Grand Fleet Actions in the Age of Sail

The rules are not simple but are very straightforward. The turn sequence is based on a modified alternate move system as follows:

1. Determine Initiative by using a D10 and adding in command modifiers – highest score decides to go first or let the other player go first. Determine if the wind changes or not and what the change will be.

2.  Alternate movement and actions with each player alternately selecting a commander and his vessels to activate . Vessels that are in the command radius of their commander may undertake certain actions such as beating to quarters, firing, boarding and other actions. There are actions that may be carried out even if a ship is not within command radius – fighting fires, passing a tow line, picking up survivors, and so on.

3. During the end phase the players remove all markers and determine if the victory conditions have been met. If not, play returns to phase 1.

One of the things I like about the rules is that they break down the Age of Sail into three periods – Early (16th Century), Middle (17th and 18th Centuries to 1720), and Late (post-1720). Each period has certain distinctive characteristics which means that the later the period, the more distinct the difference between ships and nationalities. Ships are classified by four game factors: Speed, Gunnery, Hull, and Crew. Multiplying these together yields the points value for each ship (if there is a ship with a zero for one of these values, use one instead).  Here are some values for the period we played:

Nationality

Type

Speed

Gunnery

Hull

Crew

Cost

French

74 gun

6

7

3

4

504

British

74 gun

6

7

3

3

378

British (Slade Design)

74 gun

8

7

3

3

504

French

44 gun F

8

3

2

2

96 H

British/U.S.

44 gun F

8

3

2

2

96 H

The "F" means the vessel counts as a frigate while the "H" means the ship is "Handy" and makes better turns. Frigates may act (after 1720) as independent vessels or as signal repeaters, extending the range of the commander’s command. The values listed in the table above can be modified by crew or hull quality.

There are only three templates in the game. The first is the wind gauge which determines the ship’s attitude to the wind and determines what part of its speed is available. The second is a turning gauge. The third is the gunnery template which is a rectangular overlay two by six inches. There are three range bands. The first is one inch and is point blank range, the second one to two inches out for short range, and the larger band is normal range. To fire, take a D10 and roll it, add to this value the gunnery factors of the ship(s) firing, various modifiers (such as raking, range modifiers, crew quality) and subtract the target ship’s hull rating. If the score is above a ten it is a damaging hit of effective, telling, devastating, or(more?) devastating….

The latter result also entails a roll on the disaster table. This will not occur very often but when it does it can literally be earth-shattering. In our game, I took over a command from someone who had to leave early. His commander was on a ship that was fouled with a British ship. When hit again, right after I assumed command, the nefarious British player rolled a one on a D10 and caused my ship to explode killing me outright! In addition to the vessel atomizing, the turn ends immediately and the vessel fouled with it catches fire. (Earlier in the game I was in command of a Spanish four ship formation with an admiral on board a 130 gun ship. The Victory rolled up, gave us a broadside and killed me outright…. My time as a Spaniard was not very productive as I then had to give up command to my son who was in charge of the nearest formation that could communicate with the survivors!)

Battle photos courtesy GAJO Minis….

 

French and Spanish Battle Line

 

Allied Van Turns About
British Attempt to Break Line
Rear of Line in Confused Scrum

 

British Break Line

 

HMS Victory Catches Fire

 

My First Ship Prior to My
First Demise

 

British Right Wing Moves
Against Allied Rear

 

There are rules to cover boarding actions (to be experienced sparingly as in real life), shore forts, prizes, striking ships, breaking the line, and more. All are elegantly simple and allow you to play a fleet action in a reasonable amount of time. I intend to use these rules for my naval gaming from now on. Although aimed at fleet actions, I think they could be used for actions involving a dozen ships per side. There is a companion set entitled Form Line of Battle for smaller actions that is more complex but I have not had a chance to review them yet.

Rules are available from A & A Games Engineering and Wargame Vault.

About the author

Michael Cannon

I have been wargaming as long as I can remember. I met my wife when I was 14 and had been gaming long before that so that should give you an indication as to how long it has been. One of the first games I owned was Anzio by Avalon Hill. I drove over to the hobby shop in the snow to pick it up as I finally had the money to get something! I can remember playing with Airfix figures and Roco tanks back in the 6th grade and before.

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