Difference between revisions of "Van Veen's guide for new players"
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Revision as of 09:59, 14 September 2020
This guide is intended to give new players a first orientation in Naval Action.
- 1 Starting out
- 2 Economy
- 3 Ranking up
- 4 Ships
- 5 Sailing
- 6 Battle Tactics
- 7 External Resources
Choose a nation
When you create a new character, you have to choose a nation for it. Nation membership cannot be changed, unless you have the Prolific Forger DLC, so choose your nation carefully. If you do not have this DLC, the only way to change nation is to delete your character and create a new one.
Do not be confused by in-game help texts on the difficulty level of each nation. Just ignore it. More important is the current situation on the server. Felix Victor's Naval Action Map will give you the best overview of the state of affairs.
Depending on your nation choice, you will start in your national capital or, for nations that do not have a capital, in Shroud Cay.
Tutorial and Exams
First thing and top priority is this: do the in-game Tutorial. By all means, finish the exams first!
Going through the exam or passing the tutorial is not mandatory. So you can skip this if you prefer to do that. Or, in case you get stuck on one lesson or another, you can take a break, do something else (see below) and resume the lessons at a later stage.
But do not wait too long, as the tutorial teaches you how to
- sail a ship,
- use your guns,
- board a ship,
- repair, and
- how to win against superior numbers.
All of the above is essential knowledge. Without this, you have zero chance in this game. Use the tutorial to practice. You can repeat any tutorial step as many times as you like.
However, the best part is the rewards you receive for passing the exams:
- instant promotion to rank 6 allowing you to crew a medium size frigate,
- repairs, and
- ship notes.
There is no easier nor faster way to rank up and obtain ships and repairs to carry you through the first battles.
Some tutorial lessons are hard (especially the demasting lesson) and the exams are a true challenge. Even veteran players frequently need more than one attempt to pass. If you feel you are stuck, do something else in the meantime (see below), but resume your tutorial effort as soon as possible.
Note that you will receive the rewards in the port you are sitting in when you start the exam. You might want to think about where it is best to have your repairs and ship notes. If you think your starting port might not be the best port, establish an outpost first. Many players like to receive exam rewards (especially the repairs) in Shroud Cay to fuel their early patrol zone adventures in the shallow waters.
So, you have finished your exam and call yourself a Master and Commander? Congratulations! You can be proud of yourself! The final exam is not easy, even for veteran players.
However, in a real battle against a player, you will very likely not stand a chance. Be prepared to get sunk A LOT. For the moment, I'd advise you to not use the ship notes you got from the exams until you have more experience, but this is up to you. Just be warned that ships do not last long. Sooner or later you will lose every ship you own, so do not get attached to it.
Do not sail what you cannot afford to lose.
When (not if) you get sunk, take it easy. This is part of the game and learn from your mistakes. It sounds like a phrase, but it's actually true: only by failing, you will improve.
The risk-free approach is to sail out in a Basic Cutter. Basic Cutters can be bought in the ship auctions in any port for the cost or zero reales, so getting sunk in a Basic Cutter has no negative impact. Basic Cutters are rarely targeted by enemy players, because they are usually not worth the effort and hard to catch up with. Target NPC traders, e.g. Trader Brig or Le Gros Ventre around your starting port, attack and capture them. By default, you can take one ship in fleet, so you can capture a trader, bring it home and sell ship and cargo for money. Here are some videos how to take on a LGV in Basic Cutters. And here is a video tutorial how to capture a big trader in a small square rigged ship.
Note that capturing ships give less XP than sinking the ship. You also receive more XP when fighting a larger ship (in terms of BR). Sinking LGVs in Basic Cutters therefore yields a nice amount of XP.
You can get yourself a Trader Lynx and do some delivery missions to get some cash money at almost zero risk. Deliveries do not require any investment apart from the ship you sail in. Note that you can enter enemy ports in a trader ship only. If you are in a war ship or have a war ship in fleet (a Basic Cutter is a war ship), you cannot enter an enemy port. Ask in nation chat where there are safe and profitable mission routes.
