Category Archives: Galley Warfare

28mm Greek Galleys? Deal me in!

I’ve always been partial to galley warfare games, but usually at a drastically different (smaller) scale than what I usually play in.  What has come down to us about the naval warfare of the Ancient World is at best somewhat fragmentary.  There are some excellent books on the subject, including The Battle of Salamis by Barry Straus and Naval Warfare under Oars by by William Rodgers.  The thing is, we have a generalized idea of how these ships fought, and what they looked like from pictures and pottery shards.  We know these big battles like Actium and Salamis were fought in history.. but it’s hard to conceive in the minds eye of literally HUNDREDS of galley ships smashing into each other in a single engagement.  That’s why I’ve always played with galleys (when I have) in smaller scale like 1:1200 with an odd detour into 15mm sometimes.   The battles are just too huge to grasp what a single ship fighting another single ship action would be like.  The “Galley Period” for want of a better name for this period of naval science, lasted a long time and witnessed much innovation.  The swift, streamlined galleys of Salamis (481 BC)  bore only a superficial resemblance to the giant behemoths that fought in later periods.. slow moving ten banked monsters were at both sides at Actium (31 BC), for instance.  Yet both are “galley engagements”.   Much like how a 19th century 74 Gun Ship of the Line was a complex  instrument to navigate and fight, involving many concurrent, complex tasks, so must have the operations of a Greek Galley in 481 BC have been equally complex, with many concurrent actions transpiring to bring a ship to battle.  The Steersmen had to guide the ship into a path to ram.  The Rowers have to act in unison to increase the ship’s speed to make the ram a success.  The Overseer has to keep the pace and relay the Officer’s intentions to the rowers.  The Officer has pick his targets and deploy Marines and Archers.  The Archers are firing away at the enemy ship as they close.  The Marines are queuing up to  leap across the gap between ships and engage in brutal hand to hand combat.  All of this will only happen if the weather conditions are absolutely perfect; even a moderate swell could dampen martial ardor on galleys, which swamped easily.

So, as you can guess, there’s a lot going on in each of those tiny ship models we so casually assign number factors to, or damage points and ‘crew factors’.  Traditionally, we tend to ignore this level of action in favor of a more grand tactical view of ancient combat. … but.. .what if?  What if we had a scale where we could actually SEE some of this beehive of activity?  Would that make a great game, or a tedious one?  I suspect it depends on how much of the action you generalize.  In any event, the mechanics of any theoretical ship-to-ship galley warfare game would be a whole lot easier to envision in a larger scale, and as of today, that’s possible.  I noticed shared post on the Naval Warfare group on Facebook:

(image copyrights: Ironheart Artisans)

As you can see, this is a laser-cut nautical galley model in 28mm, not unlike my recent Maori war canoe purchase, only an order of magnitude more complex. The designer is Alex Landing, whom I exchanged a few pleasantries with on FB. His company is IRONHEART ARTISANS and as of today (9/30/16) the galley isn’t on their website but soon shall be. I was quoted a retail of 62 dollars each. Now that may seem a trifle steep but I don’t think so.. this is a complex model with a ton of parts. It will require careful assembly. The benefit is that the finished model will certainly A) look fantastic and B) provide enough room to model a ship to ship engagement in 28mm. I could easily envision a game design that models aspects of galley warfare that we rarely add to games, such as rower fatique, deck to deck battles, turning and navigating, oar sheering, and other fun period naval problems. I’m kind of excited about the idea of such a game, and now I might be able to make it happen. The figures wouldn’t be too hard to get– 28mm Greek peltasts and slingers for the Marines, plus Archers. The down side is that it will require a huge amount of playing area for relatively few players– can you imagine a six player game in this scale?


1:1200 Galley Challenge! Poseidon’s Warriors!

We who turn the wheel, and look to windward…

(T.S. Eliot, “the Wasteland”)

I have something of a challenge ahead of me. A while back, my friend Norbert moved to England and had a yard sale for all his non-WarMachine miniature wargame stuff to various old friends. I didn’t want a lot of his stuff, but one thing did catch my eye– a collection of 1:600 Greek and Roman Galleys. I immediately claimed it and pay-paled (is that a word?) Norbert what he was asking for them, thinking I had really gotten a deal from the description. Shortly thereafter, I received a large-ish box from New Jersey, and the reality set in. They weren’t 1:600 Xystons, which I had pictured in my own head. They were 1:1200 scale Navwar galleys, and a LOT of them. So, maybe not the great deal I was thinking I was getting, but still, not a BAD deal. Not at all.

The problem really isn’t how crude they are sculpted compared to Xyston– it’s more how to best use this unusual windfall of many, many 1:1200 galleys that landed in my lap. There’s about 60 plus, and they are all roughly about the size of the Byzantine Dromon you see in the picture here to the right, here.  So I’m not going to see a lot of variety, I’m not going to see a lot of detailed sculpting, and I’ve got large numbers of ships, all pretty much painted one color brown, some with sails, most without.  All of them are mounted on what appears to be chunks of basswood as the bases.  So, thinking this thing through, how can I have fun with this stuff?

  1. Large Numbers is a blessing, not a curse.  So what if I have a lot of the same kind of thing?  The fleets that engaged each other back in Ancient times weren’t that variegated, and they surely had large numbers.  This purchase is an opportunity to create a large scale fleet action.   Maybe not Salamis on a 1:1 scale, but perhaps Actium or smaller battles.
  2. Rules will have to emphasize Command and Control and Squadron Movement, not Individual Ship Micro-Management.  Large numbers of ships mean large headaches for movement every turn.  So I will have to adopt a miniatures system that resolves battles, moves quickly, and most importantly, doesn’t give players the choice of moving 25 ships a turn. I’ve seen this handled pretty well in the board game realm by WAR GALLEY (GMT Games).  Converting a board game for miniatures is easily handled by converting hexes to a tabletop unit of measure and figuring out how to turn.   I considered using the old RAM SPEED game from Metagaming, but it couldn’t handle 60 ships easily.  The old micromanagement thing again.
  3. Each miniature will require some sprucing up.  Essentially, I’m looking at mass quantities of Triremes, Pentaconters and Quadriremes painted assembly line brown and white glued to a basswood base.  I will certainly have to soak the ships to remove them from the basswood, and maybe soak the ships in green cleaner to remove the paint, or figure out how to redo it with minimal damage (these are very tiny ships at 1:1200 scale, many sails are glued on (painted an off white).  I would paint them a lighter base tan color and stain the wood with brown ink for starters, that will bring out the minimal detailing and look more like real wood.  I would also add some color highlights so squadrons can be grouped together.  Lastly, I will mount them on a nicer base, like a Rendara rectangular base.
  4. I might already have a set of rules that works, to some extent.  Astute readers might pick up on the fact that I’m a big fan of Osprey’s “blue series” of rules.  Some of them are hit and miss– I was not much of a fan of their last Fighting Sail rules, but really like other games they have published, like Dragon Rampant and In Her Majesty’s Service.  So, if Osprey announces something coming out that vaguely will trigger my interest, I generally pre-order it on Kindle.  Recently, I was notified that Poseidon’s Warriors was delivered to my Kindle account.  Looking through the ruleset, I can see that the game definitely pushes some of the right buttons.  Initiative is Igo-Hugo (still), but Player Fleets are divided up into squadrons, and squadrons are the activating units.   When a squadron is activated, all the ships in the squadron move, and then the fun stuff is resolved (firing, ramming and boarding).    There are rules for historical admirals, and advanced rules covering a wide range of subjects, from special weapons to flotsam and jetsam on the water.

Poseidon’s Warriors might not be as comprehensive, say, as Langton’s Naumachiae, which I also have! but they do present a good generalized, fast-moving approach to simulating smaller naval battles of the Greco-Roman era.  I like that a turn is basically:

  1. Initiative (Roll a 1D6 to see who starts the Igo-Hugo sequence)
  2. Operations (in initiative order– includes Moving, Ramming, Artillery Fire, & Boarding)
  3. Morale (Roll 1D6 vs. your morale number – assigned at start of game)

This is dirt-simple on the same level as Big Danged Boats.  I think I can follow it. 🙂

I will check in with the Galley Project from time to time in the months ahead.  Don’t expect this to be finished quickly!

