Last weekend I had the chance to play this game, my mate got into the kickstarter some time ago and, being myself a declared fan of naval issues and the period, it was time to make our way into the seas!
|That's the game|
The box gives you the opportunity to act English or French. Besides the core box, my mate also got the first expansion pack, so we both had a four ships fleet.
|You need quite a table just to set the game|
My friend would be the English commodore and I would be the French one. We played a blockade, where the English fleet would have to avoid the French ships reaching the other side of the board. Don't worry, no Siege of Toulon nor any historical scenario, just trying to get used to the rules.
The game allows different levels of difficulty. We went nuts and decided to play using all the special rules. I can tell you it is a hell of a game having all those details, but unbelievably fun. First of all, you have to randomly set the wind gauge. That will determine the whole game dynamics! Each turn wind can change (or not) and you immediately learn how important is to get to windward of your enemy. At the beginning, wind was quite favorable to the English:
How do you move your ships? You have to plan a couple of movements in advance (that is when playing the advanced rules), using a deck every ship is provided with. Depending on the wind and your sails, they can move better or worse. To determine the attitude to wind of your ship, you must set the attitude indicator in he same direction of the wind, that determining the green/orange/red areas on the base of the ship:
|Orange it is,sailing close to the wind|
|So you move as the card indicates, depending on your sails|
The clash is imminent. The English fleet, having got to winward of the French, advances towards the enemy:
|Ooops, someone's gonna crash...|
But beware! The HMS Defence has not quite calculated the strenght of the wind and her course!
|Croooosh! Damages on the hull|
You randomly pick a damage marker. In this case everything went wrong, as a fire was declared! I'll use next pic of the Ship's log to explain a little more about the game:
|Lot of info, uh?|
The upper part shows you the 'technical specifications' of a ship: Burden, veer, artillery firepower, crew, musketry firepower...
The lower part depicts the actions taken by the captain: where you must determine your sail settings (full sails, battle sails, backing sails), if your port/starboard cannons are to shoot this turn or they are reloading and the actions you may take.
|Moar tokens! Yay!|
Let me explain this pic. Upper row: Kinds of ammo (ball, double shot, chain grapeshot). Next one: reloading or shooting tokens, both port and starboard. The rest are the actions: extinguish fire, pump water, increase/decrease sails, grog for the crew (for morale effects), repair damage and musketry fire.
So bear all this in mind, it may prove useful! Let's talk about shooting. As you can see, the bases depict firing angles, depending on the orientation of the stem, full broadside or stern batteries. You have to plan in advance which kind of ammunition you want to load on the batteries, as not all of them have the same range or effects:
|Ouch! That can hurt!|
|So damage begins to be noticed on board.|
Depending of the ammunition/musketry/etc kind of damage, you will need to take different damage tokens (i.e., grapeshot ammunition from a '2' value fire battery, take two 'D' tokens, that's the way it works) :
|There are no good tokens, sorry. Only bad choices for you...|
In the middle of the battle, the wind begun to blow from a different direction. That was a terrible mess for the French fleet, which now was totally leeward:
|This was the disposition. Be prepared to see anything...|
When the wind hits you from the stem, your planification sinks away. You can forget of the cards you chose and need the red cards. Depending on you previous actions, you may take a determined card which will depict how your ship is going to move during the following two turns:
|Get ready for almost going adrift|
|My fleet, scattered. The cards show what will be the movement like next turn.|
Anyways, the battle must go on! The Embuscade hit the Defence:
|Though it's a hard ship of the line, it's being seriously damaged|
|Of course, she strikes back...|
|HMS Cleopatra, engaged in a boarding action, shoots at the Embuscade|
|Well, how to put this into words...|
The Embuscade inevitably sunk, so things weren't going that good for the French, still being scattered due to the wind next turn (I even had a ship totally heading the opposite way!):
|Seriously, Genereux, where the hell are you pointing at?|
HMS Concorde crahsed into the Courageuse in order to board her:
The Genereux tried to get into course again next turn, attempting to break the blockade:
But unfortunately crashed into the Hermione's stern!
The poor frigate, being hit from all over, could not resist and sunk too:
|Nooooooglub glub glub...|
So the French had nothing to do by now. Being against the wind and being reduced to the half of their strength, there was no way any of them could move through the blockade.
|We could fight a couple more rounds, but it looked pretty clear at the moment...|
The game is absolutely fun, but terribly complex if, as we did, you try to play the full ruleset (i.e., advanced rules) for your first game. The broad choice of actions you have to pick in order to shoot muskets, repair damage, reload starboard batteries or let the man drink (seriously, your crew is dying under enemy fire and the best option is... letting the rest of the crew get drunk!) can be a little bit overwhelming until you get used to control everything, specially if you are managing four ships at the same time.
On the other hand, it is so complete that you do want keep on playing it as complex as you can! I can imagine infinite possibilities, with two or more players per side, one acting as the Commodore trying to pass orders to the other ships using signals. Or even tiny scenarios with determined secret missions the other side does not know.
About the result... well, I cannot but admit my total defeat. Wind plays an immense role, as you can see, but I must blame over all things that we had 'Master and Commander' OST playing during our game, so even the ambientation was in favour of the English. What can I say? Three cheers for Lucky Jack!