Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review: Forged in Battle 1:3000 Age of Sail Ships

After quite a bit of searching around, I decided to pull the lanyard on these 1:3000 ships by Forged in Battle [CLICK] where five sets are presently offered: 
  1. both sides Battle of the Nile, 
  2. Copenhagen British, 
  3. Copenhagen Danish, 
  4. Trafalgar British, 
  5. Trafalgar Allies. 
There is interesting variety in the ships, the sail settings, the type of vessels, etc. However, the ships do not appear to be available in singles or smaller batches than the above listed sets. At about $1.45 a ship that's not much hardship to bear, altho it doesn't cater to the whim of gamers who like to purchase ONLY and EXACTLY what they want. Think of it as buying 6 or 10mm figs - you don't buy them in singles, but in batches. Enough said!

After some thinking, I decided to go for the Trafalgar British.


ORDERING & ARRIVAL. The package was easily ordered Forged in Battle's on-line site which was reasonably efficient and - worked. The packaged arrived in about 6 days or something amazing like that - I usually don't get domestic wargame merchendice that quickly [except from a few people like Neal Catapano at the War Store]...fantastic!


PACKING. the packing was about 50 feet [it seemed] of bubble wrap and could've brought fine china from the UK safely - the package was one blister with some foam [the usual] with all the ships in it. Sound a bit dicey? Well, these ships are as durable as the real thing!



CONTENTS. My package was:

7 x NAP12, 1st / 2nd Rate
17 x NAP13, 3rd Rate
3 x NAP14, small 3rd Rate
4 x NAP15, Large Frigate
31 Total ships
Unfortunately, I somehow missed separating out the 3 "Small 3rd Rate" shpis, and they are with in the middle group below [quite hard to tell apart, really].

Let's face it - this is a lot of ship for the money! In essence, it is 1/2 of Trafalgar - and most rules have options for small ship actions of a couple per side, or per player, so one could be finished with all Age of Sail purchases in one go here, and have everything from single-ship combat to good-sized squadrons of 15-16 ships!

THE GOODS. And below is what you've been awaiting, the closeup:


To left, NAP12 1/2 Rate. To right, NAP15 Large Frigate. In the center is a 3rd Rate of some sort. The metal between the fore and main masts is an identification streamer / flag, that between the main and mizzen is a bit of flash.  The pegs are for the included bases.

Note that even with a casual pic, you can see lots of little details, from the gunports to the ratlines, to the stern decorations, and these ships are...ONE INCH LONG! AMAZING!!!

comparison shots with vessel drawings from "Warfare in the Age of Sail" by B Ireland.

I think the proportions on the sculpts compare quite well - to these drawings, anyway.


Close comparison of 1st / 2nd Rate and diagram


Close pic of 3rd Rate 2-decker


Finally, the "large frigate" compared to diagram.

Overall, I think these ships capture the feel quite well, with good lines. My photography and the lighting isn't ideal, but I hope you can see how they look - remember, they're only one inch long, so of course they are more intended for squadrons together on the table.

Same three ships, stern view.


Same three ships, bow view - nice lines, you can see the bowsprit coming at you.


For comparison, below are my Wooden Ships and Iron Men counters, from the classic [and elderly, mine is a 1982 second edition] Avalon Hill board game. The counters are an inch by a 1/2 inch. Note that the bases are nearly the identical size. The holes are for the pegs, but one can certainly not use the bases at all. This is very convenient - I will most likely not use the bases as I'm thinking of using plexiglass instead so the ships always match the cloth.


Note how the ratlines provide additional stability to the masts without weighing down the sculpt visually. They are in fact solid, but I hope to hide that somewhat with the painting,  putting that "into shadow" or something. Pic shows off the "full sail" of these British ships, which are clearly working to close in on the Allied Fleet during the chase preceding the battle. Interestingly, the Allied ships have a different sail setting.

And below, a 1.5" hex map from Chessex. Nice fit, the ships look quite natural if a bit close together - they should really be a hex or two apart - a ship length or two.


