We sail the ocean blue …

During the lulls in my somewhat busy week, I have been giving some thought to the naval wargame that I want to design and take to the next Conference of Wargamers (COW2016). So far I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. The rules will use my ‘new’ Hexon II blue hexed terrain tiles
  2. The model ships will all be designed and built so that each one will to fit within a single Hexon II terrain tile (i.e. they will be no longer than 4-inches/10cm)
  3. The game will have rules based upon either my MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) or my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME rules
  4. The mechanisms will be modified to enable the rules to be used for simple one-on-one, face-to-face battles as well as ones involving several players per side

Not a long ‘shopping’ list of requirements, but one that I need to spend some time working on and play-testing.

There are no prizes for working out where the title of this blog entry comes from … it is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty.

When the balls whistle free
O’er the bright blue sea,
We stand to our guns all day;
When at anchor we ride
On the Portsmouth tide,
We have plenty of time for play.

Ahoy! Ahoy!
The balls whistle free
Ahoy! Ahoy!
Over the bright blue sea,
We stand to our guns, to our guns all day.

We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty.
Our saucy ship’s a beauty,
We’re attentive to our duty,
We’re sober men and true,
We sail the ocean blue


Contemplating my naval

Before anyone decided to write a comment about the face that the title of this blog entry should read ‘Contemplating my navel’, the ‘mistake’ is deliberate.

The fact that I now own enough Hexon II blue hexes to cover an area of approximately 9′ x 4′ has yet again turned my thoughts towards naval wargaming. Now over the years I have done quite a bit of naval wargaming, and have done my bit to help to popularise both Fred Jane’s Naval War Game and Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game. I have also designed quite a few of my own naval wargames, including MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) and THE PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME.

Until recently the naval wargames that I have fought using my Hexon II hexed terrain have tended to be quite small affairs (one or two ships per side) …

… but now I can begin to think about somewhat larger battles.

With this in mind I looked back at some of the battles I fought on my Heroscape blue terrain tiles using MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) …

It is 1914 … and the Greek and Turkish fleets approach each other.

Whilst the Turkish cruiser chases its Greek counterpart, the two Turkish battleships close on their Greek opponents.

… and I have decided that this is the sort of action I could set up and fight. Now all I have to do is to build some suitable model ships.

The Portable Naval Wargame revisited

Before looking at the possible introduction of some of the elements of my existing PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME rules into my ‘new’ Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules, I decided to stage a re-fight of one of my recent play-tests using my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules.

I rated each of my Rams as Ironclad/Coastal Defence Battleships and gave them temporary names. The model with the pronounced ram bow was named Rambeau (as per Archduke Piccolo‘s suggestion) and the other was named Furious (well it did get sunk twice during the first play-tests!).

Rambeau vs. FuriousAs before I set up an unencumbered 12 deep by 10 wide grid of blue Hexon II hexes. The opposing warships were placed on the rows of hexes furthest from each other and 5 hexes in from their respective left-hand column of hexes, with Rambeau being closest to the camera in the following image.

The battle began with the Furious trying to close the range as quickly as possible whereas the Rambeau turned to port in order to be able to fire broadsides at her enemy when the range closed.

Both ships maintained their courses …

… until their guns came into range. The Furious managed to hit the Rambeau twice, but the Rambeau was only able to do half that amount of damage to the Furious when she returned fire.

Events then began to favour the Rambeau, whose subsequent broadside did sufficient damage to the Furious that the latter was forced to turn away. The Furious was not out of the fight by any means, and her return fire inflicted further damage upon the Rambeau, forcing her to break off from the battle as well.

As neither ship prevailed, the battle was drawn.

ConclusionsI was somewhat surprised by the fact that this battle was so short and felt less satisfactory than the two Ironclad vs. Ironclad play-tests I had previously staged.

After some thought I came to the conclusion that the individual Ship’s Flotation Points and Critical Point (i.e. the point at which a ship is forced to break off action due to damage) in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules is too low for a single ship vs. single ship action. I also felt that the movement rates and turning rules in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules were not right for the size of the playing surface, and preferred the shorter and simpler movement rate and turning rules in the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules.

I do feel that the gunnery rules in my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules work better than those in the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules, but that the option to disable an enemy ship which is included in the latter rules is something that I would like to think about including in any future pre-dreadnought era naval wargame rules.

The Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules do place great emphasis on ramming whereas my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT rules do not. (My original PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: 1860 to 1870 rules do included ramming rules, but I removed them when I wrote the pre-dreadnought version.) In the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules a rammed ship is deemed to be automatically sunk, which I think is too drastic a result. My personal opinion is that ramming should be used to administer the coup de grace to an already damaged enemy ship and not as a ship’s primary weapon.

My PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME: PRE-DREADNOUGHT include rules for locomotive torpedoes whereas the Ironclad vs. Ironclad rules do not. Any rules that I do end up writing as a result of melding these two sets of rules together will have to include rules for torpedoes, but like ramming they should be seen as a coup de grace weapon rather than as a major warship’s primary weapon.

This was an interesting play-test, and it raised quite a few matters that require further thinking. I hope that as a result of this I will end up with a set of very simple, fast-play naval wargame rules for the ironclad era … and if I don’t, I will have had fun trying!

A recreation of Lieutenant Chamberlain’s Game of Naval Blockade

As I mentioned in my recent blog entry, some years ago I recreated Lieutenant Chamberlain’s GAME OF NAVAL BLOCKADE and demonstrated it at SALUTE. I subsequently took it along to a naval wargames event organised by John Curry aboard HMS Belfast, and today I found two of the photographs that I took of the game in use.

The game was designed to be set up quickly … and if the necessity arose (i.e. a call for all hands to go to their Action Stations) a game could be stopped and put away by the simple expedient of folding the board along its centre – with the ship models, islands, and rocks inside – and tipping the whole lot into a convenient draw in the wardroom.

Now that is a truly portable wargame!

Warships at the Battle of Riachuelo

In yet another apparent example of synchronicity*, a copy of William Eugene Warner’s WARSHIPS AT THE BATTLE OF RIACHUELO arrived in the post today.

The book was written in 2008 (ISBN 9781456314682) and printed to order by Amazon UK. The blurb on the back cover of the book states that:

The Battle of Riachuelo, which took place in June 1865, is almost completely forgotten by naval historians, who usually see naval history as a developmental path and look at this period in light of the introduction of the ironclad at Hampton Roads (1862) and Lissa (1866). However, these two battles, though important in the history of naval development, are mostly uninteresting and consist of cannon balls bouncing off the armored hulls of ships and large lumbering ironclads blundering into one another. The Battle of Riachuelo is the largest non-armored, steam power battle in naval history and pitted the professional modern Brazilian Navy against the improvised Paraguay squadron. Riachuleo consists of many complex and improvised tactics and maneuvers; some have become controversial among the naval historians that analyze the battle.’

An interesting – if not slightly contentious – description of the book’s topic!

The book describes each of the ships used by both Paraguay and Brazil at the Battle of Riachuelo in some detail. At least one plan and side view of each ship is included as well as any relevant illustrations or photographs. The book also:

  • Explains the background to the war
  • Gives a brief history of the Paraguayan and Brazilian Navies up until battle in June 1865
  • Describes the armament available to the combatants
  • Contains a narrative and maps of the battle
  • Contains a short list of suitable wargame rules that could be used to re-fight the battle

Although it was not particularly cheap, this volume fills a glaring gap in my collection of nineteenth century naval history books.

* Yesterday I made the SEEMS version of the Portable Naval Wargame (1860-70) rules available via my blog, forgetting that I had so recently ordered this book.

The SEEMS version of the Portable Naval Wargame (1860-70)

I recently mentioned that I had met Neil Fox of SEEMS (the South East Essex Military Society) at CAVALIER, and that he gave me a copy of the group’s modified version of my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME rules. Neil has subsequently been in contact and has given me permission to make the modified version available via my blog … so here they are:

They can also be downloaded in PDF format from here.

Neil Fox, SEEMS, and the Portable Naval Wargame

One person I forgot to mention in yesterday’s report about CAVALIER was Neil Fox. He was at the show with the other members of SEEMS (South East Essex Military Society) putting on their TABLETOP TEASERS ON TOUR game.

I have know Neil on and off for the best part of thirty-five years. We met at Eric Knowles’s shop NEW MODEL ARMY in Manor Park, East London, and have kept in somewhat erratic contact ever since. Whenever I see that SEEMS is putting on a game at a show I always make sure that I say hello and – if time and circumstances allow – stop for a chat.

I had a brief talk to Neil yesterday, but as I went to leave he suddenly announced that he had something to give me. He handed over a plastic wallet in which was a copy of the SEEMS modifications to my Ironclad version of the PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME. It appears that they have been using the rules quite a bit and have modified them specifically for the American Civil War … and are going to use the rules in a game that they will be taking to shows in the near future.

I look forward to seeing the rules in action, and it will given me an even greater impetus to look out for a SEEMS presence at the wargames show that I attend.