Friday 31 January 2014

Sails of Glory - Musings

We've played Sails of Glory a few times at the Slimbridge club and also at the Mall at Cribbs Causeway. these games have generally included more of the advanced rules rather than just the basic rules with a few add-ons that we used for demo and parti games at shows. These more advanced games have thrown up a few thoughts and comments, offered below in no particular order.

1) Its bloody fiddly! Counters all over the place, drawing chits for everything. It works well but you can't help thinking that in many cases it would be simpler just to have thrown a d6 or something

2) The stats go wonky due to the chit drawing. There are a few events where damage chits are drawn to determine choices of action. Obvious really but the probability of an event shifts with the drawing of chits. 

3) The broadside and sailing arcs are really, really wide. Ships can sail far closer to the wind than they ought to, and targets can be engaged well forward or aft of what should be achievable

4) Muskets are deadly. Forget cannon, designers should have provided larger fighting tops and stacked them with gunners. We've had several ships wiped out due to musket fire. It seems brutal

5) Almost as brutal as colliding with a friendly ship - getting bumped by a friend can seriously damage your ship. Conversely you can hit and bounce off an enemy ship with impunity. 

6) No carronades

7) Low fidelity in range of ship stats makes it hard to differentiate between ships within rates

8) Tacking always succeeds. You'll never miss stays and even losing masts  won't affect this

9) Arcs through which rakes (bow or stern) are possible are quite wide

10) The two card selection for movement in anything other than the basic game just feels wrong, especially compared with the speed of some actions (e.g. damage control) and the scale of the game.

11) Oh, fires and floods are brutal too!

12) And leaving aside fires, floods and muskets the rate of damage inflicted in the game is very, very high.

Now, you might think DM has gone all hyper-critical here. I suppose what we've identified are those "gamey" aspects that are there in order to give a fun game, fighting four to six ships to a conclusion in an hour or so. And it does that very well indeed. And, I suspect, the majority of players will be entirely happy with that. I also suspect that the game will get a drubbing from more dyed-in-the-wool AoS players. For me I'm happy to enjoy it as a game primarily with a fair brushing of "realism", but very firmly over on the "game" side of the "game vs simulation" argument. I suspect my preferred mode of play will be a combination of basic, standard and advanced rules, some rules modified (I'm thinking of replacing the collision and fire/flood rules already) and a few completely new house rules, and I'll probably post on this at a later date.

It should not need pointing out that, despite my misgivings on a few things I do enjoy the game and there are some really lovely things about it, not least the models (which have, at last, made AoS gaming accessible to those wargamers without the time or skills to make sailing warship models, or the expansive bank accounts that allow them to pay a painting service to do it for them), the play mats and many aspects of the rules; the crew management system as a system works really well. Overall the game blends simplicity and complexity in equal measure so you have an almost "skirmish" quality to it in the crew management coupled with a very simple combat system. A nice combination even if one does feel that the detail of some of the elements needs to be house ruled.

And of course it is streets ahead of WHH Trafalgar :)

Sunday 12 January 2014


In another classic example of "drift" the latest completions here at the Cambridge Shipyards  are a trio of Romulan D-7 Stormbirds. Again, finishing off a project from several years ago. I had a pile of the Konami (or were they Furuta? probably Furuta) large-ish Star Trek models wherein it was curious that they never released a Klingon D-7. Or if they did I never saw it. Anyway a US company (Johnny Lightning?) produced a D7 whhich was slightly too small but which looked great with the Japanese models anyway so I bought a squadron of those, and then decided to get another three and paint them up as Rom birds. Of course this was a project that stalled and the models languished in a box for a few years. A happy coincidence of watching the fan-made Star Trek: Phase II episodes on Youtube (they really are rather good) and digging out the box of models promoted them to "top of the list" just to get them finished.

I probably rushed them and the detailing isn't as good as it could be, so I may well end up giving them some additional paintwork in the future, but for now I'm very pleased with the way that these ships came out.

And, after all, the D-7 really is a lovely design. Much more businesslike that that namby pamby Federation stuff :)

Saturday 11 January 2014

Sails of Glory - A Review for the NWS

Jeff Chorney asked me to write a review of "Sails of Glory" for Battlefleet, which I did a couple of weeks back. I thought it would make an interesting subject for a blog post, so here it is (slightly amended)

Sails of Glory was one of the most anticipated naval games of 2012 – and 2013. Several NWS members have had a chance to play, notably at the Gosport show in June 2013.  In the end, following an extended development schedule and finally being funded and put into production through a Kickstarter project, Sails of Glory Napoleonic (abbreviated to SGN) has hit the streets in early 2014. So, was it worth the wait?

