Sails of Glory
Designer: Andrea Angiolino & Andrea Mainini
Publisher: Ares Games (2013)
# of Players: 1-4
Play Time: 45 min
Category: Gamer’s Game
For a long time, I’ve had this desire to get into a naval combat game. But mostly because I had an equally strong desire not to pay lots of money for miniatures that I would probably never paint, I never indulged this yearning.
But then, I saw the Sails of Glory campaign on Kickstarter. And even better, I got an email from Ares Games asking if I’d like to try out a prototype. I have now done so, and thought I’d take a little time to explore my experience with it…
Sails of Glory is based on the same system used in Wings of War/Wings of Glory, which is also closely related to my beloved Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures. The basic idea is that they’re tactical miniatures-based combat games where you choose your maneuvers secretly and simultaneously, then reveal to see how your ships/planes/starfighters interact on the table.
In the basic version of Sails of Glory, the turn sequence is broken up into 4 phases and looks like this:
1) Planning Phase – As I said before, the heart of this combat system is that players simultaneously choose maneuvers for their ships. Each ship (or, presumably, class of similar ships) in the game comes with a deck of maneuver cards, and in this phase, everyone looks at their deck and chooses a card picturing the maneuver that they want to use.
But one thing that really sets Sails of Glory apart from its predecessors is that you also have to take into account the effect that the wind has on movement. Part of setup (as dictated in the scenario or whatever) is to determine the direction of the wind. And then each turn, every ship has to find its Attitude to the wind, which is tied to one of three colors: Green (“Reaching”), Orange (“Beating” or “Running”), and Red (“Taken aback”). Knowing your Attitude is key both to knowing which maneuver cards you can use (since red uses entirely different ones) and how far you will travel along the maneuver lines (since Green will move further than Orange).
2) Movement Phase – Once everyone has chosen their maneuver card, they’re all revealed and players can move their ships simultaneously. To do so, you literally take the maneuver card, lay it down in front of the ship (lining up the mark on the base with the mark on the card), and then move the ship along the maneuver arc until the back of the base is at the appropriate line (green, orange, or red), depending on your Attitude. If a collision would occur, the larger ship (with the largest “burden”) moves first).
An example of movement for a ship with green (“Reaching”) Attitude
3) Combat Phase – Now that everyone has moved, players can check their firing arcs to see if they can fire their cannons at someone. On each side, ships have 3 arcs (fore, aft, and full broadside). Putting the corner of the range ruler on the dot at the point of the firing arc, you can pivot the ruler to see if another ship will fall into it. You also determine the range from your ship to the base of the enemy ship.
In addition, if you are very close to the enemy ship (within the width of the range ruler), you can also fire your muskets at them.
To deal damage, a certain number of chits are drawn from different pools. For artillery, the two pools are either close range (the “B” chits) or long range (the “A” chits), and for musketry, you pull from the “E” pool. The number of chits pulled is determined both by which arc you’re using (full broadside is more powerful, obviously) and how much damage your ship has taken.
There is no “roll to hit” in the game. The variability in combat comes from the fact that the chits drawn deal different amounts of damage (including some misses), may take out crew, and potentially have other effects (in the advanced game).
As you take damage, you literally put these chits onto a log sheet that is specific to your ship. So as boxes are covered, your firepower is reduced to the next lower level. Larger ships (again, with a higher “burden”) can take more damage per step, since filling up a box requires tokens equal to the burden value. Damage is all dealt simultaneously, though, so a ship’s firepower will not be reduced until the turn after it is hit.
4) Reloading Phase – While muskets can be fired every round, it actually takes two rounds to reload artillery. On the log sheet, there are a couple of steps that you move the reloading chit along to show when they will be ready to fire again.
The ship log showing damage both to the hull track (above) and the loss of 5 crew
Winning the Game
Play continues until ships receive enough damage to fill up either their hull row or their crew row. At that point, the captain of the ship surrenders, and if all the ships on one side surrender, the game is over.
Hints About the Standard and Advanced Game
First from reading the Kickstarter page and the Ares Games website, and then from reading the preliminary rulebook I received just yesterday, there’s quite a bit more involved in the standard and advanced versions of the game. A few interesting things include:
• You actually program next turn’s move in the planning phase, so you’re always then executing the maneuver you chose a turn ago
• Maneuver cards also have numbers on them (from 0 to 10), and you can’t choose cards on successive turns that have numbers further apart than your ship’s Maneuverability rating
• Wind direction can change somehow
• There are rules for islands/terrain
• In addition to the effect of your Attitude to the wind has on movement, players can also choose how much sail to use. The base game is played at “Battle” sails (the middle value), but you can also choose either “Full” sails or “Backing” sails, which use entirely different lines on the maneuver card that will be either longer or shorter, respectively.
• In combat, a “Rake” (when you’re firing into a short side, front or back, of an opponent) deals 50% more damage (in number of chits drawn).
• You can also choose to use other types of ammunition in your cannons. Ball is the standard load, but you can use Chain or Grapeshot as well to achieve different types of damage to your opponent.
