Given than humans spent several centuries puttering around the oceans on wooden sailing ships, it’s surprising that very few games focus on honest-to-goodness Age of Sail naval warfare. The good folks at SprueGames took note of this and brought forth Salvo!, a turn-based naval combat simulator set during the 17th to 19th centuries. While Salvo! lacks the bells and whistles that a big-name developer and a deep-pockets publisher can provide, it makes for quite an appealing little outing for the salty seadogs among us.
Salvo! is not a game that players can dive right into and enjoy. While not as complicated as many of the titles produced by Shrapnel Games, Salvo! still requires a fair amount of effort upfront to learn the ins and outs. A lengthy tutorial is provided, which I highly recommend new players walk through at least once. Unfortunately, the tutorial is provided in a separate window from the game, so a great deal of time will be spent tabbing between windows in the desktop. After players have gained a basic knowledge of play, they can jump into one of the many campaigns and scenarios provided.
The campaigns themselves are quite varied, and span an impressive array of naval history. Players can take command of naval powerhouses, such as England or France, and dominate the high seas. There are even scenarios chronicling the early United States naval battles on the Great Lakes. Admittedly, my knowledge of naval history is limited to a few viewings of Horatio Hornblower movies, so I’ll just have to assume the various campaigns and scenarios are historically accurate.
Game play takes place on a 3D hex-map, and feels much like a board game. An impressive array of ships is available for command. For the micromanager, each ship can be individually controlled, allowing players to determine crew duties, ammunition type, and turn-by-turn sailing direction. For those who like a more hands-off approach, ships can be gathered into sailing groups, allowing the competent AI to take the helm of each individual ship while the bigger-picture tactics are under player control.
As this is a sailing game, wind plays a large factor in the overall combat. Players must learn to master tacking and gaining upwind advantage if they hope to do well. In fact, most fights are won or lost by outmaneuvering the opponents, not by simply overpowering them. Being able to position the readied batteries for a deadly volley, while avoiding as much return fire as possible is a trick I have yet to completely learn. Thankfully, the turn-based nature of the combat allows for some careful consideration of each and every move.
As the fights wear on, ships will undoubtedly take damage. In addition to causing physical damage, catching a barrage of cannon fire will also disrupt the crew for a time. And a disrupted crew is an inefficient crew, meaning less responsive movement, slower reloading of batteries, and a longer response time for damage control. Some cannon loads, such as grapeshot, are designed specifically to damage and panic the enemy crewmembers. After all, many times it’s much more advantageous to decimate the enemy and capture their ship than it would be to send them to the briny deep.
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