Signal  Close Action Fourth Edition - After Action Reports

I think players will agree, after reading the notes below, that these players would give a good account of themselves in any game this side of the channel.

Report One - sent in by Olivier Dufour, France.
As I said, I'm back now we played our first SCA4 game.

I couldn't estimate how many players would be there for the game (the good news being we almost always have many volunteers for SCA so we can't play the smallest squadron actions). We ended with 12 players (plus me as the referee, out of 15 members !) plus a visitor who took a seat, then a ship... ;-)

We usually play a single ship for each player, and "rotate" excess ships within one side to avoid having a single player manoeuvring "Red Arrows" style with sailing ships without radios ;-)

So I had to select a game that could accommodate a variable number of players, yet ensure we would try most of the rules in the book. I went for the famous skirmish at Pulo Auro 1804, Linois being deceived by an Indiamen fleet in he Indian Ocean (James' Naval History vol 3 page 246). Then I could always add some ships in case of new players coming (and it proved useful).

I see SCA gives the Indiamen as DC 110 and BF 5. As I had 1200 ton Indiamen it was OK for DC (although I thought it on the high side, they were almost as large as 64s but had not the same ship company size, and vessels "en flute" are shown at DC 80) but I lowered their BF to 3 (from James' armament listing for those). It seemed better to me, and due to the number of Indiamen I was sure it would not be unfair. I also stated that three of the Indiamen would have an "high proportion of carronades" to use that rule too. Due to the quality of the WIC crews
and the long cruise of the French ships, companies were either Average or Good, what surprised my players as I usually assign average and a sizable proportions of poor ratings. To make things harder I warned the French players they were short on spares so that ships losing 2 full RDC would be considered lost unless they take an Indiaman to use its spars and sails.

I set up the ships quite close to start the serious action quick, so I had a number of "friendly" collisions due to players reactions (good for tests). Two collisions between enemy ships also offered us a nice long (yet ultimately ineffective) boarding action. We had tacking, well laid shots, adverse results, grapples... to top off the rules test. We lacked weather (I ruled a stable moderate breeze) but I don't think it changed from SCA3 and boat work (I'm waiting for smaller games to introduce it).

To make things short, the Indiamen won thanks to number and a better coordination (despite two collisions) and concentration of fire while the French were uncoordinated, the "game's big bully", Magenta 74 wasn't really engaged (its player wanted to act cautiously !), fired only twice, but lost 1 and half RDC due to British gunnery and a collision (it suddenly veered just in front of Sémillante 36). Add some bad luck and I guess the French were lucky not to lose any ship ! All in all the Indiamen dealt reasonably more damage than they suffered.

Our opinion after the game was that SCA4 is slightly more complex than SCA3 mostly due to sequenced moves and "color dice" reading. Changes in the tasks are more subtle but it's just a matter of getting used to the new list. I don't know how do you call the new mechanism for collision or boarding action damage but they are simple to use and the results have a nice "feel good" touch. The total rules changes are very impressive, you've not kept idle while we waited for 4th edition !

I asked for the player's opinion after the game and the answer was unanimously positive. We are all convinced once we cease relating to what we know of 3rd edition (should be pretty easy) we have a great tool at hand to set up all kinds of games, we know no equivalent to these rules. The only problem is I can't place another session this year but the planning from January onward will have an heavy SCA flavor ;-)

As the game referee I also appreciated very much the rules layout and "mini-indexes" to refer to relevant pages. For a first test with 15 ships I had no problems at all looking for the needed parts of rules; many thanks to Carol !

Report Two - sent in by Olivier Dufour, France
My group had it's second SCA4 game (already two weeks ago, shame on me for slowness), a fast small game.

I picked young captain Nelson's Agamemnon 64's october 1793 meeting and engagement of a French merchant convoy that turned to be a small frigate squadron (James' Naval History Vol 1 page 106, also "Nelson's favourite" page 93). Of course we would not replay the long pursuit between Agamemnon and Melpomène but used it as a basic setting. So we had a moderate breeze from East and the following ships following each other going West :

- Melpomène 40, poor captain, average company.

- Agamemnon 64 (fast), good captain (he wasn't so much inspired that day ;-) and good company (A class) but only 345 men on board so I ruled we would consider it like having its first two boarding parties permanently away (-2 to all rolls, that proved to be a penalty but not
overwhelming thanks to the general quality of the crew). What do you think of showing her reduced company this way ?

- racing behind, Minerve 38, captain poor, company poor

- slightly outpaced, Fortunée 36, slow ship, poor / average

- keeping station on Fortunée, Mignonne 28, average / good

and cruising as a larboard repeater, Hasard, 14 gun brick (fast), good / good

(French captains obviously were poor warriors in this squadron, waiting for almost 6 hours before helping their commodore. Sailors at that time were good but discipline and organization aboard probably still suffered from "revolutionary" ideas. Also I usually assign small ships
(Brigs and so on) a better dice modifier as they had more sea time than sails of the line, in the French navy at least ;-)

As you can see it was a pursuit before the wind. At first the British player correctly ran before the wind and used his speed qualities to win on Melpomène and send it broadsides until Melpomène veered and let it go ahead (accepting some damage in the process). Then the chase resumed, quite fruitless again because of Agamemnon's speed and manoeuvre qualities. The British player could have accepted to go on this way and repeat the historical event of a draw with a moral advantage to the British (damage to Melpomène wouldn't have prevented her to carry on the mission, like the historical event) but for gaming sake he made face and fought on. Taking advantage of the spread French squadron Agamemnon inflected some damage on Melpomène and Minerve before some lack of mastering at the wheel [we really like the "events" column of the ability chart for spicing up the game] forced it to fall with the wind straight into the path of the French brig [me ;-) ] racing down under studding sails [who only intended to distract the ship of the line, not to fight it, and especially not to engage against
his battery].

