Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Ivory Towers of Balnibarbi

After Lt. Morrison's escape from the angry natives of Nanus and Mauru, he took the HMS Opportunity to the land of Balnibarbi.  Needless to say he managed to upset the local there as well, and once again the Opportunity found itself having to flee, this time through a blockade of the strange and terrible Balnibarbian Ivory Towers.

This was the Blockade Runner scenario from the book. The Opportunity was unchanged from the previous game.

The Balnibarbians had three Ivory Tower warships. Each has the same basic design, but with a different set of weaponry - one was equipped with a ram, one with a powerful front-mounted cannon and the third with a poison-cloud disperser. I'll post the basic stats at the end of the report.

The Ivory Towers are powered by Science! so were not limited by the wind. However their movement can be erratic and unpredictable. But the Opportunity found its escape limited by islands on one beam and reefs on the other, and had limited room to move.

The first Ivory Tower moved in with its fearsome brass ram.

The Opportunity tried to slip past, and fired an ineffective broadside as well.

Science! prevailed and the Balnibarbian vessel rammed Opportunity amidships, badly damaging it.

Opportunity limped away ...

... as the other Balnibarbian vessels approached. The gun-vessel fired a hot and caused more damage.

The crew of Opportunity panicked, and steered it into the shallows surrounding an island, where it hit rocks, and sank.

So that ended well for the Opportunity ...

I set up the game again, with different terrain. This was a more open field, with a couple of islands still, but shallows rather than the reefs of the previous game.

The Balnibarbians were active, and quickly moved to intercept the Opportunity.

The ship with the poison-gas projector exuded a mist which confused the senses as well, and the crew of Opportunity struggled when in close proximity to it.

A couple of gas attacks took their toll, and Opportunity found itself putting all of its effort into fleeing rather than being able to shoot back. Skillful sailing kept it out of the firing arc of the gun-vessel, but the ram was closing up now as well.

Fortunately the former collier's sturdy build deflected the ram, but the crew suffered another gas attack.

The gun-vessel closed in from the stern, but misjudged its approach, and had to grapple Opportunity rather than risk a collision, spoiling the chance of a close-range shot.

With all seemingly lost, and Opportunity near-crippled, the crew found fresh heart. In a stunning display of good fortune they cut the grapples holding them in place, and slipped past the ram. The Balnibarbians floundered in confusion.

The gun-vessel got off a shot at the fleeing British vessel, and damaged its rudder.

But the Opportunity was already set on the course it needed to be on in order to escape, and as the Balnibarbian Ivory Towers failed to move properly, got a good enough lead to make pursuit impossible.

So one game each for the British and the Balnibarbians.

Balnibarbian Ivory Towers - Q3 C3 - Unorthodox, Shallow Draft, High Towers, Unarmed
(i)   Ramming
(ii)  Bilious Cloud, Charismatic
(iii) Heavy Bow Gun, Master Gunner, Trained Gun Crews

Monday, 18 February 2019

Catamarans and Canoes

In my previous post I promised I'd share how I made my Pacific Island canoes and catamarans. And here I am keeping my promise.

Obviously the first thing I did was scour the 'net for pictures, and then jumble them together in my head so I had a kind of generic look to aim for. Not unlike how I did my European sailing ships. Then I sketched out what I was trying to do. I assumed that I'd use matchsticks as the basis for the hulls, and worked from there. The sailing ship at the top of the skech was just for scale.

And here's the basic bits - 20mm and 15mm lengths of matchstick, shaped with emery-board.

I used small pieces of thin card to create the effect of the highly curved bows and high sterns. The platform for the catamarans is card, with a matchstick fighting platform. I've probably made the catamarans a little wide, but they look right to me, so I'm sticking by the design. I mocked the vessels up on bases to make sure I had the right look. I'd sketched two canoes to a base, but three looked better in reality. 



And finally the finished vessels. I cut the masts at 15mm and added sails using thick craft paper cut into triangles.

Theses designs will be very easy to replicate if I feel the need to expand my fleet. There's just over 100pts of vessels in those four, which is an adequate force for a game, but it would be fun to expand this force and then create a duplicate one in a different colour-scheme for some Pacific Island naval warfare.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Stop The Boats!

Last week we went to Canberra for the weekend, and one of the things we went to see was an exhibition called 'Cook In The Pacific' at the National Library of Australia. It was an excellent exhibition, with loads of maps, paintings, drawings and artefacts covering all three voyages, as well as some stuff on how Cook is interpreted and regarded now (very topical in Australia, for a number of reasons). Sadly, though, if you thought it sounded interesting, you've missed it.

