Broadside & Cutlass - Rules for the Conduct of Naval Battles in the Age of Sail
By Mike Kirby RNR (Retired). Please email Mike your commanets. Broadside & Cutlass are also available for download in MS Word format with quick reference sheet.
In any Campaign conducted in the Age of Reason, there will come a time when the effect of naval actions becomes important to the outcome of a carefully planned strategy. These actions are often entrusted to a simple 'line 'em up and throw the dice' rule, usually added as an afterthought to a set of land warfare rules. For those who wish to risk such crucial engagements and win or lose with more than the skill involved in the roll of a die there are several alternatives.
Firstly, the battle may be fought on the table top using a set of carefully researched commercial rules. This has the advantage of being easy to organise but may well entail a lengthy period of learning. The detail covered by these rulesets is usually beyond the needs of the campaign wargamer.
Secondly, most wargamers would prefer to use a set of rules that would give them the flavour of naval combat without getting bogged down in the intricacies and minutiae of combat in the Age of Sail. A further advantage would be that the rules would have similar mechanisms to the land warfare rules used by the protagonists. My own personal preference for 'Volley & Bayonet' has prompted me to write the following.
Scales and Assumptions:
These rules are designed to be played on a table top onto which has been super-imposed a grid of approximately 3.25 inches (83mm) square. This grid is used for movement and the calculation of firing ranges as well as being perfect for indicating wind direction and points of turn. For the purpose of these rules the distance across the diagonals of the grid square are counted as being the same as the distance across the flat sides.
Each grid square represents about 500 yards.
Each move represents about 30 minutes.
Ships are represented by models of a scale preferred by the players, these are commonly 1:1200 and 1:2400. Larger ships may be used with a corresponding up-scaling of the grid system.
For the purposes of these rules all ships are rated by the number and weight of guns carried.
Each ship has the following attributes, which are marked on a roster sheet.
Ship models should be based, firstly to protect the vulnerable models themselves and secondly to prevent unscrupulous gamers from cramming too many ships into a single grid square. Ships in this period dare not sail too close to one another for fear of collision and this spacing can be represented to some extent by the area of the base. I use the following base sizes with my Navwar 1:1200 models. Rescale these for use with your own make and scale of models.
Rates 1 to 5 & merchantmen: 3" long and 0.75" wide
6th rate, galleys & larger sloops: 2" long and 0.75" wide
Small sloops and cutters: 1.5" long and 0.75" wide
Each move consists of two identical player turns. The first player has an attacker turn and then the opposing player has an attacker turn. During the opposing player's turn the defender may return fire or fight back if he is attacked or fired upon. The sequence of each turn will consist of the following phases.
1. Command Phase:
Each player may make a signal in order to direct his fleet to change course, break off the action or to engage the enemy in close action. This signal must be able to be seen by the ships of the fleet in order to be carried out. Frigates and small ships standing out of the line of battle were frequently used to relay these signals from the flagship to the other ships. The maximum distance for seeing these signals is three grids. Ships directly "in line astern" may not relay these signals but may follow the flagship if an order of "General Chase" has previously been signalled.
2. Movement Phase:
For the purposes of movement, ships are placed into three categories based upon their size, speed and ability to manoeuvre. All Ships-of-the-Line of ratings 1 to 4 and Merchantmen comprise the first class and for ease are called LINERS. Ships of ratings 5 and 6 comprise the second class and are known as FRIGATES. All other small vessels such as Cutters, Brigs and Bombs form the third class and are collectively known as SLOOPS.
All movement, apart from galleys, is dependent on the direction of the wind. The wind direction is determined before the battle either historically or randomly. The maximum speed of a ship is dependent upon the direction of the wind and the facing of the ship. The Point of Sail (PoS) Indicator is used to determine the maximum speed of the ship while ever the ship faces that direction. Galleys and ships boats have a maximum speed regardless of the wind direction. Galleys use the same PoS Indicator for turning, but ignore being taken aback.
Fleets may move under 'full sail' (double normal movement rates) until one of the players declares, in his turn, that his ships are now in 'fighting sail'. At this point both players use the normal movement rates.
The full speed shown on the PoS Indicator is then modified by the type of vessel. This is shown in the following chart.
A Liner, beam reaching, would have a maximum speed of 3 grids.
A Frigate, beam reaching, would have a maximum speed of 4 grids.
Any vessel facing directly into the wind, at any time in any phase is said to be taken aback and will stay in that position for the rest of the move.
Ships with more than half their rigging damaged forfeit half their move allowance.
Ships with more than half their crew lost forfeit half their move allowance.
Ships with more than half their hull lost forfeit half their move allowance.
