Category Archives: ironclad

The Union Forever! The Battle of Mobile Bay

Leo Walsh ran a 1:1200 scale game of the Battle of Mobile Bay on Saturday night at HISTORICON.  The rules were AGE OF IRON.    I jumped in and ran a small line of 90 day gunboats and double-ender style ships.


Most people know the Battle of Mobile Bay as the “one where Admiral Farragut said Damn the Torpedoes, full speed ahead“.. and (perhaps) that’s true.  There was a lot more to Mobile Bay than a few jingoistic slogans, of course.  Mobile Bay was one of the last great sheltered ports of the Confederacy, and as long as it was not thoroughly blockaded, the South could run blockade runners in and out with impunity.  So a Union victory at Mobile Bay would have strategic consequences for both sides.

Admiral Farragut’s plan was to attack Mobile Bay in two lines, with the ironclads closest to the local fort (Fort Morgan) where their armored sides would withstand the heavy siege gun fire, and the Wooden ships lashed together with the weakest ones outside the range of fire. The Confederates also set up a line of aquatic mines (torpedoes) that had the effect of forcing the ships to pass in front of the fort’s guns.  We considered that idea, then went for the idea of FOUR lines.

The miniature terrain, such as it was, followed the historical layout reasonably closely, although the OOB was greatly expanded from the original. In addition there was the CSS Tennessee, one other (ahistorical) casemate that started farther out in the bay and was pretty slow to engage. There were four other medium to small gunboats with sizable ordinance on the other side of the barrier.

Union Forces closer up

Originally our attack plan was going to be three lines, with the ironclads protecting the more valuable screw frigates, like the Hartford and the Richmond. Leo told us that would not keep the frigates from getting hull hits, so we spread the line out over four lines– the ironclads closest to the fort, the screw frigates in two lines, and the lighter 90 day gunboats and double-enders in line farthest from the fort. I offered to take that line over the line of mines (torpedoes) that was funneling ships towards the guns of the fort. My idea was that the lighter ships going over the torpedo line would offer a huge distraction to the Confederate gunboats on the other side of the barrier.

I’m in charge of the rickety ships on the right hand side.

If it worked for Farragut, it might work for me. I managed to slip my first two ships over the barrier with no difficulty. We engaged with 3 gunboats of varying sizes on the far side of the torpedo barrier. We were using Age of Iron, which is a pretty good rule set, providing a mix of history and playability. I’ve played with them before, though not in a long time. The rules certainly address differences in armor, ship sizes and and ship aspect. I had a surprisingly lethal exchange with two Confederate gunboats, one of which was pretty tiny and hard to hit, but as I got more and more ships over the barrier, it became obvious to the Confederate that the was stuck, cut off between a line of pilings that will rip out their hull and my line of gunboats.

Sometimes the “stupid strategy” is stunningly successful

One interesting thing about those supposedly weak 90 day gunboats and double enders: put enough of them in a line, and they throw out a tremendous weight of iron at a single target. When the second Confederate ironclad showed up, my line of gunboats laid into him, ship after ship, and in one turn he suffered from 4 armor hits and 6 hull hits, and was on fire. That’s pretty good for some wooden boats! Contrast that to the line of Screw Frigates that shot past the fort and engaged the Tennessee. We lost two of them, the Brooklyn and the Richmond, due to gunfire exchanges with the Fort and the Tennessee. I lost two ships from my line, the Metacomet (lost to gunfire) and the last ship in my line, the Port Royal, finally hit a mine and sank.


Leo’s victory conditions were basically “Sink all Confederate ships”.. and by 1100 PM it looked like we were on the way to doing that. The Tennessee was pretty shot up, and couldn’t turn very quickly, so wouldn’t be able to engage again during the time span of the game. The other (ahistorical) ironclad very likely wouldn’t have survived another turn at the rate it was receiving punishment.

So, a Union naval victory, Huzzah~! Perhaps not as complete as the historical one, but we had more ships engaged, and were facing more Confederates, too. I had a lot of fun with this game and hope to play Age of Iron again very soon.


Getting a few 1:600 ironclads off of the back burner

Work in progress; Painting up some Union Ironclads and scenery bits I picked up at a Christmas Sale from Brookhurst Hobbies last year… The Tuscumbia (r) and Benton (l). I’m redoing the decks, I’m not satisfied how they turned out. 1:600 scale, Peter Pig Range 7 line. These are decent resin models, not the best manufacturer on this subject and scale, but I like the Range 7 stuff– they make very affordable resin cast dockyards and forts.

