"Pulau Salor had seen the end of the contract between the Black Company and the Chinese Federation, and in the months since, the mercenaries had been busy. Hunting from hidden bases throughout the archipelagos and unexplored volcanic islands, their Submarines and skimming warships had targeted Chinese shipping to the point where the Federation could no longer safely support their recent conquests. Their supply lanes were under threat, and the losses were allowing the Grand Coalition the breathing space it needed to regroup and begin a meangingful counter-attack.
The situation was reaching critical mass when Chinese intelligence finally pinpointed one of their larger enclaves, a mercenary port used by the Black Company as well as several other smaller pirate organisations and individual privateers. New, immense flying vessels bearing the colours and heraldry of the Black Wolf had been seen flying toward a small island chain - these new technologies and reinforcements had made the mercenaries arrogant, and now they would suffer for it.
Battlegroup Hsien was despatched immediately, tasked with wiping these nefarious rogues from the sea and sky. Assembling a fleet equipped to carry several entire regiments of conscript-soldiers, Battlegroup Hsien would invade the port as they would an enemy country - swarming over their defences in numbers so great even the feared guns of the Black Company would prove useless..."
- The Cauldron: War in the South China Sea
Battles of 1873
We decided against anything special scenario-wise to try and show off the mercenaries, but the board was played lengthways rather than across, to help with the quality of the photos and to try and use more of the board. Neither of the fleets are particularly long-ranged so I judged this would not unbalance the game. The scenery was set with a scattering of islands, featuring a small pirate base made of platforms and stolen goods at one end - the Black Company hideout.
Drawing Secret Objectives, Mike was given the Commodore's Discretion and decided upon Free To Engage, a good choice given the wide variety of classes and sizes in my fleet. In turn, the Black Wolf Mercenaries would be head-hunting - they had drawn Go For Their Leader! and would have to destroy or capture the enemy Commodore and also score at least 50% of the fleet's value (750pts in this case).
|The stage is set once more...|
|Mercenaries of the Black Wolf|
The Wokou, Reavers of the Jade Rebellion led by "Dragon Eyes"
The Chinese Federation
Two Jian Mk.1-class Battleships with additional crew and Redoubtable
Three Dao-class Cruisers
Three Dao-class Cruisers
Three Chui-class Support Carriers each accompanied by four Dive Bombers
Two Squadrons of four Yue-class Destroyers
Two Dun-class Floating Bastions
Two Wings of five Fighter Planes
|Emerging from their pirate base, the Black Company have spread through the islands and docks|
|One flank is dominated by the Retribution-class Sky Fortress and the Submarine below, escorted by two squadrons of smaller vessels. A Battle Cruiser and Support Skimmer are close by to assist with their Combat Co-ordinator and Guardian Generator|
|The northern side of the island chain is a close mirror, but with the Chimera-class Airship squadron instead of the Sky Fortress and small Airships|
|Ready to sweep in from the north, this element of the fleet will rely on speed to be the hammer to the anvil of the rest of the fleet|
|The Chinese fleet, by contrast, operates as a monolithic block, with the two Battleships dominating the centre|
|This strong formation of Cruisers and Support Carriers will be difficult for the Black Company to stop|
|The Chinese fleet advances around the floating village|
|The Black Company is similarly aggressive, moving close to maximum speed toward their foe|
|Initial movements are as to be expected - engage!|
|The Yue-class Destroyers draw first blood, flooding the decks of the Fury-class Frigates with fire|
|The Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser makes a bold move, swinging about to present both turrets to the Chinese Battleship|
|The turrets are unexpectedly ineffective against the Chinese flagship, but the broadside damages one of the Dao-class Cruisers|
|The Dun-class Bastions send rockets into the Wraith-class Airships, damaging one|
|The Chimera-class Airships descend from the clouds to cause damage to the Chinese flagship and smash the weapon systems, though their Fore Guns are less effective against the second Battleship|
|The Chinese Cruiser squadron moves into range, causing massive damage to the mercenary Battle Cruiser and also hitting an Airship with their broadsides|
|The Jian-class Battleship enters the fray, but the flaring shields of the Guardian Generator protect the Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser|
|The response from the Wraith-class Airships is less than impressive|
|The Manticore-class Support Skimmer is more enthusiastic, smashing the flagship badly with Main Turret and Fore Guns|
|The second squadron of Yue-class Destroyers attacks, failing to penetrate the shields of the Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser but crippling one of the Airships with good shooting from the broadsides|