Stay away from the patrol areas if you do not like to fight versus other players. You will be targeted in whatever ship. There is no mercy in the patrol zone, because any damage done counts. Patrol zones are marked by crossed swords in a big circle on the map.
When you have a small amount of reales to spare, hop into a small fast ship and sail to the ports you want to have an outpost at. Creating an outpost allows you to dock a ship in that port, stock items in the warehouse and let's you jump ("teleport") from one outpost to another for a small amount of doubloons.
If you have the Hercules DLC, use this ship immediately after you finished the final exam. Get an outpost in the shallows of the Bahamas (preferably Shroud Cay), stack some repairs there and fight it out. You can redeem a new DLC ship every day, so there is little risk when losing it. Just buy cheap medium cannons in the shop and don't mind expensive ship mods. If you have some basic mods to spare, throw some of them on and go for it. In the patrol zone, every damage you do to any other ship (NPC or player) counts and you will receive 3 combat medals for 6k damage points, 6 combat medals for 20k damage and so on as shown in the events screen in port. Do not forget to claim your rewards when you are done for the day.
Naval Action is a team game. There are solo players and lone wolves, but these are odd creatures, and they are very rare. I strongly recommend you to join a clan to learn the ropes, get help and support in terms of ships and gear. Ask in nation chat for recruiting clans.
No matter if you are in a clan or not, sailing in a group gives you more options and is always more entertaining. Even as an unexperienced player in a small frigate, you can join a bigger fleet and do some scouting and tagging. Get voice communication via Teamspeak or Discord or whatever going with your team mates, so you can communicate more efficiently. Get tips from more experienced players and learn how to sail in a group.
Watch the Combat Log to see where the action is on the map currently. Watch nation chat for warnings on enemy player presence or joint operations. Be aware, that many players have multiple accounts and therefore there are spies in every nation. So, do not announce your actions in nation chat. Use private chat, battle group chat or clan chat instead.
If you have a question or do not understand a game mechanic, post your question in the Help chat.
Delivery missions are good for making money at almost zero risk and zero investment. Just grab a captured Traders Brig or a fast Traders Lynx and run some delivery and passenger missions. Stay in safe waters, choose friendly ports as destinations and you should be able to make a good amount of reals and doubloons with no effort.
You might want to build up some production facilities to generate a basic income. Or, if you are in a clan running a ship line, your clan might ask you to contribute certain resources. In both cases you need to set up manufacturing facilities.
A simple way to make money is to produce rum and sell it at PVP hotspots like Tumbado, Shroud Cay, La Tortue, La Mona or in national capitals. Rum production requires only two buildings, a sugar plantation and a workshop. Check NA map where sugar plantations can be created naturally. Some ports might be more developed by the owning clan and you can produce a larger variety of resources there. Ask your clan or in nation chat in which port you should best get settled. Make an outpost and get together the cash you need to start producing. Rum weighs only 0.1 per item, so you can transport >4000 in a Trader Lynx. You can sell rum for up to ~175 reales per item yielding huge profits. Note that you are not the only one with this idea and prices will drop sharply when supply is larger than demand. Monitor prices at free towns or check NA map (turn on "show trades" option in settings) for contract prices before deciding where to sell.
Trading is a highly profitable, yet risky activity. There are plenty of profitable trade routes out there. All you need is a Traders Brig and a little money to invest. As a new player, you should not invest all your money into one trip. Remind yourself that you should not sail what you cannot afford to lose.
There are some general rules to help you select profitable trade routes.
- Trade goods "drop" in certain ports (check NA map), but are consumed only in regional capitals.
- Free towns are not good for trading. They do not drop any goods of value and consume only some goods. Apart from that, waters around free towns are dangerous for traders.
- More expensive products are usually more profitable.
- Trade goods drop in certain regions (usually 2 to 3 neighbouring counties) and are not consumed there.
