Historical Situation or Mission
Drake’s attack on Nombre de Dios
Setting: Nombre de Dios, Panama; 29 July 1572
Nombre de Dios was the port from which the annual treasure fleet – the flota – sailed for Spain laden with silver from the mines of Peru: an obvious, and financially alluring, target for a privateer such as Francis Drake. Eager to wreak revenge on the Spaniards for their treacherous attach upon Hawkin’s ships at San Juan de Ulua in 1568, from which only two ships – the ‘Minion’ and his own ‘Judith’ – had escaped with only seventy men out of four hundred to return safely to Plymouth.
After leading expeditions to the West Indies in 1570 and 1571, Drake had thoroughly reconnoitered the coast of the anchorage to use as a base for future operations against the Spaniards. He now decided to attempt a more ambitious raid upon the treasure houses of Nombre de Dios to capture the bullion while it was still ashore, awaiting shipment to Spain.
Nombre de Dios might have been the treasure house of the world, as Drake once said, but is was not even properly fortified, although plans to erect defenses there had long been topical. When Drake saw the town it had no more than a crude bulwark on the beach, behind which a few guns were mounted, a totally inadequate protection for a bay as open as that at Nombre de Dios. There was no regular garrison. Only when the flota was in port did Nombre de Dios spring to life as a raucous frontier settlement, capable of resisting a determined attack. For the rest of the time it languished sultrily in the heat, a humid, disease-ridden outpost of empire, periodically lashed by sharp tropical thunderstorms and consisting of perhaps two hundred mostly wooden houses (Sudgen, 1990, p. 47).
This scenario recreates Drake’s night time attack on the town. It uses a my New World DBA although at a much reduced scale.
Ground scales: 2 cm = 10 paces
Time scale: 1 bound = 10 minutes
Figure scale: 1 element = 8-12 men
Key features are:
- Beach – the beach front extends from the sea/table edge to the first houses.
- Beach front platform for artillery (fortification)
- Market Place
- Governors house (which contained the treasure (silver) in reality). Hidden to start with.
- Treasure house (which the English thought had the treasure). Hidden to start with.
- Other houses (all wooden)
The beach, market place, and roads are good going. All of the rest of the table is bad going.
Most of the table is the built up area of the town, including the houses themselves and the gaps between. This is bad going.
The Spanish player secretly plots the location of the Governors house and the Treasure house. One or both must be adjacent to the market place. Basically pick two on-table houses and secretly mark one as Governor’s house and the other as the Treasure house.
Spanish Player (Defending)
Protect the Treasure House and drive off the English, preferably inflicting as many casualties on them as possible.
- 1 Art @ 15 = 15
- 7 Pk @ 3 = 21
- 7 ShE @ 7 = 49
- Total 85
The General is Captain Garcia de Paz. He can be assigned to any element.
The Spanish deploy first.
The Spanish note where the sentries are deployed; all other Spanish are assumed to be asleep in the town and will arrive as reinforcements. The sentries are the artillery plus one element of Pk or ShE and cannot include the General. They can be deployed anywhere on the board. Historically the artillery was on the beach front platform, and Antonio Juarez was in the market place with six arquebusiers; I presume there were other sentries posted, possibly on the east road.
After any Spanish element sees the English, the Spanish player can expend 1 PIP to bring on a reinforcement stand. These reinforcements can be placed anywhere in the town beyond visibility of the English. Reinforcements must be selected so that half the remaining off table reinforcements are pike elements and half shot (i.e. 0 or 1 difference in the number). The general can accompany any of the reinforcements.
English Player (Attacking)
Begins scenario with initiative.
Take the Treasure House and get off table with as many men as possible.
- 4 ShE (Arquebus and Bow) @ 7 = 28
- 3 Sp (half pike) @ 4 = 12
- 1 BdE (sword and buckler men) @ 7 = 7
- Total 47
- Plus three boats which can fit 2 elements each.
The General is Francis Drake who can accompany any element.
The English deploy after the Spanish on any single land table edge or the beach.
If the English deploy on the beach:
- All stands must deploy on the beach (from the sea/table edge to the first buildings)
- The boats must also be on the beach, at the sea front
- No stands may deploy touching the beach front platform
If the English deploy on a table edge:
- On-table troops deploy touching the chosen table edge
- On-table troops can be the heads of otherwise off-table columns. Following elements start the game off table but must enter the table on the first English bound. This rule severely limits the length of the columns (10 cm off table if entering along a road and 2.5 cm anywhere else).
