This past week ( during Feb. 2022 ) I’ve had the enjoyment of engaging with a Vassal play (hotseat) of Flying Colours with a colleague that never played the game nor does play tabletop wargames of any kind, his gaming interests being very reduced and mostly focused on computer gaming ( ArmA and similar ).
The situation arose out of a boring online meeting where we just participated to act as tech advisers, so not really much to do so I suggested we could play a game and Vassal being a free platform and, depending on the module, mostly non taxing on any office laptop and desktop.
Note: There were complications during gameplay as the interface can be the opposite of helpful and rather intrusive to the point where, mainly during the first turns, my colleague was ready to just say “f… it, this is exasperating”.
I totally get the feeling, being a fan of a simulation of a table and hands rather than modelling a game actions ( Tabletop Simulator versus Vassal ) but also must say that the work done on the new module for Flying Colours is an absolute delight even if without quirks.
Good news is we managed to overcome the difficulties – rather we learned to play along with them and use a curse word now and then.
Everything was setup fast and I suggested to play an age of sail action that I think is the best to provide both the mentor and newcomer a sense of the system and at the same time give the newcomer a feeling of victory.
With this in mind I picked one of the scenarios of the campaign in the Indian Ocean, part of the deluxe 3rd printing and originally included in the C3i Magazine, which delivers the scenarios to play actions during the Seven Years War.
As we won’t be playing anytime soon, was just a one shot ( I hope not! ), the very first engagement was perfect for what I intended – command formations, a fair chance of defeat to my forces and easy to explain everything including some of the peculiarities of the FC system when considering the way ships were used during the age of sail.
C1.Cuddalore is the very first scenario of the Coromandel Campaign and pits a British squadron intercepting a French convoy of troops transports ( rated as Indiaman ) trying to reach Madras.
The scenario starts with the convoy beating and being intercepted from windward by the British force and after a brief explanation of what this means, in tactical terms, my opponent decided to move in with a measure of caution. On my part, acting as the French chef d’escadre – Anne Antoine d’Aché, comte d’Aché et seigneur de Marbeuf ( seriously I just enjoy too much making sure I imprint the full name and titles of both french and spanish characters, it lends a ton to a narrative ) – I decided on a bold action.
- if you wish to know more details about the action and the personalities involved, one good starting point is Three Decks – https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_battle&id=120
The only warship in my convoy is the one acting as the flagship, Le Zodiaque, a 74 gun ship of the line, while all the rest are, for the scenario, rated as Indiaman.
That means that their firepower is rated down and the manoeuvre actions more sluggish by taking more Movement Points to accomplish and suffering more counteracting roll modifiers on tacking.
Also the British play with an Audacity of 1 against 0 for the French, thus the Initiative would be more on the hands of my opponent.
I decided to do what is somewhat shown in the screenshot above – reverse the column march through a starboard tack. This was a very risky decision as I would place the convoy closer to the enemy guns but I was counting on two things – momentum of the British vessels as they carried more wind and understanding the opponent commander ( not being a wargamer ).
Sidenote, this appears and truly is a level of meta gaming – I know my opponent isn’t versed in wargames – but it does not diminish in anything the ability to understand, analyse and perform operations with the pieces. Being an intelligent person I could count on a fairly good game and all I had to do was keeping the narrative flow and “age of sail” banter to keep the attention and interest.
On a historical note, the opponents usually knew about each others actions, studied each other’s actions and were more keen in understanding how they operated in the event they would come to battle each other, so the meta level of knowing your opponent isn’t that meta albeit the Leader counters in game still reflecting Command ranges and Ratings.
I also decided not to use the advanced/optional rule of “Turn in Succession” given the convoy being, in a historical sense, not navy grade but complemented by personnel of the Compagnie des Indies Orientales which would not be entirely trained in “fighting formations” as the navy would.
My opponent just shrugged and nodded in agreement.
Not racing yachts, no matter what Disney told’ya kiddos.
These lumbering hulks take time ( and skill ! ) to do their evolution and in the meanwhile there’s iron flying all over the place.
I was expecting difficulties while performing the direction change and in the meanwhile, in true French tactics intent on saving a convoy, fired high into the rigging while braving the British gunnery into the hull. My peace was made that I would probably lose a couple ships to the enemy action but also knew the objective, as it was in reality, was to save the convoy as much as possible.
Things did not go accordingly and became very chaotic very fast while all the while my opponent was having fun just encircling my hook and blazing away.
I am often asked – what is so interesting in the age of sail battles.
I always answer in fashion – there’s no “ground effects”, it is all about the tactical approach and not combat factors.
