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"Some impressions of Post Captain" Topic


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Yellow Admiral13 Dec 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

Last Saturday (Dec 9) at the South Bay Gaming Club, I tried out L.L. Gill's most recent rules Post Captain with a group of friends. Being an opinionated naval gaming curmudgeon, I naturally have some opinions about the rules I'd like to share. grin

I think L.L. Gill is onto something with his (now well-established) approach to combine multiple traditional naval gaming steps into a single step, onto a single chart, or into a single prop (like a movement template). It reduces mechanical operations like mathematics, measurements, chart lookups, die rolls, etc. while still maintaining a feel of apparent detail tracking and player involvement.

That said, I felt that there are still just too many mechanical operations. As we figured out the charts and started to learn the locations of the various tables on the quick reference cards, the game picked up speed, and from experience with GQ3 and FAI I can say that it will probably move along at a decent pace once the players are familiar with the game's typical operations. However, I still felt there were too many unique values and individual steps.

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I found the various movement templates to be quite clever in conception, but somewhat clumsy in operation.

The template for determining the angle of the vessel relative to the wind is somewhat difficult to do well, and to be fair should be done by a referee, or at least observed by a referee. This template also turned out to be somewhat difficult to explain to a lubber unfamiliar with AoS mechanics and assumptions. It was still being used wrong several turns into the game. The veteran table-sailors got it right away, but the players out for their first drive of a man-o-war were having trouble "getting it".


The turn templates worked well enough (and pretty much anybody can figure out how to use them), but I couldn't help feel they were either excessively granular or insufficiently so the radius of all turns is exactly the same, but the speed through a turn varies with the starting angle to the wind. As a concession to efficient game play this is rational, but it feels artificial and fiddly.

The ruler has 4 graduated scales on it: slow, medium and fast movement scales, and distance in yards. Again, clever and efficient, but I have a personal dislike of special rulers for several reasons, one of which was amply demonstrated during test play: because of the way printers and copiers distort things, the distance scale came out short. It is supposed to be graudated to 33.333yds/inch, but doesn't actually line up with any measurements in inches or centimeters. Since many shots are well beyond the length of the ruler, we just used the scale stated in the rules (3"=100yd) on regular rulers and tape measures. With 1/1200 scale miniatures, the range bands on the gunnery chart work out to be 1.5", 3", 6", 12", 24" and 30", which is very convenient. If I meant to play this game a lot, I'd just craft a bunch of foot-long "gunnery sticks" with those graduations on them.

Finally, I don't like having all these templates around. Each player needs three (wind angle, turn template, ruler), and a ruler besides (for shooting ranges). Between those and all the charts and rules, the table was littered with gaming detritus.

I like that there is no pre-plotting. The alternating movement system works well enough for a scenario with a small number of ships, which is all I'd play with these rules anyway.

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We had one collision and a boarding action, and here I have genuine complaints. The rules got extremely disjointed and murky on these topics, and 5 players with rulebooks struggled for at least a good half hour to figure out the actual moves, die rolls, and results. I was unhappy about that. Assuming we did eventually get it right, I don't think there's anything terribly wrong with the mechanics of collisions, collision avoidance, grappling and boarding; I just think the relevant rules sections need to be cleaned up and clarified. A lot.

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Some things I really liked about the rules:


  • The relationship between range and speed felt right. "Long" range is really not very long at all. Ships don't exactly speed around, but there is a definite feeling of the stately maneuverability of a man-o-war under sail.
  • The pace of damage is properly sedate. I was pleased that even a REALLY BIG flurry of hits from a 112 gun 3-decker felt like a lot of damage, but in real terms still left the enemy ship afloat, combat worthy, and able to struggle on. The pace of damage may still be faster than real (I'd have to play a lot more to judge), but it is at any rate not exaggerated as badly as nearly every other AoS rules set I've played.
  • The damage system is more or less what I now feel is best: every hit is unique. This is incredibly easy to track using PC's roster system (which is fundamentally just a period-specific variation of the GQ3 system), yet particular hits can have subtle but important effects on in-game decisions. On a big ship with a lot of gun boxes, crew boxes and hull boxes, these types of hits of course feel more generic, but I imagine they felt that way to an actual captain as well; losing one gun on a sloop had a greater relative impact than losing one on a 3-decker.
  • There is plenty enough detail to each ship to keep a player feeling like a captain, but the management of it is done with relatively simple game mechanics.
  • There is a lot of subtlety to the movement system, much more than I had time to explore in my first game. The sail plan and its health matters, the maximum angle of upwind movement is properly small, the speeds under sail at various wind angles are nicely varied, and the sailing mechanics have enough subtlety built in that an experienced player-captain should have a true advantage over an inexperienced player-captain just in ship-handling prowess. This may be the first professionally published set of rules ever to give me that feeling.

