Naval Tactics: Captains of the Spanish Main Review

Get ready to swash your buckles and shiver your timbers as the age of wooden ships and iron men comes to life, turn after glorious turn, on your iOS device. It’s all of the fun of sailing the high seas and filling your enemy’s ships with holes, but without the pesky seasickness and death. 

Naval Tactics: Captains of the Spanish Main was developed by Chimera Software, of Starbase Orion fame. It’s a combination board game and turn-based strategy game where you control a fleet of large wooden ships from the Age of Sail. Your goal is to sink or board as many enemy ships as you can before they do the same to you.

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And when I say you control the fleet, I mean it. You don’t just give “go there, shoot that” orders to the crew of your ships. Instead, you move your ships space by space on a hex grid map of the open seas. You can also choose how to focus the crew and which type of ammo to load into your ships’ numerous cannons.

All of these decisions come with some kind of tradeoff. For example, you can focus a ship’s crew on movement in a turn at the expense of them being ready for combat. It makes sense from a simulation standpoint, since that crew would be busy doing all the things they need to do in order to move the ship safely and efficiently, but they shouldn’t be nearly as focused on manning the cannons or repairing their ship.

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These types of choices separate the victorious captains from the vanquished. You’ll also need other skills to be successful in this game, such as a working knowledge of how naval formations function, and how to best utilize the wind (which plays a large role in movement, as you might imagine in a game about sailing ships.)

The good thing is that the complex dynamics of sailing come down to a pretty simple system: The closer a ship is to facing the direction of the wind, the farther that ship can travel in a turn. You can spend a turn changing your direction to better compensate for the direction of the wind, but the wind can change in any turn as well.

Combat itself is very satisfying in Naval Tactics. You can load and fire your cannons in the same turn, and as long as you’ve maneuvered your ships into a good position, you can bring the business to your enemies without having to wait. I’m not sure this is the most realistic way to handle combat, but I am glad it’s done this way. If you had to wait another turn to load, then the target could have moved out of range, and you would have a Zeno’s Paradox-style engagement where no ship would ever be in a good position to fire on another. This would make for a pretty boring game.

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With its interesting mechanics and strategic depth, you would expect Naval Tactics to offer a variety of ways to set up skirmishes. This, however, is the only shortcoming of the game. There are only five custom missions and three historical missions, and the custom missions only allow you to build a fleet using a set number of points. The objectives and starting points in these missions are still preset.

While the lack of mission options might be a serious issue for some, it shouldn’t keep you from embarking on this amazing voyage. You can always play solo against a very competent AI, or with others via pass-and-play or asynchronous online play. After you’ve finished a mission, you can watch a replay of it, or export the replay as a video so that you can relive past glory (or shame) over and over again.

  • dojiijii

    What a great game! The online play is where it’s at.