Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Monsoon Seas review

Although styled "Volume III" in the Close Action series, Monsoon Seas is not a full-fledged expansion of the game series in the same way as Commands & Colors, for example, with new pieces, maps and the like. Essentially, like its predecessor Rebel Seas, it's really a scenario book.
That said, it's really an essential buy for Close Action fans and anyone interested in the age of fighting sail. Like other Mark Campbell efforts, Monsoon Seas is exhaustively researched, often from primary sources such as ship's logs and captain's letters. Indeed, buying Monsoon Seas is more like buying a history book that happens to have some wargame scenarios in it than merely buying a scenario book.

The focus of the book of this volume is the famous Indian Ocean duel between the fleets of British admiral Sir Edward Hughes and French Admiral Pierre-Andre de Suffren de St.-Tropez, perhaps France's greatest admiral ever. With extensive historical background, scenarios are provided covering the years of French defeats before Suffren arrived and then his brilliant career. A total of 17 scenarios cover the entire Franco-British Indian Ocean struggle.

Compared to fleet actions in other theaters, the Indian Ocean campaign's engagements lend themselves well to moderately sized gaming groups. Close Action is best played with individual players controlling 1-3 ships. This means full-sized fleet actions often aren't practical outside of convention settings or online play. But most of the battles between Suffren and Hughes involved about a dozen ships, so a group as small as six or eight can be accommodated.

Unlike most age of sail battles, which can be frustrating for the non-British side to play because their ships are crap, the Indian Ocean battles feature squadrons of equal quality, due to Suffren's inspired leadership and abetted by Hughes' pedestrian style.

In addition to the Franco-British scenarios, Monsoon Seas also includes three scenarios and historical background for a war I know I never heard of, and I rather doubt many have -- the war between Spain and Portugal off the coast of South America in 1776-1777. Huh? Yeah, me too!
Yep, apparently Spain and Portugal fought a short naval war over the boundary between Brazil and the Spanish colonies to the south while the American Revolution was just heating up. The two events were related because it tied up Portugal's main ally, Britain, so Spain could feel free to war against its Iberian neighbor. Apparently it was a limited war, and no fighting occurred in Europe between the adjacent powers. The war provides an excuse for four (numbered 1, 2A, 2B and 3) small scenarios suitable for a 2-6 players.

The war doesn't relate to the Monsoon Seas theme in any way, but it wouldn't have fit any better with Rebel Seas or the upcoming Europeans Seas either.

In addition to the scenarios and historical background, the 84-page book includes some important errata for Close Action and two new rules sections. One replaces the optional "Uncertain Wearing" rule from Rebel Seas with a simpler rule that still reflects the real difficulties of turning a ship under sail with a poor crew or battle damage. (wearing is a turn with the wind, as opposed to tacking, which is turning the bow across the wind) The other rule adds a section on shore batteries, which is a very useful addition to the game system.

Monsoon Seas is an excellent work, well worth having for anybody who has an interest in the age of sail.

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