Thursday, 22 October 2015

Sunk without trace

"My wife was immature. I'd be in my bath and she'd come in and sink my boats." - Woody Allen

We convened at James' last night for some more galley action and were joined for the first time by Paul, an experienced wargamer who has just moved into the area and who we had made contact with at the Derby show. Sad to say he clearly didn't enjoy his first game in the legendary wargames room, but frankly I could see where he was coming from.

James had translated the War Galley board game to the tabletop and there were certain immediate improvements on top of the obvious aesthetic one. The ships, being metal, stayed where they were supposed to be, and with his usual assiduity he had made any number of markers. The only cardboard tokens remaining were the little chits for the squadron commanders and so the problem of small printing and old eyes had also disappeared. However, the complexity remained.

As readers will know we often play Piquet, which is a reasonably involved set of rules. At any particular point a unit could have markers defining quality, losses, morale status, command status, whether it was loaded, whether it had fired at all, whether it had acted on the current card and probably others I have forgotten (Interestingly, this isn't the bit about Piquet that people complain about; it's always the command and control rules.). So I'm used to relatively complicated games. But for some reason this game seems to have a very high ratio of faffing about to the amount of fun generated. And, ironically perhaps given my own acceptance of the swings of initiative in Piquet, it seemed to me that the whole game would probably hinge on who won the initiative on the first turn when the fleets had closed to ramming distance; in other words, on one die roll.

There was a further issue which bothered Paul, who had neither played the board game nor read the rules before, and which on reflection I think was a perfectly valid point, possibly obscured to those of us who had played with paper and cardboard. In that version the ship tokens fill the hexes, meaning that the eye automatically accepts the rule that ships cannot pass through a hex containing another ship. Except, of course, when they can. There is a special diekplous rule that allows pass through of fleets facing each other head on under certain conditions. The rule is justified with reference to the actual tactic of the same name employed by the Greeks, but a moment's reflection will tell you that the real reason is that without it the game is broken. If both players deployed their ships in close packed lines of adjacent hexes then nothing could or would ever happen. On the tabletop the ships do not fill the hexes, and the space to either side gives some visual explanation as to how the diekplous would have worked. However, it also raises all sorts of expectations that interpenetration ought to be possible under other, less restricted circumstances. When Paul made his point, the best justification that the rest of us could come up with was that it was what the rules said; rather unsatisfactory I'm sure we'd all agree.

So, points to reflect on:
  • These rules are not a hit with me as they stand
  • Having said that I still think hexes are definitely the way to go for galley warfare
  • As James himself pointed out, now the hexes are on the table they'd work well for WW1 aerial games
  • I hope that Paul rejoins us for a game more to his taste; some FoB Punic Wars perhaps.

1 comment:

  1. Picquet:
    The bit I complain about is the use of lots of different sized dice, and the over-complex rules in general.
    The card/initiative stuff is fine.