Like all of you, I’m doing my best to figure out novel ways of squeaking in some gaming. I’ve done some Zoom RPG gaming with a group of friends on Thursday nights. I’ve played a few one on one board games, a few one on one miniatures games. Aside from the Dave Schueler Summer Series outdoors under a canopy, gaming has been pretty thin. My guess is that for many of you it’s been similar.
As our summer program began to wind down I started to get antsy. With the interest in pre-dreadnought ships I began to get the idea playing David Manley’s Splendid Little War campaign game might be fun if we could substitute Fire When Ready for the tabletop battles. John Gee was willing to be the Spanish player, Dave was happy to referee and I was delighted to play the Americans.
We immediately began setting up our forces and making plans for turn one. It goes without saying that on turn one the Americans attack the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. George Dewey did it and by god if it was good enough for the commodore it was good enough for me.
The challenge was getting everyone together to do the Manila game on the tabletop. Let’s start with the basics. I offered to host at my house, and I live about as far away from everyone as I can. Dave Schueler lives in West Seattle, so a cool hour plus away. John lives in Bellingham, which may as well be in Auckland. David Sullivan agreed to play and he lives in Lynnwood, at least an hour and half from my happy South Hill, WA home.
There really wasn’t another place to play. I recently did a serious cleaning of my garage with my wonderful wife. We shucked a lot of stuff. I’d reorganized, and really hoped that eventually the garage could be a place to play a few games.
But there was this pandemic thing. The campaign started at the end of October, but by the beginning of November infection rates in Pierce County had tripled. We had a date set, but concern over safety led to cancellation. Further negotiations reset the game day for December 12th. We would be masked. The garage door would be open to the elements. I’d put some space heaters in the garage and hope for the best. In the week leading up to the game I set up the tables, laid out the sea mat, the shoreline and Cavite peninsula.
John came down on Friday night and stayed at our local Holiday Inn Express. I picked him and traveled back to Chez Smyth for dinner. It was an enjoyable evening as we chatted about a million different things. Lorri and the Aussies hung out with us and I took him back to the hotel.
I got up early the next morning to be sure things were okay. The difficulty started there. At 8:30 I went out to my car to run out to Fred Meyers to pick up ice for the ice chest. 29 degrees. No clouds. Ice everywhere. I picked up ice, but also grabbed some Via instant coffee and as soon as I got back plugged in an instant pot of water. I knew John drank tea, so I found a bit of that.
John called at 9:30 as he pulled into the driveway. We set up the rest of the table. Geez it was cold. That was with space heaters plugged in and garage door closed.
David Sullivan pulled into the driveway twenty minutes later and we opened the garage door. Dave Schueler drove in just before ten. The crew was present.
David joined John as a Spanish commander. Admiral Gee already decided he was not going fight quite as humanely as Admiral Montojo. Montojo moored his ships close to the shore so if they were sunk his sailors could easily swim to shore. No fire from supporting gun batteries for fear the Americans would respond by bombarding the city. Instead John’s plan was to take full advantage of the supporting gun batteries. His ships would move as quickly as possible (but quite slowly,) and come out to meet the Yanquis hoping for some good shooting from the shore defenses. John ran the bulk of the unprotected Spanish cruisers, while David controlled most of the batteries and a few little Spanish gunboats.
Dave and I had the Americans which divided into a fast division and a slow division. I took the faster ships which included the cruisers Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh and the gunboat Concord. Dave followed with the remaining slower vessels the cruiser Boston, gunboat Petrel and Coast Guard cutter McCullough.
With everything in place the game began, each of us masked while trying not to fog our glasses in the cold air.
First turn began much as many of the succeeding turns. The Americans rolled initiative requiring the Spanish to move first, and the Americans firing first. Olympia hit Castilla with her eight inch mains and five inch secondaries, forcing her to check morale and withdraw from the action. The second turn the Reina Cristina was set afire and would sink soon after. The Spaniards fired back mostly in vain.
However the shore batteries had more success. On turn three, Olympia was struck on the bridge, temporarily disabling Dewey. Later Raleigh suffered a steering critical that forced her to drop out of line and veer crazily through the formation.
American fire was devastating when it hit. It was the hitting part that was challenging. Fire was focused on the Spanish ships unless the batteries were the only available target. It was tough to damage, and the loss of Montojo’s squadron would leave the city pretty undefended. As the American ships counter-marched back toward the Spanish squadron, one by one the little colonial cruisers Isla de Luzon and Isla de Ulloa were hit and sunk. The gunboats suffered a similar fate. Only Castilla escaped destruction.
Though the Spanish squadron was destroyed, they claimed a bit of payback when two critical hits to Concord turned into a raging fire and broken steam line. Her crew was taken off and the ship was abandoned. The American fleet withdrew from thetable to regroup.
The game ended at 1:00. By then I was really cold. My fingers were tingling and my feet were freezing. The temperature never reached above 40 degrees for the day. Usually after a game we hang out and yak. David left soon after the game ended. John brought all the ships–his delightful collection of Houston’s Ships in their delightfully overlarge 1/1000 scale. We helped him pack and he was off on his long drive home. Dave did hang out and we chatted over a Bodhizafa as we always do and that was great.
It was a fun game. The company was the best. The weather just sucked. If it had been April, 50 degrees and rainy, it would have been fine. In fact it was 50 and rainy later in the week. The garage showed itself to be a usable venue. But honestly, despite all the precautions we took, I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to try again until the weather improves, and the level of infection improves too. It may be my last game for a while.
Most of the photos were taken by David Sullivan.