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.)

1 comment:

  1. Your rules sound interesting. Let me know when you start playtesting.