Sunday 5 September 2021

Modern Sail Combat (no, not that boring Age of Sail)

While I've played my fair share of Naval Action on PC and attempted many age of sail miniatures rules, wargaming sail combat seems stuck with ancient galleys, Napoleonics, and those Dutch wars no one cares about*. (*Unless you're over 60 or actually Dutch)

But to be frank, the sailing bit in these wargames is lame. The ancients galleys cheat a bit with oars and aren't proper sailing ships, and the Hornblower stuff isn't exactly riveting with most ships peak performance at  ~10kts and the handling of a gravel barge. Boring!

Compare this with sailing gear we have today.  Ice yachts, catamarans, hydrofoils - most of which can turn on a 10c piece and do ~50kts.  Epic!

Yes, there is the small issue that regrettably few wars have been fought with modern sailing boats, but wargamers have never let that stop them. I mean, the USSR and USA never fought in Fulda Gap, and the most popular wargaming franchise, 40K is 100% completely ridiculous handwavium.  So modern sailboat combat isn't that far fetched. 

In the frozen near future of a global cooling event, pirate ice yachts equipped with remote controlled GPMGs slaved to head tracking helmets, speed through the frozen northern wastes to intercept convoys carrying food and precious minerals. You could imagine one or two man "fighter" yachts spraying tracer and dodging between ice fragments.

In Waterworld-gone-hi-tech, you could imagine American's cup hydrofoils armed with Stinger missiles, rocket pods and .50 cals weaving in and out of skyscrapers drowned cities in high-speed duels*. I could just imagine a boat flipping up onto one hull to allow a missile to whiz underneath. 

(*Yes I know the wind conditions around skyscrapers would be funky)

I mean - a "74"' ship of the line's most exciting sailing mishap is going in irons or grounding. Boring. A hydrofoil can come unstuck more spectacularly.

In the drowned cities of the future, sailboats would have to deal with pretty intense wind conditions.

Although space sailships seem to default to "Napoleonics in Space" aka Treasure Planet aka Spelljammer there is a lot of latitude here. Vector movement meets solar "wind" might be interesting tactically.

A lack of cool sailing miniatures is the issue for me. I could buy a functioning RC yacht for the price of larger model kits, and the small ones are very "kiddy."  I'm actually considering making some hydrofoils from LEGO.

Everyone loves wargaming the age of sail ships of line. But the actual sailing bit isn't exciting.

Anyway, I'd just like to see some wargaming love for something with sails that wasn't a trireme, galleon or a 74. Sail combat has opportunity for interesting tactics - I'm just not interested in the most boring version of sailing. If only I had a 3D printer.... (coughs guiltily).

Modern sail combat rules and minis are something our hobby desparately needs. 

There are dozens of us! Dozens!


  1. Thoughtful post. The drowned cities of the future aspect will haunt me for the rest of the day, however.

    1. Well, according to the global warming apocalyptic prophets, that's about 1m rise in the next 100 years. *shrugs* I'm not panicking.

      The Dutch somehow have been managing below sea level since 1200AD or so....

  2. That futuristic sailing stuff sounds incredibly cool. And yes, if there were nice (*very nice*) 3D printables I might even give it a go.

  3. You really are a sod Mike, you know that right? First it was high speed submersibles and now this? Really isn't fair you know...

    What a fascinating concept. In my mind its DeathRace meets Ben Hur chariot racing meets the Hover Car Racer novel (by Matthew Reilly). I like the idea of the kind of Car Wars handling roll style mechanic for different manoeuvres so that the sailing part is exciting (and not lame) with a great risk/reward mechanism, and increasing penalties (damage) as speed increases.

    And I happen to know a guy with a resin printer too...

    1. Unlike subcav subs, it's something I've always thought about but never had the models for, though ice yachts of Hoth might be easy to convert (add skids & sails to spaceships)

      I'm considering scratchbuilding stuff from balsa etc or even folding it out of cardstock with the kids.

      .....Or *cough* I could just get out my el cheapo 3D printer that's sitting untested in my shed. Kinda waiting for school holidays though as I never have the day(s) set aside to teach myself how to use it.

      FYI my Father's Day

  4. You could even base this on an established universe: (one of the few books I read twice if that's worth anything).

    > If only I had a 3D printer.... (coughs guiltily).

    So ... you do have one but don't use it? :-)

    (I recently started printing a "A billion suns" fleet ... first foray into painting minis for me :-) )

  5. Interesting thought. Great “hook” but the issue might be building the “character” of the various factions/types of boats? Gaslands/X-wing/Aeronautica Imperialis mechanics with picking templates or maneuvers cards seems like a good fit for this. However I know nothing about sailing….. yet.

    1. Faction fluff would be easy. Basically base on "stereotypes" of countries with mountainous regions. <- set at 1000m, and see what comes up.

      China, South Africa, Scandanavia, Andes Federation, West America, European Islands, etc

    2. Re: not knowing much about sailing - there are cheap PC games (Pancake sailor $1.20 atm) and Sail Simulator 5 demo (free) which help you grasp how wind works vs your sail.

      I like Naval Action for actual AoS fighting but its not beginner friendly.

      Do you come from a landlocked area? This seemed weird to me as an Aussie; as 99% of us live on the coast. I also assumed a lot of wargaming/sailor crossover as sailing is very tactical i.e. you don't just point the boat the way you want but need to plan ahead.

      I'm not sure an X Wing template would work as you'd need an awful lot of them to get the naunces of your angle to the wind.

    3. Yeah, landlocked and mostly surrounded by the Corn desert. I have never sailed.

  6. Hey I care about those Dutch wars and am only in my thirties (and dutch) On a more serious note I've had similar ideas, games like gaslands assume a lot of flat ground that is hard to find in real life, but a mostly empty table makes perfect sense for naval combat even after the apocalypse! Chuck it up as one of those things I hope to get round to 3d drawing when I have more time...

    1. "I care about those Dutch wars and am only in my thirties (and dutch)"
      Didn't you just prove my point? :-)

      3D drawings would be cool. I can't find any models even of American's Cup yachts (which you'd assume would be semi-famous) that isn't a $200+ model.

  7. I think making some paper templates and folding them up/assembling like that old Pirates of the Spanish Main game could be good fun!