26 August 2015

Review: Fighting Sail

Osprey has produced a range of interesting volumes since they began to publish wargames rules, and I have more than a few myself.  I suspect (and know) that many of you do too...

Fighting Sail is a departure from the previous in that it is the first set of naval rules, set specifically in the majestic Age of Sail ranging from the American Revolution to the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  Its in lovely  full glossy colour and filled with lots of pictures of models and artwork from Osprey titles.

I was a Napoleonic affectionado two decades or so ago though I’ve barely touched it since.  A lack of opponents after moving away from my mates who introduced me, but also because I just couldn’t face up to all those hull boxes, sail boxes, gun boxes and crew boxes anymore. We used to play a bit mostly using Wooden Ships and Iron Men. I still have that boxed game and a big, bulging folder with extra rules, articles and supplements and while I’ve tried (and still have) several other sets of rules, they were just different ways of doing the same hit box ritual.  

Fighting Sail is different. You are the Flag Officer commanding the Squadron, not trying to be all the Captains of the ships.  Too many rules try to do this, overloading players with detail. You won’t be deciding to double shot guns, load chain or grape shot, or increase sail.  The Captains do that for themselves - its what they get paid for after all.  That’s quite a different mindset to other Age of Sail games, and the immediate reaction is 'why can’t I do xxx’. The answer is that it is happening, but you as the Commodore/Admiral don’t care and the how too much (and frankly wouldn't know either), just what the outcome is.  If you can get your head around that then everything falls into place and the streamlined elegance of the rules becomes clear.

Fighting Sail lets you play fleet actions like this (Trafalgar 1805) and not get bogged down with more than 3 or 4 ships.
The mechanics work with handfuls of dice looking for target numbers, followed by Hull ‘saves’. This keeps game intuitive and both players are involved throughout.  The simple damage system reduces firepower and manoeuvrability while negating the need for those dreaded hit boxes.

A simple but effective Fleet building system also provides differentiated traits and skills for the different nations' Captains and Admirals. This makes the British quite different in flavour to the Yanks, Spaniards, French and Russians.  Each nation also has a selection of legendary Admirals and Ships for those who want Nelson and Victory or Decatur and the Constitution in their Fleet.

What doesn’t it have? Campaign rules- rather simple and its curious that something that should only be 3-4 pages was omitted.  I can see campaign settings being relatively simple to generate (e.g. Brit/France in the Caribbean, War of 1812) in which the different costs can be skewed to reflect specific availabilities and circumstances.

Overall, just reading these rules got me excited about a period I've long not thought about.  So much so that I’ve spent the day scouring the net looking at different model ranges and trying not IF to buy, but what scale and how many...

If you have any interest in the period and want to try it out, or are looking for a set of rules that let you manoeuvre fleets and squadrons instead of getting bogged down with only 3 or 4 ships, then give Fighting Sail a look.

https://ospreypublishing.com/fighting-sail-fleet-actions-1775-1815

The Battle of Athos, 1807 - for the ambitious gamer!

33 comments:

  1. Good review. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks very much for the review. I'm not sure my wife will be as greatful when she sees me starting a new type of game...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't they always seem so 'grateful'? :-)
      Mind you, I'm sure they are grateful that we are geeking out modelling and gaming around the house rather than being down the pub, casino or racetrack (or worse!)

      Delete
  3. I recently gave in and purchased Fighting Sail. It's due in the post in the next few days. After reading your review I'm even more excited about the rules. Looks like I'll need to find me some models sooner than I initially thought!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I recently gave in and purchased Fighting Sail. It's due in the post in the next few days. After reading your review I'm even more excited about the rules. Looks like I'll need to find me some models sooner than I initially thought!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I recently gave in and purchased Fighting Sail. It's due in the post in the next few days. After reading your review I'm even more excited about the rules. Looks like I'll need to find me some models sooner than I initially thought!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been pursuing the inter web and have a few thoughts on that subject.
      Watch for a post in the next few days...

      Delete
  6. Excellent Review, Paul. I'd like to play these sometime. I bought "Sails of Glory" about 6 months ago but have not tried them yet. I'd like to try these as I've heard nothing but good things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well worth getting to try out with your SoG ships!

      Delete
  7. Might have to give these a look I think. We play Form Line of Battle and really enjoy it but there's always room for something different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I dont think you'll regret it Millsy!

