Monday, July 23, 2012

Little Brain-Farts of Inspiration

Phil Bardsley sent me a link this morning to the Litko website where there was a game token for broken oars. I looked through Litko's game tokens a few days ago, but I missed this item. It got my mind working. As nice as the token is, it didn't quite fit my need. In Row Well and Live! ships can get damaged oars or wrecked oars as a result of a deikplous attack where one ship rushes past another and attempts to rake its oars. Damaged oars slow a ship's movement and wrecked oars immobilize it. Damaged oars can be repaired (most ships carried some spares or the undamaged oars can be balanced between the two sides). Wrecked oars put you in what Greek philosophers called S.O.L. (σκατά χωρίς τύχη).

I originally thought of indicating oar damage using check boxes on the ship card:

After I saw the Litko token, I knew that it would be nicer to have a marker with the ship model. It makes the ship card less cluttered and I would also prefer to keep minimal information on the card.

I picked up some Litko 40mm x 15mm 1.5mm thick bases at The Panzer Depot on my way home. After feeding the cats and feeding myself, I got to work with Adobe Illustrator and created damaged and wrecked oar tokens.

I'll print out the tokens at Kinkos and mount them on the Litko bases with damaged on one side and wrecked on the other. These counters will be placed beside a ship model to indicate damaged or wrecked oars on one side or the other.

I'll make tokens for damaged and wrecked steering too.

I love it when something gets my mind working like this.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Paint, paint, paint your boat...

As I've blogged recently, my current active project is writing war-game rules for ancient galley warfare and painting the wee ships to play them with. I have three ships completed with another six in progress.

My models of choice are the Xyston 1:600th scale range. Most ranges have a limited number of the larger Hellenistic giants and Xyston is no exception. The single large ship in the range is a hepteres, also called a septireme or "seven" because the rowing arrangement put seven men on a single file. The exact way this was done remains a mystery. It could be a single bank of oars with seven men on one oar, two banks with four men on the oars in one bank and three on the other, or three banks of oars with rowers arranged 3-3-1 or 3-2-2.

Most of the ships are quinqueremes, also called penteres, or "fives" because they have five men per file. This is mostly thought to be two banks of oars arranged 3-2, although it could be three banks arranged 2-2-1, or a single bank with five rowers per oar. Xyston makes Greek, Phoenician, Hellenistic, and Roman versions of the quinquereme. These really amount to different styles for the bow and stern. The styles are somewhat fanciful and I assume that I can mix 'n' match in how I compose ships to use in a game. The only real differences are that the Hellenistic quinqueremes come with towers and bolt shooters and the Roman quinqueremes come with a corvus.

The second largest group of Xyston ships are triremes that features three banks of oars with a single rower on each oar. This is the warship of the classical era and was the mainstay of the fleets in the Greco-Persian wars and the Peloponnesian War. It's unclear whether it was completely superseded by the quinquereme in the Hellenistic era; however, the later trireme was heavier than the type Themistocles had built for the Athenian navy, which was light, fast, and highly maneuverable. When the fight on the seas during the Peloponnesian War devolved to the ugly slugfests in Syracuse harbor, the Athenians, who were the masters of battle in open waters, were at a disadvantage against the heavier Syracusian triremes and the newly-developed quinquereme.

Finally, Xyston makes a hemiola and trihemiola, which are light ships that were mostly used for dispatch duty, piracy, or anti-piracy.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Xyston models come with lots of bits. I'm not a fan of lots of bits on the models I use for gaming. This is one reason why I eschew plastic figures—too many parts to glue on and break off. (Although the main reason I eschew them is that they're plastic.)

Xyston ships come with masts and sails that can be furled or unfurled. The unfurled sail uses more lead than the main hull of the ship model. The furled sails look better, but the mast is cast metal and I fear it will bend or break with the kind of handling miniatures go through. After playing around with replacing the cast mast with brass rod, I decided to forego the masts and sails. This look probably isn't right for Hellenistic navies. The classical navies generally stowed their masts and rigging before battle, but the later navies may have kept them up, even though motive power in a naval battle was always by oars. Cleopatra's rapid departure from the debacle of Actium was facilitated by readily unfurled sails.

The models also come with some kind of railing or gunwale with shields on it that looks more like it belongs on a viking longboat. I haven't seen anything like this kind of gunwale on drawings I've seen of ancient galleys and I suspect that Xyston made it up. What I have seen in drawings is a very flimsy railing that looked like it served no other purpose than being a convenient thing to grab when a seasick crewman leaned over and heaved ho. Like the masts and sails, I left these off the model. Too fiddly to put on and I didn't like the look. Of course not using these bits means having a lot of lead jetsam (that I paid for) going unused.

Where Knelt the Vanquished Foe...

Apart from leaving things off, I did make one addition to the models. The Xyston ships are finely cast with some nice detail, but they don't have decking that looks right. The models just have a flat slab of metal for the deck. After looking at that for a while, I decided it just wouldn't do.

To remedy this I cover the deck part with thin styrene plastic card that comes scored at 1mm intervals. The result is something that looks like deck planking.

Basing and Assembly

The quinquereme hulls come in one piece, not counting any towers and artillery I might put on. The hepteres comes with a center section and two ends that have to be butt-joined, but on the one models I completed, they went together nicely with no visible seam. The triremes have the rowers' boxes separate. The space cut into the hull for these parts is bigger than the part itself, so there's a bit of a gap that has to be filled with Testor's green putty.

The oars don't actually attach to the hull. The oars should be coming out of the outrigger, but the area where they connect is minimal. What I wound up doing is priming the oars separate from the hull. I glue the hull to the base and then glue the oars to the base positioned correctly in relation to the hull.

The steering oars come separate and are kind of fiddly to attach. I prime them separately and glue them on to the ship and base at the same time. The steering oars are one size "fits" all. The hepteres is a tall model and the steering oars fit just right. For the other ships, I had to cut down the paddle end to get it to fit right. I normally loathe dealing with fiddly bits, but these turned out OK.

For bases, I use .030 sheet styrene with Litko magnetic sheet on the bottom. The bases are just big enough to fit the model, I don't leave a lot of space for seascape. The fit on the hex map is tight enough, that I can't spare any room for aesthetics.


The models paint easily. I paint the decks with Vallejo Iraqi Sand and then give then a wash of burnt umber (or is it raw umber or burnt sienna?). I paint the hull and oars overall in Vallejo Light Brown. All the paintings I've seen show the ships to be mostly in natural wood.

The detail is in the strakes that stand out from the hull. I paint these in somewhat muted colors: browish-yellow rather than fully saturated yellow, gray-blues, olive greens, dull reds. Ancient pigments didn't allow for the kind of deep, rich colors we have now, so the colors I use make a subtler contrast. It also helps to mask the errors.

I've been building and painting these models down on my dining room table because I can spread out a little more (put another way, my painting table upstairs in the den is too cluttered). This appeals to Rhiannon who likes to sit in the chair next to me and cuddle—when she hasn't simply stolen my chair and prevented me from sitting at all. However nice an arrangement it is, she insists on my petting her and if I am remiss, she head-butts my painting arm to remind me of my duty.

If I'm not looking out for the head-butt, I can easily get a streak of gray-blue across a deck or into the oars. Six years of life with cats has already made me adept at predicting feline behaviors and getting out of the way. For the few times I'm too slow, I have become adept at touch-up.

I dry-brush Iraqi Sand over the oars after I've painted everything else in order to call them out a lithe more. The rams are painted antique bronze and other highlights are painted however I feel. For example, the Carthaginian quinqueremes come with tent-like thingummies at the stern. I thought about making them look circus-tenty with stripes and doodles, but opted for more military-looking solid colors like deep red and olive green.

I painted the towers on the hepteres and Hellenistic quinquereme I've finished so far in red and green. Although I have read that they were often painted gray to look like a stone tower. I have more towered ships to paint and I'll probably stick with gray for the rest. If I want variety, I'll use different shades of gray.

I paint the bases a solid turquoise color and then go over that with the same color lightened and thinned. I daub this on to make puddles that give a mottled appearance when dry.

At this point I give the ships two coats of Krylon Matte Finish. Despite it's name, it leaves a very slight satin effect, which I find more attractive than the lusterless look of the Testor's dullcote.

When the matte finish is dry (I usually allow 24 hours between coats and after), I go over the base with heavy gloss gel medium that I get at Michael's. I glop it on with a brush and it's semi-opaque when first applied, almost like white glue.

The glop dries glossy and transparent with a texture that looks like a gently rolling sea. I finish up on that by applying a watered-down off-white around where the model meets the base to represent the foam stirred up by the ship and oars.

Ready to Play

I have three ships ready to go and another six almost there (just the basing left to do). The rules aren't complete, but I'll have something to play-test with.

I've only got the 1.5" hex mat for now. Monday Knight Productions has to do a production run of the 2" hex mats before they send mine to me. The ships are a little tight on the smaller hexes, especially the heptereme, but it works until the larger hex grid is available.

I plan to male some terrain in the form of coastline and little islands and rocks that will break up the playing area. I'll base the land pieces off the 2" hexes so that they conform to the hex grid.


In the song "I'm So Tired" John Lennon calls Sir Walter Raleigh "such a stupid git." However, the popularization of tobacco products over the intervening centuries has produced one highly beneficial result: cigar boxes, which are just perfect for storing a miniature navy.

For these models I used a wooden Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Imperial box. Apart from the cigar getting a respectable "95" rating from Cigar Aficionado, the box is just the right size for my need. Wide and short, I can fit several ships inside. I line the bottom with Litko Aero Systems flexible sheet steel, so that the ships' magnetic bases stick like glue for disaster-free storage and transport. (Thanks, Wally.)

I only have the one box, so I'll need to scour the cigar stores looking for at least one more. I'm not sure how many they'll hold, but I foresee having one more model than I can fit in the box. It always happens.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hot Rats! (le rats á chaud)

I am almost giddy with glee.

I occasionally check the North Star website to see if they have any new releases in the North Star 1672 range. This afternoon I discovered to my great joy, that they're releasing Swiss for service in l'armée du Roi-Soleil. They look very nice in the picture with their distinctive armor and frilly-bottomed trousers. I can almost smell chocolate and fondue just looking at them.

I'd been planning to paint a few Swiss units, but I figured I'd make do with painting the standard French figures in red coats. These figures are a pleasant surprise. I have some Swiss standards from GMB Designs that are circa Seven Years War. Many French standards didn't change since the Thirty Years War, but I suspect these Swiss standards are anachronistic to the Dutch War period I'm doing. Nevertheless, they look good and the pattern is at least similar to what was used in the 1670s.

Only the pikemen are available now. The musketeers are coming. Do I wait until I can order both together or get the pikemen now? Dilemma.

North Star also released dragoon horse holders for standard dragoons, dragoons in fur caps, and French dragoons. The packs come with one horse holder and three standing horses. I have some standing horses in production now that I got from The Assault Group. I was going to make do with just the horse to mark where the horses are tethered (as specified in my rules), so this is a another nice surprise from North Star.

My Pike & Periwig rules are on hiatus while I work on Row Well and Live!, but I am working on gunners,two battalions of Régiment Picardie, and a dragoon squadron. When those units are done, I'll do Swiss.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adventures Real and Imagined

Since my Enfilade! posting in May, my life has not been a formless, airless void apart from writing galley rules. There have been a few adventures:

I Do Know the Way to San Jose

In mid-June, I made an impromtu visit to the town where I grew up. I spent 21 years in San Jose  (1965–1986), which ties my current sojourn in Seattle (1991–2012) for the longest place I've lived. I breakfast most Saturdays with Rick Martinez, whom I've known for 35 years (since 1977!). Rick has been up here for about 10 years or so, but he makes regular trips down to San Jose. With another trip pending, he suggested I go down too and join in a gaming weekend with old friends. It took me just a second to ask myself, "Why not?" I booked my travel the next day (through of course) and champed at the bit waiting for the weekend to come.

The last time I was in San Jose was 2009 when I drove down in my 350z with my then-GF Lorrin for a birthday week trip. It was 107 degrees. This time it was much cooler at a mere 97 degrees. I alway enjoy my trips to San Jose, but it's a strange feeling to "come home" to a place that has changed so much in the intervening years—and keeps changing. I have fond memories of my life in San Jose and more than a few places with which I have happy associations just don't exist any more.

The gaming group included old friends Wolfgang Blum and Al Tilley. I had seen Wolf more recently when he came up here to visit Rick a few years back. I hadn't seen Al since maybe 1981. We used to game Judge Fernandez' square ancients in Al's garage every Wednesday for years. I met Al through Rick who dragged me to the game back when I was 17. For a man of 80+ years, he was as sharp and amusing as ever. Seeing him again reminded me of how much I enjoyed his company.  Several other people were there, a few of whom I'd met perhaps once many years ago when Rick still lived in San Jose and I was visiting. Their names were familiar to me, however, because Rick often talks about them (and one cannot forget a name like Ix Nixon). After several hours of gaming on Saturday, we had dinner at By-Th'-Bucket on Stevens Creek. It's odd that as old as it is, I still think of it as the "new" By-Th'-Bucket since I recall the old one so well from former days. I had an amazing Kobe flat iron steak with a brandy creme sauce. I wanted to lick the plate.

The trip ended all too soon. Rick was staying another day, so on Sunday we had breakfast at the Original Pancake House. It was crowded (Father's Day), had no air-conditioning, and our order took forever. I ordered Swedish pancakes, which faithful readers of this blog will know I love. However, these ones came unrolled, so I had to dish out my lingonberries onto the crepe and roll my own like a blunt. But the taste was great.

I made a last stop at Game Kastle near the airport to buy out the last of their Xyston 1:600th scale galleys. Next stop: drop of the rental car and grind through the misery of airport security and check-in. I managed to upgrade to first class on the way down, but the return flight had no availability, so I was stuck in coach, way back at the the butt-end of the plane. While waiting for my flight, I had lunch at Original Joe's in the airport. It's not the same at eating at OJ's downtown. For one thing, the menu is truncated, but the ambiance is also lacking. Next time I'm in San Jose, I'll manage to make it downtown and get the delicious veal piccata—even though I feel a little guilty eating baby cow; maybe I'll have the chicken piccata instead.

Even though I was sick the entire time, I loved every minute of being "home." San Jose in the 60s and 70s was a fantastic place to grow up. Even now, in its bustling Silicon Valley incarnation, I would love to return to live there. I could use a little endless sunshine. Perhaps some day...

More Sidebottom

I preordered Harry Sidebottom's latest Warrior of Rome book, The Wolves of the North, from Amazon UK earlier this year. It arrived last weekend and I pitched right into it. Sidebottom's books are rich with the culture and history of the classical world. The narrative is fast-paced and suspenseful.

Sidebottom's last few novels have taken the main character, Ballista, out of the mainstream of the Roman world and into its backwaters. The previous volume, The Caspian Gates, was set in the remotest part of Asia Minor. The Wolves of the North is set in the Russian steppe where Ballista, in disgrace because of an action—briefly assuming the purple—that should have cost him his life, is sent by the emperor Gallienus, an otherwise old friend from before Gallienus was emperor, to coax the nomadic Herul to ally themselves with Rome. All the while, a psychotic murderer among Ballista's traveling companions is leaving a trail of the mutilated corpses of slaves and eunuchs (who've already been mutilated enough, one would think).

I'm about half-way through. I would be farther along if I wasn't reading so much about ancient galleys these days.

