Thursday, 6 August 2015

You sunk my battleship!



This week in the Battleshed things got all nautical with my inaugural game of Sails of Glory - Napoleonic Wars.



This system simulates naval warfare from the end of the 18th century to the early 19th century. Its from Ares games, the home of my recent skyward adventures with the WW1 Wings of Glory. So it was time to prepare the ships of the line and head to the high seas...

Unboxing

Once unboxed, and apart from the four lovely pre-painted miniatures, there was quite a considerable amount of coloured components, from varied tokens and counters to cards decks and ship mats, all produced in good quality card and with a distinctive vintage design:

·        4 pre-painted miniatures and bases
·        4 Ship Base and Ship cards, which can be reversed providing 8 ship variants
·        390 (!) Damage counters
·        210  Markers, Tokens
·        10 Terrain Elements (4 Islands, 6 Reefs)
·        4 Manoeuvre decks (A,B,C and D)
·        4 Ship Mats
·        4 Ship Logs
·        4 Sail Status Counters
·        1 Wind Strength Counter
·        1 Wind Gauge
·        2 Attitude Indicators
·        2 Combat Rulers

Very nice. There is also a 63 page full colour and well designed rule book that is indexed and contains the Basic, Standard, Advanced and Optional rules. It also contains six scenarios including the tutorial Enemy in Sight! to Sitting Ducks - a solitaire scenario. The rulebook is one of the best I've seen, with clear examples and descriptions of the various components.

There's a lot in the box!
The rulebook takes you step-by-step through the initial set-up for your first basic game, indicating which counters and markers will be needed - which saves having to 'pop out' 300+ tokens from the start! The Ship Base cards, which display the ships firing arcs, are slotted into the ship bases by removing the transparent cover and then returning the miniature on top. I also had to assemble the two Attitude Indicators and the Wind Gauge using the supplied plastic pins.

Attitude Indicators (left, right) and Wind Gauge (centre)
Playing the game

Before my opponent and fellow play-tester, BG, arrived I'd set up the game as described in the tutorial scenario, Enemy in Sight!, which had the French player, (I nominated BG!), commanding the Courageuse and Généreux, whilst I commanded - although that's stretching the term a bit - HMS Terpsichore and HMS Defence.

It soon became apparent that Sails of Glory, although using the same base system as Wings of Glory, was slightly more complex to play, even with the Basic Rules. This is down to simply having more variables to consider. 

Each Turn is in four stages - Planning, Movement, Combat and Reloading. A brief description of each stage - using only the Basic Rules - follows:

Planning stage

This is where players selects a single, unrevealed, manoeuvre card from their deck and places it on their Ship's Log. Importantly, this isn't just a case of picking the direction you want to go like Wings of Glory, oh no - which movement cards you can play are all subject to the wind direction, indicated by the Wind Gauge and the Attitude of the ship - the position of the ship with respect to the wind!

So before determining your card you have to use the Attitude Indicator tool on each of your ships which will point to a colour on the ship's base determining which 'track' you can use on the movement card. This is where we had our first introduction to nautical terminology - Taken Aback, Beating, Reaching and Running. I'm good for the latter!

For our first basic game, as suggested by the scenario, the Wind Gauge had the wind blowing straight across the play area from the (British) right and remained so throughout the Basic game. This helped us quickly gets to grips with testing the ship Attitude and manoeuvring without having to contend with variable winds too!

Movement stage

This is where familiarity with Wings of Glory was handy, as the ships are moved in a very similar fashion - using the indicators and track on the selected Manoeuvre card and with all movement being performed simultaneously.

One complication which I soon discovered was the effect of trying to sail against the wind - which, let's face it, you're going to have to do at some point! The manoeuvre cards are restricted to the four red cards in the deck and the available manoeuvres are all a bit scary, forcing you ship to actually reverse slightly or reverse and change direction! This could be useful but needs to be well timed. It's just as well we weren't using variable wind direction!


Combat stage

Once the all the manoeuvres are completed its time to see if there's a chance to fire off a broadside or even, if close enough, have your crew blasting away with musketry! Again, done in a similar way to Wings of Glory by using the supplied measuring gauges to indicate target range and firepower. Using artillery, for example, your ship has six firing arcs (three each side) indicating forward, central and aft broadsides, with the central (full) broadside being the most powerful.

HMS Defence broadsides and sinks the
Généreux
It was then a case of referencing your Ships' Log to indicate the current firepower of your ship for the relevant firing arc. This displays the number of damage counters your opponent will suffer, the type dependant on the range. Your opponent then randomly takes a counter from the damage counter pile and places it on the next available box on the damage track on their Ship's Log.

Ship's Log with the Ship/Crew Damage track (top)
Each ship has a Burden attribute which indicates how much each damage box on the ships damage track can take. When either of the damage tracks are completely destroyed - there are two tracks, one for the ship and one for the crew - then your ships is heading to the bottom!

HMS Terpsichore is sunk!
It's takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few turns the damage mechanism soon became easy to manage. The damage counters can be brutal at close range though, with some counters hitting hard  damaging both ship and killing crew.

If you've fired artillery, then there are two markers on your log to indicate whether the right or left side broadsides have been used. This comes into play with the Reloading state.



Reloading stage

This is where management of artillery broadsides becomes key to the game, as it takes a turn to reload. You may find yourself with only one side of your ship fully loaded whilst the side facing the advancing enemy ship is still frantically re-loading!

In this stage any face-up (used) artillery tokens are moved to the Ammunition Box on the Ship's Log, (re-loading), and any face-down markers in the Ammunition Box can be moved up to an empty artillery slot, primed to fire again. It sounds complicated but actually works very well. The turn is now completed and its then back to the Planning stage.

Thoughts?

I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed Sails of Glory. I was expecting a very easy quick start like Wings of Glory, however there is slightly more preparation required and the game is naturally slower given we're dealing with the Age of Sail! It was wonderfully thematic and felt much more like a simulation than Wings of Glory, straight out of the box.

Of course, we only played the very basic rules to get a feel for it. There are an impressive amount of additional rules covering such things as Wind, Veer, Boarding Parties, Shoals, Special Damages, Variable wind strength, Ammunition types and even Coastal Batteries amongst many others.

In comparison to the WW1 Wings of Glory, my impression - with only limited experience of either game- is that Wings of Glory is perfect for a quick-start, fast-paced multi-player game leading to more complex simulations whereas Sails of Glory is the reverse - more simulation orientated from the outset but perfectly adaptable to multi-player.

Sails of Glory impressed. The starter set reviewed here (£55) has quality components, a clear rule-set, scalable complexity and there are various expansions to grow your fleet if you're inclined. It's orientated towards individual ship management rather than a fleet action game and a perfect introduction to Napoleonic naval wargaming. I highly recommend this game.

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Right, I'm off to watch Master and Commander...