Thursday, 19 September 2019

Black Seas - First look

I wandered into my local games store this afternoon (Asgard Wargames - purveyor of plastic and white metal to the discerning gamer) and noticed on the "hobby table" their demo copy of Warlord's new Napoleonic Age of Sail game Black Seas has arrived. Interest sparked.

Intrigued, I picked the rules up and took a seat to have a read through. I should explain here I have been quite critical of Warlord's last couple of releases. Cruel Seas was quite buggy, and SPQR was basically unplayable as written. Both needed extensive corrections \ FAQs within a week of release. In this SPQR was by far the worse. Most of the problems with Cruel Seas were omissions or editing, and though some of this was irritating or puzzling, the game was still fun. Don't ask about searchlights. I really like Cruel Seas now. Sure there are some bits that need house ruling (err searchlights) and stuff that is counter intuitive but actually the core game is fine, and the models are excellent. SPQR has different problems which I've covered in an earlier blog post so wont go into again. Both these games had exquisitely illustrated rule books, and were lauded pre launch by Warlord and others as being the next great thing, only to cause quite a lot of displeasure when they were actually in the hands of the players. So given the previous two, I was quite cynical about Black Seas, which seems to have been "inspired" by Cruel Seas, and was receiving the same pre release fanfare. I decided to wait to let someone else take the risk of buying only to find another badly playtested or edited Warlord product.

So here was my chance. While Jamie W sat assembling the models (more later) I started to read.

Jamie hard at work

Grabbed and settled down for a read
What follows is just a first read through, and obviously the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but I feel a warm glow of enthusiasm - Warlord may well have got this right. The rules are of course lavishly illustrated - Warlord have a partnership with Osprey that means they can access the Osprey illustrations from their myriad of books, but the rules seem, well at first glace, pretty good. I should make a caveat here. These are an Age of Sail era rules set. The direction of the wind really is important, because you just can't sail into it - physics and all that. Black Sails  (BS- I think they may have needed to think about the title a bit more) allows you to do just that. This was highlighted before and the explanation I heard from some Warlord guy was that a captain would know how to get the most out of his crew and ship. This is of course BS, because, well, physics. It's like suggesting you can fly a plane backwards. No matter how good a captain or crew, physics and gravity tends to trump skill. HOWEVER there is an "advanced" rules section that contains a perfectly playable and reasonably simple set of movement rules that acknowledges, well , physics. For the life of me I don't know why these are not in the "main" section. I suspect there is a concern somewhere in Warlord that they need to keep it simple, which I think is misplaced. Most gamers can handle the idea of wind direction  - it's not rocket science. So that's movement out of the way. Shooting is D10s and seems familiar, sharing some DNA with Cruel Seas, but there was nothing in there to make me pull a face (except maybe speed modifiers to hitting a target - not sure how much that is really a factor when most ships are moving at walking speed, but not a great problem). Boarding seems simple and reasonable. In fact on this first read through the rules look pretty solid and complete.

So I while I was sat reading I asked Jamie what the models were like to assemble and he said "Dead easy". By the time I had finished my read-through (maybe half an hour) he had assembled all the models and was cracking on painting the first Frigate.

Frigates assembled

Brigs assembled
I turned my attention to the other stuff in the demo set. The ship cards were good quality - seemed the same general thickness \ quality as Cruel Seas ship cards. The various counters and other card punched stuff was very good heavy duty card too. In fact the only concern would be the paper map sheets which are the same as the Cruel Seas ones, and will probably get replaced. The other carry over from Cruel Seas was the wake markers and the paper "clips" to record damage. I've no issues with the wake markers, the clip things didn't work in CS as they were a bugger to get out of the sheet and then tore easily - and I suspect the same will happen here, but it's not a major issue.

By the time I had finished rooting around and flicking through the box Jamie had done this using Citadel "Contrast" paints. You could have knocked me down with, well something appropriately naval. Literally less than an hour from sprue to this

So the models. Beautiful. Yes I know they're in the "wrong" scale for traditional Age of Sail games, but on this one I'm not buying into the argument that they chose the scale to make sure you bought their models. The scale means they can make these as plastic kits, and the detail is superb. The pre printed paper sails are a bold move, but they seem to work well - as Jamie has shown. 

I can't do a full review of the rules - you have to play them to do that, but many of my concerns about the rules have been allayed, and my first impressions are very positive. The models are - well the ones I saw are first class. Or should that be First Rate? If the first impression holds true, I think Warlord have really hit the sweet spot here.


  1. That is a beautiful model! But where's the rigging? :)

    And by the way, if your ship of the line is moving at walking speed... You can rest assured mine will blast it out of the water! Barring very calm weather, most ships of that era would be moving along at a fast run to faster than a human could possibly sprint (certainly for any reasonable distance).

    1. Lol it took over an hour for the English to close to gunnery range at Trafalgar - I can walk quite a bit in that time

  2. with gun ranges in hundreds of yards, and sighting ranges of say 7 miles from sea level to sea level and maybe 15 from the tops
    walking or even running will take time

  3. Thanks for the first peak at these. I continue to feel better about my pre-order. :)

  4. Perhaps the speed modifiers for shooting are meant to abstract the pitching and rolling of the ship? Apparently in the Age of Sail this was far more important to accurate gunnery than actual knots the ship was doing.

  5. I think I can - mainly because I have so much plastic to paint and so little time