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Stew art Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2017 1:57 p.m. PST

Yes, it's the inevitable ‘what rules?' thread.

Short version: I'm getting into AoS games, would you please recommend a rule set and say why it's awesome?

Longer version: I'm getting into AoS games using the Langton 1/1200 ships. I've always been interested in the genre and recently taken the plunge and got my fist ship. Now to build it…..

Anyway, as it usually happens now I'm shopping around for rules. I have not played many AoS games but I have ideas of what I like and dislike, but I'd like to hear opinions from more experienced games. Something for small actions, like 10 ships max down to two; Ideally 2 or 3 to a player. I don't think I'll ever have enough ships for fleet actions. I kinda like the idea of different parts of the ship taking damage. I also like medium complexity. I want to be able to adjust sails, go faster or slower, maybe shift ammo, but don't need to account for every crewman. It'd be cool if ships could somewhat different; larger ships slower and smaller ships faster, though I don't know how different a 100 gun ship actually is from a 74 gun ship aside from fire power.

I've done some research on my own of course so here's what I already have and think;

Form on Admirals Wake; what I played recently and sparked the whole thing. While it is alternate activations the ships only move a hex, so one side does not race ahead of the other which I like. Little on the simple side but fun. However, you can't really sail the ship how you want but only as how the card deck allows you to; you can be close hauled but can't tack until the tack card come up for example.

Flying colors / Serpents of the Sea. Found the rules online for free, but don't know if you need the counters to actually play the game (as it seems like a board game that people just convert to miniatures) Seems complicated, almost too complicated, and there seems to be an awful lot of counters / markers. My initial impression was not good but what do I know?

Wooden Ships and Iron Men: found the rules for free online, including the missing page 7. Haven't played yet but have a long buried memory of playing it once long ago…. Anyway seems like a good game. I like the simultaneous movement. There are parts that seem complicated (like boarding parties) but not overall, and seems to be at the ‘medium complexity' level I like. Is very dated of course and maybe on the slow side, and the ship log seems to be a pain to set up.

Beat to Quarters: found online for free. I didn't like the turn sequence / activation system or the movement mechanic. the move and turn at the end, so ships just zig zag everywhere. Seemed like with some average luck one side could sail circles around another.

Bloody Broadsides: Got from Wargame vault: seems like a good game and about the right complexity, though no rules for boarding. Very similar to wooden ships iron men, maybe more streamlined. Though the ship types are somewhat same-y.

That's all I have for now. Not that you need just one set of rules.
The wise would have already noticed that these are all based on hexes. That's just because that's all I have experience with.

Games I've heard of:
Kiss me hardy: seems a little like beat to quarters (or vice versa), which gives me pause. Also, with TFL games I tend to really like them (CoC, SP2) or really dislike (DuxB, IABSM).

Close Action: heard it was the update of WSIM, somewhat more complicated, and pricey and hard to find.

It's warm work: on wargame vault, might check it out. Has good reviews and not expensive.

Please feel free to advise me on rules… I really don't want to spend $20 USD a rules set just to never play it.


Mick the Metalsmith27 Jun 2017 3:10 p.m. PST

Bloody broadsides is brilliant fun for a small number of ships per side. The sameness is not so same as you would think…other than a 74 is a seventy four for e all but crew quality makes a difference. It's basically a streamlined version of Close Action.

Blutarski27 Jun 2017 3:17 p.m. PST

I have my own set of AoS rules (Steer to Glory), so I am a bit prejudiced, but here are my suggestions FWIW -

"Form on the Admiral's Wake" is an enjoyable game (I've played it) but, as you point out, it very much trades off nuance in exchange for simplicity.

Take a close look at David Manley's "Form Line of Battle". It is well done and has stood the test of time.

Rod Langton's "Clear for Action" is worth a look as well, but you will want to keep to the abbreviated fast-play version if $$$ is an issue – the highly comprehensive full-tilt all-inclusive set is muy dinero.

"Hearts of Oak" has been around for a LONG time, but still has a following.

"Fighting Sail" and "Trafalgar" are comic book rules. Think GW 40K fantasy acid trip at sea.

"WS&IM/Ship of the Line" is the senior citizen in the AoS miniatures rule set line-up. Simple and easy to play. My criticism is that aspects of the game mechanics make certain non-historical tactics very effective, to the extent that they can pervert game-play.


