Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Award That Keeps on Going

Hats off and cheers to El Grego over at Mini Ship Gaming who kindly nominated me for a Stylish Blogger Award! 

There are four rules that need to be followed after receipt of this award:

1. Link back and thank the nominating party - Thanks again El Grego (and yes I cut and pasted your work - it's before coffee)!
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Nominate 10-15 other blogs for this award.
4. Contact those bloggers above about the nomination.

Seven things...

  1. I have sailed for over 35 (eek) years, but don't currently own a boat.
  2. My grandparents were born on four separate continents (see if you can guess which ones)
  3. My first degree was a Bachelor of Education but it took me nearly 20 years to teach professionally.
  4. Currently I am a lecturer in actuarial science at the University of Regina.
  5. As an actuary I had to work out the insurance risk from Canada's involvement in the first Gulf War (my employer was the lead insurer for the Armed Forces group insurance plan).
  6. I have been to every Canadian province, but none of the three territories.
  7. My best vacation ever was a 3 week cruise with my father when I was in my mid-20s.  We logged over 500 miles from the Hamble to Brest and back, often spending 10 hours under sail at a time, sailing through 1000+ years of naval history all the way.

Nominations for Stylish Bloggers.  I am likely repeating earlier nominations here, but I tried to find blogs that I follow without recent nominations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Archeology and Wargames

I'm taking the Easter week off work to sort the basement (beware of the monsters that lurk).  This morning's task was to go through, sort out, reorganize and slash and burn the war games stuff.

Looking for new homes
15mm Russian and Austrian Napoleonics
15mm Prussians SYW
15mm European town including fortified walls
25mm French and Indian War

Found in the ruins, innumerable "oh I remember getting thats", "that's where that wents" along with a lot of "WTF is thats" and "what the H was I thinkings".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Return to Santiago - Giving Cervera a Fighting Chance

Well although the ship yards is shut down for basement repairs, Naval Operations still have thoughts on the Span-Am conflict.  I've had these jumbled thoughts on Span-Am whatifs and I thought I should get them on epaper before they ran away.

Essentially there are 3 ways of enhancing the Armada Espnanol (and yes that's still what it's called),  improving the ships on hand, getting new ships and getting foreign help.  

Today's post - making the best of the material on hand.  This is the simplest and cleanest to incorporate.  Most of these require actions by ships captains, or station commanders.   In fact I suspect that most Span-Am games implicitly take account for many of these improvements by not penalizing the Spanish for historical under performance.  So here goes with the list of improvements that could be made.

  1. Install the main guns for the Colon.  Cervera's own account states that the Navy wasn't satisfied with the 10" Armstrong guns, but I'm doubtful this was the real reason.   The same or similar weapons were installed in many ships in the Argentinian, Chilean, Japanese and Italian navies (among others).  Anyway, the weapons were on hand and would certainly help.
  2. Fix the other guns in Cervera's squadron.  Post action reports speak of broken breach blocks on the secondaries of the Maria Theresa and her sisters.  
  3. Scrub the ships bottoms.  Every keel boat owner knows that elbow grease, scrub brushes and anti fouling paint will do wonders for boat speed.  Wilson notes that Cervera's squadron was weed covered (especially the Vizcaya).   This is a simple fix, and can be achieved even without a dry-dock, and Cervera had the time while in the Canaries.
  4. Clean out the boilers and buy better coal.  Again, routine maintenance and good boat ownership skills.  The Colon would have shown Sampson and Schley a clean set of heels if the ready supply of good coal hadn't run out.
  5. Take gunnery practice to improve their shooting, which was very poor at Santiago.  Again Cervera had the time at Tenerife and it's an easy fix.
  6. Mine warfare.  This is probably the biggest disappointment on the Spanish side.  Cervera asked before sailing and was told that there the Caribbean harbours would be adequately protected by mines.  But, the mines on hand were too few and defective.  The Texas and Detroit both fouled mines on their propellers without detonating them.  Mines are simple to deploy, brutally effective and can easily shorten the odds for the weaker fleet.  Let's not forget that American paranoia on mine warfare was running high - remember that the accusations of mines used on the Maine.
  7. Torpedo boats.   I believe that the Santiago campaign included the last close blockade in history.  There was a golden opportunity to attack the blockaders with torpedo launches using small craft on hand and the torpedoes in Cervera's squadron.  These tactics were part and parcel of the Jeune Ecole (which by now had become the Vielle Ecole), and could easily have given the Americans a nasty surprise.
  8. Submarine warfare - continuing with the underwater menaces.  This is not steampunk, the Armada had one of the first practical submarines on hand (the Peral, still on display in Spain) but never made any use of it.
 It's worth pointing out that Dewey took many of these steps, acting on his own initiative and forewarned by his Navy.  As a result, he had his squadron up to high steaming and fighting efficiency.  If Cervera had shown the same initiative, Santiago might have gone very differently.  It's also worth remembering that the US Navy had bad experiences with underwater menaces including mines and submarine during the Civil War and could easily panic is faced with these again. 

