Tuesday 29 March 2022

Fast Play 3 x 3 Portable Naval Wargame Perceptions

A Confederate commerce raider searching for her next prey.

Now that I have cut my 3 x 3 teeth so to speak, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on the Duel of the Ironclads and how it played out. I am not talking about the rules - more on this later - but the overall ‘flavour’ of the action and how this equates to what we know (or what we think we know) of the chosen period. 

It is safe to say that these rules are best used for small scale, up close and personal actions - think Gregory Peck in Hornblower or Russell Crowe in Master and Commander (earlier period I know BUT it does show you where my thoughts have been wandering….) - which is ideal for the naval bolt on to a land campaign or for low level naval operations - hunt the raider type operations for example.

In the 3 x 3 world having a maximum combat range of 3 squares appears about right  and this is a third of the distance I use for the parent rules. There is no range differential between smoothbores and rifles although the latter have an advantage in respect of penetration. I am adding range modifiers to the firing process in that targets at range 1 add a +1 to each firing dice whilst at range 3 1 is deducted. I have also added to the ‘rule of 6’. As it stands a roll of a natural 6 always scores 1 point of damage and in addition entitles the firer to roll a further d6. Where firing scores after modifiers exceed 6 the target receives 2 points of damage. I am happy with this and so will stick with it and furthermore have also added in the ‘rule of 1’. Essentially a natural roll of a 1 is always a miss, regardless of modifiers.

I am satisfied that the ‘gun factor/penetration factor/armour factor’ works well so this can be left as is. Firing arcs need simplifying but that is no great drama and in fact will do me a favour as the original version was a little cumbersome to use.

Movement speeds initially caused me a few headaches but by adopting a ‘1 square equals approx. 6 knots’ scale it fits in well with speeds of 1 to 3 working well enough. Turning usually costs a movement point although I am allowing highly manoeuvrable types to have one free turn whilst poor types have to move 1 space before they can change direction.

The whole critical hit/critical point section needs clarifying and revising but again, this is largely simplifying what is already in place.

Once the above additions have been incorporated into the rules, along with the updated ship specs, I will run a further action just to see how it works out. 

Going Forwards….

I really enjoyed the first run out of the rules as tweaked for the 3 x 3 format and as mentioned I think there is a lot of potential for certain types of action. Clearly they are not designed for fleet level engagements but for low level encounters they work really well. As mentioned previously - and after much pondering - I am definitely going to be tackling some late 19th century gunboats for use on Madasahatta….

There is also the prospect of age of sail as well….

First things first though - I need to tidy up the rules and pimp the playing area.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Duel of the Ironclads*, March 9th 1862….Game Number 67

U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia exchanging point blank gunfire

Although a little late in the month to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads, I figured that elements of the second day of the action would make a great test bed for my 3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame rules. It is very much a 3 x 3 x 3 action - a 3 x 3 grid occupied by 3 ships!

As mentioned previously the rules are an adapted version of the more formal set for the period I have developed using ideas from Bob Cordery’s book Gridded Naval Wargames and David Manley’s rules Dahlgren and Colombiad. The key differences between the two sets are as follows:

  • No critical hits until a ship reaches its critical damage point
  • Movement distances range from 1 to 4 and turning 45 degrees costs a movement point
  • A firing roll of 4, 5 or 6 equals a single hit point with each score modified where appropriate by comparing the firing value to the armour value
  • A roll of a 6, regardless of any firing/armour modifiers, entitles the firing player to a further d6 roll. A modified score of 7 plus means that two hit points are scored
  • Ship models are deployed in a single square rather than straddling two - this also means that firing arcs are simplified.
  • Movement distances and firing ranges are a third of those in the main rule set.
‘A willing foe and sea room’….The Royal Navy toast for Friday