Anyway, I ended up inspired to know more about Cook, so bought Nicholas Thomas's 'Discovery: The Voyages of Captain Cook', which covers the key features of each voyage and Cook's interactions with the various people's he encountered and does so without either deifying or demonising him.

Needless to say, all this reading about ships and adventures in far-off parts of the world inspired me to play some more 'Galleys & Galleons'. I thought it would be fun to pit some irate Pacific Islanders against a European voyage of discovery, especially as it would give me a chance to try Boats as a vessel type covering native canoes. This mean, of course, that I had to design and make some Pacific Island vessels, which I did. But that's for another post. Once they were made and statted up, I was ready to play.

So here we are. HMS Opportunity and HMS Explorer are two sturdy Whitby colliers on a voyage of discovery in the Pacific. Under the command of relgious zealot Lt. Morrison and his thuggish bully subordinate Lt. Dutton, the two ships have been wandering the globe looking for trade opportunities and a chance of fame and prestige. Needless to say, in the newly discovered twin islands of Nanus and Mauru, they have seriously upset the locals and find themselves having to flee for safety.

But the natives have assembled a war-fleet, consisting of canoes full of warriors, and some larger swift-sailing catamarans, and are trying to intercept the British vessels before they can make the open sea.

Can Morrison and Dutton stop the boats, and make it to safety?

The terrain had an island bang in the centre, so the first decision was whether to run to the north or south or it. Morrison took the Opportunity and Explorer north, deftly navigating a course between the island and a nearby reef.

The Nanus and Mauru islanders also mostly passed north of the island, hoping to catch the British ships as they turned for the open sea. They shallow-draft vessels could easily negotiate the reefs and shallows. One catamaran passed south of the island, to catch the British from the rear.

As the islanders came into range, Opportunity fired a broadside, to no effect.

Opportunity had weathered the gap between the island and the reef better than Explorer, and a gap had opened up between the vessels. A catamaran steered for the gap, aiming to split the two British ships. The canoes closed slowly, and a little reluctantly at times, on Opportunity.

The British ships continued to fire when they had the chance. The catamaran survived another broadside, this time from Explorer, whilst Opportunity managed to destroy a canoe. Whilst they look imposing compared to the native craft, remember that Opportunity and Explorer were equipped for a voyage of scientific discovery, so were not as well-armed as a warship of equivalent size.

A native catamaran passed across the bow of the Explorer. Rather than risk a collision, Dutton took his ship in and grappled the islander vessel. But he lacked the initiative to launch a boarding action.

The natives wasted no time, swarming ferociously over the Explorer's bows. But Dutton was an old hand when it came to cracking skulls, and his crew fended off the attack before launching one of their own, cutting a bloody swathe through the islanders.

But the second catamaran was coming up in support.

Morrison was stuck upwind of his consort, so left him to his own devices, making a run for the open sea in the Opportunity. But the native canoes got their act together, closed in and grappled the collier.

A second group of canoes closed in as well, and a fierce melee began. The natives had ferocity and numbers, whist the British had a bigger vessel and better discipline.

On the Explorer, Dutton was having trouble reorganising his crew, and hadn't managed to cut away from the one crippled catamaran before the other came up on his stern, disgorging a fresh batch of warriors into the fight.

It was over quickly. The British crew were overpowered, and the Explorer was lost.

The crew of the Opportunity were fighting like demons, though, as their veteran petty officers ensured discipline was maintained and prevented the ship being taken. Bloodied but unbeaten, they forced the handful of surviving natives back to their canoes, before cutting free ...

... and escaping. The catamarans had already broken away from Explorer and were in pursuit.

One closed rapidly, but whilst Morrison's ship was near crippled with injured and wounded crew everywhere, they were equal to the task of steering the ship to safety without incident. The Opportunity escaped ...

... leaving Dutton and the surviving crew of the Explorer to an unknown fate.

The VPs for this scenario are quirky. The pursued ships (the British) get points for escaping, but also for damaging the pursuers. The pursuers get nothing for damaging their prey, only for sinking or capturing them. In this case their capture of the Explorer was offset by the escape of the Opportunity, despite the heavy damage it had taken. And having lost both groups of canoes, as well as having a heavily damaged catamaran, the points gave the British a decisive victory.

Gunnery played a minor role in the action, and was virtually ineffective. The islanders did fire a couple of volleys of spears and stones at the British ships, also to no effect. Everything was decided in the cut and thrust of boarding actions.

Finally, here's the stats for the ships. The British ships were run as merchant vessels to reflect their scientific rather than military function. The native vessels are simpler, and built entirely for boarding using their Intimidating warriors.

HMS Opportunity - Q3 C3 - Galleon Rigged, Merchant, Chasers, Reinforced Hull, High Castles, Veteran NCOs, Pilot (58pts)

HMS Explorer - Q3 C3 - Galleon Rigged, Merchant, Chasers, Reinforced Hull, High Castles, Veteran NCOs (54pts)

Catamarans - Q3 C2 - Lateen Rigged, Unarmed, Intimidating, Shallow Draft, Sweeps (24pts)

Canoes - Q2 C2 - Boats, Intimidating (28pts)

Friday, 15 February 2019

Rebels and Patriots

'Rebels and Patriots' is the latest installment in the Rampant series of games published by Osprey, and is aimed at skirmish warfare in North America from about 1750 to the end of the ACW. Obviously that's where the 'fluff' and examples in the book is pitched, but it would cover just about anything else geographically in that period as well. Caesar and I decided to give it a try last night, playing the introductory scenario using the book's 1862-63 ACW lists.

The game is skirmish level, so each unit is basically between 6 and 12 men. However we used my 6mm ACW troops, and had one base of eight figures representing two men, which is an unusual scale (0.25/1) but looked OK. Basically a full infantry unit is 6 bases, we used two artillery stands to represent 'a gun' and, had we used cavalry, we would have had three bases per unit, as they operate with six figures normally.

Are you completely confused yet? We weren't.

We played on a 2' x 2' board and halved all game distances to compensate.

The scenario basically has a ridge in the middle of the board and an objective point on the ridge. Each side scores points if they are the only one with units within a certain distance of the objective at the end of a turn.

I took the Union - one artillery piece, and four line infantry units, two of which were veteran and two of which were green. Caesar had the Confederates, who also had a gun, but a smaller force of three veteran infantry units who were poor shots, but aggressive.

The terrain was fairly open aside from some fences, which slowed movement and provided light cover.

I put my veteran units to the fore, leaving a green unit in reserve and another to cover my left flank.

The green troops advanced through a field, and soon had some rebels in their sights. They opened fire and inflicted a goodly number of casualties with their initial volley.

Meanwhile I pushed close to the objective. Caesar reorganised his troops for a single aggressive push over the ridge.

The first lot of Confederates to poke their heads over the far end of the ridge got them shot off. The Union were closed up and firing volleys with confidence and relative competence.

Unfortunately the Union reserve came under Confederate artillery fire, and decided to skedaddle.

Caesar pushed forward, and sat on the objective, contesting it. There was much firing.

The Confederates came of worse in the firefight. The problem was that they couldn't charge something unless they could see it, so Caesar had to crest the ridge on one turn before charging on the next. As each unit crested the ridge, the Union troops shot it down.

However the veteran Confederates, whilst depleted, still had fight left in them. Their aggressive train makes them pretty formidable in close combat, so even when outnumbered their charge was enough to push back their opponents and give the Confederates a couple of turns of control of the objective.

But it wasn't enough. Control of the objective also meant being exposed to fire, and steady Union volleys made short work of the Rebels. With a few turns left in the game the Union had undisputed control of the objective.

I picked up the big victory points for control of the objective, and we both picked up points for inflicting casualties on our opponent. In addition I got a bonus point from fortuitous random events during the game, and that gave me a convincing 5-1 win.

The game played very smoothly and we didn't have to look up very much once we got going. Obviously we know the system reasonably well, and whilst this version does have some fundamental changes, prior knowledge helped. The fact that we really only had two troop types in play kept things simple as well. The biggest changes in 'Rebels and Patriots' are that all units get a chance to activate, rather than a fail ending your turn, and the fact that a morale tests are easier to pass (since you only factor in casualties inflicted that round, rather than accumulated casualties), with a failure leading to disorder rather than a straight rout. Units basically have more staying power, although this is somewhat offset by the lethality of firing.

This game very much covers the same ground as Sharp Practice, but I found the system easier to follow, and it was more obvious how to set about achieving an aim. It's probably slightly lighter in terms of chrome than SP, but certainly easier to play. A worthy addition to the Rampant stable.

Thanks to Caesar for running the game, for which I just provided toys, terrain, and a righteous cause.
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