Saturday, 25 October 2014

Stern Chase! - A Trafalgar scenario using 'Trafalgar'!

On Thursday at the uni club we replayed a portion of the Battle of Trafalgar to mark the anniversary.

I think most wargamers are familiar with the overall outline of the Battle of Trafalgar 21st October 1805. Essentially Nelson's daring plan was to allow the Combined Franco-Spanish fleet to cross his 'T' in order to break their line and bring on a general action where he was confident that British training and gunnery would pay off. But for our game to commemorate the 209th anniversary of this iconic action, we would concentrate on just the tip of the 'Lee' column, led by Admiral Lord Nelson's deputy, Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. Collingwood's flagship, HMS Royal Sovereign, had a brand new copper bottom, which allowed Collingwood to fulfil his ambition of being first to break the enemy line:

We used Trafalgar rules, which we find gives a good fast-play game, concentrating on the gunnery and DC aspects without going into too much detail on sailing, weather and other environmentals. However we did heavily modify the weather rules, as outlined in the game scenario, quoted below:


21st October 1805. Admiral Lord Nelson wants to bring on a general action with the combined Franco Spanish fleet, which is attempting to escape North to Cadiz.
He divides his fleet into 2 columns, the better to prevent any escape and to hasten a larger general action. However closing the Combined Fleets’ line whilst in column is a tense period for his ships, as effectively this allows the Combined Fleet and initial period of crossing his ‘T’, thus bringing their broadsides to bear with bow raking shots on his leading ships, which are unable to respond. He gambles that the heavy swell will affect the accuracy of their gunnery.  
Between us we're pretty well read on the Age of Sail - or is that 'Aged Sailors'?

This week’s game concentrates on the first hour or so of action as Admiral Collingwood leads his southerly ‘Lee’ column to break the enemy line about halfway down the Combined Fleet’s line of battle.  

The RN Lee column, with Royal Sovereign in the lead. All Alan's models, a fraction of his collection.
Eager to beat Nelson into action, he allows his flagship, the Royal Sovereign, to forge ahead of support. She has had her copper bottom recently scraped, so she will be first into enemy range by a considerable margin, alone in the danger zone…

The Combined Fleet starts the game Beating under Battle Sail, the British Fleet starts the game Running under Full Sail.


Clear weather, light Westerlies, Sea state 6-7 running East-West.

Deep water, 21 miles North by West of Cape Trafalgar, in the Straits of Gibraltar, South of Cadiz.

Wind. Light Westerly winds gives the British fleet the wind gauge, but it is only allowing the columns to close the Combined Fleet painfully slowly, maximising their time in broadside range of the enemy. All movement reduced by 2cm.

Sea state 6-7, with a deep swell running East-West. Resultant yawing to ships heading North or South (Combined Fleet initially) results in -1 modifier for gunnery.

Mission      The Combined Fleet to clear the area North making for Cadiz. British Fleet to close with and destroy the enemy.


Lead ships will start on table as space permits, junior ships will arrive on table at the start of successive moves, without dicing, in the order of sailing. Players will assume command of 2-3 ships, depending on numbers, spreading command along the line to allow for late arriving ships and players. The British team will have first move, and have the wind gauge. The Royal Sovereign will be positioned 100 cm due West of the tip of the Combined Fleet’s line, and the Bellisle will be positioned a further 40cms to its rear, representing the Royal Sovereign’s lead into action.

Scenario Specific rules:

Blaze table – On result of 1-5 reroll result, if same number take result, otherwise remove blaze counter.

The Wind Table – 1 – 5 = No Change in wind direction or strength. 6 = Wind changes strength, roll on Wind Strength table. (If already becalmed, add 4 to roll)

Wind Strength table – 1-2 = Becalmed (inertia moves only). 3-5 = Wind drops, reduce speed by 2cm  6 = Wind freshens, increase speed by 2cm
Command and Signal – Ship rosters for record keeping will be provided.

The ship models we used were from two sources, Alan's, shown in the photo above of RN ships waiting to move on table, were from Skytrex, purportedly of the 1200th scale, whereas my Spanish squadron were very slightly larger 1200th scale Langtons:

Neither of us bothers to rig our ships, as recommended in the rules, ostensibly because we feel such rigging would be out of scale, and, in my case, out of laziness!

Still, I think they pass the '3 foot rule' of looking ok at arm's length:

And so, having looked at the scenario and set the scene, to battle! Below, looking from the WSW, we see the first two ships of the RN column moving to intercept the Combined Fleet. The RN team was manned by Peter and Mark. HMS Royal Sovereign has drawn ahead from the next in line, HMS Belleisle...

Now looking from the East. The wind has maintained direction, but weakened even further, encouraging the Combined Fleet to put on full sail. Combined with the heavy swell, this means any long range gunnery will only hit on 6D6, so no critical hits can be scored...

The same view from due South. Notice the Combined Fleet's line, on the right of view, is pretty ragged. It was clear by this point that Alan, the Combined Fleet's commander, was going to concentrate on making a run for Cadiz, rather than fighting a delaying action - looks like we had a stern chase on our hands!

With the wind picking up again slightly, the Royal Navy survives the moment of greatest danger and breaks into the Combined Fleet's line - the Royal Sovereign has taken a battering, but is still afloat and fighting! However the bulk of the Combined Fleet are to the North of the breakthrough, so may make off safely if they have no qualms about leaving the rest of the fleet behind...

Now a seagull's eye view from the East. The bulk of the Combined Fleet looks to be making good their escape, although there are a couple of lame ducks. Speaking of lame ducks, the Royal Sovereign's last remaining mast 'goes by the board' and she begins to drift. Her guns are still manned and ready, but out of range...

