Master & Commander ...
Paul Owen vs Malcolm Smith
GM Tim Hitchings oversees his finalists.
In Nelson's Shadow ...
The tried-and-true format of allowing players their choice
of matches with one ship, two ships, or three ships per side
continues to please the discriminating WSM player. Also,
the inconvenience of filling out ship logs is eliminated at every
stage of the tournament by providing players with ready-made
logs prepared by the GM. Just minutes after entering the room,
players can sit down and play, trading broadside for broadside.
The free form format allows players the flexibility of scheduling
matches at all hours, every day of the week until Saturday.
a tournament will have a surprise player who stands out, playing
better than expected. This time the midshipman of the year was
Bill Place. Here's Bill's commentary:
"'Yes, I did fire my cannon on both sides of my ship the
last turn.... What? I can only load the cannon on one side of
the ship for the next turn?' Thus I discovered in a simple format
the challenge of movement and battle faced by the warships of
the 18th and 19th centuries.
"I had played Wooden Ships and Iron Men once two
years ago for the first time to get a feel for the game. Like
many people, I have it sitting on my shelf at home, having never
played it. After not playing last year, I gave it another shot
at this year's WBC. After the demo, I played the one-on-one ship
scenario whereby the game usually ended when one ship sank the
other. I managed two wins and lost the third. During all this
time I was getting a better handle on how to move ships no matter
the wind direction, relearning (over and over, mind you) that
if you swing the stern (i.e. - the back) of the ship to the left
to change direction, you're actually turning to face the right,
what battle sails are, etc."
Every year, Saturday features the "Fleet Action",
multiplayer combat in a scenario fueled by history and the GM's
imagination. Here's commentary by Paul Owen.
"The Russian fleet awoke in a blissful fog that morning.
I had anchored my squadron of four ships in a column - a frigate
in front, the two SOLs in single file behind it, and a second
frigate in the rear - such that the fort was to my port side
and my starboard broadsides pointed to the harbor opening to
my right. We noticed dim outlines of large ships entering the
harbor in the fog and my lookouts thought nothing odd of the
fact that they were approaching in formation. ''British merchants'
must have been the explanation.
"Unexpectedly, the fog thinned to reveal that the six approaching
ships were Swedish men-of-war under the command of Malcolm Smith.
A gunshot warning brought all crews to quarters. The first order
of business was to reload my starboard broadsides so as to get
a shot on the approaching enemy. I was able to get a few volleys
out, aided by the stability of my ships at anchor, but as I turned
next to the task of unfurling sails in preparation to get underway,
the Swedes interleaved themselves among my ships in a manner
worthy of Lord Horatio Nelson and raked my rigging mercilessly.
"There was no time to weigh anchor or switch to springs.
Instead, my SOLs and rear frigate cut anchor and got underway
immediately. My lead frigate had already lost two masts in the
opening minutes of the battle, so I deemed that there was no
sense in having her cut anchor; she'd be adrift before long anyway.
Instead, she stayed at anchor in hopes of getting a shot at a
careless passing Swede. But my enemy unloaded volley after volley
of chain shot on her, so that she was denuded not only of rigging,
but of her entire crew. She was indeed a ghost ship of the Czar's
"My lead frigate and SOL did manage to concentrate broadsides
on the hull of a Swedish ship and force her to strike her colors.
Another Swede sailed between my SOLs too aggressively and turned
up the line between my column and the fort. My alert crew managed
to grapple her and hold her fixed in front of the fort's guns,
which pounded away at her hull until she struck as well. So two
Swedish SOLs were out of action.
"However, the relentless Swedish barrages on my rigging
had taken their toll. Three of my four ships were completely
dismasted by the end of the day, though hulls and guns were nearly
intact. One Russian SOL was still underway, barely, giving as
good as she was getting. Then, out of the fog, came reinforcements
- Dale 'Dan' Long commanding another squadron of Russian SOLs
who lit into the Swedes and forced a third to strike her colors.
My brave Russian crews held fast to the remains of their vessels
as the Swedes had to settle for the damage they'd done.
"The GM awarded a narrow victory to the Russians, although
I have to say it was a Pyrrhic victory indeed."
Here's Paul Owen telling of his semifinal match:
"Frigate Frenzy -- For the semifinal, we were each given
the opportunity to choose from among three orders of battle:
two elite-crewed American frigates, including one 44-gun ship,
three crack-crewed British frigates, or four French frigates
- one crack and three average.
"It didn't take long for me to eliminate the French option,
since the average crews would significantly degrade overall gunfire
performance and since four ships would be considerably difficult
to keep together to focus firepower. But I seriously agonized
over the American and British options. In the end, I decided
that the third British frigate would outweigh the advantages
of the American elite crews, especially once I'd done some damage
to the 44-gun frigate and mitigated her firepower advantage.