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Overall, I feel this game is almost what I am looking for in a one-ship-per-player AoS game, but not quite.
I found the rules to be sound in concept, but overwrought in execution. To enjoy it, I would need to do some streamlining work; some crafting projects, some house rules, maybe a minor re-write of the boarding rules. I am as yet unmotivated to do that much work, so I'm not sure when or if I'll play Post Captain again.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral13 Dec 2017 4:02 p.m. PST

As an aside, another thing I was hoping to find in Post Captain was a good baseline set of rules mechanics to modify into a sailing games for earlier eras (especially the galleon era). I think I'm still looking.

- Ix

dragon613 Dec 2017 7:37 p.m. PST

Post Captain is too complicated.
If you find a good galleon era set please post.
Heck, what's your best current galleon choice?

Yellow Admiral13 Dec 2017 8:33 p.m. PST

My next attempt at Galleons will be to adapt Jeff Knudsen's Away Boarders! to the period.

If that's too hard or not right, I'm back to trying to write my own.

- Ix

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP14 Dec 2017 9:00 a.m. PST

Hello Ix,

I'm an AoS rookie and I also wrote a favorable review of Post Captain up on the blog. here's a link:

link

These are the best rules that I have played, but to be fair I've only played Form on Admirals Wake and Kiss Me Hardy. : )

I agree with most of what you say: the gauges ARE a bit fiddly and the boarding rules are intimidating, seem complex, and almost more trouble than their worth.

Charlie 12 Inactive Member14 Dec 2017 6:56 p.m. PST

Well, I've played a boatload of AoS rules over the years and, by far, PC has the best sailing rules. The major complaint I've heard with AoS rules were that the sailing rules were either overly complicated (requiring a math equation every time you moved) or overly simplified (in no way replicating how ships actually move). PC solves that with those "fiddly" (and I don't agree with that characterization) gauges. No math involved. As one long time AoS gamer friend put it, "PC allows me to con my ship, and not the rules! And the ships move the way a ship SHOULD move on the water". And he should know; he only has 30+ years of sailing experience on everything from Hobie cats to topsail schooners to brigs.

Charlie 12 Inactive Member14 Dec 2017 7:13 p.m. PST

Post Captain is too complicated.

Keep in mind, the rules are specifically designed for single ship up to small squadron actions (as the authors state in rules). As such, you have to have more detail or the game becomes flat and uninteresting. You wouldn't use PC to refight Glorious First of June or Trafalgar; neither would you (or should you) use a fleet level game to fight Shannon vs Chesapeake. Horses for courses….

As for the difficulty of learning the rules. I've had newbie gamers totally unfamiliar with the period (or sailing, for that matter), pick-up and run the rules without any problems within a couple of turns. They are NOT complicated; the systems (the sailing rules, combat, etc) are straight forward and easy to learn and build on each other.

Now, boarding combat. I may agree with you there. But considering how historically infrequent boarding actually was (most actions ended in strikes), that hasn't been a problem. (Sam Willis examined this issue in some detail).

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP15 Dec 2017 9:50 a.m. PST

David Manley has a couple of excellent Galley rules (Classical and Renaissance) at the Wargames Vault.

Yellow Admiral15 Dec 2017 3:19 p.m. PST

LOL! You're right, and I own both, but I was talking about galleons, not galleys. grin

- Ix

Yellow Admiral15 Dec 2017 3:22 p.m. PST

Now, boarding combat. I may agree with you there. But considering how historically infrequent boarding actually was (most actions ended in strikes), that hasn't been a problem.
Unfortunately irrelevant to AoS gaming. Gamers love boarding actions, so there are just gonna be several attempted in every game. The only way I found to get players to stop boarding each other in my own fleet action rules was to basically make boarding impossible to initiate.

- Ix

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP15 Dec 2017 8:12 p.m. PST

Unfortunately irrelevant to AoS gaming. Gamers love boarding actions, so there are just gonna be several attempted in every game. The only way I found to get players to stop boarding each other in my own fleet action rules was to basically make boarding impossible to initiate.

Agreed. That's why I like "Admirals" by Jeff Knudsen. It's not my concern how I get them to strike, just that they do and I can normally do that from about a cable length.

whitejamest16 Dec 2017 7:30 a.m. PST

I agree with those applauding Post Captain's realism and level of detail, and I really haven't encountered another set that gives players the feeling of making a captain's decisions in battle. As Charlie 12 points out, it's a great set for small actions, not at all for large fleet engagements. I don't like running it with players controlling more than a single ship.

I think the templates do what they need to do, though the wind orientation template does give first timers some difficulty. But in all the non-hex-based age of sail games I've played, that has always been true. The player has to get to a point where it clicks in his mind.

