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Subject: Hoist your colours! A first review rss

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Derek Long
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I have to begin with a disclaimer. This review is being written without my having the physical game! Wait, wait - don't give up yet. If you want to know about the component quality, check out the out-of-the-box review at http://pawnderings.blogspot.com (thanks to wargamer55). I have played the standard scenario several times, now, using the Vassal module. It is a great module (thanks to Rob Doane) and the game is well suited to Vassal play for two reasons: low unit density and activity is focussed in one area of the board at a time.

So, if you're still with me, what do we have here? The game covers one pretty eventful year in French, Spanish and British naval history (and we do have some history between us): the year of Trafalgar, 1805. The scene is a highly asymetric one. The British are masters of the seas, they have a huge and powerful fleet, manned by some of the most experienced tars in the world and commanded by some of the greatest Admirals. The French and Spanish fleets are much smaller - Napoleon has other demands on his resources - and, at least in the Spanish case, chronically undermanned. However, as Napoleon observed: "Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours, and we are masters of the world." The French and Spanish need only find a small window of opportunity to slip out of the net the British draw around their fleets, to create great mischief, perhaps escorting troops to invade in Alexandria, Bantry Bay, Naples or even England itself, or else raiding in the West Indies or Malta. The game is one of cat-and-mouse: the Allied mice try to slip past the British blockaders who play cat outside the mouseholes at Brest, Cadiz, Toulon, Ferrol, Rochefort and Cartagena. If the British fleets can catch them, the Allies will probably suffer a mauling, so the main enemy of the British is the weather. Working for the British is the pressure of conflict on the continent, taking Napoleon's eye off the naval conflict and sending provisions to his armies in the field.

How does all this work in practice? Designer Phil Fry has done a great job of capturing this unequal game of hide-and-seek. The game plays in turns, three per month - 36 over the whole year. Each turn starts with an administration sequence during which ships are refitted and manned, fleets crossing the Atlantic continue their slow passage and the Allied high command decides what could be tried in the turn. This consists of two parts: first, the Allies pick some provisions chits - 2 or 3 depending on the time of year. These come from a pool of only 5: 2 provide the provisions fleets need to sortie out of a friendly port and 3 do not. The Allies can distribute the ones they pick, concealed from the British, to the ports they choose. The Allies might know that they are unprovisioned and trapped in port, but the British will assume the worst: every port with a chit will have to be treated as a potential threat. Secondly, the Allies select four potential destinations for their fleets. Setting these in advance elegantly represents the fact that the Allies only sortie with a mission and will head to the destination they have been assigned, regardless of how nasty might be the British fleets that suddenly move to unexpectedly intercept them. The British are not so constrained, partly because the British mission was to hunt down and destroy the Allied fleets and partly because the British doctrine encouraged aggressive engagement and independent action on the part of its admirals.

The turn now weighs anchor and sets sail as a series of rounds. Each round an activation chit is drawn from a pool of 19. They fall into several sets: weather, wind, initiative and bonus moves. Weather chits blow in the gales and storms that hinder the British. All fleets at sea and blockaders within an area affected by weather are at risk. Depending on the severity (which is usually worse in the winter in Europe and in the hurricane season in the West Indies), fleets will suffer damage and blockaders will be blown off-station. The importance of this last effect we will see shortly, but suffice to say that the Allies will be rejoicing when the Atlantic storms blow in. Damaged British ships on blockade duty can return immediately to friendly ports and the shipyards at Plymouth and Portsmouth will soon be running short of timbers, sails and rigging as their repair capacity is outstripped by the flow of damaged ships. But, of course, for every ill wind there is a fair. When the winds blow the fleets can move. When a wind is selected it will affect one of the three areas: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic or the West Indies. Only fleets beginning in the corresponding area can activate.

Throughout the game, either Allies or British will have initiative and whichever it is will activate first when the fair winds blow. This mechanism is clever, because sometimes it is good for the Allies to move second, after the British have committed themselves, but other times it is good to move first when the British are in full chase. So, choosing the moment to leave port is critical. However, Allies can only leave provisioned ports and they can only do so on favourable winds (some ports are difficult to navigate). Finally, they have to run the gauntlet of any blockaders who guard the exit. The blockaders occupy a patrol zone at the mouth of each port and can be in one of three modes: inshore, where they are breathing down the necks of the anchored fleets, loose blockade where they sit over the horizon to conceal their numbers and, following bad weather, off-station (which is not a good place for the British, but exactly where the Allies like them).

