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Subject: Ramming speed! rss

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Nicolas Michon
France
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Naval wargames are a bit of a niche, and pre-gunpowder naval wargames even more so. So here is my paean to GMT's War Galley, one of those games one wishes one could play more often.

First contact: the box, rules, maps and counters

I will start with my one significant gripe with the game: the hardware is not as good as it could be. The counters (mostly two hex galleys) are OK: the designers opted to have two colors (red / green) that can represent essentially all nations during a more than 400 year period. However, maybe a blue background with a green or red "flag" would have been a bit less off-putting. The more serious issue, IMHO, is that there aren't enough markers, and some of them don't do the job. For instance, the "grappling" markers should be two-hex, and show which ship is grappled with which, as melees can be quite messy, and because it really matters when one of those sinks (rammed or burnt), carrying grappled ships with it. I have come to use little "sticks" from the Kahuna boardgame. Similarly, there are no markers to show when ships have been activated, or have fired / opportunity fired. I have used markers from Lock N'Load for that purpose. Not a deal-breaker, but a bit annoying.

The box, map, rules and playbook are perfectly okay, as are the playaids.

The game engine: deploy squadrons!

The system uses alternate activations, and is, IMHO, very easy to understand for anyone with a bit of wargaming experience. Typically, each side has one admiral, with an initiative rating and a command radius, and squadron commanders, who only have the latter. Ships must be either in line astern (ie column) with a ship carrying a leader or within the command radius, otherwise, they will activate (with a die roll) as "individual squadrons" after all squadrons have activated. Initiative is decided, then both players will choose whether their ships will be at cruising speed or max speed (counter is flipped - a nice touch, as some values change when that happens). Max speed is better .... but tires the crew. Fatigue is an essential mechanism: good crews tire less easily than greener ones.

A side note about the values: ships are rated for crew quality (C 0 - captured ships - to C 4 - the super elite of the times), Manpower (number and quality of on-board troops - Romans kick ass in this department), ramming rating and ramming defense. Plus, some ships have towers and/or engines (ie more catapults, ballistae than others). And that's about it.

Combat is simple but has a clear rock / paper / scissors quality to it. You roll 2D6 on the right table, add / substract the right modifiers (not too many), and off you go. Let's go quickly over all the nasty things you can do to the other side:
- raking: main weapon of smaller ships with better crews. Size does not factor in the die roll. Drawback : a raked ship is essentially out of the fight (goes around in circles, with the oars on one side gone ...), BUT does not count for victory conditions, and could, especially if it has a lot of Manpower, bleed nearby ships with arrows or even (if the other side is negligent) manage to board and capture;
- ramming: size, speed (especially in a straight line) and crew quality matter. The latter is especially important to avoid being "fouled" (stuck) with a ship whose hull you've just perforated .... and going down with it when it sinks (1 / 6 chance every turn);
- shooting / boarding: shooting uses Manpower and hits reduce the target's Manpower. Later scenarios feature flaming missiles, which greatly increases the possible damage. Boarding is very effective, and is a Manpower vs Manpower die roll, resulting in the capture of the target .... but crew quality is essential in grappling said target. Devices such as the Roman Corvus or Harpax give a sizable bonus for the latter.

So, that's basically it. Yet, this simple system combined with different crew and Manpower ratings easily gets the players to replicate historical tactics: Romans vs. Carthaginians will see the former, with inferior crews but markedly better marines try to close the distance, and turn a naval battle into a land battle, while the Carthaginians will need to use subtlety and run circles around the Romans.... easier said than done. C3I is modelled simply but after a few turns both sides will have chunks of their fleet disintegrate into "individual squadrons" over which they have very imperfect control. I have played three full games (early trireme action, late Roman civil war, and Rome vs Carthage) and it's always been fun. I would rate it a solid 8/10.
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Alexandros Boucharelis
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Drama
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ubi bene ibi patria // vidi perfutui veni
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thanks for reviewing this old masterpiece, i just wish that GMT will revisit this project and transforming it to a modern game with all its goodies.
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Brett Schaller
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I've been gaming so long I thought this was a modern game.   I bought it when it first came out, anyway.

I feel old.
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Adam Siler
United States
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It's the most accessible of the whole series. A lot of the older titles incorporate War Galley into their games
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Terry Lewis
United States
Oregon
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"But first, the children ought to be fed." -- Virginia Held (1980) from "Property, Profits, and Economic Justice"
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Brett Schaller wrote:
I've been gaming so long I thought this was a modern game.   I bought it when it first came out, anyway.

I feel old.



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