- The further away from the producing region you sell a trade good, the higher the profit.
To increase profit, you might want to take more than one trade ship. Everyone can take one ship in fleet. If you like to take more than one fleet ship, you have to select the "Fleet 2" or "Fleet 3" perk, allowing you to take two or three ships in fleet respectively. If you have passed the final exam, you could fully crew four Traders Brigs with a total of 6800 tons of hold. Selecting the "Hold Optimization" perk further increases the hold size of your main ship, but not of your fleet ships.
Traders Brigs can be bought for little money in most ports or can be captured in open world from NPC ships. In deep waters you will find Le Gros Ventre trade ships as well, but I do not recommend to use them as traders. Traders Brigs are cheaper, have only slightly smaller hold size, are faster and can sail shallow waters, so they are a better overall choice. When you can spare the money to buy an Indiaman, be sure to have the rank to fully crew it. It is strongly recommended that you only sail ships you can fully crew.
In order to rank up you need to gain XP. XP are gained by combat only. There is a small amount of XP obtained by simply sailing from one port to another, but this is absolutely negligible.
XP gained depend on
- the damage you do during battle,
- the BR ratio of your ship to the other ship, and
- if the other ship is an NPC or a player.
Basically, the higher the BR difference between you and your enemy, the higher your XP reward. If you have the Hercules DLC, use your Hercules and start sinking Le Gros Ventre traders. These are easy targets that can be farmed even with Basic Cutters. Move on to take out 5th rate frigates and when you are ok with that, move on to sinking 4th rates, then 3rd rates and so on.
Fighting and sinking enemy players yields higher XP than sinking NPCs. Again, if you have a DLC ship, just use it and go to the patrol zones. You will learn a lot and obtain XP on the way. If you don't have a DLC ship, just capture an NPC ship and do the same.
Gaining Ship Knowledge
You can unlock five ship knowledge slots for each ship type. This allows you to apply knowledge books to your ship and get bonus for various things (e.g. speed, sailing, cannon reload, repair etc.). Ship knowledge are powerful bonuses that you do not want to miss. To obtain these, you first have to obtain XP in exactly this ship type to unlock the knowledge slots. Then, you can apply any book knowledge learnt to that slot.
It is therefore worth thinking ahead which ship you want to use and focus on one or two ship types at a time.
You learn ship knowledge by using books. You can buy books in shops, obtain them from chests, find them by looting ships or trade them with friendly players. There are special books that can be combined to very powerful encyclopedias (i.e. Gunnery Encyclopedia, Art of Ship Handling, Book of Five Rings). These books also work as stand-alone ship knowledge, but saving them until you have the complete compilation together yields higher bonuses. And selling such a rare book can make you rich, so it is a tough decision when you get one. Use it wisely.
This is a quick overview of ships for new players and by no means comprehensive.
Traders can enter enemy ports and are used to haul large amount of goods from A to B.
You'll need a fast Traders Lynx for transporting books or special resources and to open new outposts (and bringing a few repairs on the way).
You might want to have one or two captured or fast Traders Brigs for hauling your goods into enemy or free ports.
If you have 380+ crew, you can fully crew an Indiaman. These are the largest trade ships in the game, but also very slow when fully loaded. Be sure to stay in safe waters or take an escort ship with you.
Forget about the Le Gros Ventre, it has only slightly larger capacity than a Traders Brig and is slower.
Other than that, small ships are rarely used, but this does not mean they are bad. In fact, you can have lots of fun in any small ship, especially in the shallow waters of the Bahamas. But it can be also a lot of fun to join a group of hunters in a small ship. Find your role in the fleet, tag the enemy, chain him down, hold him in battle, rake him when possible and let the big boys do the real killing. You need to know your ship and its limits, but you can provide valuable support to your group even in very small ships.
The Surprise and La Renommée are good shallow water frigates. The Belle Poule is a tough ship due to its hull shape that bounces many ball shots, but it lacks bow chasers which makes it a poor hunter.
