The Ballbusch Review: On the Seven Seas

Here are a set of rules for battles with and amongst pirates.  In and of itself piratical engagements are not going to play out any differently than any other 18th Century naval engagement, skirmish, or gang-fight as the case may be.  However, pirates have long stood tall in the popular imagination.  So, as is the way of things, we have pirate specific rules.

 They look like pretty average members of the merchant marine to me.

Author:               Chris Peers
Pages:                 64 (Softcover)
Publisher:           Osprey (2014)
Price (2015):       $12.96 (Amazon)
On the Seven Seas is one of Osprey’s budget paperback rules series.  The book is filled with images of North Star Miniatures’ new Pirate range, and pictures culled from Osprey’s various pirate titles.  One also notes that these rules come from the pen of the indomitable Chris Peers, known to most of us, of course, for his work on the military history of Imperial China.
On the Seven Seas (hereafter OtSS) is designed for games between two or more ‘factions’ of 15-30 miniatures each.  A specific scale is not given, but there is a clear bias in favor of 28mm figures.
The sequence of play follows an Igo-Ugo format with four phases: morale, shooting, movement, and hand-to hand combat.  The other player(s) receive no opportunity to respond during an opponent’s turn.  However, both combatants have a chance to win in hand-to-hand combat, and any figure removed by shooting is allowed to fire in the following turn.
Fire combat is resolved on a figure-by-figure basis.  Any model scoring a (modified) 10 or more or a D10 hits his target.  Saving throws are allowed in some circumstances, but generally any ‘hit’ is incapacitating or fatal.  Various missile weapons impart different effects, such as being able to fire twice, reduce saving throws, etc.
Unlike shooting, hand-to-hand combat is resolved as a contest between combatants.  Each player rolls a die and modifies his score according to situational factors.  The figure with the highest modified score wins the combat.  The difference between the two player’s scores determines how unpleasant the results of defeat are.
Ballbusch family reunions are always such fun!
There are no rules for measuring a figure’s individual skill.  While special abilities may great modifiers to either shooting or hand-to-hand combat, fundamentally every single figure has identical martial potential.  This
makes weapons of prime importance as a figure with a sword enjoys a notable advantage over one with a club or knife.
Central to the piratical theme of the rules factional psychology is governed by two metrics: Fear and Greed.  Rated on a scale of 1-10 these represent the internal struggle between the lust for plunder and the desire to survive.  The faction with the highest greed goes first.  If a faction’s fear reaches 10 it withdraws from the table.  Both of these scores are highly mutable and players may attempt to alter his faction’s ratings and those of his opponent during the course of a turn.
Also included are a set of simple rules for ship-to-ship actions that primarily serve as a prelude to boarding actions. OtSS clearly intends much, if not most, of the action to take place on the high seas.  Scale model ships are mentioned, but the rules are usable with paper cut outs of deck plans.
And there you have it.  This review is short because the rules are short.  To go any further would really just have me start to recite the book in detail.
OPINIONATED COMMENTARY!!!!!!!!!!
One thing that should be said right off the bat is that these are a simple set of rules.  The author struggles to fill 63 pages, and you could probably write a detailed summary in a page.  When I first read through them my initial thought was ‘well, I could’ve written this in an afternoon’, and I haven’t really chanced that assessment.  This goes for anyone, you probably haven’t written a set of skirmish-level pirate rules, but if you did OtSS isn’t going to be a notable improvement.
Looks historically actuate to me
The lack of any individual characteristics means that a stripped down version of GURPS or AD&D is going to give you a whole lot more opportunities for swashbuckling and high adventure (really, no chance to cry ‘Ha!  I’m not left-handed’ in a pirate adventure game, really?).  However, in the interests of fairness I see that this was not really the point of the rules.
As I said before, these are simple rules.  There is no bookkeeping of any kind, indeed no demand for even a paper army list.  Besides noting which figures have a special ability you can play right out of the box, so to speak.  This board game aspect means that you could play OtSS with non-wargamers or young children.
Even taking the rules on those terms there are issues.  The ranges for missile weapons are ridiculously short, like shorter than movement distance short.  This coupled with the relative difficulty of hitting anything makes simply charging the obvious tactic.
Fear and Greed is a perfect example of an awesome idea poorly realized.  A morale system made up of multiple competing factors that affect the behavior of your troops?  Yes, please.  Unfortunately, in practice it is simply who gets the first turn and who loses the game.  Very disappointing, I have to say.
For an easy set of pirate rules you can play while drunk, and a bunch of pretty pictures for under $20 they get the job done.  But, then again Song of Blades and Heroes exists.

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  • Thuloid

    I hate to make this the first comment, but I’m going to scream an endless scream of desolation and madness if the apostrophes don’t stop turning into question marks soon.

    • Bush Craft

      Not sure if my screen cracked from the onslaught of question marks, or my hands are just cleanching too hard from the irritation of it.

      • Thuloid

        Sometimes typos are typos, but this one is gold: “fundamentally every single figure has identical marital potential.” I so want to play a game of Corsets and Cutlasses: Pirate Matchmaker.

        • Man, that’s awesome. Right up there with the time a buddy made some Vampire: The Masquerade character sheets with the stat “Viscous” instead of “Vicious”

          • Thuloid

            That deserves some exploration, rules-wise.

          • Gotta be some slow and purposeful type rule 😉

          • Von

            Could have been worse, could have been Viscousissitude.

  • Surely there is only one criteria for the success or failure of a pirate themed game how many times you shout Yarggh matey avast

    Ps I fucking hate discuss it only loads about one time in three and hangs like a bastard whilst your trying to type

    • Bush Craft

      But, and this is crucial, it DOES NOT forget what you type if your (my) fat fingers press “reload” instead of “post”…

      • Well I too suffer from pudgy finger syndrome (that’s totally a real disability and I think I should be allowed to park in disabled spots on account of it 😉 )

        But I don’t think we’ve addressed the hidden costs if this changes what has happened to poor old modbot have provisions been made for his retirement or has he just been cut adrift to aimlessly wander the interwebz in search of lengthy comments to lose sleeping rough under bridges with nothing but old cardboard boxes for shelter performing unspeakable acts on vile men for enough change for a cup of tea

        • Bush Craft

          Alls I knows is: I haven’t been called an Invalid Nonce since the switch.

          • Well for old times sake your a Invalid Nonce 😉

          • Bush Craft

            That needed a trigger warning. Goddamn intense debate.

          • I suppose that could be considered a negligent discharge 😉

          • Von

            The viscous vampires thread is up there. Keep your discharges confined to the topic. :p

          • “I have discharged my duties Neil now you discharge yours”