When Allied fleets sortie they must first select a destination (one of the four that the high command selected at the start of the turn) which is recorded by turning the corresponding block to show the letter code for the destination and then move into the patrol zone. Blockaders then have a chance to search for them, which is usually less than even odds, but blockade positions offer a bonus that improves the chances, while bad weather offers a further helping hand by masking the exiting fleets. The British have two kinds of blocks: fleets and frigates. Frigates are the "eyes of the fleet", never entering combat with Allied fleets, but helping to spot and track them as they attempt to run the blockades. British fleets that spot blockade-runners will move to combat. If the Allies leave unspotted then they get to add two additional blocks - Fog of War - that can be sent off as decoys heading in whatever directions the Allies choose. And now the hunt is on! The British must decide where the threat lies and give chase. Fleets (and Frigates) that manage to occupy the same space as an opposing block can attempt a search (although it is less than even chance to spot the enemy), provided they have not moved too far in the turn. This constraint makes it hard for the British as they frantically try to make up ground on the Allies and a sudden switch in initiative can make all the difference. The first initiative chit of the turn causes this switch, also triggering a random event, while the second brings the turn to an end. This sudden death mechanism is a brilliant way to represent the fickle weather patterns that can leave fleets becalmed for days at a time, the difficulties in communication and the fruitless searches of huge areas of sea. Finally, there are the bonus move chits. These allow one fleet of the corresponding side to move a few hexes and the Allies get the chance to add another Fog of War block if they are not in a hex with a British fleet. These chits add lots of excitement to chases as the British close in, or the Allies slip away.

What, then, if the British catch the Allied prey? Run out the guns, set easy sail and form line of battle! Each side will identify its commanding officer, several of whom have flavour-adding quirks such as Villeneuve's fatalistic fear of Nelson and Nelson's dangerous "Nelson's touch". A roll, adjusted by the commanding officer's seamanship, decides who wins the weather gauge and fights from the windward (and the Admiralty will look very poorly on any British Admiral who lets the Allies take it). Then a succession of rounds of combat are fought, the number being determined by the rolls for weather gauge and the seamanship of the commanders. Each round, the commanders can attempt to change the tactics being pursued by their fleets: new orders are selected and a roll is made against the command rating of the admiral. If successful, the new orders apply, otherwise the fleets remain bound by the previous orders. The tactical options are cross-referenced to determine how the battle will proceed, which usually means whether there are any bonus dice to be added in the combat. Then each fleet rolls for the damage against the opponent, damage is applied and battle proceeds to the next round. This is a short and straightforward process, but full of flavour - the ships are all individually named and rated, so the battles are impressionistic but convincing. After a battle, each side will pause to lick its wounds - wrecked ships might founder, some might be captured. Admirals might even make the ultimate sacrifice in fulfilling the duty that England expects of every man (and hotspur Nelson is at greatest risk as he exposes himself to enemy snipers in the pell mell actions he prefers).

And what is all this smoke and fury to achieve? As Nelson observed, "First gain the victory and then make the best use of it you can." Each of the various possible targets around the board is assigned, at the outset of the game, a secret value to the Allies and to the British. Raiding or invading a target will win the Allies one or both of these values. Further awards can be gained by fulfilling the Emperor's Directives - a bonus attached to one of the objectives that can change as Napoleon's priorities shift. Other points are earned for ships sunk or captured. The game is finely balanced and seems to come down to a couple of points one way or the other most of the time, although the Allies can try for a sudden death win by crossing the Channel - not an easy feat since they must hold the invasion passage against the British fleets with enough strength to gain a foothold on the beaches (and the British will discover whether the Martello Towers will withstand the naval guns).

There is a great deal of additional flavour, here: Yellow Jack Fever in the West Indies, war with the Americans, the Spanish gold convoy from Havana, spies and privateers, even Congreve's famous rockets, all make an appearance in various events that might occur. But everything is handled by very tidy mechanisms that add chrome without complexity.

And what is the sum of all these parts? You have no doubt spotted in my tone that I am a fan. I have played Napoleonic naval battle games for many years and read books, both fact and fiction, about the battles, the people and the places. This game is, without doubt, the best I have played for capturing the feel of the tensions in the naval war - but that is not hard, given that there is no real competitor at the same strategic level. For my money, though, this game is more fun than the tactical battle games. By creating the context in which the battles are fought it makes sense of why fleets are fighting and what is the cost of winning or losing. And when the wily French ships put chain shot in the British rigging and holes in their sails, this game gives the British the chance to load the bow-chasers and try to sail an extra point closer to the wind to run them down. No tactical game can create excitement over the weather, but in this game you can feel the frustration (or joy) as another storm blows into the Western approaches, or as a squall blows through the Mediterranean. Strange as it may seem, this strategic game gives me more of a sense of the world of Hornblower than the tactical games that make it so hard to reproduce his acts of heroic daring. So, if you want to smell the salt in the spray, hear the seagulls on a following wind and pace the poop deck as the enemy sails slowly appear on the horizon, my advice is make all sail to grab a copy of this copper-bottomed game and get it on the table, all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Summary

- The rules are very good - well organised and clear. Phil Fry is doing sterling service clearing up minor questions here on the 'geek and there is a great support site at http://1805.wikispaces.com/ (join up and add your name as a Vassal opponent!).

- The board looks beautiful and the low density of pieces (about 25-30 blocks on the board, of which only 4 or 5 will move in each activation, most of the time) makes for an uncluttered look.

- The individually named and rated ships and admirals create a great sense of history. Battles are well judged: detailed enough to be a focus of interest, with enough decisions to make them exciting, but not too lengthy or distracting from the flow of the game. Gammer has done a very nice example of the Battle of the Nile fought in the system http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/414340 which shows off the game.

- The game does a really convincing job of portraying the role of weather and wind in this game of cat-and-mouse.

- The British spend their time trying to keep the stoppers in the bottles of the enemy ports, and chasing the enemy if and when they escape, second guessing their plans. If they can catch the enemy fleets and fight a straight fight then they can probably pull off a Trafalgar and ensure British naval supremacy for the next century. But the Allies can do enough damage to pull off a victory despite losing their fleets.

- The Allies spend their time waiting for the perfect storm: one that pushes the British off-station when the Allies have the initiative and can slip out of a port and off to do damage. Since this is a waiting game and one that is not guaranteed to pay off, they will also take risks to try to please their Emperor. Thus, it is a matter of timing and of bluff - can they throw the British off with a well chosen Fog of War blind? And can they distract the British by sending them off across the Atlantic, or up to the eastern Mediterranean, when they are about to invade Bantry Bay?
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Seth Owen
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Nice review.

One point I haven't seen mentioned is that 1805: Sea of Glory could very easily be used as a battle generator for a more tactical set of rules such as Flying Colors or Close Action because 1805: Sea of Glory tracks individual ships.
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Gregg Gallagher

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This would be the Holy Grail (Holy Sail?).... a link set of rules to fight out 1805 battles in Flying Colors...
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Seth Owen
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gregggallagher wrote:
This would be the Holy Grail (Holy Sail?).... a link set of rules to fight out 1805 battles in Flying Colors...


House rules may be enough to handle it. You will already know the OB, who has weatehr gauge and maybe just a rule to translate the deployment orders into FC terms,
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Rob Doane
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It's only in the idea stage, but I have just such a project in mind for potential publication as a C3i article.
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Gregg Gallagher

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Go with god..........
 
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Benjamin Kindt
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I would think such a running campaign would be great... It might take months via Vassal, but would be quite the adventure. Luckily both games have excellent Vassal modules.
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Lee Massey
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Great review!! I see now how to write a review, you have to write a small book!!
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Timothy Young
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Am I the only one who finds it hard to read Allies as not including Britain? Too long playing WWI/II games!

Good review and really got me interested in this game.
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Karl Kreder
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Yes I have the same problem because in other Napoleonic games the Allies are Britain and Spain, or Britain and anyone fighting France
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Mark McG
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Derek Long wrote:
Strange as it may seem, this strategic game gives me more of a sense of the world of Hornblower than the tactical games that make it so hard to reproduce his acts of heroic daring.


That would be because Hornblower is a fictional character in pretty much a fictional mileau.
 
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Freddy Dekker
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Tim RTC wrote:
Am I the only one who finds it hard to read Allies as not including Britain? Too long playing WWI/II games!

Good review and really got me interested in this game.



I have the same problem with the american revolutionary war, when they speak of the continental army.
When I think continent, I think Europe......
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Craig Hebert
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Minedog3 wrote:
Derek Long wrote:
Strange as it may seem, this strategic game gives me more of a sense of the world of Hornblower than the tactical games that make it so hard to reproduce his acts of heroic daring.


