Monday, April 1, 2013

Sails of Glory - A Sneak Peak and Playtest!

Finally - a worthy replacement for Wooden Ships and Iron Men! 
When I heard a few months ago that Ares Games was going to be doing a miniatures sailing combat game leveraging their Wings of Glory system I was pretty excited. First, I was a big player of Wooden Ships and Iron Men back in-the-day, and have been waiting for something a little faster to pick up and play. Second, my first non-fiction book, Cruise of the Sea Eagle, was about a turn-of-the-century German windjammer, The Seeadler, during WWI. I have played Fear God and Dread Nought and have written for a number of game systems over the years - BattleTech and Leviathans for example. 

The battle quickly became two one-on-one engagements.  The ruler on the table determines not only the range but the damage counters you use.  
The prototype miniatures.  This is like Master and Commander on steroids! 
This gives you a good idea of the size of the miniatures.  I was bummed the prototype didn't come with these, but I can honestly say I can't wait for this game at GenCon or Origins.  
I love miniature games but hate the assembly and painting in order to play. Ares Games get it. Like Wings of Glory (which I'm a huge fan of) they are going to produce preassembled and painted miniature ships with this product line. In other words, open the box and get playing.

The problems that naval games always have is the balance between playability vs. realism. Areas has met this head-on with Sails of Glory. For this playtest I was playing a prototype of the game - one that had cards and chips but none of the really cool miniatures. We squared up with two French and two British ships.

To play the basic game - bare bones really, takes about 15 minutes to master the rules. If you want to make that shorter, there are some videos they have on-line. I'm sure the advanced game will take longer - but how many games out there can you get playing in 15 minutes?

What makes the game work is twofold. One, the miniature base. This determines your attitude to the wind for movement, and what guns you can bring to bear. The other key is the movement cards. Likes their very easy Wings of Glory game, these cards determine you movement plot. There are several different kinds of damage counters. As you take damage you track it on a reference card.

The game is so easy. You pick a card for your movement. Everybody moves. Using a range-finder, you fire. The closer you are determines what damage counter pile you pull from. A typical broadside might have you pull 3-4 counters. These can add up pretty quick in terms of I painfully learned. Closer range shots seem to inflict more damage - just like they are supposed to. I got my T crossed at pretty dangerous range, and it took out half of the damage slots on my ship. But the smaller ship I was battling got pummeled with a counter-salvo two turns later that left it floundering.

Reloading can mess you up since you can have a great shot but your crew is busy reloading - which hurt me against the HMS Terpischore.

Wind attitude is most important if you are aback to the wind. The movement cards are used differently in these situations, which can really swing a ship around in one round and change the tactical situation quickly. My opponent , the HMS Defense, was able to pivot enough to devastate the Genereux, finishing her off.
With four ships our game ran about a half-hour. There are a few things that we didn't get to test. To use musketry you have to have ships that are at point blank range. We had that happen during the game, but it didn't seem to be as much as a factor unless you were planning a boarding party - which isn't part of the basic game. We played on a three foot by three foot area and the game was remarkably fluid - to the point where we could have used a larger playing space. Despite this we had three collisions. In the basic game there are some nuances with ramming that need to be worked out - but otherwise these are VERY sound rules of play. 

While Ares didn't send me the advanced rules I'm already drooling over them. Based on the individual ship cards, and the counter provided, we're looking at the full gambit of Nelson-era combat. I saw fire markers of some sort, there's chain-shot and grapeshot firing capabilities which I would have enjoyed playing with - and the loss of masts, which don't factor into the basic game. Even if you were to layer in these rules the game is still going to be very fluid and quick to play.

What I like about this system is that I could teach it to an eight-year old and play it, yet the tactics are such that even die-hard gamers are going to be drawn in. Even a ship-on-ship battle can be pretty interesting and with the damage counters, the whims of fate come into play. You can get in a lucky long range shot that wrecks havoc and carnage, or you can get a nice devastating close range shot that does remarkably little. This is going to cost me some bucks, but I want to play some larger battles. Ares seems to think that ships will run $20 each. From the pictures, they look spectacular.

Ares Games is running a Kickstarter on this and I encourage you to check it out. Kickstarter Sails of Glory With people plopping down big money on Zombie games it's nice to see a new view to an "old school" game get some serious backing.   


  1. A question came in to my email:
    I will say that I can't wait for boarding party rules. Musketry in the basic game really doesn't factor in because of the short range - at least in the playtest game we ran.

  2. Musketry fire in the two games I have played was very significant, to the point of being a definitive reason for winning in my case