The areas around the edge of the 3 x 3 grid can be used to add to the fog of war. In order to add a degree of uncertainty to the actions of one’s enemy I am allowing a ship to use those areas to disengage and reengage as the tactical situation warrants. You will notice that the rectangular areas cover all three squares of the central grid. A ship can enter one of these areas and as long as no enemy ships are in the same row as the rectangular zone it is able to redeploy as its move into any of the three squares in any facing after spending a turn there. The rationale behind this idea is that ships are able to gain some sea room for manoeuvring purposes away from the battle. There are restrictions though. Apart from the requirement to spend a game turn in the zone the ship may not fire or be fired upon. Also, should an enemy ship move into one of the adjacent squares the ‘zoned’ ship may not enter play via that square. In the event that the enemy player is able to deploy ships in all three adjacent squares then the ‘zoned’ ship will not be able to enter play at all.

All of these zones (including the corners although these are limited to a single entry square) can be designated as being entry or exit points as per the scenario conditions as well being either sides ‘baselines’. I hope that by using this idea it will enable players to expand their tactical decision making.

The Battle

The protagonists - (from left to right) the U.S.S. Monitor, the U.S.S. Minnesota and the C.S.S. Virginia


U.S.S. Monitor - Size: small, Speed: 1, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 4, Guns: 3/3 (Turret)

U.S.S. Minnesota - Size: large, Speed: 2, Hit Points: 12, Critical Point: 4, Armour: 0, Guns: 5/2 (P, S). 


C.S.S. Virginia - Size: medium, Speed: 1, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 3, Guns: 2/3 (FW), 2/3 (P/S), 2/3 (AW). Ram Bow.

Note: The two numbers after the rating for Guns are for the number of d6 rolled for firing and the penetration factor of the weapon(s) in question. The initials refer to the firing arcs - FW: Forward Wide, P, S: Port and Starboard and AW: Aft Wide. Turret is of course a turret!

Special Rules

The U.S.S. Minnesota is aground and is therefore unable to move for the duration of the action. No ships may enter the square occupied by the U.S.S. Minnesota which means that no ram attacks may be made against her. The U.S.S. Monitor is deployed in the manoeuvre rectangle behind the U.S.S. Minnesota. The C.S.S. Virginia enters the playing area from the corner diagonally opposite the U.S.S. Minnesota. Should the C.S.S. Virginia and the U.S.S. Minnesota both teach their critical point then the U.S.S. Monitor must beak off the action to provide assistance to the U.S.S. Minnesota.

Victory Conditions

The Confederate player wins if the U.S.S. Minnesota or the U.S.S. Monitor is sunk and the C.S.S. Virginia exits the playing area.  The Union player wins if the C.S.S. Virginia is sunk. All other results are a draw.

Starting Positions

U.S.S. Monitor lurked on the port side of the grounded U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the menacing shape of the C.S.S. Virginia heaves into sight.

Turn 1. There is no gunfire as yet. The Confederates are deemed to have the initiative on the first turn and so opt to move to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Monitor prepares to surprise the Rebels.

The situation at the end of the first turn.

Turn 2. The only firing is from the forward guns of the C.S.S. Virginia as neither of the Union ships are able to fire - the U.S.S. Monitor because she is in a manoeuvring zone and the U.S.S. Minnesota because her guns are broadside mounted so the C.S.S. Virginia is currently out of her firing arc. The C.S.S. Virgina has a forward facing battery rated at 2/3 (FW) meaning she rolls 2d6 to hit and has a penetration factor of 3. She rolls a 2 and a 3. To each of these scores the difference between the penetration factor of the firing gun and the armour factor of the target is applied - in this case the 3 of the C.S.S. Virginia deducts the 0 armour of the U.S.S. Minnesota - she was a wooden frigate and so very vulnerable to shell fire - meaning the scores are now 5 and 6 which equal two points of damage on the hapless Union ship.

Initiative - Union 4, Confederate 6. The wily Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first so as the intentions of the U.S.S. Monitor can be determined.

At the end of turn 2 the C.S.S. Virginia continues to head towards the U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the U.S.S. Monitor attempts to bar her way.