- The boats are assumed to be with the ships off table
I have ignored the location of the treasure in the victory conditions. The victory conditions reflect Drake’s actual performance (went away empty handed) rather than his objectives (get the cash).
The English have three victory conditions to achieve:
1. An English element spends an entire bound at the location of the treasure house, without moving or fighting.
2. The English lose less elements than the Spanish.
3. Any one of:
- All surviving English exit the board off their entry edge, or
- All Spanish are eliminated from the board and there is nowhere in the town where they can rally reinforcements, or
- All Spanish are eliminated.
The English win if they meet all three conditions, if the English meet two objectives the game is a draw, otherwise the Spanish win. Under these victory conditions the original raid was a draw; Drake met the last two conditions but not the first one.
All that apart, losing the General loses the battle as per standard DBA.
Scenario Special Rules
English leaving the board
The English can leave the board in their boats. Each boat can hold two stands. Loading stands must pay a pip each. Each boat takes a pip to move from the beach to the off table ships and another pip to return to the beach. Loading, rowing off table, and rowing on table must be done in different bounds.
Use these movement rates rather than those in the rules.
|Boats||Beach to off table or off table to beach|
|Any in woods||2.5 cm|
|English in built up area||2.5 cm|
|Spanish in built up area (local knowledge)||5 cm|
|Any in market place, on beach, or along roads||10 cm|
Visibility is measured from centre to centre, i.e. centre of base to centre of base or centre of building.
Houses and woods features flock line of sight. Gaps between houses don’t block line of sight.
Lights (fire pikes, torches, arquebus, artillery) can be seen any distance, if the troops are awake. Basically all troops are visible at any distance assuming nothing blocks line of sight.
The Governor’s house and Treasure house will also be lit up once the alarm is sounded. Basically that means post-alarm the English will be able to spot the special houses. The Spanish player must reveal the Governor’s house and/or Treasure house as soon as English troops can see to that location. The English only know whether a particular house is the Governor’s or Treasure house by occupying it.
Built up areas
Ignore the DBA rules for Built up areas (BUA). Treat non-road parts of the town as difficult going whether a house or just the gaps between houses.
Both the Spanish and English players have key decisions to make at the start of the game. For the Spanish player the placement of the sentries impacts how soon the English become visible hence when the alarm is raised. That in turn impacts how soon reinforcements can start to arrive. The fact the artillery piece is immobile limits its usefulness during the game however it can dominate one of the roads or dominate the beach from the beach front platform. “Dominate” more likely meaning that the English player avoids that route through fear of becoming visible rather than fear of being shot.
A secondary decision for the Spanish player is where to put the other sentry. This piece is the only mobile element the Spanish start with so is the most likely contender for confronting the English in the early stages of the battle. It needs to go in a position from where it can easily redeploy to block any English advance on the Treasure house.
The English player’s big decision is which board edge to deploy on. Avoiding the Spanish sentries is a good tactic but as soon as the alarm is sounded (i.e. they are seen) the English need to engage the on-table Spaniards as fast as possible thus forcing the Spanish player to use PIPs on on-table troops rather than using the PIPs to bring on reinforcements. Deploying on a edge with a road to the market places gives the English the chance of a coup de main before Spanish numbers overwhelm them. Deploying on the beach gives the English the advantage of being deployed further forward but this tactic relies on the Spanish artillery being absent from the beach platform. But the edge without the road is tempting just because the Spaniard will expect this less.
Bits from Sugden (1990)
Spanish officers during attack
- Captain Garcia de Paz
- Lieutenant Francisco Rameriz,
- Alcalde Antonio Juarez (officer of night guard)
at time of raid on mule train
- Alcalde Diego Calderon
- Captain Hernando Berrio (organised and commanded initial land pursuit)
- Captain Antonio Suarez de Medina (commanded second wave of land pursuit).
- Captain Cristobal Monte (commanded naval pursuit after raid)
Governors house contained treasure (silver). Different to treasure house.
- 73 men
- three pinnaces and shallop
- 6 shields
- 12 pikes
- 6 firepikes
- 24 arquebus
- 16 bows
- 6 spears
- 2 drums
- 2 trumpets
Note: between the arquebus and bows 40 of the 73 men were missile armed.
Harman, A. (1989, October). The treasure house of the world: Nombre de Dios. Miniature Wargames, 77, 32-35.
Sugden, J. (1990). Sir Francis Drake. London: Barrie & Jenkins.