Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Flight of Ophelia Vitrix

In 1685, eccentric nobleman, inventor and patron of the sciences, Sir Robert Abney was a wanted man. Implicated as a supporter of Monmouth during the rebellion against James II his land holdings were almost certainly forfeit, and his very life in danger.  He hatched a bold plan to flee the country. His salvation lay in the product of his genius - the airship gunboat Ophelia Vitrix. With a band of loyal followers, and a few refugees from the disaster at Sedgemoor he took to the skies, and crossed the coast of England, bound for the safety of the Continent.

But his escape was not to be as simple as he hoped. His enemies had leaked word of his plans to the authorities, and they had reacted as swiftly as they could. The fast revenue vessel, HMS Friday was set to intercept him, along with two more unusual consorts.

As Ophelia Vitrix headed out to sea, an ornithopter flapped into view. Invented by the Dutchman, Herman Van Klunk, this machine was fast and carried small cannon fore and aft. James II had expressed an interest in purchasing some of these machines for the Royal Navy, and Van Klunk saw the interception of Sir Robert as a way of showing their capabilities.

Van Klunk was, in fact, an indifferent pilot, but another of his machines was in more capable hands. The French crown had also tested the ornithopters, and one man, the Comte de Morcerf had become uncommonly adept with them. At the controls of his machine he had waged a successful campaign against smugglers and pirates around the French coast, acquiring a nickname: The Crimson Count. Although no friend of the English, he was keen to test his machine against Abney's airship.

Sir Robert had a difficult task ahead of him. With The Crimson Count approaching from the starboard, he steered Ophelia Vitrix for a channel between two islands, dropping low in order to use them as cover from the ornithopter's guns. The Friday moved to block the exit through the channel

In danger from HMS Friday's guns, Sir Robert ordered Ophelia Vitrix to climb. The Crimson Count fired a long-range shot as the airship appeared above the rocky islet, but missed.

Although his plan was to cut across the low island with the ruined fort on it, Sir Robert observed that HMS Friday had moved too far across the channel, and swung the airship around to cut across its stern on a more direct line of escape.

The Crimson Count attempted to follow, but in his eagerness to line up another shot on the Ophelia Vitrix his ornithopter clipped a rock outcrop and suffered minor damage.

The captain of HMS Friday corrected his earlier mistake, and swung his vessel around. As the Ophelia Vitrix climbed once again the crew of the cutter fired a deadly broadside, damaging the airship's hull and rudder.

The Crimson Count struggled to control his damaged aircraft ...

... but soon brought it round in pursuit of the Ophelia Vitrix.

The Crimson Count and HMS Friday both kept pace with the airship. Meanwhile Van Klunk struggled to bring his machine in on a course to intercept Sir Robert.

Even with a damaged rudder, Sir Robert was able to turn his ship into a more favourable position with regard to the wind. Although slower than The Crimson Count's ornithopter when running before the wind, he forced the Frenchman to expend effort in controlling his craft instead of lining up shots. In addition the chase had been forced onto HMS Friday's worse point of sailing, and its crew were pushed to maximum exertion just trying to keep pace.

The Crimson Count and Ophelia Vitrix exchanged shots ...

... and as the Count moved in close Sir Robert personally put a ball through his airframe.

But as the Ophelia Vitrix headed rapidly for safety, HMS Friday managed to get close enough for another broadside, crippling the airship and shooting away some of her spars.

Sir Robert ordert the crew to make one final push for safety, but at the moment Van Klunk appeared on his starboard bow. A couple of swift shots from the ornithopter's bow gun saw more spars shot away followed by a huge gash being torn in the Ophelia Vitrix's gasbag. Sir Robert, his ship and his loyal crew crashed into the sea.

The story of how Sir Robert escaped captivity, reunited his crew, and took the repaired Ophelia Vitrix to the skies to become the world's first airship pyrate will have to wait for another day. As it was, the story of his duel with The Crimson Count was the talk of the broadsheets on both sides of the Channel for many weeks. And rightly so.

