Sunday, January 1, 2012

More Ironclads

After the DANG game on Tuesday and before we play again at Drumbeat on Jan 7, I wanted to play a game to try out some of the Sail & Steam Navies (S&SN) modifications we discussed after DANG. The mods are an attempt to restore some balance between shooting and ramming, which we felt was out of whack. In S&SN, shooting is one phase followed by a two-round movement phase in which ram attacks may take place. Ships that have no viable shot in the cannonade (shooting) phase are often rammed and sunk by ships they could see and easily target during movement. Add to that that shooting has proven to be largely ineffective at damaging enemy ships, except for the odd lucky shot.

My modifications changed the sequence so that in between the two rounds of movement was another cannonade phase (thus Shoot - Move1 - Shoot - Move 2). Guns could only shoot in one cannonade phase or, if they had not already shot, as a defensive fire against a ramming ship before resolving the ram attack. I also increased the chance of doing damage on the damage die rolls. There was now a 30% chance of damaging the ship and a 10% chance of causing crew suppression.

The game was a straight-up affair with two squadrons fighting it out on a river.

  • The Confederates had CSS Missouri (ironclad), CSS General Beauregard (cottonclad ram), CSS Governor Moore (wooden ram), and CSS Hornet (torpedo boat).
  • The Union had USS Choctaw (ironclad gunboat), USS Chillicothe (ironclad gunboat), USS Tyler (timberclad gunboat), and USS Monarch (unarmed wooden ram)
The Union squadron attempting some kind of formation
The rules mods started showing their worth on the first turn when no one shot at long range during the first cannonade phase; better to save shot until you get closer.

The squadrons soon passed each other like two lines of jousting knights. The only casualty was Tyler, which got rammed and sunk. Poor Tyler has been in three games so far and has been ram's-meat in all three: sunk twice and critically damaged once.

Squadrons engage en passant
While shots were traded, with only minimal increase in effect, the Monarch and Hornet were relatively ignored. It's a universal truth that gamers only like to shoot at ships that can shoot them. (Which is counterintuitive because the ones that ram will more surely sink you.)

As the ships circled back for another pass at each other, more shots were exchanged with better success. I ran the scow-of-the-line Chillicothe, which mounts two XI-inch Dahlgrens in a forward battery. The guns have a very limited field of fire and there is no rear battery. Even with the modified action sequences, I had no target in several cannonade phases. When I did get Governor Moore in my sights at close range, I rolled "1" for both shots: misses! XI-inch Dahlgrens are a fearsome gun—but only when they hit something.

Meanwhile, the Brooke rifles on the Governor Moore were having an effect on Chillicothe. When we call Chillicothe an ironclad, we're really just being polite. The forward casemate is OK, but otherwise the ship is about as well armored as a teapot. There's metal, to be sure, just not much. Moore shot away Chillicothe's armor in a few places and starting inflicting hull hits. Too many hull hits and you sink.

I did get back a bit of my own later, when I got Moore again in my sights, set her on fire, and blew up her steam power (but only enough to reduce her max speed to six inches). 

As Missouri came about for another go at the Union ships, Chillicothe was able to target her and start pounding. However, Missouri mounts a XI-inch Dahlgren herself in a central pivot that can fire from either broadside. As she was in close range of Chillicothe, Chillicothe was in close range of her. A shot from Missouri's Dahlgren made a critical hit that inflicted a lot of crew suppression and took away all my steam power. 

Chillicothe and Missouri trade big shots
Missouri, however, was on a rendezvous with terra firma. Coming at the shore at too great and angle, she became grounded under my guns—which weren't going anywhere since I had no speed.

The wily little Hornet was skulking around in Missouri's shadow most of the game waiting for a shot with its spar torpedo. With Chillicothe in straights, she had a perfect target. The attack came in perfectly, but failed. The attempt became a collision, which sunk the Hornet. This is the second time I've run ships that escaped a torpedo attack. It's such a good feeling.

The attack that failed
General Beauregard became the brunt of Union gunfire for a few turns until it lost all lower hull boxes from fire, which I think is the first time in our games that a ship has been lost solely by gunfire. Governor Moore, however, continued to hunt for ships to ram and found an opportunity against Choctaw. Despite being on fire, Moore bore down on Choctaw and got a ram attack in on the stern quarter. The attack was successful and Choctaw, heretofore undamaged, started to sink.

Choctaw sinking, Governor Moore ablaze
Governor Moore had further troubles in that her attempts to put out the fire started by Chillicothe resulted in the fire spreading and a loss of hull boxes burned away.

At this point we called the game, but it's unclear who won. For the Union, Tyler and Choctaw were sunk, Chillicothe was stopped, only Monarch (which never got in a single ram attack) was unhurt. For the Confederates, Beauregard was sunk, Moore was burning and lost more than half its hull, Hornet was sunk, and Missouri had freed herself from grounding and was mostly unhurt. If we score the game by victory point values, it was a Confederate win.

Rules mods post-mortem

I think the rules modifications gave better balance to shooting/ramming. The players did complain that it's still to easy to ram. The movement system is I-Go/You-go, so the opponent is stationary when you move. This means that even though the ships are supposed to be moving simultaneously, a ramming target is really a sitting duck. This can be especially galling if the target ship is actually moving faster than the attacking ship. We discussed a modification that will take in the target vessel speed as part of the calculation for a successful attack.

We also discussed simplifying the musket fire by sharpshooters. It seemed like a lot of work for an effect that rarely succeeded and only causes a single suppression when it does.

With the modifications, I think that S&SN is shaping up into a more balanced game.


  1. It sounds like the rule modifications worked out. I'll be interested in seeing them in action at Drumbeat. One thing to think about with ramming is raising the number for a successful ram (I think it is 8+, modified by the distance moved straight). If you bumped it up to 9+ or 10+ there would be more glancing blows and fewer catastrophic rams.

  2. What we discussed was keeping the successful ram at 8+ but subtracting the speed order of the target vessel from the number of inches moved straight with a min/max range of -2 to +5. That gives an advantage to hitting a slower ship and a disadvantage to hitting a faster one. I'm not sure how it actually works out, though. I think it might go too far towards making ram attacks impossible.

  3. Nice models and report. Sounds like a lot of fun. All the best to you for the 2012!