I purchased the Flotilla bundle. As some of you know, my interest lies in the Caribbean, and I got multiple small ships plus flags. I will need some schooners and I hope these will be released soon.
The models as I expected are lovely!
They are big and go together easily. If you don't worry about sails and rigging you can have a ship built that looks nice. The rules have a painting guide that I didn't find particularly helpful but there are plenty of pictures in the book that can guide you.
If you want to rig a ship with sails this will be a challenge. The rules have a guide as to how to rig a ship which is helpful. There will still be trial and error. Please note; I am a surgeon and I still found tying knots too fiddly. Either do an instrument tie or place a drop of glue over the first loop once you have your tension set. Don't bother squaring off the knot.
Sails. I found no directions anywhere for sails. If you look at the pictures you can figure it out. Don't use super glue. It will take you a while to get the sails into place. Use regular stick glue and pick ups [ tweezers for you non surgeons] to get the sails in place. [ you will have to work around your rigging.] Once in place several strategic drops of super glue will hold them.
As much as the above sounds frustrating it went much easier with the second ship. And the results are very good!
A further tip; I chose to not fully rig the ship but go with partial rigging. I went with effect. This was quicker and made placing the sails easier. Second, you can see the ratlines above. In person they look shiny and I don't think I will add them to the rest of my fleets.
Overall I am very happy with the ships. They look great and now that I know how to build them it shouldn't be too frustrating. I just wish the above paragraph had been in the rulebook somewhere.
Black Seas the game [ I have played 4 games solo so far.]
Rules are very much a personal thing. I loved the simple approach of Cruel Seas and found it was easy to modify it through Crueler Seas to add the detail I wanted. [ and more such as USSR 12.7 MG get a +1 for damage}
Black Seas is very basic. With just basic rules it is hard to tell it is an AOS game. The advanced and optional rules bring it up to a simple game in line with Cruel Seas.
BS handles this elegantly in that the ship with the weather gauge goes first. In a nod to C+C if a ship is in a line the whole line gets to move.
This was the most intriguing part of Black Seas for me. Unlike other AOS games BS doesn't separate out hull, sail and crew damage. It is all rolled up into one damage factor. I was curious if it would work. I would say it depends. If you want a simple quick game the answer is "yes". If you want Heart of Oak, then "No". The game does differentiate sail and hull through critical hits which have their own critical hit charts. You can aim high or low. It does work in an abstracted, simple way.
The "to hit" sequence is very simple and easy enough to calculate in your head. You have chain shot, grape shot, double shot and even heated shot as well though chain shot has no range restriction. Rakes are handled eloquently. I have only had 2 melees but this seems to work and there are rules for sharpshooters.
Ships normally strike before they sink as you would expect though inexperienced ships maybe strike too often needing to roll a "6" to save themselves from this fate. Every AOS game has to have the possibility of a ship blowing up because it happened once during the battle of the Nile and you will find it here. As a matter of fact that poor ship has a special rule that makes it easy for her to blow up if you use her historically. ( As if the french don't have enough problems!)
My thoughts are overall the combat system works. It needs to be tweaked for my tastes just like Crueler Seas did. The critical hits need to be expanded and the sail hits need to be made more pronounced and permanent. I will be working on this. But the damage system plays fast and clean and seems to give historical results. As I get older I like faster and cleaner at the expenses of some detail; just not as much as the original game. The only thing I don't like in the combat system is the fact that there is no reload time. To me to get the feel of AOS verses Cruel Seas you need reload time. This is already in there partially as "fire as she bears". This simulates each cannon firering as rapidly as possible at a target and give a -2 penalty verses a loaded broadside. Still, all ships can fire a loaded broadside each turn. Looses some flavor for me.
As you would expect this is also abstracted. Ships can't sail directly into the wind and actually take damage if the wind changes and they find themselves in that position. [ an odd bit of chrome] . Ships basically have 3 speeds, The wake markers that I loved in Cruel Seas are back but here they annoy me because the terminology on them is just plain wrong. The three speeds are full sails, light sails and battle sails. Those three speeds don't correspond to those sail states but the ship's relationship to the wind which are close reach, broad reach or run with the wind. I am fine with simplifying sailing but please don't use incorrect terms. You don't want someone playing the game to think that they are moving to full sail when they are broad reaching. Have them think they are moving "fast". While we are here I was disappointed there are no rules for full sails. It would add another decision to the game and would be simple enough to abstract in. There are also no rules for fore and aft rigged ships such as my schooner. Now if I am only playing Trafalgar this is no problem. But for a comprehensive ruleset that will be used in the Caribbean with pirates that is a problem.
There is a simplified tacking rule which works, but again, woe to the inexperienced crew as they have little chance to tack needing a "6" to succeed. [ poor Spanish]. Movement feels very fast to me as well, more like cruel seas than an Age of Sail game. Ships broad reaching move 3 times their basic speed so move pretty far. Finally, there is no difference between square rigged and fore and aft rigged ships as to sailing characteristics. For Trafalgar again no problem but in the Caribbean or even privateers in the channel a problem.
My overall thoughts are I was disappointed in the sailing system. It doesn't feel like a sailing game at all. It would take an awful lot for me to fix this part. If you want a very simple abstract sailing game which bears little relation to sailing then I think this works. It felt like I was sailing a vosper with rigging rather than an elegant sailing ship.
Odds and Ends
The campaign rules were very disappointing and are nothing but common sense. There are special rules for each of the 4 main combatants and rules for several of their notable ships. These are okay.
There are excellent photos of models and osprey drawings and history of the AOS. The production values of the book are topnotch.
Overall this is a basic set of AOS rules. If that is what you are looking for you will like this set. I really like the concept of 1 damage number for the whole ship. It is simple and elegant. I can expand the detail enough to take into account sails verses hull. The sailing rules left me flat. An AOS game has to feel like an AOS game, not like MTBs under sail. As I stated at the beginning rules are a personal thing. For me I think there are better sets out there. I will probably work on the combat rules and incorporate them into my Post Captain rules. Your mileage may vary.