• Review of Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail

    Review of Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail
    By Alwyn

    Introducing the Age of Sail

    In the American Revolutionary War, a Continental Navy made up initially of merchant ships converted for military use faced Britain's Royal Navy, which was regarded as the most powerful navy in the world. George C. Daughan argued in If by Sea: The Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812 that, instead of the slow process of building frigates, the Americans could have done more to use smaller ships to capture British vessels and refit them for action. In Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail, the player has the opportunity to test Daughan's theory, starting as the commander of one or two small ships, and capturing larger vessels to create a powerful force of frigates and ships of the line.

    It might sound unrealistic for small ships to capture larger ones - however, in April 1775, at the time of the battles of Lexington and Concord, Admiral Samuel Graves, who was then commander of the Briitish fleet in North America, wrote of his concern that the rebels might use whaleboats to board British warships. He wrote of the whaleboats that:

    [They] lay in abundance in different creeks round this harbor [and] in a calm might ... surprise one of the frigates of the squadron and carry her by suddenly pouring in in great numbers - from George C. Daughan, If by Sea: The Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812, p.12
    While small boats from the British ship of the line HMS Somerset carried British soldiers back from Concord to Boston, the Americans were assembling militia -14,000 men initially, increasing to 20,000. The whaleboats and the men were available, so the attack which Admiral Graves worried about could have happened. There were other opportunities to capture British ships - such as two schooners, the Diana and the Diligent, taken in the weeks after Lexington and Concord. During the fall and winter of 1775, only eight of the forty British supply vessels sent to Boston reached their destination - while some were lost to storms, John Manley commanding the American schooner Lee captured the brig Nancy, which carried 2,000 muskets with bayonets, a large quantity of musket and round shot and two 6-pounder cannons - showing the contribution that even a small force of armed merchant ships could make (Daughan, p. 42).

    Age of Sail got me thinking about the contribution that the Continental Navy could have made, if more British ships had been captured. The game also raises questions about what we mean when we say that we want a game to be challenging or realistic. Age of Sail offers some really challenging missions - the player will face battles where you are heavily outgunned; the game does provide ways to win, including trying different ways of equipping and upgrading your ships and trying different tactics. Age of Sail offers historical realism, in particular in how you choose to equip your ships (more weight means a slower ship), how they react to the wind and shallow seas, and how they suffer damage (various items can be damaged, including the masts, rudder, water pump and powder store, with different effects).

    Age of Sail has limitations - you can play only as an American or British commander - although opposing forces can include ships from France, Spain and other nations; also, the campaign has a series of missions, rather than a sandbox. Despite the limitations, I'm really enjoying the game - a small team of developers chose to focus on making the game's core features (the customisation of ships and the tactical battles) work well, and they succeeded. Being able to customise your ships - giving them the weapons, officers and upgrades of your choice - is an excellent feature. Age of Sail is likely to be particularly enjoyable for players who like challenging and realistic battles, who like experimenting with different tactics and who enjoy trying out the many classes of ship which the game includes.

    Creating your character and choosing a campaign

    Character creation involves a series of choices, each of which gives your character a small bonus.

    Unlike historical Total War games where you play a faction, in Age of Sail you're playing a naval officer, with just one or two ships at the start. The bonuses you select when you create your character are useful, but a new player doesn't need to worry about choosing the wrong options. Each successful battle earns you a career point, which allows you to get a bonus similar to the ones you receive when you create your character. If you regret not selecting a particular bonus when you created your character, after a few battles you can get the same advantage by spending career points.

    You can play as an American or British commander (the British campaign is recommended for people who are new to the game, the American one for more experienced players). In the American campaign, the player participates in the American Revolutionary War, while in the British campaign, the player fights Spain, the United States and France in a period which included the American Revolutionary War and ends with the Battle of Trafalgar.

    David McCullough, in 1776: America and Britain at War, commented on the size of the fleet which the British forces assembled before their attack on New York. This shows the scale of the challenge for the early American navy, which had no ships of the line:

    Nothing like it had ever been seen in New York: housetops were covered with "gazers", all wharves that offered a view were jammed with people. The total British fleet now at anchor in a "long, thick cluster" off Staten Island numbered nearly four hundred ships large and small, seventy three warships including eight ships of the line, each mounting 50 guns or more. As British officers happily reminded each other, it was the largest fleet ever seen in American waters - David McCullough, 1776: America and Britain at War p. 148.
    If you buy the Barbary War DLC, you can also play as an American commander against the Barbary nations. The campaigns are linear, with battles in fixed locations on the campaign map. There are occasionally choices about which battle to fight - for example, early in the Revolutionary War as the Americans you can fight Bunker Hill either as a land or sea battle.

    Pre-battle map

    Before entering a battle, you can view a pre-battle map, showing the number of ships (or, for land battles, the ship crews including land units carried by troopships) that you can deploy. In this case, the player is about to support the American army at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In this example, the circle in the map is green (rather than the usual blue) - this indicates that you'll be fighting a land battle, and the ship's crew or the land units from a troopship will be on land from the start (as opposed to starting in their ship and needing to be landed on a beach using small boats). I was hovering my mouse over the troopship Earlston on the right, so the characteristics of the ship are displayed in a box headed by the name of the ship - it can be useful to see these details when selecting ships for missions.

    One of the campaign maps

    The campaign maps feature different parts of the world, including Central America, the Caribbean, various locations on the east coast of the United States, the western edge of Europe and (if you have the Barbary War DLC) the coast of North Africa. In each chapter of a campaign, the campaign map shows you the location of events - as the player isn't controlling a faction, you don't upgrade settlements or construct ships yourself (you can buy or sell ships, along with cannon and infantry weapons, from an Admiralty shop). Age of Sail has a linear campaign - there is a series of chapters, and each chapter has a list of mandatory and optional missions,. On the screenshot above, the mandatory missions are listed on the left-hand edge of the screen with crossed-sword icons, and the optional missions with question-mark icons (the other symbols are reports on previous battles and campaign events).

    The mandatory missions are played manually, and the optional ones are generally auto-resolved. I'd have liked the opportunity to play the optional side missions (instead of autoresolving them) and it would have been good to be have more practice commanding ships and trying different combinations of ships, weapons and upgrades. However, the limited availability of side missions adds to the challenge of the game, preventing players from building a stronger fleet just by repeatedly doing easier missions.

    Historical events occur and they can affect your situation

    As well as actual historical events, there are reports each turn on the battles you played in the previous turn (in the style of newspaper articles), including reports on the auto-resolved side-quest missions. When you assign a ship to a side-quest mission, it is no longer available until the next turn - however, the player can play all of the main quest missions first, repair your ships and then assign them to the side-quest missions. When you assign ships to a side-quest mission, you are shown the percentage chance of success (which will change with different combinations of ships).

    Managing your ships and crews

    Sail on the horizon

    I like the fact that, at the start of a battle, the player usually doesn't know the number or type of ships you'll be fighting. As in real-life sea battles, you see sails on the horizon and investigate. Sometimes you'll find easy prey, at other times you'll need to achieve your objective as quickly as possible before escaping. I enjoy the variety of ship classes which the game offers, each with its strengths and shortcomings.

    HMS Yeoman

    In battle, the player can't select an enemy ship, so someone new to the game might wonder how (apart from looking at it) you're meant to work out what class of ship you're facing. The game does offer a way to find out - select one of your ships, then select the 'manual aim' button and select an enemy ship. With manual aim selected, you'll see a view similar to the one above - showing you the class of the enemy ship and the number of guns it carries - in this case we're facing HMS Yeoman, a 44-gun frigate. A frigate like this one would make a useful addition to the player's fleet - but to do that, you would need to take it as a prize. This can be done by boarding an enemy vessel or by damaging the ship and depleting the crew until they surrender, and then sending a prize crew across in a boat (you need to send a prize crew to take over a surrendered ship, otherwise it may return to the fight).

