captain’s log 2022.Jul.2

Seems like a lot of time has passed since “day zero” but apparently only a month did and now the hard work actually shows up.

Putting all the rules to paper has been proven to be a challenge but a wonderful learning process. While I’ve written plenty of guides and procedure documentation for work this is very different and somehow find myself divided between

  • the strict regulation rules book
    and the
  • story telling and what’s behind the rule to explain the rule

The reasons for one will lack the justification for the other, or maybe not.

I did set out with this strange idea that whomever picked the game would be comfortable with and have an understanding of age of sail, thus immediately identify correct point of sail and then use the game procedures to operate the ships.

I was not wrong in this but neither was I right. The feedback received has been invaluable in this learning process.

I will have to explain everything as correctly as I must and leave no space for ambiguities.

The same way I must explain certain game concepts in the next series of blog posts.

First of all let me introduce the game idea.

‘A Sprinkling of Nobility’ is a set of rules to guide tabletop wargames.

Its aim is to emulate, in the tabletop game, the experience of commanding naval actions and exploring historical engagements that occurred, or that may have occurred, during the grand age of sail.

Note: Plenty of Scenarios are planned with the first one set in 1686. The possibility of exploring everything outside Napoleonic era and War of 1812 is just too enticing to ignore.

What the game is not is a deep and complex simulation of ship to ship engagement, but rather a representation of it from the commander of the ship point of command level as such deciding course, manoeuvres, when to fire, etc…

Players will not have control over which single sail to gather or unfurl, or which lines to pull during a change of tack; the player is the commander of a ship!

Nonetheless players have full control over the ships movement, gunnery, sails and use of wind, commanding a crew that knows what to do when commands are given in the most expeditious form possible.

In short; ‘A Sprinkling of Nobility’ is a cinematic narrative action oriented wargame, and not an extremely detailed military exercise wargame to simulate operating ships of war during the age of sail.

Map scale

The game is played in a board divided in regular squares. The prototype is put together with 2 sizes, a 12 by 12 and a 24 by 24.

So how much area and distances does each square represent ? What is the scale ?

‘A Sprinkling of Nobility’ wargame concerns itself about the point of contact.
Anything concerning any distance closer than “…came down within a mile of my bow, and hauled close…”.

Age of sail naval warfare is not a precise exercise but evolves, as combat develops, with precision as officers and crew are trained in the service and developed particular ways of operating. Not all crews are equal, thus two sister ships will behave different.

Captains and crew knew instinctively what they meant when talking about distances during combat and we are playing a game in which we act as those commanders and officers so abstractions in the rules will be aplenty and the very first one is distance and scale.

Perceived distances is one of the elements I try to incorporate in the design and for that matter I define no strict scale to the grid.

Players may take the time, maybe already have, to read age of sail accounts, written by the hand of the captain’s themselves, the specific ranges, the accurate distances, are measured in unconventional ways, almost as similar to everyday descriptions of “as high as the door” or “probably the length of the garage” and these are not exact measures.

‘… without  losing  the  bearing  of  our  broad- side; enemy  now  distant  half-musket  shot…’

‘…having for the last twenty minutes maintained a position within half point-blank shot on the quarter …’

In the age of sail engagements writing we can read plenty of

  • Ship lengths
  • Cables
  • different types of shot distance
  • and many others

Is truly a rarity for an engagement of this era to have specific distances reported – “242 yards !!!!” or “120 metres!!!” – but is possible although I decided for the abstract “quarter cable distant”.

At best one could argue with using wargamers favourite appreciation ranges of:

  • “Long”
  • “Medium”
  • “Short”

In truth “how big is each square” is relative to three ships’ having space to move through and manoeuvre in that area while having good wind. That’s it.

The game takes care of the minutiae while the players only concern is to plan the manoeuvres and play out the unexpected.

The mechanisms in place in the game abstract exact ranges and rather use relative positions of ships and perceived ranges.

Visualise that the ships are never in any exact position, as represented by a miniature or a cardboard piece, but in movement from and to a position. Therefore each square space is equivalent to the distance travelled by the ship before it reaches its current position but also the evolution across that space as it carries to the next position. It may well be a tight turn, which is not prolonged enough to go as far as the next grid space, thus three ships can occupy the same space but risking entanglement as the standing rigging passes close to each other.

Ships from the same side signal the pass through, astern or across the bow, so the rules do not enforce any type of friendly entanglements.

There’s also no maximum range for shooting.

On average consider age of sail engagements to happen between 20 to 100 yards if you want a decisive outcome but 300 yards is also not unheard of and even longer with elevated barrels and still provide a decisive resolution to an engagement.

Shooting inside the same square is “our guns touching their gun ports”  as much as “pistol shot range” – with the effect being equally potentially devastating. The game rules do not have that level of granularity.

Five grid spaces away may be “just out of point blank range”.

The game mechanisms take care of it. The game does not rely on precision but on accuracy. Players can perfectly rely on their best judgement but cannot calculate perfect mathematical outcomes.

You may shoot as far as the entire board length if you wish, you are the commander after all and the crew will try to do their best. Rules ensure the shot will scatter all over the place. Maybe it hits some important parts and cuts the tops. It is not unheard of for that to happen in age of sail engagements hence there’s a fair possibility of it to happen.

The game mechanisms will take care of success and failure. The closer the target the better the performance of the gunnery crews… relatively speaking.

If you absolutely must have a number make it a quarter of a cable – that’s roughly 25 fathoms, maybe 17. A fathom is maybe 6 feet, the length of rope a crew member can extend from open arm to open arm, but some crew members have longer arms than others…

A Cable is not an exact measure as well but a very realistic nautical age of sail one. It may vary widely from 160 to 230 metres, depending on the mix of century, nationality, and standard used.

In sum,

‘A Sprinkling of Nobility’ is designed on a relative scale to the positions of ships in relation to each other. On some engagements the board may be a mile. In others it may be half a mile.

The experience of having a perception of the distances while playing the game translates well the same experience we can read from all the age of sail accounts.

Maybe not in “quarter cables” or “half musket shot” but “range of 2” and “out of harm”.

Until the next post. Stay strong, keep wargaming.

‘A Sprinkling of Nobility’ is a wargame design without any link to any publisher. Rules are in a playable alpha state. Visuals are just a working prototype. Anyone interested in supporting the project in whatever form, please contact me.

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