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Subject: The Shores of Tripoli: an 1804 Barbary Wars scenario for Broadside rss

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Pete Belli
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Broadside is a vintage game of naval combat first published in 1962 by Milton Bradley. While the complexity level is on the extreme end of the “lite” wargame spectrum, this classic provided a fun (and challenging) introduction to the hobby for a generation of Geeks. I’ve been playing Broadside since I was 10 years old and still enjoy an occasional session.





The extremely cool plastic ships with their removable sails made the game a visual treat. The colorful board with its plastic artillery pieces defending the port and the buoys marking the channel create a mood which matches the War of 1812 theme quite effectively. Broadside still draws attention from kids of all ages when it is displayed at a convention.





The development of a Barbary Wars scenario has been a project of mine for a long time. I’ve attempted to blend a large portion of historical detail with the uncluttered simplicity of the original (highly abstract) rules and boil it all down to a digestible tidbit in this lavishly illustrated session report.

The narrative of military adventures which became known as the Barbary Wars reached its peak with the action at Tripoli in 1804.

After a long series of raids by Muslim corsairs operating from ports in North Africa against European and American merchant vessels President Jefferson authorized a punitive expedition. Tired of paying tribute to petty potentates who seized valuable cargo and enslaved Christian captives or held them for ransom, Jefferson hoped to establish the United States as an important military power. A squadron of ships was dispatched to the Mediterranean.

Events took a dramatic turn when the frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli harbor. It was captured after offering token resistance. The ship was towed into the port of Tripoli and more than 300 American sailors fell into enemy hands. It was a humiliating episode for the United States Navy. Commodore Edward Preble took control of the situation and launched a daring night raid to destroy USS Philadelphia. A small group led by the heroic Stephen Decatur dashed into the harbor in a captured enemy ship (renamed USS Intrepid) and burned the frigate. The raiders escaped with no fatalities.

While this success boosted American morale the strategic situation was unchanged. Pasha Yusef still held the sailors for ransom and the porous blockade of Tripoli by the United States squadron had little effect on his regime. Commodore Preble planned another attack with the intention of destroying the Pasha’s fleet.





The map created for this scenario combines elements of the original Broadside playing surface with new terrain features. There are two types of artillery positions with the basic shore defenses of the original edition modified and expanded. The channel markers remain but the buoys function differently. Instead of the static merchant ships depicted in the original version, the Pasha’s corsairs might attempt to escape the harbor. Gray areas representing shoals block American ships but Tripolitan vessels can sail across these shallow waters without harm.





The map was based on this antique document with additional information provided by official Navy sources, including a chart prepared in 1804 by an officer on the brig USS Syren. The internet is an amazing resource for the 21st century wargame designer!






Commodore Preble commanded seven American ships and a small flotilla of gunboats. His flagship was the 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides” and still afloat today in Boston Harbor. Three brigs (USS Argus, USS Syren, and USS Scourge) were available plus three schooners (USS Enterprise, USS Nautilus, and USS Vixen) and these vessels mounted between 12 and 18 guns.

The gunboats were on loan from King Ferdinand of Naples in an early form of Lend-Lease. Six gunboats mounted a long 24-pounder in the bow. However, the primary offensive punch in each gunboat consisted of a boarding party composed of American sailors and Marines. Each gunboat includes a figure representing a boarding party. Each blue plastic ship represents two gunboats. A pair of mortar boats (a mortar boat was known in 1804 jargon as a bomb ketch) mounting 13-inch iron monsters would be used for bombardment. A crew of around a dozen Italians was provided to maneuver each of these shallow-draft boats.





This image shows the rigging system for each vessel; from left to right the ships are a frigate, a brig, a schooner, a gunboat, and a corsair. In this scenario the spanker sail at the rear of a ship does count for combat purposes.

The enemy fleet was commanded by High Admiral Murad Reis. He was born Peter Lisle in Scotland. Lisle had served on merchant ships in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Captured by Muslim pirates, he converted to Islam and joined the Tripolitan Navy. Peter Lisle/Murad Reis married the Pasha’s daughter and took command of the fleet at Tripoli. Murad Reis drank heavily in direct violation of the Prophet’s teachings but he was a skillful commander.