Turn 3. The U.S.S. Monitor opens fire against the C.S.S. Virginia. Her turret mounted artillery is rated as 3/3 whilst the armour of the C.S.S. Virginia is rated as 3 meaning that there are no modifiers applicable to the d6 roll. A 1 and 2 x 6s are thrown meaning that 2 points of damage have been scored AND the Union player is entitled to throw an additional 2d6! These come up as a 3 and 4 meaning the C.S.S. Virginia has taken 3 points of damage! She immediately returns fire on her previously unseen assailant. Her guns are rated 2/3 whilst the armour of the U.S.S. Monitor is rated at 4. This means that each of the 2d6 rolled will have a minus 1 modifier. A 5 and a 3 are rolled which are adjusted to 4 and 2 meaning that the ‘Cheese box on a raft’ sustains a single point of damage.

Initiative - Union 3, Confederate 4. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first.

Have the Rebels made an error? Instead of Turing to face the U.S.S. Monitor the Confederate ship moves to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota although in doing so will be exposed to the full broadside of the Union ship.

Turn 4. Once again the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia exchange shots. The Union 3d6 come up as 2, 3 and 6 with the extra roll being a 4. This means a further two points of damage on the Rebel ship. Her response was a 3 and a 4 each of which deduct 1 meaning no hits are scored. The rebel ship is in trouble.

Initiative - Union 5, Confederate 6. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first.

The U.S.S. Monitor opts to move in such a way that she can cover the U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the C.S.S. Virginia decides against moving across the broadside of the grounded frigate.

Turn 5. Again the two ironclads exchange punishing point blank fire. The Union roll a 6, a 5 and 4 meaning 3 damage points and the extra d6 comes up a 2. The three points of damage are sufficient to move the Confederate ship beyond its critical point so a d6 roll will need to be made to determine her fate. Realising it is her final round of firing she instead opts to fire at the U.S.S. Minnesota. A double 6 comes up! As each d6 adds plus three making two scores of 9 this equates to four damage points AND a further two d6 rolls - these come up as a 2 and 3 which then become 5 and 6. The U.S.S. Minnesota has sustained 6 points of damage in all which also gets her to her critical point.

The C.S.S. Virgina rolls a 4 on the critical damage table and so loses gunnery factors to the value of 2. It could have been worse as any further hit points would be sufficient to sink her outright! The grounded U.S.S. Minnesota rolls a 3 which translates as engine damage. 

Initiative - Union 3, Confederate 4. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union player to move first.

In response to the grievous condition of the U.S.S. Minnesota after the battering she received at the hands of the C.S.S. Virginia as well as the fact that the Rebel ship appears to be breaking off the action, the U.S.S. Monitor is content to observe the enemy ship from a distance, her job done. She would never know just how close she came to sinking the Rebel ironclad outright.

A view of the action from behind the U.S.S. Minnesota - who was largely a spectator of the unfolding drama

Endgame. That was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning and no mistake. The result was even fairly close to what actually happened although the C.S.S. Virginia was very lucky to survive. Wooden ships are incredibly vulnerable and indeed, had the C.S.S. Virginia not been distracted by the U.S.S. Monitor then there is little doubt the U.S.S. Minnesota would have been destroyed. The U.S.S. Monitor proved to be a tough nut to crack - the armour rating of 4 certainly helped - and perhaps the Confederate may have fared better had she chosen to use her ram. As it was she was comprehensively out shot by the Union ship. All three ships would live to fight another day.

Although it did not look like a lot happened in the game it certainly did not feel that way as every decision seemed to be magnified in terms of the immediacy of its effect.

Thoughts on a 3 x 3 naval game

I have to say that I really enjoyed this. Using such a small playing area really makes you have to think about what you need to do to achieve your specific aim. The Confederate plan was to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota at point blank range off her bow thereby avoiding any return fire. The U.S.S. Monitor put a stop to that but the Rebel ship essentially dithered in the face of two threats and so nearly paid a heavy price. It was all very quick and dirty and indeed, the longest part of the action has been writing it up.

