Monday, October 06, 2008

Across the Uncharted Seas

I always like a naval wargame, after land based mass-battle wargames, naval are my next choice (thence star ship combat, Board games, Aerial combat and skirmish games , for anyone who's interested). I nearly ended up in the Merchant navy in my youth, and have always loved the sea.

Naval combat can be hard to present well, and there is always a choice between realism (usually a long slow complex game, as with most genres) and fun; Uncharted Seas, falls in to the fun end of the scale, but with some classic conventions to realism which old school gamers will be familiar with. And a bunch of rules that players of Axis and Allies: War at Sea will be very familiar with!

It began with a guy turning up at the club with a full collection of the models and rules. He'd helped with the art design of parts of the game, and so could be considered to be actively promoting its sale. The game is a Fantasy based system with with each fleet representing a specific race. Those initially released are:
  • Imperials: Humans, with ships akin to late medieval or Renaissance galleons
  • Dwarves: with steam powered ships strongly reminiscent of American Civil War monitor ships
  • Orc: Using roughly hewn vessels with mixed powerplants, looking like chubby Viking ships
  • Dragonlords: Strongly influenced by the Melniboneans in the Elric books

Each fleet is released with three unique ships and more to follow; each fleet also comes with a deck of cards representing the special abilities, tactics or spells available to them.
A turn basically boils down to:

  • Draw cards, one per squadron commanded (normally 4)
  • Roll for initiative
  • Winner of initiative selects a squadron and activates it, moving it and then firing.
  • The opponent then replies with a squadron and the turn continues until all squadrons have acted or been destroyed before able to do so

Cards may be played at any time during the turn, so long as their specific activation rules (stated on the cards in a simple code) are met. Firing actions may also be replaced by a ramming/boarding action.

The activation phase is a sensible option in this game, and add to the tactical nuances, as it does in most games. Unlike many though the speed of play is such that making each squadron go separately does not slow play down. The sample games we played were with standard fleets of 4 squadrons each (10 ships) generally took under an hour and a half even with learning the rules.

Ships move in inches, and generally the smaller the ship, the fast and more nimble it is. Templates are used for turning, and for some fleets sailing into the wind slows the vessel down. There is no allowance for approaching land, but shallows and the like may be covered in the rules.

Firing is simple to describe, and I must be honest here, it is identical to A&A:W@S. Absolutely identical - measure the range band and roll the number of dice your ship has at that range, 4's and 5's are hits and 6's count as two hits plus a reroll. If the total of hits is equal to or higher than the ships damage capacity it takes a point of damage. If the Critical capacity is met then the ship suffers critical damage. Parallel evolution anyone? One nice feature is that ships in the same squadron can choose to link their fire onto a single vessel, this means small ships can attack cruisers or battleships if there are enough of them.

The criticals basically result in double damage, but may also, immobilise ships, kill crew or cause a catastrophic explosion. A single table is used for all ships. If a ship sustains equal to its hull points in damage it sinks; again the same as W@S, but then how many other ways could you cover this in a fast play game?

In a boarding action a similar method is used, but with a crew combat round if after contact both vessels survive.

Tactical variety again is based on the cards used; for example a ship may load chainshot, or be better equipped to repel boarders based on the play of a card. Magic spells are powerful but can be countered by certain cards.

There is no morale as such, other than if a player decides to run. In a campaign this would be less of a problem, but otherwise each battle will be a bloody affair.

So, in gameplay terms, what do I think? Well it's pretty good actually. I like most of the conventions it applies and it moves along very swiftly. At present the available forces are limited but that should change if the game is successful.

The presentation of the material is a real strong point too. The rulebook is £15 and full colour throughout, the rules taking up about half of it and the fleet lists background and so forth the rest. Lovers of Eye candy or painting inspiration will find enough to get started with, and there are even two paper fleets included to allow play without models.

The ships are a mixture of resin hulls and metal masts. They work out as reasonably good value, from £14 for a Dwarf fleet to £28 for the imperial - mast heavy - fleet. The models if I'm honest are not hugely detailed, the resin hulls lack the fiddly noodly bits, and not all of this can be laid at the scale of the models (1:600th scale). If I bought in to game personally I would go in for a lot more detailing of my vessels; however they do paint up well and easily, and are an impressive size on the table; some of the battle ships are around 5 inches long!

Their website will sell you a set of rules plus all four starter fleets and card decks for £100, which I think is a big initial commitment but excellent value.

Overall, anyone, especially anyone into fantasy gaming, should enjoy playing this game, it's easily accessible and makes for a fun casual gaming experience with enough strategy to make it more than just lobbing dice. As the only real competition - Man'o'War by Games Workshop - has been out of production for over a decade, this game should have the market sewn up. History buffs, more interested in the specific performance of Nelsons third refit of a captured Spanish 78 gunner in a westerly wind, will find it's not for them though.

Uncharted Seas is made by Spartan Games. I wish 'em all the best.


  1. Hi Dean,

    How are you doing? I really like the Uncharted Seas game. The lads have been playing it at the club on Tuesday nights for months now. Enjoyable game. Only had 1 or 2 games so still getting to grips with it.

    There are at least half a dozen Uncharted Seas at the club now. When I'm feeling a little more well off (pretty much skint these days) I intend to buy an Orc Fleet. There's too much Dwarves about.

    The models are excellent and well made. It's one of the things I also like about the game.

    P.S. Would you like to exchange blog links with me?

  2. Also check out Flying Colors.