Thursday, 22 October 2015

War Galley - board to table, an AAR

Firstly, let me begin by adding this link to Graham's musings. It seems to sum up last night pretty succinctly. discourses on wargaming - sunk without trace

I'd set up a game loosely based on the battle of Drepana, and loosely based on the scenario given in the War Galley Scenario Book. It looked alright. We would use the rules from GMT's War Galley without amendments - what could go wrong?

The Carthagininians snake out of Drepana harbour (right) whilst the Romans move in the opposite direction (left) in some disorder. Peter and Graham took the Carthaginians whilst newcomer Paul and myself took the Romans.
The Roman van begins the game in total disorder (foreground) as the last of the Carthaginian fleet leaves the confines of the harbour (top).
 Behind, in double line astern the Roman centre and rear make their weary way.
 The head of the Carthaginian line began having already come into line abreast facing the Romans.
The rest of the Carthaginians, in a long and orderly line astern come up into position.

Well that was how it started. All well and good. 

Then the game quickly began to fall to pieces until, at about turn four or five, and 11 pm,  it looked like this. 

It was total bloody chaos, no one knew what was going on, no one had had any fun, and Paul had given up completely.
It was the same across the entire table. 

Sea room, at the sharp end, had disappeared as the game broke up into three pell mell lumps. 

And it wasn't just the confused look of the game; you kind of expect that with galley warfare.

There were just too many things to do each turn. There were just so many 'bitty' things that each ship could do at every stage of the game. 

Each turn was a chore, from beginning to end.

I'm in agreement with Graham on this one. The command and control rules, which directly influence turn sequence, are just too complicated and without an easily recognised or remembered structure. Moving alternate command groups is fine but, when they can change in composition every turn; when each is put through a quite complicated turn sub-sequence before moving onto the next group; when the next group chosen might be at the other end of the table; when the last friendly group is moving to counteract the first enemy group that moved........... it is so tiresome that the game ceases to be fun. The game's structure is so broken up into tiny unrelated chunks that the game ceases to have any easily followed narrative aspect. Because the players can choose, in effect, to move first in different sectors of the battle, the game has no feel of individual 'duels' - once one side has moved first in one sector there is no advantage in acting there second, it seems best to go first somewhere else then go back to a sector where the enemy went first last: any feel of localised cut and thrust is lost.

This morning, in the cold light of day, I played through another hour or so, solo. 

The knotted masses of ships did tend to break up and sea room was again available for some greater tactical movement but the same problems, especially with the 'squadron command' rules and turn sequencing were still very much in evidence - and I knew what both sides were doing, and when! 
I left the game looking like this. 

It will possibly look to the Lads that this is just how they left it, but in actual fact the fleets have just about cleared through each other and would, in all likelihood, turn around in the next turn or two to go at each other again from the opposite directions. 

I left the game with the following overall result. 

Romans: Ships lost rammed and sunk: 6, Admiral Pulcher drowned (with his chickens), Squadron commander Fabius drowned.

Carthaginian losses: Ships lost rammed and sunk: 4, Ships lost captured: 2.

Tactically, the Carthaginians were probably in a stronger overall tactical position.

Conclusions about War Galley. 

Firstly, moving it to the table with bigger heavier ship counters with room to put the recording tokens was definitely a great improvement on the board game proper - though it did throw up some 'virtual space' issues.

I like some of the combat mechanisms. The combat tables for ramming, raking and boarding have a simplicity that I quite like: they are 'no fudge' decisive.

I like the notion of cruise and 'ramming' speed but I found the fatigue rule laborious and I think, overall, one speed would be best. Having speed determination as a separate part of the turn sequence is essential because of how War Galley works, but it was just another tedious turn stretching thing to have to do. I liked the half speed penalty when some stuff happens an awful lot.  

I hate the missilery rule in WG. How and when ships can shoot is a pain. Shooting once per turn should be enough - choose when and mark as fired, please - and I'm pretty sure that is wasn't that effective, historically, anyway.

