Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sails of Glory, an out-of-the-box review

My big gift to myself at NJCon (rationalized by the fact that I was only up for the day, thus saving the family the cost of feeding and watering me for the weekend) was a copy of Ares Games' Sails of Glory. This game was funded by Kickstarter, a campaign that was so successful that copies of teh starter set were hard to come by until they were recently reprinted.  My copy cost $70, well below the MSRP of $100.  To an old fart like me, it still seems like a lot of cash for a game with only four major playing pieces, but on further investigation, there's a lot of value for the money.

Oooh...the box is open!  Even after punching many of the counters and cracking the cello around the cards, the molded plastic lining of the box works really well for storage.

Each ship has its own stat card and damage track, which fits together like a puzzle.  The stat card then slides inside the play mat.

These are the play mats.  There is a counter sheet still set into the top half, with ammunition and sail status counters that will be used during play.  I played the basic game my first time out, so I did not use most of these.

Damage counters.  Hey, is this game colorful or what?  When a ship takes damage from any source, the player draws a number of damage counters of the appropriate color and applies them directly onto his card.  Yellow is for long range roundshot, red is for chain shot, and so on.  Some damage counters are zeroes (a miss!) but in the advanced games, some do specific damage to ship's systems, like masts or rudder.

This counter sheet has devices for indicating wind direction and speed, and for measuring a ship's attitude to the wind. There are also islands to maneuver around, if you don't feel like sculpting your own.

In the basic game I played, the only counters I used from this sheet were the range gauges.  The colored bands indicate teh damage counter used for certain types of ammunition at specific ranges.

And here are the ships themselves.  The starter set comes with a frigate and a ship of the line for Britain and France.  There is a printed card of game information that mounts under the clear plastic on the ship base.  Purists may dislike the game stats showing, preferring bases that look more like open sea. I suppose you could swap these info cards out only when needed, but that seems like a lot of work. In play, I hardly noticed them.

On the discussion group, many players post photos of the rigging they add to the models.  While the pimped out ships look great, I think they look just fine out of the box, and from my perspective, adding rigging makes sense only for the serious modeler.  

The setup for the basic intro scenario. I sent two ships of the line at each other: the HMS Defense and the Genereux.  The Genereux appeared to be a slightly heavier ship, with a small advantage in gunnery, but the differences were slight.  Note the bag of ziploc bags, waiting to hold the counters once I punch them out!

In a single shot, here is how maneuver works: players select a maneuver card from their deck. All players then reveal their cards simultaneously. Depending on the ship's attitude to the wind, the ship then moves until it's aft is on the corresponding line.  Becalmed ships have their own special cards.  Very simple, although I've always had a hard time visualizing plotted moves (one of the many reasons I suck at chess). It took some trial and error before I could reliably send my ships where I wanted them.

The range stick in action.  Here, you can see that the Genereux is exchanging fire with the Defense at long range. The Genereux is just outside of the arc for the Defense's full broadside, so the Defense will only be allowed to use her forward guns at a significantly lower firepower. On the other hand, the Genereux will be able to use all of her guns when she returns fire (though I should note that, as with movement, all fire is simultaneous).

The HMS Defense's damage track in action. Both crew and hull sustain damage.  The ship becomes less effective each time the ship takes cumulative damage equal to or exceeding its Burden (or size, as we lubbers say).

The Defense has maneuvered into a position where she can rake the stern of the Genereux.  The rules for establishing a rake were pretty clear and intuitive--far better than the hex-based games I have played in the past.  At long range, this shot was not as effective as the British might have hoped, but any time you can do damage without taking a shot in return is a gift.

After over a dozen turns, the ships finally closed to within short range.  Those orange counters do a pounding!  In a one-on-one ship duel, it was fairly easy for one ship to keep its distance from the other. With more ships in the mix, though, I think it would become a bloodbath much more quickly.  Since gunnery declines as the ships take damage, long range duels can become a bruising match.

This was the decisive moment of my game. the Genereux whipping around to catch the wind, being met by a closing Defense. Both sides were able to hammer each other with a full broadside at close range.

The rules are available as a .pdf on the Ares website.  Very convenient to project them on my classroom smartboard.

The Defense won the game by forcing the French crew to surrender, but it was a close-run thing. Another solid hit from the French vessel would have sent to the Defense to the bottom.

All told, it was a fun game, lasting just under an hour with frequent breaks to look up rules.  The movement and damage systems were both fast and intuitive.  I could teach this game to noobs quickly, which was not my first impression when I saw all of the game components.  I think commanding two ships would tax my mental abilities, particularly if more advanced rules were added in.  I think novice players would do well to limit themselves to a single vessel their first time out.

All told, I give this game two thumbs up.  Games that represent the age of sail have not really advanced in a decades, it seems, and I hope this game breathes new life and increased interest to the period.

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