As long term readers will agree with an eye-rolling and a faint “no-duh” faintly escaping their lips, I like miniature wargames. I also like Civil War and later naval games, particularly featuring Ironclads– as in the new class of armored, steam powered ships that changed naval warfare forever during the American Civil War. 1861-1865 was a period of naval change that was no less than revolutionary. In less than a year, the Navy went from a polyglot, all wooden service that still used sail as the primary motive power for vessels to a multi-faceted technologically innovative force, capable of engaging in very modern combined force operations all over the Confederate coastline. As the role of the Navy expanded exponentially, it had to expand its technologies to meet a host of challenges– blockading the sprawling Confederate coastline, intercepting blockade runners. Patrolling rivers in the Western Theater. Bombarding shore positions. Landing Troops. Most importantly, meeting the nascent Confederate Navy on the water wherever it could be found. It was an exciting time in naval history, and I love it.
Naval combat in this age was a risky endeavor. The steam engines of the era were relatively new and almost always underpowered for the iron beasts they were propelling across the water. The ships of the day faced all sorts of perils from all quarters– Wind and rain and sickness and occasionally an enemy ship. The occasions when ships of the two fleets engaged in a shooting contest were relatively rare after 1863, sadly, but always a moment of high drama for both sides. Ironclads, and warships in general, were an expensive, labor and resource intensive item for this time period. Would they smash the enemy? Or would the engine blow up and the bow stave in? Even for the technologically advanced Union Navy, success was not always certain. Things… critical things.. could go wrong or be overlooked, often with disastrous outcomes.
Gaming the naval Civil War can be a ticklish proposition, depending on who your audience is. Do you go for a quick set of rules that emphasize maneuver and contact, like Beer and Pretzels Ironclads? Or something more abstract, like Hammerin’ Iron? Or do you try to get the best historical experience available. For my money, the game that simulated real, actual naval combat better than most others was the original IRONCLADS, by Yaquinto games, published way back in the 80s. This was a game that accounted for all those crazy factors in an ironclad fight– Armor slope and thickness and the position of the ships and the weather and the crew levels… etc., etc. A lot of people agree with me.. IRONCLADS was (and is) maybe the best historical treatment of ship to ship combat during the Civil War, even if it did start life as a boardgame. Converting it to miniatures never was a huge problem– I’ve played many games of Ironclads without hex grids.
The big problem I’ve always had with Ironclads, however, was the multi-stepped combat and the large number of chart lookups just to achieve some positive result. Ironclads can be a slow game– and it’s not a set of game rules I would currently use for a convention game. Why not? Mostly a combat resolution that takes several steps to resolve something simple, like “What happens when I fire my Parrot gun at that Casemate over there?” Most games I’ve played at cons have gone pretty slow as a result of the level of granularity. That’s the price you pay for playing a game with a fair degree of historical accuracy. You young whippersnappers don’t appreciate this at all, I know, but that’s what wargame design was like in the early 80s. Wargames were like fine sippin’ whiskey… you took your time and you savored the experience.
The Ironclad boardgame was in a limbo for a while. It got acquired by Excalibre, a reprint house, and they did an okay job on the components, but not stellar. The rulebook, which was pretty dense in the original, was now twice as dense as it was shrunk down to about 80% of the original size and the fonts were hard to make out (can you tell this is the version I own?). Somewhere along the way, Toby Barrett of Thoroughbred Miniatures picked up the rights to the system from the original designer. If you know anything about 1:600 Ironclad miniatures, you know there’s three main vendors, and Thoroughbred is the best of them, based on detail, casting quality and the depth of the line. (Though to be fair I think Bay Area Yards would be a serious contender if they expanded their selection a bit). Toby appreciates the complexity of the original Ironclads game; a game helper application has been lurking on the back burner for years. With the advent of Ipads, it appears he found the right platform. I agree. That’s why I think I’ll be taking advantage of the Kickstarter going on to make IRONCLADS into a game helper app. I’m not sure where they’re going with the helper app concept..will it play the game from start to finish? Hard to say, but it appears that they are creating something like SHIPBASE III for Ironclads, and that could be very useful for an Ironclads geek like me.
So I’m all in, even though I’ve got a lot of Ironclad minis already. I’ve been running Hammerin’ Iron 2 and BAPS Ironclads at conventions, for the speed, not the depth of the rules. I think it would be really neat to run a game of Ironclads to the finish with just an Ipad and some dice.
Here’s the link to the Kickstarter, Enjoy: