Friday, July 20, 2012

Cape St-Vincent, 1797

Yesterday, DaveV showed up at the motorhome for some beer and wargaming. We played the Battle of Cape St-Vincent using a simplified version of Trafalgar, by Mark Latham. Basically, there is only one type of guns, saving throws are converted into extra hull points, opportunity fire can be done at will, all changes that make the game flow much faster.

Here we go: On the morning of 14 February 1797, a British squadron of 15 ships of the line met a Spanish fleet twice as numerous, with 27 ships of the line, including the giant Santissima Trinidad. To make the game playable, the fleets on both side were downsized to about half the original numbers (9 vs 14).

Dave asked what were the objectives for each fleet and I realized that I neglected to prepare clearly defined goals. Oh well, we just pounded each other for about 6 turns, just for fun. As it happened, the direction of the wind and the formations of both fleets kind of dictated the course of the battle. After a single devastating run at each other, both fleets were happy to resume course.

Here are the initial positions of both fleets, from the Spanish point of view. Minding her own business, the Spanish fleet was sailing in two groups, enjoying a well deserved morning siesta. But suddenly, a bunch of sails appeared from the North. The British! Those trouble makers were already parading into a splendid line in the middle of which Admiral Rowe was commanding from the H.M.S. Victory.

Ah, but the Spanish had no fear for within their fleet the plumply Nuestra Senora de la Santissima Trinidad (Santissima Trinidad for short) was sailing majestically. What could possibly go wrong with such a powerful vessel? [The fat Wonder of the Sea, unfortunately, would have an opportunity to vomit raging cannonballs from her 136 guns only on the last turn of the game, and at long range.]

El Grandissimo Almirante DaveV del Winnipego confidently moving his ships forward. Note how convenient wargaming in a motorhome can be: proximity of a counter top for beer bottles and sheets, quick exit, etc.

Admiral Rowe, Earl of Regina, moved his line like a vengeful wedge between the two groups of Spanish ships, just like Admiral Jervis did in the real battle. Wargaming and History, once again, were about to meet for a fabulously accurate re-enactment of the action. Ah, tears come to my eyes!

But wait! Instead of a RIGHT tacking AFTER passing both Spanish groups, Admiral Rowe had his line turning to the LEFT, BEFORE passing the enemy ships. [Note from the British player: my goal was to cross the T in front on the Spanish Lee Division. But some miscalculation regarding the distance occurred...]

Iiiii! Crrrash! Aaaargh! What a mess! H.M.S. Diadem, the leading ship of the line, was quickly dismasted by the Spanish guns aiming high. She can be seen wandering South while the new leader, H.M.S. Prince George, takes the line to the East. Lots of hull rubbing ensued. adding some damage here and there to both fleets. Thanks to raking, a few spectacular dice rolls on both sides resulted in lots of critical hits and lots of damage. H.M.S. Prince George suffered greatly.

Uh oh! The Spanish Weather Division is getting closer and closer. Will the British fleet become trapped like tuna salad between two slices of bread?

Abandoning the H.M.S. Prince George, now crippled beyond repair and useless,  the following ship in line, H.M.S. Orion takes the lead and manages to break through the Spanish Lee Division. The unfortunate San Juan Nepomuceno (with black smoke), because of the direction of the wind, had to come facing the H.M.S. Victory. 50 cannon balls later, the Spanish ship, badly raked and with two fires raging on board, struck down her colors.

The British line tried again to turn, this time BEHIND the Spanish Lee Division and apparently succeeded. Trapped by the crippled hulk of the H.M.S. Prince George, the Principe de Asturias (both ships have red markers), a 112 guns First Rater, became the focal point for the fire of the turning ships, just like sun rays are focused by a concave mirror. Despite all the beating, the Spanish Vicealmirante stubbornly refused to surrender. At the end of the British line, Commodore  Nelson decided that NOW was the time to do something heroic and rolled for a command check... Heroism had to wait and Nelson decided that the best course of action was to stay with the line. Meanwhile, the Spanish ships decided that it would be great fun to remove Commodore Nelson's name  from the Royal Navy's payroll and concentrated all their fire on the H.M.S. Captain. Because of the distance, however, Nelson and his ship survived the onslaught.

In the final turn, the British line continued to perform parade-like maneuvers. Reduced to a few boards and planks, the Principe de Asturias finally struck down her colors. The heroism of the Vicealmirante on board is certainly worth of the highest medal that there is in the Spanish kingdom. The British had one dismasted ship (H.M.S. Diadem) and one completely crippled ship (H.M.S. Prince George). Nelson felt a little shy and did not perform any heroic deeds. The Spanish fleet left behind two 74 guns and one 112 guns. Other ships on both sides suffered considerable damage. Considering the confusion resulting from the melee, the game could have gone either way. And playing with DaveV made the whole experience very enjoyable.

Regarding the rules, there is certainly room for improvement. The simplified stats work well, but bookkeeping proved to be fastidious, especially for the Spanish Almirante with 14 ships. In order to fight bigger battles, I will have to figure out a more intuitive way of managing a squadron with a large number of ships.



Curt said...

Great after action report, Sylvain! The game sounded like heaps of fun and your miniatures (as always) look beautiful. I think you are right: some sort of mechanism will need to be developed to streamline squadron movement/firing, especially if you are wanting to do the larger engagements of the period. Nonetheless, I've always enjoyed playing the rules!

Peter Douglas said...


I second Curt's comments on the AAR and photos.



Archduke Piccolo said...

Given you caveat in re bookkeeping, you make it sound like a brisk, if brief, little action. You have to admit, though, that the lack of prizes taken would not have gone down well with the British public. Indeed, one can imagine such a result sufficient to bring down the government...

Given the lack of space, the set-up looked impressive.

DaveV said...

Thanks for the great game (and the beer)!

I am surprised more ships weren`t destroyed as a result of that big collision.

I do like the minimalist book-keeping of Coaling Stations - a single coloured die keeps track of the ship`s damage and reduction of fighting capability.

Peter Douglas said...


I think that the collision rules need a rework. As David Manley points out, hull damage from a collision was exceeding rare unless it was a case of a loner running down a small craft. What was far more likely was rigging damage.



BVidler said...

Nice report. I was thinking of getting the Trafalger rules. Been using "Fire As She Bares!" myself. Same issue - tracking large fleets is a pain unless you split the squadron between multiple players. FASB recommends 3 ships per player as a result with an Admiral commanding each squadron.

May I ask what models you're using? They look GREAT!

Sylvain said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

@Archduke Piccolo: In this scenario, the ships left behind by the Spanish could be considered prizes. Remember that only half the ships were used.

@Peter: I agree with you. Here are two options when a collision happens. A. D6 damage to hull and D6 damage to masts (D3 in case of frigates). B. Roll one critical hit to hull and one critical hit to masts.

@BVidler: The ships are all from GHQ. Here iis a blog on how they were built: