Sunday, October 16, 2011

It Is Warm Work

I hadn't paid much attention to naval miniature games so far, being mostly interested in ground-based skirmish games (whether fantasy or sci-fi.) This changed after a friend of mine commented about a soon-to-be-released fantasy naval wargame by a well-known law firm that also makes miniature games on the side. This made me want to find alternatives to that game that I could suggest to him.

So after looking for reviews on the internet, I found this interesting post about the game called "It Is Warm Work" which seemed to be newbie-friendly enough. I got it in PDF form and started reading. Since the rules are only a dozen pages long, I was quickly done and eager for a playtest. This led to the problem that I don't have any miniature "age of sail" ships (or any ships, for that matter.) The author of "It Is Warm Work" states that different miniature scales can be used but suggests 1:2400 ships placed in 1"x2" bases. Since I couldn't find any ship counters on a quick search on the internet, I made my own. You can click on the image to the right to get them at 300dpi, printable in A4 or Letter sheets. In my case, I printed them on a sheet of 120gsm paper and glued it to heavy cardstock.

After printing these and the playing aids and status markers that come with the book, I was ready for my first "naval action." It must be noted that I have pretty much no knowledge of sailing, naval miniature games or the history of the age of fighting sail. Therefore, I had to look up sailing terms such as "in irons," as well as learn more about fire ships (I never imagined that there were ships purpose-built to be set in flames as a tactic,) the line of battle, ships-of-the-line, prize crews among others. That is the downside of a slimmed down rule book -- it will inevitably rely on more prior knowledge from the reader. Anyway, good old Wikipedia was more than enough to give me pointers on the subjects.

Instead of trying to build a complete scenario I just placed a line of four class-B 74-gun ships on one side (thus dubbed "team A") against three class-A 74-gun ships on the other (which will be "team B",) with the wind initally favoring the side with less ships. My first playtest was a delightful session where I learned that maneuvering sailing ships is not like moving infantry or vehicles... after putting team A's first ship in irons and nearly dismantling team B's line, all in the first turn, I decided to start over.
The second time around, I managed to make more sensible actions. In the first exchange of fire between the ships, team B caused severe damage to team A's first ship, almost destroying it (note: in this picture I moved the wind arrow to maneuver the ships. In the future I might simply pick one of the board edges as the direction of the wind as suggested in the book.)
A couple of turns later, most ships had taken at least some damage, but team A was in worse condition, with one ship nearly destroyed and another one impaired.
Eventually the first ship from team A struck her colors and since two other ships were crippled, I decided it was a victory for team B, through a combination of sturdier ships and some luck in the attack rolls. The entire battle with seven turns lasted about 50 minutes, part of that due to my constant checking of the book as I learned the rules. Bookkeeping was minimal, with a one-line damage track per ship. Playing with ship counters was surprisingly satisfying as I could stack the status markers on top of them.

This little experiment raised my interest in naval miniature games. I guess I must thank my friend for unknowingly leading me to a great set of rules and making me find a new type of game that I enjoy. "It Is Warm Work" is designed for large fleet battles and seems to do its job very well. I'm curious now about other rules sets for only a handful of ships, that might add detail that would be unwieldly in this scale.

Incidentally, all the simulation aspects that get into naval miniature gaming -- especially the maneuvering of the ships -- made me think that this (or maybe spaceship miniature games) might be the answer to another question that has been pestering me: how can I have miniature games that do not revolve around combat? I'll try to write a fictional scenario for It Is Warm Work involving some sort of rescue, drifting ships and a coming storm...

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