Same, lower view. Note that the AH counters match the miniatures.

And here they are in Line Ahead, coming straight at you! Obviously, this upset the photographer and he failed to focus properly.

And below is the same on the WS&IM hex map. These ships just fit into the game "as-is" which just can't be a coincidence. Surely the sculptor has this game...? Below them are the same size counters from Avalanche Press' "1898" to show you what pre-dreadnoughts look like next to these lovelies - they look quite flat!


Overall, I give Forged in Battle:

- Customer service, packaging and shipping, A+
- Sculpting, sturdiness, proportions, A
- completeness of line, price, A++
- handiness and usefulness in games from convention to small table, A+
OVERALL RATING = A+

"Don't be stupid be a schmarty - Come and join the Forged in Battle Party!"


If you're looking for a great deal on sturdy ships with lots of visual appeal, excellent proportions at a great price, look no further. 37 years of gaming, these are some of the best thought out and executed sculpts I've ever seen. The "battle packaging" is great and will save newbies time and trouble with gathering models. And of course, the price...!!!


Future thoughts. well, obviously I'm going to get more. Certainly I want some variety in sail setting, ship, type, etc, so I'm seriously checking out the British fleet at Copenhagen, as well as the Danish. But, frankly, my future intent is to own ALL of these blisters!


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Age of Sail Project, p.1

'Signal "Close Action" Lieutenant - but not too close!"
Image result for america's cup boats
Sailing competitions - they're just not what they used to be.

I grew up sailing with my family, and spending most of the summer at the beach. We sailed into my college years and then I raced yachts for people as a young adult. Eventually, that got too crazy and I was busy with other aspects of life and stopped sailing. BUT I do love it! I read Hornblower and some Kent growing up, and the modeling challenges of beautiful Age of Sail [AoS] sailing ships is quite appealing.


However, gaming it has always been something else again. In high school, I played - and still own - Wooden Ships & Iron Men, both at home and with the local club who played with miniatures. When I got into sailing myself, I didn't like the artificiality of most game rules, and others were crazy complicated. Ultimately, I want:

  1. Rules that feel like I commanding a sailing ship or squadron,
  2. but are still playable, and 
  3. where you win by out-sailing not "out-gaming" your opponent, and
  4. ideally, can be played in both small and fleet actions.
Several years ago, I was interested in individual ship battles, so I got several of the lovely 1:600 Skytrex models, including a British, French and two US frigates, a Brit 64 and an East Indiaman, thinking to do small sea fights. I also got the rules reputed to have the best sailing mechanics  "Heart of Oak". And HOak _does_ have great sailing rules, but other mechanics are a bit clunky and old-school, and I couldn't seem to get the energy up to work with the intimidating Skytrex models, so the project languished. 

Eventually, I decided Age of Sail wasn't going to work out for me. I took pics of my copy of WS&IM to sell it on eBay with other board games, and took the skytrex ships and such to sell at Cold Wars. Then I didn't have time to put up the auction, and no one bought the Skytrex stuff at the 'con, so it all somehow survived by being 'out of sight, out of mind'.

Recently, I've been working on the "Portable Naval Wargame" for pre-dreads, I noticed that there were some ACW steam frigates in there. It also occurred to me that the shooting rules would work quite well for Age of Sail. This made fleet actions possible with some wind and command / control rules. A very tempting thought, since the sailing limitations of AoS are what make it interesting to game in the first place, along with the spectacle, of course.


However, I don't have time to build a big fleet of beautiful 1:1200 ships [nor the money for 1:600 ships!]. I need nice-looking but small ships that paint up quick. I checked around here and there, and eventually ran into the Forged in Battle 1:3000 ships, which looked perfect in the few pics I could get of the raw metal on line. 


Another clincher was checking into board games and finding a cheap copy of "1805: Sea of Glory by GMT". I also found a free copy of a small-ship action campaign system, "Narrow Seas", which looks promising. These fit into my new ethos that all naval actions are part of a strategic picture that affects the victory conditions of each action.

