Any wargamer worth their salt, if they are into building collections of figures or models eventually turn their mind to campaigning with their collection, and occasionally, time permitting, some of those ideas see the light of day.
As this blog illustrates, I am a keen boardgamer as well as a table-top figure/model wargamer and see it as another aspect of the hobby that often also offers the potential to be used as a campaign engine to bring context to our table-top games, and whenever I play am always conscious of that potential in a game.
The main factors that can influence that potential for me is how easy is it to translate what happens on the table to and from the board and where is the time and focus likely to be, as many boardgames will carry a level of detail and minutiae that is not required or desirable when it is simply being used for context in the tabletop world.
|Collections of models such as this offers the potential to think about campaigns!|
However that balance is often a fine one, because if the boardgame is too simplistic it might not capture the feel of the period that you are representing on the table.
Needless to say with my mind very much focussed on the age of sail in recent months my eye has cast itself over the boardgame offerings in this subject and sadly it is a much under represented sector of the hobby, with little in the way of grand strategic naval games for the age of sail and with WWII naval predominating in games such as the old Avalon Hill game Victory in the Pacific and of course War at Sea.
|The old WWII titles from Avalon Hill inspired my interest in Sovereign of the Seas for age of sail|
I have looked at the offerings from Jay Waschak and Phil Fry such as Victory by any Means (VBAM) and his own GMT game 1805 Sea of Glory, which have bag loads of detail and period feel but seemed to me to be perhaps a little too complex in their mechanics on several aspects of this period, although 1805 is perhaps the better of the two but I think if used for a miniatures campaign would see more time spent on the game mechanisms and their admin rather than on the movement and command of the model ships.
To quote the Too Fat Lardies, 'Making things simple does not imply simplistic' and the clever mechanics are the ones that incorporate all the detail and simulation that capture the essence of a period or historical theme in a very simple to use formula that keeps the game in that sweet spot of historical simulation but a fun game to play
Thus I have both VBAM and 1805 and, as well as being glad they are available, enjoy the attention to detail, but they are just not what I was looking for; but at least the naval gamer with a different opinion to me has some options here with these two offerings in what is a very sparse area indeed.
However I wanted to have the possibility of running large naval games within a 'wider war' context incorporating fleet management and the global nature of the First Great War that was the character of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic years, and Sovereign of the Seas (SOTS) from Compass Games seemed to offer that potential, bringing to it much of the design concepts of those earlier Avalon Hill WWII offerings but with very much an age of sail twist, and for those interested in earlier periods such as the Seven Years War and American War of Independence a chance to apply this game to those periods as well.
In addition, using Vassal, seemed to me to offer the opportunity of playing and coming back to the system around the table-top actions that the game might generate with a possibility of it modelling the small wall against commerce waged by the frigates and sloops together with the war of control and force projection waged by the great fleets, as well as overcoming some of the criticism of this game about counters being rather large for the map, amongst others.
|The Allied (France, Spain and Netherlands) Fleet pools of ships and admirals that provide the source of the ships and commanders that will be parcelled out to the various squadrons in the different bases at the start of each year.|
Of course the only way to test the potential of the game was to play it and to see why some people love this game and why others less so, thus with my mind very open to possibility, I got together with Jason, another friend from the DWG, who is also very good at quickly dissecting games and how they play, and explaining to him my thinking, we started to play about eight weeks ago, starting in 1793 and working our way to 1805, the core years of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era.
With a quick die roll I took command of the Allies and Jason the British Royal Navy and we started the steep part of the learning curve with any unfamiliar game by working through the steps of game play which get repeated for each year of play, starting with randomly selecting the core of ships and commanding admirals from a national pool as seen above and then distributing them among the six squadrons for the British, French and Spanish/Dutch squadrons, with the option for the Russians to turn up as well.
The French start the war on their own in 1793 but are soon joined by the Dutch in 1795 and the Spanish a year later, and to better capture the feel of the early war I added some of the Admirals included in the game for the American war to the mix with a note of retiring them as required such as Howe and Hotham who packed in in 1795.
|Opposing frigate effort in the Caribbean would seem to offer the potential of resolving this situation on the table as a small ship action.|
|The Battle of Halifax 1794, our Glorious First of June and one of three clashes between 1793 to 1798, with the French overwhelmed by a powerful British fleet, the pegged back territorial success elsewhere.|
Step Three is the combat phase of the game as illustrated above and resolves the situation where one side has manged to intercept the other and forced an action or more rarely where both sides have looked for an action, and is resolved on the battle board, as illustrated above, with opposing ships battering each other with multiple dice looking to cause hits, damage and possible sinking/capture or disablement forcing a break off and return to port or elimination from the order of battle.
|Large battles in SOTS would be very easily translated on to the table-top but with the added tactical nuance that a simple battle board cannot hope to reproduce.|
|As well as fleet scale actions we could both see how the game could generate a context for bringing a small frigate action to the table adding yet more drama to the game overall.|
When first reading the rules for this game, I couldn't see how the British wouldn't stop Allied gains in sea area control, simply by making sure they were in the key areas or intercepting Allied squadrons at sea that managed to evade their blockade, but playing the game has shown all the problems that both sides have to contend with when you don't know what the other side are up to, intermixed with the problems of moving ships around the world in an age of wind driven vessels subject to the vagaries of weather.
|The Allied points tally at the end of 1798 slightly favouring a marginal Allied victory on 39VPs and all to play for.|
Steps Five & Six are the last two admin parts of the game that sees decisions about where at sea squadrons will base themselves with the next year in mind and looking to be in the best possible place to operate from, combined with decisions to repair certain key ships damaged in battle or storms and those that will simply be added to the demobilised pile and returned to the in ordinary pool hopefully, or not, to return to the fleet in a later draw down.
|The British Fleet Pool and the ships shown from the pool in their readiness for war by rating in 1793 with those that were added in the later years covered by SOTS|
|As with the British pool above I took a look at the Allied fleets and grouped them similarly to find an equally well represented group in the right sort of proportion of rates to model the respective fleets|
|The six sloop conversions ready to be rigged this weekend|