Battleshed Diaries

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Sir! Should we avoid that island...Sir?!



Following on from my recent play-test of Sails of Glory, there was some interest from my local club so I was happy to bring it along yesterday for some more sea-faring combat.


As this was only our second game and still very much an extended play-test we didn't select any particular scenario. 

This was more about learning more of the rules. This time we incorporated the Standard rules, the Variable Wind optional rule and placed some islands to challenge our nascent sailing skills .

So this post is less a battle report, more a quick synopsis of our experiences stepping up from the basic rules. I won't go into any detail on the specific mechanics of each new rule, rather a description and its impact on the game. For reference, the full colour rule book is available as a free (pdf) download from the Ares games site.
There were three of us this time around, with me once again commanding the British HMS Terpsichore and HMS Defence whilst my opponents with the French Généreux and Courageuse.

Islands were randomly scattered onto the play area, which is actually the lovely cloth play mat purloined from my Dreadfleet game. The opposing ships were placed on opposite sides of the long playing edge and their orders were simply to destroy the enemy ships. The new rules in play were as follows;

Variable Wind Direction (Optional rule)

For our first game we simply had a fixed wind direction whilst we quickly learnt the manoeuvring mechanics, particularly our ship's attitude to the wind. For this second game we were confident enough to start stepping up the simulation by having the possibility of a change of wind direction during battle. We mutually agreed to set the wind direction at right-angles at the start of the game and then it was a case of checking for any change in wind direction at the start of each turn via the Variable Wind Direction rules.

By itself this rule added that chance of your carefully planned manoeuvres being scuppered by a change of wind direction. Just as you plan to bring your ship about for a well executed broadside the wind changes direction and you suddenly find the ship Taken Aback! See, I'm starting to pick up the nautical lingo! This is certainly a rule that I will probably use in all games from now on, unless playing a scenario that states otherwise. Coupled with the Time to React and Veer rules (below), having variable wind really started to challenge our captains!

The Planning stage - Time To React

With the Standard rules in play we no longer had just one manoeuvre card to choose each turn, this time players have to plan their manoeuvres in advance with a second card and also taking into account the manoeuvrability of their ships (Veer rating). The game starts with a manoeuvre card in play and then players secretly choose a second unused card with a blue border which will be performed in the next turn!

There are various elements of this rule mechanic, for example dictating how 'red' manoeuvres (Taken Aback) are handled and crucially, players may not check the attitude to the wind before choosing a manoeuvre card. Add in the chance of a change of wind direction and having to plan manoeuvres in advance, our captains were notably becoming quite circumspect with their planning - especially when their ships having to navigate around number of small islands as well as the enemy!  


Veer

The introduction of the Veer rule proved to be quite an significant new element to our game, providing a distinctive manoeuvrability characteristic for each individual ship. No longer were we commanding ships which, up until now, were mostly generic in their handling, now our ships started to feel individual with the larger ships like HMS Defence and Courageuse lumbering against the faster frigates.

Each ship has a Veer rating indicated by the number next to the steering wheel symbol on the ship base, ship card and ship. Each manoeuvre card also has a Veer value. During the planning phase a player may not select a manoeuvre who's Veer value is different (higher or lower) from the previous manoeuvre card by more than the ship's Veer rating.

It sounds complicated, but it's actually a fairly simple mechanic and we soon got the idea of it. However, boy did it have a big impact on the game! Not only were we having to plan ahead and take into account the possibility of a change in wind direction, each ships attitude to the wind has a direct impact on what manoeuvre cards can be planned - dependent on each individual ship's veer rating. Now we felt the simulation was starting to take hold - we were actually having to sail these ships!


Special Ammunition (Standard Rules)

Whilst our newly commissioned captains were struggling with wind and Veer, should they actually get into range of the enemy - rather than spending a couple of turns involuntary ramming unsuspecting islands like the Courageuse - our captains also had to choose which type of ammunition they wanted loaded: Ball, Chain or Grapeshot!

The Ball ammunition was used in the Basic rules and is your standard long/short range artillery ammunition. Both the Chain and Grapeshot ammunition can only be used at close range - both using different sets of damage counters and special effects. These effects will probably become more apparent as we progress to the Advanced rules where shredded sails and Grapeshot carnage amongst the crew will impact the actions they can take.

But for now, the Standard rules got us used to having to anticipate the range to the target ship and the type of ammunition to have loaded. Now not only could a captain find himself still reloading on the wrong side at an inopportune time, he could also find his ship missing an opportunity to fire because the wrong type of ammunition is loaded!



Raking (Standard Rules)

A Raking shot travels down the length of a ship causing carnage. There are some mechanics around this for LoS and ship positioning, but basically the ship at the receiving end is going to take extra damage counters dependent upon whether the shot enters the front or rear of the target ship.

This starts to add more tactical options for our captains, hoping to position themselves for a chance of a devastating attack that could see their enemy crippled or finished off. As HMS Terpsichore found out!

Islands (Optional/Scenario rules)

As mentioned, we scattered some islands in the play area to make life more 'interesting' for our captains. There are rules around whether the islands have a sandy or rocky coastline, or neither of them, which potentially impacts a ships movement within their environs. We chose the 'neither' option for simplicity sake in this game. We had more than enough to contend with! Rules are provided for Collisions with the islands should an unfortunate captain find himself embarrassingly duelling with an island after a sudden wind change!

Islands also can also partially or fully block Line of Sight to target, which is yet another complication for our captains. The Courageuse did find itself trying to extract from a potentially deadly run-in with an island, a situation HMS Defence's captain (me!) gleefully tried to take advantage of by manoeuvring to short range, ready to deliver a devastating broadside to the stricken ship...or it would have had it not had close range chain ammunition loaded on the relevant side of the ship!

Summary

These new elements introduced with the Standard rules are really starting to bring naval warfare in the age of sail alive. The individual rules are clearly worded and examples provided. We had no difficulty quickly incorporating them into the game turn.

For my next few of games I plan to use all the standard rules and the Variable Wind Direction with the scenario examples provided. This time playing a game for 'the win' rather than a play-test. So a full Bat-Rep will be incoming. Then it will be on to the Advanced rules, where planning crew actions and managing the ship's sails, special damage and damage control amongst other rules will be in play!