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)

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