I have been playing the re-issue of Ironclads with the expansion kit on hand. The Yaquinto version will be much the same although some errata has been corrected and the Excalibre cards are of higher quality. On the other hand Yaquinto maps are rather more solid than the glossy Excalibre versions. It is worth noting that the 4 map sections are designed to match up in various ways to reflect different rivers and coasts. These are green coast lines printed to reflect this with some lines not in use during a scenario. There are also areas of white shoal. Some of these are not clearly labelled making it hard to decide exactly which are in use during a scenario. The coast and shoal lines do not always match up too well. You will need to keep multiple map sections together and mark which coasts and shoals are in use.
The rules for movement and firing are simple enough but require a good few more variables than say "Wooden Ships and Iron Men", explaining why the equivalent size of game will take a lot longer. Movement is the typical simultaneous plot although when vessels are far apart they need not move a space at a time and could even do away with plotting if points of turning are noted to keep track of turning circles. Except at slow speeds most craft have pretty poor turning circles and all tend to have limited ability to increase or decrease speed. The current also has an affect slowing or speeding up craft depending on the direction of flow. This together with sans banks, torpedo's or other obstructions and the river banks will limit where anyone is going to want to go. This reduces the degree of pure guessing involved in the simultaneous movement system, it will tend to be clear where the opposition is going and he cannot change his mind in a hurry.
Combat in theory is simple, you roll dice and look up tables, unfortunately there is a lot of looking up involved. Every gun must check to hit, if it hits the gun's penetration at that range is checked against the portion of the ship hit (found by die roll). Another roll will tell the effect, possibly nothing or damage and rolling on subsequent penetration, critical or special tables. A good hit will have a roll for damage, another for penetration and a 3rd for the critical. Most hit effects are losses on the target's armour, hull, crew and floatation. Armour depends on the location hit, hull, crew and location are lumped together for the whole target. These factors all have to be recorded together with any extra effects from critical or special hits with a sinking coming from reducing the hull or floatation to 0. An optional rule allows vessels to surrender based on crew losses and is worth incorporating in the game. It is possible to sink with a single shot, I did it in one pretty rapid game but as a rule ships will gradually get weaker until the criticals mount up to disaster. The degree of damage depends on the gun's penetration and target's armour so constant pounding at a single location although unlikely will increase the possibility of damage. Due to the reliance on the dice a poor shot may inflict a special hit, making it worth rolling for unlikely shots. A good chance can also turn up a poor result. The damage is logged on sheets for each vessel although it is slightly easier to photocopy the data card for each ship and mark off the results on this. There is less space with the copy compared to the boxes on a log sheet but the copy also includes the gun details meaning that the game will play with just these play sheets rather than the play sheets and the data card for each vessel. You still need the master tables as well in either case.
The size of game that can be handled depends on the numbers of guns in use rather than number of ships. Many Union monitors only have 2 guns which may not fire every turn. 2 to 6 guns is quite common for many ships and if these are not in turrets they will not all be firing every turn. This is not always the case particularly for ocean going steam frigates and some of the European vessels in the expansion kit. These can often fire 20 or more guns in a single broadside. There are rules in the expansion kit to reduce the number of dice rolled to see what guns hit but every single hit will have to be followed through to see what damage results. Forts are a similar problem with a very high potential number of guns. In this sort of situation there will be a big lag between the periods of manoeuvre and all the dice rolling required to see what will happen to the shot. All the guns can fire shot (for good penetration) or shell (handy to start fires) as well as various optional loads that I skipped. As a rough guide fire shot at long range then switch to shell as the target weakens or range closes. Multiple fires can sink a ship faster than firing at it.
As an example I will run through the 1st scenario, the Monitor and the Merrimac in a wide river bay with scattered shoals and coast around the 4 map sections laid in a square (about SPI game size). The Merrimac has 2 supporting wooden vessels, the Monitor has 1 tug and must protect a huge frigate laid up on shoals. Initial skirmishing saw the Merrimac and its support vessels sneak past the Monitor having knocked out the Union tug. The Monitor and Merrimac then shot at each other while the CSN wooden vessels went after the frigate. By keeping out of range of most of its guns they were able to destroy it although they took a few hits and one wooden vessel went down. The Monitor was disabled and the damaged Merrimac limped home, mission accomplished. When the Union frigate got off a full broadside you knew about it. That is a 2 or 3 hour game with interesting victory conditions and well matched forces (the Monitor had to fire with reduced charges).
The 2 games reflect a lot of cash for small size games, fleet actions would require a lot of players with dedicated die rolling. This can be handled by computer but at cost of having to play next to the machine. Minatures could easily be used at extra cost with the problem that either many ships must be bought or occasionally having to make 1 model double up as something else. There is no need to get the expansion kit to fully experience the system, it is mainly a source of more vessels. Still the way that games go in and out of print it is an incentive to buy it anyway as it may suddenly vanish.