Looking from the SSE, the stern chase is on! The Lee column can only concentrate on finishing off the lame ducks, the Bahama and Algeciras...

But as the Belleisle fails to dismast the Pluton with a lucky shot, and she sails off the table, relatively unscathed, the game is over - the bulk of the Combined fleet has escaped destruction!

Some of the lads aren't too happy with Trafalgar as a set of rules, I'm not sure why, so soon we will be playing a similar game, possibly even the same scenario, with 'Form Line of Battle' to see if those are deemed worthy. So maybe another tale of adventure on the high seas will follow soon... In the meantime, Alan has also posted an account of this game:


  1. Much nicer pictures than my report; I have been looking forward to seeing these.

    Why do I not like 'Trafalgar'? Truth be told I'm not 100% sure.

    I am willing to admit that one of the reasons is, quite simply, that they're not 'Form Line of Battle'. We gamers are a conservative lot (in the 'resistant to change' sense, as opposed to the 'closing hospitals and eating babies' one), and we stick with what we know. FLOB has seen me right for nearly 20 years now, and has always given me a good game. Although not credited I actually contributed one of two details to the current incarnation of the rules, so I have a bit of a personal investment in them.

    So, we'll say that the first reason I don't like Trafalgar is that they don't do anything for me that a set I'm happy and familiar with does.

    I touched on another couple of points in my blog post. The rules are very much about the shooting, and the sailing is, to my mind, a little simplistic. Attitude to the wind makes very little difference, and movement is rather predictable. But to my mind the sailing is what age of sail games are about. The shooting itself uses lots of dice for the effects it finally gives, and I'm still not impressed by the almost total lack of effect of crew quality on firing. Crews trained regularly to achieve fast and accurate fire, and this shows up in the results of many actions. But in Trafalgar two ships of equal nominal strength pound each other with the same effect, even if one is an elite British crew and the other the poorest of Spaniards. Yes, things could be factored into the rules to change this but, as Geoff is fond of pointing out, if you have to rewrite key bits of the game to get them to work, why buy the game in the first place?

    So, in summary, Trafalgar doesn't give me what I don't already have, it emphasises the wrong things and the things it does emphasise don't seem to have been thought out in a way that reflects what appears to have happened in actual battles.

    But, that aside, I enjoyed the game very much :)

  2. Thanks Alan. As regards the lack of gunnery differentiation by nationality, well, mea culpea! I completely forgot to remind folk that British gunners get to reroll ones! And of course the RN ships had one or two more gunnery dice than the Dons! And the French don't suffer a -1 for firing high...

    But to be frank I think I like not worrying too much about attitude to wind and the intricacies of manoeuvring under sail - it sounds complicated! But it will be interesting to compared to FLOB...perhaps I'll be converted. It certainly seems that 'Trafalgar' rules have sunk without trace, so you and Geoff aren't the only doubters....

  3. Good stuff! I really like the sea sheet you're using, I feel a little seasick just looking at it.

  4. "It certainly seems that 'Trafalgar' rules have sunk without trace"

    I'm not so sure - a while back I did look to see if I could get a feel for how they were generally received, and fund more than a few write-ups of games and mentions of people playing it. But 'Sails of Glory' seems to be the in-thing now.

    'Form Line of Battle' never got far enough above the water to have a chance to sink without trace. Commercially successful it isn't, although it has been around since the mid 1980s and is now in its 4th edition, so maybe there's something in it.

  5. Game looks great. Have you tried "Wooden ships and Iron men" rules

  6. Lovely ships and a great report, thanks Ralph

  7. Thanks that confirms that Langton can look good without rigging. I will tackle a box of the wee darlings with glee. I rather like the Lardies "Kissme, Hardy" set (they are good from Ship on Ship upwards, but the Trafalgar are OK especially for fleet actions.The quick guide to ship types itself is most useful. I think they sank because Warhammer Historical sank. Glad I grabbed a set of Richtofen whilst I could. All that said it is the points of sail that make for a good tactical Napoleonic Naval game, and not having hexes to contend with makes manouvre even more subtle. Graham

  8. "Have you tried "Wooden ships and Iron men" rules"

    I cut my Napoleonic naval gaming teeth on WSIM. A friend of mine at college had it, but had bought masses of Navwar ships and played the game on a felt hexmat. We played many games over the couple of years I was there, including a small campaign. Obviously model ships, a hexgrid and WSIM was the route I went down as well.

    But, as a game, it suffered from its being on a hexgrid, which meant that some arcs were a bit extreme and there was little granularity in the sailing, plus the fact that the firing mechanisms so rewarded good crews that a French or Spanish force generally had to give up once they took more than a couple of hits.

    I tried Heart of Oak for many years, which gave a good game, but was very fiddly to play - lots of crew assignment and a very details sailing mechanism with multiple points of wind, sail settings and hull types.

    FLOB seemed to offer the interesting sailing of Hearts of Oak, with the simplicity of WSIM, all without a hex-grid or pre-plotted moves. A winner for me.

  9. Great looking ships very definitely, no need for rigging, and I completely agree with all the comments about rules. Over at the ANF we have tried Signal Close Action, the Langton rules set, and will be trying FLoB next year, and Heart of Oak too if I can persuade my colleagues :) I think though we'll give Trafalgar a miss - as with the SoG Ares rules themselves, they work for an evening's wargaming at a club, but not if you want a detailed action playing out over a weekend.

  10. Thanks for all the comments guys. Yes having now played FLOB I am converted, to the extent that I have splurged out the princely sum of $10 on a hard copy. They seem a good compromise between the overly simplistic 'Trafalgar', and the PWO (CEW) advanced course-like complexity of the Langton rules! I was so bound up in the excitement I completely forget to take any pics, but Kaptain Kobold did an excellent write up here:

  11. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.