Cornwallis's Retreat was a naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars in which a British Royal Navy battle squadron of five ships of the line and two frigates was attacked by a French Navy battlefleet of 12 ships of the line and 11 frigates in the waters off the west coast of Brittany on 16–17 June 1795. More information can be found here.
Our previous test Napoleonic naval game with the ANF (see here) had been set in the cool blue of the Mediterranean. This battle was set in the more turbulent waters of the English Channel. Julian preped the game boards accordingly...
The models in use are all depegged Sails of Glory ships. Most were Julian's but there are a few Stephen and I took up with us, along with one from Mark B who unfortunately couldn't make it due to work commitments. The additional ships should be easy to spot.
The British fleet. As the Admiral Cornwallis I had HMS Sovereign, HMS Triumph and HMS Mars; Stephen had the sluggish HMS Bellerophon and HMS Brunswick; while Julian took the two frigates along with umpiring and rules explaining (he'd at least read them, the rest of us hadn't even seen them).
The bulk of the French fleet, commanded by James and Mark of the ANF.
First challenge - wind. The wind direction made both sides initial plans problematic as we struggled to understand the wind and sailing rules. Once we got to an outcome I chuckled as the French were headed straight for the rocks! Ha ha!
Okay, turns out the rocks were there to hold down the boards. The paint used for preping had caused a bad reaction, not only adding some rather innovative texturing, but also warping the boards. One can only imagine Julian's horror as he realised what was happening. So, for game purposes, ignore the rocks. In the following pictures I've tired to subtly block them out. If your thing is looking for blocked rocks, then you will be in for some fun.
After some initial shots to work out the mechanics the British landed half a dozen lucky hits on one of the French lead ships setting it on fire.
With variable movement the ships tended to disperse, with the HMS Triumph pulling away from the British line.
The British frigates had dashed towards the French. Interestingly the French frigates had done the same. I must confess to being the Admiral who ordered his ships of the line to fire on them (we were just testing and besides, they were in the way). Notice the hiss of steam as the previously on fire French ship has burnt to water and sunk.
A pesky French frigate is trying to stern rake the HMS Brunswick. This initially looked like a good tactic, but we found the rule that lessens the damage done by lesser rate ships and so, with some paintwork scratched and perhaps a window broken, the HMS Brunswick sailed on. Note rising seas free from rocks.
The right hand French column has tried to intercept the British ships as they sail north, vying close to the wind in the attempt.
The British battle line, pieced by Le Fish (circled ship). It came out damaged but intact - I'd used up all my luck earlier.
The rest of the French fleet has been able to turn around and is trying to catch the British as they make their retreat. We hadn't known the name of the battle and once we were told I was happy to make a run for it (I kept saying the Channel Fleet is around somewhere).
End of the game. The British lost one frigate that had struck, while the French lost one ship of the line sunk. We played about ten turns, but dealing with the wind and sailing angles got the better of us. Plus Julian had deserted us to attend to civic duties.
There would have been around seven hours play and for a previously unplayed ruleset it was pretty amazing we did as well as we did.
The combat system took a bit getting used to, but once I got the hang of it I liked it. I would have inverted the die rolls so that high rolling gave the good outcome, rather than low, but that is a minor personal preference. I would expand a bit on the critical hits as this can add fun - perhaps looking at 2d6 worth of outcomes rather than just 1d6. I liked the long fire range.
The move sequence, once understood, I thought worked remarkably well.
The sailing with the variability was interesting, It could have produced some collisions early on which I would think were uncalled for.
Dealing with the wind was fiddly when it came to turning and seemed flawed. Certainly it was not helped by the table size (very difficult to reach the centre and try and position templates etc). Certainly for my tastes SoG and Galleys and Galleons have a better way of dealing with wind (although in G&G's case it is very much simplified).
Sail setting seemed to be missing (possibly we hadn't noticed the rule). There should have been an option to drop sail and pound away at each other (not that I would have ordered that, but it seems to be what ships of the line were meant to do).
With all these games, when table distance and time is somewhat abstract, it is hard to get to obsessed about historical outcomes in my opinion. Certainly SoG and G&G don't even try. I'm also coming to the view that it is not necessary or rather that it is counter productive. Just means you need to have an appropriate mindset (damage is more morale and fighting capability related; distance moved is all relative; and time taken was just that - an engagement).
We didn't use the signals rules and in my opinion that was what had spoilt Signal Close Action. Fiddling with orders while once in a game opportunities passed is no fun.