Pasha Yusef provided a navy which included one brig, two schooners, and about twenty galleys or gunboats. The brig mounted ten guns while each of the two small schooners carried eight cannon. Like the Neapolitan vessels, the Pasha’s gunboats mounted a long gun in the bow but they also had smaller cannon on each side. Each red plastic ship represents several of these gunboats. Accurate gunnery in the Tripolitan Navy was a low priority on every type of vessel with the main emphasis placed on ferocious boarders armed with edged weapons.





The scenario reflects the somewhat nebulous battle plan developed by Commodore Preble. Risking the USS Constitution in the treacherous channels near Tripoli was entirely unacceptable so the frigate would support the attack with gunfire from outside the harbor. Preble intended to bombard the city and inflict as much damage as possible on the Pasha’s fleet while avoiding heavy American losses. Preble was a courageous officer but he was operating under heavy political pressure and faced a tough logistical burden. For this reason, lost American ships result in a large victory point penalty.

United States vessels were more robust and the American crews had superior training. To reflect this, the blue player is allowed to take an extra “damage” marker (the black chip shown in this image) before a sail is removed during a battle. Damage chips still hurt the American player’s victory point total, but the effect is minor compared to the loss of a ship.

Murad Reis boldly challenged the U.S. Navy by advancing a portion of his gunboat flotilla outside the harbor. Preble quickly moved his own gunboats forward. Gunboats are only allowed to move six spaces each turn to reflect their poor sailing ability. All naval combat follows traditional Broadside rules.

Bombardment is an important part of the scenario and the American player has a special Bombardment Phase during every turn. There are several types of artillery missions. Enemy guns can be “silenced” by bombardment. Before the American player can bombard the city of Tripoli from either of the two firing zones (one outside the harbor in the Mediterranean and one closer to the city near the anchorage) he must first neutralize the fort protecting that sector. Hits scored on the inner portions of the city earn more victory points for the American player.

The cannon guarding the harbor entrances function like the guns in the original version and fire across the channel. The red circle closest to the battery scores a double hit. However, these guns can also be silenced. This special artillery mission is performed by fire from the mortar boats. A bomb ketch fires from a location off the board and has unlimited range. They may also bombard the city (if the fort guarding that sector has been neutralized) but the ammunition supply for these mortars is limited. A random bombardment of the Pasha’s palace uses less ammunition than a sustained fire mission against one of the harbor forts.

The player representing Murad Reis has the option of moving a ship (as in classic Broadside) or reorganizing an artillery position which has been silenced by American gunfire. The choice can be crucial if the United States Navy is trying to force its way into the harbor.





The buoys represent channels unfamiliar to the American commanders. Since they might run aground local pilots had to be obtained. These navigators played a vital role and one Italian was given American citizenship by Congress as a reward for his performance during the battle. However, these buoys don’t sink a vessel like the markers in the original rules. American ships can run aground (a 50/50 chance, and indicated by a tan chip) and the United States player must expend an extra move to get the vessel afloat.

Tripolitan vessels ignore these buoys and (unlike the original version) they are not revealed when a red ship passes over the space. American ships don’t suffer damage when they run aground but they can’t fire and become sitting ducks for enemy gunboats.





The two Tripolitan corsairs (represented by cutters with a single mast) can remain in the harbor or attempt to escape. Both options score a variable number of victory points. However, these corsairs can’t inflict damage on American ships so a run for the open Mediterranean is a big gamble. Murad Reis can expect to lose at least a few gunboats at a small cost in victory points but the Pasha can win the game by inflicting damage on the American fleet.

The historical result seemed to favor Preble with three enemy gunboats captured by Stephen Decatur (during one attempt to board a Tripolitan vessel a sailor called Reuben James fought valiantly at Decatur’s side... the famous destroyer USS Reuben James that was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Iceland in October of 1941 was named for this Barbary Wars hero) and other enemy gunboats badly battered. The bombardment inflicted some damage on the city of Tripoli. There were minimal United States casualties and no lost American ships.

