might consider the 1:900 Portsmouth miniatures ships. They're easy to assemble, or you can buy them painted and assembled at a quite reasonable price. Not as detailed or varied as some of the 1:1200 models, but still very suitable for gaming.

  6. Very nice report. I have always been a fan of Close Action, albeit due the need for many players, it has been overtaken by more manageable Signal Close Action. I tend to think that play of Close Action improves greatly if one ship is handled by one player, but of course this does lead to situation where any reasonable sized battle becomes rarity and games become somewhat long.

    In any case, Close Action is saved in the bookshelf for special occasions and both supplements are seeing very frequent use.

    1. Thanks for the comment; I enjoyed perusing your blog, which is excellent!

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