That would be because Hornblower is a fictional character in pretty much a fictional mileau.


I think it's clear he is aware of that.
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Freddy Dekker
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NOOOO!!surprise

Hornblower is not real?

Are you sure?
I saw him on telly....



laugh
 
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David Wickes
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Minedog3 wrote:
Derek Long wrote:
Strange as it may seem, this strategic game gives me more of a sense of the world of Hornblower than the tactical games that make it so hard to reproduce his acts of heroic daring.


That would be because Hornblower is a fictional character in pretty much a fictional mileau.


Cochrane's real. And he's basically Captain Kirk.
 
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Mark McG
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gypsydave5 wrote:


Cochrane's real. And he's basically Captain Kirk.


Well, actually he is Cochrane.. and there are quite a number of extraordinary British naval commanders performing extraordinary exploits.
A quick listing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:British_naval_commande...

So my question is, why follow a fictional character when there are real historical accounts? Cochrane isn't Kirk, the Kirk character might have been in part inspired by Cochrane's life and (difficult) character. Cochrane was real, Hornblower/Kirk is not.

I'm equally bemused by fictionalised accounts of Napoleon's life.. I mean wasn't his actual life extraordinary enough?
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David Wickes
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Sorry - I was being glib. Yes, you're quite right that the real Cochrane's far more extraordinary that Hornblower and Kirk combined. No argument there.
 
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Kurt Weihs
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There are a number of reasons why authors choose to write about fictional characters in historical settings. I am just happy that they do so because without those choices we wouldn't have Hornblower or Aubrey (or Sharpe for that matter).

The primary goal of historical fiction is to tell a good story and history is typically the first casualty when trying to achieve it. Better that the characters remain fictional. While the lives of Cochrane and others might seem to be the fodder of good historical fiction nothing can equal the potential of a character whose future is unknown at the outset of the novel and whose future remains solely in control of the author.

Biographies have their own potential and Cochrane's story is quite rich, but I don't know if I would trust Forrester to write a good biography. It's not where his talents were strongest.

As for gaming fodder...say what you will, but there's nothing like reading a good Forrester or O'Brian novel to whet my appetite for a good game of WSaIM.
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Frank Cunliffe
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Minedog3 wrote:
gypsydave5 wrote:

Cochrane's real. And he's basically Captain Kirk.

...So my question is, why follow a fictional character when there are real historical accounts? Cochrane isn't Kirk, the Kirk character might have been in part inspired by Cochrane's life and (difficult) character. Cochrane was real, Hornblower/Kirk is not. ...

My understanding is that Hornblower was the inspiration for Kirk.
 
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Sam Carroll
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Interesting - although their feats are similar, their character is little alike - Kirk is more like Lucky Jack Aubrey.
 
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Shayne Richards
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heroicfrank wrote:
Minedog3 wrote:
gypsydave5 wrote:

Cochrane's real. And he's basically Captain Kirk.

...So my question is, why follow a fictional character when there are real historical accounts? Cochrane isn't Kirk, the Kirk character might have been in part inspired by Cochrane's life and (difficult) character. Cochrane was real, Hornblower/Kirk is not. ...

My understanding is that Hornblower was the inspiration for Kirk.


And cochrane was the inspiration for hornblower...
 
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David Damerell
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Shaynerichards72 wrote:
And cochrane was the inspiration for hornblower...


_An_ inspiration. The capture of the Castillia is "Nelson's patent bridge for taking first-rates", but toned down because - as with Cochrane - who would believe the reality?

(Kirk is patently not Hornblower (and nor is Aubrey); Hornblower is The Man Alone.)
 
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Hawkeye
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damerell wrote:

(Kirk is patently not Hornblower (and nor is Aubrey); Hornblower is The Man Alone.)


Actually, Sinatra was the Man Alone. Hornblower was on a bloody ship ...


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_Alone_(album)
 
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David Damerell
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Misterhawk wrote:
damerell wrote:

(Kirk is patently not Hornblower (and nor is Aubrey); Hornblower is The Man Alone.)

Actually, Sinatra was the Man Alone. Hornblower was on a bloody ship ...


But he's still The Man Alone (and written well before the Sinatra album). Hornblower Companion, p.89 in the 1998 edition (although the first printing _also_ predates that album).
 
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