Sails of Glory does for nautical wargames what X-Wing does for space combat wargames and provides an awesome easy access game with pre-painted miniatures. But don’t be fooled by the easy access and think that this game doesn’t have depth, because the only limit to Sails of Glory's depth, is how deep you want to go. For this review, we’re going to look at the Sails of Glory Starter Set. We’ll look at taking games beyond the starter set in our interview with the development team as part of our Nautical Tabletop Season here.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
You can buy all the Nautical Tabletop Month products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
Before you even open the box, the Starter Set’s 4 ships are visible. These ships come with cards that can be used as 1 of 2 ships.
- HMS Terpsichore 1785 / HMS Meleager 1785, an Amazon class British frigate
- HMS Defence 1763 / HMS Vanguard 1787, a Bellona class British ship-of-the-line
- Le Courageuse 1778 / Unite 1787, a Concorde class French frigate
- Le Genereux 1785 / Aquilon 1789, a Temeraire class French ship-of-the-line
The ships themselves are pre-painted for those that just want to get straight into the game, but there is also the option for hobbyists to add their own detail with rigging, or painting the blank sails, where a simple wash can make the detail in the sails stand out a lot more. If painting isn’t your thing, then the ships still look awesome straight out of the box and on the tabletop.
The ease of entry doesn’t end there though and Sails of Glory is designed to be as user-friendly as possible while maximizing the tactics and enjoyment. There are 4 levels to Sails of Glory's rules, each adding in an additional layer of detail. These are used to learn the rules, and after to either bring players in or simply to have the game that you want to play. Don’t enjoy the advanced rules, then play a Standard or Basic game. The optional rules can be added to any level of play, so you can play a Basic game with no optional rules, all the way through to an Advanced game with all the optional rules.
- Basic - Movement and Combat
- Standard - Additional planning for movement, ship veer, ship collisions, and different types of shots
- Advanced - Adds in crew with additional actions, sail settings, and crew damage
- Optional - Terrain, variable wind, additional combat actions, entanglement, and solo rules
The above list is a simplification of each layer, just to give an overview of what progressing to the next layer has. It feels like an extremely natural learning curve, moving through each level as you learn the rules, but after hitting the sweet spot of the advanced rules, the only reason I’d go back is either to introduce someone to the game or to speed a game up. The advanced rules, while having additional elements to track, feel like the game I want to play. But the beauty of having these different levels of rules means that you can make it the game that you want to play.
The core movement and combat mechanics are extremely straight-forward, allowing you to focus on the other details and not get bogged down with too many technical elements. Each ship has a deck of movement cards, and one of these is selected each turn. The card itself is then actually used to track the movement of your ship, by placing it in front of the ship and moving the ship along the card to the end of the track. The card is then removed from the table and the movement is complete. Depending on the rules level you are playing, there are different tracks for different sail settings and how well the ship has caught the wind.
For combat, arcs of fire are shown on the ship’s base. Depending on how many arcs the target ship is in dictates how many damage tokens to draw from a bag. The range of the target, which is color marked on the provided rulers, tells you which damage bag to draw from. Further damage bag options are added in later with additional types of cannon shot and for boarding actions which only target the crew.
When you first get out all of the starter-set contents, it looks like an extremely complicated game with lots of moving parts and markers. Each ship, along with having its own movement deck, also has a ship mat, with slots for unique ship damage tracks to go in and at first glance, it looks extremely complex. But as soon as you begin to work with the different components, it becomes quickly apparent that their purpose is to avoid complexity. Every component is there to speed up gameplay and make things as simple as possible.
If you’re playing an advanced game with all the optional rules, all the component elements make it simple to track and operate several ships without getting stuck on super technical details, but still, feel like there is a lot of super technical detail.
The Sails of Glory Starter Set is a great experience out of the box. As a 2-player game with both players controlling 1 or 2 ships each, there’s a lot of variety with the included scenarios. With 3 or 4 players, with every player controlling a single ship, works very well, and scaling beyond that with more players and more ships still feels as sharp. There is a solo scenario included, and the Sails of Glory community have also produced some incredible solo rules.
The only thing missing from the starter set is a sea mat, as it contains everything else you need to play. Ares Games have a separate sea mat for sale, or you can pick up a third party mat as we have used throughout this article. If you're interested in expanding beyond the Starter Set, with more ships or the Sails of Glory scenery sets, we discuss in our Sails of Glory developer interview.
The Bottom Line
Sails of Glory is a straight-forward and very accessible miniatures wargame. The pre-painted miniatures, basic movement, and combat rules make learning the game and introducing new players simple, and the scaling rules make it great for finding the balance of rules and complexity that you want. The starter set is an awesome experience for 2 to 4 players. There is a solo scenario in the game, along with some great community-produced solo rules. Sails of Glory is perfect for new wargamers, or if you're looking to introduce someone to wargames, and scales well beyond the beginner game to keep their interest, which also makes it a great game for veteran wargamers.
Get This Game If:
- You want a great introductory wargame with pre-painted miniatures and simple rules.
- You want a great age of sail game with fantastic rules options to suit your level complexity.
- You want a game with a simple base set of rules, but huge tactical rewards and options.
Avoid This Game If:
- You want a deep hobby experience without pre-painted miniatures.
- You don't want a game about ships.
This copy of the Sails of Glory Starter Set used to produce this review was provided by Ares Games.