The Mac and i

I've been a Mac user since I started writing papers at school using Tim Cole's Macintosh 128k with its hifalutin' external floppy disk drive (one-sided). I bought my own Mac, a Mac Plus with a 20 MB external hard drive, in 1988. I couldn't imagine then using 20 MB of disk space for anything.

When I started working at Aldus in 1991, I used my lighting-fast Macintosh II at work for my computing needs, mostly publishing The Citadel, our NHMGS newsletter, and the NHMGS web site. That arrangement lasted until 1998 when I bought an iMac G3 so I could fiddle around at home and access this newfangled Internet thing from my living room.

Two years later, I went wild and got a PowerMac G4 with a massive two-ton 21-inch Apple Studio Display CRT monitor as my main screen and a 17-inch Apple Studio Display CRT monitor as a secondary for the innumerable palettes in Photoshop and other graphic tools. I felt like the ultimate power user.

Six years later, the 17-inch monitor had gone poof, so I was down to one monitor (the BIG one) and the once-powerful G4 was limping along barely running the newest software. So I bought a white polycarbonate Intel Core 2 Duo 24-inch iMac in 2006. It, too, made me feel like I needed a license to fly just to use it. By now, software applications with lots of palettes had settled down into a more manageable UI so that you didn't need a second monitor to accommodate them. The 24-inch flat panel screen of the iMac was spacious enough to accommodate any application's interface and all the clutter from a separate CPU and monitor was gone. The gleaming white all-in-one iMac seemed almost futuristic with its non-intrusive presence in my workspace—like something out of the Jetsons. I felt that at any minute Rosey the robot maid would roll in and ask me if I wanted tea.

But time marches on and the future is always ahead. After six years, my beloved iMac was showing its age. I had to upgrade to its maximum RAM configuration of 4 GB just to run OS X Lion. I had been using the Adobe CS3 suite, but last year I started a subscription to CS5.5, which has now transformed to an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. After installing the CS6 applications, I discovered to my chagrin that they don't run well on my iMac.

So this weekend I resolved to replace my beloved iMac with a new iMac. I'd seen the 27-inch iMac in various Apple Stores around town and wanted one (Look! A shiny thing!). I just couldn't justify it until recently. Perhaps seeking a justification was a subliminal impulse to upgrade to CS6. I walked into the Apple Store on Saturday afternoon and 20 minutes later was stuffing a HUGE box into the back of my 350z, which Nissan never intended for haulage beyond a few groceries. I couldn't close the hatch all the way, but by driving slowly (hard for me to do) I made the few blocks to my house without incident.

I bought the top of the line stock configuration for the 27-inch iMac. I seem to get a good six years out of computers and getting more than I need now means having as much as I need later when OS X Sabre-tooth Tiger (or whatever Apple calls their OS version in four years—even now OS X Mountain Lion is pending release—they must eventually run out of eponymous felidae, mustn't they?) and Adobe CS12 are the current versions. I also had the store install an additional 8 GB of RAM for a total of 12. That's enough to be getting on with. If I really need it, I can upgrade to a total 32 GB. (It's unsettling, though, to think that years from now we'll look back and laugh at 32 GB of RAM the way I look back and laugh at 20 MB of disk space.)

Once I got the new iMac home and out of the box, the fun started. The apple migration assistant let me wirelessly transfer everything from my old iMac to the new one, but it took 10+ hours. I was asleep in bed when it finished. However, I was thoroughly impressed with the result. I had to reinstall Office 2011 for Mac and run an upgrade patch on the reinstalled Outlook, but otherwise it was as if I were on the old computer, except faster and with a bigger screen.

Then came the tangle of readjusting peripherals. Why are there so many cords and cables? When someone invents wireless electricity (apart from lightning) I'll be over the moon. The migration didn't migrate the content on my LaCie 500 GB external drive, which contains all the files for my projects like Pike & Periwig and Row Well and Live! I thought I'd just hook it up, pull its contents onto my capacious 1 TB internal drive and presto! However, the Firewire connection that worked with the old iMac doesn't work with the new. The new iMac has Firewire 800 and two slots for Thunderbolt. Fortunately, it also has four USB 2.0 slots. I had to rummage around in the garage to find a USB cable from my bag of forgotten 'puter bits, but I was able to get everything transferred.

