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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Improbable Events Do Occur

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Board game simulations have rules that try to cover a reality. But sometimes things can become surreal. One of the games I played quite a bit early in the 1980s was "Ironclads" and its expansion.

In one particular game my Ironclad was chugging up a river (American Civil War, so it was simulating some river somewhere in the United States) when (embarrassingly) I hit a sandbar and went aground. (Fortunately not "Hard Aground" and I did not open any or my ship's seams.)

So there I was, a sitting duck.

"Ironclads" (at least we understood its rules) had a bad way of handling ship to ship ramming. Basically if there was going to be a ramming, you wanted to be the "rammee" and not the "rammer." The problem with the rules is that the "rammee" (if not destroyed outright by the ramming attack) simply took whatever damage was inflicted AND CONTINUED TO MOVE (perhaps at a reduced speed). The "rammer" on the other hand would be stopped dead in the water. Which meant that everyone on both sides knew where the rammer would be at the start of the next turn. It also meant generally that the "rammer" would have had his "T" crossed, and taken a full broadside at pointblank range from the "rammee."

So I was a sitting duck, and so what if someone tried to ram me, right?

The problem was that I was on a sandbar in a river. Rivers are not as bad as the open ocean for small boats.

Say small torpedo boats. The Confederates had three of them!

Okay, they cannot launch the torpedoes (they are "spar torpedoes"), but they know right where I am to come running up and stick those things under my hull and . . . well it would not be good.

The surreal part came in when the torpedo boats tried to destroy my ship (one spar torpedo would have done it). Two of the torpedo boats tried (I do not remember why I was not engaged by the third one). In both cases my guns scored hits, and in both cases the hit was a critical hit, and, again, in both cases the critical hit was a boiler hit, blowing the tiny skiffs to heck and gone before they could reach my ship. Needless to say a very unusual series of dice rolls (something like rolling "snake eyes" four times in a row if I recall correctly, it has been more than 30 years since this happened).

Having fended off the torpedo boats (I still do not know what happened to the third one, just that it did not try to attack my ship), I rolled dice to successfully extricate my ship from the sandbar to continue down the river. I think the game ended at that point (not played to a conclusion, but apparently once their torpedo boats were wrecked and I was "past the bar" the Confederate players (it was a multi-player game) conceded.

But as surreal as that was at the time, I  have to admit that I have read of moments in history that it comes close to matching. A machine gun has a platoon pinned down, and several men are killed trying to get up and rush the gun. Then, suddenly,  one man jumps up, rushes directly at the gun and destroys it, somehow not being  hit by a single bullet. Improbable things do happen in games, but also in reality.