This free form tournament started off strongly with several matches played on the first day of the convention, even before the game master arrived. This was made possible by the service of Assistant GM Jeff Miller. Participation was intermittent for a few days but surged late in the week to top out at 34 participants, two more than last year, to make it one of the top years of the tournament.
Wednesday’s demo was hosted by Assistant GM Evan Hitchings, allowing the GM a respite to play and assist in another event. Even without attending the demo, many players simply show up at the tournament site in the Foggy Goggle. Veterans are eager to teach new players the game. Each year sees new players.
The Fleet Action - Twelve seamen shipped aboard Saturday’s Fleet Action, the largest number in years. The action featured a fight based upon the 1805 Battle of Cape Finesterre, complete with fog. Unlike the historic engagement in which both commanding admirals were cautious, both the British and French plowed into the fray.
Early on, the quality of the British crack crews was telling. However, the French skillfully brought their superior numbers to bear. Both sides lost two ships, but the British losses were more valuable, resulting in a narrow French victory.
The Semifinals - The semifinal matches featured Nick Chepaitis against Rod Coffey and Brian Stuck taking on Michael Polcen. Each player could choose one squadron of frigates, either two elite U.S. 38s, or three crack British 38s, or four average French 40s with enhanced melee capability. In both matches, one player chose the Americans and one chose the British.
Here is Nicolas Chepaitis summary of his battle with Rod Coffey. Poseidon was not with us, the wind seemed to shift against us at every turn. The Silver Blood was the first to go. She tried to foul an enemy ship in her death throes but to no avail. Our guns seemed useless against the superior American frigate designs. When I saw the Dawn strike her colors, I ordered my crew to retreat. The H.M.S. Chakra remained the only surviving ship from the battle.
Here is Mike Polcen’s report of his match with Brian Stuck. I started my ships tacking into the wind which allowed me to take an upwind position against the Americans. My goal was to split the two ships and get a 2-1 advantage on one of them while the other plays cat & mouse with Brian's 2nd ship. It was actually starting to work out that way with the HMS Squirrel taking on US ship #1, the HMS Unicorn, the 2nd, and the HMS Surprise coming down between them. In the battle of Squirrel versus US #1, the US frigate had the advantage with the better crew and, if the game had continued, the Squirrel would certainly have struck before Brian’s ship. In hindsight, I should have kept greater distance to minimize damage. In the battle of Unicorn versus US #2, the real trouble came with the fouling of the ships, both at full sail. Brian got to rake the Unicorn’s stern from the starboard. I erred in trying to form a boarding party with a less skilled crew. I only tried once. After that, all crew stayed at their guns. I chose not to unfoul the rigging as it’s a hard roll to make and the fouled ships were actually to my advantage. The Surprise was in perfect position to sit and rake US#2.
Surprise, I think I made my biggest mistake here and might have won the game had I played it right. At the time of the fouling, Surprise was positioned to rake US #2’s stern at a range of one hex but only with stern guns. I shifted the Surprise to a full broadside, but at a range of two, and kept her there. I should have positioned Surprise for a full broadside at one hex to US #2’s port side and accepted a shot from her stern guns, she was loaded with chain but I was in battle sails. I would have been able to go up one table in my continuous barrage of full stern rakes at a cost of accepting that one shot.
Had I done the above, I think US#2 would have struck before the Unicorn and I would have been in the finals. On the other hand, I don’t think my brain could have handled a 3+ hour affair against Rod. I was mentally exhausted, not just from the game with Brian but from the entire week of little sleep!
A few words from Brian on the game. I managed to enjoy better gunnery as we managed to get to the sudden death turn and I managed to have one of his ships strike, which gave me the victory.”
The Final - Brian Stuck and Rod Coffey, two veterans, advanced to the final match, a first appearance for both. Here is Rod’s report to the Admiralty. Despite the range of choices, both chose to sail a squadron of crack 74 gun British ships of the line, forgoing an option of four 74 gun average French ships of the line or a combination of five elite American frigates.
Each admiral was given the flexibility of choosing opening formation. Brian set out in line-ahead, ships in a straight line and bow to aft. Rod had one ship arrayed two hexes parallel to his other two ships in line-ahead, hoping to catch the lead enemy ship from both sides. Rod edged into the weather gauge, engaging Brian’s lead ship, but continued to maneuver forward, so as to switch to concentrate on Brian's rearward ship, if necessary. However, a shift in wind direction caused a separation of Brian’s formation, as his middle ship was placed in irons, dead into the wind. Rod took advantage of this stroke of luck, giving him two turns with all three of his ships focused on Brian’s middle ship. With Rod’s ships firing from three different angles, Brian's middle ship had to strike its colors. In closing in for the kill, Rod had brought one ship alongside Brian's crippled ship when another change in wind direction resulted in the two ships becoming fouled. Now, it was Rod who was in a pinch.
Brian expertly moved his lead ship to rake Rod's fouled ship, the remainder of Rod's ships proved unable to help in time to prevent three turns of raking fire. Luckily for Rod, he unfouled on his third attempt. At that point the situation was Rod's three ships in a central position with Brian's middle ship having struck. Rod had exploited the weather gauge by attempting an early strike rather than a broadside clash and tried to concentrate all 3 of his ships on one of Brian's by concentrating on the downwind, originally trailing, ship. Another wind shift totally invalidated Rod's plan and now he scrambled to form in line and seek to damage both remaining enemy ships.
Ultimately the fact Brian had a ship struck determined the outcome. As the narrative suggests, this was a very tight match between two old pros, determined by who had the opportunity to exploit the wind change with more effect. Rod’s assessment was that he would have lost the game had he not unfouled when he did.
More words from Brian stated that Rod sailed well through the turns, managing to focus his fire on one of my ships. Both sides took a pounding but the gun hits took their toll. Rod enjoyed a better table advantage for most of the game and rolled well. Also one of my ships was separated from the group and was forced to strike which turned out to be the deciding factor in the game.
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