Jim Selzer27 Jun 2017 6:27 p.m. PST

TSR's Don't Give up the Ship. aka dguts is a great game though WS&IM isn't bad either

Charlie 12 Inactive Member27 Jun 2017 6:41 p.m. PST

Another set you might want to look at is ODGW's POST CAPTAIN. It's designed for small squadron (up to 5-6 ships per side and single ship actions. It handles the differences between ships very well (sailing qualities, armament, crew quality) and has an innovative movement system that puts the emphasis on sailing your ship (and not sailing the rules). Below is an AAR of a single ship action:

TMP link

John Thomas827 Jun 2017 7:13 p.m. PST

Kiss Me Hardy from TFL is pretty fun.

SgtPrylo28 Jun 2017 5:40 a.m. PST

Langton has two rulesets: Signal Close Action 4th ed., and Signal Close Action Fast Play.

SCA4 is the all-inclusive version. I'd rate it as med-high in difficulty. It retails at $36 USD, which includes all the rules and the dice you need. (The rules use different color dice for different aspects of your ship's functions.)

SCAFP is a 'lite' version of SCA4. Designed for club and convention games. It sells for $22. USD Both are available on the WM site under Napoleonics/Publications.

I've played these, Admiral's Wake, Post Captain, Trafalgar, Wooden Ships, Sails of Glory, and Clear for Action. They all have their points both good and bad.

Mark Barker28 Jun 2017 3:45 p.m. PST

Boardgames (my first love) first:-

Ship of the Line(miniatures)/WS&IM(boardgame)

The granddaddy of them all. I first got into WS&IM in the 80s and it still gives a good game. The 'gamey tactics' point that Blutarski justifiably makes for WS&IM can be simply fixed by playing 1 round of melee per turn (per the designer's intent) rather than the 3 rounds that the Avalon Hill developer put in. Lots of free articles/scenarios available via the on-line archives of the AH General magazine that you can legitimately access these days.

Close Action

The Rolls Royce solution, with all the individual ship performance you could ask for and scenarios/supplements based on thorough historical research. Probably not the best starting point for a beginner though.

Flying Colors/Serpents.

The basic game is akin to a fast-play version of WS&IM intended for squadron and fleet battles. Yes you need the game itself because the ship info is on the counters. I have provided historical research so I am biased:- I love it. It plays fast and is practical to solo. The Serpents expansion includes a card-based activition and gunnery system called the Duel game to give variation to single ship duels. Yes there are lots of status counters, but that means zero paperwork. Or you can use the provided ships logs to record damage etc. and ditch the status markers – your call.

As to miniatures, I'd put in another recommendation for Rod Langton's fast play version of Signal Close Action. It really rattles along with minimum record keeping, and you can pitch bits from its more detailed cousin to suit your tastes.

… and it would not be one of my posts if I did not recommend the Clear for Action computer assist rules that our group uses and will be playing at the UK Naval Wargames Weekend in Gosport on the 8th and 9th of July.

Different speeds based on sail setting and individual sail damage, computer moderated gunnery based on crew quality and morale etc. and all available as a free download !

Best wishes,

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

SgtPrylo29 Jun 2017 5:24 a.m. PST

Wait…what? Clear for Action computer assisted rules? For free??

Say goodbye to this weekend…

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2017 5:30 a.m. PST

"Admirals" by our own War Artisan – Jeff Knudsen – allow you to command a fleet in pretty much real time. Give you the feel of the period without a huge amount of 'rivet counting'

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2017 3:30 p.m. PST

thanks everyone for your input.

this seems to be a weird situation as opposed to other genre's as there doesn't seem to be one over whelming popular favorite. and so many sound the same or have the word 'action' in the title. : )

anything that says 'fleet' I'm steering clear of for now, as I won't have anything that's close to a 'fleet' for years. just looking for something with a player with 1 or 2 ships, maybe up to 6 a side depending on how fast /good I get at building ships.

so far Bloody broadsides and WSIM seem to be closest things, though I was unaware of the WSIM 'gamey tactic' in boarding parties; can you describe it more to me please? I understand the fix though, one round at a time.

might try close action. or KMH, or post captain, …
you know, it's not that I can't afford to get a rule set, it's that I can't afford to get them all… : )

maybe for now i'll just keep watching for AARs and reviews to pop up on TMP for more inflo while I focus on the rules I have, and make the ships.

but please continue to suggest rules and what makes a good AoS game!

stephen m29 Jun 2017 5:34 p.m. PST

Stew Art

Thank you for getting this started. I am back into gaming following a 25 year break and one of the areas I want to keep up is Age of Sail.

My first game I bought as a young teen was WS&IM. The original Battleline version. I also have their expansion Ship 'o the Line. SO all my experience is this version. Of course it has been decades since I played it last.

Like you I am looking at what rules are out there which are 'better'. This is very subjective and based on opinions of what you feel is not right with various rules. Having grown up with WS&IM this is naturally my base line.