So in the end, I'm looking for:
  • the above listed qualities in a set of rules,
  • strategic impact and campaigns,
  • easy to teach newbies, quick play at home on a small space,
  • smaller ships that are easy to paint up but still look great on table.
  • a flexible project that can be played quick and casual or in depth over time.
Product Choices
Forged in Battle 1/3000 Napoleonic era ships CLICK

War Artisan Paper Ships CLICK: many scales & periods that can be scaled up and down depending on how you print them up. PLUS free pennants / ensigns, also easily scaled.

"1805: Sea of Glory" boardgame by GMT [CLICK]
[check out the "in-depth reviews" at bottom of the Board Game Geek page]

"Narrow Seas" free campaign download by Curs'd Captain [CLICK]


Rules by priority of interest, but all purchased:

"Portable Naval Wargame Rules" CLICK

"Wooden Ships & Iron Men" CLICK

"Admirals" CLICK

"Fire as She Bears!" CLICK

"Signal Close Action" CLICK

So, another old project manages to survive! This means that another one must be sacrificed in its stead, and I think a couple of the Role-playing game projects must go...

Monday, June 25, 2018

Portable Naval Wargame Pre-dreadnought Playtest 4: "Battle in the Bay!"

Colonial Wars can be a real growth enterprise, and the hats get better and better!
Image result for spanish american war
https://www.sutori.com/story/opposition-to-the-spanish-american-war-5197
But it should be remembered that "Pigs get fat while hogs get slaughtered"...

Was eager to try these rules with the changes listed in Playtest #3, so you didn't have to wait very long for Playtest #4! This time I pushed the Spanish farther back and gave them sea room. I also made a bunch of choices for expressing the ships in game terms.

Ships from history stats to rules::

  • Spanish ships had "older" guns [their own guns were noted as being slow, inaccurate, etc, inferior to the latest in general].
  • US ships had "modern" guns
  • Flotation Points were 1.5 x Displacement / 1000 [with some rounding]. For example, the Pelayo displaces 9,750 tons x 1.5 / 1000 is 15 FP.
    • Furthermore, a bonus FP or two were given if heavily armored, e.g. Pelayo and Olympia got 2 bonus FP, Boston and Raleigh 1.
    • An FP or two were taken away if there was no armor, e.g. Castilla.
Not used but worth noting:
  • Tertiary guns were noted as a "Yes / No" Y/N if plentiful, or y/n if just a few. They will be used against Torpedo Runs by torpedo boats and destroyers.
  • Speaking of which, a Torpedo boat of 500 tons would have one FP [barely]. So I made a "torpedo boat" three boats so they'd have 3 FP altogether. Also, rather than give a penalty to hit / range in on a small target, I just added a couple of FP for being a small, fast target. This is the same mechanic for the same effect as armor, i.e. survivability. This will have to be tested more in the future.

I felt a lot better with some sort of historical system in place, rather than just working by game types, which don't necessarily suit the older, Spanish, ships.

Game Changes to Portable Naval Wargame as used in this post:

  1. Turn sequence changed to: Initiative, Move, Shoot.
  2. Target Acquisition. Before rolling Gunnery dice v. a Target, it must be acquired. Roll a 4+ on a d6 so succeed, with: 
    • +1 for Short Range [3 hexes or less], 
    • +1 for each previous attempt to Range in on the same target, and 
    • -1 v. targets that are evading, obscured or have multiple shooters against it.
    • -1 Poor / +1 Excellent Gunnery
  3. No secondary batteries - each ship has one broadside.
  4. Squadron Quality. Squadrons were rated by Quality against which 2d6 added together would be rolled - success was equal or less. The Spanish were a '7' [58% chance] and the US a '9' [83%]. Quality was rolled for passing a ship's Critical Point 'band' [about 75% of Flotation Points lost]. A failure causes the ships to retreat from the battle. Also, to enter or remain in Close Range of 3 hexes or less, ships had to pass a squadron "Q" roll or move out to >3 Hexes.

