Walking through 17th century naval rules Part 1

Let me start by saying thanks to Neil Fox for helping me get onto this path in the first instance. He sent his Solebay Fast play sheets to me and I played many games with them to get a feel for the issues around naval gaming and in particular the period 1650-1700.

The Allied squadron in line astern

The more I played, the more I enjoyed, the more I tinkered. The new situations offered additional opportunity to develop flavour and nuance. I was turned off somewhat but what I can only describe as overly detailed and from a gaming perspective, unproductive discussion of naval or perhaps navel minutaie on various fora. I knew what I wanted from a game and it was a balance between sailing challenges and that old wargaming need - enjoyment and excitement oh, and a bit of a narrative. The rivet counting quotient of some naval gamers seems to top the league in wargaming genre terms. I have no wish to fish in that particualr pool.


The French squadron with ships named along with their # guns, grade and the associated die type.


Having extended Neil ideas to eighteen pages of explanations and expansions the so called epiphany moment came when I had a conversation with Clarence over the holidays about the games being card driven. Let me say, this game is NOT card driven but, that conversation was the same flip-thinking moment I had with BLB about twelve years ago, R2E about ten years ago and when Clarence and I turned the BLB world upside down in Fredericksburg about four or five years back resulting in WTK.

The Allied squadron with ships named along with their # guns, grade and the associated die type.

Using the die type = quality thinking of Donnybrook/BLB came quite easy after I took the wet towel off my head. This post is the first to describe and illustrate some of the mechanics which translate into the AAR narratives you have been enjoying here on the blog. This post walks through the first three turns of a test game run on a 4 x 2 feet board as proof of concept.


New board too! Like it? I wasn't sure until I started taking pictures. I plan to extend it to 6 x 4 this weekend!

The game is set circa 1690. A powerful French squadron faces an Anglo-Dutch squadron somewhere in the southern North Sea. Points values are about equal but the first thing to note is that the Veteran Dutch Eeendraght of 80 guns, with Master Gunner and Marines costs about 505 points. Compare this with the campaign points table I have been using up till now when the same ship may have been around half of that value to purchase.


Shooting began on turn 3 - mostly the French but, wait for the raking SA broadside from Maagd van Dordrecht!
These two squadrons added up to circa 1150 points apiece. The Allies had one SLOW ship - Eendraght and the French one SLOW - l'Orgueilleux and one SLUGGISH - Le Soliel Royal.
Two French ships have heavy guns, several across both sides, Master Gunners. The large vessels have Marines. The Maagd has light guns giving her greater speed and manoeuvrability but less hitting power except at SA range.

The very shot -  The 86 gun l'Orgueilleux is Veteran and has basic allowance of 9 x d10 before range modification.

One thing I found with the original system - hitting was too easy and ship strengths were too close to each other. Hitting on a 4+ @ short, 5+ @ medium, 6+ @ long ranges with a +/1 for Veteran/Raw and +1 on first broadside created far too much damage too quickly. The hull strengths of 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th rates were 20/20/16/16/12 respectively. A Veteran 1st rate at short range, firing its first broadside with a MG aboard, had % to hit chance of 82.5 - this created too many instances of Critical damage and ships being wiped out too quickly.


Range halves the dice allowance of l'Orgueilleux as she opens at Effective range on Eendraght.

By using principles from BLB and R2E such as constant 'to hit' numbers at every range and dropping the number of dice thrown relative to the range, we get the following effect:  100 gun 1st rate receives 10 dice. At short range these are all thrown, at effective range this halves to 5, at extreme range this quarters to 2.5 rounded to 3. I realized there was a range shorter than short in Age of Sail gaming. Point blank is a modern appropriation of an ancient term where the meaning has morphed from the original. In days of old PB meant something quite different from the up close and personal connotations of today. I did not want to use that term so, opted for small arms as the closest range. The range at which musket or pistol armed crewmen might shoot at each other, This creates a doubling of the number of shooting dice.


The French 86 gun ship does well but does not cause enough hits to compel a Catastrophic damage check.

Aha! you say! That means a 1st rate at SA range fires with 20 dice? Wow!! Yes but... the to hit score is 6 not 2. With a MG and a first broadside it reduces to 4. If it is raking it gets an extra d3 dice and, if it has heavy guns it gets to re-throw half of its misses. All true - that sounds worse.. or does it?

