Thursday, 12 January 2017

Call to me all my sad captains

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
The winds were love-sick with them, the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggared all description; she did lie
In her pavilion,--cloth-of-gold of tissue,--
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature; on each side her
Stood pretty-dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-coloured fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.

                      - Antony and Cleopatra Act 2 Scene 2

Thus it is that Shakespeare describes Cleopatra's favoured means of water borne transportation. Sadly despite James' renowned modelling skills all he did was take one of his galleys and stick a bit of cardboard on the back saying 'Cleopatra'; rather prosaic I felt. The bard may have been OK at the poetry ["May have?"], but he was as careless of the historical accuracy of his description of the final naval showdown between Octavian and Antony as he was about many battles. However, he was right in his judgement that Antony in becoming a "strumpet's fool" had lost the plot somewhat. It is only fitting therefore that he should be represented in the refight of Actium by moi, a man whose complete lack of spatial awareness accurately reflects - through the medium of the rules - the man's shortcomings as an admiral. Woe, woe and thrice woe.

Having said that, I am - as things stand after one evening's play - winning, entirely due to my success at setting Caesar's ships on fire (1). I have consequently warmed to the rules somewhat. It was noticeable that we had a lot less successful raking than in the previous game and I think this was simply a reversion to the mean. I suspect a similar statistical anomaly in the 'going on fire' situation and am not sure whether a rule change is particularly required. A large ship with a full complement of marines will cause a fire test approximately half the times it shoots, more if it is targeting smaller ships. Of those half will catch fire, and of those that do half will sink. So a large ship will cause a sinking by shooting - with an uncertain time delay - say one in six times. It can fire twice a turn and a game will last five or six turns, during which time smaller ships can easily out manoeuvre it to keep their distance.

I like playing galley actions for nostalgic reasons as much as anything else. In my teens Len the Ink, one of my early wargaming buddies, and I made 2D fleets from black paper and fought actions on the living room floor. Despite knowing little about the historical reality (I still don't) what we did then seems pretty similar to what we're doing now; the big improvement is the use of the hex grid. I'm not sure what prompted our interest then, although watching Ben Hur at Christmas would probably be a good guess. What we knew about Roman history often came from the television:

(1) I have discovered why I don't remember setting so many ships aflame before. Apparently our previous game was a scenario from the Punic Wars, a time in history when the idea that fire was detrimental to wooden galleys had not occurred to anyone.

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