Saturday, December 06, 2008

Uncharted Seas

A picture of my Uncharted Seas Dragon Lords and Iron Dwarves straight out of the box. I haven't even put the sails on the Dragon Lords yet. For scale purposes, the islands are Gale Force Nine islands for WizKids Pirates game and the dice are 1/2" dice. You can see representatives of all three classes of ships for both races in this picture as well as the frigate turning and arc of fire template.

In one of my posts about podcasts I warned about listening to This Week In Wargaming if you valued your wallet. Naturally, I didn't take my own advice and the result is that I decided to pick up the rules and a couple of starter navies for Uncharted Seas from the Warstore.

The guys at TWIW have been pretty enthusiastic about this game, and after getting a chance to read through the rules and push the models around the table a bit I have to agree. Uncharted Seas is a set of fantasy naval rules. Amongst truly old school Games Workshop gamers this will immediately invite comparison to Man O' War, GW's fantasy naval rules from back in the day. My opinion is that if you still miss Man O' War, then this game could very well scratch that itch.

First, the background. So far it's fairly minimal, but gets the job done. The initial four navies are the Imperial Navy (humans), Iron Dwarves, Orc Raiders, and the Dragon Lords (Melnibonean style elves). The story is that all but the Dragon Lords originate from the Old World and have fairly recently discovered and begun to colonize the New World. In doing so they have encountered the Dragon Lords who already claim dominion over the New World. The background allows for conflict between all four races as well as internal conflicts between different factions within the same race.

Unlike the Old World, which is one big continent, the New World is made up mostly of island chains with a few larger land masses. This explains why naval warfare has come to be the dominant means of power projection in the region.

The rulebook mentions plans for further expansion, both for the existing races and the introduction of new races, including more traditional Elves.

The rules are simple, but capture most of the feel of age of sail style fighting. Turns begin by rolling initiative and then players take turns activating squadrons of ships in initiative order.

The wind is handled simply by it not having an effect unless you are sailing directly into it (actually within about a 45 degree arc of directly into it), at which point your movement costs are doubled as long as you do so. There's also a chance once per turn of the wind shifting.

Turning is handled using three templates, one for each class of ship: frigate, cruiser, and battleship. This makes movement a simple affair.

The same templates also show arcs of fire for the three classes, which brings us to line of sight. In the basic rules frigates do not block line of sight from battleships, otherwise everything blocks line of sight, both ships and islands. Ships firing broadsides basically have two 45 degree arcs to trace line of sight from, one at either end of the ship. If both have line of sight, then the ship gets full firepower against the target. If only one has line of sight then firepower is halved. This makes it a little more tricky to maneuver the larger ships to bring their full firepower to bear since the two arcs are spread further apart.

Damage is handled by rolling a number of d6 equal to the firepower of the attack. Generally 4s and 5s are single hits, and 6s are double hits that get rerolled for the possibility of even more hits. This can be modified by various factors so that 3s can be hits, or 4s can be misses. This system makes it possible, if unlikely, for a lucky shot from a frigate to sink a battleship if the shooter keeps rolling 6s on the rerolls.

The total number of hits are compared to the damage value and critical value of the target, if they equal or exceed the damage value then the target takes one damage point. If the total hits equal or exceed the target's critical value then the target rolls on the critical hit table instead of taking a damage point. If the shot was so good that the number of hits was twice or more the critical value, then the target has to roll once for each multiple of the critical value done.

Damage is handled in the same way when handling ramming, collisions and boarding actions. The only differences being how to determine the number of dice to roll. The result is an easy to understand and use system that should be fast playing. Most record keeping can be handled on the table with tokens, although some paperwork may be necessary, especially in larger games, to keep track of critical hits taken.

There's one further factor that adds more depth to the whole system: the card decks. Each player gets a 26 card deck. Thirteen of the cards are common to all decks, and the other 13 are specific to the race being played. Each player gets to draw a number of cards equal to the number of squadrons in their fleet, up to a maximum of five. The cards are played during the game to give advantage to certain rolls, or to cast special magical effects, and are refreshed at the end of each turn. Depending on the nature of the card they are either played at the beginning of the turn, when activating a squadron, when attacking, or in reaction to another player's action.

Between the ship stats and the race specific cards there seems to be enough differentiation between forces to give each navy a distinct feel without requiring a lot of special rules.

The basic game includes stats for three ships for each navy: one frigate, one cruiser, and one battleship. Spartan Games has already released stats for new ships for each navy, including a dragon carrier for the Dragon Lords that introduces air power to the game, heavy cruisers for the Dragon Lords and Iron Dwarfs, a new battleship class ship for the Orcs, and a troop transport for the Imperial Navy that gives them marines. Other units that have been mentioned for the future include submersibles and further air power.

There's also a set of sea monsters to use as random encounters in some scenarios. The rules for all the new units have been offered as free pdfs at

The game has an affordable entry cost. The book itself is about $28 at the Warstore. Starter fleets range from around $40 to $45 for all but the dwarfs who are only around $25 because they don't need the white metal sails that the other forces use. Starter fleets give you six frigates, three cruisers and a battleship, plus the card deck for that race. Enough to play the scenarios from the rulebook and get a good feel for the game.

If you pick the dwarfs as one of your navies you can get into this game with two complete forces for less than $100! I can't think of another miniatures game that comes in at that price point.

The miniatures themselves are single piece resin hulls with white metal sails for those ships that use sails. Quality is good with some minimal work needed to clean up the bottom edge of some of the resin pieces. Detail is good without going overboard. Painting up a navy should be a quick process. I plan on just spraypainting a basecoat, picking out a few details and then hitting it with a wash before sealing it with a clear coat and calling it finished.

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