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The Orkney Wargames Club meets

in Kirkwall on Thursday evenings.


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Sybille versus Forte, 1799

The Age of Fighting Sail, Post Captain, 1/1200 scale

This game began simply enough. Bart and I agreed to fight a single-ship action using Post Captain, each of us bringing along a frigate. I chose a historical action – the duel between HMS Sybille (38 guns) and the French La Forte (50 guns). It was fought in February 1799 in the Bay of Bengal, just off the north-east coast of India. The Forte was preying on British shipping in the area, and the Sybille was sent to hunt her down. The more powerful French ship was caught with her pants down, having just captured a couple of prizes, and so a good portion of her crew weren’t on board their ship when the British appeared. Also, to bolster her crew the Sybille had a detachment of soldiers on board, so this helped even the odds in the battle. I say strange, because due to a quirk of the evening several other wargamers were gameless, and wanted to take part. Bill was duly given command of the Sybille, while Tim assisted Bart in commanding the Forte. Effectively, he was the sailing master while Bart fired the guns! Bill had an assistant too – a visiting American holidaymaker called John, but he deserted soon after, claiming jetlag. In these pictures the Sybille (using a model labelled Guerriere) has the ochre strip down the side, and La Forte has the red one.When the duel began the two ships were 1,000 yards apart (30″), with the British having the weather gauge. Having been caught unawares the Forte’s captain hadn’t beat to quarters. So, while his ship prepared for action Bart headed away from the coast. Bill gave chase, and for the next three turns the ships sped  eastwards. Then, once his gun crews were ready, Bart turned to fight. Bill was happy to take up the challenge. The two ships closed cautiously, the Sybille keeping the weather gauge as she ran towards the south-east and the approaching Forte. When the two sides closed to within 500 yards Bill opened fire, firing low and aiming at the Forte’s hull. This first larboard broadside caused a fair bit of damage, but the Forte kept closing the range. it was clear Bart and Tim had now intention of playing “long bowls” with the British, but wanted to get in close, where their heavier guns could do a lot of damage. Then, Tim began wearing his ship round – he was too canny to tack when under fire – and he landed up on a starboard tack, heading towards the north-west, while the Sybille was heading south. As she turned she opened fire, and her first starboard broadside was devastating, causing a fire to break out, and cutting up the British ship’s rigging. That gradual turn towards the north-west meant that in three phases (or one game turn) La Forte had the weather gauge. Not that this mattered so much now – the two frigates were now within a few hundred yards of each other –  this was clearly going to be a fight to the death. The Sybille fired her larboard broadside again, then spun round and fired her starboard one. Despite Bill firing on the down-roll most of the shots seemed to hit the rigging, and the French ship’s foremast went by the board. The British cheers were cut short a few seconds later when their own mizzen mast was chopped down. So, both ships were now barely able to manoeuvre, and they certainly weren’t able to escape. This brutal pounding continued – the British 18-pound shot smashing into the Frenchman’s hull, and their 24-pounder rounds doing the same – albeit less frequently – into the British ship’s rigging. The smoke on both sides in the picture above shows that La Forte had fired one broadside, then turned and fired her other. That was her last chance to do any fancy manoeuvering though. On the next phase a British roundshot struck the base of her mizzen mast, and it went over the side, reducing La Forte to just one mast – her main. That same broadside also killed her skipper – Bart’s alter ego Captain Hubert de Beaulieu. that officially left Tim in charge. Bill wasn’t exactly excaping lightly either. His rigging was a mess, and only amazing luck in his die rolling prevented another mast going by the board. Worse though, the fire wasn’t getting put out – in fact it was spreading. In Post Captain, a player has four turns to extinguish the fire in the rigging and Repair Phase. Bill needed a 1-3 on a D12, and every time he rolled high. So, with three turns of this and three firefighting failures, the fate of his ship lay in his next roll. Another failure meant the fire would rage out of control, and he would have to abandon ship. Fortunately for him, at the start of Turn 9 French had to make a Command Test. They normally needed an “8”, but the loss of two masts made this a “10” or more”.  Tim rolled a “3”. So, La Forte struck her colours and surrendered. This couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment for Bill. We made him roll his firefighting roll, and he failed for the fourth time. So, the British crew duly clambered on board the battered La Forte, and cut their own blazing frigate adrift, which blew up a turn later. It was  a spectacular end to a well-matched little game. Once again, Post Captain delivered a good game. For me, the rules are a little too complicated to use for a large-scale action, but for these single ship duels or for small squadron fights they work like a treat. The aquatint below by the way, is the aftermath of the historic action – the dismasting and capture of La Forte by the Sybille. Our version was much more spectacular! 





7 Responses “Sybille versus Forte, 1799”

  1. Andrew Brentnall
    23rd June 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Another splendid report on a great looking game. I have always yearned for these 1:1200 Langton(?) models, but never relied on my painting and rigging skills sufficiently to actually buy any. The closest I have ever got is to get the Sails of Glory game, which languishes on the top shelf having only played one game. Very impressive game mat, is it home made?

  2. 23rd June 2017 at 11:24 pm

    It was pure luck that Bart struck – he had out sailed me – but most of his hits were on my rigging and mine were on his hull so he had to test!

  3. James Roach
    27th June 2017 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for that. Since reading The Frigates by James Henderson this has been one of my favourite types of action. Sybille Vs La Forte is a belter. I’ll have to take a look at Post Captain rules.

    • 28th June 2017 at 7:18 pm


      The Frigates is a cracking book. While you’re at it, you should find a copy of my own Renaissance version – Sovereigns of the Sea

      Post Captain are from the States – the same stable as General Quarters 3 for WW2 and Fleet Action Imminent (their WW1 version). What I like about all three sets is that the complexity is all soaked up by the ship cards and the playsheets. That leaves the players free to enjoy the action. I wouldn’t use them for fleet actions (we use Kiss Me Hardy!” from the Too Fat Lardies for that, but for squadron level or single ship actions, or for cutting out games, they’re hard to beat. Dave Ryan sells them in the UK.

      • Rob
        2nd August 2020 at 12:16 am

        Do you have a link for Dave Ryan by chance? I’m looking for a rule set for duels and small fleet actions. I’ve seen Post Captain as one of the rule sets recommended for this.

        Out of curiosity would you say that the ships from Black Seas (1/700 scale) would be too large for Post Captain without modification/adaptation of the rules to the scale.

        • 2nd August 2020 at 7:39 am

          Rob, just Google Caliver Books. That’s his company.
          I’m sure Black Sails will work fine for it, although you might have to tweak the scale a little.

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