The Trincomalee is the largest frigate that does not require a permit. It has no rear chasers, but four front chasers making it an excellent and powerful hunting ship, especially when used as part of a larger fleet.
The only frigate outmatching the Trincomalee is the Endymion which is better in every aspect, speed, armament, hit points and it even has rear chasers. Permits for Endys are rare and very expensive.
The Agamemnon is the standard issue 4th rate. It is a decent ship in every aspect.
The Ingermanland has a heavier main battery than the Aga, but is a little bit weaker on hit points.
Rättvisan is a DLC ship and is therefore for free for those who own it. It is ok, but not outstanding.
Other 4th rates are rarely used by players.
The Wasa is the standard third rate and is an excellent ship overall.
The Bellona is a very good 3rd rate by every aspect except for agility. It requires a rare permit.
The Redoutable is an excellent 3rd rate with immense firepower and tankyness. It is reasonably agile and fast for its size.
The Admiral de Ruyter is the best 3rd rate ship. It has even more firepower than the Implacable as its second gun deck carries 32 pounder guns. It is even faster than the other heavy 3rd rates. The AdR is an event ship, only obtainable during rare server events and are therefore very rare.
Second rates sit in between 3rd and 1st rates and seem to have missed the sweet spot there in terms of BR, fire power, speed and hit points.
The Christian is the top ship of the class and permits are rare. The Christian is an excellent sailor achieving almost the same speed as a Bellona, but has more hit points and fire power. Therefore, you see Christians in PVP action, but rarely alone.
The Bucentaure is a slow but tanky 2nd rate with good firepower able to take on 1st rates in line battles. Since it's BR is relatively low compared to a first rate, it is often used in big fleet actions.
The Victory is currently rarely used by players due to inferior hit point and fire power compared to the other first rates.
Naval Action is in fact a really good sailing simulation. Ships feel quite realistic in terms of their behaviour with respect to the wind, courses, rudder and sail position.
Sailing a ship in Naval Action is easy. If you passed the tutorial, you should know the basics. Autoskipper [F] function automatically adjust your sails to wind for optimum speed. So, for maybe 90% of the time, you'll sail with autoskipper activated. However, the remaining 10% of time in battle is the critical part when you need to adjust your sails manually. You should practice manual yard adjustment until your fingers adjust the sails manually without thinking. Sail 5 full circles left and 5 full circles right. When you still need to think about what you should do, repeat.
Check this video tutorial by hullabaloo on manual sailing.
This chapters should give you some first useful hints how to approach battles. It is by no means exhaustive or complete. Every battle is different and you have to adapt your tactics to every new situation. Again, this guide is for new players.
Aim your shots with single shot and watch the shot with your telescope before firing a whole broadside into the water or too high.
If you have mixed armament (e.g. carronades on the top deck, longs guns on the bottom deck), make sure you aim for each gun type separately. Carronades shoot at higher angles. Use F1 to F4 to toggle your gun decks on or off for firing.
You can switch on or off reloading for a whole broadside (all gun decks) by hitting F5. Switching off one side lets the crew assigned to the guns go to other stations. This way, you can accellerate gun reload of one side at a time or add additional crew to repairing.
You have only a limited number of chain shots per battle and you can save some of those if you shoot only chain using your main gun deck. As your main gun deck yields higher damage than your top deck, you get more damage per shot.
When fighting multiple enemies, you might want to save your main gun deck which has the highest reload time for a specific target. When a player is angled to you, you might want to disable your main battery and shoot a broadside making him think you shot a complete broadside. So he might show his broadside to you straight feeling safe for the moment. Then shoot your main battery and do maximum damage.
It is important to understand the underlying damage model when trying to survive a close battle. Your ship has 5 damage bars: bow, stern, left, right and structure. Shooting at the stern removes hit points from the stern damage bar, shooting on the left side removes hit points from the left damage bar and so on.