The net stats for each squadron:
- Spanish 41 Flotation Points v. US 31 Flotation Points
- Spanish 24 Gunnery Dice v. US 28 Gunnery Dice
- Spanish speed '2', US speed "3" [exc Boston "2"], so 50% faster.
- Spanish Quality '7' w' 2d6 v. US '9' [58 v. 83% chance to pass]
- Spanish Gunnery is "Poor" [acquires targets on 5+] v. US is "Average" [4+]

Playtest #3 results...a debacle of 4 Spanish to zero US ships lost, altho the Boston and Raleigh were at their Critical Point and would have to depart the fight. Hoping for improvement here for the Spanish, but not with a lot of hope!


At turn 1, US is entering Manila Bay, with Spanish building up steam to the South.

Unprotected [and small] Cruisers Castilla and Reina Cristina are to left, the pre-dreadnought Battleship Pelayo and Armored Cruiser Emperador Carlos V to right.

Turn 1, US forces the minefield. Again, no mines in the first hex, but a '3' in the second! So each ship has to roll a 4+ to spot and evade mines, or else they will be attacked. The Raleigh rolls a 2 and fails to spot a mine in time, taking 1 Hit with the '4' roll [all PNW hit dice are '4-5' 1 Hit, '6' 2 Hits]. This is the best the Spanish have done with mine placement yet!

Note that the facing of the ships - to the spine - gives a free small turn in that they can turn  to 60 degrees left or right, or 'zig-zag' and basically go "straight". It also gives a fairly accurate broadside of about 140 or 150 degrees.

Turn 1, Spanish check to see if they were caught napping - but they weren't! Only a 1, 2, or 3 chit would've resulted in a delay [of 1, 2, or 3 turns] to get up steam.

The Spanish move a hex forward and pay to turn a full 60 to the next spine to Port.


Turn 2, the US continues to force the entrance; the Baltimore evades but the Olympia passes too close to a mine and is attacked! Fortunately, she suffers no damage [faulty fuse?]. Only the Boston needs to clear...

The Spanish continue closing in. 
I'm torn between attacking separately and attacking together... It might be useful to force the US to attack up the middle between the two Spanish divisions. As I want an "open sea" playtest, I decide not to be clever. Besides, the US ships are faster and might outrun the lagging Castilla and Reina Cristina, resulting in the Pelayo and Emp Carlos taking them all on. With several weaknesses, dividing up seems like a bad plan for the Spanish.

Turn 3, the Boston safely passes the mines [rolling a 4+] but the lines only advances one hex to get the Boston in formation. Despite having good guns, I don't want the Boston to be lagging behind, giving the Spanish an opportunity to overwhelm her alone.

As for the Spanish, I decide to begin pulling them into a Line Ahead. As everyone is still out of their 6-hex range, the turn ends.

Turn 4, the squadrons continue to close on each other. The Spanish lose Initiative, but it's pretty obvious what they'll do, anyway. The ships don't have the speed to turn fast enough to do anything radical. The Baltimore and Olympia are in range but fail to acquire the Emp Carlos and Pelayo as targets, respectively [they'll get a +1 next time]. The Emp Carlos also fails, but the Pelayo redeems her poor performance last game by acquiring the Baltimore on the first try! She has a 7-dice broadside, -1 dice / hex, so at 6 hexes fires with 1d6 but does get a hit on a 4 - first blood to the underdogs, Viva Espagna!


Turn 5. ES lose IN again and must move first. Neither side rolls low enough to enter close range. However, the Spanish move in forcing the US to end their move within close range as you have to move one hex forward before making one 60-degree turn. I like this, as it presents some interesting possibilities and makes the IN matter, even if you lose.

