As regular readers already know, I’ve got a long standing interest in naval wargaming. However, one thing that keeps putting me off certain periods is that many naval rules tend towards dealing with tedious amounts of technical details.
So it’s no wonder that I got excited when Ganesha Games announced a new naval rule set called Galleys & Galleons. I love Ganesha Games rules, especially their activation mechanism and their emphasis on quick and fun games, and I was very curious how they would deal with the peculiarities of naval wargaming.
Nicholas Wright, the rules author, had published some AARs of his playtests on his blog before the pdf came out and I liked what I saw. The rules intend to cover the ‘Age of Discovery’, meaning the 17th and 18th centuries, but there are also special rules for ancient naval warfare and for fantasy. Especially the latter immediately aroused nostalgia – I wish I still had my old Man O’War miniatures!
People who’ve already played Ganesha Games rules will have no troubles understanding Galleys & Galleons. At the core is the activation mechanic, where you can roll up to three dice per ship. If you roll a target number, which depends on the quality of the ship, you get an activation. However, if you fail with two or three dice, your turn ends and the other player gets to activate his or her ships. Movement for sailing ships takes into account wind direction, which is handled in a simple way: How far you can go depends on your rigging and your heading. For measurement, the game uses measuring sticks, so there are only three speeds available.
I was especially curious how the rules would handle bookkeeping. Naval rules tend to be heavy on that aspect, but I felt this wouldn’t go well with the Ganesha Games ethos. I was not to be disappointed: Tracking damage is one of the most original mechanics of the game, and one of the cleverest mechanics I’ve seen for some time. And yet it’s simple: For every point of damage, your ship gets a red dice. If you want to activate your ship, you may roll any dice you want, but if you roll a red one and fail its roll, something bad happens (which is determined by rolling on a table). This means that damage is not just an exercise in book keeping, it directly affects your decisions: Do I play it safe and go for only one activation when I’ve got two red dice? Or do I go for two activations, meaning that something bad may happen if I fail? So damage reduces your options, but at the same time multiplies decision points. What an elegant idea!
Of course, there are also rules for critical hits, boarding and coastal fortifications. The book also includes a number of scenarios and a simple campaign system.
Another great thing is that, similar to other Ganesha Games rules, you can build your own ships. There is a simple algorithm for allocating point costs, depending on the Quality and Combat Value of a ship as well as it’s special properties, of which there are quite a number. Examples of ships from the 17th and 18th centuries are provided, but the rules give you all the tools to create your own – and with the fantasy special rules, you can even create stats for your old Man O’War ships.
So, what am I going to do with this? As nostalgia got me, I ponder going down the fantasy road. I’m also pretty interested in early 17th century Mediterranean pirates and would like to paint some Barbary ships and Hospitaller galleys.
However, the first thing I want to try is something that is not covered by the rules but might just work with a little tweaking: American Civil War riverine actions. I’ve developed an interest in this during my research on the ACW, but none of the rules I’ve looked into so far captivated me, as I’m more interested in command and control than in comparing the calibre of a gun with the thickness of the armour while taking into account the angle of impact. Galleys & Galleons provides a great tool kit – let’s see how far I can go with it…
If you fancy naval warfare and want quick and fun games with lots of decisions and freedom to create your own ships, I can highly recommend Galleys & Galleons. I hope to give it a try soon and will keep you posted.