Damage is only substracted when a shot is able to penetrate the armour (thickness). Small caliber guns penetrate less than larger calibers. Penetration also drops sharply with increased distance. Carronades have significantly less, medium guns have moderately less penetration than long guns, but therefore more damage points.
When a ball penetrates the armour (sides, bow or stern), it might also damage cannons, crew and structure. When side, bow or stern armor damage bar is down, all damage dealt goes directly to the structure. In some cases, shots also penetrate through the structure and cause damage on the opposite side.
Masts also have hit points and armour (thickness) and the damage model works in the same way as for the hull sides. Masts are segmented into lower(, middle) and top mast, each having different hit point pool and thickness.
When structure hit points are low, chances are higher to demast the ship.
Very low structure slows down a ship significantly and it starts taking on water. Pumps bail out the water to a certain extent and now and then a good crew is able to pump out a ship which was deemed lost.
Sails also have individual hit points, but only the overall percentage of sail area left is shown instead of damage bars.
Damage done to sails and masts vary with the amount of sails aloft. At full sails, masts are easier to penetrate and masts and sails take more damage. With battle sails set or even less sails aloft, masts receive a penetration bonus and masts and sails take less damage. It is therefore highly recommended to set only battle sails when fighting at medium to close range.
There are three types of repairs: hull repairs, rig repairs and rum (repairing crew). You need to have repairs of each type in your hold in order to use them in battle. Repairs fill up hit points of rig or hull. Rum revives dead crew (this is pure magic!).
You can only issue one repair at a time, either hull or rig with a cooldown of approximately 12 minutes (this value can be heavily modified by books, perks and ship upgrades). Crew repair (rum) has a cooldown of 20 minutes. Repairs take quite a while and you need to assign crew to the repair team, reducing your crew on the guns and other stations.
Thus, it is important to choose your repair (sail or hull?) wisely depending on the battle situation and your strategy. Quite often, you'll see players repairing sails damaged only to 95% instead of hull, even if their hull is down at 50%. Their intention is clearly to get away more quickly, giving them more time for the next repair.
When starting a sail repair, damage done to masts is reset instantly, drastically reducing the chance of getting demasted immediately.
The objective of chaining is to slow the enemy down, either to force him into battle or to allow you to withdraw. Chain shot shoots a lot shorter than ball and is only effective at very short ranges. It depends on the caliber of your guns, bigger guns have larger effective range, but, roughly speaking, chains shot at targets at >250m distance is just wasted.
You have only a limited number of chain shots per battle. Use them wisely.
Demasting is easier than most new players think, provided you have the necessary caliber to penetrate the mast thickness and you are close enough.
Use single shot and use your main gun deck only. Range should not be higher than 100m (two big ships length). When side-by-side, aim a little bit ahead of the mast and observe the flight.
When the target shows its bow or stern to you, you can fire your whole broadside at the masts. Use your cannon convergence (e.g. Water or 250m) to focus, watch your angle relative to the other ship (turn rates, speed) and let the broadside go. Note that best angle is not straight along the hull axis, but at about 10° to 15°. This way, all masts can be seen next to each other with only small gaps in between so that the chances of hitting mast is maximized.
Ships with low center structure get demasted more easily. It is possible to demast a ship by stern raking only.
Demasting is extremely powerful tactic as it renders your enemy helpless. When fighting multiple smaller enemies, demasting them one by one, you can take them out of the battle one by one and then finish them one by one, whereas you would not stand a chance against all of them at the same time. Quite often, you see a bunch of newbies take on a fight with a single third rate. The third rate just tanks all the rake damage and starts demasting them one by one. Guess how this fight ends.
Angling and Tanking Damage
The damage you take is drastically reduced if your hull is not perpendicular to the cannon ball flight curve. When your hull is angled towards the cannon ball flight path, it needs to penetrate a larger thickness of armour. It is therefore possible to take a full broadside and receive little to no damage, because the shots just bounce off (this you can actually see in game) or they do only minor damage to the armour.