The US move one hex forward, and doesn't turn [I should probably have said they must]. Gunnery starts to really pick up at this point. Raleigh has total fail but the others all acquire targets, inflicting 3, 4, and 4 hits on the ECV, Pelayo and RC respectively - ouch! Looks like this will be another US success story... The ES reply with two failures to acquire, but the Pelayo hits the Baltimore for 2 and the RC acquires but then fails to hit with 1d6. 11 to 2 hits is not a sustainable gunnery exchange for the Spanish - the US has to run out of luck!

With turn 5 ending, the Reina Cristina is nearly sunk, altho the Baltimore is getting there, too, and it a much more important ship.


Turn 6, the US loses IN and moves first, pushing forward to cross the "T" of the ES squadron. The ES can't have this as they are already weaker in gunnery and will have to re-acquire targets or suffer halved broadsides.

Ergo, the Spanish move a little forward and start running parallel to the US. They can't willingly move within 3 hexes, but they must move forward a hex to turn and so end up at close range, anyway.

Gunnery is pretty heavy. The US hit down the line for 3, 2, 2, and 4 respectively, sinking the Reina Cristina and probably killing any survivors floating in the water, too! The ECV acquires Olympia and deals 5 Hits to her! Unfortunately, the Pelayo then entirely misses the Baltimore, ugh! The RC and the Castilla failed to acquire. Hit exchange is 11-5 this time.

Status end of Turn 6 shows the US still having a bit edge, but Olympia is hurting a bit. Another turn like that and she'll sink! The Dons can only hope - and shoot better!



Turn 7 the ES win IN, and there's some interesting issues. The US again fails to roll low enough to have the option to close [I decided to make it very hard - you must roll less than half your Q value or 5 US and 4 ES] so they must move first and away from the ES squadron.

I move them forward 1 and the Boston 2 to close up the gap. I'm still trying to decide if they should have to actively seek more distance or force it upon the other fleet if they move first.

Spanish don't roll low enough to remain close in, either, so shift forward and to starboard.

All gunnery is now at over 3 hexes. The ECV pounds the Olympia for 3 while Pelayo misses again and Castilla fails to acquire - AGAIN - needing to roll a '3' is all. The US gunnery is better, despite the Raleigh experiencing total failure to acquire - someone dropped the Stadometer overboard?? - inflicting 2-2-1 hits on the Spanish.

Turn 7 status: Olympia and ECV may have to leave Castilla and Pelayo are OK. US still has a big advantage at this point. I think the Spanish are cursed by history - and fate.


Turn 8, the Spanish lose and must move first. They have no option to close and get Castilla into better range [rolling an '8' and needing a 4 or less], but the ECV decides to continue fighting [by zero margin of error, I might add - noticeable lack of enthusiasm here]. They advance one hex, not wanting to risk the range lengthening.

The US rolls low enough and closes in, with the Boston aiming to finish off the Castilla in one turn if possible! Even Raleigh should be effective now...


Turn 8 Gunnery is pretty violent. The Pelayo finally gets it right and smacks the Baltimore for 4 Hits, while the ECV sinks the Olympia with a hit to spare!. Unfortunately, the Baltimore in a vengeful fury over the Olympia, apparently, blows ECV out of the water with 5 Hits! Castilla finally acquires but misses while Boston plugs her for 4 in return for splashing her decks. An ignoble performance, I'd say.

Turn 8 status: Olympia sunk [forgot to mark] is a new milestone for the Spanish - Hooray for them! Baltimore is almost sunk [makes two turns of missing even more annoying]. But the Castilla, ECV and RC are all gone, leaving Pelayo to fulfill its nickname of "Solitario".


Turn 9. The US loses IN and neither side is able to remain close up - can't blame them after the horrible destruction of last turn! - so a bit of distance is tacitly agreed upon. Perhaps it is time to end the slaughter and pick up survivors??


Turn 9 gunnery. US manages 2 Hits, Pelayo none. Fatigue perhaps?

Turn 9 status: Pelayo is approaching her Critical Point, and must roll some hot dice to finish off Baltimore and two more unscathed - if smaller - ships with 12 total Flotation Points!


