The reaction to the game was amazing. Everyone who played it loved it. And it worked just fine for all ages. I think our youngest player was 10, but we had a visit from a 6 year old who was very well acquainted not only with pirates, but with Admiral Nelson and Trafalgar, and who grasped the style of play very easily - no prizes for guessing what is on his Christmas list this year! The table was often surrounded by observers If we'd had copies on sale on the day we could have cleared dozens based on the numbers of players and observers who were stuck by the quality of the models and the speed and ease of play. We had a few "old salt" naval gamers playing as well who thought the system was ideal for those quick "club night" games, and for small ship actions (we are already kicking off thoughts for period and other variants using the basic system).
So, all in all a very successful day. And with luck more demos and parti games upcoming at events in the next couple of months (I'm planning to bring it down to Stuart's Crimean campaign weekend). The game was a big hit, highly popular and, if today's reaction was anything to go by, assured of great success in the near future!
I posted a similar summary to the Sails of Glory forum and was asked by a member there for any advice in running games of this type. I posted ten "hot tips" and thought, as a bonus, some readers here might like to see them too.
1) Have a good team of players with you. It can get rather wearing running game after game after game so you need to be able to swap between umpires. It also allows those not directly running the game to hover around the players to help them out if they get stuck remembering the rules or wanting advice. It also lets the "spare bodies" dash off for a short while to see the rest of the show.
2) "Battlespace management" is more important with a sailing game than most others I think, due to the effects of the wind. The action will naturally flow downwind, so be aware of that and have your scenario starting points clustered towards the upwind part of the table. and think about how the terrain (if any) is going to help and hinder the game. We had an island that, if at the downwind end of the table, was a real pig to sail around due to its proximity to the corner**. So we swapped ends and it was now at the upwind end and much easier to negotiate.
3) If you are playing with the four starter set ships, impress upon whoever gets the frigates that they ARE highly vulnerable to incoming fire from the SOLs. We had two games where frigate players (despite this advice) went SOL hunting in frigates. Their games were short. But tell them anyway, some of them might listen.
4) Practice. Set the game up some time before the event and play it through with friends o make sure your scenario works. I didn't get a chance to do this on this occasion as the kit arrived just the day before, if I'd had the chance the issue with the island would have been spotted before game #1 rather than during it :)
5) Have an on duty "caller" - a floating person who spots interested people (or even vaguely disinterested ones) in the crowd and passers by and hooks them in for a chat and to inveigle them into the game. You need to have a separate person doing this, not the umpire (they are busy keeping the game going)
6) Remember, keep clutter to a minimum. Nothing looks worse than a table strewn with drinks, lunch, random stuff that someone has bought and dumped on the table edge, odd papers etc. A tidy game is an efficient game :)
7) Bring glue - although not required on this occasion I always have some superglue and/or plastic cement (as demanded by the models) on hand to conduct running repairs during a game. Especially relevant in this as you only have four ships to work with and, had one been damaged and out of action, that would have seriously compromised the game.
8) Prepare yourself as well as the game. I take a sports water bottle to shows so can have a crafty drink to keep me going through games - all that talking through rules and the game with players causes havoc with your throat.
9) Practice your rules summary - you need to get the key concepts of play explained to and understood by your players in 5 minutes or less. So work out in advance what you want to say and demonstrate.
10) Above all, have fun! Although you are Ares unofficial PR department on the day remember its a hobby, not a job. and if you aren't having fun, chances are your team and your players aren't either.
** why place an island there, you might ask. The reason being that we had no "official" game mats (they didn't make it across from the US, neither did the display material or packaging) so I ended up using a playing surface made from a roll of John Lewis heavy duty underlay. its blue, flexible and non-slip so ships don't slide around. The night before I sprayed and dry brushed it to bring out the texture as waves and spray and left it to dry - only to find 5 minutes later that the cats had decided it was THEIR mat, had sprawled out on it and, in stretching had clawed the surface in two places. The damage was OK for a club game, but not for a demo at one of the UK's most prestigious gaming events, so islands were placed to strategically cover the tears!