I also agree with those complaining that Post Captain's boarding rules are murky. It felt to me like they needed a little more play testing and certainly some clearer explanation in the rule book. But I made a few house rules for myself and the few times I've overseen players' boarding attempts as GM we've gotten some pretty neat actions out of it.

It's true that gamers like to board a lot more than historical captains did, but I think that's a subset of the basic gamer attitude. Players are looking for exciting dramatic events, and I don't see that as a problem. I think what Post Captain gets right about it is in making boarding actions extremely risky and extremely punishing. I always tell players that ahead of time. I tell them that boarding is completely doable, but that it will take them a long time, immobilizing them while other ships continue to maneuver around them, and that they're probably going to get their crew destroyed in the process. Some players have the temperament to dive in anyway (at least once) and some heed the warning and try to avoid it. I think first time players have a more burning need to try to board than those who have played a few games.

Blutarski16 Dec 2017 3:19 p.m. PST

"It's true that gamers like to board a lot more than historical captains did, but I think that's a subset of the basic gamer attitude. Players are looking for exciting dramatic events …"

I mostly blame the fixation with boarding actions on The Hollywood Effect Errol Flyyn, Geena Davis and Johhny Depp. But the sainted Horatio Nelson must accept a share of the blame as well for his achievement at Cape St Vincent an achievement so outrageous and unlikely that no self-respecting 18th century novelist would have dared to invent such a story.

B

Yellow Admiral17 Dec 2017 1:23 a.m. PST

FWIW I agree that PC is one of the best games I've played to date for engaging the player in a captain's decision cycle. That is something I've been seeking for a long time, and I'm impressed.

On the flip side: the only practical way I see to play PC is with one ship per player. I could see running two or three ships as an expert, but I have doubts that anyone in my region will ever reach that level of competence.

This is a problem for me as a GM. One of the ways I like to run games is to play all the "bad guys" myself and have the players play against the system as a team. With all the myriad decision points in PC, this style of scenario appears to be impractical.

- Ix

whitejamest17 Dec 2017 10:19 a.m. PST

I like running those types of games too, but I agree that would be extremely difficult with a rule set as detailed as Post Captain.

I've only run one game where players controlled two ships each. They did a fine job of it, but it was slower going and I think they had more of a sense of having to work at it. They all said they had a more enjoyable sense of being in a captain's shoes when they controlled a single ship, partly because it was easier and partly because they then identified more completely with that one role.

Cursd Captain17 Dec 2017 10:24 a.m. PST

On boarding: I can't give you a more than a rough statistic, but in my review of 100+ small actions toward the end of the AoS, I'd say it comes up about 20% of the time. Small ships (like brigs) that attacked or protected commercial shipping did not carry enough artillery to break a rival's hull. In addition, the goal was often capture, which meant a boarding fight if the smaller / less armed ship did not quit immediately. Our thinking about "boarding" should include the threat of boarding and antipersonnel fire. . .the potential for the terms of engagement to change at very close range, even if, usually, one captain backed down.

The father back you go in the AoS, the bigger this topic becomes.

I look forward to reading and playing Post Captain someday. I'm still wrapping up the 2nd edition of my rules.

BrianW19 Dec 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

I'm a bit late to this conversation. For years, I used Heart of Oak as my go-to rules for small engagements. Once PC arrived and I got a feel for them, they immediately became my new go-to rules for small actions.

They are complex but as Charlie 12 said, without that complexity the feel of smaller actions would be gone. I have used them for convention games, and even non-naval gamers pick up the movement system within a couple of impulses. After the first couple of broadsides, I didn't really have much to do in running that part of the game either. I do print out extra copies of the gunnery chart so that all (or almost all) the players can have a copy.

Boarding can be difficult, but if you read the rules closely they are not as complex as they first seem. I expected a boarding action in my last convention game as two ships fouled each other, albeit non by anyone's intent. Instead, both sides were more than happy to just keep blazing away at each other.

Overall, I like them a lot. No set of rules is ever perfect, so I can live with these when they are less than clear. I do agree with Ix that two-three ships per player is an upper limit. I ran 5 at a convention one time out of necessity and did not enjoy it one bit! At least with Post Captain you don't have to allocate crew every turn.
BWW

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2017 10:19 a.m. PST

In my first game of PC; I've read the rules and my friend hadn't, and we each controlled 2 ships. It ran pretty smoothly; so I would suggest that a player could run two ships even if complete rookies.

it also staves off the "lucky hit factor:" if one ship early on takes a lucky hit and looses a mast / steering damage, etc.. something that basically wounds the ship enough to make it difficult to play, it's nice having the second as back up.

huevans01120 Dec 2017 6:28 p.m. PST

What scale and manufacture of ships would you guys recommend to play single ship actions?

whitejamest21 Dec 2017 8:52 a.m. PST

Huevans, I think you would find the most common scale for small actions is 1:1200, from companies like GHQ and Langton. You could also try the slightly larger pre-made ships in 1:1000 scale from Ares' Sails of Glory line.

