April 20, 2024

#TBT ~ Beat To Quarters: Ephemera and Obscura, Part the First

Byron S, 28 March 2024

My interest in the Age of Sail started by sheer accident when I found a copy of Oliver Warner’s Great Sea Battles (MacMillan Company, NY. 1968) on the restocking trolley at the Chinook Public Library in Calgary, circa 1978.  Not long after, I bought Avalon Hill’s venerable Wooden Ships and Iron Men.  Unfortunately, this was about the same time my gaming buddies Discovered Girls, so my copy went mostly un-played and un-punched, save for a few solo games.  Undaunted, I continued to buy other age of sail games, including Beat to Quarters by Command Perspectives.



Beat to Quarters is a set of miniatures rules covering naval warfare from 1775 to 1815.  The scale is 1:1200 where each turn is 4 ½ minutes long.  One ship per player seems most reasonable, though an experienced player could probably handle two or three.


Equipment supplied:

Included within the shrink-wrapped soft-cover 28 page rule book was:  a player aid game chart; some 30 wonderful cardboard ship counters; a compass rose; a “points of sail” wind wheel; two templates for determining firing arcs; and two types of ships logs, one for single ship actions, and one for fleet engagements.  Not ever having seen or played a miniatures game – or even 1/1200 scale ships – I was very happy that almost everything I needed to play was included in my purchase.

TBT b2q Overview v2


click images to enlarge


Equipment needed:

Not included was a pair a percentile dice, a six sided dice, a metric ruler or tape measure and – in the absence of ship models – a good reference for era-specific ships with mast and sail plans.  As we will soon see, a calculator would be helpful.


Ships and Scenarios:

The Order of Battle is simply remarkable.  All the major world powers are represented including Great Britain, France, Holland, Sweden, Turkey, and Russia, as well as many minor powers, such as Venice, Barbary States, Naples, Tunis, the Bombay Company, and Joasami and Sangarian pirates.  Ships lists are included for the American Revolution and War of 1812 Great Lakes.  Statistics showing rate or type, crew, and weight and number of guns is included for a dizzying array of ships.  Brigs, schooners, and 1st to 3rd rates?  Of course.  Shallow draft Russian vessels built for the Baltic?  Yep.  Galivants, dhows, batils, snows, trabacolos, xebecs and razees?  Also check.

Approximately 15 historical scenarios are included, representing single ship duels or battles between small squadrons of three to four ships per side.  Rules are also included for creating your own scenarios.

TBT b2q Player Aid Chart v2


Rules and Gameplay:

The rules are well written and organized with few typos or errors.  They are further enhanced by a detailed table of contents and reference numbering system.  The general flow of the rules intuits the gameplay:  setting up a game; ship movement; gunnery and boarding; damage and surrender, and miscellaneous rules.  

Setting up a game requires completing Single Ship Action Battle logs.  This includes the Hull Value Number (a ships tonnage, doubled), gun destruction number, speed under battle sail; broadsides by gun weight, surrender points, and a sail and mast diagram.  A ship model – or an arcane knowledge of historical sailing ships, or the afore mentioned reference book – was sometimes necessary for this last step.   

TBT b2q Single Action Ship Log v2

Movement is determined by the sailing speed chart, which shows different movement allowances in millimeters based on ship rate, wind strength, and the ships position in relation to the wind.  The handy “Wind Wheel” was used to determine the precise point of sail.  Each ship class also has an allotted number of turning points.  Movement is completed either all at once, or, upon request by either player, in five phases where gunnery can occur in any phase.  Sail damage results in a percentile decrease in overall speed.  Additional rules exist for movement under oars, towing, shallow water operations, and kedging (dropping an anchor via ships boats, and having men at the capstan haul the anchors in).

TBT b2q Wind Wheel v2

Gunnery is calculated using two equations – one to determine the number of hits, the second to determine the resulting damage – and is completed for each caliber of gun on a ship.   Considering that first- and second-rate ships may have four or five different gun calibers, this step can take some time.  Damage causes individual gun, crew, sail and mast section losses, as well as a reduction of overall “surrender” points.  Additional rules are provided for the usual age of sail combat factors, such initial broadside, shot type, special damage, and raking, but also for howitzers and mortars from naval or land batteries.  Victory is determined by calculating hull and sail damage as a percentage of the Hull Value Number, and crossing off a surrender point for every five percent. A calculator was most helpful during this phase of gameplay.


Overall impressions:

For me, Beat to Quarters was a step into a wonderful new world.  While a more experienced, mature, and sane gamer may have simply closed the rule book upon reading this gem on Page 3: “The Crew is on a one-to-one scale”, I was delighted by the journey into minutia and detail.  I understood I would probably never find an opponent who would share this interest, but it hardly mattered.  There was enough material to provide hours of age of sail goodness.  And even though I didn’t know who were – or where to find – the Joasami pirates, I knew they would soon experience a broadside of 24 pounders.


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