A whipping trade wind catches your sails, hurtling your small fleet onward. Cannons gleaming, decks swabbed, you're ready for whatever comes your way. But suddenly, the sky seems to crackle with energy as a graceful ship seems to glide across your path. It's the Eternal, those elf-like creatures who seem to be able to appear at will anywhere on the high seas! You brace yourself for an attack, when a sudden ferocious battle cry rings out on the air. The Eternals aren't the only ones with their eyes on you, and you grimace in dismay as a Barbarian fleet approaches. For good or ill, this is the life you signed up for. This is the life of Old Salt.
Old Salt is a tactical naval tabletop board game for two to four players, designed by Tim Ferry III of Never Board Games. At the time of this writing, the game's currently live on Kickstarter, but last month we got a chance to get our hands on a prototype preview of the game. Here's what we thought!
In each game, players choose one of six factions to play as. They begin the game with a handful of gold, a small fleet of ships, and three islands that they control on a vast board representing the ocean. To win the game, players must duke it out on the high seas to become either the first player to control six islands, or the last ship standing.
To achieve those goals, players can take on one of four actions. They can sail, moving across the vast map toward rival ships. They can fire upon those ships, which requires paying coins and rolling dice (with strategic advantages given depending on whether you're firing on your broadside or not) to see if you're successful. They can seize rival islands, which requires paying coins and trading in the mast of a rival ship (you get these rival masts when you destroy a ship). And finally, you can use one of your faction's special powers to help turn the tide of the naval war.
These six factions packed in the game are wonderfully realized, with unique powers that perfectly match each faction's specific flavor. For instance, the regimented Elite faction gains bonuses when they're in a tight formation, and if they overwhelm a single ship they can force it to surrender. Meanwhile, the wild Barbarians can send out a chilling Battle Cry that prevents other ships from getting too close.
But choosing which faction to play is just the start of the customization in Old Salt. Players can also choose from and draft the ships that will make up their fleet. From grunt ships to vessels loaded with explosives and ready to blow at any moment, the options here are wide and varied, and perfectly suited to experimentation and exploration.
What I really liked about the time we spent with Old Salt was its approachability. Movement, as described above, is a dream. There's no need to painstakingly chart out a course five turns ahead. You can move better and with more flexibility than a real ship of the era, so it loses some realism in exchange for ease of play. You do not have to be a naval historian, or even a diehard naval wargamer, to understand how to play this game, how to outwit your opponents, and how to win.
Stylistically, Old Salt has a very classic design, with very little plastic. The ships are made of wooden pieces, and though we only played with a prototype, it still felt refined in its composition. The evocative artwork feels perfectly suited to the nature of the game, recalling tales of high glory on the open seas.
We left this prototype preview positively impressed, and ready to set sail ourselves. If you'd like to learn more about the game, head over to the kickstarter or check out the main site, where you can download the full rules for yourself.