Oak and Iron – Review/ After action report

So, for the first time this year and I believe with nearly a years gap (gee thanks COVID), a few of us managed to get together and play a game. Rather than meet at the ‘local store’ that we used to play at – whose gaming area is still shut here in Toronto, I hosted the game in my basement. Note the local store is still in Toronto but about an 45 min travel time from me.

I refereed and taught the game rules and had Ernie and Jahan play the different sides. I decided and format of the forces as well. We did not use some of the extra rules – such as we ignored nation characteristics special abilities for example. This was our first run out with Oak and Iron game so that seemed ok to do that. Also none of us are experts at naval warfare which will be apparent in the game write up. I also did a few minor things wrong with the rules as well – but that’s normal for first plays I find (for me at least). Nothing major though and this was learning/trying new rules for us.

To cut to the end, we all liked the game and it fit together well as a system. Oak and Iron really feels like a naval game. Although simplified to some extent compared to some systems you do get to deal with the wind and sail controls. It uses a movement system which feels a little like X-wing with templates but that I think is a good thing as it in the end reduces a lot of complexity of movement as well. The force creation rules also allows for a large amount of modification/customization of forces. I think the rules will work for small engagements such as what played through to ships of the line. With the game covering the 17th and 18th centuries this was before the time of the British naval dominance of the Napoleonic periods. This time has lots of smaller forces and pirates of course.

The game setup was two 50 point forces – the smallest size of normal game. You can see them set out above. That size also limits the size of ship so I went for an English for with 5 ships – some of them the smallest ships in the game, but a good Admiral vs a Dutch force with 4 slightly larger ships but a novice Admiral.

A nice thing in the game is that you use cards for deciding the scenario. This feels a little like Warcry but it works well IMO and adds a little interest and randomness to the game. The combination of different sides having slightly different victory factors and placements etc will be good for replay. We had some questions on one of the cards and that was confusing (we played it wrong) but a question to the facebook page got that resolved for next time.

The game started with the two sides facing one another with a large island in the center of the table and a point on the far side from both sides deployment as a target for blockading for the Dutch. The British objective was to keep 2 of their bigger ships safe for the whole game. The wind was coming from the top of the table as shown below, which meant the English had the wind behind them, while the Dutch were sailing somewhat into it.

Interestingly, in this game part of your force build out is your selection of initiative cards. These each not only control who goes first in a turn but also give your side a little boost that turn. The kicker is you have to decide the card for next turn at the start of the previous turn (1 game turn ahead). So some planning/luck is involved to get the right bonus at the right time. Then ships move and then fight alternatively, but in an order decided by the initiative on the command cards.

Each ship in turn calculates its base speed and then in most cases can try a steamship skill test. If passed a ship can make an extra turn or change its speed slightly. Then the ship moves using a template and after that the crew does an action. This action is like repairs, reloading a broad side etc. When all ships have moved then again alternating but by the initiative order they can shoot at other. Moved ships get wake markers as reminders that they have moved and those get removed after they have shot. It’s a simple yet effective way of doing that.

In the first turn the English fleet at the bottom ‘broke up’ and started gong in all sorts of directions – with large sails as well. The Dutch meanwhile realized that heading nearly into the wind (the wind was from the bottom of the board below), made for slow sailing. They had to do some fancy sailing not to crash into each other at one point as well. Putting the biggest and slowest ship in the front of the line maybe was not the greatest idea.

The English small ships in the front to their line maneuvered to get shots off at the leading Dutch Galleon. This was some of the the smallest ships in the game facing off vs. the biggest on the table. That said they could have done some damage but with Ernie at the dice that did not happen. Generally the Dutch Galleon was subject to raking shots at least 4 or 5 times and I do not think ever suffered a hit from it – so much for the gunnery of the English.

Damage on ships is measured in fatigue and damage. All ships as standard can take up to 6 of each but especially for bigger ships it takes more hits to do a point of damage. Fatigue effects the skill and other checks though so smaller ships can annoy and whittle away at the larger ones. I was unsure of the complexity of this system but in play we quickly got the hang of it.

