Saturday, December 17, 2011

Flying Colors (GMT) ~ "The Doggersbank" [18.29]

Game: Flying Colors (GMT)
Scenario: The Doggersbank [18.29]
Participants: Jim "HeavyD" D, Myself
Time: Fri, Dec 12th ~ 7.00PM - 10.45PM

Back in 2005 when Flying Colors came out, HeavyD and I played it several times. This was prior to the "Ship of the Line" expansion and the second volume of the game, "Serpents of the Seas". The last time we played, I remember HeavyD dicing me good and hard...I know that at least partially this has lead to us not having visited this series since then. So I pulled these games off the shelf and looked at them again, I had not looked too closely at either of the new products. I found the scenario when looking through the SoL expansion.

The scenario depicts an action fought by the Royal Navy against the Dutch Navy in 1781. I for one, didn't even know the British and Dutch were fighting around that time. The action depicted takes place in the Baltic. RN Admiral Hyde Parker is escorting a group of merchant men through the Baltic when they spot a Dutch squadron doing the same thing. Parker was recently censured, so he signaled his merchantman to make for home and had his squadron form line of battle. The Dutch followed suit as both sides held their fire until close range...what transpired was largely a draw. The only ship lost was a Dutch ship, the next day. Casualties however were heavy on both sides.

The scenario was appealing to me because of the size and the fact that it was on one map. Also, and more importantly, there is only a 1 differential in Audacity between the two forces. The British have an Audacity of 1 and the wind gage. The British have seven ships, six of them Ships of the Line and one Frigate. The Dutch have seven ships, six of them SoL's with one Frigate. Both sides SoL's are mostly 64's and 74's. The British have one leader (Parker) while the Dutch have two. Its interesting to note that the two Dutch leaders are both better then Parker. A special rule precludes the British ships from using Cannonades.

Starting Positions

I wanted to play the Dutch. From my previous playings of the game I recall, dimly (it has been many years) that I was not very happy with the Audacity mechanic and how it impacted the balance of the scenarios. Audacity in this game translates into enhanced firepower (among other things). The side with the Audacity advantage will shoot better. While I was re-reading the rules I came across this section under 6.2 Tournament Play. It reads:

6.2.2 Fleet Actions: The historical scenarios all have an inherent bias towards one or the other in the form of the Audacity rating. The side with the higher Audacity rating is expected to win most of the time. This is by design, but it makes for boring tournament play! For those wanting to play fleet actions competitively, these options are suggested:

He then lists several slight changes to the mechanics, including bidding for break check modifiers.

For me, the most important part of a consim game has always been the balance of the design. That is each sides chance of winning. ASL, being my favorite game is driven by this as the scenario designers have striven for as balanced a scenario as possible. It doesn't always work of course, there are and will always be unbalanced dogs, but I know that most of the scenarios that are published strive to be a closely balanced as possible. When I see a designer include a rule like the one I site above, I get very worried. To me the designer is telling me that he isn't interested in producing a game that even tries to provide an even chance of winning for both sides...the British will (and should, from what I am reading) always win Trafalgar.

The Scenario

Opening Broadsides

The first interesting thing that happened was that we had the wind change direction, on the first turn! The wind changed one hex to the left, now I had the wind as well as HeavyD. The first few turns were largely uneventful as we both stayed in line formation and closed on each other. It was on the third turn that the first opening broadsides were unleashed. HeavyD nicely closed up his line as he turned into the wind at about 6 hexes range and opened up. His initial broadsides were very effective, he both rolled well and benefited by the British advantage of shooting at my hull (+1 drm) and being up wind (+1 drm) as well as the Audacity firepower advantage (add the audacity to your firepower)...his average shots were usually on the 4 or 5 column with a +2 drm.  When the smoke cleared he had inflicted about 6 hull and rigging hits to my 1, not a good way to start off.

The entire British line engages the van of the Dutch squadron

Things continued to go poorly in the next couple of turns. By the time both of our lines had engaged, he was way out ahead in the damage inflicted department. He'd inflicted about 14 hull/rigging/crew hits (across several ships) to my 4 hull hits on one ship. As our lines were about even, HeavyD turned in on me. He had been Beating (2MPs) against the wind at this point, when he turned in he was now reaching again. The front of my line was in bad shape at this point. I had one ship flipped over due to damage and my flagship was a few hits away from flipping as well. The closer we got, the more lethal his fire became, he was still getting the +2 drms and +1 to firepower on every shot. To add to this, I was rolling terribly, HeavyD even suggested I change dice it was getting so bad. I refused, wanted to take my medicine, It was I after all who wanted to play this game and then play the Dutch.

Hyde Parker's British turn into the Dutch line of Battle

The Dutch suffer as the British break their line
 Things got really spicy as our two lines joined. HeavyD had only one leader, while I had two. This meant that he's having to move all of his in command ships (and most of them were in command up to this point) at once, while I am making two moves, one with each of my leaders. In this scenario that really didn't make much of a difference. The game has a very nice defensive fire mechanic in which the non-phasing player can interrupt the phasing players shot (you fire your ships at any point in their movement) to fire defensively. As HeavyD was winning most of the initiative rolls (despite my having a better leader) he was able to break my line and get those nice rake shots. HeavyD had a great turn (turn 6 I believe), many of his shots were rakes and I had no option to defensive fire before I was raked. He got most of his rake rolls and by the end of the turn the end of my line was in shambles now as well.

The Dutch fall out of line and reverse course

Now having two leaders proved to be helpful. I was able to get the rear of my line turned around, Beating now at range 4 from his line. My ships were suffering terribly though, all of the rear three were flipped (more then 50% damage) while the five ships I was facing were still hardly damaged and maintained the weather gage. Things were going a little better with my van. I was able to get a couple of nice rakes on the end of his line as I turned around.

Parker crosses the "T"

It was shortly after this that the wind changed direction again, turning one direction clockwise, back to its original facing at the start of the scenario. HeavyD still held the weather gage. HeavyD won the initiative again and was able to cross my T with the front of his line. This turned into a massacre at this point. I lost a couple of ships out right (sunk) while HeavyD also closed in and grappled one of my ships and took it. I struck my colors at this point despite passing the Break check roll.

Final Positions

Despite my complete shellacking, I had a pretty good time while getting shellacked. I love the games mechanics. I love how it emphasizes command and control and focuses on leadership in a very playable format. The rules are great and cover every interesting situation we encountered. In short its a joy to play, it plays fast and is exciting. This is why its so very disappointing that nearly every scenario in the game (not counting the Serpents of the Seas volume that I have not played) is an unbalanced dog by design. Its hard for me to imagine if HeavyD and I played this scenario 10 times, switching sides each time that the Dutch would be able to win more then one or two of those.

What a shame that such an elegant design is left wanting for balanced scenarios.

1 comment:

  1. I think a rough historical simulation, is what the designer was aiming for here. If you want balance, home brew competitive scenario's will be the thing. Exiting AAR though.