Preble attacked the city again (without success and suffering heavier losses) later that month but he was given a triumphant welcome when he returned to the United States… the country was hungry for a military hero. However, the battle of August 3rd had almost zero effect on the Pasha’s will to resist and did nothing to speed the release of the American captives.

To really be declared the winner in this scenario the United States player must enter the harbor, bombard the inner sections of the city near the Pasha‘s palace, and sink a substantial number of enemy ships. Horatio Nelson took a squadron of British frigates into Algiers harbor and shelled the city until large areas were burning; the local ruler surrendered, freed all British prisoners, and paid a hefty indemnity. This might be the kind of result Preble was looking for, but he couldn’t bring himself to risk his irreplaceable brigs or schooners in Tripoli harbor.

To give the scenario a hint of Preble’s dilemma the number of bombardment tokens is limited. Preble must strike while the iron is hot because delay will bring the session grinding to a halt before the American player can score enough victory points to win. Unlike the original version, this game does not continue until one fleet is virtually destroyed.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.
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Chris Strabala
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Excellent report Pete! I've been looking forward to this session after ever since you started uploading the images for it.

Thanks!
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Robert DiChiara
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Nice job. I was reading your session as much for the history as for the gaming with one of my childhood favorites, Broadside. Your game would make a great movie.
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John Labelle
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Wow!
A Broadside expansion!
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Pete Belli
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rdeech wrote:
Your game would make a great movie.


It would make a superb movie.

The story has everything... courage, tragedy (the loss of the USS Intrepid during a botched fireship raid), star-crossed lovers (Murad Reis and the Pasha's daughter), pirates, a great narrative, epic battle scenes, comic relief (the Italian sailors who prayed devoutly during the battle while the Americans boarded enemy ships) and a boatload of swashbuckling adventure.
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Chris Strabala
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Maybe cast Russell Crowe for the portrayal of Stephen Decatur.
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Dave C.
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Thank you for that interesting and fun article/variant.

Next Expansions:
Broadside - Trafalgar
Broadside - Salamis
Broadside - Spanish Armada
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Barry Kendall
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Marvelous job as always, Pete! Looking forward to giving it a spin.

"Broadside" begs for a new edition.

By the way, if you haven't taken notice of it yet, check out "Admiral," a new game produced by a Ukranian firm. They report that an English edition is being prepared for 2013, hopefully.

You'll see the ships in "Admiral" (and even the color of the shore batteries!) are reminiscent of our old beloved "Broadside" and I'm hoping the game will be available in the U.S. someday.

Thanks for presenting this creative new take on an old gem!
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Pete Belli
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crsluggo wrote:
Maybe cast Russell Crowe for the portrayal of Stephen Decatur.


Crowe would be good for the stern Commodore Preble, who was around 40 years old.

Decatur was 25 or 26. He was tall, dashing, broad-shouldered, and so handsome that young ladies fainted when he entered a room.

Decatur was killed in a duel with another naval officer. Before the Civil War the number of officers involved in these affairs of honor was incredibly high. A tragedy.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Thanks for another masterpiece, Pete. Stephen Decatur became a namesake in my family; my grandfather, my uncle and at least one of my great-great uncles were named for him.
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G.W.
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I looked over the list of books on this subject on amazon.com, but none of them seem to convey as much of the drama and excitement as your post does, Pete. Since you've researched this so thoroughly, can you recommend any books that tell the story well and a also well-written?
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Pete Belli
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Broadsword56 wrote:
I looked over the list of books on this subject on amazon.com, but none of them seem to convey as much of the drama and excitement as your post does, Pete. Since you've researched this so thoroughly, can you recommend any books that tell the story well and a also well-written?


Thank you for those kind words.

To the Shores of Tripoli by Whipple is excellent. Dig into the superb footnotes for the real marrow.

Six Frigates by Toll has good stuff, too.

Preble's official report is available on the internet.
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John
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Pete

Terrific report on one of my favorite games. Broadside and Dogfight are the best of the American Heritage series. I bought it again about six months ago after playing it constantly in my youth. As always your posts touch on the gaming aspects and the historical piece. Great new idea for this timeless classic.thanks
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