By Joseph Forster
The English Buccaneers lead by Sharp, Hawkins, and “Zombie” Coxon have raided Portobello, tangled with the Guarda Costas, and stormed the Spanish fort at Santa Maria. The English have set their sights on Panama but they await reinforcements. The Spanish armadilla has spotted the English Buccaneers and has sent a fleet of 3 ships to attack. You can read a summary of the historical action here.
This is a battle report on the fourth scenario in the Buccaneer’s Companion Vol.1. My friend Guy and I have been playing through this campaign and it’s proved challenging and enjoyable so far.
The scenario sheets gives recommended army lists at 300 points but we wanted to a little bigger and make our own forces so we went with 400 points (but not army scale this time).
Guy’s 400 point Armada de Barlovento force included:
- 11 Marineros with no pistols with Francisco de Peralta
- 11 European Sailors with Muskets
- 8 Marineros without Pistols
- Corvette with 6 Swivel Guns
- 11 European Sailors with muskets with a Grizzled Veteran
- 10 Marineros Piqueros
- Tartana with 4 Swivel Guns
- 11 Marineros with no pistols with an Officer
- 9 Marineros Piqueros with a Reformado
- Sloop with 4 Swivel Guns
In this historical battle, the Spanish didn’t have any cannons so Guy didn’t bring any in his list. The Spanish outnumbered the English 228 to 68. Our battle was on a smaller scale but the Spanish still outnumbered me 72 to 60.
My English Buccaneer force consisted of:
- 13 Freebooters upgraded to Veteran with Richard Sawkins in 2 Canoa
- 6 Kapers in a Canoa
- 12 Forlorn Hope with 3 Grenados with John “Zombie” Coxon in 2 Canoa
- 8 Engages in a Canoa
- 8 Veteran Boucaniers with Peter Harris in a Canoa
- 12 Sea Dogs with no pistols with the Unknown African in a Piragua with 4 Swivel Guns
I tried to load up on long range musketry and plenty of command actions though using the characters that come with this campaign. True to the actual battle, I was scared of getting my boats rammed by the Spanish ships and losing more men to collisions than combat. My plan was to keep at a safe distance and shoot away, especially at the back decks of ship with the goal of breaking or destroying those units so they ship’s turn value would be halved making it safer to approach and board.
This scenario is a modified version of the Sea version of Take and Hold from the core rule book. The Spanish have to set up downwind, the English on the opposing side and the English have to get into the Spanish ships to give them Strike Points. It’s a little more nuanced than that but that’s the basics.
While my English managed to get a close win on the previous scenario, they didn’t rescue Golden Cap’s Daughter so every one of my units started the game with 1 point of Fatigue.
We set our forces up within 12″ of our respective board edges and the game was on! I tried to place my units without characters near the commander since the Buccaneer’s Companion characters have the Shifting Command rule so their units can’t take command actions from the “real” commander.
I moved forward enough on the first activation to get within Buccaneer Gun range and started pinging away with long range musketry. The range was long enough that the Swivel Guns didn’t have a shot right away.
My favorite opening move with this Unknown African with Sea Dogs is to shoot Swivel Guns twice in one activation. On a Heart you can shoot, free reload, reload for the second action, the push (and take another Fatigue for firing twice) to shoot again. The Indomitable rule from the Unknown African will shed one of those Fatigue on the next activation and they should be able to activate normally again (unless the Spanish are rude and shoot at them and break them…). It’s awfully fun to throw 24 swivel dice turn 1 with a single unit!
But the Spanish, being Ruthless, saw the opportunity and fired on my Sea Dogs. I was about to lose 3 to a nasty shot so I spent a Fortune and reduced that number to 1.
The Spanish fleet continued on an upwind course while we traded long rang volleys over the course of turn 1.
It seemed like every time my English scored hits, they would kill one Spanish model and the casualties built up a little. I only lost one or two models over the first turn.
By the second turn, the Spanish fleet had spread out in a line while my canoa had started to focus . The Piragua was sailing along at 3″ per move while I had the canoa moving pretty slow (Paddles can move up to 3″ forward or backwards each move).
The Sea Dogs got off another shot with their swivels but they provided a clear target for the Spaniards and they got hit hard. I was down to 8 of my original 12 models during turn 2.
Turn 2 still had fairly light casualties due to fairly long ranges.
The Corvette and Tartana turned downwind while the Sloop swung around and worked towards crossing the wind.
I slowed my canoa to make sure I was more than 8″ from any ship. If Guy was able to move twice between my moves, I didn’t want ships ramming my canoes full of 6-8 point models!
More hot dice from the Forlorn Hope. They scored 6 out of 12 hits with a target number of 9!
It seems that the Submerged Hazard event comes up in every sea game I play. Usually it beaches my ship but this time I had only boats so it couldn’t get me!
By this point I had lost 4 Sea Dogs, 1 Boucanier and 1 Freebooter. The Spanish had lost substantially more but the game wasn’t progressing very quickly.
Guy’s Spanish focused fire on the Piragua full of Sea Dogs on the Canoas of Forlorn Hope. The rest of my units just continued firing and reloading as efficiently as possible with the cards I could give them.