I am also interested in single ship to maybe 3 per side games and mostly smaller ships. The exception would be the actions on the Great Lakes.

I did look into some of the rules listed above and couldn't find the 'right' feel. So an honest appraisal wrt the old WS&IM would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Cursd Captain Inactive Member29 Jun 2017 8:31 p.m. PST

I can honestly recommend my own rules, Captaincy, because they cover small actions, and are really about the experience of sailing, using a dice rolling and sorting mechanic as a analog to the crew's response to the wind. It's a comprehensive game, but once players understand the core mechanic, a turn goes by quickly.

Other than that -- and not having tried many recent games, like Post Captain, because I was focused on the development of Captaincy -- I recommend Close Action. It's fairly detailed, maybe too heavy as a fleet game, but veterans of WSIM will already understand the hex-based order writing as a concept. I like it for small actions. The scenarios are so well researched that they are worth getting by themselves.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP30 Jun 2017 6:39 a.m. PST

anything that says 'fleet' I'm steering clear of for now, as I won't have anything that's close to a 'fleet' for years. just looking for something with a player with 1 or 2 ships, maybe up to 6 a side depending on how fast /good I get at building ships.

You can always use 2.5D 'flats' as we did for a play test last year:


dantheman Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2017 6:46 p.m. PST

Stew Art

Based on your post further down, you are looking for small ship actions. In naval gaming that is significant clarification, it is similar to skirmish versus major battle rules on the land side. So…if you are looking for the equivalent of naval skirmish…

WS&IM is a good start. Yeah, a little old with quirks noted above, but still a solid set in my eyes with only minor mods. Simple for small ship actions.

Flying Colors is more for fleets so not recommended. However, Serpent of the Seas expansion is more for smal actions. However, I can't comment on how good it is as I never played that one.

Close Action. Way too detailed for what you want.

It is Warm Work. Fun. My favorite for fleet actions, but I had to modify it a fair amount to make it realistic. However, the mechanics are simple and fun.

Form Line of Battle is a good set and has rules adapting it to small actions.

In summary from what you mentioned compared to what I play. WS&IM and Form Line of Battle are best bets.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2017 7:16 p.m. PST

P.S. Serpent of the Seas is big bucks on the second hand market as it is now out of print. Don't think it is worth it unless you are willing to pay over $100 USD.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2017 9:29 a.m. PST

thanks for further feedback. yes, I want 'naval skirmish.' a handful of SoLs on each side. also medium complexity-ish, something I can teach others as a convention game.

so as we say; this eliminates fleet rule sets as I'm not interested in that right now; so that seems to eliminate rules like flying colors, and Serpent of the seas seems a little to complicated and hard to come by.

Close action sounds too complicated, and also too expensive to buy on a lark. so i'll have to wait on that set.

warm work seems for larger fleet actions, so I'll wait on that one.

so, last weekend I got a solo game of bloody broadsides just to check out the rules some more. it is true as Mick the Metalsmith points out; the crew difference does make a big difference. I pitted an English 1rst with a grade A crew versus an French 1rst with a B crew. the brit was really blasting away the French until the French got a critical hit and evened the odds for a bit.

by the way, it's very easy to check out rules that use hexes, as you only have to print out a sheet of paper with hexes and make some markers and have the ships logs.

so anyway BB was fun to play and I enjoyed it. I really liked the movement sequence.

I'm also curious about games that don't use hexes. strong contenders seem to be captaincy (thanks cursd captain, just bought it ) and post captain.

form line of battle / clear for action / Kiss me hardy all use card activations, roll dice for movement, etc.. and seem interesting. though in FLOB (and CFA seems derived from FLOB) I don't really like the move forward and then turn aspect… I dunno, it might be brilliant as I don't have a ton of experience. I also don't like the idea of one side getting really lucky and sailing quickly ahead of another side.

thanks again for replies and discussion.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP07 Jul 2017 3:33 p.m. PST

while I still have everyone's attention… Here's a WSIM question. : )

I was messing around with WSIM the other day and discovered:
a ship with 1 move in attitude C (which I think is all sail 3 and 4) then losses a rigging section, which decreases by 1 all moves in all points of sail… so that means that now in attitude C the ship can't move at all?

that surprised me and I'm wondering if I have that right or is often changed?

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jul 2017 6:55 p.m. PST

It's actually pretty accurate the way it is.

A hex grid already allows fairly generous windward movement for square-rigged ships (60 degrees to the wind), the physical limitations of bracing the yards around restricting such a rig to about a 68 degree best upwind performance (6 points off the wind). Games which use a square grid, allowing upwind movement at 45 degrees to the wind, or those which allow movement directly upwind, are simply stretching the practical realities beyond all recognition.

