Age of sail

I love naval wargaming, but I do not like the complexities of simulating the same on tabletop.

I have, over the years tried all sorts of rules with dice, and none have struck the right balance (in my view) of accuracy and game speed. So this is one area I bow to computer moderated rules, and I think they are spot on. I use Malcolm SMALLEY'S " Close for Action ".

A simple yet brilliant set of computer moderated rules (MSDOS) - which enables you to do anything that can be done in the age of sail. For example, move crew to different tasks around the ship, assemble boarders, launch boats, weigh anchor - assign guards and prize crews - they are not available any more - but if you are interested, try emailing Rod Langton from Langton miniatures (who incidentally provides excellent models).

If you have not tried the period - I strongly suggest you give it a go - one of my wargaming buddies is not big on ships - but he loves Age of sail.

I am running a hypothetical mini campaign...............

Anyway, below is the French commanders briefing (please read out loud with a French accent):

It is June 1779. France is at war with Great Britain. Great Britain is fighting a war in America.

It is time to strike. Our spies have fermented a rebellion in southern Ireland, and an army is gathering to force the weak British forces out of the country. Our King has dispatched a squadron under your command to escort a troop convoy from Brest to southern Ireland.

Two troop ships:

Clermont – Carrying 1500 muskets, general supplies, ammunition and four 6 pdr cannon

Orient - carrying 1400 line infantry, and your brother General Marcel Le Dumbas

The equipment and men will help supply the rebel Irish army – they must get through to the position marked on your chart.

Your squadron consists of:

110 gun Ville De Paris (Flagship) under your command

74 Gun Pluton

74 Gun L’Heros

74 Gun Genereux

You are aware from our excellent spy network that a British squadron will sail from Plymouth with the intention of intercepting our convoy.

Your orders:

“You are not to risk the integrity of your command, your squadron has another vital task to for fill after this deployment. The task will be revealed on your return to France, the loss of any of your squadron could have severe consequences for this future operation.

If the convoy does not reach Ireland, this may also have severe consequences for the Irish rebellion. You are duty bound to make every effort to ensure the convoy safely arrives at it’s destination, being mindful of your overriding consideration for your squadron.”

It is 10.30am in the morning and you have sighted four sail to the West, on an intercept course with the convoy. You have no doubt this is the British squadron under the fearsome commander Commodore Bray. You beat ‘Hands to quarters’………………Your orders monsieur?

It would be fair to say that the French Admiral had a lot on his plate (and not just the one he was scoffing in his cabin whilst reading his orders). He had been put in a difficult position by his orders. Add to the mix that this was part of a mini campaign, and he knew he would have to face the consequences of his decisions on table top.

The initial dispositions of the two fleets, the French Squadron is closest to the bottom of the picture. The convoy (due to poor dice prior to the game by the umpire) ended up to the West of its escort, and was between the two squadrons. The French Admiral has just ordered them to turn to starboard and put on full sail in this picture. There was plenty of grumbling in French at this initial set up!

The Mighty Royal Navy (well a small part of it)

British squadron:

Neptune - 98 guns (Flag)
Centaur - 74 guns
Spencer - 74 guns
Serapis - 50 guns

So on paper the British squadron was outgunned (and out manned) by the French - but hey, that was paper, this was tabletop. The British Commodore had a gameplan, he knew the French Admiral well and would use this against him. He (The French Admiral) was aggressive and keen for a fight.

The British would give him that early on, using the Serapis as bait.

So the British commander resolved to go straight for the convoy in his flag ship, the two 74's would try a pincer movement and cross the 'T' of the French squadron (to the north) and the 50 gun Serapis? - this was going straight for the lead ships in the French squadron.

He stroked his chin and wondered what the French would do.....?

The French Squadron with the giant Ville De Paris bringing up the stern.

The French Admiral cursed his luck with the positioning of the convoy. However, he was confident and quickly issued orders for the convoy to tack east and head behind his squadron to cover. He ordered full sail for his squadron and told them to maintain their current course and positioning - those damned British will try and cross his 'T' and he was going to have none of that nonsense.

The French merchant vessels begin to tack to the east - a successful arrival of these and their cargo could spell doom for the British in Ireland.

The British commander had expected the French squadron formation to go to, well quite frankly, "rat shit" on sighting the Royal Navy - but to his grudging admiration, the French squadron maintained an almost perfect line of battle. The convoy was drawing quickly behind the French squadron, pursued by the lumbering Neptune.