Receiving a full broadside and seeing that fleeing would just allow the starboard battery to bear the brig captain took the opposite decision : to collide with Agamemnon and be a hindrance to his manoeuvres. This happened despite a last time action by the helmsman [one more route event, the brig almost avoiding Agamemnon] and the shock was tremendous, the brig's rigging and hull suffering very serious damage [the 4th edition collision damage rules gives excellent and realistic results, especially in cases like this one with a large size difference
between the ships] although the 64 resisted much better. Still Agamemnon was struck with a damaged brig whose company had no intentions on cutting free.

Inspired by Cochrane's memories [despite being French, who knows why they did this...], the brig's company foolishly boarded Agamemnon to be quickly slaughtered by the British sailors [it seems Agamemnon 64 was no Gamo 32 after all; the 4th ed boarding rules also works very well for a realistic result]. Still the brig had won time for the French frigates to close on.

Fortunée made real the dream of all captains : a musket range initial broadside stern rake on Agamemnon, followed by Minerve who fired then collided with Agamemnon with the intent to board it.

Agamemnon's company bravely fought Minerve's assault and inflicted them serious losses but Mignonne boarded them too while Fortunée wore hard to join the melee. This was too much for the British sailors who surrendered to the number of opponents [after failing a morale check (DC loss) due to a huge list of negative modifiers].  ... We supposed still-to-be-hugely-famous captain Nelson would either be exchanged or would find a way to escape from Bitche fortress and would be even more aggressive by 1798... ;-)

This was an excellent game for all players involved, excepted perhaps for Mignonne's who had no opportunity to fire and mostly joined an ending melee (frustrating, but it came from set up and scenario).

Considering the action was tense and quite complex the game flew very well. I/we still learn from every game (the rules are clear, it's just me who need to get used to everything) but we had no real troubles (the rules almost instantly answered most questions we had). If I was to have any worries about the game, it would be the ability to sacrifice a minor ship to hinder a larger one; yet the boarding attempt proved it would mostly result in a lost ship (and morale modifiers) so I think this is no real trouble.

My next game will be either on the 17th or the 24th this month (I'll adapt to my friends' needs) and I suppose it will be quite complex, this is Grand Port (Isle de France - now Mauritius) 1810. It doesn't have much attention in James' naval history but I have good sources (logical; this is one of the very few French naval victories).

Basically 4 British frigates fight against 4 French (3 frigates and a 800t captured Indiaman) but get defeated (without strategic effect - the island surrender a few weeks later to a large British fleet and the French ships are taken). This should be a "highly technical" game as the gaming area is the inside of the bay, with very variable soundings (we have the 1875 British hydrographic soundings and map and a Navy engineer figured the tide calculations for us so we can prepare the gaming area !!). Also the winds are weak, anchoring is a real option and there's also a potential for boat actions, if only to tow or turn the ships - we'll see how it turn but I have great expectations for this scenario. It was intentional for me to choose quite a complex game because I intend to display it to the public in mid-march, in a Navy gaming show (intended to show sailors the Navy care about their leisure too). Being a French victory made it easier "to sell" to those responsible, and we're confident the sight of your 1/1200 ships will attract (mostly naval) onlookers to our table. Then the technical aspect of the scenario should convince them we do interesting things ;-) (we'll also have a few "more conventional" things to display too ;-)

Report Three - sent in by Olivier Dufour, France
I'm late (as usual) but our first test of Grand Port 1810 took place as expected. Basically four French ships (two frigates, a sloop and a captured 800t Indiaman) are anchored at the end of a bay, surrounded with shoals and anchored behind a reefs area. At the exit of that bay stand the Isle de la Passe with heavy guns (36 pounders), the fortification having been captured by the British a few days before. French ships trying to escape or to close toward the British frigates (4 frigates, quite an equal match overall due to two good French officers) would come into their range. Two small fortifications offer some long range protection to the French anchorage and the British would come under their fire if they were to close the distance.

Toward the end of the afternoon the British enter the bay and attack the anchored French (there's a moonless night to come, so I can gradually reduce sighting distance and eventually end the game if the captains play it safe).

As we started late we couldn't complete the game this time but it doesn't matter much as we will play it again on the 17th of March (to prepare to the public show on 15-16 April).

The British raced toward the end of the line of anchored ships, that were the two frigates. Being anchored fore and aft, Minerve and Bellone were able to bear on Iphigenia that was well ahead of her squadron and gave her a full broadside before cutting their cables and setting some sails. Iphigenia then failed to manoeuvre and collided with Minerve, suffering a lot of damage in the process. A violent boarding action followed and Iphigenia surrendered to the French who then tried to break free from her. They had just succeeded when two other frigates, Néréide and Sirius (British) turned close by her stern and raked her with full broadsides, inflicting serious damage. Bellone engaged Néréide but Ceylon (the Indiaman) was too eager to fight and found itself between the two frigates, suffering both salvoes. French shore batteries fire was ineffective due to long range and admittedly poor crews but good news came to the French as the fourth British frigate, Magicienne, that was closing on studding sails before the wind hit a coral reef at full speed. In addition to being held fast on the reef, Magicienne lost almost a full RDC and HDC !

Things were tense and disputed at this time when we called the game off. We had a good laugh looking at the 1836 map of the bay that showed Magicienne hit what was called... Magicienne's reef on the map ! War gaming sometimes is surprisingly accurate for historical events ;-)

We were all very pleased with the game. My fellow players were delighted to say they had no problems with the rules even if we introduced rules we had never tried before (such as anchored ships).  Also the scenario was interesting and offer a lot of replay value, there are several options for each side to try. We look forward to the 17th of April to try it again.

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