Ethan Van Vorst
One of my goals for many years (and especially since joining BGG late last year) has been to collect all five of the Gamemaster games from Milton Bradley. Throughout the 80's and early 90's MB wanted to give its gamers something a little meatier than the standard fare of Monopoly, Risk, and other games that saturated the gaming market. And if you didn't have access to a gamer's hobby shop (and still don't) then these were practically must-have titles for you to own since you could procure them at your local K-Mart or Wallyworld. Gamemaster titles are particularly known for being thematic, dice heavy, luck dependent games with a penchant for body counts...basically what most folks here refer to nowadays as "Ameritrash". Most will agree that Axis & Allies was probably the best of the series, and its longevity and numerous spinoffs confirm that it was certainly the most rock solid of the Gamemaster titles to be had. The other four games in the series were Fortress America, Conquest of the Empire, Shogun (later renamed as Samurai Swords), and this game, Broadsides and Boarding Parties.
Image courtesy of Thom Denholm/BGG. The B&B box is slightly smaller than the A&A or Fortress America boxes, but still packed with lots of goodies.
Broadsides and Boarding Parties is a game that is drenched in theme, more so than any of the other games that I have in my very modest collection (which stands at a meager 30 games altogether. Stop laughing). The game is for 2 players only and is set in the Carribean in and around some generic tropical islets. Player #1 commands the Royal Isabella, a Spanish galleon loaded with gold bullion and headed for home. Player #2 commands the Seahawk (with a home port in Seattle I'm willing to bet), a pirate ship, and the main antagonist to the Spanish player. The goal, simply put, is for one player to capture or destroy the other player's ship.
The flag of the infamous pirate Edward Teach, aka "Blackbeard". Apparently pirates would hoist a black flag upon encountering a ripe target vessel, which would let them know that quarter would be given if they surrendered immediately. If the target vessel decided to put up a fight the pirates would hoist a red flag, indicating that no quarter would be given. Suffice it to say your average merchant ship would surrender when they saw the black flag.
The gameboard for Broadsides and Boarding Parties is particularly pretty to look at. The central portion of the board depicts a laticework of lines and dots which act as a sort of plotting board for ship movement. On either side of the map are spaces where the stars of the game, the large plastic ships, are situated. Next to each of these spaces are 3 spots which are used to place movement cards. The artwork and coloring of the gameboard draws from the style of maps of the 17th century, which adds a tad bit more flavor in a game already soaked in theme.
Image courtesy of Rick Maurer/BGG. This is the Royal Isabella half of the gameboard. The large plastic ship will go over the ship outline at the far left. The movement cards will be placed over the officer pictures in the middle, and at far right a portion of the plotting board inset can be seen.
This is where Broadsides and Boarding Parties really excels, in my humble opinion. I've not seen any other game which was so loaded with plasticy goodness as this gamebox is. The centerpieces are definitely the two ships. The Royal Isabella (the Spanish galleon) is a light brown and the Seahawk is dark brown. Otherwise the two ships are identical. Each ship comes with 4 masts, 10 cannon, almost two dozen scurvy sailors, and a Captain with a mean plume in his hat. And boys and girls, the ships are big. Measuring at over a foot apiece (if you have the bow sprit in place) and almost a foot high (if your main mast is in play) they are big and draw lots of attention. I can only imagine that this game will draw some looks if it were pulled out at a gaming convention.
The ships have a deck made of sturdy cardboard which is separated into coordinate styled grids, ie; B4, C3, F5, etc. Each cannon has a little porthole in the side of the ship in which it can poke its barrel out the side, which is a nice touch. The masts really bring the whole thing together though. The four masts (and the bow sprit) are made of thick black plastic and run the length of the ship. The game is pretty but bordering on gaudy with so much plastic on display. While this facet is likely to attract Ameritrash fans like myself I can only imagine it might just repel others entirely. As a word of warning, the little cutlasses that the sailors use are prone to breaking, so be careful when putting the game away! Also included are two d6 dice, one red and the other white.
Image courtesy of Kurt Keckley/BGG. This is the Royal Isabella set up and ready to rumble. Note how the cannon have little portholes to poke out of. Little details like this make the game that much more enjoyable, in my humble opinion.