When you point your bow directly to the enemy ship, all he can do is hit your bow armour, your sails or your mast. The bow presents only a very small target and its strong curvature lets many shots bounce off without damage. Bow tanking is essential when fighting ships larger than you or larger numbers of ships.
Kiting is a defensive tactic and is often considered "lame". However, it is an absolutely legitimate tactic in case you prefer to withdraw from a battle. The objective is to slow the enemy down so he cannot follow you.
Kiting means you sail downwind and your enemy is chasing you. The enemy is in an upwind position pointing with his bow to you. You are able to turn left by ~90° and shoot your left broadside at the enemy's sails and rigging. After that, you turn hard right and fire your right broadside. Rinse and repeat. Your movement resembles the flight path of a kite, hence the name.
Kiting is a good tactic only if you have a reasonable speed advantage to start with. Otherwise it is hard to sustain, because the enemy player can always repair his sails and catch up with you forcing you to fight.
Trying to demast is usually better than chaining, because a lost mast cannot be repaired easily. However, demasting takes more time and does not significantly slow down the enemy until the mast falls.
The stern is weakest part of a warship consisting of glass windows and luxury cabins rather than hard wooden planks. Stern raking is devastating historically and also in Naval Action.
Shoot at the stern parallel to the target hull. Use ball shot to destroy the stern armour. Continue to shoot with ball to destroy center structure, crew and cannons. To maximize crew damage, switch to grape shot when stern armour is down and shoot when passing the target stern at close distance.
It is possible to sink a ship by stern raking with ball shot. If you have a smaller, more manouverable ship, you should be able to stay behind the enemy's stern all the time, giving him no chance to hit you with his more powerful broadside. This is called "stern camping".
Counter to Stern Camping
Getting caught by a smaller, more manoeuverable ship usually means it will try to stern camp you. Do not be afraid, there are counter-measures you can do.
First of all, what you should not do is kiting. It just won't work.
Having said that, a good counter to stern camping is the exact opposite of kiting: tacking through the wind. Not every player is able to stay behind you all the time while you tack. Or, if he does, stop your tack and fall back to your previous course. This usually gives you a good opportunity to fire a broadside at your enemy. Try to demast him.
Start preparing for boarding and slow down to let your enemy run into you. He hears your boarding whistle and might want to avoid the boarding in panic. This might give you a good opportunity to fire a broadside.
If you are in a square rigged ship and your enemy is in a fore-and-aft rigged ship, your chances are good that you are faster on downwind course. You could repair your sails and just sail away.
In case your enemy does not have a huge speed advantage and you have the stronger ship, you can reduce the opportunities for your enemy to stern rake you by sailing upwind. If he wants to stay outside your broadside firing sector, all he can do is follow you. He might get closer and he will for sure use his bow chasers to harass you, but that does not really hurt you. If he wants to rake you, he will have to turn through the wind or downwind. Either case, this gives you an opportunity to turn yourself and exchange broadsides with him.
Boarding is almost always the fastest way to resolve a battle. In Naval Action, boarding is a round-based fight in which you choose one of the following actions per round:
- attack / counter-attack,
- fire deck guns,
- musket volley,
- fire grenades, or
Each action uses up a certain amount of your preparation value. Preparation is built up while bracing. Ranged firing actions have a cool down of three rounds to emulate reloading. Melee actions (attack and defend) can be maintained for several rounds. Disengaging requires four rounds to complete. When disengage is completed, boarding is interrupted and you are back in command of your ship. Note that you have to raise sails again and that you might need to assign crew to sailing station before being able to doing so.
Each action has different effect. There is a number of parameters at work in the background, e.g. preparation, morale, crew size, number of marines, number of muskets, melee bonus, musket or deck gun precision and so on. Each value can be heavily influenced by ship upgrades or skill books. For instance, marines are only available when you have a marines skill book applied.
Choosing the right action to counter your enemy move is like a game of rock-paper-scissors. Here are some general tips.