A new Initiative System for Big Danged Boats

Init Card idea for BDB

Sample Initiative (draft).  Available on (see below)

Big Danged Boats, or BDB, is a game of my own devising for larger scale, 15mm ship to ship combats in a fantasy setting. I’m shamelessly an admirer of its general goofiness and desire not to be taken seriously– and frankly, that tends to lead to the downside of my “what the heck, everything AND the kitchen sink” design approach. I love BDB as it is but there are so many components and so many differences in basic mechanics of ships that games become difficult to set up and difficult to execute. One of the existing elements I’m not crazy about is the initiative system, which is simply rolling a dice and counting up to 10. Simple, I guess, but it has no action/counteraction dynamic, like real initiative does.  Even worse, people sit around waiting for things to happen, and that’s not fun.

Therefore, I’m proposing a system of interactive Initiative bidding for BDB, inspired by a card game I vaguely remember. I’m not sure if we’re going to go with this or not but I’m certainly going to test it. Turns are structured around initiative actions– At start of game, each player is handed a deck of Initiative Bid cards, numbered 1-10. Every turn, he/she bids an initiative action or actions. They can then Move (Full), Shoot, Ram, Board, Cast Spells and maybe a few other things I haven’t thought of yet.  This is obviously a number 1-10. The lower number moves first. Higher numbers (when in missile range) subtract the lower numbers from their card. The difference is “reactions”. These are a number of specified actions the reacting ship can do in response to the initiative ship.  The turn continues until every ship captain has used every initiative bid card in their hand, and discarded them into their own discard pile.

Reactions include: Fire a volley, move a stick, cast a spell, abandon ship. I might add more. Note that RAMMING isn’t on this list.

In a multiple ship duel, engagement with ships with lower initiative numbers ACTING before an enemy REACTS.  If the ship is out of extreme missile range of any other ship (unlikely), it can move a single stick per action, or cast a spell (and possibly other actions).  If the ship is within missile range, but not ramming range, it may move a single stick per action, fire or cast spells.  If the ship can RAM within one movement stick (and wants to ram), it moves to ram.  If the opposing ship has at least one action left (from subtracting that ship’s lower initiative from it’s higher initiative), it may attempt a half move to avoid ram.  If it has more than one action left, it may move and shoot, or move and cast, etc.

A ship may also bank any unused actions in overwatch mode until the end of the round, at which point they must be expended.  The ship will remain stationery until something — the end of the turn, or a combat from another ship, causes them to expend their banked actions immediately.  Track these with colored beads or markers.

Note that the ship captain can’t reuse an initiative card until he/she has cycled through the entire initiative deck, 1-10.  Initiative cards are discarded to a discard pile after use and then then after the last card is used they may be picked up again.  (Design note, I may cap initiative cards at a lower number, like 7 or 8, 10 seems pretty high).

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and all of them are mutual enemies, the default engagement is to the ship that is closest to the ship with the lower initiative.

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and some of them are aligned, the lower initiative ship moves, the CLOSER ship reacts (enemy or ally), and then the NEXT CLOSEST ship reacts, etc.


Combat Example using new initiative rules.

Examples (refer to above diagram):

  1. A, B, and C are all mutually hostile and have just drawn initiative cards.  B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  B moves first, and not caring which ship he antagonizes he decides to target C.  He has four actions.  He moves three sticks for 3, fires for one and he is done.  Ship C’s 6, minus B’s 4, is 2.  Ship C chooses to move for one stick and fire back in reaction.  Ship A would go last with three actions (7-4, and it is farther away than C).  He chooses to move two sticks closer to B and fire his main guns for 3 actions.
  2. A & B are allied versus C who is an enemy faction, and have just darw initiative cards.    B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  Lowest initiative ship B goes first.  B has four actions.  He moves three sticks and ends in a RAM condition on C.  C attempts to react away from the Ram but fails the save.  It has one more action and uses it to shoot a the incoming ramming ship.  A. Reacts (since it is in range of B) and moves closer to the ship to ship brawl, firing at C long range in support.
  3. All ships are mutually hostile.  B has moved with a 4 and shot at A with a ranging shot, and missed.  C has reacted to B but not moved. He moves next as a 6.  He chooses to expend all of his actions moving into a RAM situation on B.  Ram is resolved.  A moves next as he is a 7.  He has three actions (B’s 4 out of his 7 makes 3) and he uses them to move, fire at B, and save the last as an overwatch reaction.

