There are countless space combat games but it's naval conflict that lends itself best to simulation in board game form because movement and combat in board games tends to be two-dimensional rather than in a three-dimensional plane. Of course, pirates are a common enough board game theme but other naval battle games can often seem niche because they seek to simulate a very specific historical conflict or because they build in complexity that may help with immersion but which can be a barrier to new players. That's arguably the case with the otherwise excellent Captain's Log (PIF Games) and to a lesser extent with Shiver Me Timbers (Weltflucht Verlag). With Old Salt, Tim Ferry III has created a naval strategy game that's accessible and inviting to new players.
Old Salt doesn't seek to recreate a historical scenario and it isn't a pirate game. In Old Salt, the 2-4 players each represent a unique faction drawn from the six that come in the box; each with their own asymmetric abilities. The game has five different types of ship; each with different stats for the number of hit points it can take, the distance it can sail and the range of its cannons. In the interests of accessibility and getting the game off to a quick start, there's a default allocation of six specific ships for each faction, but as an alternative players can all draft their own mix of ships. If you go for drafting, each player has 17 points to spend on ships, with each ship costing 3 points except for the Grunt ship, which costs only 2 points. Having assembled your fleet, you identify your own ships by slotting your faction's mast into the groove on the wooden ship tokens.
The object of the game is to be the first player to control six islands, tho' you can also win by sinking all of your opponents' ships. You need money to seize control of an island and to fire at another ship, but you receive a basic income of 3 coins each round plus more for islands you control and as a bounty for trading in the masts of ships you've sunk.
Basic combat is super simple. You roll the custom six-sided die (0,1,2,3,4,5) and score a hit if you roll a number equal to or more than the range. That means if you're adjacent to your target, you'll score a hit with any dice roll other than the blank. If ships are broadsides on, they can return fire. Damage is shown by stacking tokens beneath the damaged ship. When the number of damage tokens is equal to or greater than a ship's hit point value, that ship is sunk. The victor collects that ship's mast and the damage tokens are spread out across adjacent hexes to represent wreckage. Wreckage becomes an obstacle to shipping, reducing the sailing range of any ship that passes over it.
Old Salt incorporates several modifications, including tweaks linked to some factions' special abilities, but Tim Ferry III's design prioritises accessibility in order to make Old Salt playable as a gateway game: the idea being that players have the option to add further layers of complexity once they are already familiar with the game.
Never Board Games have done a great job with the production of Old Salt, and there's an option of adding a Naval Overhaul Kit to substitute wooden banners, coins and other tokens for the cardboard versions in the core game. They're a very nice addition but there's nothing wrong with the cardboard components. In our plays at Board's Eye View, we've especially appreciated the versatility of Old Salt as represented in the Formations & Maneuvers book, which offers a shipload of 'missions' and scenarios to vary game objectives, including for specific factions. With these in your hold, Old Salt is that great combination of being both easy to play but with almost endless replayability.