So, as I posted on here, HISTORICON 2013 was the first play of BIG DANGED BOATS (BDB) for more than4 players as a Convention Game. I think it went pretty well. I ran BDB on Thursday night and actually regretted not running it again.
So, on to my impressions. First of all, BDB did meet my expectations of the kind of game I wanted to make. I was looking for something slightly ridiculous and over the top, set in a “fantasy universe” of sorts, but not the classic elves and dwarves and fairies, even if they will be included for the sake of familiarity. Secondly I wanted to end up with a fantasy naval game that isn’t a retread of UNCHARTED SEAS in a larger scale. The emphasis would be on gunfire and boarding actions, but wouldn’t be nearly as abstracted as in that game– I wanted to see the figures going over the side and fighting hand to hand with crews on other ships– recreating the old pirate movie scenes where hordes of men swing across on ropes and heroically slash at each other with cutlasses, sneering and having camera op moments. To achieve that, the universe can’t be very gun heavy, or the game becomes a naval gunfire game. To get there, I limited gunfire (well, attempted to) by limiting ammunition. That didn’t work as well as it might. I gave each ship 1 or 2 red kegs of “Boom Powder”. Each keg carries five shots. The wealthier and more technological societies have more boom powder, the more primitive cultures have less. In practice, 10 shots (2 kegs of boom powder) turned out to be a LOT of shots for this game. People spent more time maneuvering to get a shot than actually shooting. Solution: make it 3 shots per keg rather than 5.
Logistical Tail: I made a TON of homemade game aids for this game– Action Cards, tokens, markers, measuring sticks, turning angles, wind markers and one yardarm to yardarm template. Even so, I could see that the game needed this– there’s just too much going on every turn. Players have to be sure of the Wind on all sides of the table, that’s why there’s a giant wind arrow. They have to see the weather change, that’s why the weather gauge is so large. The turning templates could have been a little cleaner, but they do what they are supposed to. The red and blue distance sticks worked like a charm. No tape measures. The only thing that didnt’ really work for me were the boarding markers (not big enough) and targeting markers. I may have to (dang it) go to Litko for this, though their stuff is rather small for this scale.
Ships: I wanted to use a preponderance of commercially made ships with some kit-bashing here and there. So a lot of the ships you see in this game started life as Old Glory Shipyards or earlier hulls (in some cases, much, much earlier). I have been collecting 15mm boats of various flavors for a long time now, and I only have some of them painted up for this game. Since I wanted ships that were highly visual, thematic, and somewhat ridiculous looking, I had to improvise a few of them from found materials, like a dog’s squeaky toy in the shape of a foot, or a kid’s boxing glove candy holder toy. All of which were heavily kit bashed to make the ridiculous visual fit the game.
The Bone Brigade Black Galley, which is imagined to be a sort of ramming and missile fire consort to the Flagship– all archers from Alternative Army. Another ancient find, this was purchased at roughly the same time and probably from the same source. Just as bad of a casting, but painted black so it’s not as noticeable.
Not Pictured, since it didn’t get run by a player: The Sea Eagle, the galley of the High Elves. This was essentially THIS HULL by Old Glory Shipyards in their Galley Wars line. Painted in blue/light blue/light yellow color scheme, with Alternative Army High Elf Archers (I think.. maybe they are older than that) in a matching color scheme. They also have a Sea Eagle figure (Dungeons and Dragons miniature) that they can launch as a limited aerial attack, and a light gun facing forward.
Mechanics: I’m going to have make things a lot simpler. I tend to design for everything and the kitchen sink, and that complicates things. Things that worked: the way the ships move-– different ships (Steam, Wind, Magic, and Rowed) move in different ways, and they all worked together pretty well. One thing that surprised me was how competitive oared ships were with Steam Ships and Sailing Ships. At the Historicon game, Bill Alderman, playing the Spartans in a small galley, managed to catch up with the slow moving Steam powered Gnomish Siege Machine and board it, and commence to kick Gnomish butt. Jeff Simpson, running the Stealth Fleet, pushed the steam powered Von Ripper to the limit, and failed his Boom Check roll when he changed gears. Fortunately he had an Engineer card to play and they fixed it immediately. The Holy Frenzy, a sailing ship, was at the wrong angle to the wind until it changed, and then he swooped in with the wind behind him taking advantage of the extra wind. We actually changed weather twice, and the wind speed got up to “Squall”, which gave the sailing ships lots of speed. Unfortunately Brett Abbott had the Oil on Troubled Waters card, and that stopped the windy weather.
