Tuesday, January 31, 2012


While researching uniforms for the period 1660-1680, I came across a link to a collection at the New York Public Library called the The Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms. It's an amazing collection of uniform illustrations going back to the 16th century or even farther in some cases.

The collection is organized by nation and further organized for each nation by date. Getting to exactly the right uniform info I want was easy and browsing through was pure delight. I look forward to spending a lot of time online with this treasure trove.

It's also a great find for sources for my latest project, about which I will blog anon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cabin Fever: The Saga Continues...

I attempted an abortive escape this morning. Yesterday afternoon saw a bit of a thaw and by this morning it looked as if Snowpocalypse 2012 was winding down. The road out seemed clear and I thought I'd head into the office.

However, after going a mile down the road and finding it still pretty tricky, I decided to turn back and work at home again. I at least had the chance to stop by the store and stock up on food. Now I won't be forced to eat the cats—or be eaten by them.

As soon as I parked at the store, the snow started coming down. It hasn't stopped since.

I have no idea how long the snow will stay. A few years back, I was housebound for a week as the snow fell, partially melted, fell again, melted, fell again, etc.

One needed supply I got at the store was sweets. I had no idea how much a sugar junkie I am until I found myself craving something sweet. Maybe it was just the inability to procure some that had me going. Now that I have what I craved, I'm not so eager for it. It's just comforting to know that when I want it, I'll have it in spades.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cabin Fever

The Seattle area has had its first major snow of the winter. Up to now we've been blissfully spared. Unlike other places where it snows, it snows here infrequently and the cost/benefit ratio for equipping the region to have snow clearance is nil. Therefore, when it snows, the roads are undriveable (except by morons whose corroming off parked cars on icy roads is a staple on YouTube).

Particularly undriveable is the hill that leads from my town home out to the main road. So, when it snows, I'm stuck at home. The Z just won't do that hill.

Being stuck at home is not without its consolations. I have ample time to read, eat, paint, eat, bond with the cats, eat, etc. Sunday was rather pleasant. I spent it reading by the fire with cats lounging about me. I managed to finish Harry Sidebottom's latest Warrior of Rome book, The Caspian Gates.

Rhiannon, my heat pig, enjoying the crackling fire
Today I'm working at home. It's nice to have a job with remote access where I can do everything here that I could do there—except be interrupted by coworkers who randomize me throughout the day. But then, their remote access only means that they can't randomize in person. I've been working for one hour so far, and already I'm doing something I hadn't planned on doing today.

I didn't paint. I should have. I have so many projects I want to work on. I just felt no desire to sit at my painting table. I seem to be most eager to paint only when I must be doing something else (like working). With time on my hands, I tend to be more indolent.

Grendel is intrigued by this cold white stuff, but not for long
While Grendel wanted to tip-toe through the snow on the veranda, I preferred not to stir. There's a store within walking distance for when I run out of food, but I don't relish the walk. I may venture out today, however.

The snow looks to last through mid-week. I hope it's the last snow of the season as well as the first. I've spent too much time living in snowy places to have any interest in winter wonderlands. I can enjoy being inside only for so long. After a few days of this, I may go crazy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stackless in Seattle

Kevin Smyth and I hosted a Sail & Steam Navies game for out annual Drumbeat game day. I came up with a scenario that involved the Confederate squadron in Charleston coming out to challenge the blockade. It was the first time in our S&SN games that we had first-line Confederate ironclads in action and I was eager to see how they would do. I thought they would power through the blockading ships and power back. They were well armored, well-armed, excellent rammers, and all mounted Spar torpedoes as well. However, things didn't turn out so well...

The Confederate forces were the following:

CSS Charleston (ironclad ram)
CSS Palmetto State (ironclad ram)
CSS Chicora (ironclad ram)
CSS David (torpedo boat)
CSS St. Patrick (torpedo boat)

The Union ships at start were the following:

USS Commodore Barney (converted wooden ferry boat)
USS Kansas (wooden gunboat)
USS Octorara (double-ended wooden gunboat)
USS Keokuk (bad ironclad gunboat)
USS New Ironsides (bad-ass ironclad frigate)

The game also saw the first use of shoals as a "terrain" feature. We didn't get a chance to see how well ships navigated over them because the players just avoided the shoals entirely.

The Union started with their forces either anchored or moving very slowly. New Ironsides was anchored farthest back, with Commodore Barney as the sacrificial lamb closest in. The Confederates started on at full speed in a line ahead formation with ships ordered as follows: (L to R) Palmetto State, St. Patrick, David, Chicora, Charleston.

The Confederate squadron in line ahead
I figured Commodore Barney would be matchsticks in no time, but she put a lot of hurt on Palmetto State with minimal damage in return. In one cannonade phase, she completely destroyed Palmetto State's smokestack, which reduced her speed to a mere 4" per move phase for the rest of the game. This cause the Confederates to start to lose formation and the ships came on higgled-piggeldy rather than in a solid line. Palmetto State also had one whole section or armor shot away by Commodore Barney's pop-guns. Scott Abbot, who ran Barney, just couldn't miss or roll lower than a 10 for damage.