    In both the British and American campaigns, you start with small ships, sych as an 18-gun brig. To improve your fleet, it's likely that you will want to capture more smaller ships initially and gain experience for your officers and crews. The game offers a good range of types of small ships, including cutters, brigs, snows and several kinds of sloop. When you have done this, you can use a larger number of smaller ships to capture a more powerful vessel. Whether you'll have an opportunity build a collection of small ships before encountering larger vessels depends on the difficulty level. Playing my first American campaign on Easy, in early missions there were good opportunities to acquire more small ships. When I played the American campaign on Medium difficulty, in one early mission I was escorting an armed merchant ship, Minerva, with two 18-gun brigs - Vengeance and Andrew Doria - and a 12-gun sloop, Alderney, which I had captured (this was my entire fleet at this point, apart from an unarmed troopship). The British force included a 40-gun frigate and a 28-gun corvette (a small frigate). Either of the enemy frigates could have defeated my brigs and sloop on its own - because the light guns on smaller ship struggle to penetrate to hull of a frigate (except at close range), while the heavier guns of frigates can damage a brig or sloop without difficulty. Similarly, in the British campaign, in one mission my small force of frigates found themselves facing two ships of the line - either of them could have defeated my ships.

    As these examples show, the game does not hesitate to give the player missions which are difficult or even impossible to win simply by following Horatio Nelson's advice that "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." It's likely that the player will need to re-play difficult battles several times. This may involve trying different tactics and also different loudouts for your ships - it's not usually a matter of trying again and hoping for better luck or timing - although timing can be a factor, for example if you manage to turn a ship at just the right moment, it could manage to board an enemy ship at the first attempt. This could allow you to use the captured ship to support your forces, although it is likely to have a small prize crew (t least, until after the current mission is over) and to be vulnerable to re-capture by the enemy.

    Fortunately, you can save during battles, so if your tactics rely on carrying out the right action at a precise moment, you can re-load and try again if you don't succeed. Also, different equioment and tactics can make a decisive difference. For example, you can equip your ships with carronades (if you have done the necessary research and can afford them) to give them heavy short-range firepower. You can pack your ships full of men and board enemy ships. You can convert a small ship (such as the 12-gun sloop Alderney) to a fireship. Each of these tactics has a downside. Carronades can be devastating at short range, but even at medium range its shots won't usually penetrate an enemy ship's hull. Packing your ships with more crew will slow them down - to board a ship, you'll need to sail alongside it, and enemy ships can sometimes avoid boarding simply by sailing too fast to be caught. A small fireship must be set on fire almost at the point of ramming the enemy ship, so it needs to get to point-blank range - and it will be vulnerable to the firepower of a bigger vessel (so it might not reach its intended target). Also, using a fireship will destroy both the fireship and its target, so you will only destroy the larger ship, you won't capture it.

    Were these tactics used in this era?

    Players might wonder if these kind of tactics were used in the time period of the game - for example, fireships were used in earlier centuries, so players might wonder if they are still used in the time period of Age of Sail. In summer 1776 when the British were preparing to attack New York, they sent two warships, HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose, up the Hudson River to cut off rebel supplies. David McCullough discussed the American response:

    On the morning of Sunday, August 18, taking advantage of a strong northeasterly wind, the Phoenix and the Rose "passed briskly" back down the Hudson to rejoin the fleet. At one point during their sojourn upriver, the Americans had sent a fireship - a ship set ablaze - against the Phoenix, but to no avail; and on the return passage American guns had blasted away as before "like incessant thunders" and again without much effect - David McCullough, 1776: America and Britain at War, p. 152 to 153
    We've seen that fireships were used in this time period - but did naval commanders really switch the guns of their ships for others, for example replacing cannon with carronades? Stephen Taylor reported that, when a British captain, Edward Pellew, took command of a 38-gun frigate, the Nymphe, he was concerned about the lack of crew members and one other thing about his new command:

