I was recently introduced to this very interesting game and as the novice took control of the Spanish Armada, my companion as the ‘expert’, having played once before, took the challenging role of commanding the English Fleet.
I deployed in the historic crescent formation; a mistake. It would be better to deploy in an L shaped formation facing north and west, the main directions of threat and at far distance from the oncoming English. In the instance as the English sortied from Plymouth they were able to assault directly into the Spanish fleet. Aided by an event chit that gave two extra dice and some exceptional dice-rolling that inflicted six hits in one combat, and by concentrating in fighting the nearest squadron, the English soon overwhelmed it and sent it to the bottom. This set off the running fight up channel during which both sides started accumulating damage. The one positive note was that at the very start an event chit had caused damage to Drake’s squadron and that great die-rolling had also resulted in Drake’s squadron ‘breaking’; once the squadron had been brought to order it had slipped off to rejoin the combat from the west rather than the north. Unfortunately for Drake the following two turns the wind blew from the east and he was neither able to join the combat tactically nor strategically get ahead of the Armada.
By the Isle of Wight both sides had taken a lot of damage. At first I had thought that the Spanish were better off limiting combat to restrict their losses but I then realised that this was enabling the English to concentrate on individual squadrons, haul away, reorganise and restart the fight as they wished. The key for the Spanish was to time the counter-attack so that they got the squadrons with good combat options attacking English squadrons that were weakened by losses and disorganisation (‘broken’). Focussing attacks on Hawkins, which he failed to dodge, resulted in reducing him to three ships; he had to put into Portsmouth, short on ships and ammunition and in low spirits. Hawkins reinvigorated squadron would never catch up with the fight. Other English squadrons forged ahead to Dover to restock and repair, leaving Drake alone to continue to harry the Spanish, who in relative peace were able to conduct repairs and replenishment, except for one badly battered squadron that repeatedly failed all rolls.
The Spanish were able to drop their anchors at Calais Roads in good order and an easterly wind kept the English pursuing from Dover at bay, although allowing Seymour to arrive from Harwich. The attack of the fireships proved an anti-climax, as all the squadrons other than the very badly damaged one passed their morale checks and headed out to sea; only two ships were lost. On the following turn the Armada has to pause to reorder but the weather was kind enough to be calm so that the English were unable to move. However, Drake was next to the Spanish galleys and was able to attack and destroyed the moderately damaged galley squadron. Seymour was unable to get up to the Spanish ships and the Armada then passed on to Gravelines.
The state of the Armada proved a bit dodgy at this point and they needed three or better on the die to be ready for the army: they were ready. Parma rolled a six and the invasion was on. The Armada closed the English coast and the defending fleets put in a series of ferocious attacks. It looked bleak as many of the Spaniards were broken and only four Spanish squadrons were in good order, although two English squadrons were broken. The hulks were all there, albeit one had only one ship left after the terrible English attacks and the Spaniards focussed on rallying the squadrons and getting good morale in the fleet. In doing so there proved to be enough strength not to need to roll for the invasion so Parma was ashore and surely the government in London would collapse.
The very neat design engine ensures that a multiplicity of die-rolls to ensure that victory is through an accumulation of small successes. How will the English use their manoeuvrability and the wind gauge? How will the Spanish deploy? What use will they make of their larger squadrons and better commanders? What tactical chits to use and when to maximise their combat impact? Will the ammunition hold or will you fail your roll? What event chits will you pick up? A constant stream of small events and die-rolls that fill out a very clever design package. Even the rather neat ‘broken’ rules result in squadrons hauling away, a difficult feat for the Spanish, to reorder as rallying is easier to achieve than passing morale tests.
It took six hours to play (a ‘first’ play) and the rules can be a bit loose (e.g. what to do if you pull a collision chit and the only squadrons adjacent are your own?). I was impressed and highly recommend this game: enjoyable experience and not bad as a simulation.