"Interestingly, Evan chose the American option, and we
were both pleased that we had chosen different orders of battle
so that we would truly test which combination would win out.
Like me, Evan had agonized between the American and British options
and had selected quality over quantity."
"I decided early that my first priority would be to maintain
my line and keep my firepower concentrated as tightly as possible
to offset the advantage of the superior American crews. We engaged
in some fairly tricky maneuvering early in the battle and, around
Turn 9, I actually reversed the order of my line in a series
of simultaneous turns to starboard so that I could maintain formation
while reversing course to maintain contact with the passing enemy.
I was fortunate to catch him separating his frigates, and before
long I was able to pound away at one while holding the other
at bay. My notes are incomplete on the actual damage inflicted
during the battle, but I believe I demoralized the crews of both
American ships, which negated their advantage of quality. At
that point, it was all about numbers, and in that I had the clear
advantage. I may have forced one of the Americans to strike,
and in the event the battle was mine."
This was a rematch between Paul and Evan. In 2011, they had
faced off in the semifinals and Evan won. This year, Evan saw
that the sun was still rising over the British Empire, and conceded,
stating that it was one of the best games of Wooden Ships &
Iron Men he'd ever played.
Here's Bill Place's account of his semifinal date with Dan Long:
"I managed to get into the semifinals, but I knew I was
in trouble because I would have to play with multiple ships.
With three British ships, I managed to run two of them together
on the opening move. Thankfully, they did not get tangled, but
it slowed them nonetheless. '
[The GM can sympathize. In his early years, he made the same
mistake many times. Back to Bill...]
"Things got a wee bit better but it was decided that I should
probably get in close to the four French ships, as none of them
ran into each other. We pounded away at each other and, even
with my inexperience, none of my ships were sunk, although one
was taken as a prize. I lost the battle but gained experience.
"So, what did I learn? Despite its age, this game is fun
-- easy to learn, hard to master. I learned how painfully slow
ships can be when facing into the wind (wind direction can be
thought of as "terrain" for you landlubbers to either
speed up your ship or slow it down), that doubleshot works better
in close quarters, and a crack crew can even make me look like
I know what I'm doing. Shoot from afar or get in close to grapple
and board. Be the captain or pirate you always wanted to be with
a sense of realism. If you can spare an hour or two at the most
(similar to other games at WBC), this game is well worth the
time to learn and play. Plenty of support is given by the GM
whose enthusiasm (and patience for us inexperienced) knows no
bounds. Give it a go next year, both kids and adults, and I think
you'll agree that this game has stood the test of time. And thank
the GM for keeping it alive."
I swear that I didn't put Bill up to saying that last bit.
Ship-of-the-Line Slugfest--The Final pitted Paul Owen against
Dan Long, who had lost a squeaker to Evan in the 2008 Final and
now was back for another try. As with the semis, the Final offered
each admiral a menu of prepared squadrons. This time, it was
ships of the line from Britain, Russia, France, and Spain. Surprising
the GM, who expected the varied approaches seen in the semis,
both players chose the British squadron, composed of two elite
74s and two crack 64s. Here's Paul:
"My thought was to keep the line intact again, but there
was one element of my usual tactics that I eschewed in this battle.
I elected not to start with chainshot to knock down a mast but
fired exclusively at my enemy's hull for the duration of the
battle. Allowing my opponent complete maneuverability would prove
to be a costly mistake, as Dan made full use of it to his advantage.
Indeed, he successfully knocked down at least one mast from my
lead ship, which forced the rest of my squadron to come out of
line to bypass the flagship and attempt to regroup and get back
into the battle. My force became disorganized before long. I
had two ships in a downwind tail chase after one opposing ship,
while my flagship was surrounded by three enemies blasting one
broadside after another into her creaking hull. My fourth ship
tried desperately to support the flagship but was woefully out
of position and did not bring effective fire to bear until late
in the battle. We both felt that I was inflicting damage as good
as I was getting, so we believed the battle to be close; it was
certainly a hard-fought iron punching match."
"No ship in the battle struck her colors, so it came down
to points based on total damage inflicted. In this respect, despite
our perception of parity, Dan emerged the clear winner with a
score of 132 to 92. It was a well-deserved championship for a
terrific opponent. I look forward to a rematch next year and
another opportunity to seek victory at sea."
Dan's win was all the more impressive as he wasn't feeling
well but sailored on for the win. Dan's in good company, as Admiral
Nelson was known to suffer bouts of seasickness.