Broadsides Review
By Dave Long
Computer Gaming World #39 Volume 3 Number 6 (December 1983)

"Avast there, ye swabs!! Load with chain shot now, me hearties, an' aim fer 'is sails! We'll cripple 'is wings and then dance a pretty ring around 'im..."

Unfortunately, while I was firing at his sails, he was firing at my hull with solid shot, and my sweet ship went to a watery grave just as his masts came crashing down. My problem, as usual, was a poor eye for distance, and the frustration of often seeing my shots splash into the sea while my ship shivered to the impact of his Broadsides.

Thus ended one of my many encounters on the high seas in SSI's new tactical simulation of ship-to-ship battle in the Napoleonic era. Your options during combat are many, your options in selecting and/or creating ships even greater, and when you get frustrated with tactical decisions (like what type of shot to use or which type of sails to hoist), you can opt for the arcade version of the game and just blast away incessantly without bothering over details.


During battle you give orders to your crew of stalwarts by turning the paddles to change the displayed command, and then pushing the paddle button to select your order. Orders can also be given using the keyboard or the Sirius Joyport along with an Atari joystick. The keyboard option is a bit slower than the paddle option, but since both sides play with the same system, it doesn't really affect the play of the game.

Your options during battle are as follows: Turn to Port, Faster Speed, Steady Speed, Slower Speed, Back Sail, Battle Sail, Full Sail, Solid Shot, Chain Shot, Grape Shot, Aim at Sails, Aim at Hull, Fire xxxx Yards (low range), Fire xxxx Yards (mid range), Fire xxxx Yards (high range), and Turn to Starboard.

After selection of your order, the crew acknowledges your command with a snappy "Aye, aye, sir", and begins to implement your desires. Naturally, since these are wooden sailing ships and not formula racers, a command to turn, or change speed or sailing configuration takes time to implement. The larger your ship (under normal circumstances) the slower she is to respond to the helm. Should you happen to give the wrong order, you may find yourself headed for a disastrous loss, since your crew must first respond to your incorrect order and then try to compensate for your ineptness. All this costs time, and the enemy may well be maneuvering to rake your bow while you blunder about.


The combat display is superb. On the left 3/5 ths of the screen, you are shown a seagull's eye view of the engagement, depicting the two ships in relation to one another. Below the ships you are given a two line display showing each side's current victory points, wind speed and direction, and the time of day. Each battle begins at dawn (6:00 AM) and can continue until sunset (6:00 PM), though I've never seen an engagement last that long. Wind speed and direction can change at any time, and the wind can blow in the same 12 directions in which the ships can move. As in real life, these lumbering behemoths of the sea move very sluggishly on a tack, and not at all directly into the wind, but they can really kick up their heels with the breeze at their backs.

'Tis one of the facts of the sea that the wind can shift at crucial moments, and ye'd best be alert, for 'tis foolhardy to be still givin' orders when ye've not noticed the wind shift!

As the ships maneuver, and the distance between them changes, the scale of the gull's eye view changes, going from 1200 yards across the display to 600 or 2400 yards. Should the distance become too great, (1500 to 2000 yards apart) the two ships will disengage and then re-engage one hour later in prime broadside array. You can't run forever!

The right 2/5 ths of the screen shows details about the two ships. Combat begins with a silhouette of the two ships, and a display of your hull points (when they fall to 0 you go to meet Davy Jones in his locker!), your crew strength (lose too many men and you'll strike your colors), current speed, maximum speed, current order selection, and, last but not least, the number and type of guns on each side of your ship.

As you suffer and inflict damage, the ship detail display reflects that damage. You will see holes appear in your hull, watch your crew strength diminish, grimace as your sails are shredded by the enemy, and even be kept up to date on the guns you each lose during action.

When you sink your opponent, or vice versa (much more common in the early games I played) you'll see the ship sink slowly below the waves.

Many actions are decided not by the exchange of broadsides, but rather by cut and parry of your bonny crew on the decks of the two ships. When you close with your opponent, you cast grapples to tie your ships together, the screen changes from the sailing display to the boarding display and, or course, your command options change as well.

During the boarding engagement, crew members are distinguished by the direction they are facing, and you command your men to attack or retreat, fight very aggressively, very defensively, or in balance. You also command your snipers to fire at the enemy on your deck, on their deck, or at the enemy snipers. It's usually wise to avoid firing at your own deck unless things are looking pretty bad, since you may very well miss and kill your own men. "Friendly Fire" was a threat 200 years ago too!

Intelligent use of the boarding option can truly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If your hull is looking more and more like a sieve, and your sails appear more akin to ribbons than sheets, yet your crew remains strong, try to close with the enemy. As you close, fire grapeshot to decimate his crew, for a point blank range you can't miss, and you do double damage. One or two barrages of grape can severely deplete their numbers and then you should tie 'em up. More than once I've saved the day with this tactic, though the enemy will try to fight a defensive boarding action and cast off the cables which bind you together. If this happens, the ships drift apart and play reverts to the sailing screen. Try to close again! Be persistent!

On the other hand, should positions be reversed, avoid a boarding action like the plague! But, should it appear imminent, blast 'em with grape and then try to slash the cables. Just remember, each man you see fall means 10 crew casualties, and you can't fight without a crew!


Five original set ups are given on the game disk, from easiest matchup against the computer to hardest, with two of these available slots on which to save your own matchups. Using the variables, however, you can recreate many of the greatest historical battles, or make up your own. You can change your ship's name, her hull strength, crew strength, number and type of guns carried, speed, turning and reloading time, fire and sniper effectiveness, and boarding casualties inflicted. If you get sick and tired of ending each game with a swim in the drink, make yourself a super ship and go at it anew! The variables pages also allow you to save your newly created matchup under Player Option A or B, to avoid having to re-invent the wheel each time you play.


Victory points are awarded for destroying sails and masts, killing the enemy crewmen, damaging his hull, and for destroying enemy guns. The victor also scores a bonus based upon the elapsed time of the battle. Thus, if you sink him quickly, you'll score more points than if the battle drags on til late afternoon.


Statistics are given for 22 actual ships of the era, perhaps the most famous being John Paul Jones' famous Bon Homme Richard vs. the British Serapis. In addition, historical data is presented for British, French, American and Spanish ships of the era, so you can discover for yourself the whys and wherefores of the tactics of the day. The Spanish, for example, were much slower at turning and reloading, while the Americans, though not inflicting as great a damage as some others, could maneuver and reload faster than most.


Broadsides is an excellent depiction of ship-to-ship combat in the famous age of "Wooden Ships and Iron Men." The graphics are very pleasing, and the historical statistics presented allow you to create a virtually unending array of different battle situations. The arcade game allows you to continue to fight battle after battle with the same ship (so long as you keep winning), while the tactical game makes for a good tournament situation, say best three out of five battles, or most victory points scored during a specified number of engagements.


Broadsides Ad
Developed by Strategic Simulations, Inc
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 2 (April 1984)


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