The natural leewardliness of a particular hull design, fouling, contrary currents, and the action of the wind on the sides of a two- or three-decked ship usually reduced the maximum windward performance to about 80 degrees (7 points). It was not uncommon for ships of the line to make no better than 90 degrees (8 points) to the wind.

Significant damage to the upper works, in this case a full rigging section, representing something like the loss of a topmast or seriously cut up sails and rigging, would pretty much eliminate a large square-rigger's ability to brace around enough of the yards to keep steerage way if not moving downwind. The usual practice for ships in such a condition was to fall out of the line of battle to effect repairs, assuming they weren't already duking it out toe-to-toe with an opponent.

For a detailed exposition of this issue, read Sam Willis' work on the upwind performance of sailing ships.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2017 9:20 a.m. PST

Thanks for the reply War Artisan!

least I know I have the rules right. just surprised me s there aren't a lot of rigging points to start with.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

Welll wargame vault is having a sale, so I picked up Form Line of Battle.

so far, the current list of rules is:

Bloody Broadsides
Form on Admirals Wake
Beat to Quarters

Non hexes:
Kiss Me Hardy
Form Line of Battle

and I haven't even finished my first ship yet…
buying rules must be easier. but I need to stop because while it's fun to read rules, it's money that I could be spending on ships and what not.

in the future, I might do a novice review of the rules because I think it would be helpful.

Mark Barker22 Jul 2017 5:23 a.m. PST

War Artisan's reply is pretty pessimistic for the sailing performance of ships of the line. Prior to the Revolution the standard of training in the French navy was the equal or better of the British and they drilled for a close hauled line of battle 6 points off the wind. British practice was to sail a fleet 7 points off the wind, which gave some margin for error and allowed ships falling off a bit the ability to regain their position in the line. A ship that could not sail closer than 8 points would be strategically useless, as by definition it could not sail upwind without tacking. The ability to sail well upwind was often valued more than raw speed, those 3 deckers that could do it well were particularly sought as flagships. Upwind sailing performance is the first thing to go when taking damage, and in this both WS&IM and Flying Colors (which has the same basic mechanic but a bit more granularity) are accurate. That is why taking the upwind position (the weather gauge) was so important to commanders at the time.

Mark Barker

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2017 11:55 a.m. PST

Interesting comments. Was reading about this in an article by Sam Willis (one mentioned above?) and in Harland p62-63. If those two resources are accurate, I have to assume War Artisan is correct when it comes to actual practice on a constant basis, especially in battle. Always looking for more references I can get my hands on though….

My current assumption is, like everything else, is that how close a ship can sail to the wind has to be given a margin of comfort to account for battle stress and confusion.

Blutarski25 Jul 2017 2:05 p.m. PST

A square-rigged ship at 7 points from the eye of the wind will make better speed through the water than a ship at 6 points; sailing at 6 points causes 'crabbing', leaves no room to accommodate minor wind shifts and no allowance for more leewardly ships to maintain their place in line. Numerous historical battle diagrams also suggest squadron/fleet lines of battle engaging on or very close to a beam reach heading (a point of sailing upon which backing and filling can still be managed).

However, reflecting these technicalities adds a good deal of mechanical complexity to game play, especially in the eyes of casual "less sun-burned and salty" naval gamers.


Mark Barker25 Jul 2017 5:05 p.m. PST


Nothing I am saying contradicts Willis or Harland, indeed Willis himself says "In practice, therefore, certain square rigged ships, in certain circumstances, could keep their square sails filled when sailing six points from the wind, and most could keep their sails filled and pulling well between seven and eight points." and Harland shows the 'dead-zone' of 12 points where a sailing ship cannot go.

The additional sources I am using for British fleet practice are Tunstall – Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail which is the go-to source for discussion of fleet tactics and Boudriot – 74 Gun Ship of the Line which is the bible for anything related to the French. Both of these are referenced from the Sam Willis article.

To see an example of a British fleet making progress close-hauled into wind, just look at a diagram of Cape St Vincent.

Incidentally, Sam's article dates from 2003 – when he wrote his book "Fighting at Sea in the 18th Century" in 2007 – strongly recommended – both his discussion of single ship chasing actions and diagrams of fleet manoeuvres have close-hauled ships sailing at 6 points off the wind …

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP26 Jul 2017 4:32 a.m. PST

I have Sam's book and Tunstall's. I don't have Boudriot's though. That series talks about the French Navy practices as well? I thought it was just about the Design of French 74s? It is a series I am interested in but is a little pricey…..