    Pellew's other concern was guns. Nymphe's main armament, twenty-six 12-pounders, was supplemented by twelve 6-pounders on the upper deck. He was unimpressed by the latter and had taken note of an innovative weapon - a short gun with a large calibre. Carronades, or "smashers", had been around since the American war, but though they could be manned by small teams, the Admiralty took time to be persuaded of their merits because they were ineffective at any sort of distance. Pellew saw that, in conjunction with 12-pounders, they could provide a formidable broadside and, with a further eye to Nymphe's stability, had her 6-pounders replaced by twelve 24-pounder carronades, adding 'considerably to her force but also reducing the weight of guns on her upper works - Stephen Taylor, Commander: the Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain, p. 66
    These aspects of carronades are represented in the game - they do a lot of damage, but beyond close range they lack penetrating power and they are usually lighter than the guns they replace, as Captain Pellew found. When Captain Pellew was given command of the razee frigate Indefatigable, the First Lord of the Admiralty wrote to Pellew, saying:

    I cannot quite promise you the Carronades you desire, but if it can be done without too much transgressing Rules, you shall have them - Stephen Taylor, Commander: the Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain, p. 83
    Pellew wasn't the only captain who wanted different guns for his ship - and not all commanders wanted carronades. When Captain David Porter became the commander of the frigate USS Essex, he wrote to the Navy Secretary:

    I am much pleased with my ship, and I wish I could say as much for her armament - she is armed with carronades which in my opinion are very inferior to long guns - George C. Daughan, The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the USS Essex during the War of 1812, p. 47
    Capain Porter's concern was that the USS Essex carried forty 32-pound carronades and six long 12-pounders. With carronades as her primary weapon, the frigate would be vulnerable to an enemy ship armed with only long guns, if an adverse wind or damage prevented her from getting to close range. When commissioned in December 1799, the Essex had twenty-six 12-pounders and ten 6-pounders, providing better firepower at long range. The examples of the Nymphe, the Indefatigable and the Essex suggest that it was not unusual for a captain to replace their ship's guns with different ones, just as the player can.

    Quality of life

    For challenging missions where the player is trying to capture more powerful ships, the game has useful quality of life features. Being able to save during battles is particularly useful when a mission has several stages, potentially including the arrival of more than one group of reinforcements. There's also the option to re-start a mission (without needing to re-load a save). When we re-start a mission, the enemy ships might be different - for example, when I first played one battle, one of the opposing ships was a 40-gun Dedaigneuse-class frigate; when I re-started, the ship of the same name was a 30-gun Porcupine-class corvette - which was easier to defeat.

    Re-starting a mission also enables you to return to your harbour (where you equip your ships before selecting them for missions) - so you can equip your ships differently or bring different ones. In a game in which you're likely to encounter some challenging missions, this is really useful - if at the start of a gaming session, you're in the middle of a mission and running out of ships or infantrymen, you can re-start the mission, return to your harbour (to equip your ships differently or add more soldiers).

    At the start of a campaign, there's also the option to turn off difficulty scaling (so the enemy forces don't become more powerful as the strength the player's forces increases). This option was requested by players using the early access version of the game, since they didn't want the game to punish them for successfully capturing and using enemy ships.

    Customising your ships, including choosing officers

    As your crew gains experience, you choose your crew's skills, providing useful bonuses and adding to the distinctiveness of your ships. It's fun to experiment with specialised ships, such as one with lighter weapons and a larger crew (to have a fast ship capable of boarding several enemy ships during a mission). When your crew suffers casualties, you can choose to replace them with raw recruits or veteran sailors. Normally, moving the slider shown above (in the top right 'Crew' area) adds raw recruits, but if you tick the box labelled 'Reserve', moving the slider adds experienced sailors instead. If you stop using a ship (for example because if you decide to sell it), moving the slider left (to remove the crew) adds experienced sailors to your reserve (the number of reserve sailors is shown at the top of the screen), and they can be added to another ship, along with their officers (who are moved separately).