It seemed like a bit of fuss to go to the new from the old, but I'm back in business for at least six years.

The Great Couscous Caper

Incredible as it seems, I had a five-pound bag of Israeli couscous stolen from my doorstep. I like the large grain style of couscous much better than the more common Moroccan style. I used to be able to buy it in bulk from Whole Foods, but they discontinued it. They have a dozen variations of the Moroccan style in bulk, but no Israeli. You can buy it in smaller packages at a lot of places, including Whole Foods, but because I eat it in bulk, I want to buy it in bulk.

I found that sells it in five-pound bags for $12.00. I bought a bag a while ago, but now I'm out. I ordered another bag last weekend and it should have come by now. I checked my order on and the tracking showed it to have been delivered on Wednesday and left by Fed Ex on my doorstep. Only it wasn't there. I didn't get home until about 9:00 PM that night, so I can only assume that some ass in my neighborhood took it. They probably thought that a package from Amazon was something cool. A Kindle maybe. They probably feel foolish for having stolen a big bag of Middle Eastern pasta pellets. Serves 'em right. But it doesn't get my couscous back.

Fed Ex isn't going to replace it for me. I could order another, but I'm more than a little put off by the fact that someone stole a package from my front doorstep. I think instead that I'll look around beautiful bucolic suburban Lynnwood for someplace that sells it in bulk.

Another thought is to save up a week's worth of cat box scoopings, box them, Fed-Ex it to myself, and then wait for the same jerk to steal it. He might find getting desiccated cat poo even more disappointing than the couscous he scored in his last crime.

Pneumatic Woes

I've had the desk chair in my office for probably 10 years. It's high-backed, black leather-ish with arm rests. Like all chairs of its type, it has a pneumatic column coming up from the wheeled base that lets you adjust the seat height. I normally keep it jacked up all the way. Suddenly today the chair keeps popping down a bit as I'm sitting on it. I'm now about eight inches lower than when I started writing this section and I have to reach up to type.

I think it's time for a new chair.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Row Well and Live!

I got my start with ancient naval wargaming 30+ years ago when I found a copy of Richard Nelson's Naval Wargames Rules Fleet Action 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D. at a long, long out of business toy store in Los Gatos, CA. I also got a copy of Fantasy Games Unlimited's Bireme and Galley, which covers combat between oared warships from the earliest times to the 16th century. C-in-C miniatures had a range of ancient galleys in 1:1200th scale. They came in boxes of five models for the ridiculously cheap price of $3.00 a box and I bought and painted several. Years later I sold everything in a random, senseless act of de-cluttering, but I later reacquired both sets of rules.

When my interest in ancient naval gaming reignited, I looked in vain for the C-in-C ships. C-in-C went through a collapse and recovery some years ago and most of their original range has crept back into production. Not so with the galleys. I contacted C-in-C about six years ago and inquired about the re-release of the ships. Their website still lists the models, but they all show as "out of stock/out of production" when you click for details or to order. For some time the story from C-in-C was, "Soon." Most recently they finally confessed that, no, they will not be re-introducing the line. Ever. And don't call again. Ever.

Needless to say, I am disappointed.

I flirted another time with the Langton line of 1:1200th ships and got a few of their ships—and even got one of their 1:300th models (a Roman decere), which is sitting somewhere unbuilt in a box in my garage along with the other ships. The 1200th scale ships are very nice but too spendy for the size of fleets you need to build for Nelson's rules (I'd say about 20 ships per side minimum). I also looked at Valiant Enterprises' Ramming Speed line of 1:900th scale ships. These are roughly the same price per ship as Langton. They're nice models, though not as nice as Langton. For some reason I've just never taken the plunge and bought any, although I do recall ogling them way back when they first appeared in the late 70s (I think).

Enter Xyston
Xyston put out a range of 1:600th scale ships as an adjunct to their excellent 15mm ancients line. I spent a lot of time ogling pictures of the models on their website (more war pr0n), but was a bit put off by the price. At $11.00 per ship (for the standard sizes, the bigger hepteres are $17.00!) they're not for fleet actions.

I've never ordered any ships from Xyston (now owned by Scotia Grendel in Scotland), but The Game Matrix in Tacoma had several in stock looking lonely and wanting an owner. I bought two ships from them a few years back at Enfilade!, our annual convention. I bought several others from the store later until, I'm fairly certain, I bought everything they had. On a recent trip to my old home town, San Jose, CA, I stopped by Game Kastle and found a fresh source of Xyston galleys. As I did at The Game Matrix, I bought every model that Game Kastle had, which means about 10 of various types. All told, I have about 16 ships.

Now that I have a lot of big ship models, what do I do with them? Being much more expensive that Langton's 1:1200th, I'll beggar myself buying enough to play fleet action rules with them. Bireme and Galley are more detailed and so suitable for actions between a few ships, but the rules are awfully detailed. One user on BGG described them as "anal retentive." So, not what I want to pursue.

I, Rulewright
Instead, encouraged by my experience writing Pike & Periwig, I've hit on the expedient of writing my own galley rules, which I've named Row Well and Live! as an homage to Quintus Arrius' immortal words in Ben Hur.

I find with rules writing that I start with some big ideas that I quickly get down into useable form—and then the details (in which the devil invariably is). 

So far, I've banged out about 80%. They are much easier to write than Pike & Periwig due to the subject matter. Rules for ancient naval warfare are less complex than 17th c. ground combat. Thankfully.

The rules focus more on running an individual ship than on a squadron or fleet. The detail isn't overwhelming, so players could run multiple ships, but I always like the idea of getting more bang from my miniatures buck. Expensive ships means fewer models, so make the models count for more.

I use a hex grid where each model occupies two hexes, which is less a brilliant idea than an accommodation to the realities of fitting big ship models into a hex grid. 

My current seascape hex mat came from Geo-Hex many years ago and has 1.5" hexes. This is a very tight fit for the big hepteremes, so I've ordered a 2" hex seascape mat from Monday Knight Productions that will provide a little more space for the models.

I started out by having discrete phases for things like shooting and movement, but as I read more about ancient naval combat, I wanted something that flowed better. So movement includes all kinds of combat resolution, including shooting from marines and from bolt-shooters and stone-throwers. Basically, anyone can shoot at ships in range, whether they are the active player or not. It takes away the phenomenon of a player moving straight past a ship full of javelin-hurling, bow-shooting, or sling-slinging marines without taking a shot because it isn't the shooting phase. It's workable because there won't be a lot of ships on the board. Also, shooting attenuates the more you do it. So a player can shoot as many times as possible, but there is a cumulative -1 for every shot after the first. I've made up some counter sheets to track shooting modifiers:

I also have cumulative fatigue for rowing. There are four basic speed bands: Crusing speed, battle speed, attack speed, and ramming speed (picture that scene from Ben-Hur). The faster ships move, the more fatigue incurred by the rowers until they just poop out. However, there is a rule for resting that recovers lost fatigue.
I hope to play a game test this month. I have a few ships completed and more under way. I also made an order to Xyston/Scotia Grendel for more wee ships.

I have had one recent hitch. I upgraded to Adobe CS6 only to find that the software overwhelmed my old polycarbonate iMac from 2006. It's been a faithful machine, but Photoshop displayed a warning that my graphics card was incompatible and running InDesign or Illustrator caused awful screen redraw problems and artifacts. I finally talked myself out of reverting to CS3 and instead bought a new 27" iMac with gobs of RAM. Lots of delay (and money) later, I'm back to writing and graphicking again. (Yes, I made up that word.)