I like the focus on the action this concept gives you and whilst it is not the be all and end all of naval wargame techniques it certainly falls nicely into the edited highlights category. For a challenging quick fix the rules worked out really nicely and to be honest some of the ideas I used for this set will filter back into the parent version. Using the border areas - although only briefly in this case - adds to the tactical decision making which will make for a more ‘rounded’ game rather than just the close range knife fight. 

I shall certainly experiment with this further - the rules need a little tidying up - and plan to use the system for late 19th century Colonial style gunboat actions (Madasahatta here we come!) and even for smaller actions up to the Great War. There is no reason why this concept could not be used for pretty much any pre 20th century naval action and it is certainly something I shall look towards going forwards.

The crude piece of plywood I used as a playing area will now be pimped into something rather more suitable and I will also be looking to get the last of the ACW ships finished. There are also implications for the playing area for the parent rule set as the use of a single square for a model rather than using two certainly makes life easier in many ways!

*Duel of the Ironclads 

From the pen of the prolific Mr Angus Konstam - this Osprey hardback is a compilation of the Campaign Series title on the Battle of Hampton Roads and the two Vanguard titles - Union Monitor and Confedrate Ironclad.

The title of this post was, ahem, borrowed from the title of the above book that I have in my library. Angus Konstam has written extensively on naval matters for Osprey and his ACW selection covers a vast array of ship types. All are highly recommended.

Friday 25 March 2022

3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame - Setting the Scene

To the untrained eye the above is merely a piece of plywood with some lines drawn on it - members of the Portable Wargame 3 x 3 club will recognise it and nod knowingly as to its true function….

It is rough and ready I know but for experimentation purposes it will be just fine! In any event I can always make something a little more aesthetically pleasing later. I used an odd piece of plywood I had laying around and a trusty Sharpie permanent marker and the overall size of the playing area is 2ft by 2ft - also known as the 15mm sized playing area for DBA and HOTT. Coincidence? Maybe, but I couldn’t possibly comment….

The 3 x 3 central grid is made up of 6” squares and the areas around the edge of it will be usable during a game but only for scenario specific reasons.

The first thing that has struck me about this playing area - and seeing it in the flesh so to speak, has been something of a revelation - is that only a small number of ships would be needed for a game. Now I know that is pretty obvious but I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering how to fit squadrons on a 3 x 3 grid - and for my collection this will not be happening! I reckon three or four at a push models a side would be about it but that actually works really well for me for a variety of reasons.

The ‘variety of reasons’ mentioned in the previous paragraph includes something Madasahatta related - I am looking long and hard at various late 19th century ‘Colonial’ gunboats, mainly for the British and Germans although there are some rather nice looking French types which are definitely tempting. 

H.M.S. Gannet at home in Chatham Historic Dockyard….

….and a rather picture of the same in service.

I am also being strangely drawn to making a version of the sloop H.M.S. Gannet - after all, not only is she available to look at in Chatham Historic Dockyard but she was also built in my old hometown of Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. The only trouble with this idea is that I know that this would be very much the thin end of the wedge and inevitably a whole gamut of other models to go with it!

The next post will be of the battle I shall be fighting - effectively my somewhat delayed initiation into the brotherhood of 3 x 3 Portable Wargamers - and I have to say I am really looking forward to it.

Better late than never!

Thursday 24 March 2022

Further Thoughts on the 3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame

C.S.S. Arkansas engaged by the U.S.S. Carondelet and U.S.S. Essex

I was able to spend some time working on the 3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame and I am very pleased that I did! A lot of the rules from the ‘parent’ set I devised can readily be used as written but there are a few changes necessary in certain areas. Ironically some of the changes I envisage making may well feed back into the parent set.