Image courtesy of Rick Maurer/BGG. A closeup of the Spanish (white) pieces, as well as a few cannon, movement cards, and dice. The small ship in the background is used for movement on the plotting board.
The game also has 30 Movement cards, 15 for each player, and each embossed on the back with the iconography for its parent ship; a greenish royal coat of arms for the Royal Isabella and a generic red pirate symbol for the Seahawk. Each side has access to three apiece of the following cards for use on the plotting board:
Remain In Place - No movement or change in direction
Turn Port - Rotate ship in place 45 degrees counterclockwise
Turn Starboard - Rotate ship in place 45 degrees clockwise
Move Forward - Straight ahead one dot on map
Damaged Mast And/Or Hull - Same effect as "Remain in Place" card. More on this later.
The cards are the real secret to the game, and despite this being a luck-laden fun fest, trying to out-think and outmaneuver your opponents is half of the game. Each player is given a lot of freedom in trying to determine which route is best to take in order to defeat the other ship, and placing oneself in a position to bring as many guns to bear on the other is the underlying factor in who wins the end game. Of course, as others have said, it all will come down to dice rolls, but there's a lot of planning involved in how best to approach combat. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, so we'll cover movement next.
Image courtesy of Ronster Zero/BGG. The five types of Movement cards in the game. Each player is given three apiece and have total freedom to determine how best to approach and attack the enemy ship using these cards.
How it Plays
The game sets up relatively easy, the hardest part being finagling the little sailors into place on their respective ships. Each ship is set up identical to the other, the only differences being where each player wishes to place their Captain and two extra sailors. When complete the large ships are placed over the outlines on either extreme end of the gameboard. Included in the game are two small plastic ship pieces which are used on the plotting board at the gameboard's center. Each ship is placed on its starting position.
Players then select three Movement cards from their respective decks and place these, in the order in which they choose, onto the card spots on the gameboard. Then, starting with Card #1, each card is simultaneously flipped over and displayed. Ships can move forward, make turns to port or starboard, or stay in place. Running into the little islets in the center of the gameboard creates a penalty for the player who does it (I'm not sure why someone would do this, but apparently someone did or else they wouldn't have put separate rules in the rulebook for this ) and results in that player losing all remaining movement for the turn. The goal here is to maneuver your ship in such a fashion as to bring it within one space of the enemy ship, and in a manner which allows you to place as many guns as possible on your opponent's vessel. If you can pull perpendicular to your opponent while they are at an oblique angle (in naval parlance this is called "Crossing the T"), then one can engage in a "broadside" attack, that is using all 5 cannon on one side of the ship. Firing a broadside into an unprepared ship (one at an angle and unable to either fire back or only able to fire a few of her guns in response) is optimal, and each player should strive to put themselves in such a position.
Image courtesy of Kurt Keckley/BGG. This match is 2-3 turns in as the ships are still maneuvering to approach each other. A ship can begin to fire her cannon once their opponent is in an adjacent space, marked by the dots at the intersectng lines on the plotting board.
Combat in Broadsides and Boarding Parties is actually in two basic phases. One can either attempt to disable or sink the enemy ship using cannon, or they can pull alongside or ram her and try to take over the ship using boarding parties. We'll cover the traditional cannon method first.
Once a ship is in position to fire her guns at the opponent each player determines how many cannon they can bring to bear on the other ship. A ship cannot fire her cannon if the opposing ship is directly fore or aft of her. Bear this in mind because if the other player has maneuvered well they may be in a position to give you a full broadside and you must sit there and take it. There are no diagrams or pictures of how the cannon work, so I'll do my best to illucidate. Each line on the plotting board represents a sort of firing vector in which at least a portion of the guns can shoot (again, save for directly in front and behind your ship, which should be treated as blind spots, for lack of a better phrase). If the enemy ship is in front and diagonal of you, you can fire your Forward Cannon (two each side). If the enemy ship is aft and diagonal of your ship you may fire your Aft Cannon (two each side). And if they're unlucky enough to be right beside your ship you can lay into them with a full broadside (both Fore and Aft cannon, as well as the Midship cannon, one on each side).
