OVERVIEW OF NAUMACHIAE by Kevin Fisher
Kevin, winner of the Naumachiae Ancient Naval competition at Gosport in
June, 1999, gives an insight into the rules. He examines and compares them
with the main criticisms of previous Ancient Naval rulesets.
most wargamers the temptation to implulse buy can be overwhelming. I admit
to being a sucker for well painted, well presented figures (although I
cannot see the appeal of "wargaming" Dr Livingstone in darkest Africa) and
as a result one such buy was the ancient naval wargames rules Naumachiae
plus a few triremes and quinqueremes from Rod Langton. This was a complete
departure for me as, since re-joining the wargaming fraternity after a few
years absence, I had concentrated on land based armies mainly Alexandrian,
Muslim and Italian Wars using the DBM/DBR rulesets.
purchases were then placed in the "to get round to it later" pile with my
other impulse buys. Why do wives/girlfriends never understand that wargamers
need more books than they can possibly read and more white metal than can be
painted in one lifetime? Each occasional reference to Naumachiae was met
with 'knowing looks' or sympathetic pats on the back as my colleagues, made
excuses such as "he's new to gaming" etc. The general consensus (especially
since the shift to the DBM style of gaming eg 3-4 hours per game, no
book-keeping and always a result) was that ancient naval wargaming was "dead
in the water". The main criticisms seemed to be that they were :-
complex, almost unplayable.
slow - "I played for four hours and never even came to combat"
too dependent on book-keeping.
signs were not good but eventually I plucked up the courage to read the
rules and paint the ships. As with most reviews on Naumachiae I found that
they seemed very well presented, to have a good concept and promised to play
well. After a couple of practice games with my regular DBM doubles partner
from the Usk/Weston/Berkeley/Devizes circuit we were hooked. Far from being
complex, cumbersome and slow these felt fast, furious and unforgiving - a
naval DBM if you like.
rules are fairly easy to learn although there are a few points that need
clarification, such as the fact that you do pay for your initial marine
complement and count them towards overburdening (just in case you were
wondering), but on the whole they are very clear and full of examples.
The next step was to examine the rules with regard to the main criticisms
noted above :-
Complexity of the Rules:
The basic game can be divided into different phases as per most rulesets.
There is order writing but this is limited to one sentence per fleet,
squadron or ship and once within 20cm of the enemy you can act as you wish
anyway. The best approach seems to be to give orders to each squadron (a
squadron being a formation commanded by an Admiral, thus a fleet has as many
squadrons as it has Admirals) as this simplifies movement and keeps your
fleet co-ordinated. Specific key words within the orders dictate your basic
actions such as speed, direction and ability to contact the enemy. An
example order may be "Squadron 1 engage enemy to west of island". This would
mean that your speed is either fast or ram and the enemy to the west of the
island must be engaged at the earliest opportunity. The key word in this
instance is engage. Changing orders can be difficult so it is best to get
your initial orders right. This does not impact on the speed of the game and
requires minimal book-keeping.
Movement is swift and all actions in a turn can be covered for each fleet by
one dice roll on the Ability Chart which determines the success of all
nominated actions per turn. Separate rolls for each squadron, or even each
ship, are allowed but this will slow the game - it's your choice. This
Ability roll is used for all phases of the game. Movement is by speed bands
ie slow, cruise, fast and ram which can give moves of 20cm per turn. The
faster a ship historically the faster it can accelerate in the game. The
acceleration determines the speed bands eg a light trireme may have an
acceleration of 50mm giving speed bands of 50,100,150 and 200mm. The
acceleration of the vessel can be affected by the amount of equipment
carried and the quality of the captain, the crew and of the hull. This
movement rate can mean that you are into combat within 3-4 turns from
Once into combat the action is fast and unforgiving with shattered hulks and
drowning sailors littering the table. Combat includes firing of artillery
and hand held weapons and the use of rhodian fire-pots etc but the real
killers are ramming, oar raking and boarding. These actions are again
covered by the Ability chart. The real dilemma as the commander is to use
fast, light ships that can ram or slow ponderous behemoths that board the
enemy and capture their ships. There is a fine line as to which is the best
option. My personal preference is for light and fast ships.
game does become more complex when into action eg firing, boarding,
repairing, firefighting etc but that is so with all wargames and it does not
detract from the game at all - you far too busy sorting out your victorious
boarding parties and reversing away from shattered hulks.
take casualties morale increasingly affects your ability to control your
fleet. Take care as your fleet may become immobile or even rout off the
The only criticism is the calculation of the winner which is over
complicated but not beyond salvation. The mechanism calls for a percentage
of a ships initial points value due to damage received etc for each ship in
both fleets and a result can take a while to calculate but this really is a
Play is Slow
The games take between 1-4 hours which is as long as a DBM 4-500pt game. The
moves into combat usually total 30-60 minutes and after that you too busy to
notice the time. You will definitely close to combat if you wish though woe
betide you if you mis-time your attack. There is always a result and your
ships do move surprisingly quickly around the table.
The Amount of Book-keeping
There is book-keeping but this is kept to a minimum - prior to the game each
ships data is recorded on A4 sheets at 6 ships to a page. The actual writing
is around double the effort required to write out a DBM army list. The
calculation of a fleet to fit the points total can take a while but how many
of us have studied the DBM army lists for hours to find that winning
the game damage, fatigue etc is recorded on the forms but as you are dealing
with each ship during a turn to overwite eg an A with a D as they reduce in
class is not exactly taxing. In all of my games one sheet of A4 in addition
to the ship forms has proved sufficient which is hardly a book-keeping
- THE ANCIENT NAVAL WARGAME COMPETITION
My experience was limited to a few practice games but Rod Langton persuaded
me to enter the naval competition which was part of Flagship 99 at Fort
Brockhurst, Gosport. Unfortunately only 4 competitors turned out (of which
only one had used the rules in anger - as a play tester) which was very
disappointing. This was due to a lack of advertising which will be resolved
for next year. To my surprise I won the competition having played, and
beaten, the other three competitors and I am now the proud owner of a large
shield engraved with my name. This was doubly rewarding as it really annoyed
Keith McGlynn (of Berkeley DBM/DBR fame) who was another of the competitors.
He was soundly thrashed on the Sunday although I must admit to 'having a
moment' when his Roman quinqueremes temporarily turned part of my fleet into
a bizarre butterfly collection with their corvi. We are both hooked on this
very good set of rules.
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