Back to our game and the Dutch galleon with their admiral on board carried on alone trying to get around the island in the original direction of travel. Meanwhile the other ships in the Dutch fleet turned to sail towards the other end of the island and their objective. The English fleet also split up with one small ship continuing to engage the galleon and chase the Dutch, while the rest sailed line abreast at full sail on the other side of the island to the Dutch. Their light ships continued to fire shots at long range with the Dutch Galleon, with little lasting success.

The next turn the Dutch played a ‘one use initiative card’ – with a little more effect but then it is taken from the game. This added some shoals to protect the galleons rear from the fast moving light English ship moving round it. Both players had revealed the same value initiative card so that trigger an event – which was a temporary hazel or some such which reduced fring ranges that turn. This saved the Dutch from more shots but the English gunnery.

However, the Dutch poor seamanship played a part as well and one of their ships hit the island! You might think it was an extra shot or two of the ‘Dutch courage’ to blame… but you would be wrong. A poor seamanship roll and continuing to misjudge how the ships moved was more the cause. Still, luckily for them no damage was done from this poor sailing but we had a laugh about it for sure.

The Dutch had an objective at the other end of the island and in the last few turns of the game they got close enough with half their ships to secure this. The English in the mean time tried to get their ships to hit them doing that, but the island and their own ships started to get in the way of effective shooting. The Dutch at this point had started to get their eye in on the gunnery side of things. The slightly larger Dutch ships had more cannons (i.e. more dice to roll) as well which started to hurt the smaller English ships.

I assume to avoid congestion one of the smaller english ships tried to sail on the inside of the island to get between the Dutch and the island. The problem with this was it exposed that ship to a lot of fire with little room to use it’s maneuvering to escape. It did allow for the bigger English ships to engage though and more boardsides were exchanged now between the sides. This started to have an effect on both sides with damage being scored.

The Dutch admiral was a little stranded in his galleon on the other side of the island. You can see the ship at the top of the shot below (yes I moved around the table). The small English ships had left him be by now and raced to the other side of the table to see if they could help their fellow ships.

In the last couple of turns the pounding of the small English ship near the island continued to the point that it was put out of action. The English fleets initial break apart in the end served them badly as their ships got in each others way. This made them overall them less effective than the Dutch.

The English had more guns and ships but getting the best of all of them is not always easy. I think the Dutch had a slightly easier time with fewer bigger ships. The Dutch ships tried to maneuver around the still floating but out of action English ship and keep close to their objective marker. This made them better able to support each other.

Both sides pounded each other in the last couple of turns, with cannon and musket shot. Each gave as good as they got but the Dutch being together allowed them to often focus on the same target. But although damage was done on both sides no other ship was taken out of action.

So, the game ended on turn 10, with neither side having a complete victory, The Dutch had taken an English ship and out of action and completed their objective, vs.the English who just completed their objective. So in the end it was a Dutch victory.

Overall, I made some mistakes on the rules (reading them for a 3rd time after playing the game helped see those), but everyone enjoyed the game and we will be playing it again. The models work well on the table and the overall feel of the game was great. It’s also good to be playing face to face games with people again.

So there we are. Oak and iron gets the thumbs up and the main thing is we had a fun time playing the game. I would recommend anyone wanting to play a naval rules for the age of pirates/age of sail to give the game a good look.

About mellis1644

A painter and gamer who has no illusions about being the best painter but likes to play with decently painted toys and have fun gaming
This entry was posted in 17th Cent, 18th Cent, After Action Report, naval, Pirates, ship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Oak and Iron – Review/ After action report

  1. Sounds fun. I like that how you use the ships matters at least as much as what the ships are.

    • mellis1644 says:

      Yes this is a sailing ship game where maneuvers matter but are not so key as to overpower everything, which I hear sails of glory can suffer from. It seemed a good balance from our first game

  2. Argentbadger says:

    Sounds like a lot of fun, thanks for taking the time to write about it. I liked how you set slightly different forces for each side even though a mirror match might have been a bit easier on the rules-reading.

  3. Nice to read that the community side of things in your neck of the woods is starting to return to some sort of normality. 🙂

  4. Enjoyed the report, Mark! 🙂 Nice looking game! Didn’t take long for those nice initial formations to break up!

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