Designer: Tim Ferry III
Publisher: Never Board Games
Year Published: (2022) due to launch to Kickstarter in August 2021 though.
Those of you who recently read my review of Keepers of the Questar may recall that I have recently been experiencing some sort of longing for a newer, updated version of the classic board game of Battle Ship.
However, while I did have a glowing recommendation for Questar, it does need to be said that when comparing it to Battleship, it captures more to the “letter” of the gaming experience than it does the “spirit”—the rule set itself for Keepers of the Questar was a direct evolution of the original game of Battleship, but with the transition to a fantasy/dungeon setting, a bit of something was lost in terms of theme. Because I was still very much looking for a Naval strategy game…
Thankfully, I have been blessed with a new opportunity to share about Old Salt, an upcoming project for Kickstarter which, although offering an entirely different style of game than Keepers of the Questar, manages to fulfill my heart’s desire for a game that captures of essence of what I think of when I think “Naval Combat”.
I will state right-off-the-bat that Old Salt bears no resemblance at all to Battleship in terms of aesthetics and gameplay. It is entirely a new beast unto itself, with a highly original implementation of ideas which I cannot wait to divulge.
But I will say, in the interest of clarification, that when I “think” Battleship, my mind conjures up images of submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers, and more in a drawn out fight to the finish. Not even the original Battleship has gameplay that can live up to its own name in this department, because as mentioned in the original Questar review, the old style of gameplay can be quite placid and static!
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the key gameplay features that Old Salt has to offer :
—Gateway game. I have spoken to the game’s creator, Tim Ferry III, and first-and-foremost, Old Salt was designed to be a game that is not too intimidating, something that can be used to get others interested in the hobby of gaming.
—25-120 minute play time.
—Selectable Player factions for each player. Each faction has 3 unique abilities
— 5 Unique Ship Types to use, each of which offer varying strengths and weaknesses.
And more to be described in just a little bit!
Being that this is a prototype copy of the game, please bear in mind that all features and materials are subject to change, so what you see here may not reflect the final product when it “ships out”.
But with this said, let’s first talk about the visuals.
From a standpoint of quality, I would say that I would expect to be blown away for what people may expect to receive for a final product.
First of all, I love the old, rustic quality to the game board and pieces!
The game board itself manages to pass off that “old pirate map” sort of feel while ironically still maintaining a modern cutting edge to its design, as much of a paradox as that may seem.
The box itself is as grand, with a beautiful sheen to it. The interior is just as splendid , being wonderfully compartmentalized.
There is also a single wooden die that looks like it could have been made a couple hundred years ago, which very much lends to the immersive appeal of the theme.
Each selectable faction has a nice, sturdy board detailing their abilities. In addition, they each sport a nice drawstring bag to neatly sort all of their respective ability tokens, banners, and masts (more on this later).
The “ship” tokens aren’t quite like anything I have ever seen in a game as of yet. While there are 5 distinct types of ships players may purchase for use in this game, there needs to be some way to identify which player they belong to.
Consequently, each ship, represented by a plastic disc, sports a hollow area that neatly fits in the aforementioned “masts” of whatever player owns that particular ship, making it easy to know at-a-glance who the piece belongs to. Neat-o!
There are also some “standard”-ish wooden tokens which will represent damage taken by ships—these are easily stackable directly under ship tokens to make it easy to know how much damage a ship has taken over time.
Others are used to represent “Trade Winds” (more on this later), and some generic cardboard tokens to represent “Coins” in Old Salt, which are used to buy ships at the beginning of the game, or subsequently activate regular or special abilities.
At the time of this preview, there are a few ways to play the game. Some of them revolve around ease-of-use and simplicity (forgoing more “complicated” things such as faction abilities) while others are geared towards more experienced players. We opted to dive into the “heavier” material right off-the-bat!
The game starts with players choosing a faction. These include:
Barbarians : Brutish raiders! Raaaaargh!
Bootleggers : Greedy, Ruthless Tricksters!
Elites: Master Naval Strategists.
Engineers : Resourceful Tinkerers able to craft some witty tools for battle!
Eternals : Enigmatic yet resourceful, with “ghostly” sorts of abilities!
Forgotten : Masters of evasion!
Next, players are allotted 17 coins each to spend as they chose. They may choose to buy as many ships as they can afford, and may even opt to save some coins should they chose to, being able to utilize them later on to power their special abilities and attacks!
The types of ships are as follows :
Grunt—Basic Ship. Nothing special , but it is cheaper than the rest—2 Coins
Leviathan — Has a ship Health of 8 (as opposed to the standard of 5 for all other ships)—3 Coins
Zealot — Gets a free attack every round — 3 coins
Hazard — Can be detonated to cause some massive damage to all adjacent ships! 3 Coins.
Marksman — Has a long range, but cannot fire at ships in close proximity. —3 Coins.
Next, players will chose which islands they control. Players will take turns placing one of their banners in the established player order onto a map island, and then proceed to place more of the banners in reverse order and then regular order again until all players have placed 3 banners.
Next, players deploy half of their fleet (all ships must start adjacent to a controlled island), and then proceed to place the other half of their fleet in reverse player order.
Then the game starts!
The primary objective of the game is to be the first player to control 6 Islands, or to be the only contender left standing (swimming?).
In the event that none of these conditions are met by the time all of the game’s Trade Wind tokens are drawn, there will be a tiebreaker triggered that gives victory to the player who controls the most islands, has the most sailing ships, and coins.