- Defend is the best counter to an attack.
- Musket volley or firing deck guns might work as counter against an attack.
- Brace protects your crew from ranged attacks.
- Bracing builds up preparation.
- You lose morale when choosing a bad counter, e.g. defend against firing deck guns.
- Watch your morale. At zero morale you'll lose against any attack immediately.
- Watch your preparation. Switching actions costs preparation.
- AI repeat the same actions in a regular pattern. Keep bracing to observe the cycle.
- AI will select defend when you choose attack. Switch to fire deck guns or muskets in the last second to do damage with minimum crew loss on your side.
- You can fire your ship guns during boarding using right/left broadside fire commands. Guns do the same damage as while sailing. Assign crew to cannons during boarding.
- When the enemy has 0 morale, it is safe to attack.
- Start "repairing" crew (hit , then ) before boarding.
- Attacking into deck guns is usually not a good idea, but attacking into grenades gives good results.
Observe the firepower and melee parameters. They can tell you their next move. Be aware that enemy players might switch to a different action on last second provided they have sufficient preparation for switching.
- If firepower is 1 and melee is 0, the enemy is bracing.
- If melee numbers are greater than 0 the enemy is attacking or defending.
- If you are attacking and their melee number is higher than yours, you are going to lose, so switch at the last moment if you can.
- If firepower is greater than 1, and melee is zero the enemy is either firing grenades, muskets or deck guns.
- After a few rounds fighting a specific enemy, you should get an idea of which firepower number applies to which action.
You can fire your guns during boarding using the left/right broadside firing keys on your keyboard. By default, these are the two [ ] square bracket keys in english keyboard layout. They are located in between  and [backspace]. As these keys have different assignment in other keyboard layouts (e.g. in German layout these are [ß] and [´]), it is recommended to check your game controls settings.
As a new player you should practice boarding against NPC ships to learn the timing of the rounds and the effect each action has. Be cautious and play defensively and you will get a long way against the AI. But keep in mind that fighting players is a whole different story.
The tutorial teaches you how to start a boarding fight step-by-step. However, the tutorial is a set piece designed for easy learning. In real life, starting a boarding fight might not be as easy as in the tutorial.
Before starting a boarding, you should make sure you have an advantage over the enemy in terms of crew size, installed boarding mods and skill books. You can reduce the enemy's crew dramatically by #Stern Raking with grape shot. Make sure to start preparation for boarding ( key) early to have maximum preparation value when the boarding starts. After hitting the  key, your crew get assigned to boarding stations and your preparation value starts rising. You might want to disable gun crew ( key) to allow more crew members to join the boarding party. Note that enemy players will hear the boarding whistle, so they'll know what's coming.
To be able to board, both ships must be slower than 3.5 knots. This can be achieved by pushing the enemy into the wind. There are two ways to do this.
- Sail directly next to the enemy ship on its leeward (or downwind) side and with your bow ahead of his. Turn your ship into the wind to push his bow also into the wind. When you are in a considerably smaller ship than the enemy, you might not be able to slow him down sufficiently. This method works on any course.
- Sail into the enemy's rear side at an angle of >45° coming from his windward (upwind) side. This way you push the rear of the enemy downwind forcing him into the wind. You might lose your bowsprit doing this. This works only when you have a wind advantage, i.e. you are coming from an upwind position.
Trying to stop a large ship with a small one is difficult. You might need more than one ship, e.g. one on the bow and another on the stern trying to push it into the wind. I have seen battles in which four 5th rates had trouble stopping a 1st rate, but eventually succeeded.
When you have sufficient boarding preparation, both ships are slow enough and you are close to each other, target the enemy ship and hit [G] to start pulling the ship. Depending on distance, relative speed and course, it is possible that pulling is interrupted. While ship positions have no effect on the boarding stats, it does have an effect on your cannon broadsides. Also, in case there is a hostile tower or fortress nearby, you might want to position yourself so that your enemy is in between you and the fort.