There's today's grist for the mill.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Uploaded From the Archives

So I have 3 hours to kill while proctoring a  3rd year class of  actuarial science students while they sweat through my final exam.  I have my Macbook and a wireless Internet connection.  Yes I could do some useful reading, OR I can figure out how to upload and link PDF files to my blog.

Et Voila - complete but upside down.   I'll work our how to save and post these right way up, but for now Non-antipodean readers will have to use the rotate functions in Adobe.
WWI Naval
Napoleonic Naval
I should probably point out the parentage of the WWI rules, which started off as a mix of General Quarters 2 and the rules from Paul Hagues's Sea Battles in Miniatures.  I consider the latter to be a classic and a highly useful addition to any gamer's library (lubbers and seafarers alike).  You have to love an author who refers to one of his gaming personas as the "likely but inept Haguearchus"

Found During Archeological Excavations

With major basement walls renovations looming, we've embarking on a thorough clear out of the basement (the place which non-family members must not enter).  Tucked into my bookcase of wargaming books were found two sets of  naval rules written nearly 20 years ago by yours truly.  

The Napoleonic Rules are best thought of as a work in progress (or as an evolutionary dead end), but the WWI rules gave a good game.  They both incorporate the action system of movement orders discussed in earlier posts.

Now I just have to figure out how to post PDFs on a blogger - another learning opportunity at hand!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Alternatives to Plotted Movement

It looks like folks actually do read my ramblings, and we had some good discussion on the last post.  So to follow up, here's an incomplete summary of alternatives to plotted movement.

  1. Alternating bounds - Side A moves first each turn followed by Side B.  This was used in the WRG Renaissance Galley Rules (the ancestor of the whole DBA family).  It works for the galley periods, but not for sail and steam eras.
  2. Alternate ABBA (no not the group, they sang about Waterloo not Trafalgar) - side A moves first this turn followed by B.  Next turn B goes first and then A.  This was used as the default in General Quarters 2 (the first GQ ruleset for WWI).  It's simple to apply, allows for alternating initiatives and works well in the steam era when ranges are much larger than movement distances.
  3.  Initiative die rolls - each division rolls a die (which can be modified for command ability) and move in the order highest to lowest.  David Manley uses this in several of his rules.  It work especially well in the pre-dreadnought era as it allows the Japanese and US navies to get the jump on their Chinese, Spanish and Russian opponents.
  4. Leeward to Windward - used in the WH Trafalgar rules, this works well for age of sail as it gives the advantage to the fleet to the windward (as was historically the case).  I think you need house rules for squadrons sailing upwind in line ahead (a common tactic historically) as the way Trafalgar is written you'll end up rear-ending your squadron mates.  
  5. Reading through accounts of WWI actions, I've wondered about reversing this for coal fired ships - having the downwind ships move first.  This gives the advantage to the side with clear vision (as funnel smoke blocked the LOS downwind).
  6. Drawing Cards - allocate one card per squadron and draw them one at a time each turn.  This was used in various incarnations of MacDuff, and I've seen it elsewhere.  I've never tried it at sea but it worked well on dry land and provided a real source of tension.  A modified version appears in David Manley's "Form Line of Battle".
  7. Action based systems - 15-20 yrs ago (OMG I'm getting old) I wrote a set of WWI rules that used an action based movement system.  Players selected a type of action (such as Open, Close, Flee etc) and moved in sequence.  It worked quite well in practice and most players found it intuitive to use.  I'll post the full system  soon.

Any others out there?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on Movement

Typically, movement rules get short shift in many naval games.  Most rule sets use plotted movement rules (you know two steps forward, two left turns then straight ahead) and don't give much thought beyond that point.  I have some issues with everyone plotting movement and then revealing them simultaneously including

