Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sails of Glory Versus DIY

My interest in the Napoleonic era has always been fleeting, whether I’m reading its history, trying to engage it through fiction and media (such as the Sharpe novels and television dramas or Aubrey-Maturin novels and the related Master & Commander film), or immersing myself in wargaming. I have a few Osprey books on campaigns, Emil Ludwig’s epic about Napoleon (many times started, never finished). I even own a copy of Avalon Hill’s Hundred Days Battles mini-game I acquired and tried playing in my earliest years in the adventure gaming hobby.

SailsofGloryI’ve heard wonderful accolades for Ares GamesSails of Glory, a naval miniatures game building on the basic concepts of based minis with movement template cards the company pioneered with Wings of War and the relaunched Wings of Glory games covering aerial dogfights in World War I and II. While the rules (available online) seem a bit more complex than the games predecessors, they still follow the model of presenting basic, full, and advanced rules to gradually bring players into increasingly intricate levels of mechanics. The four miniatures included in the base game seem to have the same high level of detail as the other games’ aircraft miniatures. But being only an occasional dabbler with wargaming in the Napoleonic era, I’m deterred by the princely $89.90 price tag. (I’m also dismayed with the current unavailability through regular distribution channels in the United States, although I’ve heard the company announced it’s reprinting the starter sets for release in the spring.) Typical of these kinds of expansionist games, Sails of Glory also tempts gamers to further invest in the game and purchase more vessels from its solid roll-out of additional ship packs with price-tags nearing $20 (though similar “ship expansions” for other games based on this model, such as WizKids’ Star Trek: Attack Wing and Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game offer such expansions at around $15, with larger ships closer to $25 and $30).

I don’t mean this as a condemnation of Ares Games or its Sails of Glory game – from what I’ve seen it’s an amazing product at all levels, with a price to reflect the high quality of components – it’s just that, for me and my level of interest, it makes more sense to dabble in the period from the do-it-yourself perspective.

Sails of Glory focuses primarily on playing out small naval skirmishes in this period, usually two or four ships (as offered in the starter set); I’m interested in replaying a specific battle with many ships, namely the Battle of Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, where Nelson’s Mediterranean fleet surprised the French fleet that brought Napoleon and his army to Egypt in 1798. Nothing quite as involved as fighting Trafalgar, but still, such massive engagements call for streamlined rules to handle such a large number of vessels to play out a battle within a reasonable amount of gaming time.

I've found several resources on the subject (including the Wikipedia entry on the battle), but rely primarily on the Osprey book about the battle for details like ship names and compliments. The Junior General website offers a variety of period ship pieces to print and assemble (though trolling the internet might offer additional images to use), as well as a basic yet playable system for Napoleonic naval action as outlined in the Trafalgar scenario. Rather than buy into an expensive – albeit well-produced – game I might play once or twice, I can satisfy my historical interest printing off some ships and playing a battle in an afternoon’s time.

This reflects an overall trend in the adventure gaming hobby across the spectrum of board games, miniature wargames, and roleplaying games: although many consumers purchase and support professionally produced products, many, thanks to technological advances and new means of distribution, take the route of free or do-it-yourself materials. This follows a longtime tradition in the hobby, from gamemasters creating their own adventures and settings to wargamers tinkering with rules and drafting their own.

I’ve previously discussed the dichotomy of publishers producing professional products versus hobbyists creating their own material and occasionally sharing it across the internet. For many of us dabbling in different historical periods or gaming genres, buying into a professional game release to satisfy these small, often passing yearnings seems extravagant when we can explore such gaming possibilities under our own efforts. Those who take the do-it-yourself path gain inspiration from the professionals; yet they sometimes turn to those companies, or others in the adventure gaming hobby, when they discover products that engage their other gaming needs. Ares Games does that for me: while I’m unwilling to invest in Sails of Glory to satisfy a tertiary interest in Napoleonic naval battles, I have and will continue to support their fine Wings of Glory aerial combat miniatures lines, games which satisfy my far greater interest in World War II and early aviation.

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