Mark Barker26 Jul 2017 2:09 p.m. PST

A gentle understatement …

Volumes 1 to 3 deal with the fabric of the ship itself, Volume 4 (the biggest of the lot) is more about the French Navy:- shipboard life, officer structure and recruiting patterns across the Naval districts, individual shiphandling, gunnery practice, fleet evolutions.

I bought them a Volume a year, it spread the hurt of the price a bit.

They are expensive (but don't believe Amazon out of print prices) but there really is nothing like them.

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

BrianW26 Jul 2017 11:48 p.m. PST

Boudriot's books are essential for the French Navy, as Mark Baker said. It is, however, the French Navy of 1780, so not the later Revolutionary/Napoleonic one. With that one caveat in mind, I can only say: Buy. Those. Books. I started with Volume IV and just recently purchased Volume I. You will not regret it. I now have over 100 books in my Age of Sail collection, and consult the Bourdriot books regularly.There is information in there (the weight of ship's boats, for example) you won't find in very specialized works such as The Boats of Men of War.

Mark Barker27 Jul 2017 4:05 a.m. PST

His lesser known books (History of the French frigate, Ships of 74 to 120 guns) take the ship elements through to 1850, the book on 50 to 64 gun ships also stops at 1780. Only the frigate book is available in English, but the structure and measurements etc are in a standardised form so that is not too much of a challenge. They are also just gorgeous. If you ever come across one of these second-hand just grab it and run…

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

Cursd Captain Inactive Member27 Jul 2017 10:07 a.m. PST

As Mark Barker says, the French 74 includes a long and comprehensive section on the operations of the ship. It would be hard to find a better book about the ship of the line itself, out of the context of battle narratives, personal histories, and so on.

Many of his books inventory ships in a particular class or weight category and explore the reports that officers wrote about the sailing qualities of individual ships.

The whole series is an astounding work of archeology in both drawings and text.

Cursd Captain Inactive Member27 Jul 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

p.s., If you live near, or visit, a nautical history museum or library, that might be a good place to examine Jean Boudriot's books without spending a lot of money. I was able to use them here: link

BrianW27 Jul 2017 9:33 p.m. PST

Unfortunately I have yet to find History of the French Frigate for a reasonable price anywhere. Right now the cheapest copy on is $202.61 USD plus shipping. As far as The Seventy-Four Gun Ship goes, I suspect that many of the administrative procedures described are the same for the Revolution/Napoleonic era even though the uniforms and personalities changed.

Cursd Capt.,
I thought that as well. I live near Houston, and NONE of the libraries here (even university ones) have the entire collection. To look at all of them required a trip to two or three different libraries, none of which are close to each other, 'cause it's Houston. It was worth the money required to have all four of them in the study.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2017 11:54 a.m. PST

Does the 74 series focus on a particular class of 74 or an overall summary. What about the drawings? Are they for a particular class?

Mark Barker28 Jul 2017 2:10 p.m. PST

It is a representative 74 of the 1780s as it would be in build at Rochefort at the time, not the 'standard' Sane design of later years.

Idea was to represent the French fleet at its apogee, not as Boudriot writes, the 'unhappy history' of the later 74s. Vol 1 contains the external draughts, Vol 2 fitting out of the hull and interiors, Vol 3 the masts, spars, sails amd the rigging plan and Vol 4 I have already described.

There are sample pages available online which give a better idea of what the books involve. All Volumes together, be prepared to sacrifice 7 inches of full height space on your bookshelf …

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

Blutarski29 Jul 2017 2:43 p.m. PST

dantheman –
If you are at all seriously interested in the French navy circa 1780, proceed immediately to your local bank, take out a consumer loan in the necessary amount and purchase the four volume set of Boudriot's "74 Gun Ship". The title is an unfortunate misnomer, as Boudriot covered a vast amount of material that ranged far beyond the design and construction of a French 74 – from management of the royal forests where the wood for construction was selected and cut, to navigation, tactics, shiphandling, gunnery, ordnance, detailed descriptions of all other classes of warships down xebecs and even ship's boats. He also gives a complete and highly detailed listing of ALL French warships as of 1780. You will be hard pressed to conceive any question that is not addressed somewhere within these four volumes.

In addition, his books are massively illustrated with precision drawings and artwork of every manner of thing, from ship profile, to rigging details, to capstan design, literally down to the contents of the surgeon's trepanning kit; Boudriot, apart from being a totally driven OCD researcher, was a brilliant master draftsman.

I have owned my set for 35 years and plan to have it buried with me ….. ;-)

Suggestion – buy a complete) set in best possible condition you can find and take care of it. This set will only increase in value on the collector market.


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