The rule for 'passage' of enemy lines, the 'diekplus rule',  leaves as many issues as it solves. Having said that, we did play it slightly wrong. You can't diekplus a ship head on unless you pass between it and another enemy ship. This doesn't solve Paul's issue with the rule and hex space. In fact, in the situation that threw and annoyed him so much it just makes it worse as neither of his ships could do a diekplus! Silly bloody rule.

Finally, as stated before, the command rules are, well they are pants with a capital 'P'. Too complicated by half and all they do is confuse what is a confusing type of battle in the first place. I'm not sure if these could be simplified to good effect, perhaps this is where the rules started from and why this key element makes the rules feel like a Greek tragedy.

So, what to do? 

Well, as it stands War Galley is not the game I thought, or hoped it would be. It is not one of GMT's best games.  It has no flow, and you can see the surprises coming from a mile off. It has to be a lot slicker to float my boats. 

When I come to 'hex write' Fleet of Battle, I may try to incorporate one or two of the success / failure combat resolution mechanisms and some of the factors that I'd not placed too much importance on in Fleet of Battle as it stands. I'll certainly incorporate the half speed mechanism somewhere. 

I will not be playing War Galley again - "Huzzah!" I hear the Lads shout. I feel an ebay lot coming on!

Anyway, it was nice to see Paul after meeting him at Derby, and I hope last night's disastrous game doesn't put him off coming again. Next time I'll set something up on dry land.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking once that War Galley would make an interesting game, so thanks for the AAR. Interesting read and might reconsider...

AJ (Allan) Wright said...

This period has always intrigued me. Your table and game inspire me to pursue that interest further. Wonderful looking setup. said...

Have you checked boardgamegeek or other online sources to see if anyone has written a simplified variant that addresses or eliminates your issues?

Gonsalvo said...

You might want to take a look at Ganesha Games "Galleys and Galleon"; the pdf is on sale for a mere $8 at present:

They are probably more abstract than you might want. I got them as inspiration for a re-do of my own 15mm Renaissance Galley rules, derived from Ken B's "No Heaven for Cowards".

They don't use a grid (easily changed), and are really more designed for early Age of sail actions. They have rules and suggested designs for Galleys, Galliots. Laternas, and Galleasses, and what seem like pretty decent suggestions for Ancient Galley warfare. Supposedly games take about an hour (1 squadron of about 6 ships a side). Hard to go to wrong at the price!

I doubt they will be the rules I wind up using, but I do plan to give them a test soon, and then steal ideas as seems useful and fitting!

GarethG said...

Interesting; I was thinking about getting hold of a copy of War Galley, but reading this I think I'll stick with what I've got.

If you're still at the same address in Ilkley, I can send over a copy of the Trireme rules. They were originally written for miniatures, and then became a board game, so it might work better.


Thanks guys,

Gareth, that is a very kind offer. I did move within Ilkley some time ago, now I'm at number 33. If that's the same address please send me a copy. If not, email me (email address in blog side bar) for my new one. Thanks.

Clay, I'll check out boardgames geek for any house rules later today, a good idea I should have thought of. Thanks.

Peter, galleons! Stop trying to confuse the issue [grin].

Eric Elder said...

Thanks for posting the AAR. I was waiting for this one. My comments are the same as landandnavy. I'll avoid War Galley. I do like the scenarios in War Galley though. I am currently trying out Empires at Sea. I tested out Greek Fire and Roman Fury. It ran too fast for me but outcome was probably historic.

Bill Hupp said...

This is very helpful as I own War Galley and was looking to get into ancient naval gaming. I was going to use your rules published in WI, so this helps.

Unknown said...

Galleys and Galleons also covers ancient galley warfare - in fact Ganesha Games recently published a set of stats covering ancient ship types.
For large actions, we still find Corvua to be good; it's a very simple set of rules, but it is fun, easy to play, and it works!

William Butler said...

Roman Seas by Eric Hotz might work also. Designed for miniatures on a hex grid.