Blood and Plunder: French Indian War

Blood and Plunder is aimed at the late 17th Century but as new material comes out is gradually slipping further out of the past.  The next planned upgrade is based around the age of Blackbeard so it will have crept up to 1718.  Even if not sunk by storms ships were susceptible to their hulls rotting away, especially in the Caribbean.  HMS Victory remained at sea and in-service from 1765 until 1824.  HMS Trincomalee is still in the water but only sailed from 1817 until 1852.  Many ships would be lucky to remain in service for 30 years without becoming wrecks or their hulls rotted ‘paper thin’ so there is only a slim argument for a 50 year old ship remaining on active service.  There would have been some change in ship design between 1718 and 1756 but not enough to annoy any but the staunchest of purists.  In short, the same model ships (which are probably a tad simplified anyway) will do for 1700 and 1756.

The Seven Years War in the American colonies is not just a conflict of Indians, woods and sieges.  The lifeline of New France were the rivers and lakes of Canada.  The largest of these were navigable by serious sized shipping.  The image below is from 1797 but is based on an eyewitness sketch by General Wolfe’s Aide de Camp of the 1759 landing at Quebec city.  It has all that a Blood and Plunder player needs, redcoats, naval rowers  in natty blue jackets, landing barges, larger single masters with sails furled and multiple masted ships of the line to the rear.

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South of New France there was conflict amongst the sugar islands of the Caribbean.  After the French forces in Canada were effectively neutralised the British were left with large forces surplus to requirements in the colonies.  The sugar islands were relatively easy to hold once captured and provided a useful bargaining chit for any future peace negotiations.  Despite the loss of Canada the French still supported and supplied their Caribbean territories with soldiers and ships.  The big loss of life was disease rather than combat

Example conflicts include the failed 1759 invasion of French Martinique by the British and the later 1762 capture of the island.  The painting below by Dominic Serres dates from 1766, note the sloops to the fore of the battle line and the landing boats forming up behind.

Serres, Dominic, 1722-1793; The Capture of Martinique, 11 February 1762

Serres, Dominic; The Capture of Martinique, 11 February 1762; National Trust, Ickworth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-capture-of-martinique-11-february-1762-171909

The kronoskaf site will not win any artistic design prizes but has some solid hard facts on the Seven Years War in Europe and the colonies.  This all includes a summary of the land forces and ships involved.  The 1759 expedition to Martinique and Guadeloupe for example included 4 Sloops of War of 10, 16, 13 and 10 guns, the sort of size ships that we might simulate on the gaming table.  For further reading original sources are quoted such as this account of Caribbean operations which can be tracked down on-line.  As well as the larger actions there were attacks by French privateers on merchant shipping which would provide material for smaller gaming scenarios.

Pirate figures are not too hard to source but many of their costumes are pure fantasy.  Many sailors would wear civilian clothes and Galloping Major make some useful 18th century sailors.

For modelling ideas ‘bbprivateer‘ depicts a mix of historical examples and doubtful interpretations, thankfully it is easy to tell which is which.  In general male clothing would have changed substantially from 1650 to 1750 although a bareheaded chap wearing shirt and breeches would probably stand duty throughout the period.    For the British military the Royal Marine uniform followed the contemporary infantry pattern, with white facings.

On the weapon front Blood and Plunder does allow for matchlocks and pikes but firelocks are also present so with astudious choices from the force lists suitable ‘armies’ can be built up although these might not be the best lists from a competitive aspect.   It includes lists for North American British and Canadian French.  Some of the options such pikemen and bow armed Indians would no longer be in period but the basis of suitable forces can be worked up.   As an example of the tweaking required; the North American British militia troop type includes ‘Indian Fighters’ and ‘Boslopers’.  ‘Boslopers’ is a Dutch variant of ‘Indian Fighters’ doubtless included to reflect the Firelock Games available figures.  In game terms both are similar and have the same base points cost.  In a French Indian Wars game they would run as Rangers, either a regular unit or local troops.

