It’s been a while since I’ve had a wargame, but years and years since I’ve had a naval game! So, an American Civil War ships game was long overdue!
I think I started ACW navies in the early Noughties, buying the 1:600 scale models by Peter Pig. These were simplified models for wargames and inexpensive, but they look pretty good with a bit of detail added and a nice paint job (and you can still buy them and they’re well worth the money. The only model I scratchbuilt myself was US Navy monitor, because it was easy to make from a single thickness of mounting board! I’ve still got some unfinished ships to paint, so this will hopefully spur me on (Peter Pig seem to have improved at least some of the models since I bought mine).
For rules I originally used my own set based around the Full Thrust starship combat rules. Since you can now get so much more info on the ships via books and the internet though, I decided I’d dig the rules out and revise both them and the ship stats. Having got that done, the next step was to arrange a game!
Since I need to round out my Confederate Navy forces still (need a few bigger gunboats, an extra ironclad and a blockade runner) I thought the best plan was to maybe get out all the ships and use them! Then decided not to give the US Navy the sole monitor I’ve got, since I can remember it being quite powerful! Finally decided on six Union ships against five Confederate vessels, although the latter were supported by three heavy gun batteries.
Basically set the game up to represent a large river mouth, with some bits of coastline, a dockside and some islands, all scratchbuilt. Some of the scenery dates from the 90s when I used it for WW2 coastal forces games (must dig those ships out as well) and other bits are much newer, since I made some pieces for a colleague who plays Sails Of Glory and did some extra bits for me. It’s mostly based on mounting board and foamcard and warps slightly with age (like me) but usually bends back nicely (unlike me)! Some of the buildings are also scratchbuilt from card. The sea pattern mat is by Deep-Cut Studios and available from Wayland Games – in the photos it looks grey-blue, but it’s a much nicer blue in reality!
A throw of the dice put me in charge of the US Navy with my mate John commanding the Confederate ships. Since it was more of a rules test than a game, there were no specific objectives set, so it basically come down to a sink-on-sight game!
The Union ships started heading upriver, with two ships hugging the right bank, and four ships on the left. The two ships on the right, a City class river ironclad and a converted ferry, had to contend with the land batteries and the appearance of three small Confederate steamers. Seeing the approaching vessels, one of the other Union ships, a timberclad gunboat, changed course and went to help out! A vicious gun battle developed, with the ironclad and one of the gun batteries taking the bulk of the fire. As the Confederate vessels closed in on the sinking ironclad, the latter managed to squarely ram one of the Confederate gunboats, taking both of them to the bottom! With the range now very close, the more numerous guns on the ferry and the timberclad proved decisive, and the two remaining Confederate ships were quickly sunk and the battery silenced!
On the other side of the river the action developed more slowly. The Union ships had to pass close to the river bank to minimise their exposure to one of the Confederate batteries, but the latter still managed to hammer one of the smaller ships, a converted sternwheeler. Passing out from behind an island, the Union ships had to fight against a small casemate ironclad, a large gunboat and a heavy gun battery. Fire from these soon finished off the Union sternwheeler, so the remaining two ships went to full steam, avoided the sand banks and managed to pass behind a small island that took them out of sight!
And that’s where we had to finish, with the Union ships gathering themselves ready to take the fight back to the Confederates, but the latter re-deploying to face the challenge! It was a good game and the modified rules seemed to work quite well. One of the trickiest bits to sort out was the number of damage points ships can take – too low and ships never survive one “broadside”, too high and the game drags on! I base it on the real ship’s displacement and try and tune it to medium sizes vessels. One of the Confederate gunboats did succumb to a single salvo, but it was at very close range from heavy guns!
And the fun didn’t finish at the end of the game! The scenery bits all go into one box, with separate layers that just gets everything in. Could I remember where everything went?