Swords & Sails: Will History Be Rewritten? by Jason R. Williams
Reviewed by Jason Elliott from PaladinElliott Productions
What are the recommendations for this game?
Number of players: 2-7 (play as Byzantium, Holy Roman Empire, France, North Sea Empire, Fatimid, England, and the Kievan Rus Empire)
Special Note: The Rules book notes that the game is truly balanced for 7 players, and from my experiences in this I would agree that things are thrown off with less players.
Time of game: 4+ Hours ( I would warn everyone that I believe this to be a low estimate, as experiences range more like 5 to 8 hours)
Age recommendation: Not listed ( I would warn everyone to lean against introducing this game if under age 16, due to many strategic layers and options that occur for each player, along with attention and interest spans. This is a long game, and as such is best suited for hardcore strategy gamers and history buffs).
The back story: You are taken to a map of Europe as it was during 1000 AD. You will be in control of one of seven empires, waging diplomacy, spying, war, defense, and expansion. You will play out the four seasons of each year. You will need to consider creation and maintenance costs, as you not only try to keep your empire growing, but consider other kingdoms growth and alliances that could work with you or against you.
What comes in the game? (Prototype Copy)
1 Rule Book
5 Army Pieces for each of the 7 Empires
5 Fleet Pieces for each of the 7 Empires
130 coins in 4 Coin Denominations (30 of 250GP, 30 of 50GP, 30 of 10GP, 40 of 1GP)
280 Double Sided Army/Fleet Unit Discs, (40 per Empire) (Unit Types are Knight, Heavy Cavalry, Light Cavalry, Heavy Infantry, Light Infantry, Peasant, Warship, Raider, and Transport)
28 Faction Control Markers per Empire
1 Three minute timer
1 Control Sheet (this covers Year, Season, Income, and Victory)
3 Alliance Cubes (Marked A, B, and C)
5 Army Cards per Empire
5 Fleet Cards per Empire
1 First Turn/Reference Sheet per Empire
40 City Markers (one side marked for Major, and the other for Minor)
1 West Map Board
1 East Map Board
What is the end game objective? What am I striving for?
You want gain points through establishing Minor and Major Cities in your provinces, and taking provinces, cities and capitals away from opponents. All of these will add up to Victory points for winning. You will also receive points for alliances.
To break this down:
40 Victory Points is a short game
60 Victory Points is a medium game
100 Victory Points is a long game
You could also play last Empire standing
Alliances equal 5 additional Victory points ( and the rules highlights all of the breakdowns for the number of players in the alliances and what they would receive)
Points can be collected as
1 per Territory
1 per Minor City
3 per Major City
5 per Declared Ally
10 per Enemy Capital Captured
You either need to be the first to the set score, or the highest at the end of the sixth year.
How do I set the game up? What all do I need?
With the two parts of the board set up, each player will need to pick their empire. Each empire will have special costs, and/or abilities that could differ from the other empires. There are special set up notes laid out for game play sessions that are under seven players. We were able to play the conditions for a 4 player game and a 2 player game. The rules highlight what needs to be removed, and by whom, concerning games with less than 7 players.
The game highlights that the placement of starting Armies and Fleets also require having your control markers, unit tokens, Army and Fleet cards all in an area in front of you to keep track of. The reason I am making a point out of this, is that this game will take up a lot of space, and I mean a lot! Please keep that in mind. On top of that you will need to make sure you have your markers correctly placed for your City Income, Harvest Income, Total Score, the season of the year, and the year.
If all of this becomes too much to consider, please remember that a first game and first turn is marked in the book to not only help you set up the game, but give you a walkthrough of what could be happening. It helped us consider what was happening in the game, and what some of it meant.
Now to play:
When considering what happens on a game turn, you will need to go through the following steps.
Collect Income and Pay Maintenance – You will harvest (collect incomes based off of season) from each area (territory/province) that you control. You will receive additional incomes based off of Minor Cities and Major Cities. You will have to pay Maintenance costs on units (Army Units, Fleet Units) that exist in order to keep them. You will have to take into account how much you spend on building late in a turn, to properly prepare for what amount of money you have, added to your new income, to make sure you can keep what you want to keep on your next term.
Perform Espionage – This is a way to pay for spying on an enemy. The values can be different due to whatever Empire you are playing as. The reason to perform Espionage is to see what units are in an Army, or a Fleet, to know what you will be up against. Only the successful spying player will get to see this information.
Perform Diplomacy – This is the way to make alliances, make arrangements such as “I will take this if you take that”, non aggression pacts, or any other deals. Players can do this in public and/or private. The timer will be used here, as the phase will only last for 3 minutes. The rules allow for the very first Diplomacy to be longer if all the players vote in favor of it. Also you can vote to extend this phase by 3 minutes, but requires a unanimous vote. Players are never allowed to claim victory through private alliances, they must publicly declare, and then there is a formula to follow based on the number of players in the alliance, and this will set the new victory conditions. No more than 4 players can enter into one alliance. Players can add a person to an alliance (never to exceed 4) at a later turn, during a different situation. If an Alliance is formed or broken, then the people involved must wait 2 additional game turns before they would be allowed to claim victory. Please keep that in mind, as you could give another player the victory because of this.
Write Orders – You will mark on your cards (Army and Fleet) (dry erase markers on laminate) the orders they will follow. You will write things like Move, Attack, Defend, Support, Load, Unload, and other terms to help describe what you want your Empire’s Forces to do. You need to make sure you are paying attention to where your forces are, where the enemy forces are, and capacity limits for ships transporting ground forces. You will only write attacks out for one opponent per force, you will need to check the appropriate box that applies to your orders, and intent of your orders will be treated as important. This intent is important as it allows you to merge or transfer units from one task force to another. Loading and unloading will all occur on the same turn, and once you have written out these orders you are bound to follow them. You cannot change your orders as a reaction to other events.