I don’t have a lot of historical sources for how either ship looked, exactly. It’s clear that the paddlebox on the Tuscumbia was painted from the photographs I’ve seen, so I made her a cheerful bright blue (then grimed it up with a wash). Ditto for the Benton. An 1880ish colored drawing shows her with a blue paddlebox, so I gave her a nice bright blue one just to liven her up a bit. Otherwise the casemate is gun metal with a heavy armor wash (to give it that grimey look). The wooden decks are a Desert Armor camoflauge color that I stained with a light brown ink. It ran a little and looks dirty in spots, so I’ll either repaint it or give it a lighter highlight to look weathered. Finishing touches: considering adding rigging wire to both ships and boats on davits on the Benton. We’ll see.

Benton and Tuscumbia

Benton (left) Tuscumbia (right). Both models from Peter Pig.

Next step: painting up some remote detonating water mine markers (called “Torpedoes” back in the day), some markers for damage, submarines and gunboats, and a largish pier for riverine civil war scenarios.

Why I’m all in on an Ironclads Helper App

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:

The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organization, 1861-65 by Raimondo Luraghi

The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organization, 1861-65

The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organization, 1861-65 by Raimondo Luraghi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Confederate Navy started the American Civil War as an organization with many disadvantages, including a very limited industrial base, a lower number of professional naval officers gone South after resigning from Union service, a limited supply of naval stores and the capacity to make more, and almost no real fighting ships drafted or seized into naval service at the onset. To offset these, the Confederacy enjoyed the services of some first rate naval leaders and innovators such as Matthew Maury. The leadership of the CSN was not delusional about its prospects, as perhaps the leadership of the land forces might have appeared to be from time to time. The CSN had to fight a defensive war with what it had available at the onset of hostilities, and hopefully build or purchase more as events unfolded. The main objective of the CSN was to keep the Confederacy intact, open the blockade for such commerce as it could manage, and keep the rivers and waterways free from Union incursions and invasions. A tall order even for an industrialized nation, but in the hands of the Confederacy, what they did manage to achieve is nothing short of miraculous. In such an unequal contest, it behooves the side with the disadvantages to become the innovator, and so the CSN tried many new inventions heretofore not broadly applied in naval warfare– the casemate ironclad, Submarines and semi-submersibles (such as the CSS David), spar torpedos, electrically detonated mines, and nautical camoflauge were all adopted by the CSN with varying degrees of success. Luraghi’s book on the Confederate Navy is thick with detail– lists and reports and battles of the CSN. I suspect his primary source was the official records of the United States Civil War, which features an extensive Naval element, including the CSN. The Official Records can be a trifle dry but Luraghi does do his bit to make the unfolding narrative more engrossing. This is not as comprehensive as other works such as Silverstone’s Ships of the American Civil War, but the CSN focus really is useful for the casual historian conducting research. Recommended.

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ACW Ironclad Miniatures: the fixation and the frustration

When will enough really be enough??

I’m an indifferent miniatures painter. I can make miniatures look like what they are supposed to look like, more or less, but I’m not exactly skilled beyond a certain level.  I know how to paint and stain and do a wash and the right color schemes.  I do my homework and research the paint schemes and try to work with a steady hand.  But I’ll never win a contest, that’s for sure.  I don’t care, I paint for fun– my paint jobs are utilitarian and work as a “wargame standard.”  The greatest joy I derive from painting is getting the job done to a point where I can start using the finished product for games.

And so we get to one of my current naval miniatures fixations, the American Civil War in 1: 600, which I’ve been pursuing since last July.   I’ve made purchases from Bay Area Yards, Peter Pig, and Thoroughbred (there really isn’t anyone else) and so far I’ve created what I think is a decent small fleet for small naval battles.  I was of the opinion that I wouldn’t need to pick up much more than a dozen more, as I have most of the major ironclad and naval ship types represented, at least as individual hulls.  I like my little collection, which fits rather neatly in one box.


So far... my meager collection

The problem I have with my wargame fixations is that I am so easily charmed by the glamor of some other guy’s great project, and even ACW miniatures, which are so ideally suited for small unit projects (ACW battles were rarely over 20 ships max on both sides), could end up being a fixation where it’s possible to overdo it.

So when I visited the website of David Manley, naval wargaming enthusiast, rules author and naval wargame convention promoter, I was immediately struck by HIS latest fixation, which just happens to be… 1:600 scale ironclads. Check out HIS progress:

David Manley's Ironclads 1

Just look at that…


David Manley's Ironclads 2

Well, that’s putting my poor scrappy fleet to shame, isn’t it? I never rigged a ship model in my life, and his paint jobs are amazingly well done. The quantities! I stopped counting after 70. Seventy plus ship models.. my word. Only one thing to do now. I’m placing another order with Toby straightaway. My manhood is at stake.

Bottom two images from the Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me! website. Copyright by David Manley 2011

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Follow up to Hammerin’ Iron 2 Review I didn’t know any 1:1200 scaled manufacturers when I typed up the recent Hammerin’ Iron 2 review.  Now I do. NAVWAR Miniatures has a very nice 1:1200 ACW era ironclads line.  They are … Continue reading

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules review

At the recent GUNS OF AUGUST convention in Williamsburg, VA, I was fortunate to experience a game of HAMMERIN’ IRON 2 demonstrated by the chaps at the Rules for the Common Man branch? subsidiary? of Peter Pig miniatures, namely Martin Goddard, Andy Barnett, Ralph and Sam Ashdown. The RFCM was demonstrating Hammerin’ Iron in rapid rotation all weekend long for whomever wanted to sit down and play, either a full up game or smaller demos. I have to commend Mr. Goddard for his patience, grace and good cheer as he managed to rapidly move his players through several back to back games of civil war naval mayhem.

Martin Goddard

Martin Goddard (center) explaining the finer points of hammering iron, and we don’t mean a blacksmith demonstration.

RFCM games tend to boil down and strip away mechanics until they arrive at what they consider the essence of the historical experience they are trying to portray with the game. AK-47 Republic, for example, is all about unit-building & army creation, patrolling, and surprise encounters with a range of exotic force types. Square Bashing is World War One trench warfare at it’s most abstract, in a design where the the grid terrain becomes the core mechanic of the game. So, too, have the RFCM team reduced the civil war naval gaming experience to a very narrow look at riverine combat.

“Narrow” is one of those words that is often misconstrued as a negative descriptor, as in lacking options or not possessing sufficient breadth.  In the instance of Hammerin’ Iron 2, ‘narrow’ is not meant as a negative, just to describe the fact that the rules are a treatment of a randomly created, generic, somewhat ahistorical instance of river combat during the American Civil War.  The game system can possibly recreate historical scenarios from the war, but I would not recommend it for reasons that I will touch upon later in this post.   With that said, for what it does, it does very well indeed and is a very entertaining game experience– just don’t expect  a very historical setup or outcome.

Hammerin’ Iron 2 is a game that recreates a generic clash between ships on an unnamed river sometime during the American Civil War.  The river should be represented by a cloth, preferably overlaid with a hex grid of about 3 inches in size if one is playing with 1:600 scale miniatures.

And another ship sunk
Hex size from Peter Pig’s specialized game mat, showing a sinking ship Wreck marker in it for scale.

Ships use hexes for movement and firing, and there are a few options that a perspective player might take for that.  One is the use of a blank (presumably blue) sheet of cloth, and to make a series of independent hexes of the same general size (the rulebook states a hexagon made from an inscribed 5″ circle, which seems roughly 3″ between vertices).  The ship is placed in the center of the hexagon, pointing 90 degrees perpendicular to a hexagon’s edge and the broadsides of the ship square on to the hex’s side points as it turns and/or fires.  This is a fairly elegant visual for determining line of sight, broadsides and a simple resolution for facing.  When the ship moves and turns, free hexes are placed on the side of the hexagon the ship is moving towards or turning into.  The rules refer to this system of placing hexes as the “Free Hex system”.  I find this charming and simple and I can’t believe I never thought of it.. it’s so straightforward and easy!

Free Hex Movment Example

Free Hex Movment Example: on the left, an ironclad in a free hex, aligned properly. On the right, an ironclad executing a turn (speed 3) and moving two hexes (pink) laid directly in the line of movement.

The rules tend to favor the hex cloth style of movement first and foremost and the Free Hex system is edited in where the movement systems diverge from each other (which isn’t often).    The three inch (ish) hexagons seem suited for the 1: 600 range of ACW naval miniatures that Peter Pig sells (Range 7 from their catalog).  Most of them are small enough to float in the center of a hex with no overlap– the only exceptions being (perhaps) truly mammoth boats like the Hartford, Blackhawk and New Ironsides.

Terrain is  quite important for Hammerin’ Iron 2, because the same terrain bits are used in this game, over and over again.  They are:

A 5′ x 3′ Sheet to represent a river— either printed with 3″ hexagons (as stated above, and for sale from Peter Pig, obviously)

Peter Pig's Official River Mat

Peter Pig's Official River Mat, marked with terrain on the sides to put "Land" on.

Failing that, you must use a blank sheet (blue) with the Free Hex System described above and reserve about a half-hex worth of space on either side with suitable terrain to depict the shoreline on both sides of the river.

A Fort– small, medium or large– is placed by the Defender. Like the game mat and ship models, the fort is available in a few variations from Peter Pig or their distributors.

Fort from Guns of August Demo

Fort from the Guns of August Demo

2 Islands— created by tracing the hex in a five hexagon pattern. There should be two, one flat (ideal for forts) and one slightly overgrown. The islands are placed semi-randomly during the setup portion of the game, but the defender has some influence over the process (so he can point his fort weapons strategically). You can see the flat island in the picture of the fort, above.

Land Objective (a series of scale buildings located in one of the shoreline hexes). These should be placed where they can be reached by naval bombardment, as they are a victory condition of the game. The attacker is tasked with reducing these.

The Onandaga takes on the Ablemarle
As the Onandago takes on the Ablemarle, the Ships on the right flank reduce the Transports Objective.

3 Sandbar hexes.  You will have three hexes that play the role of Sandbars in the game.. Sandbars can be placed by the Defender to channel the movement of the Attacker (say, towards the fort guns). In the picture below, An island (center, with fort) has three sandbar hexes placed next to it (right) to channel movement of the Union (attacking) fleet directly in front of the Fort Guns. Hexes must be placed contiguous to each other.. somehow.

Our first ironclad meeting a grisly fate after steaming over the Confderate mines.
Island, center. Sandbar, top right, 3 hexes worth.

The Shoreline Terrain to cover about half a hex worth on either side, all the it way up and down the river terrain mat (or sheet).

Note that these are part of the rules.. you can’t, for instance, add volcanoes or waterspouts or giant octopods– this game uses placement of the same terrain pieces to custom build a unique scenario every time.   The rules describe the process of setting up the generic river in some depth and are quite thorough on the subject.

Of course, there’s ship models.  Peter Pig has a nice range of ACW era naval ship models in their Hammerin’ Iron line (range 7), but one should not hesitate to add ships to the mix from other manufacturers or scales.  I have no idea what the hex size would be for 1:1200 scale, for instance, but I know there are some very nice miniatures lines in that scale.  Bay Area Yards and Thoroughbred Models make ships compatible with the Peter Pig resin models, so they should also be considered.  The prospective player should realize that there are very strict procedures for defining the point values for ships based on a complex formula that encompasses tonnage, gunnery type, and armor.  Each ship is assigned a hit point value not to exceed 50 points a ship and each side, attacker and defender, must start with a fleet no more or less than six ships– a restriction that enforces play balance and discourages designing one or two very tough ships that are almost impossible to sink (a phenomena the RFCM refer to as “The Yamato Syndrome”).  The point value of the ships in range 7 are available online in the files section of the RFCM Yahoo Group– which is pretty handy as it can save you a few steps. Fleet composition is further modified by removing a random ship from the defender side to compensate for the fort and also to determine what turn the the defender’s ships will enter the battle space.  It is possible for a battle to conclude without every ship committed to the battle to actually be present because they haven’t arrived yet.

Once you have defined a ship the pertinent information (especially the hit points) are recorded on the ship chart (available as a PDF download)  and ship hits and damage are recorded as the occur in combat.

Building a fleet
Building a six-ship fleet.  Ship Status Sheets under the ships.

Movement is a matter of moving 0,1,2,3 or 4 hexes, which is a factor of speed.  A ship can be rated fast or normal– most ships are rated normal, and the fastest (four hex speed) ships are blockade runners.   Players are given an allotment of little order cards that are placed face down next to their ships– order cards are either SMOKE (which are mostly movement oriented) or GUN PORTS (which are mostly firing orders).   When it is their ship’s turn the card is revealed and the ship moves and/or fires.

order cards
Order Cards deployed.

I think fire combat in HI2 is fairly straightforward.  Since every ship is always pointing towards a flat side of a hex, firing a broadside becomes very easy to figure out– a ship is either at an angle to be hit or not, and it’s very obvious.  The front and rear arcs are described by the width of the hex side you are facing.   The standard restrictions for line of sight etc. apply.  Since most combat takes place withing 3 hexes it’s pretty easy to figure out at a glance.  Resolution occurs via the big modified bucket of D6 method.

Onandaga executing a Gun Port card on the Shore objective
USS Onandaga (piloted by the author) executing a GUN PORT card Fire order on the Shore Objective, four warehouse buildings.

