This article first appeared in Wargames Illustrated and was written by the magazine’s editor, Dan Faulconbridge. The fine chaps at Wi have very kindly allowed us to reproduce the article here.
Today I take on the designer of Black Seas, Gabrio Tolentino in tabletop naval warfare using a scenario and new rules from Hold Fast! the first supplement for Black Seas.
“How about the United States Navy, Barbary pirates, and the Bermuda Triangle, somewhere in the Mediterranean?” Gabrio asks me with a grin.
“Can you have the Bermuda Triangle in the Mediterranean?” I ponder.
“Not exactly. It might have to be more like the Maltese Triangle, but it’s the same difference.”
Determined not to let geography get in the way of a good scenario, we proceeded to decant our vessels from a couple of Really Useful Boxes and placed them at either side of a sea-cloth covered 4′ x 4′ tabletop.
After placing my four US navy vessels, I had time to sing a sea shanty, hoist the mainsail, and shiver me timbers before Gabrio had finally placed all 13 of his pirate ships on the opposite table edge. “I’m all about quantity and you’re about quality,” he commented. “That beauty,” he said, pointing at my largest vessel, “is the 90-gun USS Independence. She never fired a shot in anger in real life, but today she is leading your fleet against my Barbary pirates.”
Our plan was to showcase Black Seas’ first supplement, Hold Fast!, so Gabrio had chosen two of the fleets that feature in the book. Along with Russians, Swedes, Dutch, Portuguese, and Ottomans, the Americans and Barbary pirates make up the seven featured fleets available for Black Seas action.
“Like other content in the book, some of these navies have been seen elsewhere (online, in boxed sets, etc), but Hold Fast! brings them all together in one convenient supplement,” says Gabrio.
“Accompanying the new navies are new Special Characters, like John Paul Jones for the Yanks, plus new characters for the existing nations, like Thomas Cochrane for the Brits and Infernet for the French.”
Our game also provided me with the opportunity to play with galleys for the first time, or at least try to blow them out of the water – they made up a large part of Gabrio’s pirate fleet.
“The Barbary pirates have Galley Mastery, so watch out because my sailors can move effortlessly between oars to sails.”
“Yes, but they’re still not great though, right?” said I, “Don’t all those oars mean no cannons on the broadsides?”
“Well yes, there is that. That’s why I’ll be coming at you head-on – my guns are in the bow. Oh, and galleys like to ram too!”
In addition to the new fleets and characters, Hold Fast! is home to 16 scenarios and two campaigns. The scenarios take us around the globe using the new fleets, and the main campaign uses that silver screen and nautical literature favourite of smuggling as its background; smuggling; guiding players in creating their own contraband, running companies, and developing ships.
Back on the tabletop, it soon became apparent as to why Gabrio was keen on the Bermuda/Maltese Triangle as the setting for our battle – based on the Bermuda Triangle scenario from the book; up popped a Megalodon in the centre of the board, promptly making its way over to the pirates’ side of the table, then taking a bite out of a Barbary boat.
Terrors and New Rules
The Megalodon is a giant shark, one of six sea creatures that feature in the Black Seas Terrors of the Deep boxed set, the rules for which are included in Hold Fast! I wouldn’t normally approve of fantastical shenanigans in a set of naval rules, but seeing as Mr Megalodon was attacking Gabrio’s vessels and not mine, I was inclined to let it pass.
When not being chewed by sea monsters, Gabrio’s pirates were taking a hell of a battering from the massive firepower on my four ships. In teh game of Black Seas Independence has nine heavy guns on port and starboard, with a couple more on the bow, and a light gun on the stern. It was pounding away at those pesky pirate ships that were by now buzzing around and taking sizeable chunks out of my frigates.
Awe and Fear played a large part in our game. This is one of several new Additional Rules included in Hold Fast! In order for a smaller vessel to engage a larger one (three or more ratings above), it needs to pass a Skill Test. This happened a lot with Gabrio’s pirate ships attacking my big boys. “Whilst hopefully appearing realistic, this new rule is mainly a game mechanic aimed at making players think twice before spending all their points on loads of little ships to swarm their enemy into submission,” Gabrio told me.
“I’m attempting to capture your ship,” Gabrio said after grappling my frigate and forcing it to strike its colours. “Is that a thing?” I replied. “It is now. Capturing Ships is a new Additional Rule in Hold Fast!”
Hold Fast! contains eleven new Additional Rules. Nestled amongst new rules for Awe and Fear, Capturing Ships, Galleys, Epic Battles, and more, you will also find A Simpler Time. “What’s that one all about?” I ask Gabrio. “It looks quite innocuous doesn’t it?” he replies, “but it’s potentially a pretty big deal. That rule takes Black Seas back in time to the late 17th – early 18th Century and into the days of the iconic Galleon: A Simpler Time provides rules for using Galleons and more in Black Seas”.
As the game concluded, we needed to count up the points scored in ships sunk or captured in our Maltese Triangle, and with the satisfaction you only get when you beat a designer at their own game, a broad grin appeared across my face as Gabrio conceded that the US Navy had been triumphant, and for today at least, the Barbary pirates had been sent packing back ‘to the shores of Tripoli’.
Find more articles like this one in the pages of Wargames Illustrated, the World’s premier tabletop gaming magazine!
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Our famous ships bundles conveniently collect all the named famous vessels for the Royal Navy available in Black Seas (excepting for those that can be found in the related starter fleets. As an added bonus, you’ll get a digital version of the Black Seas Hold Fast! supplement absolutely free.