One good decision in perfect timing might shift the entire battle.
It is all fun when the opponent is in trouble and I was in trouble. The entire column fell into a mess after the second ship got In Irons and Out of Command situations started arising due to having to adjust and shift positions.
My opponent just kept circling and in doing so also put the vanguard of the column in out of command situations.
Some “excuse” must be granted to the french sailors. Apart from le Zodiaque all are merchant crewed and thus, despite good sailing masters, not tailored to take on the rigours and panic and fear and terror of battle.
” …’Merde !!! ” – sighs le Comte d’Aché
But not everything was bad for the French. Some good firing discipline, and constant broadsides from the British, ensured the Out of Command ships could also fire when in Defensive so the rigging of the enemy was being slowly shot away, at the expense of having, by my estimates, to lose a couple Indiaman while the turn was fully completed.
At this point I started to doubt if my decision has been the most favourable for a successful escape – do not expect to achieve anything else commanding the French – as the priority, narrative wise, is to save the troops being transported and bring them to port. That is all that matters to me, damn with the game score.
With only ‘Le Zodiaque in command the order was given and signal hoisted aloft – try to escape by any means possible !!!!
Join the navy they said, sail to exotic places they said… sail for the glory of profit, the king and France … alas, as the old wisdom saying goes…”sauve qui peut!!!”…
One of the pleasures to teach a game, and to enjoy someone playing a wargame for the first time, is to be able to feel how the theme and imagery is flowing through their minds by their actions and language.
One of the situations that arose is concerning the HMS Salisbury, which being in a superb position was also Out of Command.
My opponent wanted to be able to open fire but unless passing an Out of Command check that wouldn’t happen. Alas a spectacular ZERO comes up and triumphantly declares that all batteries open fire to both port and starboard ( add voice effects of cannon fire ).
Royal Navy training and doctrine at work ( die rolls helping of course ).
– “Out of Command !? What is that !? Some sort of French puff dressing code !?”
HMS Salisbury manages to pass the check and unleashes rolling broadsides from both sides.
Triumphant moments can happen at anytime during a naval engagement and any players that do share the love for the theme of war during the grand age of sail know that the reports and logs are full of heroism, unexpected outcomes, and above all chaos and a sense of a bar brawl once the columns collide.
This little game was no different and, despite me trying to make it sound more than it actually was, I am certain that for my game partner it felt like the battle of Trafalgar.
I would add here, again, the fact that my colleague gaming time is spent most on ArmA, a first person combined arms modern combat simulator. Maybe it helps with envisioning actions in his mind, placing his own mind-camera on the deck of the ships and summing film sequences to fill in the void out of lack of knowledge about the era. In the end all that matters is that, despite having been during office hours, we had some fun and the meeting we were supervising went okay without any problems.
HMS Elizabeth sees the masts, shrouds, everything overboard. Situation is a mess and Commander Stevens cannot transfer to another ship.
Meanwhile d’Aché tries to regain command of the squadron as much as possible.
The moment I saw that my venue of escape was open I went for it.
Surprisingly enough the entire manoeuvre worked like a charm, given the situation of being heavily outgunned, and provoked the formation of the British to fall out of Command. The cherry on top being the dismast of the HMS Elizabeth and two consecutive failures of Commodore Stevens to transfer to another ship.
This unintentional lull in the hostilities bought me enough time to regain control of the convoy and declare I would simple escape.
Math being generous there was no way the British squadron would be able to catch the convoy, but two ships were declared captured- Le Condé and Le Vengeur.
It is of note that the game lasted 9 turns and there was no wind change throughout.
My partner was pleased in the end but showed no real interest in playing again. Declared it was fun but just that, not something it would pursue as part of the free time activities.
I am okay with that and it is not my intention to convert anyone to a hobby nor am I an appreciative of games that try hard to model that possibility. If a person has no interest it has no interest, no matter how shiny and accessible the games are, even to the point of being “wargames for anyone that doesn’t want to play wargames because it is made so even toddlers can understand” but won’t work because the -anyone- has no interest in wargames.
My colleague, same as anyone, is an intelligent person and can perfectly understand the rules of the game, any game really. It is not the complexity of a game that does not spark interest, is really the nature of the game, so I struggle to understand the “dumb down” movement.
Having played this little scenario changed nothing. “Was fun!”. That is all. Nothing else.
An acceptable closure to the engagement.
Unless there’s a dramatic wind change, that will not help the Brits anyway, the trade convoy will just keep running.
French decide to abandon two Indiaman but save the rest of the convoy.
Thank you for reading.
If you ever want to play Flying Colors, please do contact me.
Have a good week !