Ramming is also straightforward, and follows a series of steps which checks the angle of approach,  allows the targeted ship a change to fire a reaction broadside, then the ram goes home.  Resolution by giant bucket of six siders.

Damage reminded me a little bit of SILENT DEATH in that the player maintains a ship status chart and most importantly a record of damage “hit” points.  As the ship takes damage, the points are checked off.  When the player hits or passes a multiple of five (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.), he checks for critical hits on a standard “bad things happen” chart.  When the points go below a threshold the ship enters into the “Battered” state and a marker is placed on the sheet.  The ship’s performance becomes quite degraded in a battered state.  When the ship runs out of points, it sinks and a wreck marker is placed where the ship was.

Defender deploys mines
The Defender can deploy Mines, a form of Asset that is purchased during Scenario Build. Mines can be quite nasty.

Combat has some other nuances beyond moving and firing and ramming– there are Assets that are part of the scenario build part of the game. These are “extras” like submarines, army support, torpedo boats and mines. Asset combat — such as it is, is really handled like a random event on a chart. Still, they can be quite nasty when deployed. In the game I played, A submarine took out the CSS Arkansas (see below) and mines took out a union Ironclad.

submarines vs. Arkansas

A Union submarine asset (The USS Alligator?) takes out the CSS Arkansas

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules have many elegant elements– victory conditions are perhaps the most noticeable of them. HI2 is a game recreating a very inequal historical contest. The Confederates were operating under severe disadvantages– they didn’t have an industrial base broad enough to create ships with the same level of technological advances as the Union. In a toe-to-toe fight, ship to ship, the Confederates will likely lose more often than not. Thus, the designers added in elements that balance the game in other ways so the Rebs have a chance at victory. In summary, I would certainly recommend Hammerin Iron 2 to both novice and experienced wargamers. It is very easy to follow and pick up. There will be some setup costs associated with the game outside of just buying ships– terrain, especially. I don’t consider them to be especially egregious. The mechanics will probably be criticized for being ‘too gamey’ by lovers of games like IRONCLADS by Yaquinto. The balancing elements– delayed arrival of ships, victory conditions, restrictions on six ships only in both fleets– these do seem artificial when you are reading about them before playing the game. In practice, I found HI2 to be very enjoyable to play and quite engrossing right up to the end. I was impressed enough to purchase the rules right then and there and plan on running this game myself in the future– it may become my “go to” game for conventions for ACW riverine scenarios. I will still run other ironclads rules when I want something more historical, but for a great game, with a lot of excitement and fun associated with it, I’m going to turn to Hammerin’ Iron 2. Strongly recommended for clarity, simplicity and entertainment.

Peter Pig Website’s HI2 Page
RFCM Yahoo Group (contains spreadsheets, PDFs for the game)
Thoroughbred Models (ships)
Bay Area Yards (ships)

Supplemental Post on 1:1200 scale ACW information


Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1860-1905 by Andrew Wilson My rating: 5 of 5 stars Along with Paul Silverstone’s Warships of the Civil War Navies, this might be one of the most valuable source of technical specifications on the … Continue reading

Cosmic Encounter: A Thorough Drubbing


Me playing as the Purple HATERS...

We had a chance to play one of my favorite games in the omniverse, Cosmic Encounter, at Steve’s house for his annual OMG it’s the weekend before GENCON frenetic Paint n’ Pack fest on Sunday. I brought my own painting projects, which I managed to complete:

Ironclads 1/600 Scale, mostly Thoroughbred Figures except for the Spartan Games models:

  • Detail work on the RalGard Heavy Cruiser
  • Water giant for Uncharted Seas
From Instant Upload
From Instant Upload
From Instant Upload

After we finished up painting and Steve’s frenetic last minute prep for selling a bunch of stuff at GENCON, we took a look at the giant FEZ BOX Steve and family made for NOVAG’s games at GENCON. Painted NOVAG fez green, with tassel included.

The Fez Box

The Fez Box!!

After that we pulled out Cosmic Encounters, playing the basic game plus a few encounter cards from the first expansion– no flares, lucre, moons or other silliness– just Encounters, Artifacts, Kickers and Morphs.

We selected aliens randomly, just like the good old days.  Here’s the spread:

Steve Gibson: The Chosen (yellow) Can Draw Extra Challenge Cards from the Deck & use them
Chris Gibson: The Vulch (green) Harvests Artifacts.
Jeff Molman: The Mutant (red) Can draw cards up to 8 if he is under.
Me: The Hate (Purple) Can force people to discard a card TYPE of his choice, and if the other players don’t have that card type, they lose three ships.