    This is just a small issue - while the player can rename ships and land units, you cannot re-name officers. While generally this is not an issue, there are one or two odd names such as Dan Dare, shown above (Dan Dare was a British comic-book hero from the 1950s) - it seems that officers with a red banner were named by people who backed the game when it was being developed, which explains the occasional quirky name. Occasionally I would have liked additional quality of life features. For example, after battles each ship must be selected individually, to repair it - by the late game (when I had a lot of ships), it would have been useful to have a 'repair all damaged ships' button.

    As well as customising ships, you can customise military units

    Customising land units includes naming the unit, choosing an officer, selecting the unit size and weapon. The selection of the officer makes a significant difference to the unit's performance - and different officers have different strengths, for example one will improve your men's skill with firearms, another will give them a better performance in melee. As with ship crews, you can add raw recruits or veterans - the latter is more expensive but helps you to work towards having elite units.

    In the American campaign, while there are better and worse quality units (you can recruit militia or regular infantry), the player can't simply recruit an elite unit by selecting an elite unit type. In this campaign, your elite units are ordinary units which have polished their skills to perfection through combat experience, which are led by talented officers and which have the best weapons available. I like the idea that elite units are formed by hard-won experience and skilled leadership, rather than simply recruited. In the British campaign, which is intended to be more beginner-friendly, you can recruit elite grenadiers.

    How does Age of Sail compare with Total War games?

    Two ships of the line support the defence of a coastal fort in a combined land and sea battle

    This game offers enjoyable features that Empire and Napoleon don't include - including the ability to customise your ships and units (as shown above), combined land and sea engagements (as well as sea battles and land battles), and improved historical realism. Compared to Total War games of the same era (Empire and Napoleon), Age of Sail is much more limited on the campaign map - as you're playing a commander, not a faction, and the campaign map in Age of Sail simply shows you the location of missions. You canot build anything on the campaign map or own territory; the ships of the line shown above were not built by an American shipyard, they were captured from the British.

    While you're playing a naval commander not a faction, players who enjoy large-scale historical sea battles will find them in Age of Sail, particularly in the British campaign which includes the battles of the Glorious First of June (1794), Cape St. Vincent (1797), the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805). Large-scale battles provide additional challenges, as it did for historical admirals - and this could lead to confusion, for example at the Battle of Martinique (1780):

    [Admiral] Rodney raised the flag that corresponded to Article 21 of his instructions: every ship was to make for her opposing number in the French line. At 11:55 he signalled 'Engage', then 'Come to close engagement' [...] The captains in the van took the order to engage their opposite number to mean that the first ship in the British vanguard should attack the first ship in the French line, and so on. What Rodney meant was that the British ships should head due west and attack the French ship opposite them at that moment. Captain Richard Carkett, in the leading ship, misunderstood and chased north to engage the head of the enemy line, which was a long way off. He was followed by the second in line and the commander of their squadron, Hyde Parker, who was so certain he was following Rodney's instructions that he rebuked those captains who had divined their admiral's real intentions - Ben Wilson, Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy, p. 360
    While your captains (fortunately) will not misunderstand your instructions in Age of Sail, managing a large fleet can be challenging, especially considering the relatively realistic sailing which the game provides - for example, one of your ships can run aground, or collide with another, if you don't manage them carefully. Collisions can be avoided by putting your ships in a gruop, sailing in a single line - which was, of course, how fleets were organised. However, Ben Wilson explained that traditional line engagements (where the opponents sail in parallel lines) rarely led to decisive victories. Admiral Rodney knew this, which was why at the Battle of Martinique he intended for his ships to concentrate their attack on the rear of the French line - although (as explained above), "Unfortunately for Rodney most British captains clung to the good old-fashioned line of battle" (p. 374). In large sea battles in the game, the player is likely to see the need to arrange your ships in line - but also the importance of finding alternatives to traditional line engagements, just as historical admirals did.