• Rather than just reloading automatically each turn, it looks like players have a certain number of actions (determined by the ship and reduced when damage is taken) that you can spend on reloading, firing, raising/lowering sails, repairing damage, pumping water (from leaks), and putting out fires.
• It looks like there will also be some options for Captains and Crew (in the form of enhancement cards) that I presume will give you more variability in building your fleet
Plus, there are a number of different optional rules that you can add in as you see fit.
What I think…
Right off, let me say that I like Sails of Glory quite a lot. In general, I’m becoming a fan of the whole basic system used here and in X-Wing. It’s obviously relatively simple, but to me, any loss of realism is more than compensated by the ease of entry and speed of play.
Since I’ve never actually played Wings of War/Wings of Glory, though, I’ve never used maneuver cards before. In X-Wing, you choose you maneuver with a ship-specific dial and then use cardboard templates to guide movement. Using a ship-specific deck of cards is definitely a lot more fiddly and probably takes longer than the dials, but I really like the extra information that you can get with them.
With cards, you can still use them in a “basic” way (like with the version I’ve played so far), but you also have more options and realism built in with elements like the different sail levels and the maneuver numbers (which would make smaller ships a crapload more nimble). And unlike X-Wing, you can also have a greater variety in the movement template themselves, since you’re not limited to common pool of ones used by all ships.
The next thing that I love about the game is the wind. As I was reading the rules and preparing for my first game, probably my greatest worry was that the game would basically be the exact same exprience as X-Wing except without the cool Star Wars models. But as soon as I started to see the effect that wind Attitude had on movement, my opinion completely changed.
Having to account for, take advantage of, and occasionally battle furiously against the wind in pretty much everything you do in Sails of Glory is an amazing and thematic gameplay mechanism. Without it, the basic game would be boring and maybe even a waste of time, but with it, you feel like you’re really getting the flavor of an “age of sail” game right from the moment you choose your first maneuver. Dealing with the wind also has a pretty big learning curve associated with it, though, and I could see people getting a little frustrated by it until they learn the basic techniques to account for it.
But with that said, there’s not really much else about the basic game that blew me away. The combat system works, and I can see that the use of the chits to physically cover and have an effect on the ship log sheet is pretty cool, but it’s also excessively fiddly to have 3-5 piles or cups full of chits all over the table for the different types of damage. I miss the dice of X-Wing a little, but again, the fact that the chits also give variety in how much and what types of damage will be dealt, I can forgive that.
So while I think that the basic game is good and that the wind mechanic makes it pretty thematic, I also wouldn’t rate it higher than a 7 out of 10.
However, the main upside of Sails of Glory comes from the wealth of other options in the standard & advanced games. Again, it’sthey will be longer and have a lot more bookkeeping than earlier games in the system, but I have a feeling that it will be worth it. In the basic game, the main difference between ships is their firepower and ability to soak damage. But with the differences in maneuver deck composition, number of actions, and maneuverability ratings, I could see ships feeling much more different and having strengths and weaknesses that you could easily build fleets to exploit.
I also can’t wait to see the effect that bringing land, terrain, and different scenarios into the game will have. While trying to chase each other down in a wide-open sea can be a bit of a slog, having specific objectives you’re trying to achieve would make the game a lot more interesting (as it is in most miniatures games).
But even with all the potential that I see in the advanced game, there are two main concerns that I still have. First is the lack of variety and variability. Since all the ships are unique, there doesn’t appear to be quite the breadth of options for fleet-building that you have in X-Wing, for instance. And unless and until the captain/crew cards come into play, I haven’t seen much option for tweaking/buffing/tailoring ships in any way. But maybe I’m just making some assumptions that aren’t totally correct here.
Second is the fact that the game is really expensive. The base game is going to be $80, and each expansion model is between $13 and $20. To get every model offered in the Kickstarter campaign (“wave 1”, basically), it costs $300 (including the two promo ships that came about as stretch goals). Now, if it’s the main game you’re going to play, that’s not all that bad, but as another miniatures game competing for my gaming dollar, the price is going to be a pretty big barrier to entry for me and a lot of people. Some people have mentioned that a cardboard/cards-only version of the base game (at least), similar to the original Wings of War game, would be a great option, but Ares hasn’t said anything about that.
Still, though, with these big negatives, it’s still a really good game with a lot of potential. And among my game group (who tried it with me last week), at least 2 of them have already decided to go in with the Kickstarter (probably at the $300 level, in fact). So if you’re inclined to like the theme or are just looking for a relatively simple naval-combat game, Sails of Glory may be just what you’re looking for.
• Rules: The basic rules are very simple and easy to get into, but Advanced rules show a lot of promise for greater depth and realism
• Theme: Very strong, both from the effect of the wind and the variability of the ships
• Downtime: Since so many things are done simultaneously, it’s very low.
• Player Interaction: Direct conflict, and lots of of it!
• Length: 30-60 minutes for the basic game, but I could see the Advanced game going notably longer.
• GamerChris’ Rating: Sails of Glory is a really solid and fun naval combat game that I’ll be happy to play almost any time, but the price is still scaring me off from buying in right now. My initial rating (which could certainly change once I play the full game) is a 7.5 on the BGG 10-point scale.