My preferred Age of Sail system used to be Mark Campbell’s Close Action. While originally hex and counter game, it does look much better with miniatures. Unfortunately Close Action games are quite long and best when one player controls only one or two ships. While very fun, it was very hard to have sufficient number of players together, for six+ hours.
Later, I encountered very fluent system written by Rod Langton that scales up very well and makes interesting and fun games with less time and with fewer people. Since that, the rules of choice have been 4th ed. Signal Close Action. Fast Edition is very good for larger actions.
Nevertheless, I will not dismiss Close Action entirely. Mark has put significant effort into designing truly excellent scenarios and background material in the core package. Since the publication of the original system, two supplements have been released: ‘Rebel Seas’ and ‘Monsoon Seas’. These alone are reasons good enough to have a copy.
While two additional supplements are not strictly Napoleonic (in fact they are of Seven Years War and American Revolution), they are close enough to involve similar ship designs. Most scenarios are quite manageable in size and relatively balanced in force composition. First one focuses on naval conflict between US/France and England in the northern Atlantic station during revolution. Latter supplement provides extensive view to Indian Ocean and some fantastic scenarios involving Suffren and Hughes.
Most ships that were involved in naval actions were not big ships of the line, but smaller craft such as frigates, schooners, sloops, brigs and gunboats. While most naval war games revolve around the big ship slugfests, there are much more interesting actions that involve smaller vessels. Of course, since they play much faster and require less space, they are ideal for coffee table match.
Signal Close Action handles the small engagements very well.
Given sufficient numbers, small gunboats could put up a good fight against small frigate. As proven by ill treated British naval hero, Thomas Cochrane, a mere brig could under exceptional command subdue Spanish frigate. Fight between Speedy and Xebec frigate Gamo shows that well.
Currently working on: 98 Gun Ship of the Line and various other vessels.