Saturday, 28 January 2012

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls

“Blood Bilge and Iron balls” is an interestingly named set of age-of-sail Wargames rules written by Allan Abbey  and published by Pen and Sword.  They mark the latest move by more “mainstream” publishers into the wargaming market.

The rules are nicely presented and give a decent game. Ships are represented by a number of hit boxes for guns, sails, hull, and crew, with additional consideration given to key members of the crew (gunner, sailing master) and the “chain of command” – breaking the latter limits the ability of the captain to issue orders and is a very nice touch.

Movement uses a standard approach – considering the ship type, aspect to wind, sail setting and any mast damage to determine speed. Ships must move the full distance indicated which makes close quarter manoeuvring risky (as it should). Gunnery involves rolling a d6 for each gunnery factor, modified for aspect, training etc. to determine hits. A deck of playing cards is then used to determine damage, with different suits denoting damage to different areas of the ship (hull, rigging, crew etc.) another nice touch that allows dismantling shot to be catered for by  treating  al damage cards drawn as rigging hits (although for some reason only the French seem to be allowed to do this under the rules). Additional rules are included that cover boarding actions in some detail, as well as optional rules covering the effects of land, national characteristics (although see later) and civilian ships. The rules are supported by a number of generic scenarios, and by a scenario covering the battle of the Nile. Full details of the scenario are given, and there are coloured counters at 1/1200 scale for this scenario and for generic battles that can be cut out and used instead of models if these rules are your first foray into AoS wargaming. There is also a very nicely presented generic campaign system covering naval operations, trade and blockade which looks like it would work very well if transported to other settings.  All in all a very nice set of rules. There were a few areas that I was not quite convinced about, such as the French shots at rigging mentioned above, carronades are described as “not hugely successful” and the rules take a very “British vs. French and Spanish” approach (I’m sure American readers would have some views on representing their ships in this system, especially with the anniversary of the War of 1812 upon us) but on the whole the rules are sound, not complex and straightforward to amend to cater for your own personal thoughts on the period.

A nice touch is the support provided on the P&S website, where you can download much of the game materials needed, removing the need to cut these from the book. Well done P&S.

Downloads are here


  1. David

    Thanks for the review, I'd stumbled onto these either online or in a magazine advert and was curious.


  2. I saw these a while back and thought they sounded a bit cheesy? Never judge a book by the cover?. I'll take another look now.

    Good review.