I had been in games with the Mutant and The Vulch before– they are reasonably balanced.  The Chosen was new to me and I found him a bit overwhelming. I used the Hate power judiciously as it didn’t win many friends– I still think it was no match for the Chosen.  But that’s life.

The Chosen

The Chosen: Yes, we ARE holier than thou.

The game started out in a series of defeats for THE HATE.  Purple was chosen two times in a row in the destiny pile and solicited Allies from the Vulch and the Mutant as depicted HERE. and THE CHOSEN’s  power to draw the first three cards from the encounter deck proved very difficult to counter in any meaningful way.  And nobody wants to ally against someone who could pick the top three cards of the draw deck, decide to add one of all of them to the final outcome  and there you go– you’ve been outnumbered.  In most cases, the power worked in the Chosen’s favor, and Steve played it aggressively.  He was only Cosmic Zapped once, and decisively.   Jeff played the Mutant as well as he could but the Mutant role is not as aggressive in this mix as the Chosen or Vulch proved to be.  THE VULCH was particularly effective, picking up artifacts every round.  Soon he had a hand to be feared, as most of us knew what was in it.

The Hate

Hatin' is for Haters

As the Cone passed to THE HATE, I drew THE VULCH in the Destiny Deck.     THE HATE drew in THE MUTANT to his attack, but the Vulch pulled a 30 attack card, and that was all she wrote.  Thus ended the great Hate offensive for the first time around the circle– and the Cosmic Cone passed to the Vulch.  The Vulch had a strong attack with all those artifact cards and understood the need to attack aggressively, but he vacillated in his turn, making a sweet arrangement with the Chosen as depicted HERE, and then moved on to attack the Mutant in half-hearted fashion, as depicted HERE.  The

Vulch.. doin' his vulchin thing... stripping the battlefield of artifacts.

Vulch’s assault stalled in the face of stiff resistance from the Mutant (with help from allies Hate and Chosen, who were happy to get a bunch of ships back from the Warp.  As his challenge failed,  so did the Cosmic Cone move on to the Mutant, not by nature a very aggressive player or perhaps he is just unlucky?  Who knows?      The Mutant proved he could prevail over the Chosen steamroller, and as he had stood by the Hate in the earlier round, Hate would stand with him now.

Numbers were finally playing in the favor of the anti-Chosen coalition– the higher cards had been played and the Chosen’s defenses were thin in his galaxy.   It was a gamble that payed off, Hey, you muties!  Get out of my cabbages!and the Hate jumped in with both feet.  Finally, no longer a Galactic loser!!!  The Cone passed on to the Chosen, who managed to encounter a stiff resistance from non other than the Hate (last Destiny card drawn). And then it was Hate’s turn once more.. one more time to try to turn the tide of fortunes around.  I had been keeping a weather eye on the Chosen all game long, as he seized an early lead and held on to it all game long.  However, I should have been paying closer attention to the Score wheel.  I had not noticed that the Vulch was now up to four victories after our last alliance, and when I invited him the last turn, naturally I didn’t count it.  Here I am rueing the day… and handing the victory to the Vulch!!  Oh well, losing track of who is the lead in a game of CE is also part of the game as a whole.   Even a solid loss in Cosmic Encounter is a fun time, and I think I can say a good time was had by all without fear of contradiction.  A fun day!

Taking the Plunge on 1:600 Ironclads

My recent experiences with BEER AND PRETZELS IRONCLADS (by Buck Surdu) at HISTORICON 2012 made me hanker to paint up a few ironclads of my own.  I’ve wanted to do this before, but usual roadblocks of affordability and my inept painting skills applied. The best ironclad producer out there, bar none, is my friend Toby Barrett at Thoroughbred Miniatures. Toby’s ships look like little pewter jewels and have tons of detailing. They come at a price, though. My next favorite (and a very close second in detail and quality) is Bay Area Yards out in California. This appears to be a one or two man band, making a wide variety of super-detailed craft at a very decent price. I recently discovered a distant third in terms of quality, but at a very attractive price– the 1:600 scale resin cast Ironclads produced by Peter Pig  aka “Range 7” or Hammerin’ Iron. I bought several of them while I was at HISTORICON, and it did not make a serious dent in the wallet. I also had a few Thoroughbred and Bay Area ironclads laying around, so I decided, what the heck, let’s take the plunge this weekend.

