Classic Game Review: Clear For Action

Clear for Action (CFA) is an excellent game of sea battles in the swashbuckling era of sailing ships. Two to eight players can fight a multiple ship battle with up to four ships on each side or you can play solitaire against the computer in a two-ship duel. The game disk includes twelve historical battles. You can also design your own ships to recreate historical or hypothetical engagements.

CFA is a very detailed simulation of fighting sailing ships. On each turn, you can plot course changes for each ship on a map display, and then the program executes simultaneous movement. The players then fire broadsides and reload their guns with different types of shot. If ships are grappled orders can be given for boarding actions on a ship deck graphic display. All orders are entered through the joystick; play is very smooth. A typical game will last 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the size and number of ships. While containing much realistic detail, the game remains very playable. The program handles most details automatically, and with the excellent documentation you can plan your strategy intelligently. For example, gun sizes range from mighty 68-pounder carronades down to 3-pounder shooters, and you may choose from five different types of shot. You may aim at the enemy’s hull or rigging, all with drastically different effects. The scale of distance points on the map grid display varies from 20 meters to 200 meters, depending on the distance between the ships. The largest map covers an area of several square miles. Each game turn represents one minute of real time, and the speed of ships and reloading time are scaled accordingly.

Crew morale and crew quality are key factors in this game. Historically, wooden ships rarely sank during a battle, but the crew might surrender if they suffered severe losses. Morale is reduced by casualties, and also to a lesser extends by damage to different parts of the ship. If morale drops below 50 percent, the ship will be in danger of surrendering. Additionally, crew quality affects the speed of reloading, sail-handling, manoeuvring ability, and also “scuffling” ability in boarding actions. You do not have enough men to operate the sails and all guns simultaneously.

Hence, you must shift crew members to the deck, the tops, or the port or starboard guns, depending on where you think they will be most needed. As it takes time to relocate them, you must anticipate future developments. For example, if you have few men on the deck, you may not be able to tack or to repel an enemy boarding party. This game is very easy to play, but strategy can be complex. The computer opponent is excellent, and I hope more designers will strive for this quality of solitaire capability. My only complaint with this game is that the computer can only fight two-ship duels. I hope Mike Stradley will develop a second edition which can handle eight ships in solitaire play. In a two-ship game, if you have the weaker ship, you should probably aim for the enemy’s rigging, and try to run away.

Ships are much faster sailing downwind than into the wind. Momentum is also a factor; ships accumulate speed sailing downwind, but will decelerate rapidly when they turn upwind, tack, or back sails. Most guns are not very effective at long range, but firepower increases sharply at 300 meters or less. Therefore, it is probably better to engage the enemy from a favourable windward position, as last minute manoeuvres at short range can have decisive results. Selection of shot and of the optimum range for engaging the enemy are also very important. If you have the stronger crew, you may want to load grape-shot, and try to close for a boarding action. Rifle fire from the tops is very effective in boarding actions.

Carronades are very effective at short range, but useless at long range. If you have more long guns, and the enemy has more carronades, you may want to try to stay at long range and pick him apart. If you are trying to escape, dismantling shot is very effective against the enemy rigging at short range. CFA is an entertaining game, which I recommend for both experienced and novice war gamers. Good luck, and may your swash never buckle!

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