I guess I’m not the best person to answer that, for I must declare an interest in having assisted the producer, Ares, and the creators, Andrea Angiollio and Andrea Mainini in the development and playtesting of the rules and advising on the models. So what follows is my personal view which I guess you should see through the lens of someone being close to the project. However, I hope you will see that what follows is an honest appraisal of the game.

The starter set comes in a big, sturdy box and comprises four ship models (two frigates, two 74s), ship record cards, counter sets (for damage), range rulers, wind indicators, island and shoal terrain pieces (2D) and the landscape format rulebook. Quality of the components is lovely, the card used of a heavy gauge and very well punched (there have been a few complaints from some KS backers about flimsiness but to me they seem fine). More on the models later. The rulebook is clear and well written – translated from Italian into English (and other languages in the fullness of time I expect) and with the benefit of English speakers proof reading it. Even so a few odd translations have slipped through but nothing problematical, and it adds to the charm of the book.

The models themselves are lovely. They are produced to a scale of 1:1000. The original plan was to make them in 1:1200 but this was changed for production purposes, it being easier for the Chinese manufacturers and painters to work with the slightly larger models. This scale change caused a log of “debate” amongst supporters of the game. The end result is OK though, with the larger models still working well with readily available 1:1200 accessories, terrain and other bits and bobs. The models themselves are lovely, prepainted and ready to use out of the box. Langton models are the obvious inspiration, with the detail in sails in particular being heavily based on their slightly smaller lead companions. 

Detail is, as you would expect, not as good as a Langton or GHQ model, but is perfectly acceptable for a prepainted plastic model. Painting is also to a good standard and quite OK to use “out of the box”. There is though scope or those with a creative bent to detail the models, with details such as masts, yards and bowsprit detail to be painted in, and they models benefit greatly from a light brown wash and dry brushing. Ratlines and rigging can also be added, a tricky job as the models are assembled and disassembly is prone to cause snapping. Word has it that the naval equivalent of Aerodrome Accessories will be producing brass or steel ratlines as after market add ons. These should be quick and simple to fit.

Anyway, as far as the contents are concerned you have everything you need to play straight out of the box, as long as you have a playing surface and obligatory blue cloth for a playing surface (and, as with Wings of Glory there is an "official" game mat available, I just haven't got mine yet - languishing in a snowstorm in Chicago last time I checked the USPS tracking numbers. But what of the game itself?

SGN obviously shares an ancestry with Wings of Glory, but it is a rather more complex game, especially with the full rules in play. Three different levels of play which build up to form a relatively complex game well suited to frigate and small ship actions.

Ship movement is controlled by manoeuvre cards. Players select the card showing the course they wish their ship to follow in the next turn. At the start of a turn all manoeuvre cards are revealed and movement resolved. Simple. Distance travelled depends on wind direction and this is denoted by coloured borders on the ship base edges. Again, a simple method, although the borders are thin and its difficult to see where each coloured segment ends in anything less than bright lighting. Ships sailing into the wind to tack use a different subset of cards that catches tacking quite well (although there is no chance for ships to fail to tack).

Gunnery is resolved through the use of chit drawing. Each ship has a full and partial broadside factor that denotes the number of chits drawn. Chits have a number representing scale of damage caused and some have symbols representing special damage such as crew casualties, damaged steering, fire and flood, etc.  damage chits are applied to a damage track, with a number of points required to “fill” each square of the track dependent on the size and ruggedness of the ship. There are two tracks, one for hull damage, the other for crew. Once either damage track is completely filled the ship strikes and surrenders. The basic game uses round shot only, and does not include special damage effects. At more advanced levels of play the rules introduce double shot, chain and grapeshot, and the special damage types, as well as boarding actions and melee)

Other rules are there covering the effects of land, change in wind strength and direction, damage control, crew actions and other details that all go together to make a very comprehensive game. Additional crew and captain cards will soon be available that introduce special abilities an actions to “customise” a ship. The “Anchorage Store” is also selling after-market add-ons, primarily smoke markers, draw-string bags to hold damage chits and laser cut wooden rulers and wind gauges to replace the cardboard ones in the game. And very nicely produced they are.