Selma and Forest Rose

CSS SELMA (foreground) and USS FOREST ROSE, a tinclad (background)

Ironclads are attractive as a historical period for miniatures for many reasons. They are not wildly difficult to assemble and paint. The unit density is pretty small, usually one to one. Ironclads rarely fought ironclads in the Civil War so you can pretty much make up whatever scenario suits you, as long as it involves a river or a coastline, and a handful of ships from either side.  Thus, my initial investment wasn’t as huge as I thought it might be.

Direct link to slideshow for Facebook Users

Ships built so far:

Ship Type Manufacturer
USS New Ironsides Broadside Ironclad Peter Pig
USS Onandaga Double Turret Monitor Peter Pig
USS Cairo Casemate River  Ironclad Peter Pig
USS Choctaw Casemate River Ironclad (large) Peter Pig
CSS Tuscaloosa Casemate Ironclad Peter Pig
USS Passaic Turret Monitor Thoroughbred
CSS Albemarle Casemate Ironclad Peter Pig
CSS Neuse Casemate Ironclad Thoroughbred
Armed Tug 1 (either side) Unarmored Steam Boat Bay Area Yards
Armed Tug 2 (either side) Unarmored Steam Boat Bay Area Yards
USS Forest Rose Armored Paddlewheel Steamer Bay Area Yards
CSS Selma Armed Paddlewheel Ram Peter Pig
CSS General Sumpter Armed Paddlewheel Steamer Peter Pig
CSS Planter Paddlewheel Gunboat Peter Pig
Torpedo Boats (either side) Unarmored Launch w/. Torpedo Peter Pig

I plan on getting more of them.  The war was won on the rivers with the humble converted civilian riverboat, not purpose built Casemate or Monitor, and I want more representation of converted civilian stock in my fleet– tinclads, cottonclads, and wooden boats.  I’d also like to get a small fleet of Ellet rams, too.

There are a plethora of miniatures rules for this period. I am partial to HAMMERIN’ IRON (Peter Pig) and BEER AND PRETZELS IRONCLADS (Jodie Press/LMW). If I want to be more detailed, I’ll use Hammerin’ Iron, if I want to run a game at a convention, I’ll go with BAPI.  I’ll post more pictures once I get the masts, flagstaffs, and yes, even some rigging on these models.

Historicon 2011: First Day, Second Day

It’s another Historicon, possibly our last of our short stint at Valley Forge. I got here around 2PM Wednesday and did the usual donkey work getting the show stuff ready with a team of about forty other willing souls.

Business was brisk.. there was a sense of upbeat excitement, as usual for the first day of a con, but also some poignancy, as some of these folks have worked these cons for almost ten years, and Bob Giglio has made it clear that this is his last HISTORICON.

After my shift, I wandered about but really couldn’t weasel into anything. So off to where most things get decided, the bar.. I bent an elbow with Del Stover and Eric Shanholtz, and discovered what our top contenders were for the next Historicon 12 event.. they are looking at four contenders now: Fredericksburg, York, Hampton and (unbelievably) Valley Forge again, with a smaller footprint.

Went to bed, had to be up for a morning shift. I did some aimless shopping and actually did a run to the store to get food and whatnot during the day– after almost spending THIRTEEN BUCKS on a breakfast buffet in the hotel, I decided to fend for myself in the food department. I came back and hit the flea market and dealer’s room and can only boast of buying a double issue of AGAINST THE ODDS magazine (because it had issue games on Ironclads and the Flying Tigers). Not much else was purchased.. but I didn’t look very hard. I don’t know what it is.. I wasn’t that excited about shopping this year.

I did manage to sign up for an evening game, starting at 8 PM in the far off reaches of the Buchanan Room. The Buchanan Room was a bustling location when I arrived mere moments before the game ROLLING ON THE RIVER, a Beer and Pretzels Ironclads skirmish run by Eric Turner and Alex Hamilton, commenced. This game proved to be the highlight of my evening– it wasn’t as if it were particularly conclusive or anything, with the lackadaisical gunfire on display on both sides. However, the humorous approach to the game by all concerned made it a bucket of win for me. What can you expect from a game that featured the CSS Death Trap, CSS Kissin’ Cousins, and CSS WaterWanker vs. the USS Chamberpot, USS BLA, and USS Bam Bam? I mean, besides reinforcement from the USS Bleccccch and CSS Puddleduck? I’ve decided to commemorate the game with a sensitive little kinescopic epic I call:


I greatly enjoyed the game and it managed to scratch my naval combat itch for the night. And so, onward into Friday!

Having a great time at Historicon 2011.. evidence seems to indicate that the GUIDEBOOK app was a big hit, so far, as well. I’m happy that the effort wasn’t wasted.