Aboard the Ville De Paris, the French Admiral was pondering a thought......The rear most, and biggest British warship had turned 90 degrees to starboard and was charging after the merchant vessels. This was a first rate. The lead most ship, the smallest had also turned 90 degrees to starboard and was charging towards his line of ships, a suicide mission, surely?
The two middle ships kept sailing north.........why?

The 50 gun Serapis closes on the L'Heros and Pluton

The whole French line open fire. The two lead ships at the Serapis, the Ville De Paris and Genereux at the Neptune.

The French opened fire at long range, obtaining hits on the Neptune and Serapis. The first salvo caused 6 dead on Neptune and the loss of one of her boats. The Serapis lost an anchor and 7 men, her sails also took some minor damage. The British commodore did wonder if he had made a mistake.........

Meanwhile, on the Ville De Paris, the Admiral had a theory about the two British vessels still steering north - they were troopships, the British were rushing re-enforcements and equipment to bolster their forces in Ireland, that's why the two 'escorts' had charged at him, and why the other two vessels had maintained 'running before the wind'.

The view of the 98 gun Neptune sailing towards the convoy.
The convoy passing astern of the Ville De Paris - note the captain of the Orient doffing his hat to the Admiral of the Ville De Paris.

At this point, the French Admiral noticed his mistake, his squadron was showing impeccable seamanship in maintaining their station, but they were sailing much faster than the two merchant vessels, and were leaving them behind. What was more, to turn to their assistance, would entail sailing into the wind - not a wise move for a sailing vessel embroiled in a battle.

The Neptune was closing - her 98 guns would make short work of the two French merchants.

Meanwhile, the Serapis turned sharply to port to open fire on the Pluton with her starboard guns........but in all the excitement, the Captain had forgot to order his gun crews from the port guns. She remained silent and received another broadside from Pluton.

Meanwhile, the two British 74's had changed course, the lead ship, Centaur was racing to get ahead of the French squadron, the Spencer had turned 90 degrees to starboard and was heading for the two merchant vessels. The French Admiral pondered...................he was worried.

A view of the Neptune passing the stern of the Ville De Paris, just before she opened fire on the French flagship - causing mayhem and killing one of her officers

The running gun battle between the Serapis and the two 74's continued, with Serapis getting a pounding, but once the Centaur opened up at long range, the battle evened up somewhat - this was helped by the gun crews being stationed at the correct guns on the Serapis - a midshipman was singled out for 50 lashes for failure in his duties. Midshipman Grant was never going to forget to carry out an order again!

The battle ended at 11pm - still unfinished, but with the Neptune and Spencer closing on the convoy, with the Ville De Paris steering almost into the wind. An excellent battle, but it was decided that the convoy had failed to get through to it's destination.

Overall the French commander did a good job, he had very difficult orders and carried them out to the best.

His squadron escaped relatively unscathed (although the crew moral had dropped from good to steady on the L'Heros).

It means that the 'other operational task' that his squadron was earmarked for will go ahead, but before that, there is the table top action between the Irish rebels and the British Garrison - I know which side I would like to command.

An excellent night and an interesting scenario as the French player..........and where the two British 74's carrying troops and supplies to Ireland? (that will have to wait for then end of the mini campaign!

The final dispositions


  1. I have to say that I am also a big fan of computer rules - we use Carnag and Glory at our club, it stops the bickering and the results seem to provide more of a realistic outcome to battles. Dice are good fun, but it is sometimes difficult to come to a conclusion in a four to five hour period - evrything has it's palce. I have been watching this blog since December - keep it going.............

  2. Really enjoyed this aar, I have these rules and agree thet are excellent. Look forward to hearing more about your campaign David

  3. Hi,

    I own a copy of Close for Action and was wondering how you got it running. As you know Malcolm protected his discs only allowing so many uploads. I use Windows 7 and can connect my old floppy discs but can't seem to get my system to recognise the program.

    I agree with you, that the game is excellent for running age of sail. Any help gratly appreciated.


    1. Hi, sorry for some reason my posts are not alerting me. I got in touch with Malcolm via Langton Miniatures, they sent me a digital version and I have it running on xp via a free programme called dosbox. I will find a link and send it to you for dosbox


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