    Age of Sail offers better historical realism in several ways. When one of your ships leans over as it turns, this increases the range of cannon on one side (the side which is elevated) and decreases range on the other side. Ships sailing too close to the land can get stuck in shallow coastal waters (you can see areas of shallow water, so this can be avoided). The wind direction matters a lot - your ships cannot sail upwind, they need to tack, sailing in a kind of zigzag move to reach an upwind location. Larger ships are not necessarily slower, but small ships tend to turn faster and can usually sail closer to the wind - which can lead to enjoyable challenges, for example if the player is trying to draw an enemy ship of the line away from the other enemy ships with a smaller vessel. The user interface shows you how many guns one of your ships has operational on each side, the strength of your hull and rigging, and the effect of the wind if you turn in a particular direction.

    Another way in which the sea battles are realistic is that - particularly if you are playing as an American commander in the Revolutionary War - the goal may involve achieving an objective and escaping before you are overwhelmed by enemy reinforcements. It's satisfying to get away with a prize - but the enemy can sink one of your damaged escaping ships with a lucky shot. It's also realistic that surrendered ships need to be captured with small boats (and can re-enter the fight if the player doesn't capture them). To deploy marines in a small boat, your ship needs to anchor (or at least slow down), potentially making it vulnerable. When a ship sinks, the crew can usually escape on a small boat - they will head for the nearest friendly ship, to replenish its crew. The sinking of a series of enemy ships can create an effect similar to the trope of the Conservation of Ninjutsu in a martial arts film:

    In any martial arts fight, there is only a finite amount of ninjutsu available to each side in a given encounter. As a result, one Ninja is a deadly threat, but an army of them are cannon fodder.- TV Tropes
    To be fair, the game isn't that extreme - individual enemy ships aren't mere cannon fodder (unless you're using a ship of the line against much smaller ships). The point is simply that, if you sink a series of enemy ships (instead of boarding them or forcing them to surrender), the surviving crews will board small boats if they can, and head for the nearest ship which is on their side. Ships which receive these extra crew members may be in a better position to capture ships by boarding them - which might turn the tide of battle.

    Age of Sail doesn't offer strict realism. While the game includes historical sea battles, they won't necessarily have the exact vessels and ship classes which took part - although historical vessels do appear, such as the brig Andrew Doria, and the Hancock, one of the Continental Navy's first thirteen frigates. In the American campaign - set during the American Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783), it's possible to acquire weapons and ships which are described as 1794 models (such as 1794 razee frigates), so some items appear a few years earlier than they did historically - this is not iikely to be a problem, except for players who want strict realism. No American commander had a ship of the line in the American Revolutionary War, but a player can have several of them. However, this is okay in my view - some captains did achieve surprising victories, such the defeat of a French ship of the line Droits de L'Homme by the frigates Indefatigable and Amazon and the capture of a British ship of the line Ardent by the French frigate Junon.

    The display for each ship has health bars for 'armour' and 'structure', but wooden Age of Sail warships didn't have armour (in the sense of metal plating). Even so, if you think of 'armour' as the exterior of the hull and structure as the interior, this makes sense - large Age of Sail vessels did had thick wooden planks. Also, the 'armour' health bar is useful - if the player wants to capture rather than sink a ship, when the armour is low, it's time to switch from roundshot to grapeshot (if you haven't already done this) and to consider boarding.

    When a ship is sinking, the crew can usually escape to another vessel in a small boat

    The ability to rescue sailors from a sinking ship can create some interesting situations - particularly in the American campaign where you sometimes end the battle by getting away from the enemy with the prizes you captured (as opposed to capturing or sinking all enemy ships). If the enemy get a lucky hit and sink one of your ships, another of your vessels can pick up the survivors. However, to rescue the survivors, your ship must slow down for long enough to collect the survivors - and the enemy may get within range of your ship.

    Fighting on land

    Land battles include more realism because they require the careful management of supplies (you have supply units, the unit cards above with the ammunition boxes), and it's important to keep an eye on the morale and stamina of your men. If you advance too quickly, your men may run out of ammunition. It's best to keep your supplies close to fighting units, and to keep some units in reserve so that they can take the place of exhausted soldiers. Enemy units can also surrender.