15mm Ironclad Models

All models and conversions the work of David Raybin.   Event was run at the recent NASHCON, I believe.  This is a scale that I have purchase models in, and I love naval gaming this big.  It just takes tons of table space and usually is relegated to conventions only.

Ironclads: Chincha Islands War

Ship to Ship

Ironclad Steamship combat, via Totem Games

I’ve always liked the potential of games from the modest Russian software game company Totem Games. They have firmly stayed within the purview of one of my favorite historical periods ever, naval simulation in the age of Iron and Steam. Their first release was on the American Civil War. I purchased it– and to be honest was a little disappointed with the interface. I have not looked back at Totem Games since the first effort. They have been busy!

Fresh from Totem Games comes Ironclads Chincha Islands War! which was a small clash between Spain and her rebellious former colonies of Peru and Chile, taking place in 1866. I love the idea that Totem continues to investigate this time period, and I hope my next experiences with them will be more positive.  Here are a few items in their current catalog:

Totem Games Website

Ironclads Schleswig War 1864

Ironclads Schleswig War

14.99 retail

Anglo Russian War Screenshot

ACW Naval Ship Registery online

American Civil War navy

I’m impressed with the ACW NAVAL SHIP REGISTERY on the CARLISLE CAVERN OF CARNAGE wordpress site. It appears to have every ship, ironclad, cottonclad, blockade runner and then some that fought in the American Civil War naval conflict, as well as some information (however sketchy) about how to paint the craft in question. Labors of Love like the Cavern of Carnage never fail to impress me. Job well done, whomever you are!

Give it a visit if you like the period, it should prove to be of interest to naval wargamers.

Ironclad Action: Get the Lousiana! at Cold Wars 2010

I always liked the Yaquinto game line, back in the day, and one of my favorite games was Ironclads, back then.  Yaquinto’s IRONCLADS and IRONCLADS EXPANSION were the definitive word on a boardgame simulation of Ironclad combat during the American Civil War and afterwards.  The level of detail came at the cost of complexity.  There was a lot steps that a player had to go through to hit a target, penetrate the armor, cause damage to the enemy ironclad, etc. etc. etc.  So I didn’t play it very much, but I did like it. 

IRONCLADS from Yaquinto also makes a great miniature game for the detail oriented.  I attended a great Ironclads event at the recent COLD WARS convention Friday Night, called SINK THE CSS LOUISIANA.  This was tremendous fun, although I’m finding Ironclads a bit tedious for a modern convention game.  Too many steps! 

The situation was as observed in the map below: 

Tactical Situation

Start of Game

 The US fleet approached from around the bend, under the fire of the Shore Battery at position B, causing a lot of damage.  I was assigned the USS Indianola, which was promptly shot and sank while passing under the Confederate gun battery at point B.  Sigh.  We sang taps for the crew and I was given the USS Choctaw as a replacement, and she proved sturdier.  The CSS Lousiana started moored at the pier at point D.  Because she had serious engine problems, she could only move in reverse.   There was also an armed sidewheeler at point C and also point E on the map above– with some serious high caliber guns.

The survivors rounded the bend easily enough, with the one casualty being my ship (damned tinclad, anyway!).  As we chugged North we were once again under the fire of a shore battery at position C.  We moved to the far right hand side of the river to avoid becoming  a target for that battery.  Most of our ships ran the gauntlet and attacked the CSS Lousiana.  Too many, in fact– we kept almost bumping into each other wjo;ed trying to range in on the enemy ships. In the USS Choctaw, I lost several opportunities to zero in on the CSS Louisiana, and only hit her about seven times.   Many of us, including the Choctaw, managed to fire on the sidewheelers and they were sunk promptly.

In the end, it was a grudging draw at best. The Louisiana lived at game end, but was shot up. In contrast the US Navy had lost a ship and was badly damaged in places. If the game had gone longer, we WOULD have sunk it. But we didn’t do it on time, so there you go. 

Slideshow, of course: 

I always enjoy a grand Ironclad game, even if the actual number of ironclad engagements were miniscule. I think there’s a better way of running the simulation than the old Yaquinto rules. One can hope! In any event, I had a great time at the game and I’d like to thank the GM for making a space for me. 

Choctaw fixes Lousiana in her guns

The Choctaw sights in on the Lousiana. Blessedly, the Benton is not blocking LoS at the moment.

 Facebook Users: you can view a slideshow on FLICKR via this link 

Related: Yaquinto Ironclads on Boardgamegeek 

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