Gaming at the Columbia River Maritime Museum


I love Astoria.  It is one of my very favorite towns. Astoria is a great mix of new and old with its Victorian houses and riverside condos.  It has a wonderful selection of excellent brew pubs, blocks of small and off-beat shops and antique malls. I’ve made Astoria a regular stopping point for the last twenty years or so and my wife and I love to visit.

A few years ago Astoria gamers Lloyd and Dave suggested a game gig in Astoria.  Lloyd, a retired Astoria teacher and a docent at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, suggested we might hold an event at the museum.  This summer he offered up a date.  As soon as I hear about it I suggested to Lorri we attend, go down early and spend an extra day in town. We immediately booked our stay at the Crosby House, an Astoria B and B and made plans for boarding the Aussies. The game was scheduled for Labor Day Sunday, so we made plans to drive down on Friday spend some time together in Astoria on Saturday, game Sunday, and have leisurely drive back on Monday.

I’ve already written extensively about our big Astoria shopping outing, and you can read that here if you are so inclined. But the real attraction was the game day.  I arrived at the museum at about 9:45, a short drive from Crosby House. Lorri dropped me off with my goodies and I met Lloyd and the guys waiting for the museum to welcome us. We were shortly ushered into our game space.  Scott Potter set up an all-day Wings of War furball on one table.  The second table was taken up by the rest of us.  In the morning Dave, Lloyd and Dan set up the Battle of Memphis, an American Civil War naval battle, using the Sail and Steam Navy rules.  Ah, a set of rule I know and a battle I’ve always been interested in but afraid to try.

Confederate ram fleet in the foreground, looking down the river as the Union forces prepare their advance.

Confederate ram fleet in the foreground, looking down the river as the Union forces prepare their advance.  ACW naval newbie Clyde Carpenter prepares for the big show.

Memphis starts out simply enough.  The Mississippi Defense Fleet (Confederates) have their rams fighting upriver to defend Memphis from a combined arms fleet of Union armored gunboats and rams coming down river.  It’s a tough spot for the Johnnies because, to be effective, they have to ram the Yankees and they are badly outgunned. The rules call for two movement phases, giving a distinct advantage to rams, but the GM’s decided on a house rule allowing only one movement phase. I opted to be a Confederate, knowing it might be difficult.

The game started with a plan to use four vessels to engage the Union rams, leading the parade on to the board, while the remaining Confederates took on the slower ironclads. You know what they say about plans and first contact with the enemy.

Union ram slips past the Switzerland stuck on a shoal.  It would later be rammed and sunk.

Union ram slips past the Switzerland stuck on a shoal. It would later be rammed and sunk.

The Union players obliged us by running a ram onto a shoal where it remained stuck for most of the game.  Dave Schueler, running the rams to my right slid past the advancing Union rams and near the rear of the Union formation.  My  rams remained in the middle of the board, firing their two small guns as they advanced on the Union ships, taking fire as they went, suffering significant but not critical damage. On the right the remaining Confederates advanced slowly, trying to line themselves up as the Union vessels maneuvered around the shoal and turned upriver.

Let’s just say the rebels were a bit more lucky in their fire than the Union forces. A hit on the Benton critically damaged their boilers, knocking out all power and setting it up for a ram. The Union ram Switzerland, stuck on a shoal was in turn rammed by Daveshoe’s ships and his second ship was lining up a target.  Though some of the Confederate ships, such as my General Price, were badly shot up by the heavy and unrelenting Union fire, they were damaging superstructure, not infrastructure.

We played the game for more than three hours, and I really enjoyed it.  By the end, we agreed the Union would have difficulty meeting their objectives.  One Union vessel was sinking, and others were in serious danger of being rammed. It was good.

The latter couple hours were spent with Thunderboats!  I promised to bring it because it was fun and easy to learn.  We played from a standing start, so the boats were pretty clustered at the beginning of the game.  But Dave Schueler quickly took control, with a series of great die rolls and passed engine pushes. After the end of the first lap he was so far in front it was no longer necessary to take many chances beyond pushing the engine.  By the end of the game he had a half lap lead on the field.  I believe I finished second in my JagWire boat.  I had super luck pushing corners, avoiding collisions, and splashing through roostertails.  But I could never roll higher than an 11 or 12 on my every turn engine pushes, and never made up any ground on the leader.  Still, it is strictly for fun, and I think there was that in abundance.  Nobody was eliminated in the game despite a rash of hard bounces and water in the intake manifolds.  There was even liberal use of the nitrus bottle, but few fires.

Dave Schueler's Miss Bardahl takes the inside position.  He would eventually fly into the lead and never look back.

Dave Schueler’s Miss Bardahl takes the inside position. He would eventually fly into the lead and never look back.

It was definitely a fun day.  Going forward I would happily do it again, though I’m not sure that Labor Day Sunday is best for me. The weekend is usually the last minute teacher prep days, and to say I really needed those this year was an understatement.

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