Move Fleets and Armies – This movement of your forces follow the orders you have written out. Your forces can only move 1 territory a turn. You cannot move through an unfriendly area, you must engage them. If you move into a neutral area you must stop. Fleets who are going through loading and unloading can do so in any order. Fleets can be used as bridges across water from one land territory to another, as long as they are adjoining. All movement stops when opposing Armies and/or Fleets occupy the same territory/water zone. If a battle would ensue, all loading and unloading of Fleets must occur in this region first, no loading and unloading will occur after a battle in a given zone. Straits are allowed to be defended, but not open water zones. Armies can move across a Strait without ships if they control it, an ally controls it, or if there is some other agreement in place.
Resolve all battles – This could be from more than one Empire being in a zone, or from an invasion of a zone. You will either use attacking or siege rules depending on whether or not there is an opponent force. Combat will continue until only one side is left. Combat is simultaneous as attacker and defender apply their results. There is also a game option of using quick combat rules or tactical combat rules. Combat is also broken down into Land combat, and Fleet combat. There is a way of retreat, through Routing. When the Routing condition is met ,the attacker will receive one last attack, and then the defender will retreat. It is possible for both players to retreat. If there isn’t an area adjacent that is controlled by the retreating force or one of their allies, then the force is destroyed in the rout. There will also be Morale checks (only for the Army Units, not the Fleet Units). Fleet units can be destroyed or captured. Ships carrying Army Units cannot be captured, and must be destroyed. Fleets can retreat to friendly Ports in addition to retreating to adjacent water zones that are not enemy occupied.
The Alternative Quick Combat method will walk you through calculating the Total Army Value, calculating the Long Ranged Barrage, the Close Combat round, checking for Retreating/Routing (Morale) conditions, remaining in combat, quick Fleet combat, capturing Enemy ships, and Retreating Fleets.
Build new units (Adjust your new maintenance values) – This is where you get to purchase all of your new units, and change your future maintenance costs. Units purchased are immediately placed on their destinations. Army units can only go into existing Army groups (there is a cost for creating a new Army Group and/or a new Fleet Group). Army Groups can only be placed in your Empire’s zones to start, and Fleet Groups have to be placed in water connected to one of your ports. Make sure you pay attention to any Empire specific conditions on maximum numbers of certain units in a Group.
Build Minor or Major Cities – This is where you will spend some of your money to build a Minor city, or upgrade a Minor City to a Major City. Doing this will allow you to gain more Victory points and collect more resource money. Make sure you pay attention to the rules governing how many cities you are allowed to have versus the number of territories you control. As you go up in the number of Minor and Major Cities, the cost for the next one will grow, so make sure to check the appropriate values that you need to spend.
Prepare for next turn, advance the Season and/or Year track – You advance the Season track to the next Season, you change the year if appropriate, and you will always check to see if a player or players have met a Victory condition. If no one has, then play continues (unless you have just played Winter 1006 A.D.).
Are there any variations for this game?
There are lots of variations, as mentioned before. It will be based on the number of players in the game, and the Empires chosen by those players. The game lays out the variations of who should play what, and what needs to be removed from the game in doing so.
Some game results:
In our games, we found tons of movement options, tons of details to pay attention to, and players trying to consider rushing towards victory conditions versus long term slow growth options. We found players needing to study the different powers, and looking at the game board to consider what they thought would be their best option for starting.
You find that the game will teach you about the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each of these seven Empires. The Rus with their Peasants, England with her Knights, the Holy Roman Empire with Espionage, and so on. You will want to consider your style of play with what you consider to be your representative force in the game. In the games played, we got to see player’s personalities personified through their choices of Empires.
We found that no matter what we did, games ran long, and we adjusted to making shorter/lower victory conditions, so that the games could not only occur, but so that we wouldn’t feel drained from a heavy, historically accurate, mega war game.
The attention to historical detail is off the scale here. I can’t even begin to address how emblems, pictures, artwork, unit types, and so on, are what was actually occurring at the time. This had to be nothing short of a monumental task taken on by Jason R. Williams. In conversations and readings of the game, it is clear that this game is the result of a passion for history and great attention to detail.
I believe the game’s greatest strength may also be its greatest drawback for some players. The level of detail and intense planning and strategy required make this a very long playing game, which may be a turn-off to some players. This game is truly best suited to players who enjoy historically based strategy games that require a lot of detailed decision making. I would not recommend this game to players who are looking for quick, easy to learn games, or for non-war gamers.
That brings me back to what I was saying about its greatest strength also being its greatest weakness. What makes this game standout from the rest (high historical accuracy, high game detail, and highly involved game decisions) will also be the things that may not appeal to many gamers. If you have been looking for a game more involved than Risk, any of the Axis & Allies series, a game that could hold its own with anything from Avalon Hill, well you have found it. If you want a Mega-War Game experience and have an entire day or weekend to assign to one game, then you have this. If these are not the things you are looking for, then I would say this is not the game for you.
This is truly a game for those who seek large war game experiences, as if you are playing Total War as a board game, or if you have a lot of players who like in depth, strategy based war games, since not too many games are set for seven players!
Thanks for reading my review of Swords & Sails, by Jason R. Williams
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RET. SSG Jason L. Elliott (PaladinElliott)