To try out the system we have a 200 point game.  100 points is the recommended starting level but as these forces are using relatively sophisticated weapons their cost per model is higher than a force relying on bows, pikes and hand weapons to fill it out.  The solitaire rules were not used as the defender’s options were straightforward.  Instead each force was dealt a card and the high acting card played out first using the best available unit.  In a tip of the hat to history and Hollywood we see a British force in the wilderness that has been intercepted by the French and must break through to their own lines.  This is inspired by the film Northwest Passage (1940, in colour but the Indian and Ranger portrayals are of its time) where the Rangers are making their way home after a raid.  The film ending does not make much sense as the sequel (from the same book) about the Rangers moving on to explore the Northwest passage was never filmed.  The historical raid in question was that on St Francis by the Rangers in 1759.  After the raid the Rangers split up into small parties to avoid detection and to forage for supplies; some of these groups were found and ambushed by the French.

Our story starts with a force of Rangers and Provincial troops arriving at an abandoned blockhouse (the lack of roof is deliberate), hoping to find supplies but running into the French instead.  No ship action in this game but the ‘bateau’ on the table illustrates that the water is not far away.  This set up was played through 3 times with the same force and table but differing deployments.  Here follows the 3rd run through.  Figures are North Star, Redoubt and Galloping Major.

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The British need to get into the French deployment area or they will lose a ‘strike point’.   End of turn 2 shows them moving up but taking losses.  Yellow dice are reload markers and white dice stress.  The British Rangers (Indian fighters) move without penalty in cover so they make a strong showing in the woods.  Unfortunately they are countered by the milice who are also pretty good in cover.  The British colonial militia provide fire support although they are not much good at it.

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Turn 5 shows the British at half strength, down 2 strike points to one but it is kinder to call it a day here.  The key decisions being the face off of 2 milice and 2 ranger units (those 3 men are in 2 units).   Musket ranges are quite short (24″ tops and then hitting on 10s).  A key temptation at closer ranges is to keep loaded, allowing a shooting reaction as the enemy charges in.  If within charge range of an unloaded enemy the charger will not take any losses in their close combat.

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Previous games had seen a narrow French win and a British walk over.  The choice of starting positions being the key factor in each case.  Blood and Plunder is a relatively simple infantry game, allowing the naval aspect to work without bogging itself down.  It is however easy to forget to apply the unit or army special rules amongst all the action.

 

Playmobil Pirate Ship Converted to 28mm

There are several suppliers of resin pirate boats and 3D printing files are available.  These resin ships are expensive especially for the more serious naval vessels.  Some models however do come with cannon which could be a considerable extra if bought separately.  £2.64 each for a deck cannon and £1.32 for a swivel from Irregular Miniatures (admittedly probably a heavier weight than needed for our ship sizes).  The Firelock sloop comes with 6 deck cannons and 6 swivels included.

For those without access to a 3D printer the toy brands of Playmobil and Mega Blocks provide possible alternatives.  Blocks pirate ships are becoming rare and commanding high prices.  The various Playmobil solutions are a more affordable solution.  All these toys vary in size from row boats to truly massive affairs. In all cases the historical inspiration is sketchy at best.

Here are some tidy, accurate, period pieces to set the scene of what to aim for.

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A prospect of ye Great Town of Boston in New England in America (1744), from the Boston Public Library (Creative Commons License).  This shows several single masted sloops.  The one at left above the rowing boat and just in front of the brigantine being the best detailed.

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A view of Boston Lighthouse, 1729, William Burgis.  The sloop illustrates its ‘height’ in the water and the crew figures give a good indication of its size.  There are 5 guns clearly visible.

Keeping the maths simple, if we see the top 1m of the figures in the bow the ship is 21 times that distance long (ignoring the bow spit and stern detailing).  A 21m ship at 1/56 is 37.5cm long.  There is no way to work out the width from the image above.  Turning to a real ship, the 38 gun frigate HMS Trincomalee (1817), moored in Hartlepool, she is 46m long 12m wide (the beam).   In scale that is 82cm by 22cm, not room for many of them on a gaming table.

