As I have mentioned earlier, my first preferred naval game in Age of sail was Mark Campbell’s Close Action and it’s two published supplements. Considering that game was published 1997, it had very long career until it ended up having second place. However, because I played the game actively well over decade, it does deserves few words.
First, many people know Avalon Hill classic, Wooden Ships and Iron Men. It was for very long the hex and counter game for Age of Sail. However it did have number of issues that made it neither satisfactory, nor easily correctable in long term. Mark Campbell wrote quite good article about that long ago, and referred to his work on Close Action as to permanently fix the issues that plagued WSIM.
Close Action had several interesting, and at the time very unique ideas, such as impulse movement and plotted moves. For some, Close Action was a game for micromanagers, and accountants but the record keeping was not all that bad, considering what you got with it. The real issue was then, and still is today that in order to play well, a single player should have no more than two ships, but preferably only one. This means that any of the larger scenarios, and required 20+ players it becomes very hard to set up games. All that said, whenever games were set up, they were incredible fun in all their chaotic madness.
Game mechanics were simple, each ship had A4 sheet that contained all necessary information for a ship, including movement log that took major part of the sheet. Each player plotted their move for the turn, and then every move was executed simultaneously. Ships had number of sections for rigging, hull and crew, where damage was marked up as it occurred. After sufficient losses, ships became rather poor in maneuvering and moving about and a bit further they started to take morale checks and crumble altogether. The process of beating enemy into submission was quite interesting, considered that secretly plotted move made it near certainty that someone, usually at your own side made sure that you would not go where you intended to.
While it sounds ridiculously chaotic and unhistorical, there was actually finesse to it. No movements were random (as in some other games that attempt to replicate the controlled chaos that naval battles more or less ended up in) and all boiled down to good coordination between players. This however was seriously undermined by two things that were outstanding. First, you would be granted 5 minute brief, basically admiral telling the rest what is the grand plan, and second, fine adjustments were to be sent by very limited signals during the fight. As we all know how well best of plans survive the contact with the enemy, the stage was set for fantastically chaotic battle.
From all the fun, Close Action does have few faults. The rulebook was amended quite bit in the two supplements, and the original rulebook would need serious rewriting. There was always a slight problems with the accumulated damage and some minor issues with the sailing model, but those were mostly because the compass had 6 directions. Some of the issues that plague the rules are amended in unofficial expansion called ‘Bloody Red Flag’. Designer decided to leave out several concepts altogether. You won’t find fleet morale rules, which lead fleets to fight to bitter end. Since there are no approach rules, ships needed to start very close, because any long way maneuvering would take way too long. Generally games were fairly long and it was not surprise for modest sized game to take 8 hours or more.
Compared to ‘Signal Close Action’, ‘Close Action’ does not feature boats, weather, tides, time of day and other similar features. Small vessels, anything smaller than frigate were quite useless, even against each other, so the game is really only for fleet actions that have larger ships.
While Close Action will likely not land on the table very often due to player and time constraints, Scenario book of Close Action, Monsoon Seas and Rebel Seas are outstanding work. They can be used almost straight away with any other Age of Sail system. Monsoon Seas goes in depth to Indian Ocean operations during times of Hughes and Suffren, and Rebel Seas does the same for American Independence. Additional to the major themes, books have additional details about minor conflicts as well. They will be serving as scenario books to distant future.