The biggest single change concerns movement speeds. In the parent set movement rates were calculated on the basis of 2 knots equalling 1 square of movement - bear in mind that models occupy two squares. To fit in a 3 x 3 grid I am using a movement rate of 1, 2 or 3 and furthermore ship models will be occupying a single square. As a rough guide a movement rate of once equals a speed of up to 5 knots or thereabouts, from 6 to 12 knots equals a movement rate of 2 whilst faster ships can move 3. Turns are of 45 degrees (diagonal movement and firing is permitted) and will have a movement cost depending on the type.

I have scrapped entirely the cumbersome critical hit system as although I quite liked it it was a little on the clunky side. Instead I am planning on using the critical damage point as a trigger for a random critical effect. The rationale for this is that when a ship reached its critical point then it could be ablaze, flooding or otherwise inconvenienced somewhat. I have also reintroduced the ‘roll a 6 and get an extra roll’ when tackling firing.

Firing arcs will be a whole lot simpler as models are occupying a single square. Gun Factors determine the number of d6 rolled to hit with 4 and 5 being 1 hit and 6 being 2 hits. The armour value has to be overcome by hits for damage points to be inflicted e.g. armour value 2 will need a minimum of 3 hits to score any damage. If a ship is armed with rifles it will gain an extra d6 regardless of how many it is armed with. Finally, ranges are 2 and 3 squares with the latter being for rifles. The biggest difference from the parent set is probably abandoning the whole armour value versus penetration value mechanic. Firing will now be a whole lot simpler and quicker but will still retain the flavour of the firing ship.

I did not mention it specifically but I am looking at this system for pre dreadnoughts and also for Colonial/Great War gunboat style actions - such as might have been fought on the waterways of the island of Madasahatta….

Needless to say there is a cunning plan afoot.

Monday 21 March 2022

Thoughts on the 3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame

C.S.S. Manassas and Little Rebel (in the centre) engaging a pair of Union gunboats

I must confess to being hugely inspired by the work undertaken by the many aficionados of the Portable Wargame in respect of the ‘3 x 3’ variant, or, more correctly, variants. I am very keen to try a number of these out but given that Bob Cordery’s Portable Wargame Compendium will be featuring a veritable smorgasbord of ideas in this direction it would make sense for me to wait until it is published which means that I can instead concentrate on my own contribution - a naval version!

The 3 x 3 format lends itself rather nicely to naval actions that are fought ‘up close and personal’. In my opinion this potentially translates into pretty much any type of naval combat prior to the advent of the Dreadnought type. For now though, I am focussing on the ironclad era, or, more specifically, the American Civil War.

The 3 x 3 idea is designed to be very fast play which means that certain compromises are needed to be made in respect of the complexity of the rules in use. Once again my go to choice of rules to inspire me are both Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames and David Manley’s Dahlgren and Colombiad. The challenge will be what to leave in in order to ensure that the end result retains the all important flavour of the period.

As an aside I remember reading that it is very easy to design a complicated set of rules but it is far more difficult designing a simpler set!

Whilst I am pondering the final shape of the rules the following are some of the ideas I have been flirting with.

  • Ships can move 1, 2 or 3 squares - diagonal movement (and firing) is permitted
  • Ships can move or turn 1 point per movement allowance
  • Ships will occupy a single square
  • Hit points are based on the size of the ship
  • Armour values are based on the type of ship e.g a medium sized casemate ironclad might have 6 hit points and an armour value of 3
  • No critical hits until the critical point is reached
  • D6s are rolled for combat with 4 and 5 being one hit and 6 being two. A 6 also allows a further dice roll.
  • Firing ship must score more hits than the target armour value e.g. armour value of 2 needs 3 hits or more to score damage.
  • The number of gun dice is determined by the weight of the artillery carried
The above are a selection of ideas I am currently playing around with and I reckon I am quite close to a first draft and a play test. Before I do that I will also need to furnish a suitable playing area and luckily I have sufficient material in stock to tackle this relatively easily.

I certainly have the ship models available….

In other news….