|Fires rage through the damaged vessel, and the second Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser moves to support|
|The second Jian-class Battleship opens fire, causing massive damage to the crippled Battle Cruiser but failing to set the Airships alight|
|The battle unfolds as the Chinese pile on the pressure|
|Dao-class Cruisers attack the Airships and the beleaguered Battle Cruiser, causing minor damage|
|Rockets from the Retribution-class Sky Fortress fail to cause an impact|
|The Chui-class Support Carriers add their fire to the attacks upon the Airships|
|The mighty Death Bringer-class Submarine emerges from the deep, Fore Guns causing damage to an enemy Battleship|
|Reaper-class Attack Submarines swarm to attack the enemy Destroyers, but can only cause minor damage|
|Overwhelmed by the fires suffered only moments earlier, the damaged Fury-class Corvettes sink beneath the waves|
|The attack begins in earnest, and the Black Company struggle to match their foe|
|The mercenaries have split their fleet, allowing the Chinese Federation to divide their foe and deal with them at their leisure|
|The Retribution-class Sky Fortress fails to live up to its name, splitting fire in an attempt to deal with multiple targets but failing to damage any of them. This crucial failure will allow the Chinese fleet a final blow from their ruined flagship|
|The crippled Chinese flagship takes the opportunity to attack before it is destroyed, ploughing forward to unleash the Dragon's Breath Flamethrowers upon the exposed Death Bringer-class Submarine|
|Conscript-soldiers pour onto the Sky Fortress, sweeping the defenders aside but dying to a man in the process|
|The Death Bringer-class Submarine fires upon the second Jian-class Battleship to little effect, but a small raiding party attacks the Chinese flagship and smashes the bridge, rendering it Derelict|
|Desperate to halt the advance of the deadly Destroyers, the Battle Cruisers plunges forward before them, opening fire to destroy one of the vessels|
|The Wraith-class Airships present their broadside and cause damage to the Yue-class Destroyer squadron|
|Chinese Dive Bombers fail to finish the Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser|
|Yue-class Destroyers take advantage of the Manticore-class Support Skimmers shredded defences and take it as their Prize|
|The Dao-class Cruisers, shaken by the loss of their Commodore, are attacked by the Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser. The lead vessel is attacked and overwhelmed by mercenary raiders, leaving it a burning hulk|
|The Chinese do not suffer fools gladly, and swiftly return the favour by swarming the Battle Cruiser and taking it as their Prize|
Fire from the Battleship against the Chimera-class Airships sets one alight
|The Dun-class Bastions drift forward, opening fire upon the Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser as their conscript-soldiers smash the defences of the lead Chimera-class Airship and render it Derelict|
|The Manticore-class Support Skimmer crests the island, destroying one of the Yue-class Destroyers in the process|
|The Dao-class Cruisers are disorganised and badly damaged, but still manage to attack the Fury-class Corvettes and cause minor damage to one of them|
|The Death Bringer-class Submarine surfaces, and cripples one of the Dao-class Cruisers with a flurry of torpedoes|
|Dive Bombers descend upon the second Chimera-class Airship, dragging it down|
|Chui-class Support Carriers succeed in bringing down the third Chimera-class Airship|
|Broadsides from the Support Carriers also smash two Wraith-class Airships asunder|
|Reaper-class Attack Submarines surround the Yue-class Destroyers, finishing one and Breaking the squadron|
|The second Yue-class Destroyer squadron collide with the crippled Nemesis-class Battle Cruiser, suffering minor damage|
|Their Flamethrowers and boarding parties succeed in scuttling the Fury-class Frigate and breaking apart the Battle Cruiser|
|The second squadron of Reaper-class Attack Submarines make their presence felt|
|The two fleets have smashed each other to pieces, but the Black Company have one last trick up their sleeve|
|The Fury-class Frigates slink through the drifting hulks and crippled Cruisers to attack the Jian-class Battleship. Their boarding parties scour the ship of defenders and take it as their Prize|
|Fires rage out of control through the Derelict Chimera-class Cruiser and finally consume it|
|The Broken crew of the Yue-class Destroyer abandon the vessel|
|The remnants of the two fleets circle one another warily, wreathed in smoke and surrounded by the drifting hulks of ruined and Prized vessels alike|
The game ended there, with the Chinese Federation battered but holding the advantage. Mike had scored 1,378 Victory Points and achieved his Secret Objective.The Black Wolf Mercenaries had managed to score 888 Victory Points and achieve their Secret Objective, but with such a large difference in Victory Points it was deemed a Victory for the Chinese Federation! Well done to Mike!
