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Subject: Sailing Truly Into Uncharted Waters rss

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Ok - fess up. How much do you know about the Russian Navy in the period of the 18th century? I knew that John Paul Jones, the famous American Revolutionary naval hero of Bonhomme Richard fame became a Russian admiral - and that about summed up my knowledge on this subject. With Red Sash Games release of Somar Skrala I became MUCH, much smarter on the Russian navy. I also made the connection that Sweden still had great power pretensions in the century after the death of Gustavus Adolphus. Add in GMT's Pax Baltica and I had the picture somewhat completed. Be prepared for Blue Cross, White Ensign (BC/WE) to fill in the gaps in your military education. Out of all of this I discovered I rather like this period because it's all new and fresh to me. I suppose I have been lucky that all the games I've mentioned have all been a good learning experience and did not turn me off from the subject. What the game is not is fighting a single ship in utmost tactical detail, even with the option of single ship duels. If that is your desire look up Wooden Ships and Iron Men.


Initial Set-up of the Battle of Fidonisi, 1788. (I admit I had NEVER heard of this battle until GMT shamed me...)

COMPONENTS

It has Blue maps. 3 blue game maps. There are very shades of blue. I think you get the "drift" here as it is a naval game so it has plenty of ocean. However the maps will enable you to perhaps as linked up with other volumes even bigger actions knowing GMT and its nefarious plans. The maps also have letters on them, which indicates in certain scenarios those areas are treated as shoals game play. Not a bad system.

There are a healthy amount of markers in the game. You'll need them. Here the markers felt like they added to and enhanced game play. It allowed me to visualize in my own mind's eye actual ship damage. Rather than cumbersome charts or off table boxes, everything you need to know about any ship in contained right on it with these markers. I like simple when it works like this. I liked these ship counters a great deal. Ottomans are olive, Swedes blue and Russians a Forest Green, All were easy to read and rendered nicely. I looked up several and all looked to be historically accurate. However the two identical Player Aid Cards are the hidden strength of this game. It almost reminded me of Enemy Coast Ahead that once you got a glimmer on how to play, almost everything you needed was contained with the 4 corners of this.

Nice clean Ottoman counters


RULES
I found the rules to be very solid. The 16 pages did not induce even a single migraine thought from me, considering sea games until recent have been known to shiver my timbers. In fact one solid before bed time reading with underlining, a 2nd review before set-up and we were off to fight. I only pooched one rule - sort of my fault and sort of something GMT could have spelled out more, the which part of the ship is your target. However my seemingly countless times of watching Master and Commander, perhaps Katie's my wife favorite war movie paid off in understanding the choices in the tactical realm. How was it is set up? Minus making certain you understand how the wind works and some of the more esoteric things of sailing such as fouling and grappling, you can play from the player's aid card... To be expected the optional rules add to the game by going beyond simple fleet actions. The one you may wish to add regardless is "The End of the World" rule which extends play area. I don't think this is one you will have use for often, but I found it made simple sense to add it. Overall, I think these rules are a vast improvement in terms of player friendliness over Flying Colors. One caveat though - all the rule examples use two hex ships. I was never quite certain if I was always applying things correctly with the one hex ships in terms of the types of movement. Here several examples could and should have been included.


GAME PLAY

Game play is pretty straight forward in most cases. However the Command rules at first seem both silly and overly complex. But we know from Salamis on ships were in command of a sort and by this era a series of signals, training, battle experience and leaders vision was communicated to their ships captains. It took me a little time for my brain to grasp you can move units by groups. What this means is all ships in that group are a single command and as such all move together before any enemy ships are allowed to move. As GMT explains it this "takes into account the ability of a fleet commander to issue pre-engagement plans and orders in such a manner as to allow a fleet to maintain its cohesion once the fleet engage". You know what? The concept worked for me. Some may not like the fact that the system is a you-go-Igo system vs simultaneous movement. If it was that, I won't like it - simply a matter of design and taste.

Admiral qualities matters a great deal in terms of initiative. Initiative is determined by rolling a 10-sided die and adding your Admirals score to it and comparing it to your opponents. And guess what? Mediocre admirals over the course of the game produce mediocre results. You as the player have to work that into your overall game play. Combat is ultimately a function of movement. Combat is astoundingly clean. I learned about rakes, partial rakes, demasting and other aspects. A key point to remember is that you need not sink ships to break the enemy's will. Causing a ship to strike its colors is hard on a player's morale. Audacity is the game's Sword of Damocles - it giveth and taketh away. It giveth by helping with initiative and combat modifiers, but it also means that the player with the higher audacity rating needs to play better - and win. The other guy...not losing is a win.
Most of the scenarios of BC/WE are of the larger variety in terms of fleet actions in my mind. This is where the ease of play simplifies the tactical aspect and allows players to command and fight. The one scenario I stayed away from was Battle of Otchakov as it seemed like a black hole in terms of time for me. But it's sure interesting looking to


The Ottoman Fleet is in some disarray with the new ships joining them. However the Russians are trying to turn around and run with them -but for 2 turns now the Ottomans have gotten favorable wind. Why do I like this game? It has me outside my comfort zone.

say the least. If you are to start with a fleet action I would tell you either to go with Fidonisis or the Kerch Straits as both are more manageable. Work up towards the Swedish-Russian fleet actions UNLESS you are an already experienced Flying Colors player.
The bottom line is this - BC/WE is fun to play. For some the scenarios may seem unbalanced and for others not decisive enough. I think that is well within keeping within the designers intent, else it just becomes a die rolling mess. It can happen, as the Ottomans in the first time I played Fidonisi got shellacked, but each time thereafter it played out more moderately. I doubt expect this to be basher games - and neither should any player. However do study the audacity rules - even if you are on the lower scale there are positives there for you, for GMT seldom sticks something in the rules for no reason -but unlike Ty Bomba they may not SPELL IT OUT for you why it matters.

The Battle of Revel scenario in the Play Book is a mess though. I kept thinking I missed maps for the green areas. Then I kept looking for some explanation for these areas. In terms of overall set up it's simply left more than a bit unexplained. Look at the game maps - then look at the scenario. It's simply ugly to figure it out. I played it but it was unpleasant due to the physical issues.

CONCLUSIONS
Blue Cross, White Ensign was a relatively pain-free more in-depth introduction to this period of naval warfare. The game flows and plays pretty smoothly. Although it is part of a series, the game stands on its own in terms of playability - you don't need any other games to mix and match in order to play. For those wanting to get into naval games from this period, this is a great one to cut your teeth on.



Of course we often get game "help" - Buster "boarding" the Fire CRT.
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Chris Valk
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Great review...and cat! Admiral Buster exudes a Nelsonian command quality.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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THANKS Chris - I need to find a picture of when Fuzz the younger orange male runs off with some 1:2400 scale ships...little weasel!
Smitty
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