With the canoa going fairly slow and keeping their distance and the Piragua sailing under wind power at 3″ per move, I had to pass the Piragau in front of all the canoas to keep it from entering the Spanish waters.
The Spanish Armada started cycling in a circle which basically put two ships up against my forces while the third took a turn out to reload, rally and cross the wind’s eye before re engaging. This tactic combined with Tough (instead of Ruthless) on most of the Spanish units made them very resilient. The few times a Spanish unit broke and went prone, they were rehabilitated quite quickly.
I just kept firing! That really sums of the whole game. The English kept firing! Since the Spanish fire was nearly all hitting on high numbers and Guy targeted two boats, most of my units were undisturbed and never had to really, even keeping their single Fatigue (earned from failing to capture Golden Cap’s daughter) throughout the whole game.
The rain came on turn 4! This wasn’t good for either of us and it slowed the game down even further.
The wind speed also dropped by 1″ which meant my Piragua was only moving 2″ at a time and the Corvette would only move 2″ going upwind as well.
The Spanish merry-go-round continued with the Sloop and Tartana being engaged this turn while the Corvette took part of the turn swinging around. Guy mentioned he was trying hard to keep all his ships close so commander Peralta could reach all the ships (he lacks the Commodore ability).
My poor Sea Dogs in the Piragua were still the focus of Spanish fire and had been whittled down to 5/12.
I used my final Fortune Point to save them from a bad save roll.
My command unit of Freebooters continued to score the most hits. I’m kind of liking this “huge unit” doctrine that Guy has been using against me so long!
I finally accomplished my early game goal of causing a unit in the stern of a ship to become shaken so the ship couldn’t turn as tightly. All of these light ships have pretty tight turning ability and if my canoa get close, they’ll get smashed! If they could only turn 1″ or 2″, that would make a canoa assault much more feasible.
But I was too far back to take advantage of the opening and if I tried to approach, the Tartana was ready to ram my poor little boats! Peralta’s fleet was doing some fancy sailing and it was paying off.
With the Sea Dogs on the Swivel Guns pretty well beat up, the Spanish fire turned towards the Forlorn Hope. They still have grenades to toss into the Spanish ships!
They got hit hard this turn. These guys are my favorite unit and it always hurts to see these 7 point models die. That guy was my friend!
We made it to turn 5! I had a Strike Point for not being on a Spanish ship and Guy had a Strike for casualties but nothing decisive had happened yet.
Over the course of the turn, the Corvette failed it’s tacking manouver and had to drift out of the wind’s eye. I finally got my battered Piragua out of the way of my canoa so they could move forward. It was really time to assault. With shooting nerfed by the rain and the game quickly drawing to a close, my time was running out.
With the Corvette drifting out the wind and the Tartana turning away from the wind and the Sloop’s crew battered, I decided this was my chance to assault!
Forlorn Hope are great for fighting in the rain with their grenades and brace of pistols and they were in the front! With the reduced wind, the ships didn’t have a speed advantage of my canoa with paddles. 3″ for everyone!
I just needed to get a little closer! I had to try 3 different shapes of turns before I was able to get right within 3″ and have a chance to board! And since the Forlorn Hope were within Impulsive Richard Sawkins’ command range, they got a free grapple! It failed. They had two Fatigue so they only had two actions left. I tried to grapple again. Failure. No Fortune to back me up… With only one action left, I couldn’t try the grapple a third time and let myself get charged. the boarding had failed.
But I could fire/throw grenades! One of my grenades blew up in my face and killed one of my men but I got a few Spanish too! During the actual battle, an English grenade blew up a Spanish powder keg and started a ship on fire. Before the battle we decided (Guy suggested) that grenades would score Lucky Hits when thrown into ships to represent this part of the battle. I scored a Leak and Fire on the Tartana but since one blew up in my canoa, I had to roll a Lucky Hit on my own ship as well which turned into another damage (rigging crit which goes to extra damage on a canoa which doesn’t have rigging).
I pushed my canoa forward as fast as I could but couldn’t grapple with anyone.
I tried to keep up my fire but the rain slowed everything down.
The Tough Spanish had recovered and turned parallel to the wind again which meant they could turn a full 4″ into my canoa again if I wasn’t careful. I went into this game determined not to be rammed! I pulled my canoa back again hoping I could win on casualties.
Guy had the high card on turn 6 and turn upwind and grappled my Piragua.
Even with the Indomitable Unknown African, the poor Sea Dogs didn’t stand a chance. the Marineros Piqueros charged in and killed them to a man.
Getting off another good couple shots of musketry and swivel gun fire, the Spanish finished off the entire unit of Forlorn Hope on the last turn. Harris went down with them!
My standby units including the Veteran Boucaniers and Freebooters had some bad luck on the last turn but I still killed enough Spanish to give them a full 2 Strike Points of casualties.
As the last turn was winding down, Guy had one final surprise for me. His Tartana was able to swing around close enough to attempt a grapple on one of my canoa. He failed both the first and second Grapple test! 4 out of 5 Grapple actions failed over this game!
The Spanish had taken slightly over 50% casualties but I had taken plenty of casualties as well and failed to take a Spanish ship. My careful canoa management had kept them safe from being rammed but had not gained me a victory.
At the end of turn 6 we stood at 2 Strikes each. 2 Spanish Strikes for casualties and 1 English each for objective and casualties. I hadn’t lost 50% of my force yet but I had still taken more points worth of dead than the Spanish so the Spanish declared victory!
Post Game Thoughts
- I should have been bolder! It would have been a more dramatic game. It wasn’t exactly the epic and personal struggle that the historical account gives us.
- My canoas have been rammed so many times I promised myself I wouldn’t let it happen this time. I succeeded but now I’m kind of sorry because it still didn’t earn me a win and it wasn’t a very exciting game.
- It wasn’t a very dramatic game, but it was a tough game. It felt like a chess match to me. I kept calculating where the ships could be with the possible combination of moves that could happen. I felt I couldn’t make a mistake without it being exploited. I did end up making a mistake and letting a canoa get close enough to be boarded at the very end but the stubborn grapple rolls saved me.
- It felt bad to fail the two grapple rolls I had a chance to take. It would be a lot different game had I got those Forlorn Hope into that Tartana! Not sure how much they could have done over those last turn turns but it would have been more glorious than just getting shot down in their canoas on the next turn.
- It’s scary being in a boat and fighting ships. Not only do you have the whole ramming thing to worry about but your cover is inferior to your enemey’s so you’re taking more casualties when you get hit. It was noticeable. There were several dramatic Spanish Save rolls. They weren’t all good and it seemed I got 1 kill on every successful attack. Didn’t matter if I got 1 or 5 hits. It seemed like it was 1 die that failed each time.
- I used the Marksmen rule more in this game than ever before. With less men and worse Saves, I had to get more hits to have a chance. I did get more hits, but ultimately not enough. But when you’re at that 12-20″ range, improving your target number by one is a big deal. Going from 10’s to 9 double’s your hits and 9’s to 8’s is another 50%. Swivel Guns are great but they have no way to improve their Shoot score and I tried to leverage that in this game.
- After thinking on the game for a while I’m thinking that I made a mistake by half-assing two tactics. I tried to shoot-shoot-shoot at long range until the Spanish were softened up and then board. Longer range helped me because I could get to better shoot numbers. But that takes a lot of time. If I have stayed at range the entire game, I would have lost less men and possibly won on casualties alone. As it was, I closed in close enough for the Spanish swivels and muskets to hit hard and lost a full 12 Forlorn Hope (102 point unit). I tried to board near the end but only with a small group. I think I should have gone all-in on either ranged shooting at 12″+ or just swarmed a Spanish ship and hoped I could overwhelm at least one crew and make for a dramatic game. Trying to do a little of both just didn’t work.
- The commander and characters from the Buccaneer’s Companion are pretty fun and more balanced than I initially expected. The Unknown African is great for 3 points but that lack of a Rally Command Point really makes him on par with the Grizzled Veteran. Indomitable is a handy rule to have around though! Coxon is the dud for me. At 25 points for Inspiring and 2 command points there’s no way I’ll ever pay full price for him. I’ll happily pay 4 points for the character version of him. I would like to congratulate Mr Coxon for not dying this game. He’s still Zombie Coxon but at least he didn’t die in this game! The Shifting Command rule did come into play a couple times when I wanted to use my commander to command either the Boucaniers or Forlorn Hope but I couldn’t because I had these yahoos attached. Peter Harris is super basic as a character because his only rule is Fated which doesn’t even apply as a character so he’s just a 3 point Officer. And that’s good!
- Sawkins seems remarkably cheap at 10 points for 2 Command Points but with only Impulsive, he’s certainly not anything special. I missed not being able to bring Sharp. The scenario specifically excluded him. I’ve started to rely on him to make my Boucaniers super Ruthless killing machines! I hope these characters get added to the Force Builder at some point. They’re fun to work into lists outside of this campaign.
- My main disappointment with the characters in this campaign is there’s no Spanish characters! All the fun stuff goes to the English! There’s 10 commanders and characters that can be used by English Buccaneers, Brethren of the Coast or other English factions in standard play but the Spanish get nothing! I realize all the accounts of this expedition so we have details on these English characters but it hardly seems fair for the Spanish player in this campaign (this is the Spanish player in me talking).
- Guy did an impressive job managing 3 full sized ships in close proximity. It’s not easy moving 3 ships around that close and not hitting yourself. It was an impressive little spinning circle of ships spitting out death.
- The Determination rule was pretty great for the Spanish. In this battle, Ruthless was not very valuable since it doesn’t apply to Swivel guns. Losing Ruthless to gain Tough was a awesome deal. Peralta was worth it just for that! The European Sailors with muskets were the odd ones out here since thy didn’t have Ruthless to start with they didn’t get to swap it for Tough.
Thanks to Guy for a good game. Well played. Thanks to Firelock Games and Nate Zettle for producing the campaign. It’s been fun working through it. The next scenario is on land again and it looks like I’ll be fighting cavalry! Should be interesting! Stay tuned for the 5th scenario!