sail: Ship-to-ship combat, in amazing detail

bsd-games continues to impress. Here’s sail, a historical ship combat simulator patterned after an Avalon Hill boardgame.


sail is impressive just for its level of detail, not to mention the fact that the first versions were coded for the PDP-11/70. 😯 Given that, and the fact that sail is intended as a multiplayer game, it’s a wonder how anyone ever played it.

sail shows ships numerically, with their bow to the front. As a ship turns, the stern rotates around it. Wind direction has a very strong effect on the speed and motion of a ship, and if you turn your ship straightaway into the wind, you might find yourself stalled … and a target.

Moving is done by letter and number combinations, all of which is dependent again on the wind and the height of your sails. You can charge forward three spaces and turn to port, for example, and that may be the entire turn for your ship.

Firing will depend on the angle, the profile of the ship (interestingly, hits down the length of a ship do more damage … the man page explains why), the distance and the shot you use.

And don’t forget grappling. And fouling. And boarding parties. And shot types, crew quality, weapon ranges and weather effects. And there are specialized scenarios, some of which step out of the buccaneer era, into World War II and beyond.

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. The man page is extraordinarily helpful, explaining not only the historical frame (1770s to the end of the Napoleonic era) but describes the ships, explains how they moved and fired, and how all those things translate into game terms.

I’m really very pleased to have found sail, in part because it approaches a level of intricacy that isn’t seen in most graphical games, let alone console ones. And because it fills in a small piece of computer history for me, in terms of what preceded the monolithic Pirates! of 1987.

Take your time and ease into sail. Don’t rush in and hope to sink something on the first try. Games like this deserve to be savored. 🙂