32 sailors took the voyage to Seven Springs, only four less than last year —not bad for a new port of call. As always, several veterans didn’t ship this year for assorted reasons but hope springs eternal for a return engagement. Seven of this year’s players were new to the tournament and several others were returnees from years long past. Players were pleased to see a new user-friendly ship log design, made possible by the conceptual work of Mark Sciera, adapted by Tim Hitchings.
On opening day, Brian Stuck and Steve Munchak faced off with 38-gun frigates. Their ships collided and fouled, with Brian’s able to rake Steve’s continually. Steve was able to board Brian’s ship with marines and sailors but was unable to prevail despite multiple melee rounds. And so it began …
On Wednesday morning, Steve Shedden and Jeff Miller fought a bloody duel in which both players’ ships struck colors on the same turn. (The GM claims this match as an institutional victory.) Later in the day, the two engaged in a rematch. This time, Jeff prevailed, as Steve’s ship was demoralized. (a failure of morale, not a moral failing)
On Wednesday afternoon, Mike Windle’s and Rose Hitchings’ ships collided and fouled, with Rose’s ship being raked. She boarded Mike’s ship with marines and two crew sections but Mike finished off the hull on Rose’s ship before the melee could turn the tide. Mike gleefully hauled Rose’s crew away in irons as her ship slipped beneath the waves.
Wednesday evening saw a slugfest between Brian Stuck and GM Tim Hitchings. Brian’s crew successfully boarded Tim’s ship, but the dice were with Tim, as he repeatedly survived melee die rolls to prevail with gunnery.
On Thursday, Bob and Colin Laird, father and son, returned to sail the seas after a year on land. Once again, the prodigal son emerged triumphant.
Friday morning matched Lorson Poirier against veteran Mark McCandless. Lorson’s two Russian ships fouled early and could never break free. The Russian attempts to board were unsuccessful, so Mark’s Turks were able to sink Lorson’s frigate.
Saturday’s Fleet Action, the party-match of every year’s tournament, was enjoyed by seven players. This year’s battle was based on a 1788 Russian and Turkish engagement in the Black Sea. The Russians, led by Admiral Derek Whipple, had the weather gage over the more numerous Turks, led by Admiral Jeff Miller. The Turks’ ship speed proved no advantage over the sluggish Russians, as two collisions of colleagues threw the Sultan’s fleet into disarray. The Turks’ awkward sailing enabled the Russians to ably bring their superior gunnery to bear early. A broadside from Derek’s flagship detonated the magazine of a Turkish frigate, scattering parts of ships and sailors flying. However, several turns later, a Turkish ship-of-line wreaked revenge by doing the same to the Russian flagship. The odds against, not one, but two, magazine detonations in a single match are enormous. Several years’ worth of tournaments can pass without even one such result in hundreds of matches. C’est la guerre!
To advance to the semifinals, a player may play as many games as desired, but only the best three count for advancement. Players earn ten points for winning a single ship match, 20 for winning a two-ship game, and 30 for winning a three-ship contest. (Because each player in the Fleet Action commands two ships, the player in each fleet with the best performance earns 20 points.) Players also earn bonus points based on the records of their defeated opponents.
Sadly, desertion marred the playoffs with a premature exit of several contenders for the semifinals. Three had to leave early and one, Mark McCandless, was unable to advance due to his commitment to GM another event. Mark deserves credit for his best showing in Wooden Ships & Iron Men and his call to duty as a GM. Without guys like him, WBC wouldn’t be the quality convention we’ve come to love.
In the semifinals, each player had the choice of sailing two American elite 38-gun frigates, three British crack 38-gun frigates, or four French 40-gun frigates. Three of the four semifinalists chose quality over quantity with the American selection.
In their match, reigning champion Jeff Miller bested Lorson Poirier. Lorson began by maneuvering downwind from Jeff. After some awkward ship handling, he reestablished order in his squadron. However, by that time, Jeff’s skillful use of chainshot had significantly slowed one of Lorson’s ships to a crawl. This allowed both of Jeff’s ships to concentrate fire on the trailer.
A change of wind direction sometimes gives a player in a bad situation an opportunity to turn the tables but, this time, Lorson’s slowed ship was isolated and exposed to multiple rakes. It eventually struck its colors, with little to show for its sacrifice.
The other bracket pitted 2009 champion, Derek Whipple, against the 2008 champion, Evan Hitchings, the only semifinalist to sail a British squadron. Evan named his British ships for characters in the game “Overwatch”, proving that one can enjoy both digital games and boardgames! Here is Derek’s colorful account of the action:
“The encounter began with the sighting of three sails on our bow quarter. The Wolf ordered the Wanderer to beat to quarters, and together they began climbing the wind to capture the weather-gage; in THIS we were rather successful, though little else would go our way on this day…
As we closed, the British attempted a risky maneuver by having the rearmost ship in their line pass the other two in rather tight quarters. There was a tremendous crash as Zarya and Pharah came together in collision; a seeming disaster for the British. The two ships fouled and the day seemed destined to be ours. Wolf and Wanderer now would have Symmetra all to themselves. “Huzzah!”
But, as luck would have it, the collision and subsequent fouling of ships caused no damage to either, and the elasticity of their oak hulls resulted in the two ships being thrown clear of each other faster than you can sing a bar of, ”Yankee Doodle.”
Rigging was quickly reduced on Symmetra to make her more of a drifting hulk than a Ship in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. However, Wolf, too, was caught in the hellacious broadsides of Symmetra and the freed Zarya, knocking her off the Captain’s “Full-Sails” order.
Zarya then grappled Wolf before she could slide across her stern to achieve a devastating rake, while Wanderer and Symmetra battled tenaciously in close quarters. A brief fire aboard Wanderer had the Flag very worried for the fate of BOTH of our ships, but the entire crew snuffed it out in under five minutes.
Zarya’s boarding parties were reduced to nil by grapeshot loaded on top of doubleshot, as the inferno of the battle raged all around her. But no matter how hard our doubleshot hammered Symmetra, with her taking hits from both Wolf and Wanderer, she would not strike her colours.
At this moment, the Flag gave the order for Wanderer to break the British line and end all debate by coming through the wind to rake the bow of Zarya. This may have proved decisive, but her motion was smartly blocked by the alert Captain of Symmetra thus ending our last viable gambit.
Symmetra then grappled Wanderer just before her guns went silent for lack of crew--Symmetra was ours! Could this be the turn of events and hence the victory we had hoped for?
But, no, as the patient Pharah had circumnavigated the “coming together of ships,” she turned briskly through irons and raced upwind to provide a decisive stern rake on Wanderer which served to break the morale of the US Flag.”
The Final match thus pit Jeff Miller vs Evan Hitchings. As in the semis, the Final gave each player a choice of squadrons: four British crack 74-gun SOLs, five average French 74-gun SOLs, or five elite American frigates, three 44s plus two 38s.
Jeff chose the British and Evan the Americans. Evan’s aggressiveness quickly paid off, earning him a return to the top laurels. Battle fatigue prevented a more thorough account of the engagement.
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