CONCLUSIONS AND LEARNING POINTS
A fine mess for the Black Wolf Mercenaries, who managed to acquit themselves well but were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the Chinese Federation and their tough, well-armed warships. Several crucial boarding actions saw them lose some valuable ships, worth even more when Prized, and the Chinese proved that quantity has a quality of all its own as their ships surrounded and dragged down the elite mercenaries.
I do not feel the Black Company were outmatched per se, and am not too disheartened with their performance. With some better rolls on a couple of crucial attacks (especially considering their Devaastating Ordnance) or some different choices when deciding order of activation and targeting choices.
Overall I feel it was several crucial errors on my part - splitting fire when I should have Linked, etc. that cost me the game. Mike did well to capitalise upon those errors, and his powerful fleet was brutal and efficient, able to lose many important vessels without losing its teeth.
In terms of squadron breakdown, the Aerial Battle Group brought numbers to the Black Company that they sorely need in these larger games - a 1,500pt fleet of just Submarines, Battle Cruisers and Support Skimmers would not have fared well in this situation. The Medium Airships could have been used more aggressively, especially given their Reckless crew, but are a good addition to the fleet. The Wraith-class Airships are a fine squadron, though their linked firepower is not as ridiculous as first imagined. The Sky Fortress will need more playtesting, as I used it badly and lost it too early.
That said, the naval assets did not get a good chance to shine in this game - they only managed one or two volleys with their powerful Main Turrets or Fore Guns before they were destroyed or Captured. I need to change their tactics somewhat in the future - some of the ships were badly out of position and could not correct in time, leaving the others to take all the beating and fall apart quickly. Nonetheless, the Guardian Generator and Ablative Armour kept the fleet alive far longer than they deserved.
The Submarines were monstrous as usual, and I would have liked to see them do more. Some poor rolls meant their impact was not as good as it should have been, which is difficult when they only have two weapon systems.
The Chinese Federation were far less subtle, given their fleet composition. It was difficult to play against so many conscript-packed ships knowing that if I lost too many troops in a boarding action, he would have several fresh ships ready to commit.
The Dun-class Bastions were probably the weakest element, and may well be swapped for some flyers in the future - Zhulong-class Interceptors or Chi Long-class Assault Flyers. Losing one of the Support Carriers will contribute points to this.
The two squadrons of Cruisers was brutal - with so many AP and good ordnance, they are the workhorse of the fleet. Two Battleships is similarly strong - one will naturally take a beating before it can attack properly, but that leaves the second undamaged. Mike says in the future he will try running both with Rocket Batteries instead of additional AP.
Mike says he most certainly did not miss the Guan Dao-class Battle Cruisers, inefficient vessels he compares poorly to the Battleships and Cruisers.
So there we are. another victory for the Chinese Federation and crucially a good win for Mike! The South China Sea is being scoured of invaders - but how long will their rampage continue?
"...what few mercenaries of the Black Company survived the attack fled the South China Sea, their Submarines evading the sluggish Chinese vessels and bypassing the patrols of the Grand Coalition to the west. Business in this hellish cauldron had not proven as profitable as they had hoped..."
Thanks for reading,