I also liked, in general, The Cards and Shining Moment Coins. The cards are a major “something” a player can do one time, to help himself or hurt someone else. The Shining Moment coins are rerolls of critical dice, and count as victory points at the end of the game. That worked.
Things that I liked less: Initiative. Confusingly written. I’m probably going to go with playing cards or chips next time. Ramming Procedure: The Sequence should be Move, Check to see if Ram is possible, Ram, throw grapples, then if that works, place a marker to board or attempt to back out. This got all jacked up from turn to turn. I’m going to look at this more closely. Boarding Procedure: Too slow. I built a very cool yardarm to yardarm template, but I didn’t build enough of them and setting up a boarding combat was too slow and had too many steps. I’ll streamline this. Gunnery in General: The basic model is relatively easy– so many dice for a heavy gun, so many dice for a medium, so many dice for a light. But I wasn’t sinking any ships with gunfire. That mostly killed crews. And gunfire checked damage off of a grid in hull points and other things.. crew, gun, etc. Also, the whole volley fire thing from crew weapons (muskets, archers, crossbows) caused too much confusion, as I had three flavors of gunnery– we’ll make it ONE form of gunfire (unaimed volley) and we’ll work with the dice rolls to add things like “hit a leader” or “hit a critical dude”.
Sequencing was a little confusing, with too many exceptions. I’ll tighten that up. Damage was not lethal enough. An easy thing to fix.
Things I had but didnt’ use: Cards were fairly limited. I had cards designed for some factions, giving them special abilities. Reinforcements in the Hold: I also had a ton of reinforcements for most factions who had a ship big enough to have a hold, just not a great way to commit them to the game. Objectives-– the basic game is a pig pile. It might be fun to add objective markers for some games.
SO that’s my critique of my own system, BDB v. 1.2 Things I’m going to add: A decent magic system– probably card driven. I have three or four more factions imminent– the Trader Guild, which seeks to manufacture Boom Powder themselves and wishes to cut the Seng out of the equation; the Little People’s alliance (Fawns, Leprachauns and Gully Dwarves), Lizard Men and Orc boats.
What happened in the game?
It was a lot of fun. We had almost every ship in the game except for the Foot of the Dead God and the Sea Eagle. The Holy Frenzy was hampered by contrary winds early in the game and then swooped into a four way boarding action later deploying his special coracles to try to capture a ship. The Ragnar Brothers were quite aggressive, taking on the Wood Elves in a boarding action and the Stinkwater (Zombie Pirates) simultaneously, then being rammed in turn by the coracle assault after their numbers diminished. The Wood elves used their wood-ripping ram quite effectively against the Stinkwater, then got rammed and boarded by the Ragnars. The Primus steamed into battle and took advantage of their special power to turn on a dime to bring their cannon to bear almost every turn. The Seng got stuck into it with the Bone Brigade and had their tow rope ripped apart by them. The Spartans were incredibly aggressive and boarded and slaughtered the Gnomes at a terrible cost. I eventually called the game as ships got crews depleted to the point of no return. By points and by acclamation, the “Victor” was Aaron Bostian (who provided these pictures). Well done, sir.
In general, I’m happy with BDB but need to wrench on it a little longer. Big Danged Boats is large, grandiose, goofy and ridiculous, just as I had imagined it to be, and it certainly maintains its own internal logic. So I’m fairly pleased. Thanks to those players who showed up and played.
As mentioned above, Aaron Bostian (Fellow gaming blogger on the Fancy Wars Blog, check it out) was present running the Bone Brigade and he took MANY pictures. Here is a nice slide show if you’d like a look. SImply click on the image below: