Friday, 6 January 2017

That Post New Year Sinking Feeling

Well here we are in 2017 and, as the top row '6' key on my computer registers a '3' when pressed, I'm giving a quiet cheer.

Ancient galley warfare has always been a wargaming love of mine - not a close love, more a see you same time next week kind of love - but I've always struggled with the search for the best rules. I did write my own rules, Fleet of Battle, several years ago and they were, for a free release, lauded to some degree, winning the SOA's Paul Morris Memorial Prize for most innovative non-commercial rules in 2009, and were later published in Wargames Illustrated issue 278 (still available in a free to download ten page PDF format here). But, I still hanker for the perfect set.

Hexes make life much easier when it comes to galley warfare. Mostly because, even with them, it's complete chaos.

Last year, I painstakingly hexed my tabletop in preparation for using GMT's War Galley rules. Several aspects of the rules were very good. We liked the attention to detail, combat tables - especially the clean nature of the results, and several other aspects of the rules looked promising. However, we found the basic squadron move structure clunky in the extreme and a couple of other rules more trouble than they were worth. The move sequence put us all off to such an extent that the game was consigned to the upper reaches of the top shelf to get dusty.

After a pretty hectic Christmas and New Year, I needed to put a game together quite quickly. Given the general ease in setting up naval battles (and the fact that I had recently converted a load of aphract triremes into cataphract ones), I decided on a galleys game. My first thought was to convert Fleet of Battle to hex movement but that seemed like a lot of hard work so I reached up and took down War Galley one more time. I decided that it had so much going for it that it would be worth reinvestigating one more time, if I could only sort out the squadron move sequence. 

On Wednesday night we ran through a brief play test and that game proved that most of War Galley is a very sound set of rules and, with a few amendments, ran much better than our first try out.

The first major rule change was to put ships into fixed squadrons. The ships in each squadron being identified with a numbered bead - white or black denoting fleet, number denoting squadron. Flagships were marked with an extra heart bead (senior flagship) or hash bead (squadron flagship).

Note: Under the squadron bead a coloured bead denotes crew quality rating (red = 1, green = 2, blue = 3, purple = 4) with 1 being worst
The move sequence was then changed as follows. A token for each squadron in each fleet, plus a joker token for each fleet, was placed in a small cloth bag. A token was randomly drawn from the bag and this indicated which squadron became activated for movement and combat. All ships in that squadron, in command reach of their squadron flagship or not, was then moved pretty much as per the standard rules. Then the next token was drawn from the bag, and so on. When a joker was drawn the fleet commander could nominate a squadron, not already moved, to move or pass. Consequently, two whole stages of the War Galley move sequence (squadron determination and individual ship movement phase) were removed making the game move much more swiftly, and in a more organised way, whilst adding a random element to the squadron activation.

All ships are Xyston 1:600 though one or two are conversions. All triremes in shot are now cataphracted (oar stations removed, re-decked with balsa outriggers and with side rails made from lengths of very thin zip ties - zip side out so it looks like a kind of rail fencing). The big white decares is a lengthened, heightened and widened heptereme.

We changed the dice rolls versus crew ratings to D6 -1 requiring equal or less to succeed. This roll was especially important for fatigue determination. In my opinion the standard rule for fatigue in War Galley is too complex. I decided to speed it up, and after a play test I have decided that it should be D6 -1, +1 if ramming, +1 if moving more hexes than cruise rate. If the ship fails it is fatigued, not fatigued 2, 3 or 4, just fatigued. Fatigue is removed by rolling D6 -1 versus crew rating in the fatigue recovery segment of the move sequence. Ships can become fatigued and recover in the same game turn but, as squadron movement is now random, this doesn't matter so much and bad crews will still generally recover more slowly.

Lastly, I don't much care for the crippled rule as it takes no account of the possibility of oar transfer following a rake. Consequently, the counter for crippled is placed to the raked side of the ship until the galley recovery segment, at which point, oar transfer having automatically occurred at that point, it is moved to the rear of the ship. Whilst at the side of the ship it has normal effect; at the rear of the ship it counts as a permanent half speed marker.

It's been a long time since we played this set of rules, and it took the evening to remember how everything worked and to weave in the rule changes. Next week we will start a proper game with the above amendments.

I also blagged a copy of Poseidon's Warriors from the nice guys at Osprey (thanks Phil). These are very quick and simple rules that we'll try out in the near future. 


William Stewart said...

Regardless of rules used, your ships are just gorgeous! I look forward with interest to your posts on War Galley and Poseidon's Warriors.

rct75001 said...

They are wonderful looking vessels. Good to have your posting again.

Phil said...

Most impressive ships, these pictures are just wonderful!