Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Sea is so Wide and my Ship is so Small

One of the greatest things about playing with pirates is playing with ships. I just love the aesthetics of a large sailing vessel. Even in games on shore I like to have a coast or port of some sort with my boats casting anchor nearby. And as with most cool things, the bigger, the better - but that costs extra. And few gamers can afford to buy properly sized three-masters. After compiling a list of wargame ships I opted for Old Glory's Brigantine, because it was sailing within my budget. I recently finished the ship and now I am ready for some serious boarding action. However, right when I opened the box and saw the model for the first time, I knew it was rather small - definately too small to transport a mid campaign Legends of the High Seas crew (around 20 sailors - maximum is 30!). So I was thinking about what to do about it... I wanted to keep the model and I wanted to use it. In this post I'd like to describe a few solutions I came up with to get the most out of my moderately sized ships in games of Legends of the High Seas.

There are two types of scenarios in the LotHS rulebook focusing on ships; where the ships are not just neat additions to the gaming board, but the epicentre of the action. It is in these scenarios, where size deficiencies (especially a limited breadth) become relevant - and frustrating. So let's get over it!

Sail on the Horizon!/Dangerous Waters! (pages 96-97)
These are the main scenarios for playing with ships themselves: sailing, firing cannons, all the good stuff. In these scenarios a smaller size of the ship model is not that big a problem, because the positioning of your sailors on deck is not as importent as during a boarding action (see below). However, you still need a number of sailors to act as Deck Hands and two models for each cannon (three for the large 12-18lbs). Usually you can just nominate those models on the side facing the enemy vessel to be manning cannons so that you can fully fire, while all remaining models count as Deck Hands. Then, if the ships have moved so that you need the other side to fire, then the previous cannoneers become Deck Hands.

Still the number of crew members may be simply too high to allow placing all of them on the ship. It may then be neccesary to leave some of them below deck. This will allow you to keep more of your models on the ship, even if they don't physically fit in there. For the sake of clarity, the rules for crewmen below deck are described further below in a separate section.

Boarding Action (pages 88-89)
A boarding action is basically a normal onshore scenario with two ships acting as the battle field. This will inevitably lead to a crowded upper deck. If a ship model lacks the appropriate broadth, it will be difficult, or even impossible, to properly place the crewmen. But in this scenario it is all about close combat, charging, fighting over obstacles, etc. So positioning the models is very important here.

Just as with the sailing scenarios you can - actually you must - leave some of your crewmen below deck. If you manage to conquer the enemy vessel, as your sailors enter the other crew's ship, you may gain the required space on your ship to let more sailors enter from below. Alternatively, if you are losing models, you will probably also get the free space for more models to move up. The same rules for crewmen below deck can be used here (see the following section below).

To play out some proper combats, you may still not have enough space yet. In order to further fix this, cannons can be removed from the ship's deck. It is safe to assume that the sailors can easily bend over them or even stand on top of them and still fight as normal. In fact, most cannons won't qualify as an obstacle anyways, as they are not (or only slightly) over 1/2" heigh. Unfortunately the rulebook explicitly depicts cannons as examples of obstacles (see page 16). For the sake of manoeuvrability however, it makes sense to remove them. Let's assume that 3-6lb and 8-9lbs can be ignored and only 12-18lbs need to be jumped over. The space gained from this is certainly worth it. Of course, the ship's railing still counts as an obstacle as normal and models on either sides count as fighting over an obstacle.

Sailors below Deck
A player may leave a number of his models below deck, depending on the ship's size category. Before the game, each player places his models on the ship and nominates the ones below deck. If the Crew still has more members, then these cannot take part in the game. Heroes are important to the crew and thus have to be picked and any remaining Henchmen must miss this game.

Ship SizeMaximum number of Sailors below Deck

Small 5
Medium 8
Large 10

Models below deck cannot be used as Deck Hands for operating the ship, and they cannot fire any of their ranged weapons at enemy models if the opposing ship is within range (to do so, they must come on deck first). In return, they cannot be hit by enemy missile fire such as muskets, pistols or grapeshots from cannons. Note that the Captain ( i.e. the crew's Leader) may never be left below deck - he is way too (self-)important to leave control over his ship to the measly crew without keeping an eye on them!

At the beginning of each player's Movement phase, that player may place one new Sailor in front of the door (or on top of a trap door) from where the model is supposed to enter deck. That model may charge normally this turn.

Sailors below deck are not necessarily completely useless, though. They may operate the cannons that are also below the upper deck, i.e. not physically accessible normally. In fact, there is no other way to use these cannons other than to assing sailors below deck to them. Follow the usual rules for number requirements, i.e. small to medium cannons need two crewmen, large cannons three. Crewmen below deck have a very restricted sight and thus aiming is far more difficult. To represent this, when firing a cannon from below deck, roll two D6 instead of one on the Cannon Table (page 43) and choose the lower result. A Master Gunner Hired Hand operating a cannon below deck may re-roll one of the two dice, then pick the lowest of them (see Excellent Aim special rule, page 107). Remember to explicitly nominate which sailors are firing a cannon before making the roll, because they might suffer damage if the cannon explodes on a misfire.

Although sailors seem to be somewhat safe from enemy shots while they remain below deck, remember that they are not available to operate the ship or any cannons in case you lose crewmen on the upper deck. Also, if the ship should sink (pages 38-39), chances are that these sailors will not be able to save themselves to the upper deck in time. Therefore, it is usually safer to have as many crewmen on the upper deck as possible.

What else?
Another thing that is difficult to properly represent with most model ships is the additional boats that are carried as they will almost always be too big to place aboard the ship. The following is how we rule this situation and an extension of the rules found on page 48 of the rulebook:

If a ship carries any boats, the player must nominate the position where they are supposed to be. At best place a marker there (around 1.5cm x 3cm). In order to launch a boat, two crewmen must start their turn in base contact with a boat marker. Move the sailors towards any side of the ship from where the boat can be launched. The models must remain in base contact throughout. If they are attacked (either by a missile shot or charged), they immediately drop the boat on deck (place the marker where they stand). If they are not disrupted this turn, place the actual boat model next to the ship. Sailors can now jump in the boat following the normal rules.

Ship Marker
(300dpi for printing, photo of the Games of War tender)

Alright, matey, that's it! I hope you find these little additions useful.

May your keel and rum never run dry!

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