I’ve been meaning to pick up these indie games for a while. One – Duty and Honour, is a Napoleonic era game while the other, Beat to Quarters, has a broader remit of the ‘age of sail’. In both cases the basic books would probably serve for running military or naval games from 1700 all the way through to the American Civil War (with a little tweaking). Ostensibly BtQ is set in 1780 onwards and D&H from 1803-1815 but that’s pretty much by the by.
Each game is compatible with the other, though D&H is a little more ‘crunchy’ and BtQ is a little more abstract.
Both games use a card-draw system with draws based on character capabilities compared against a ‘card of fate’ to determine how well you do. How well you match the card with your draws (dependent on your character stats) determines how well you do. Matching suit is good, matching number is better, matching the same card exactly is the best possible. Jokers are wild. Anything else is a fail.
While the games support individual actions of all kinds, the games are meant to be military games and thus operate best at the level they were designed for. That is, the skirmish (unit vs unit action) or ship versus ship. Each character in the unit gets to contribute individual actions and then the quality of their leading officer (along with equipment, ship etc) determines which side wins.
It makes for a relatively quick way to resolve relatively large scale military actions while preserving individual contributions in a way other unit-level games (like Tunnels and Trolls) sometimes fail to do.
The games themselves are relatively short on information presented outside the mechanics, but the explanatory points, lifepaths and GM advice make up for this if you read the book carefully and completely. It’s not like there’s exactly a paucity of information on these periods either, plenty of it online.
Presentation-wise the books are nicely put together, B&W interiors with striking line art by Peter Frain. The art very much sets the tone and feel – alongside some historical illustrations and evokes the proper mood. The writing and viewpoint is unapologetically British and very much anti-French, which is only right and proper.
If you want to run something like Sharpe (spoiler, Sean Bean DOESN’T die) or Hornblower then these are the games for you. BtQ would also be eminently suitable for running a pirates game, or something like Assassin’s Creed 4.
Both games are very hackable indeed and various hacks have been staples at Indiecon for as long as I’ve been attending that convention. I think I recall the system being used for Battlefleet Gothic RPGs, Vietnam war (Tour of Duty) games and many others. Anything unit to platoon, or ship based, it should work a treat for. Flintloque would be another obvious choice if you wanted to take a fantasy angle.
Another huge selling point of the game, I think, is how it is uniquely suited it is to online play. The nature of the card-draw tests and the unit level action means that engagements can be completed relatively quickly and in a more literary fashion suited to the slower, asynchronous style of forum and email RP. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a big step towards making this style of play more complete and effective.
I do wish more customisation were possible for smaller ships in BtQ and that there were more customisation options, but a Games Master can fix this issue with relative ease.
The Final Word: More options! More information on the time period! Pirates! Then it’ll be perfect.