    Both at land and sea, there can be surprises - such as the arrival of reinforcements, a change in wind direction or damage to one of the vital components of a ship. A ship's rudder can be damaged (making turns slower), its water pump can break (creating a risk of flooding) or the powder magazine could be hit (with a risk that the ship will explode). These and other similar events - such as the loss of a ship's mast, dramatically reducing its speed - can combine with the game's realistic sailing to create additional challenges. In one part of a battle, two of your smaller ships could be trying to board a frigate - a task which would be much easier if the frigate lost a mast. Elsewhere during the same battle, one of your ships might suffer damage to its rudder, and find itself caught on a lee shore - with the wind blowing it towards the land, trying to avoid being run aground. In these situations, it's useful that the game offers you the opportunity to re-start a battle (without needing to a saved game) and to save during battles. A battle can have several stages - in one British mission, for example, you need to land sailors and marines, march overland to rescue friendly units who are under fire, return to your small boats and evacuate to your ships, and finally fight enemy ships to escape - so the ability to save during a battle can be very useful.

    Age of Sail has shortcomings, compared to Total War games. The music is good but became repetitive after a few hours, so I turned it off. The cannon sounds seem a bit muted (to be fair, if I played a series of sea battles with realistically loud cannon fire, I'd have a headache!) and the sounds combined with the smoke effects make it easy to keep track of when ships have fired. There are occasional small typos, for example text at the start of the mission A Friend Indeed, the introduction says "The Spanish will soon perished" rather than "The Spanish will soon perish", but this is only a minor distraction. Players who want multiplayer will be disappointed that Age of Sail doesn't offer multiplayer battles, let along campaigns. People who enjoy the sandbox style of Total War campaigns will miss that aspect, and at times I would have liked to be able to zoom in close to the action. Despite these disadvantages, for me, Age of Sail is a very satisfying and enjoyable game.

    Overall impressions

    By the late campaign, the player participates in impressively large-scale sea battles

    Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail has a lot to offer. While it doesn't offer a historical re-enactment, this game sets the standard for realism in Age of Sail sea battles against which future games will be compared. The combined land and sea battles (as well as the land-only and sea-only engagements) are very enjoyable and the harder missions offer a satisfying challenge.

    Being able to customise ships and land units is a fantastic feature. The game offers many different classes of ship - for example, the game's frigates include two classes of corvettes (small frigates), four classes of middle-sized frigates, and three classes of heavy frigates (or four classes of heavy frigates, if you have the Barbary War DLC, in the Barbary campaign). I particularly enjoy capturing the different types of ships, improving their guns and equipment as well as the skills of their crews and officers, and seeing how they perform in battle.

    While the game has limitations - such as the absence of multiplayer and the lack of a sandbox campaign - there is replayability as you try out different ships and tactics. Despite the shortcomings, I enjoy this game a lot. I enjoy experiencing some of the challenges which historical naval commanders faced in this era - and it's brilliant to have the opportunity to test George C. Daughan's theory that the Continental Navy could have had more success by capturing and using British ships. If you enjoy Age of Sail tactics and battles, and if you'd like the opportunity to capture ships, re-fit them and use them in action, this game is highly recommended.


    If you're interested in this era, I recommend the books that were used for this review:
    • George C. Daughan, If by Sea: The Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812
    • George C. Daughan, The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the USS Essex during the War of 1812
    • David McCullough, 1776: America and Britain at War
    • Stephen Taylor, Commander: the Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain
    • Ben Wilson, Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Appreciate the detail and length of the review - I had a taste of sea battles in ETW and NTW and this makes we wish to return to that period and to sea battles in general.

    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gigantus View Post
      Appreciate the detail and length of the review - I had a taste of sea battles in ETW and NTW and this makes we wish to return to that period and to sea battles in general.

      Seconded, that's an excellent review! The bibliographic references at the end are a masterstroke.
    1. Søren's Avatar
      Søren -
      Great article. I've been meaning to get this one.
    1. King Athelstan's Avatar
      King Athelstan -
      Very well written!