Sunday, 6 August 2017

International Naval Wargaming Day: Sails and Powder Playtest

I set up a game of Sails and Powder this morning, both to playtest the rules and for International Naval Wargaming Day, with a blockade break out scenario set during the Napoleonic Wars. The scenario featured a squadron of French 74's attempting a dawn escape from Brest through a cordon of Royal Navy men of war including two 74's and a 36 gun frigate. I set up the French warships in line astern at one end of the playing area with the Royal Navy blockading force sailing at right angles across their path. As there is no clear initiative system in Sails and Powder, I decided that each turn both sides would roll a D6 to see who went first, then the ships would move in descending order of priority from 1st rates down to 5th rates.

Turn 1

In Turn 1 the French commander won the initiative so moved first, with a maximum forward move of 5 in a straight line. The Royal Navy moved second, with the both the 74's and the frigate turning 90 degrees and advancing to meet the French warships. There was no firing as the two sides were still well out of range. This was all allowed as there is no consideration of wind or wind direction in the rules, which seems a bit odd for an Age of Sail game?

Turn 2

In Turn 2, the Royal Navy won the initiative, with the 74's advancing forward to intercept the French warships, while the frigate turned to cross their path. The French 74's responded by sailing through the gap between the frigate and one of the 74's before it could close, leaving one 74 to turn away in the opposite direction as it couldn't move far enough to get through the gap. As I mentioned before, there are no rules for wind in Sails and Powder, which meant some unrealistic manoeuvres were made by the French, which really shouldn't have been so easy or even possible.

In the combat phase, HMS Phoenix fired on the French 74 Scipion, with a counter broadside by the French 3rd rate in return. This was at long range, so both sides had a +1 dice roll modifier to their 'armour' test (armour representing a saving roll for hull protection). The result of the engagement was that Scipion was damaged, with its counter flipped over, while HMS Phoenix escaped any damage despite being hit due to a successful armour penetration roll.  It's not clear in the rules how the modifier should be applied but I just added it to the dice roll to reflect the lower chances of penetration at longer ranges.

The other combat in Turn 2, between the 3rd rate HMS Caesar and Duguay Trouin, was inconclusive, despite being at close range with a +1 modifier to the shooting roll (the roll to hit). In fact, Duguay Trouin was raked by HMS Caesar so was unable to fire back, as her broadside couldn't bear on the English warship. Despite this and despite achieving two hits on the French 74, the English gun crews failed to penetrate the hull of the French warship due to some really poor dice rolls. This seemed to be a bit dodgy to say the least.

Turn 3

The French lost the initiative in Turn 3, so the Royal Navy moved first, although by now I was thinking that the winner should get to choose the order of movement. Anyway, the two Royal Navy 74's attempted the nautical equivalent of a hand brake turn in order to chase after the French 74's, which is allowed in the rules but with a penalty to movement in the next turn. I really didn't like this mechanism, which seemed more appropriate for MTB's than wooden walls, but I stuck with it. In the meantime the frigate HMS Phoenix turned to block the escape of the now straggling Scipion. The French 74's responded by setting their top gallants and sailing at full speed ahead toward the open sea, leaving the Scipion to her fate.

In the combat phase, Scipion opened fire on HMS Phoenix which had inadvertently placed herself to be raked by the French 74, hence my second thoughts about gaining the initiative. Unfortunately, this broadside achieved very little, partly due to some poor dice rolling but also due to the damage effects of the previous turn on Scipion's ability to fire at full effect. There was no possible firing by the Royal Navy as they were either out of range or in the wrong position. I was unhappy with the way both movement and firing worked again but think this could be fixed with a bit of modification.

Turn 4

Once again the Royal Navy won the initiative, so were able to move first, despite my earlier doubts about this being a good idea. The two 74's moved to cut off the French 74's while HMS Phoenix decided to ram and board the struggling Scipion, rather than see her sail further away. Why there are rules for ramming I really don't understand, made even less explicable by the outcome, which saw the 36 gun frigate ramming and sinking the French 74 (!) with no reciprocal damage at all. This was completely bonkers, so I re-interpreted the ramming roll as a successful grappling manoeuvre, followed by a boarding roll to capture the Scipion. This made a lot more sense and was a success for the Phoenix, with the Scipion striking her colours and surrendering. Huzzah!

Turn 5 and Turn 6

In both of these turns, the remaining 74's chased each other off the table, firing ineffective long range broadsides at each other before the French made good their escape. The raking rules came up again but I decided that you shouldn't be able to rake at more than regular or even close range, so discounted this rules for the last two turns. In the end, the French escaped with two 74's undamaged and one captured but in a pretty desperate state, probably requiring extensive repairs before it could be commissioned as HMS Scipio.



Nice counters and easy to use movement template.

Simple mechanisms for firing and damage.

A not historically unrealistic outcome?

I enjoyed the game!


There are no rules for initiative - easily fixed.

Turning is too easy - over 90 degrees should be penalised by no further turning or movement, then a single forward move next turn, to represent tacking. This would still be pretty unrealistic but would be better than the rules as they are. 

There are no rules for wind making movement far too straightforward.

Gunnery is a bit of a mess and doesn't really fit the period - armour rolls? malfunction rolls? - again this could be fixed without too much fuss, especially raking which shouldn't be possible unless at close range or possibly regular gunnery range.

Ramming is nonsense but can be fixed by turning it into grappling, then using the boarding rules as they are, which seemed to work in the game if you ignored the outcome of the ramming attack.

Overall this is a very cheap but rather unrealistic and sketchy set of rules but worth it for the counters alone, even if they are all identical as far as the ship image is concerned. I could fix the them but I think I'll be looking for another set of simple 'beer and pretzel' rules to use for Age of Sail games but still using the counters, which for the asking price are pretty good value for money.

I wonder if Long Face Games has any plans for Napoleonics?


  1. I did write a set of simple age of sail rules a couple of years ago. I could send you the pdf.

  2. Thanks Sam..that would be great!

  3. Hopefully the rules are at this link, and a scenario at this one They were play tested by a few pople on the now defunct Pz8 wargaming blog and list. If the links don't work you'd need to post an email address

  4. Thanks Sam...I'll check out the links.