The Sea Lords Series
Sea Lords is a series of games examining operational naval warfare in the Age of Sail. The series developed out of the Lace Wars operational land warfare series. But, while a number of rules are similar to those found in the Lace Wars, the change of environment necessistated a different treatment for most aspects of the games.
As with the Lace Wars series, the games can be dignified as "operational studies". Though they are games, not pure history, with sufficient abstraction of detail to make them playable; at the same time you can't drink beer as you play and expect to win. The rulebooks are generally around 40 pages long and not all the rules are intuitive. The players may find some of the systems are quite novel.
The focus of the games is on fulfilling orders handed down "from above", in order to win prestige – i.e. score victory points. Typical orders might be: "cruise" (i.e. patrol a line of coast),"escort", "blockade", "show of force", "support the army". Orders are assigned to naval formations, which are composed of squadrons – the basic combat units. These formations are commanded by leaders (admirals and commodores) who influence the effectiveness of their formations. Squadrons are composed of Sail (ships), which act as strength points.
Movement is governed by the wind. Coastal travel is conducted "point-to-point", along lanes that cost a variable number of movement points, depending on the weather. Movement in open water is by "zone", also affected by the wind. Attrition plays a major role – even ships in port suffer wear and tear. An important part of the game is skilfully cycling squadrons between conducting operations in pursuance of orders and "fitting out" (repairing).
Combat is not covered in detail – this is an operational series – but the key issues are featured: the effect of leadership, holding the weather gauge, deciding on the intensity of the battle, matching up opposing squadrons on the line of battle . Attritional damage is inflicted, which may lead to the sinking of "sail"; on occasion a ship may be sunk outright. The opportunity to take prizes is not omitted.
As in real life, the opposing forces are not always visible to each other; "searching" is an important part of the game. Reconnaissance and other special assets, like frigates, fireships, and bomb ketches, are represented by special counters, played against the enemy or on target locations.
The game is played in a series of turns, each representing one month. Each turn is divided into four operational impulses and an administrative phase. The impulses are broken down into single movement point increments, allowing "simultaneous" movement without the need for a written plot.
At the time of writing (June 2011), one game is being prepared for release in July of 2011. Three more games are in the research stage. All four games deal with the War of the Austrian Succession, a little-known conflict that was in many ways a foretaste of the wars to come, and with the associated War of Jenkin's Ear (a concurrent naval conflict between Spain and Britain). Each game covers one theatre in a war that covered much of Europe and involved most of her states:
Volume I is Mistral, covering the war in the western Mediterranean between 1740 and 1748. Spain and France were pitted against Great Britain (nothing new there). At stake was the survival of Spain's army in Italy. Mistral complements the Lace Wars game Queens' Gambit. One of its scenarios allows players to combine the two games into a single multi-player grand campaign.
The production sequence for Volumes II-IV has not been set yet. The subjects will be the war in the English Channel and North Sea (complementing Cockpit of Europe), the Caribbean, and (probably) a pair of modules covering the Thirteen Colonies and India. A further project will be a game on the Russo-Swedish War of the Hats. This will probably be a hybrid Lace Wars/Sea Lords game because of the close cooperation betwen land and sea elements.