Fighting Sail – Fleet Actions 1775–1815

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Gaming, Napoleonics, Naval

The Napoleonic War-Head Spike Direction is back, with another review for us; this time the new Naval rules from Osprey Games:

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Fighting Sail is a new wargame from Osprey Games, pitting navies from the era of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary wars against each other in games ranging from one-on-one frigate duels, to squadron level battles with ships-of-the-line blasting away at each other.

I was very keen to try this one out, so much so that rather than waiting to amass a fleet of miniatures I assembled two fleets of paper ships, made with artwork from juniorgeneral.org (I highly recommend doing this if you’re strapped for cash, actually. They turned out quite nicely! MS Paint never looked so good!).

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The gameplay splits broadly between two fairly obvious areas: sailing and shooting. Initially, I thought that sailing – and the various particulars of rolling for move points and variations due to the direction of the wind would take some working out – but in our first battle my opponent (fellow SF bod Joseph Crouch) and I took to it exceedingly quickly, with only a few near misses and accidental collisions. I fully expect to be far more adept at sailing my fleet in future games, though absolute control is unlikely due to the dice-generated sailing points, but being at the mercy of the weather is all part of the joy of this game.

Shooting works in a way that would be familiar to most readers, dicing off your gunnery score versus the target’s hull, with unsaved hits causing damage. Two ships of a similar class lined up side by side will pretty much cancel each other out and the way damage works means you can’t really hope to wear them down or win on points, as crews have a decent chance of repairing damage as fast you can deal it one-on-one.  The trick is to position your fleet so several ships fire on one target, or catch an enemy ship in their vulnerable prow or stern (the ‘raking’ shot). In this way one has a decent chance of dealing a knockout blow in one turn, so being a good sailor is vital to victory.

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This game comes damn close to hitting the perfect balance between realism and playability. Providing an experience that is, generally, more ‘zoomed out’ from the specifics (Crouch hankered after rules for chain shot for example) but has an overall feel which seems about right for the period, and never gets bogged down.  Though there were a couple of minor niggles within our game specifically (ships seemed to be sunk a little too easily in the right circumstances, especially by the British with their mad gunnery skills, and boarding actions seemed impossible to achieve, with the target ship seemingly able to swing out of the way almost every time) and I suspect these may be less of an issue for a more experienced player.

The battle we played to test this out was your classic ‘Britain vs France’ but there are fleet lists in the rule book for Spain, Russia, The Netherlands, Sweden, and most intriguing to me, The United States and Barbary Pirates, between whom I am already planning an encounter.

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In the space of an afternoon I am hooked on this, and strongly recommend Fighting Sail to those with an interest, passing or obsessive, in the period, or naval combat, or anyone who’s ever seen Master & Commander or Hornblower.

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Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Spike Direction Should Write More and commented:
    I write for this history blog on occasion.
    This is my review of the excellent naval wargame Fighting Sail.

  2. Guderian says:

    These are fun rules, not to be taken too seriously. A simple game mechanism that still manages to highlight the key points about the particular naval/ship abilities. No more extensive maths calculations to work out if a battery is destroyed or a mast brought down. You are the fleet commander, not an able seaman.

    Of course the Royal Navy have good gunfire, its historically correct. Wooden ships, Iron men in those days

    Get some ships, grab a beer, have a laugh, chuck some dice – lighten up!! Great fun to play.

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