How many Veteran crewed, 100- gun 1st rates with MGs and heavy guns can a fleet afford?
How often will these slow-moving behemoths manouevre their way into a situation when they can deliver that kind of firepower and the dice Gods shine their sacred light upon the Admiral?


Next up at Eendraght - Drilled 46 gun Maure - using d8s with 5 dice + d3(in this case 3) extra for the bow rake.

Combine that story with a new, even slower ship class - Sluggish, the introduction of a mandatory reload check for all ships and the added burden of a double reload process for heavy gunned ships and the risk-reward picture from a fleet of giants becomes more of a dilemma. Belt-fed broadsides with the speed of an MG42 and the hitting power of Big Bertha are a thing of the past. To shoot or not to shoot is the new mantra. Add to that, the reduction in turn angle from 45 to 30 degrees and the effect of moderate seas on the lower gun decks of large, heavy ships and the risks to clumsy, slow, heavily-gunned and unmanouvreable giants becomes all to apparent.


Maure has dice adjustment for range.

The first two turns were spent manouevring. The Allies had gained the +1 advantage on initiative, have most ships to windward +1 and in the first two roll offs gained initiative. They actually forced the French to move first. Ship movement is alternative. In a larger game, movement by squadron would be alternative. That's a nice easy mechanic. The lighter, faster Allied ships raced to cut across the French whilst the larger Eendraght set course to intercept the big gunned and slower two vessels.

Maure hits with 3 dice and added to previous fire this turn tips Eendraght into the Cat-Dam check

The lighter gunned and more manouevrable Maagd van Dordrecht through movement allowance and initiative got herself ideally positioned to deliver the 'dream' shot. A small arms range, first broadside bow-rake. Her lighter guns were no disadvantage at what would equate to between 100 and 150 yards in real life. By the shooting step of Turn 3, things were happening!

The Raw 40 gun Aigle rakes Mary at Effective range  7 dice

The French shot first concentrating fire on the flagship Eendraght. With 32 strength points she is a big beast and could sustain considerable damage before performance deterioration set in. As things happened, the sum of  cumulative damage created a real problem for her. Hit first by the 86 gun l'Orgueilleux.

Reduced to 4 for range

The heavy-gunned l'Orgueilleux  suffers a double reload marker as a result of her powerful fire. The first marker is removed automatically at the end of the next turn. The second, she checks for as all nomal vessels before shooting on the following turn. Either way she cannot shoot now next turn and possibly for several turn afterward if the skill check throws are poor.


Hits twice. The lower to hit probability of a Raw crew combined with the range makes the fire less effective.

Moving to the next ship the 46 Maure has five dice - her crew is Drilled and 46 guns is rounded up to 5 dice from 4.6. She has the advantage of and extra d3 dice for her bow-rake. Even at effective range this is useful. She scored +3 giving her 8 dice. These are now reduced to four for range. Hits from Maure added to hits from l'Orgueilleux added up to eight compelling a Catastrophic Damage check for this size of vessel. This is a table of fixed events. The outcome of the check was damage below the waterline which slowed her down, put lower gun decks out of action and reduced her speed and turning circle. This was a serious blow so early in the battle. Concentration of fire is key.

The dream shot? SA range, first broadside bow-rake from a Veteran crew.
Only a larger ship with hevier guns could be better!

The inexperienced crew of Aigle used their first broadside to inflict some damage on the Veteran English 56 gun Mary. The final fire of Turn 3

This enormously powerful and expertly timed boradside forced an immediate surrender from an inexperienced crew.

The huge amount of damage on Aigle (9 hits in a single turn) took her into the third level of ship degradation which is the first compulsory morale check condition. Alas, the Raw crew failed the necessary 5+ check on a d6 by 3 points despite receiving a +1 for a proximate friendly and intact vessel. She immediately struck her colours to Maagd which lowered a boat with boarding party and accepted her surrender. The Allies had their first prize!

I made a mistake in this shot. L'Orgueilleux should have a double reload marker because of her heavy guns.

More of the action in the next post but hopefully enough for you to digest for now. I know play testers are keen to get their hands on a proto copy.

Hope you like the new board. painted from plain wood and varnished in about 1.5 hours. Photographs pretty well!