All in all I’m very happy with the way SGN turned out. It is by no means perfect. The choice of starting ships isn’t all that well balanced, there are no rules for carronades, the collision rules are “gamey”) but it does play very well for frigate and small squadron actions, being very much a “skirmish” set of rules as opposed to a fleet action set (whilst I’m sure the rules could - and will - be used for large battles they just don’t seem well suited to actions with more than a handful of ships on each side). Which brings me on to the one real beef I have with the game, the scale and range of ship stats. Gunnery factors range from 7 or 8 for ships of the line to 2 or 3 for frigates. Burden (the factor relating to damage resistance) ranges from 6 for SoLs to 2 (for 32 gun frigates). Which would be OK for a fleet action game in allowing some (but not much) differentiation between the larger ships, but it means that the available stat range for frigates and unrated ships is incredibly compressed. So its nigh-on impossible to represent the difference between frigate types, frigate armaments etc. Which is a shame, since as I said it is at this end of the gaming spectrum where I think the rules really do work very well. That said, there is plenty of scope for “house ruling” – watch out for future posts on this (and I have already started working up new rules for mortars and bomb vessels, boats and landing parties)

Tuesday 7 January 2014

The Temple at Siwa

Last night saw my second wargame of the year (the first was another playtest of my fast play medieval naval set - still coming on well), and the first game at the Berkeley Vale club. Rodger ran a "back of Beyond" game, pitching the French Foreign Legion, Bedouin Arabs (with a London bus!) and ante-Nazi archaeologists against each other in a bid to secure the dread horror that was uncovered at the Temple of Siwa in Southern Egypt.  Both the FFL and the Bedouin (who were well aware of the nature of the unspeakable horror) had to stop the archaeologists from escaping with their loot. A madcap game ensued, with reanimated mummies beating up on the FFL and Bedouin infantry, the FFL and Bedouin armoured cars taking ineffective potshots at each other for most of the game, giant carnivorous worms  erupting from the sand, an FFL trooper with a flamethrower and an itchy finger, an acrobatic Bedouin leader who alas was no dab hand with grenades and a blind German sniper who spent the game on the roof of a temple taking potshots an anything with little effect. Enormous fun, and something that I'm sure we'll be doing again the near future.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Unexpected Progress

Despite my pessimistic view of the plan, the atrocious weather (which has disrupted my weekend outside schedule) coupled with Liz being glued to the TV most evenings has allowed me time to crack on and sort out these blasted Bashi Basouks that have been littering the lead pile and generally causing trouble for the last couple of years or so (I forget when Martin Goddard released these, but I bought some straight away and they've languished ever since - not unlike their real-life equivalents!).

Unlike previous PP mounted figures I've come across these are cast as one piece rather than horse and rider separately. I'm not sure if I like them this way, but they were certainly different to paint and I think they came up a treat. Despite there only being three poses the nature of their "uniform" helps to give the unit an irregular feel, and they should fit in nicely with their foot equivalents.

I also managed to finish off a pile of PP Spanich Civil War casualty markers that similarly have been hanging around unpainted for as long as I can remember. Next up - five 1930s biplane fighters for the "not the SCW collection" :)


Wednesday 1 January 2014

The Plan – 2014

Having reviewed progress in 2013 yesterday, today I set out my plan for 2014. As a cursory look at the last 2 years will show I achieve between 50% and 75% of my objectives so I am confident I will be reporting a similar ration of success and “deferred success” in 364 days time J

1 – 15mm Colonial. Sort out those blasted Bashi Basouks and some river boats. Then look to see what we need extra (if anything) for the hinted-at Berkeley Vale campaign.

2 – Form Line of Battle. A surprise entry, but here because (a) I’ve remembered how much I love the rules and (b) Rodger at the club wants to give them a try. The plan here is to renovate the fleets and complete at least six ships from the “lead pile”

3 – Project X. Mysteriously referred to over the last 2 years, PX has three elements to it. I will complete at least 2 of them this year. You’ll know when I do J

4 – 1/600 Coastal. Resurrecting last year’s objective, I will renovate the existing fleets, finish any odd models that have yet to be completed, sort out soft copies of ship data cards and get some games in! A stretch target will be to do the same for my 1/1200 models.

5 – Armada Invencible. Another surprise entry, but 2014 should see the rules for this hit the streets. I have a couple of the ships already and it looks like my stock of old Airfix galleons might work with them at a pinch. The objective here is to get a copy, knock up small English and Spanish squadrons and try them out. And if they don’t work then an Armada variant of FLoB may be on the cards J

6 – Games. I’m well set up to run a number of games, including Wings of Glory, X Wing, Sails of Glory (of which more in the coming days I hope), War Rocket and a few others so the plan here is to get a number of games of each in. I’ll also try to run a one day campaign, maybe two. These may or may not be connected with Project X.

Inevitably there will be some mission creep. I can guess where the mission may creep to over the coming months (those 15mm Vikings would like a day out, as would my 7th cavalry and Plains Wars Indians, and then there’s the “not the Spanish Civil War” stuff…..). So expect some variation.

However, one very firm target – NO NEW PERIODS!

And now to end, the first completed models of 2014 (which don’t fit in to objectives 1-6) – a pair of Zvezda 1/100 T-35s. They really are quite imposing!