For each cannon you fire you may roll 1d6. Damage to the opposing ship is determined entirely by what you roll:
1 - Always a miss
2 - Hull damage
3 - Hits all targets (sailors and cannon) in the "3" position
4 - Mast damage
5 - Hits all targets (sailors and cannon) in the "5" position
6 - Always a miss
Image courtesy of Steve Bullock/BGG. The deck of each ship is marked with coordinates for damage tracking. There are essentially 3 columns running the length of the ship, 3, 4, and 5. And each row is marked with a letter. C4, for instance, is the position of the Main Mast, whereas F3 contains one sailor and one cannon. The "3" position is starboard, and the "5" position is the port. A direct hit to F3 would kill the sailor and cannon located there.
The person firing can essentially call their shots by stating which section of the ship they're targetting, ie; B, C, D, etc. Successful hits will directly affect only that area but can and do have larger ramifications for the targetted ship.
Hull damage, gotten by rolling a 2, is essentially your cannon punching holes into the hull of the enemy ship. Two such hits to the same section of the ship (C, D, E, etc.) results in irreparable damage...essentially seawater is pouring into the side of your ship. Each time hull damage is taken a single damage marker (a little, round cardboard counter with an explosion symbol on it) is placed over the affected area. Two such markers in the same place and the player must take a "Damaged Mast And/Or Hull" card. You'll see the effects of this in the next section.
Mast damage can be equally devastating. Hits to your masts slow your ship down and make it less maneuverable. Each of your masts can take only one hit, save for the Main Mast, which takes two shots to destroy. The Main Mast for each ship comes in two parts, so hits registered there can be tracked simply by removing masts. Each time a mast is destroyed a "Damaged Mast And/Or Hull" card is dealt to the player receiving the damage.
Rolling a 3 or 5 will kill all personnel that happen to be located in the targetted section of the ship. For instance rolling a 3 after targetting section C will kill the cannon and sailors who are in zone C3. Rolling a 5 will eradicate any pieces in zone C5.
Captain Joe is in firing range against the Seahawk. The Seahawk is positioned obliquely, that is diagonally to Captain Joe's ship, however Joe's ship is positioned in such a way that he can fire a full broadside on the Seahawk. That's 5 cannon shots that Joe can fire as opposed to the Seahawk's 2.
Captain Joe declares that he will be targetting 2 shots on Section C and the remainder on Section D. Joe rolls five d6's one at a time:
- Joe misses for his first shot on Section C
- Joe hits Section C in the "3" area. All pieces in C3 are killed
- Joe hits Section D in the hull. The Seahawk places a damage marker there.
- Joe hits the hull a 2nd time. The Seahawk is now taking on water and must use a "Damaged Hull And/Or Mast" card
- Joe misses with his final shot.
Captain Joe's attack has taken out one of his opponents cannon, killed two crew members, and forcibly decreased the Seahawks speed and maneuverability.
Captain Bill, piloting the Seahawk, now returns fire. He is in such a position though (diagonal, facing the Royal Isabella), that he can only fire his fore guns (two total) upon his enemy. Captain Bill targets Section C for both shots and rolls:
- Captain Bill hits the Royal Isabella's Main Mast. Captain Joe removes the top segement of the plastic mast from play. This doesn't affect his speed unless the mast is hit again.
- Captain Bill hits the Main Mast again. This time it hurts the Royal Isabella badly and puts her in the same situation faced by the Seahawk; reduced speed and maneuverability.
While both ships took damage that will hurt their ability Captain Joe was able to do more critical damage to the Seahawk as he was also able to kill one of her cannon and two of her crew. This reduces the Seahawk's ability to fight Joe back.
Each time hull damage is accrued or a mast is destroyed the receiving player is forced to replace one of his play cards with a Damaged Mast/Hull card. This card has the same basic effect as the Remain in Place card in that the player must stay exactly where they are on the plotting board when that card is flipped. This is meant to represent the lowered speed of the damaged ship. The player may place this card anywhere in the sequence of three cards they choose but must place it once the damage is received. If a player loses 3 masts they are rendered immobile, although they can technically still fire their guns as long as they have them. If the player takes 3 critical Hull damage hits the ship sinks. If the player loses all the ships cannon, sailors, and Captain, they lose. This brings us to phase two of combat. The Damage cards are cumulative and when a player gets to a point where the only cards they can place are 3 Damage cards in a row it's pretty much off to Davey Jones's locker with you. This brings us to Phase 2 of combat, which is not required, but also brings much flavor to the game.