Initially I had planned to avoid the blog until next month but overall I am feeling a whole lot better in myself as long as I am mindful of my mental reserves and pace myself accordingly. Sleep continues to be an issue but again, as long as I take things steadily I am able to cope.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks since Laurel came home. We have managed to get settled into a kind of routine and the positive effect of having her home has also helped the rest of us as well as Laurel. At the present time and for the immediate future I would certainly need to be around on a full time basis and so I am currently negotiating with work to carry on working fully remotely for the time being. To be fully recovered from her surgery we are talking about 18 to 24 months so it is very much a marathon and not a sprint.

For sure Laurel has a long way to go but progress is steady although not as rapid as she would like!

Monday 7 March 2022

A Quick Note

Riding off into the sunset….for now….

Good morning all. Firstly, a very big thank you to all for your best wishes in respect of Laurel (aka SWMBO) coming home - it has been really appreciated by us both and provided a welcome boost to my somewhat flagging morale.

We are adjusting to life in the house around care visits - with the physio in due course - and negotiating Laurel’s wheelchair around some particularly tight corners whilst attempting to retain as much paint as possible on the doorframes! She is able to get around downstairs relatively easily by herself although the kitchen and downstairs cloakroom are problematic as they involve a slight drop in the case of the former (meaning her frame comes into play) and a wide step for the latter (which means that telescopic ramps are in use). She will make a full recovery but it will take time and the marked difference in her well being due to being at home is really noticeable - she (and I) is also sleeping far better as well which is a merciful relief I can tell you.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was feeling somewhat wrung out with everything that had happened over the last six months or so. Well, I took the precaution of speaking to my GP and as suspected a bout of depression was diagnosed for which the appropriate steps will be need to be taken. In this case the suggestion is counselling and meds - the former I have no problem with but I am saving the latter in case my now improving well being suffers a set back. I need to keep my head clear for Laurel and work and not drug fogged as far as possible.

As a result I am going into reading mode for a few weeks - this decision has not changed from previously - so will not be posting to the blog until next month when hopefully life will be back on a more even keel.

In closing many thanks once again and rest assured, I will be back soon.

Friday 4 March 2022

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”

Exmouth last year. 

The Best - After six weeks and a day in hospital (originally planned as for days….) Laurel is coming home today. I am beyond delighted and whilst she still has a way to go in terms of recovery at least she will be her family and will no doubt be whipping us all into shape in her own, inimitable way!

The Worst - the continuing saga of the Ukraine. This is a whole level more scary than anything else we have seen over the years. 

‘Nuff said.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

The Great War at Sea and Other Stuff

Oh yes indeedy! Global in its coverage and a welcome addition to the library

It has been an insanely busy week or so since my last post for many reasons and to be honest, it has really knocked the stuffing out of me.

Laurel may well be coming home soon - there are a number of moving organisational parts to tackle first - which is really great news. She is progressing but still has a way to go but the signs are very positive - needless to say this is a massive boost for all! There have been umpteen calls to be made, all manner of equipment being delivered, ongoing ‘window visits’, running the house and also working full time to contend with.

Work has been really busy as I was redeployed first to one bank and now to another. I will also be needing to head into the city for initially a day a week leading up to three days in time. It is not ideal at present but we will manage as best we can. After all I am not being employed for my sparkling conversation and boyish good looks….

I have done very little on the gaming front since my last post and to be honest I fully expect this to be the case for a while now so I have taken the decision to keep off the blog for a while until I have something to write about - probably until Easter methinks.

To be frank I am feeling pretty wrung out at present and simply cannot keep on at the pace I have been trying to maintain so I need to step back a while to clear my head.

The book you see above I am sure I have owned at some point so I was delighted to be reacquainted with it courtesy of eBay. I have one other general history of the Great War at Sea and also a quite superb atlas (along with the larger WW2 version) so this will keep me entertained for some time and no doubt something will arise from it. Actually, it already has but that will be for another time when my world has settled down a little.

See you next month!