There are several ship details and plans in ‘Historic ship plans by Fredrik Henrik at Chapman, Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, 1768′.  This is available at archive.org but the scans are very poor and the key images unreadable.  The ship dimensions are handily summarised on this model ship site.  Unfortunately the index to plates does not work as the Stockholm ship museum hosting those images has re-organised its own site.  Still if we look for a sloop to closely match up with the Burgis ship there is a Privateer sloop 18m long and 6.25m wide; a 1/56 scaling to 32cm by 11cm.  About 3 times as long as it is wide. This ship carried 10 guns (8 x 3 pounders on deck, 2 x 6 pounders fore and aft) had a crew of 50 and 7 pairs of oars.  This is image No’ 13 below, the 4 big square holes would be the gun ports, the smaller squares for the oars.  Some of the lines to the top of the diagram are part of another ship (a 70′ schooner) on the same original plate.

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Sloop rigging is number 12 in the Mercatoria.  The similar rigging in number 13 is Chalke rigging.

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Brigantine rigging involves more than 1 mast and is no’ 4 of the same plate.

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Moving onto the guns a 3 pounder is not that big, smaller than a grown man (stood on its end) but considerably heavier.  If you have the cash you can still buy one from castcannons.   Their example is about 1.5m long but weighs a hefty 220Kg and another 60Kg for the carriage.

There is a mass of compiled data on ship types, armament, crew and service during the age of sail.  At ‘Three Decks‘ you can search for all of these criteria.   Emulating an historical example is a little ambitious, the aim is to get a result that is not too goofy. Based on what was available on eBay we start with the Playmobil 5950.  A single mast ship which in the language of the time makes it a sloop.  The build is taking place in a time of lockdown so supplies are limited.  A trip to a well stocked craft shop is sorely missed.

Here is the base hull with a 28mm Redoubt model for scale. He is going to have difficulty seeing over the side of the ship so the deck area will need to be built up.

The toy ship is roughly 40cm by 16cm. At 1/56 that would be 22.5 long and 8.5m wide. That is 2.6 times as long as wide, our toy boat is overly tubby.  Other obvious faults being the lack of gun ports and the toy rigging being solid but less than entirely accurate.  The rigging and sails could be re-done from scratch.  The gun ports  require cutting some serious holes in that thick ‘kiddy proof’ outer shell.

Comparing to the Firelock Games ‘Blood and Plunder’ ships their sloop is 27cm by 10cm, the brigantine 30cm by 11cm and the frigate 33cm by 13cm.  Looking at the ‘Blood and Plunder’ stats this particular model would be best used as a brigantine with those rules.  Their sloop being a ‘size 2’ and brigantine a ‘size 3’.  The size affects how many guns can be put on board and how many sections the deck is divided into.  To do a ‘proper’ brigantine will need another mast towards the pointy end.

First step was to build up the deck using foam board. 2 sheets of 5mm A4 board went into this. The slightly over scale cannon now peeks over the side.

The new deck has been built out of lollipop sticks, about 75 of them.  In retrospect this could have gone better.  Trimming the sticks to fit along the curved edges of the ship was not a success.  The effect looks OK from a distance but not so good close up.

After deciding that 2 masts would look better than 1 and taking a layer of foam board filler off the middle deck (the new deck having been built up too high).

Guns came from Firelock Games.  The pack of six 4 pounders also comes with 6 half barrels. Square holes were scraped in the hull and the half-cannons pinned in.  For the open deck mounted guns holes were drilled in the side of the ship and ‘ground out’ to make the holes appear less round.

The deck did not help here as it is less than even and the final gun ports had to be at a level to have the guns poke through rather than dangle out the ports.  The rigging is thick sewing thread and the sails 2mm foam craft sheets.  The arrangement of masts, rigging and sails is loosely based on the Firelock games Brigantine.  The semi-official crew capacity for that in Blood and Plunder is 17 in the pointy end, 20 with 4 cannon in the middle and 19 in the stern.  This sees the models jammed in pretty solidly.  A good sprinkling of boxes, crates and other scatter would fill up the Playmobil deck, reduce the crew space to game compatible levels and make the planking look less of a bodge job.

Here is the ship again with a plastic ship from the Pressman pirate game for scale.