Monday, September 3, 2012

Mayhem on the wine-dark sea

The first play-test of my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules went surprisingly well. Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, Al Rivers, Gary Greiss, Scott Murphy, and I played for about three-and-a-half hours at The Game Matrix in Tacoma. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves and it was a perfect setting for the first game.

I was able to test whether or not the rules were complete crap (thankfully, not), see situations where an enterprising mind could do things I didn't foresee or intend, and get some great feedback.

Last desperate prepping

Samuel Johnson famously said that "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." With even less than a fortnight to prepare, I found my mind wonderfully concentrated on completing rules, game tokens, ship models, and all the other fiddly-bits needed to put on the game. Even then, it came down to the wire.

Prepping yesterday took me until 12:30 AM this morning, followed by about three hours of sleep, then up with the cats working away at ship cards, ship models, quick reference sheets, and final, hurried rules amendments. Then on the road to 1) tank up at Starbuck's, and 2) drive 60 miles to Tacoma. Home now after all this, I am tired and my mind is much less wonderfully concentrated. More like shriveled.

The set-up and preliminaries

Kevin, Dave, and Scott were one side and Gary, Al, and I were the other. I pretty much evenly balanced the two sides with each having one big hepteres (septiremes) bristling with artillery, two penteres (quinqueremes) with towers and bolt-shooters, and two tetreres (quadriremes). Their side got a third penteres with towers, but no artillery. We got two hemiolas.

The good guys deployed for battle
I took about 10 minutes to walk everyone through a basic outline of the rules. Then I placed out some markers to indicate the set up areas and we deployed our ships.

The game

Al started things off by running one of his hemiolas into the midst of the enemy squadron and ramming Kevin's hepteres. It was a very David and Goliath move and he managed to inflict some waterline damage that kept kevin leaking for the rest of the game.

Al biting off more than his wee hemiola could chew
However, on the way in, he took a lot of missile and artillery fire from the ship he passed and the ship he hit. He lost all of the few marines he had on deck, who gave only desultory fire themselves. Stopped because of the ram, he was easily grappled and boarded by the overwhelming number of marines on Kevin's big ship.

This is what happens when you kick the hornet's nest
In a much more even contest, Kevin sent his tetreres against Al's tetreres and successfully rammed it, Inflicting waterline damage, damaging Al's oars, and—for good measure—getting his ram stuck in Al's ship. Not content with leaving Al leaking and crippled, Kevin then grappled to board his foe, whom he thought to be at bay. However, in the ensuing mêlée, Al took Kevin's ship in a surprising reversal of fortune.

Kevin didn't know when to stop
His prize won, Al never successfully extricated the captured ship's ram from his own, nor stopped taking water, nor repaired his oars.

Al sent his other fast-rowing hemiola screaming across the water to attack Dave's end of the enemy line (opposite me). For his trouble, he missed his ram attempt against Dave's tetreres, got his marines shot up, and got set on fire from incendiary missiles shot by Dave's penteres.

Why does it always end in flames?
I played cagey for a while, but finally roused myself and took up arms. Encouraged by the sight of Al's ship burning, I thought I'd start a fire on one of Dave's ships. However, I rolled the dreaded "1" and set myself on fire instead.

Well, this is embarrassing
While not deadly (I put it out at the end of the turn), it was a nuisance and it affected my shooting.

In the center, Gary made steady progress and ultimately breached the enemy line, setting one of Scott's penteres ablaze en route.

Classic deikplous maneuver!
I wound up getting rammed and damaged by Dave's tetreres, but I was able to grapple and board my attacker making it a nice hat-trick in the game of three successful rams followed by the target vessels taking their attackers.


At 3:00 we ended the game and spent some time discussing the rules and people's impression. Overall, the rules were well received. Most of the tweaks and revisions needed became apparent during play.

I was pleasantly surprised that everyone thought the initiative/movement sequence worked well. There was some concern that in a convention setting, having only one ship active at a time might cause conventioneers to fall off. I have to give this more thought. It worked as I hoped it would. I wanted to get away from a turn sequence where all the ships dash about each other in a general movement phase, whether simultaneous, phased, or IGO-UGO, before shooting, boarding, etc. I've played enough naval to feel a sense of disgruntlement at ships passing by each other without exchanging a shot only to be outside to arc or range when the shooting phase comes. The active/passive movement phase lets ships shoot and be shot at by everyone that come by.

However, all that shooting took a toll. Al's hemiolas only had three marine boxes to start with and got hit by some pretty hefty opponents, so it was no surprise to me to see his marines go poof under a hail of missiles. However, the bigger ships also took a lot of marine losses from shooting. Dave's ultimately losing ram against my ship was caused by the number of missile casualties he took in his transit. Gary shot him and I shot him multiple times. When he finally rammed me, he had three marines remaining out of an original 15. I had 10, so taking him was no problem. I need to lessen the effect of shooting and increase the probability os saving hits.

I was surprised that so little fatigue points were lost. My fear going in is that ship's rowers would be exhausted too soon. The only ship that went from "fresh" to "worked" was one of Al's, but that was due to hits on his rowers (which are taken as fatigue loss) and not from exerting themselves.

I have a short list of other revisions to incorporate this week and then send out the draft for review. Come Saturday, I'm running another play-test with a different group up here in Kirkland at The Panzer Depot.


  1. David:

    That was a great looking game with equally fine looking models you had yesterday. Sorry I pulled out of your game, but I wanted to keep my feet dry and played that Tomorrow's War game Dale ran. Best, Dean