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.

As with 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.

The new 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 :-

i) complex, almost unplayable.

ii) slow - "I played for four hours and never even came to combat"

iii) too dependent on book-keeping.

The 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.

The 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 :-

i) Complexity of the Rules:
The basic game can be divided into different phases as per most rulesets.

Order Writing
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
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 deployment.

Combat & Morale
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.

The 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.

As you take casualties morale increasingly affects your ability to control your fleet. Take care as your fleet may become immobile or even rout off the table.

Win/Loss Calculation
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 minor complaint.

ii) The 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.

iii) 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 combination.....

During 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 nightmare.

GOSPORT - 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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