      Delete
  8. I've always loved the era of fighting sail, comes from reading Hornblower and Ramage as a kid, probably. I've always been put off by the overly complicated rules. I've been wondering how these were. I guess I'll be picking them up now...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think these have sufficient complexity to have the right feel without overdoing it.
      Let me know how you go!

      Delete
  9. Interesting. Would like to see this one get demonstrated in a battle report.
    cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It would make for a fun demo game too

      Delete
  10. Sounds interesting. Have you tried any of the Flying Colors series of boardgames from GMT? http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/8730/flying-colors

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No but I'm really interested in getting hold of the information from Vol 3 "Blue Cross, White Ensign" - I've become really interested in the Anglo-Russian War of 1807-12 and the operations that took place in the Baltic. A great excuse to buy and build some Russian and Swedish Fleets!

      Delete
  11. Nice review. I've been eyeing these rules for a while. Think it might be time to bite the bullet and get 'em.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Nice review Paul! I've been eyeing the rules myself as fleet size actions in the Napoleonic era are something I've been wanting to play for a long long time. The rules that I'd seen before had put me off, but maybe these could do the trick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think you'll be disappointed Samuli. I've been unhappy with all the rules sets so far when going about 4-5 ships per side

      I should ask Osprey for a commission on all these new sales :-)

      Delete
  13. They sound interesting, a completely different take to the norm.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My gaming colleague and I tried these, and whilst he was comparatively ok with them, I wasn't happy. The damage system is far too simple to my mind, we had two ships, a 1st rate and a 3rd rate both sunk by the first salvo from a 3rd rate in our first game. HMS Victory is so unbalancing on a game that it is in effect the Death Star and should be avoided at all costs. Overall we decided to go back to using our regular rules Blood Bilge and Iron Balls. We don't mind a bit of paperwork and they are more fun than these IMO. It concerns me when the author of these rules has said on TMP that he is already looking at v2 due to the amount of alterations people have requested on posts on TMP, and this with the ink barely dry on the v1.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had exactly the same problem... Ships of the line shouldn't blow up as a result of the first broad side on a regular basis and it does happen a lot. Honestly I think these rules make a better space combat than age of sail game.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for that input Volleyfire! I haven't had that experience. I can understand that sometimes a lucky shot will detonated a powder magazine but I wouldn't expect that to be a regular occurrence. I'll keep an eye out for this during my games

      Where is this TMP thread which you mentioned?

      Delete
    3. In regard to the "Matchstick 74 syndrome" mentioned above, I asked the author if he had seen this often in play testing. He replied

      "It did not come up in play testing very often - though I can see that it happening even a few times is a bit jarring. I like the idea of making the 5 damage entry being "+3 damage tokens and an anchor token" as that keeps the game moving without such strange results. I'm going to try it in my next game!"

      I'll keep you posted

      Delete
    4. http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=386478
      http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=386292
      I wasn't the only one, if you read these boards you'll see ships blowing up after only one combat action is quite common, far more common than occured in real life IMO.

      Delete
    5. Its very interesting that your experience is different to the author's play testing.

      I would be interested in a comparison with these and the "Blood, Bilge & Iron Balls" rules you say you like to play

      Delete
    6. BTW I just bought a copy of "Blood, Bilge & Iron Balls" at your suggestion and look forward to reading it

      Delete
  15. I like the rules and have played them twice. While there is some sacrifice at ship level detail one can get a large fleet battle done in an evening. It's a wonderful sight to have 40+ langton son on the table in a good scrape!

    I do think the rules work better for larger battles where the impact of ships blowing up can be better distributed across the sides

    ReplyDelete
  16. 40+ Langtons on a table? Wow! That must be a beautiful sight, though I'm glad I didn't have to do all that rigging! Reminds me of the Trafalgar diorama at the RN muumuu in Portsmouth, but they don't let you play with that one :-)

    These rules are definitely for the larger engagements with say 12+ ships per side. That that size, the abstractions work well and the game flows. For smaller engagements with only a few ships per side, I would prefer more detail too but these still would work fine. However, sometimes an Admiral just has to trust that his Band of Brothers are fighting their ships are well as they can.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very interesting review. Many thanks, Paul.

    ReplyDelete