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Action Under Sail 1756-1815

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TITLE:  Action Under sail, 1756-1815 Revised Edition

AUTHOR: S. Birnie

PUBLISHER: Tabletop Games



PRICE: Out of Print

REVIEWED BY: Mark “Extra Crispy” Severin

PERIOD COVERED: The Age of Sail from 1756-1815

THE BOOK: Action Under Sail is a small staple bound booklet of 36 pages with a stock cover and black and white interior. It has typical production values for its time looking more mimeographed than printed.

SCOPE: Action Under Sail (AUS) is designed for fleet and squadron actions, but can be used for ship to ship duels quite easily.

ARMY SIZE: Any size from single ship to full fleet actions.

BASE UNIT: One model = one ship.

GAME SCALES: There are no scales provided.

  • Ground Scale: Not stated (ranges are noted as being deliberately distorted)
  • Time scale 1 turn = 20-30 minutes
  • Figure/Base Ratio 1 infantry base = 100 men or 1 figure = 1 ship or 1 base=250 men)
  • Recommended Figure Size: 25mm but conversion for 15mm and other scales is covered.
  • Table Size: 96” x 60” is recommended for 25mm figures; 64” x 40” is recommended for 15mm figures.
  • Game Length: Most games should be playable in one evening

BASING SIZES: Not applicable.


  1. Assess wind direction and weather.
  2. Lay out ships per scenario.
  3. Write fleet orders.
  4. Move Sequence:
    • Rewrite Fleet Orders as required
    • Write ship orders
    • Fire ranging shots
    • Move ships according to their orders
    • Assess when each ship fires
    • Gunnery
    • Test for Fire/Explosions
    • Small arms fire and boarding
    • Resolve any morale tests


The Orders System: Each fleet is required to have written orders. These must include the formation to be maintained by the fleet. Ship Orders are written orders for each ship for the upcoming turn. These must specify movement (sali set, speed, direction), Gunnery, Tactical Orders (prize crews, boarding parties etc.) and Situation Orders (lower anchor, lower boats etc.). The rules provide a lexicon of abbreviations and symbols for speeding this phase. For example, TK is written for Tack, BB for fire guns with double shot, etc.

Orders must be transmitted by signalling fromship to ship. Ships must have a clear line of sight to do so, and each such relay delays the order half a move. Thus an order reaches two ships in one turn. Frigates may be kept off station in order to relay signals.

Wind and Weather: Wind and weather are determined at the start of the game. Wind is checked every 12 turns. 2D6 are rolled and a chart consulted to see if it changes direction. Weather is checked every 24 turns. These may bring storms or mist, and will affect the force of the wind.

It is possible for a Gale to blow in. This will severely impact ship operations and ships may have to check for damage as well. Ships under various conditions must test for Gale damage. 2D6 are rolled, and a chart consulted. The dice are modified by damage, wind direction, being under tow etc. The result may be anything from capsized to lose various spars or masts, or with a good enough roll, to survive intact.

Movement: Ship speed is a combination of wind force and wind direction. The rules provide a diagram identifying wind direction, which requires the use of a protractor, as it is defined in degrees. Depending on the type of ship, wind force and aspect, a basic movement distance (maximum) is determined. Ships may move any distance up to this maximum, based on the order written for them at the start of the turn. Ships may change course in several ways depending on the wind.

Tacking: Ships that tack are turning through the wind do so without incident. Ships of the line, however, need three turns to accomplish such a change. They move one half in the first, turn to put the wind on the other bow, and then in the third move one half again.

Wearing: Ships that turn by wearing must sail around the outside edge of the Turning Circle, marked in millimeters (the rules imply one os provided - my book does not - I assume there is a missing QRS sheet which would have provided one).

Gunnery: Before firing, the player must declare whether he is targeting the hull or rigging of the target. Resolving gunnery requires adding the Gunnery Factor + tactical Factors + Chance Factor. This is then multiplied by the number of batteries firing. This damage is then marked off against the target ship.

Gunnery Factors are determined by a chart. The size of a ship yields a gunnery factor (typically between 1 and 22). Tactical factors further modify this for a variety of situations such as firing in a gale; raking your opponent; Initial Broadside etc. The Chance factor is determined by two average dice. Roll two and subtract the one from the other. Check the result on the Chance Factor Table. Cross index the range with the rating of the crew. the chart then gives  modifier to the Gunnery Factor based on the dice.

The final result is the Total Damage Inflicted. Compare this to the defense of the target. If you have exceeded it, you have damaged the target. Divide the Total Damage factors by the defense factor. Aiming at the hull, this eliminates batteries (guns) and crew. Aimed at the rigging this brings down spars and masts.

When rolling the average dice, double 5 indicates a fire, double 2 loss of maneuver in the target. Once all the batteries in the target have been destroyed, the ship is beginning to sink. Roll an average die - it will sink in that many turns.

Small Arms / Boarding: Ships’ crew may fire small arms at enemy ships, and board if the ships have been moved in to contact. Small arms fire is resolved in groups of 10. Roll the two average dice, subtract 2 and multiply by the number of groups of 10 firing. This is the number of casualties inflicted.

Boarding actions require having given orders to form boarding parties. Only 10% of a ship’s crew may be formed in a turn. So it takes several turns to prepare sufficient boarding parties to take an enemy vessel. Each round players compare Boarding Party points. These are the number of crew involved modified for a number of factors, such as relative ship size, crew quality, leadership, etc. The side with the higher total has won that round of melee. An average die is rolled and the Boarding Chart consulted. The result is a multiplier. Multiply the Boarding Points by the multiplier and that is the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy.

A boarding action has three stages: Board, Capture Deck, Capture Ship. The attacked must win each round in turn. Shoudl he suffer a loss the action is over (but he may start a new one in the next turn). Thus it will take at least 3 turns to capture an enemy ship.

Morale: As ships take damage and casualties, they may suffer from poor morale. If morale falls low enough they will strike their colors (surrender). To check morale requires summing a number of factors, plus the roll of an average die and consulting a table. The main factor is percentage of crew lost. Negative modifiers include casualties, having suffered significant damage this turn, etc. Positive modifiers include crew quality and leadership.

Results may range from Pass (best) to reduced fire next turn (bad) to Strike (worst).

The rules provide details for other aspects of warfare during the period, such as towing, shore batteries, managing prizes and prize crews, cutting away trailing masts, lowering boats etc.


There are no lists or scenarios provided, although a table giving average ship sats by type/size apears in the opening pages.


It is clear these rules are for experienced age of sail players. Many terms and concepts are not really explained and many “orders” are simply understood.


Not played.

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