Turn 10, I finally forget to turn over the Blue Dice! Still, I manage to track things much easier with the Move-Shoot turn sequence. Spanish lose but have no cunning plan. The US moves Baltimore off to force Pelayo to make hard choices - weaker shot v. Baltimore, or attempt to acquire a new target [and risk failure]? That's a cunning plan, cursed Yanquis!


Turn 10 gunnery, an annoyed Pelayo, with just one dice, rolls a ''4' and sinks the Baltimore! Honors to Solitario! In return, she takes two Hits from the Baltimore and Raleigh.

Turn 10 status: Pelayo has almost reached her Critical Point. The two strongest US cruisers are sunk but the remaining two, albeit smaller ones, have 11 Flotation Points left between them, which is quite a lot compared to Pelayo's 4!


Turn 11. The US wins IN. The Pelayo passes Q and moves slowly ahead. The US close to within killing distance.

Unfortunately, the Boston [the heavy-gunned of the two] doesn't acquire Pelayo as a target, and the Raleigh inflicts no damage! The Pelayo Acquires Boston and hits her for 3 - Viva!

Turn 11 status - the Pelayo can accept this exchange - Boston half sunk for no damage in return.


Turn 12, the US wins IN but there's not a lot of choice with the big guns on the table. Pelayo rolls a 2 to stay in the fight - must like the sight of Boston taking hits!


Turn 12 Gunnery. Boston has a critical failure to acquire Pelayo! Pelayo has no such problem and sinks her [barely]! Raleigh hits for 2 on a long shot!

Turn 12 status: Pelayo has little left and is now sinkable, and qill have to pass Q to avoid retreating. Still, Raleigh doesn't have great gunnery at this range so anything is possible. Heck, at this point the ES has done their best showing ever, and can float back to Manila with honor for all they care!


Turn 13. Spanish win IN, Raleigh starts to cut her off and cross her T. Pelayo fails Q [as badly as possible - sudden panic?] and veers off to Starboard. BUT, in the gunnery phase, Raligh again misses while Pelayo squeaks out just 1 hit.

Turn 13 status: Pelayo has two Hits, Raleigh 3, but is outgunned badly at this range.


Turn 14. US wins IN, but can't close the range. Pelayo continues retreating, and blasts Raleigh out of the water with 4 Hits. Not to be outdone, Raleigh sinks her with 2 Hits rolling a '6'! Note that the '4' shouldn't even be there...


Final Butcher Bill [well, Fishmonger's Bill, anyway]: a tactical tie, but a strategic win for the Spanish who've several small ships more than the US in the area. Also, with the Home Port advantage, they've a better chance to float one of their ships sooner.


Wow, great and grueling battle! 

I'm happy with the changes, and the decisions available to the Admirals. There's an ongoing tension to enter close and deadly range and remain there, and important decisions about which ship to target, switching targets, etc. I feel like these rule additions influence tactics and choices in an historical manner that make it worth a little more complexity. 

Much will be eased if I make splash markers with ship identifiers on them. I really like the ones in David Manley's "Fire When Ready!" as well as many of his scenario and other detailed rules. I just want a rule set that streamlines the mechanics while preserving the decisions! 

I do need to get more detailed on the Q rolls and perhaps nuance the roll a bit. Much like Manley's "Broadside and Salvo" rules, I'm looking for squadron leader decisions for a player while allowing the "non-player" ships to provide friction for their own side in this era of "lesser" communications.

Future Work:
- Nuance the Q rolls a bit,
- ditching hexes for table top,
- torpedo boats, torpedo runs and defensive fire!
- critical hits!
- optional: differentiating guns by rolling 1 dice per gun?
Happy to take suggestions as well!

I hope these playtests have given you an opportunity to learn about these lovely set of simple rules that you can have fun with your newbie friends and family, and add details as you see fit for your serious gamer pals.

"Remember the Maine!"