And so ended my first lacepulp game using Galleys and Galleons. I wanted to try out the rules for aerial craft which, of course, meant making some. The ornithopters were scratchbuilt from matchsticks and card, in a similar way to the WWI aircraft I have produced over the years. Ophelia Vitrix is a 3D print from this model. I cut it up to reorientate the gasbag, and added card sails.

The game was the Blockade Runner scenario from the rules. The stats for the ships are as follows:

Ophelia Vitrix - Q3 C2 - Airship, Square Rig, Unarmed, Swashbucklers, Yare, Chasers, Derring Do

The Crimson Count - Q2 C1 - Ornithopter, Reinforced Hull, Chasers, Trained Gun Crew, Master Gunner, Yare

Van Klunk's Ornithopter - Q4 C0 - Ornithopter, Chasers, Yare

HMS Friday - Q3 C1 - Lateen Rig, Yare, Razee, Master Gunner, Shallow Draft

Ophelia Vitrix was a straight pirate design and for this scenario the Swashbucklers and Derring Do are of little use. With hindsight some Bombs would be a better fit for the daring inventor's attempted escape, and would cost the same.

I made a couple of rules assumptions. Firstly I allowed Master Gunner to apply to Chasers. I can't see anything in the rules for either Chasers or Master Gunner which suggests that the bonus from the latter is not applied to the former. Secondly I allowed ornithopters to use the Reduce Sail action. Since they always move a full Long stick normally, their scope for manoeuvre is very limited indeed; being able to expend an action to move Medium instead gives them a little more flexibility.

The game showed the differences between Square and Lateen rig very nicely as well, with the wind shifting to very much disadvantage the cutter in a pursuit of the airship. I also found it amusing that the weakest vessel on the board - Van Klunk's ornithopter - was the one that delivered the finishing shot as it had spent most of the game flying around in circles far from the action and had, at one point, almost flown off the board altogether.

On the whole, the game was good fun, and actually had a delightful feel, with plodding cannon-armed air vessels fighting it out whilst having to pay attention to both altitude and wind direction.

This is my sixth recorded game of Galleys and Galleons, which means that I have completed that particular part of my Six by Six Challenge. Each of the games has tried a different aspect of the game or size of action, whilst giving me a better understanding of how the rules work.

6x6 - Game 6-6

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Ghosts and Pirates

I did some more ship-building this weekend. I also recalibrated my 3D printer and got it back in action, after a brief period of storage owing to the space it occupied being needed for something else. The results are that I have more stuff for Galleys and Galleons.

First off is a small 3D-printed fort. Yes, it has no guns, and only the single door I chose to add to it, but it's s nice generic model, and I can add things to it later.

Secondly is the obligatory ghost-ship. This was made exactly the same way my other ships were produced, but I distressed the hull with a file and emery-board before painting, and made the sails more ragged.

Finally I made and painted a couple of pirate ships. Because pirate ships are kind of essential to any game of this nature.

I have had the printer working all day of a few other bits and pieces which looked nice on the screen and which I think I can make use of. I shall post the results if anything comes from them.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Battle of Hampton Roads

I have enjoyed 'Galleys and Galleons' so much that I decided to download the supplement, 'Fayre Winds and Foul Tydes'. As well as a few extra ideas for conventional historical games, it includes a lot of character- and fantasy-based additions. These include the ability to add steam-engines to your ships, as well as make them ironclads. Whilst the rules assume that these features are somewhat primitive, it occurred to me that it might be possible to try out an American Civil War action using them. And what better action to try than the classic Monitor vs Virginia fight in 1862?

Here we have the Monitor
Q3 C3 - Steam Engine, Ironclad, Reinforced Hull, Turret (72pts)

And the Virginia.
Q4 C4 - Steam Engine, Ironclad, Sluggish, Heavy Chasers (Bow and Stern), Ramming, Trained Gun Crews. (71pts)

I tried to minimise the number of features I gave each ship in order to keep the game simple. I didn't try and factor in the Monitor's big guns, reasoning that she could only fire one of them at a time. Its Reinforced Hull represents the thick turret armour and its low profile and deck overhang. The Trained Gun Crews on the Virginia represent it being equipped, in part, with rifled guns. Strictly it had lost its ram the previous day, but I kept its ability to do it for the possible entertainment value.

