Games Gazette Logo

FIRELOCK GAMESOAK & IRON. Tactical Fleet Combat in the Age of Sail. (Core Set) by Mike Tuñez

Online prices suggest it to cost around £50.00.

Wikipedia dermines the famed AGE of SAIL thusly: The Age of Sail (usually dated as 1571–1862) was a period roughly corresponding to the early modern period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships and gunpowder warfare, lasting from the mid-16th to the mid-19th centuries

The game is mainly for 2 players though it is possible for others to join in, either as partners or additional factions/Nationalities. Overall the components are of good quality. The ship's Bases are transparent but solid plastic. Considering their importance to the game play, the cards are light, flexible and easily shuffled.

The Sea Mat is multi-folded to fit into the box which causes creases, ridges and waves when laid out - these are not easily flattened, thus play can, at times, be like the ships are actually on the sea. All tokens and tiles are adequately usable. They are neither great nor poor, they just are, and the dice are game-specific D8s. 

This leaves the Ships. Each comes in its own small zip-loc bag as a number of white, detail-less, pieces, and a flat brown ship's body and hull. There are no assembly instructions with the pieces and no names or type given of the ships. Players need to find the ship ID cards and match the pieces to the pictures. This shouldn't have been difficult but because of the way the ship-card pictures are shown, it isn't as easy as it should have been. In fact, in small areas the 3D models and the illustrations are dissimilar.

The main sails are designed to plug into small holes in the body but the tips of two sails (on one ship) are designed to fit into pin holes, but unfortunately (with my ships) pin and socket did not stay affixed and adhesive was required. The box is designed so that the ships can stay assembled, just removed from their bases, when put away, so there is no concern about breakage or wear.

To be perfectly honest to players, product manufacturers and publishers, the ships are the least impressive components; so many players on seeing them have compared them to Kinder Egg Toys, because of the way they are presented, the way they clip together and the finished article. Despite lack of detail, a good miniature painter will relish the simplicity as these models basically give them (the painters) a blank canvas.

I will admit that from a couple of meters away the ships look more imposing and inspiring (as shown in these photos) than they appear from close-up, especially when seen on the Sea Mat punctuated by the Island and Fog Bank counter scenario pieces. The ships (obviously) are not named other than by type,  

The flags/ensigns (including a crude 'Jolly Roger Skull & Crossbones') are on 6 sheets of stickers. These flags are thin strips that are to be folded around one of the mastheads or aft poles to represent Spain, France, England, the Netherlands or Pirates as required. Of course should you wish to play different nationalities than those selected for your last game, you will need to remove the flags or stick new flags over them, either way they are not reusable (hence 6 sheets of stickers).

The Game:

There are several 'Age of Sail' games already on the market that rival OAK & IRON (Ares 'Sails of Glory' immediately comes to mind, followed closely by 'Armada' by Mantic and a long list of non-miniature productions by Avalon Hill and like-style), so why would you choose OAK & IRON before them, especially when 'Sails of Glory' comes with beautifully constructed, pre-painted ships on prepared and informative bases?

In older Age of Sail games pencil & paper would be used to keep track of actions, combat, damage, fatigue etc. OAK & IRON removes the need of this additional book-keeping by having it all available on the over-sized ship cards - the one's used to identify and assemble the models. These cards will take an amount of write-on/rub off using non-permanent markers (not supplied) but it is best if you can use tight card protectors that can be replaced once the residue is too strong to be completely removed.

OAK & IRON is played through a series of Turns, which are themselves broken down into four Phases: Initiative, Movement, Attack and End Phase. Every Phase is fully detailed and explained in the play book, under large text headers and bold text sub-headings.

The Initiative Phase determines, as one would expect, which side takes the first Turn. Phases are activated alternately with Movement, for example, being undertaken one ship at a time in 1st player/2nd player actions until both sides have moved all their ships.

The Movement Phase consists of using the Movement Tools, small rulers that display the distance moved and the angles allowed for direction changing - this latter being the very well created pointy-end of each Tool. First thought was why have 5 movement rulers when other games use just one with increments marked on it. It becomes immediately obvious when you take the time to note that each pointy-end has different angles, realistically basing the turn-angle on the ship's speed.

The author has given this game a good level of complexity to ensure that it is as historically accurate as possible whilst striving to make it playable on the most basic of levels, or with the strategy and tactical intricacies of a 140 page Avalon Hill™ style factual chronicle.

Firelock Games and the Author have put blood, sweat, and tears, and love, into what is clearly a subject close to their collective hearts. That they have been successful in doing so reveals itself in this board game which captures this period of heroism.

At its very basic OAK & IRON is a line-the-ships-up and roll-the-dice affair. Everything depends on the dice roll, especially when it comes to Combat, and let's face it combat is what drives this game. I don't mind dice rolling, it brings a sense of fun to the play, even if it seems that the dice are loaded for success the majority of rolls; it's never a certainty, but you really have to be very unlucky to completely fail any dice roll. 

It doesn't fulfil until you have experienced the full, all rules included, game.

The rules are exhaustive for whatever length and detail of game required, but what is missing/lacking is a sense of purpose. England against Spain or France, Pirates against everyone, it's all historically fairly accurate, there's no denying that, and the rules, along with the additional rules do a superb job of conveying this. 

Everything, every possibility, is covered in the OAK & IRON rules. It is up to the players to get the best possible games and to create the atmosphere of the period. 

 

For me, personally, what is missing is the excitement of war at sea and the adventure of completing a mission while the enemy Nations attempt to foil my success. Whether it be delivering Spices from a distant shore to a home base (both easily set up using the 'floating' island pieces of scenery supplied with the game) or trying to intercept/prevent a message getting from a spy to their handler, or whatever story you can imagine, OAK & IRON provides the wherewithall without actually recognising that it is doing so. 

It would have taken so little time or effort to include scenario, adventure or mission cards in the deck, especially when presenting a style and period/era game that has already been covered by so many other games. If you want just a ship v ship combat game with no frills then search the archives for the 'Naval War' card game by Avalon Hill™, though as it's a 1983 game you will probably find it to be quite an expensive find nowadays.

There are, to my knowledge, two expansions available:

One is a 3-ship expansion (this makes 7 ships in total which is rather unusual) OAK & IRON: SHIPS of the LINE available for £36.00.

This expansion includes:

The second; OAK & IRON: MEN of WAR can be found for just over £30.00

This expansion includes:

Note: A copy of the Core Set is required to use these ships in Oak & Iron

Comparing costs of OAK & IRON with the popular SAILS of GLORY

Basic game:   OAK & IRON  £50.00 
Basic Game:  SAILS of GLORY  £80.00
Expansions:   OAK & IRON £30.00-£36.00 for 3 ships so basically £66.00 for 6 extra ships and accompanying accessories.
Expansions:   SAILS of GLORY: £10.00 - £50.00 per single ship. Average price per ship = £22.00. Six extra ships £132.00
OAK & IRON with 10 ships + rules etc = £146.00
SAILS of GLORY with 10 ships + accessories etc = £212.00

The obvious difference between the two games is that the SAILS of GLORY ships come already profesionally painted, named and with the correct Ensign, plus no assembly is required. Is that worth the £66.00 difference in cost? That ball is in your court.

 

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021