Each turn , a player may move up to three of their ships up to three spaces. It is important to note that the orientation of the ship is actually important in this game, as it may determine how effective attacks may be in certain circumstances! (More on this later).
Even though you may only Sail (move) 3 ships per turn, you may activate as many number of ship’s abilities you wish, provided you have the coins to pay for the actions. For example, a regular Fire action uses 1 coin, and some unique Faction abilities consume 1,2 or even as many coins as you can afford to pay for enhanced effects!
Each round consists of every players turn—When every player has taken a turn, a new round begins, and a Trade Wind token is drawn. (Red , Blue or Green).
These serve as the countdown timer to the end of the game, but also have the added effect of creating a zone on the board that affects movement. If you move on red hexes when the red trade wind is in effect, for example, each red hex you move on generates a bonus movement point (to a maximum of plus 2).
Players who attempt to seize islands to achieve victory will first need to partake in some battle! For it is only by acquiring the mast of a defeated enemy ship that they can then proceed to sail to an island (either contested or uninhabited) and spend a varying number of coins (as well as the aforementioned mast) to conquer the island and claim it as their own, elevating their own banner over the newly acquired territory for all to see!
Otherwise, it is a fight to the death!
Combat is done with the roll of a six-sided die. It is numbered 1-5 and also has a blank face to represent a guaranteed Missed hit. Your ability to hit enemy ships is directly modified by the distance between your ship and the enemies, such that if you are only one space away, you will hit on any roll greater than a 1, whereas if your enemy is 5 spaces away, you require a roll of 5 to hit. Any “Hits” do a single point of damage, which is tracked under each individual ship with stackable wooden tokens.
There are some exceptions to these normal combat applications ; for example, the Marksman ship has an extended range of 9 hexes, so consequently, their countdown of “To Hit” modifiers starts 5 hexes out—the 5th hex requires a roll of 1 to hit, 6th hex requires a roll of 2, etc.
Hazard ships may also self destruct for free during a players’ turn (or for the cost of 1 coin outside of their turn), immediately doing 3 damage to all ships adjacent to it at the time of the explosion. No die roll needed!
Another strategic things to bear in mind as you play this game as you play is that you will need to be keenly aware of your positioning as you move, as this can dramatically affect the outcome of the game! For example you may decide that sailing straight towards an enemy island to seize it looks tempting, but if you leave the broadside (the looooong side) of your ship exposed to an enemy that is directly facing it, this leaves them in a position to fire on their next turn given that you are now easier to hit! This is represented in-game by giving the attacking player a cost-reduction to the normal firing cost—if you opt to spend 2 coins for a Broadside attack, you will get 3 attacks.
However, one must still be careful when employing a broadside attack, as this will also generate 1 free retaliatory shot by the target of the Broadside attack!
Play continues until the above victory conditions are met!
Overall, I find the gameplay for Old Salt to be quite lustrous. Even though it is undergoing tweaks here and there, I am am happy to report that the foundation for the mechanics is quite strong.
It is inevitable that various Faction abilities will get tweaked here and there between now and the final printing of the game, but if development stays on the same track it is on now, I can promise you that things are going to be very well balanced when the final product docks on your local shores.
It has been a pleasure going back and forth with game creator Tim Ferry III, who has been more than helpful in explaining the reasoning behind many command decisions in the game’s design, and he has been more than welcoming of any constructive criticism or suggestions I have had to offer. Given the number of play testers that have been involved to date, I gain the impression that the game has been on the steady course of getting incrementally better with each tweak and revision.
As of yet, I can only think of a few minor issues that could use some tweaking, and Tim has been happy to address my concerns. As is, some of these issues are only cosmetic at this point of time, and are likely to change for the better between now and publication.
I am also happy to report that I find that Tim was true to his design goal of making Old Salt a Gateway game—it is indeed easy to learn, and you can teach someone to play in a matter of mere minutes!
However one point to keep mind after discussing the game with my wife and others is that while Old Salt most definitely meets the most important criteria for being a Gateway game (ease-of-learning), the game still might not be for everyone.
People who delve heavily into strategy-laden games are sure to find an instant hit with Old Salt, while those who have an aversion to games like Chess that require some careful planning and anticipative ability may find themselves not enjoying the game as much.
My wife, as an example, is actually great at competitive games and actually ended up winning her first game against me, despite my presumed superiority in having trained her! (Obi Wan taught her too well, it seems…)
However, by her own admission , she has a tendency to turn into a raging she-hulk when it comes to winning games, and even though she can acknowledge that the game is fun and strategic, the constant desire to win that burns within her coupled with the amount of strategy that comes in games such as this can be a little off-putting to her.
Still, one surefire way I have used to determine whether a competitive game is good or not throughout the years has been watching my wife play it—if she turns green, I know the game is doing something right!
With that being said, you may have gathered that I was initially quite ecstatic when I heard about Old Salt, but now the question as to whether or not my expectations for the game were met remains.
I am happy to report that my initial zeal for the game was quite well-founded. The game is great!
Even though it is not even close to being a “literal” conversion of Battleship, Old Salt satisfies my thirst for Naval Strategy games in a way that is as-of-yet unrivaled. It can easily serve as a gateway game for those who are into competitive gaming at its finest, while offering some pretty great strategic fun at the same time. The unique Faction abilities make for an even more engrossing experience, it is absolutely electric being able to be the only player that can salvage wreckage from other ships, or leave behind a trail of debris that serves as an obstruction for other players! And that is just the tip of the iceberg!
Old Salt has carries highest recommendation, and I very much look forward to seeing the final form it takes!
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer