I was feeling a little flush last week so decided to buy another set of rules. I wanted a set of rules we could play wit any amount of club players with the minimum of fuss, figures and scenery. With that criteria it was going to be naval or air war. Just because of the terrain. I finally settled on Blood Bilge and Iron Balls (BBIB) written by Alan Abbey of http://leofwinewargamerson.blogspot.co.uk/ . I am very glad I did. I must be honest I do know Alan in real life so bear that in mind as I write this review, because I feel I should disclose that we are friends and therefore this review could be considered Partisan and perhaps Bias.
Lets start with the price. The Cover price is £16.99, I bought mine from Amazon and it cost £11.98 including postage. I will therefore consider this a 12 quid book and not a 17 quid one. So having covered the price, what do you get for your hard earned cash. The book itself is about A% in format, hard bound and 134 pages in thickness. The paper is a good quality stock and gives all the indications of a serious publication. One of the things I like about these rules is that the have gone back to basics with the format. I have described them as an "Old man set of rules!" By that I mean there is minimal FLUFF! I remember back in the early 80's Games workshop describing Warhammer 40 000 rulebook prior to release as the most visual and illustrated rule book ever. This seems to be a trend that has continued with bigger and more glossy pictures quite often irrelevant to the rules but just included in a kind of seductive "wargames porn" way to sucker the buyer into thinking they had bought something special. So if you buy rules to look at the pictures (Wargames Porn) then this is not the set of rules for you. In BBIB you will find diagrams and scenario maps, but you will not find sketches or glossy pictures of models that the average player would struggle to emulate. If you want a set of rules to put on a coffee table look elsewhere. These rules are more like the old skool rules by "tabletop games" that I started out with. Perhaps that is why I think of them as an "Old Man" set of rules, because they very much remind me of my wargaming roots.
The 134 pages are broken down as follows:
- Pages 1-33 are the rules
- Pages 34-41 are the optional rules
- Pages 42-58 are the scenarios
- Pages 59-76 are the Campaign rules
- Pages 77- 134 are various appendices.
Taking each section at a time.
The actual mechanics function around both Dice (d6) and Cards. The cards are of two varieties, 1 deck of standard playing cards with Jokers included which determines the level of damage and the location of damage should a hit be achieved. The second deck of cards is what the mechanics of the game rest on. Each fleet has 3 cards, A movement card, a shooting card and a Repairing card. All the fleets cards are shuffled together and drawn at random. This means that you may have to fire before you move or repair, or any other combination. Once the deck has been through the turn ends, the cards are reshuffled and drawn again. This means that it is possible to get shot twice in a row without being able to reply, move or repair. But what works for one player can also work for the opponent.
Another reminder of the old skool rules is the fact that each sheet has a "Record sheet" this reminds me of battletech or car wars, as damage is marked on the sheet a it is received by each ship. To hit a ship you must of course be in arc of fire, (And Line of sight of course.... goes without saying really) Depending on the range you roll a d6 (for each gun factor firing) to achieve a hit. Point blank range is 2+ extreme range is 6 per gun factor. Hits allow you to draw playing cards which as mentioned above indicate both the location (by Suits) and the damage by the Number (Including Jack, Queen, King).
Movement is by the direction of the wind and how you have rigged the ship. The rigging is abstracted to full sail, half sail and No sail. So you don't need to be an expert in real life, But your ship WILL move as it is rigged and with the wind direction., There are no brakes or accelerators because the wind is your engine.
The optional rules are optional, they include things like fire ships, British gunnery islands and shoals as well as merchant/transport ships. I don't have a huge amount to say about this section except to say that the rules are optional and therefore I wont use them for the first couple of games.
There are 4 scenarios, one is historical (The Battle of the Nile), the other 3 are much more general in nature. The Battle of the Nile has all the ship record sheets for that particular battle in the appendices as well as full colour ship templates should you wish to start with pieces of paper on the tabletop to represent ships.
The section of campaign rules is for a generic campaign. Designed for club games where all things start equally. It would have been nice to have a historical campaign setting as well although that can be worked out by yourself should you wish. Personally I would have liked a historical campaign but don't want the bother of working one out. The club campaign rules seem to be harsh with the weather, each campaign turn there is a 1 in 6 chance of a storm (3 in 6 in the depths of winter). And storms have a 2 in 6 chance of sinking each ship in the area. This would be something I would "Tweek" as to me it does seem very arbitrary and overly powerful. I do realise that nature is not to be underestimated, so I shall put this down to personal taste
The biggest portion of the book provides you with everything you will need to play. It has ship record ships for everything from a sloop to a 140 1st rate. Permission to photocopy or download from the Pen and Sword website (http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/). Which saves you having to cut the book up.
My overall impressions of these rules are very favourable. I can see a good fun club game resulting with much complaining about turn sequence and conversations that star "But If I had been able to move when I wanted then you would not have been able to....!" I love the fact that these rules are a return to the old fashioned types of rules without padding and fluff. I don't buy rules to read a short story or to look at an irrelevant picture, I buy rules to play a game. These rules take the basics without getting sidetracked and explain them in an easy to follow way. So for me these rules are a step in the right direction. So if you want an set of rules reminiscent of the past but with more up-to-date feel have a look at BBIB.
That's enough writing for today. I shall post again on Sunday. Thanks for reading all the best Clint.