New arrival: Serpents of the Seas

Sometimes the good stuff just rolls across the table in big waves. I can go a couple of months without so much as a new magazine coming into the swamp — then all hell breaks loose. A P500 shipment or two from GMT. A moment of weakness on Ebay or the CSW Marketplace. An unbeatable sale. A magazine game. All of it at once. SPLAT.

It’s inevitable I suppose when you’re as screwed up as I am. The gaming addiction must be fed on a fairly regular basis, or I start to take power tools and other implements to parts of the house that I probably shouldn’t go near. Yep. A wargame or two or three every now and then keeps me from taking my 12-pound demolition bar to the tile floor in the master bathroom.

So today I’m looking at another new arrival here at the Swamp Bunker. “Serpent of the Seas” from GMT Games takes their earlier “Flying Colors” age-of-sail system and scales things down to handle some of history’s smaller naval combats.

SoS features actions mostly drawn from the American Revolution and the War of 1812. So we’re looking at fairly small engagements – sometimes only ship-on-ship duels – involving ships that, at most, carry maybe 48 guns. Flying Colors was all about fleet-sized engagements fought with ships of the line, so “Serpents” is a considerable shift in perspective.

There are three maps in the box. Two are the familiar “fleet” maps (of which there are several in Flying Colors). The┬áthird is something new: A “duelling” map, intended for scenarios that include, at most, a couple of ships on each side. The play area is hexagonal and the map features a few handy tracks and other bits of info.

The ship counters in SoS are all the ‘small’ variety – none of the double-length ships of the line here. Frigates, sloops, gunboats, brigs — it’s all the small guys who were the real workhorses of the Age of Sail.

Serpents of the seas handles this shift in magnitude (which is a significant difference from Flying Colors) through the introduction of cards. The rules call them “Initiative Cards”, although the card backs are printed with the term “Maneuver Cards”.

Either way, the addition of the cards leads to a change in the sequence of play and appears to add considerable variability by changing how the initiative player is determined and by adding Events to the mix. I’ll have more on this when I get the game on the table. Right now I’ll just say that it appears to be a very interesting change to the way the Flying Colors system works.

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