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6 Questions: Mike Nagel on Captain’s Sea

Mike Nagel’s first design credit through BoardGameGeek comes with the 2005 release of Sun of York: The War of the Roses 1453-1485 released by GMTGames. That same year, Mike released Flying Colors with GMT Games after a period of self-publishing for this now legendary age of sail game. Flying Colors and the 4 published and 1 unpublished addons that followed comprise the most comprehensive fleet level gaming system ever created. Nagel’s games cover a variety of other topics, but his game Captain’s Sea will be published by Legion Wargames in the next month or so.

Captain’s Sea takes us back to the Age of Sail, and specifically to the founding of the United States Navy with its original Six Frigates. The game had a circuitous route to publication, but the dedication from Mike and his publishing partners at Legion Wargames are ensuring that everyone will once again get to visit the Age of Sail through Mr. Nagel’s eyes. That is a worthy treat!

We’ll be tackling this new game in just six questions!

Was Captain’s Sea inspired by the duels map and work you did within Flying Colors? What were other inspirations (books, games, other media?)

Captain’s Sea was inspired by a couple of things. As you note, the duels map (or more accurately, the duel process) that was introduced with Serpents of the Seas has always felt a little “off” for me. Although it works well within the confines of the Flying Colors game mechanics, some of the effects that players experience are a little odd. In particular is what I call the “rubber band” movement effect. Since movement is sequential, one ship (call is the “chased”) extends the range between it and its pursuer and then the pursuer “snaps” forward to follow. Obviously, gunnery occurs when this rubber range effect is at its shortest. So, it works, but it’s weird. The other inspiration are all of the ship-on-ship battle diagrams found in texts like Teddy Roosevelt’s book on the Naval War of 1812 that show the intertwining movements of the ships as the battle unfolded. I thought it would be cool if players could sort of create one of those diagrams as play unfolds.

What is the main idea that you hope your game gets across to tabletop captains about ship-to-ship combat in the early 19th century?

Players should quickly understand that the controlling the “weather gage” is key to victory. Having a superior position relative to the wind provides a ship with a lot more flexibility in bringing its guns to bear on the enemy. I’m also looking to getting the players closer to the action so that they understand what’s happening aboard a ship, rather than staring at a fleet from five thousand feet up.

When thinking about a 6, 8, or 12 point facing system, how did you settle on 8 and what do you think players will most enjoy about this decision?

I’ve been playing around a lot with using squares rather than hexagons to regulate movement in battle, particularly with regards to linear warfare. With a slight increase in movement complexity, I feel that squares provide a better simulation in tactical combat (where facing might matter). Of course, what’s being simulated plays a big role in the decision to move from hexes to squares, so mileage varies. To paraphrase Monty Python, “12 points is right out!” Seriously, when using squares a unit still moves from square to square. When using 12-point facing, units move hexes to hex-sides to hexes. Handling turning from a hex to a hex-side (or vice-versa) is too much of a “kluge” to me. A player that want’s that level of maneuverability should consider dumping the board and moving to a miniatures game where movement is not hampered by a grid.

You included at least one scenario for each of the original six frigates of the United States Navy. What were some interesting events that you hoped to capture in the scenario selection for these ships and what kind of “what if” scenarios might folks be able to explore with the provided components?

To be honest, most of the historical actions were quite one-sided. The Constitution pretty much blew her opponents out of the water. So, players get the opportunity to try to defeat Old Iron Sides, or at least do better against her than their historical counterparts. There are, however, more closely run battles included in addition to the one I believe is the most interesting, the Chesapeake versus the Shannon (where the ship was infamously “given up”). This battle never should have happened, and the Chesapeake was woefully unprepared for battle. Players have the opportunity to replay with her historical limitations, or give her the crack crew she should have had before engaging to see how she might have fared against Shannon. Captain’s Sea provides players the ability to pair any ships against each other and two tweak several factors to easily create what-ifs.

It seems like the event cards are at least partially inspired by the old Enemy in Sight games with cards that must be played immediately and some you can hold. What drove the decision to add cards to the game and how have play-testers used this mechanic to their advantage?

Not at all. Although I played Enemy In Sight years ago, I haven’t taken a look at it until recently while creating the “Beat to Quarters” expansions for Flying Colors (which are available on The events in Captain’s Sea came more from the maneuver cards provided in Serpents of the Seas to help mix up the duel rules. Some were environmental that affected both ships (play now), while others might provide an edge to help a player (hold). As to why they’re included at all, it’s to help add more flavor to the experience. A captain should have an ace up he sleeve, but should always feel a certain level of uncertainty. The cards provide this effect. In retrospect, it’s funny that you thought I got the idea from Enemy in Sight. That just goes to show that none of us design in a vacuum and that there’s nothing new under the sun.

What are your future plans with the Captain’s Sea system (if any) and what advice would you give to folks who are excited for this game’s release?

If the game system is sufficiently well received, I have plans for an expansion that focuses on the exploits of John Paul Jones and the various ships that he commanded. Beyond that, it’s easy enough to create more ship data cards allowing just about any ship to be brought into the game.

To those who have been patiently waiting for Captain’s Sea to be released, particularly those who supported the game when it was originally to be published by GMT Games, my heart-felt thanks. I had a great time designing the game, and it’s been a tough waiting to get it to your hands. Thanks to Randy Lein as Legion for helping make it happen. I think you’ll al find that the wait was worth it!


We are all anxiously awaiting the release of Captain’s Sea. Please check out WargameHQ’s other article called Six Reasons to Check Out Captain’s Sea if this interview piqued your interest!

I want to extend a gigantic thank you to Mike Nagel for his willingness to answer my questions with thoughtful responses when I contacted him out of the blue. His gracious spirit exceeds the quality of his designs and as someone who adores those designs…I cannot give him higher praise! I would also like to thank Legion Wargames for giving Mike the leeway to participate in an article like this pre-publication and for carrying this title through to publication after a long trek through the CPO process. I’m certain it will be worth the wait!

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