This was the field of battle. The opposing ships entered from the two bottom corners. A sandbank dominated the centre, two areas of shallows the sides and the far edge was all land.

The ships steam into action, Virginia from the left and Monitor from the right. The Virginia got off to a bad start, failing all of its activation rolls for two turns, which meant that it didn't move. With a better quality and agility the Monitor headed for the shallows, where the Virginia would be less able to bring its ram into play.

The Virginia fires the opening broadside. It bounced off the Monitor's armour.

The Monitor returned fire, also with no effect.

The Monitor approached the Virginia, taking another ineffective broadside as it did so.

At this point, both ships had an appalling series of activation rolls. They fired a series of wild shots, but then got so close that both ships had to throw their helms hard over to try and avoid collision.

They failed. The Monitor slammed into Virginia's broadside. The Confederate ship took series damage. The Monitor was barely scratched.

The Virginia's crew managed to organise themselves, and fired a raking broadside at the Monitor, but once again its armour deflected the shots.

The two ships scraped past each other, and the Monitor found itself in a perfect position to fire a potential game-winning raking broadside into the Virginia. And it go no activations with which to fire it.

A long mid-game now ensued, as both ships slowly turned in the restricted waters. They reloaded their guns where required, and the Virginia repaired some of the damage from the collision.

The Virginia really struggled in the confined waters, so moved back between the shallows and the sandbank in order to gain some sea-room for a turn and attack on the Monitor. The Monitor piled on all the speed it had (not much, historically), and went back into the attack. As it steamed towards the Virginia, the Confederates inflicted a long-range hit with their rifled cannons.

The Monitor positioned itself broadside on the the Virginia, and the cannonade commenced.

The Virginia got the worse of it; her crew rolled truly badly for their firing, whilst the Monitor managed a crushing critical which left the Virginia crippled.

The firing continued. To stand a chance, the Virginia needed to roll all of its activation dice each turn, despite them all being coloured.

A poor roll, and the Virginia struck its colours.

To be fair, I would say that, for the purposes of saving face, the Virginia's crew chose to break off the action, leaving the field to the Monitor.

So how did the game feel?

It felt good. It even felt right for the style of action. Yes, the rules didn't cover the rivet-counting and gun-calibre detail that some people like for this era, but the activation system added a level of uncertainty that is often missing. As you can see from the report there were a couple of moments where things went wrong for both ships, and there were a couple more where things could have gone even worse; both ships were saved from running aground only by scoring a single activation. The reload rules made the firing more interesting in this game, as both ships were forced to manage their meagre allocation of activations.

I might consider making the Virginia Q3 in a future game, as the Q4 really hampered it, but I'd have to improve the Monitor a little to compensate.

The new rules were easy to use. The only query I had was whether a vessel with a steam-engine can spend activations to turn if it is currently stationary (I decided that it couldn't, but a strict reading of the rules doesn't forbid it and I may allow it in a future game.). And, if I did decide to do more ACW games, I'd eventually look at working out how to factor in moving in reverse or covering double-ended ships.

6x6 - Game 6-5

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Ambush In The Azores

I've thrilled you with how I made and painted my ships. Now the actual point of the exercise - playing a game with them.

The Azores. Early 17th Century. Wednesday afternoon.

The mighty Portuguese galleon Nossa Senhora da Guia has returned from The Indies, laden with treasure and spices. She is met by two escort brigs, for these waters, although close to home, are not safe.

The galleon and its escorts, Flor de la Mar and Cinco Chagas work their way through some reefs before heading out into the open ocean.

But on the distant horizon can be seen the sails of two English predators; the fast galleons Popinjay and Auk of Onan.

The Portuguese escorts turned to intercept the English. Whilst weaker than them they could hold or damage the galleons whilst the larger Nossa Senhora da Guia completed the manoeuvres necessary to get past the shoals and islands.

