Avast, ye scurvy dogs!
Open the portholes, run out the cannon the prepare to blast those sailing ships until the white flag flies or we meet in Davy Jones' locker. Age of Sail, produced by Talonsoft, is a real time historical based naval game which allows single and multiple sailing ships to engage in combat. Beginning in 1775 and ending in 1820 this game covers the period from about the American Revolution to the end of the Nepoleonic Wars as England came to dominate the seas for the next 100 years. In Age of Sail you can choose from single ship-to ship encounters, squadron actions, or play whole fleet engagements like Trafalgar. Their is even a campaign game where you rise in rank and command more powerful ships as you defeat your enemies.
The first and most realistic aspect of the game is continuous movement. As long as the wind blows, the ships move. Your ship(s) are controlled by the use of an easy to use tool bar running across the top of the screen. Easy to understand symbols allow you to speed up or down, add or reduce sails, select different ammunition, zoom the screen in or out, as well as many others. One cool feature is the field of fire indicator which is a fan of darkened sea area off the port & starboard side of the indicated ship. This fan shows the effective range and field of fire of your broadsides based upon the type of ammunition you are currently using.
When you begin a scenario you can fight against the computer or a biological opponent played via either modem or null modem. . Along the bottom of the screen, a picture of each ship is displayed by name with all the important information you need available at a glance. In the lower left hand corner the wind speed and direction are provided, and below that a damage report which shows the damage received from your enemy's most recent broadside. As you zoom in can see the damage to the sails, masts and rigging as the enemies cannon fire takes effect. Hand to hand combat can occur when you grapple with the enemy or collide. The resulting melee is based upon crew quality and size as the computer flashes the crew size until a winner is determined or the ships break apart.
When beginning to learn the game it is best to leave the 'Fog of War' off. This allows you to have info on the ammo and condition of enemy ships. If this feature is on and you are playing at one of the two higher levels of difficulty, evenly matched scenarios can be real tough to win. I found the best way to learn the general mechanics of the game is watch the machine play itself.
However, two glaring flaws become appearent when you either try to use the squadron orders and/or have more then about 4-5 ships per side. First the system seems to only allows one squadron order no matter how many ships you control. Trying to fight a historic battle where you may have a dozen ships on each side is just impossible with this squadron limitation. These large battles also slow down the game. Playing with five ships or more per side is just very cumbersome and you loose some of the enjoyment. This is because you are really fighting five separate battles and to get the best out of each you have to slow down the action . When the action is slowed a lot of the fun goes out of the game.
Overall, the game is good entertainment and you can play a one to three ships (per side) scenario in about forty minutes. It offers a large selection of single ship scenarios as well as a few small squadron actions which are fun and manageable. So if you long for the tall ships, just pry some of those gold dubloons off the mast and saunter inland to ye old briny sofrtware outlet.
Click here to download a demo.