But the game comes with templates for smaller scales, and there's no reason why you couldn't play in 1:2000 or 1:2400. Or you could play in a larger scale, like 1:600.

I like the 1:1200 kits the best because the higher quality models are very attractive, without being so large that you need a huge playing area. But you have a lot of good options.

huevans01121 Dec 2017 4:34 p.m. PST

Thanks.

Aren't the 1:1200 a bit small for 1 vs 1 games?

Yellow Admiral21 Dec 2017 10:37 p.m. PST

I think it's fair to say that's a matter of opinion. :-)

I have come to think that there is a "right" size for naval miniatures, about 3"-5" long, that gets maximum attention from passersby and really hits gamers right in the toy lust center of the brain. Bigger miniatures start to feel a bit unwieldy, smaller start to feel fiddly.

1/1200 scale frigates and ships of the line are right in this size range, but to get the smaller ships in this size range you have to step up to larger scales. For really small boats, you might consider 1/300 scale. Check out War Artisan's picture collections for some nice examples of large-scale small-ship actions.

- Ix

Charlie 12 Inactive Member23 Dec 2017 5:01 p.m. PST

Aren't the 1:1200 a bit small for 1 vs 1 games?

Not really. In PC, the game scale is same as the miniature scale (the rules can be played with any scale as long as you have the correct scale gauges). So, at 1/1200, 1 foot on the table equals 1200 feet (or 400 yards). Since most single ship actions start roughly a 1000 yards apart, that would translate into about 3 feet apart. Add in the need for sea room for maneuver, and you end up needing at least a 4 by 6 table (and preferably larger). Personally, I use Figurehead 1/2400s while a buddy uses Valiant 1/2000s on a 4 by 6.

That said, we've played cutting out and gunboat actions with 1/600s (PC includes complete rules for these types of actions). And, at one con, we ran a spirited brig vs brig action on a large table in 1/600.

Charlie 12 Inactive Member23 Dec 2017 5:16 p.m. PST

They all said they had a more enjoyable sense of being in a captain's shoes when they controlled a single ship, partly because it was easier and partly because they then identified more completely with that one role.

That pretty much voices the author's intent. The idea was to place the gamer in the captain's shoes. Running more than 2 ships at a time is not really advised. Like Brian, I ended up running 5 SOLs in one game and it was not fun at all. About the most I'll have a single player run is 2 ships; more to avoid the "lucky hit" result that puts the player out of the game.

BrianW23 Dec 2017 6:12 p.m. PST

That's one of the things I like about PC: ground scale equals miniature scale. It's also one of the things that is most disconcerting to new players. A lot of times a player wants to open up with a broadside, and I have to explain to them that, even at 400 yards (12 inches on the tabletop) they're not going to hit much of anything. After that, they start to realize what "close range" REALLY means.

huevans01124 Dec 2017 7:08 a.m. PST

Not really. In PC, the game scale is same as the miniature scale (the rules can be played with any scale as long as you have the correct scale gauges). So, at 1/1200, 1 foot on the table equals 1200 feet (or 400 yards). Since most single ship actions start roughly a 1000 yards apart, that would translate into about 3 feet apart. Add in the need for sea room for maneuver, and you end up needing at least a 4 by 6 table (and preferably larger). Personally, I use Figurehead 1/2400s while a buddy uses Valiant 1/2000s on a 4 by 6.

Thanks. Something for me to think about.

huevans01124 Dec 2017 7:36 a.m. PST

1 other question:

I note that in some of the AAR's, the French do quite well against the British – contrary to most historical encounters.

Are there national factors in the rules to account for training, experience and confidence differences between various nations?

BrianW24 Dec 2017 7:25 p.m. PST

huevans011,
Oh, yes there are. Generally, the British will have better morale and reload their guns more quickly than other nations. Each turn is 3 minutes, broken down into three one-minute phases. A British crew can usually reload within 2 phases, whereas a French crew takes 3. There are also charts to roll this up at random for DIY scenarios.

The combat system uses a D12 for each group of 3 guns, so is it possible for a hot hand to outroll a better crew? Yes, but that's possible with any rule set. When I've used them to run scenarios, I've been happy with the outcomes being historically reasonable. The French did win occasionally, after all.
BWW

Charlie 12 Inactive Member25 Dec 2017 3:24 p.m. PST

In addition to what Brian mentioned, lower quality crews have other problems to contend with, such as penalties when making repairs, lower fire and melee effectiveness, lower probability of successfully tacking and a higher probability of failure during command checks. So playing a French early Revolutionary (1794-1805) ship can be a handful.

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