Commodore Barney packs a lot of hurt in her small frame
Palmetto State's fate with her stack was a portent of what was to befall the rest of the squadron. All of the surviving Confederate ships had their stacks shot away and the reduction in motive power that caused was a principle factor in  the eventual Confederate loss.

Chicora takes the lead as the other ships lose speed
St. Patrick also suffered from Commodore Barney's fire and was quickly sunk. This was another first for our games. Torpedo boats have been hard to hit and the few that were sunk were done in by failed torpedo attacks that became collisions with much bigger ships or, in one case, a torpedo boat blowing itself up while attacking.

New Ironsides and Keokuk out beyond the shoal water
At first, New Ironsides was only able to participate with a single 150-pdr Parrott rifle. Its massive broadside of seven XI-inch Dahlgrens had insufficient range to affect the oncoming Confederates. Kevin, who ran the ship on its maiden voyage, slowly got it up to speed, but lingered a while with its broadside facing the oncoming Confederates. Eventually as the range decreased, New Ironsides got in a few shots at long range using battery fire, which increased her effect and chance to hit. However, the initial results were poor except for pulverizing poor David with an XI-inch broadside (over 1100 pounds of metal against one little steamboat) when she got too close in an attempt to make a torpedo attack.

David (far left) attempts an attack on New Ironsides
After David was lost, Chicora took the lead and headed at full steam for New Ironsides. She took a pounding getting there: she lost her stack and had several sections of her armor beaten up. Eventually, her lack of speed made it impossible to actually make a ram attack on any Union ship. Her erstwhile quarry, New Ironsides, simply put water between them and headed round the shoal to get between the Confederate rams and Charleston harbor while Chicora limped along behind sending a desultory shot now and then at New Ironsides' stern.

Chicora steams toward New Ironsides in a vain attempt to ram
By this time, the other rams were also slow and beaten up. Charleston lost her stack and had a lot of scattered armor damage. She also had her steering shot up. They'd had enough and were heading back to cover under the guns of Fort Sumter and the other batteries protecting Charleston harbor.

At this time, fate intervened. I hadn't expected the Confederates to take such a pounding and I had a couple aces up my sleeve with more Union ships that could come in as needed. While certainly NOT needed, I couldn't help but bring on USS Sangamon from the north to interpose herself on the Confederates' line of retreat. It was kind of cruel, but I really wanted to see how a XV-inch Dahlgren worked in the game and the XV-incher's main target—Confederate ironclads—was conveniently at hand.

I ran Sangamon and took her in holding my fire until I got close. When I finally fired, just outside of close range, my XI-inch hit, but the mauling XV-inch missed. Kevin said it served me right for attempting overkill. So, we'll have to wait for another game before we see the effect of XV-inch guns on rebel ironclads.

Post mortem

I think the tweaks I did for the rules worked out well in the game, although I may go back to making 10s a hull hit. I was a bit surprised at the amount of destruction dealt out by New Ironsides. Kevin and I both had misgivings that the Confederate rams, which also mounted torpedoes, would get in, sink New Ironsides and be back quickly. The loss of speed due to stack hits early on meant that the Union had a lot of time to shoot away before the Confederates were anywhere near striking distance.

Confederate ships had decent rifles, but nothing to compare to a XI-inch Dahlgren. Their best guns had a GR of 6, while New Ironsides had armor of 5-7. There was no chance they could do a lot of damage by gunfire; they had to get in with a ram or torpedo attack. The Confederates also didn't seem to attempt to much against the wooden ships. Octorara was untouched and Barney was only slightly damaged—despite spending the first turns of the game in a shoot-out with Palmetto State. Kansas held back at long range and took pot shots with its 150-pdr Parrott, taking only a few minor hits in reply. Kekokuk was less well armored than New Ironsides, but was never seriously targeted.

The design of the Confederate rams didn't help them too much in a gun fight. The guns only bear at limited angles and there is a big dead zone where none of the ship's guns can bear. There were several time when the Confederates just got shot without being able to reply.

The scenario needs more tweaks. The points values of the ships favored the Confederates by 107 to 73. I had originally planned it to be a night game using blinds for the ships until they were identified. The limited visibility and -2 to shooting "to hit" rolls would have favored the Confederate's chances to get in close and ram without taking a lot of damage. When I play this scenario again, I'll try that approach.

I may also retire New Ironsides. It's too powerful a ship, which is historically correct, but all play balance is lost. She took a lot of punishment while on station at Charleston, including a torpedo attack by David, but stayed put through it all. It's no wonder the Confederates never seriously tried to use their ironclad rams to break the blockade, but limited them to harbor defense instead. A determined sortie would undoubtedly run into New Ironsides and various Passaic-class monitors, which would have shot the rebel rams to bits.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cats and blogging

I came across this title just recently:

If O'Reilly uses cats on the cover of its Essential Blogging book, it confirms my suspicion that cats are an essential element to a good blog. Where would I be if I didn't live with cats?

I'm just a hack, of course, but I credit Grendel, Rhiannon, and Maebh with any good in this blog. Thanks, munchkins, for your essential contribution. Now get off my keyboard. Please.

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.