All turns by sailing ships must be made to leeward, that is, away from the wind. Ships may turn several points per move. No vessel may turn more than two points without entering the next grid square. One PoS per move is free, all additional points cost 1 grid square each. Poor crews and merchantmen do not get a free point of turn. Sailing ships may perform tacking and wearing.
Tacking takes a complete move to turn + or - one point off 180 degrees to end the move within the same grid square.
Wearing takes a complete move to turn + or - one point off 180 degrees to end the move in the leeward grid square.
Ships with more than half their rigging damaged may neither tack nor wear.
Ships with more than half their crew lost may neither tack nor wear.
Ships are affected by the depth of sea and their proximity to the shore. Each of these grid squares is to be clearly marked by terrain items. Any vessel entering shallows or coastal areas risks running aground. Dice each move for the effect of running aground. Ships may anchor in shallows or coastal areas only, using a full move to drop or weigh and do not risk running aground.
Ships that have been aground are permanently disordered and are marked with a red disorder marker.
3. Morale Phase:
All crews have a morale rating, this may be Poor, Average or Crack. This morale rating will affect their ability to manoeuvre, repair damage and fight the ship. All ships within close range of the enemy must test morale in this phase.
Throw one D6 and add or subtract the modifiers from the basic morale rating. Dice equal or less than the modified morale to pass, otherwise crew are disordered. A yellow disorder marker is placed on the ship. At the end of the move all yellow disorder markers are removed.
Combat is fought between ships using either long range broadsides or close action. Each rate of ship has a number of Broadside and Deck guns mounted Port and Starboard. For each point of guns one D6 is thrown. The score required to hit is dependent upon the range. Mortars count as a Broadside against forts only.
In certain circumstances, target vessels are entitled to use saving throws of 4,5 or 6 as below.
Coastal troops in fortifications, except from mortars.
All ships from disordered crews
Any ship bow raked loses one saving throw
Any ship stern raked loses two saving throws
After any saving throws, throw one D6 in order to determine the location and amount of damage caused.
C = Crew point lost R = Rigging point lost H =Hull point lost
B = Broadside point lost D = Deck Guns point lost
Coastal fortifications offer some protection from ship gunfire.
Broadside guns will negate saving throws at close range at troops in fortresses.
Units in a fortress are immune from; close action, all guns at long range and deck guns at all ranges.
Effects of Damage:
As damage is taken by the target ship, its ability to sail and fight is progressively worsened.
When a ship's rigging is reduced by more than half, the vessel may not tack or wear and its maximum speed is halved. When all rigging is lost, the vessel is dead in the water and will drift downwind at the rate of one grid square per move.
When a ship's hull is reduced by more than half, its maximum speed is halved. When all hull points are lost, the vessel will sink.
When a ship's crew are reduced by more than half, the vessel may not tack or wear, its maximum speed is halved when guns are manned, the vessel may not initiate a close action and may not use any saving throws (no one bothers with damage control). When all crew are lost, the captain will strike his colours, the vessel is dead in the water and will drift downwind at the rate of one grid square per move.
If any ship passes through a grid square occupied by a ship which is drifting there may be a chance of a collision. Throw one D6, on a score of 5 or 6 there has been a collision. Both vessels take one hull point damage and remain in this grid square for two moves.
When ships are placed in base contact with the enemy, the attacker may order "close action". This involves very close range gunfire and small - arms, attempts to grapple the enemy and boarding actions. Merchantmen may never engage in close action.
In order to initiate a close action, ships must be in base contact and travelling in the same direction. Throw one D6 for every friendly crew point remaining. An enemy crew point is lost for every 6 rolled. Crack crews hit on a score of 5 or 6, but only when attacking. Any non - disordered crew fighting a disordered crew will hit on a 5 or 6.
The ship with the highest number of crew lost in the action, or is reduced to no crew, will strike its colours. The enemy may then take the ship as a prize and if it is capable of sailing will leave the engagement next move. Prize ships are permanently disordered and may not engage in combat for the remainder of the battle.
Ties in close action are decided by a D6 + or - the modified crew morale.
Each fleet or squadron has an exhaustion level, which is calculated by adding together the starting Hull points of all the ships and dividing this total by 50%. If the majority of ships have Crack crews, divide the total by 60%. If the majority of ships have Poor crews, divide the total by 40%. For every Hull point lost by ships in that fleet or squadron, deduct one from the Exhaustion level. When the exhaustion level has been reached, the fleet or squadron will break off the action and will retire. They may no longer initiate combat but may defend themselves.
Battle off Newfoundland 1762:
The British, CinC Captain Rowley, EX = 7 [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] (Enter from the West).
HMS SUPERB. H3. Flag.
HMS GOSPORT. 5.
HMS DANAE. 5.
The French, CinC. De Ternay. EX = 8 [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] (Enter from the East).
LE ROBUSTE. H3. Flag.
Wind is blowing from the South West.