On the plotting board when two ships intersect on the same spot it is understood that they are pulling alongside each other or ramming one another. There is a section of the rulebook which specifies how the ships will come together and which directions they'll be facing, however when they do come alongside each other the standard "Broadsides" portion of the game comes to a close and the "Boarding Parties" segment begins.
Players at this point fire one last round of cannon shot into the other ship, disregarding all rolls but 3's or 5's. After affected areas are cleared (if the shots are hits), players may begin sending over boarding parties to try and kill the enemy Captain. Each player may make 3 moves total during this phase. Moving a sailor from one section to another costs 1. Moving 3 sailors 1 space costs all three movement points. All moves onto the enemy ship must be made laterally from the side of the ship onto the same space on the opposing player's deck. Only 3 sailors maximum may inhabit a single space on the deck.
Player #1 may have two sailors to board the enemy ship with while Player #2 may have only one sailor in place there. When an attacker or defender has more units in a space than their oppoent they receive a +1 modifier to the roll. Player #1, with two players, will receive a +1 roll to their die while Player #2 must use the base roll. All ties, even after modifiers have been factored in, result in each side losing a sailor.
Image courtesy of Kurt Keckley/BGG. This is the "Boarding Parties" portion of gameplay. The ships are placed next to one another and players begin to send sailors off to capture the other ship. Fighting continues until the opposing Captain is killed.
Captain Joe sends two sailors over to board the Seahawk. The section they are attacking is defended by only one sailor. Captain Joe rolls 1d6:
The defender rolls 1d6 in response:
But because Captain Joe has numerical superiority he gets to add a +1 modifier to his roll, turning his into a . As a result Joe wins the battle.
The enemy Captain is one's ultimate target. He has a natural +1 modifier if he is attacking or being attacked. Uniquely if he is attacking the other Captain ties will result in dice being rerolled until a victor is determined.
Image courtesy of Steve Bullock/BGG. Next time I head to the Outer Banks you'd better believe this game will be in the trunk of my car. Note: Seaweed is not good for your game, so avoid playing it in the surf.
While I own 4 Gamemaster titles (Shogun continues to elude me) this is by far the easiest one to learn and play. The game runs roughly an hour but can extend beyond that if it turns into a maneuvering game, with each player vying for optimal cannon shots. The instructions are laid out in a perfectly comprehensible fashion and are quickly picked up, and this, coupled with the massive and detailed plastic playing pieces, make this a good introductory Ameritrash game if you know someone who might be interested in getting into the boardgaming habit. It will definitely draw looks from those around you who are accustomed to Monopoly or Battleship. It is a fun game and is dripping in theme, which appeals to theme junkies like me very much.
The game is not particularly deep beyond the maneuvering portion of the game, however. And anyone who hates dice games is not going to like this one at all. The game is also terribly expensive and will regularly run over $100 on eBay, unless you happen across a copy at a garage sale or flea market, and this may turn a lot of folks off too.
Image courtesy of Steve Bullock/BGG. Young Billy Mays isn't goin' ta be taking guff from no scurvy landlubber. Bring grog to your next B&B match for added fun. And is it just me or is eating Grape Nuts kind of like chewing on gravel?
- The playing pieces will rock your proverbial socks off, especially the ships
- Drenched in theme
- Very pretty gameboard
- Plays in an hour, unusual for a Gamemaster game
- Maneuvering game is half of the fun
- There's no greater feeling than raking your opponent with a full broadside in which he/she cannot retaliate
- An Ameritrash Treasure
- Good luck finding a complete copy under $100
- Heavily dice dependent in combat phases
- The masts tend to wobble quite a bit, especially the two-part Main Mast
- Limited replayability. This is a "once in a while" game, one in which I cannot see someone wanting to play 5 matches in a row.
Excellent, comprehensive review, Ethan. This is one of the 2 Gamemaster Series games that eludes me in my OCD-based quest to complete the series (Fortress America is the other) and it was great to read such an in-depth discussion of gameplay. Thanks for taking the time on this article.