  1. It slows the game down.  Get a rules lawyer or a chess player in the game and things slooooowww down with players going through all the "if he does that and I do this options".
  2. It results in too many maneuvers.  Take a look at the tracks of the major actions over time - straight lines and gentle curves with a few major course corrections.  A case in point is the track of HMS Lion at Jutland - a 180 degree turn when the High Seas Fleet is spotted then a turn east to head off Hipper's battlecruisers.  Otherwise Beatty made small changes in course to change the range slightly, avoid destroyer attacks and the like.  Now compare the tracks in most tabletop actions - they look like toddlers' doodles by comparison - spirals and lots of changes in direction (often without any obvious long term plan).
  3. It's too easy to get directions backwards.  If there was one incident that drove home the problems with plotting movement, it was the sight of Von Spee's squadron getting it's T crossed at the Falklands instead of opening the range as desired.  With all the gyrations of maneuvers the player got his left and right backwards.
  4. It forces players to think relative of position in the sea, when in reality they should thinking relative to the position of the other squadrons.  Fixed landmarks make a lot of sense in land games, but at sea it's the enemy's fleet that's the benchmark - and that is a moving target.
Reading battle narratives it is clear while that admirals try predict their opponents moves, most course changes are made in reaction to enemy moves or combat results. Course changes are made to keep the range at its most favourable point, or in attempt to place your ships at the favourable range (this may mean running away when facing long odds or torpedo attacks!).  Alternately, a course may be maintained to block the enemy's passage or cross his T.  

While I've never commanded a squadron of ships in battle, I have skipped a sail boat in a regatta. Even with the objectives of fixed marks (bouys for you lubbers) to round, you find yourself constantly placing your boat  in position relative to your opponent.  If you are ahead, you want to go to the same side of the course as your opponent and vice versa if you are behind.  And just watch the boats jockeying for position coming up to a mark.

Of course not every rule book uses plotted movement, and a discussion of alternatives will follow in a future post.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Diversions - Mediterranean and Otherwise

I've been hit with a typical case of wargamer's woes ambitious modeling and gaming plans forced to take a back seat to real life.  I could more or less keep pace with the last two weeks of lectures and the schedules of a busy 15 year old, but the home computer blew up and our then basement sprung a leak.  

The end result is that there's not been time to get back into model ship carving.  And with the cost estimates for the basement work, buying ships is not likely to be an option.

On the plus side, I've fallen back on the old wargamer's fail safe reading and planning!  Reading doesn't take much space, doesn't create much mess and can (mostly) be done with a tired brain.  Having exhausted my on hand Span-Am reading  I of course expanded into other periods.  In the process I've generated a real interest in gaming WW2 actions in the Med.  I am eyeing the GHQ 1:2400 ship models but may have to settle for much less for now.  Right now I'm considering home made flats using ship plans and a laser printer. 

So plans are, finish up the Santiago models if the basement and family schedule allow.  Mean while investigate the WW2 flats ideas.

Stay tuned for more (film at 11:00?).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rules, Rules, Rules

I've been away from the blogging for a bit (and also away from modelling) due to a chronic case of real life.  I am a university lecturer and it's the second last week of classes - so I'm busy but the light at the end of the tunnel is visible.

However, I've been thinking about possible pre-dreadnought rule sets to use for my Santiago project.  The contenders include.

  1. Fire When Ready
    • This is the current front runner.  I have a lot of time for David Manley having read several articles, scenarios and rule sets of his over the years.  I have a copy of these rules, and they are well though out have good ideas (and look like the type of rules I'd like to write).
  2. Perfidious Albion
    • Another set of professional rules, which has been used by the Edinburgh club (including Angus Konstam).  They are apparently fun and do carry over from the Fred Jane Rules.  It looks like there's a lot of paper work, the Edinburgh games seem very bloody>  I also have some issues with the probability models used for gun combat (it wouldn't bug most people but I teach 3rd and 4th year courses in probability theory!)
  3. Fred Jane Rules
    • At some point I will run a game using these rules, they look fun and they were state of the art 120 years ago.  These do require an umpire (at least for rules interpretation) and the production of both scoring templates and strikers.
  4. DBSA (Damn Battleships Again)
    • Phil Barker's DBA variant for pre-dreadnought naval games.  Look like they give fun, fast, easy to learn games.  However, they are abstract and may not translate well to cases where the two fleets are of diverse qualities.
  5.  General Quarters Variants
    • The option does exist and there are rules translation out on the web.  The GQ system is abstract (but not as much as DBSA) but does give good results.  This will involve some fiddling around on my part (which might lead to me writing a whole new set of homebrews).
  6. Memoir of Battle at Sea
    • Bob Cordery intrigued me with his posts.  He kindly sent me an up--to-date set.  Again they look like they give a good fun and fast game.  Plus there's the advantage of being playable in a limited table space.  More abstract than the others.
  7. Homebrews
    • In days of old (pre-child, mortgage etc) this would be the natural starting point.  However, this looks to be yet another project that I would start and then stall at.