The enemies approach.

First fire! The Popinjay tried the range with its bow chasers.

Cinco Chagas returned fire with a broadside. At this range the fire was ineffective, however.

The English bore down quickly on the smaller Portugueses ships, whose crews panicked, firing wild, uncoordinated broadsides instead of reserving their fire.

The Nossa Senhora da Guia made heavy weather of the channels, missing the ones through the shallows and being forced to pass close to the northern island in order to round it and reach safety.

Meanwhile the Portuguese failed to take advantage of a perfect point-blank range shot on the Popinjay.

The English reactions were little better. The Popinjay fired a wild broadside, but at close range it was enough to damage Flor de la Mar. 

However Auk of Onan collided with Flor de la Mar, and both ships took considerable damage.

Flor de la Mar fired a full broadside at the English ship before slipping away. Auk of Onan was now crippled, with damaged rigging as well.

Nossa Senhora da Guia ran too close to the island, and almost tore its bottom out.

It continued its perilous pass, as the wind backed rapidly, changing direction faster than the sluggish galleon could respond to. The crew desperatey pumped water from the hold and repaired damage. But as the mighty galleon turned to the west and its run for safety, it was already crippled.

In the distance the English ships passed through the channel. Popinjay turned in pursuit of the the Nossa Senhora da Guia, whilst Auk of Onan attempted repairs.

Flor de la Mar moved in to provide close escort for the treasure ship.

Popinjay rounded the island.

A stern chase began. Popinjay fired the first shot ...

... and Nossa Senhora da Guia returned fire.

The crew of Flor de la Mar panicked and sailed out of the action.

The swift English galleon closed on the plodding Portuguese monster.

A slight turn gave the English ship an opportunity to fire its broadside.

The Nossa Senhora da Guia was damaged, and its captain killed.

It returned fire, to no effect.

Meanwhile the captain of Auk of Onan tried to get his crew to repair their ship and return to the fight. They refused, taking to the boats and surrendering their vessel to the local authorities.

As Nossa Senhora da Guia neared the open ocean, and safety, Popinjay steered off course, missing a golden opportunity to batter the Portuguese galleon at close range.

A long-range broadside had to suffice, but had no effect.

Nossa Senhora da Guia returned fire, knocking several spars off the English ship and slowing its pursuit.

The Portuguese ship ran for safety, and Popinjay fired one last chaser shot.

As the treasure ship escaped, Cinco Chagas returned to the action.

However a broadside from the Popinjay was enough to convince the Portuguese crew to haul down their colours in surrender.

And that was the end of the action.

According to the scenario VPs - I was playing the Pursuit scenario from the rules - the English had won, with one enemy ship captured and another forced off the table outside of its exit area. But it didn't feel like a win; one English ship had been so badly damaged that it had surrendered, the other had been hit and the captured vessel was a local escort of little consequence. The Portuguese had got their treasure ship away. So a Portuguese win in my eyes.

The ship stats were:

2 x Race-Built Galleons (Auk of Onan, Popinjay)
Q3 C3 – Galleon Rig, Razee, Swashbucklers, Trained Gun Crew, Chasers

1 x Treasure Galleon (Nossa Senhora da Guia)
Q4 C5 – Galleon Rig, Sluggish, Master Gunner, Drilled Soldiers, High Castles, Chasers

2 x Escort Brigs (Flor de la Mar, Cinco Chagas)
Q3 C2 – Galleon Rig, Shallow Draft, Yare

The big Portuguese galleon is a tough nut to crack for the English, but some cunning teamwork should do it. Obviously the threat from the escorts needs to be neutralised as well.

With hindsight I had the terrain a little dense, and then chose poorly for a Portuguese starting point, forcing them to try a quite tricky manoeuvre in order to start their escape. That said, some of the early activation rolls were terrible, with the big galleon getting no actions for several of the critical early turns, and both sides getting bad rolls and turnovers as their ships approached each other.

I'll certainly be running this one again at some point.

6x6 - Game 6-4
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