My only complaint with this game (when I owned it) is that the decks aren't level and errant dice throws would send the crew tumbling in different directions. Not suitable for a card table either because any jostling of the table also caused the crew to slide down the decks.
Good luck finding Fortress America. If you're interested you might also want to acquire Invasion: America, which is the game Fortress America was based on. Either one will probably set you back $100 or more.
If you like the MB version, you should play Larry Harris' original same-title bookcase-box version (which came out at the same time as original "Axis & Allies" and "VI Caesars," which Milton Bradley published as "Conquest of the Empire").
That verion had a paper map (larger maneuvering area, no islands) and heavy-stock deck plans with counters rather than miniatures.
It also had twelve guns per ship rather than ten; "musketeers" (marines) in addition to crew; wind direction (variable) and two settings for sail: Battle Sail and Full Sail, with different speeds for each setting (and speeds varying by ship's course off the wind).
Ships had to be careful not to get caught "in irons" while tacking, and the gradual loss of maneuvering could really be felt in the growing sluggishness of a vessel which sometimes had no choice but to run with the wind due to rigging damage.
The melee system was somewhat different, with "pig piling" (multiple crew bashing one another in the same deck space) and shooting as well as hand-to-hand combat.
It was a great, easy-to-learn, fun-to-play game, and could easily accommodate multiple players with additional components.
I always thought Milton Bradley missed a golden opportunity when they re-themed the game from "classic age-of-sail naval" to "pirates." Had they produced a game with a couple of flush-decked frigates (no figures sliding around!) and perhaps a lighter ship or two (sloop, brig, cutter), they would have sold three or four times the volume just from guys like me buying multiple sets for squadron-sized actions in the AWI, Napoleonic Wars or War of 1812 departments.
I would love to see somebody re-issue this game with the original sailing options and more variety in the ship types, with a maneuver deck for each.
Aye, sir, multi-player delight, it would be.
Good review of the game as it is. But keep looking for that bookcase box with two colorful frigates having it out on the box art!
Nice review for a fun game.
Good comprehensive review. B&BP is one of my favorites, and glad to see its still being played. I agree with other comments, and my chief complaint has always been the realistically sloping decks which leads to the sailors often sliding off or being tumbled by an errant dice role. I thought the game does a good job of emphasizing the importance of maneuvers to but your ship in optimum firing position and minimizing risk while anticipating what your opponent will be doing to obtain the same, and balancing that with an ease of play mode. I think the dice-rolling for damage done from canon-fire is suitable for the type of game and consistent with the other Game-Master series games (of which I can proudly say, I owe them all).
While I'm happy with the ship-maneuver and combat part, I'm less happy with the hand-to-hand combat portion which may happen should the ships collide, for the mechanics of this part turns into a hybrid of chess and risk. But on reflection, I can't propose an alternative that would be in keeping with the ease of play mechanics of the rest of the game. The hand-to-hand combat many times never occurs, though its a viable option to the ship commander to finds himself man-rich but sail poor to force a collision rather than risk being unable to move at all and get raked by his enemy "crossing his T."
I appreciate Berry's comments about the origin of this game and will seek that out. I've often thought and agree that this game mechanic could easily be expanded to introduce additional ships and/or players, different ships (faster but fewer manned, slower but heavier fire-power, etc.) and perhaps adding specific geographies or situations...including scenarios with differing objections (protect a fleet, get safely from port to port, sink a capital ship, etc.) which might vary in depth and complexity from simple/easy/short duration to complex/involved/extensive.
While the large plastic ships, masts, cannons and crew are interesting and theme-immersing, they would be more problematic if the game were expanded. I've never considered them an essential part of the game, however, and in an expanded version would expect use of less bulky, easier to manage equipment.
How can you not be a fan.
I just recently found Broadsides and Boarding Parties at a garage sale, for dirt cheap . But I had the other Broadsides and Boarding Parties book set, but I sold it. Now I can't even find it on the geek, do you know how to find it.
Very good review. Thanks! I wonder if you could "build" a game using ship models, or even cardboard, to try it out. Unlike the other Gamemaster games, it seems to me that this one would be the easiest to reproduce.