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I had the opportunity today to play GMT's 2009 game 1805:Sea of Glory with my gaming friend Clyde Hayman. Clyde is not only an experienced gamer but also a Vietnam veteran who was a radar intercept officer in F105 Wild Weasels and also in F4s and F111s. He's a patriot and a great guy. This writeup is from a singular play so I have perhaps made some errors in interpretation. Also, I played the French so my observations are more acute for that side.
1805 covers the naval struggle in the pivotal year of 1805 of the Napoleonic wars between the British on one side and the Allies (France and Spain) on the other. This was my first time to play this game and my first block game ever. The components are very nicely done and the map very attractively rendered by artist Mark Mahaffey.
The British (red blocks) begin the game with a vastly superior sea fleet over the Allies. This is somewhat skewed in the picture below because the Allies' fleets had not yet been put into play. Still, the British have more ships of the line and their ships carry far more firepower than those of the Allies. Balancing this is the fact that the British have many more obligations to defend. Random events (part of the game play) can force them to divert forces to put down a slave revolt or to take care of their interests in the West Indies.
The game has only two phases, Administrative and Activation. In the Administrative phase, players receive manpower allocations and use them to repair ships, move them out of the shipyard, or prepare invasion armies for transports. The players then set the destination plans for their fleets for that turn. These are on hidden chits and not disclosed to the other player (it is a block game after all). The French player then draws provision chits which enable his fleet to sail (or not to sail in the case of a "may not sortie" chit). The British do not worry about provisions because they control the seas. The French player then places his provision chits in the ports of his choice. These are also hidden from the British player.
The Activation phase is the core of the game. Activations are chit-driven with Igo-Ugo movement begun by whichever player has the initiative. Chit draws are not of which units may be activated but of which seas will have wind. Sailing can only occur where there is wind. Thus if the Mediterranean Sirocco chit is drawn, only Med units can be activated. The direction of the wind is important. More MPs are required to sail against the wind. Also included among the chits are storms and bonus moves for one or the other side. Storms are deadly in this game and can have a devastating effect on fleets. My British opponent suffered devastating losses due to storms which are much worse in the North Atlantic. Also, the storms are far more devastating during hurricane season.
There are also two Initiative chits in the cup. The initiative flips when the first Initiative chit is drawn and it triggers a random event. The second initiative chit ends the turn with the player currently having initiative holding it. The full game consists of 36 turns, three for each month of 1805.
The game, as I interpreted it, seems to consist of the French player, first, moving around the world attacking and raiding British interests (thus scooping up victory points) while, second, trying to keep from being destroyed by the vastly superior British navy. The British player gets VPs for destroyed ships and those brought home as trophies. He also gets VPs at the end of the game for places where the French were unable to grab the British victory chit.
The main action of our abbreviated game was my Toulon fleet racing across the Mediterranean to make a raid on Alexandria (because of a bonus chit that gave me more VPs) with the British in hot pursuit. The Brits caught my fleet a couple of times but failed the "search" die roll so the journey continued. A successful search would have meant that I had to do battle with the British fleet, something I did not want to do.
In short, I made it to Alexandria and made a successful raid, grabbing 10 VPs but the British caught me in the harbor and forced me to do battle. Without going into great detail of the battle sequence, it is quite a nice mechanic that takes into account the striking strength of the fleets, the ability of the admirals and a dash of randomness (die roll). There is a chance for the defending player to get away without battle but I was forced to fight. I took terrible losses from the British fleet (while dishing out some of my own) but survived and was able to limp my crippled fleet back toward Toulon.
However, just outside the port, the Brits caught up with me again and tried to finish off my much weakened fleet. This time I was able to evade battle and arrive safely into port. Had our game continued, I would have then worked to repair my Toulon fleet while pursuing my interests using my other fleets. Later in the game, the Spanish become a much bigger player as their ships come out of "ordinary."
The game began slow for me because of my unfamiliarity with the system and there was much consultation of charts. However, as I learned the system, play got much faster and more fluid. My experienced opponent was very patient with me.
In summary, this is a very interesting game and one I would like to play again. The gameplay should be much improved now that I understand the basic system.