In all cases, the captains can’t use cards 4, 6, or 7 (as applies to each) again until they have cycled through their entire deck of 1-10.

I made a quick initiative deck on, feel free to download (it isn’t final). Experiment with your own naval ships. Let me know what you think.

Ram Speed, now available as an Epub

One of my favorite old Metagaming Microhistory games by far is RAM SPEED. Ram Speed was a dirt-simple galley warfare board game designed to play with galley counters on a hex grid.  With not much work or brain power expended, the game mechanics of Ram Speed converted easily to miniatures game play.

I’ve run games of Ram Speed with multiple NAVWAR 1:1200 galleys in play and it worked just fine.  Of course, it would be optimal on a hexmap, if you have one, but converting hexes to inches always worked for me.

Conversion notes:

I scanned and OCR’d the best of my copies of the original, but this is a game that is over 30 years old now so I had to work at fixing the many typos that cropped up from OCRing old, faded and wrinkled paper rules.  If you find something I missed, be kind and let me know.  The original text wasn’t exactly one of Metagaming’s best efforts, having been typset on an IBM Selectra typewriter.   I also created a new cover for the EPUB version.  The one that is on the historical pocket cardboard box that was the final product has messed up color separation and has always been challenging to read.  My version is in the spirit of the original and is perhaps a tad more easy to read.  Finally, I added a consolidated combat chart from a fan entry on BGG.  I’m also providing links to a re-creating of the game charts from BGG as well, they are much clearer and attractive than the originals.

Downloading the Epub

You can find the Ram Speed Epub (only) on the Digital Rules page. download link is fixed.

BoardgameGeek User Submitted Content (highly recommended):

(you will need a BGG account to view these)

  1. Play Summary  1 (Word)
  2. Play Summary 2 (Word) – Combat Tables
  3. Cutout Semi-3D minis, White   and Black Minis, too.  Instructions for both
  4.  Printable Ship Record Sheets (better than the original by far)

Wargames and quintessence

Note: I already have errata, based on comments.  See the text in red for changes.

“Early Morning Writer”.. whoever that is.. on the Miniatures Page posted an interesting challenge recently.  I was intrigued:

Here is the challenge: to write an ultra simple set of rules in the shortest amount of time possible. And here are the rules – no more than six sentences are permitted and they must be relatively short and simple sentences. Eight hundred word sentences disqualifies you, etc. That’s it, those are the rules, that is the challenge. There is no period or any other restriction But you must write something you believe could actually be played without you being there to interpret the rules for those playing.

The goal? Well, first the inspiration. One of the most enjoyable games I ever played we used rules I concocted in about five minutes that barely used one side of a 3×5 index card (in largish print). Think I still have that card. And the collective goal is for all of us to get some sense of what is the most common point of reference for rules, assuming there is such a thing (obviously I’m assuming there is). And maybe some fun games and some concepts we’ve never though of but someone else has.

For those whose response is, “It can’t be done.” Disqualified.

No, there is no prize and it is not an officially sanctioned TMP event; its just based here because of the membership numbers.

And let it be fun rather than another excuse for some strange trip down those weird and ultimately meaningless corridors too often traveled. Those of you with an appreciation of this know exactly what I mean.

So, on to it. Your best effort at a set of rules in six simple and relatively short sentences. Be quick about it, too much thought will spoil your efforts.


This is harder than it looks.  It may be that the brain (at least my brain) immediately feels the need to complicate things.  Certainly that’s the case with my submission, below. As I’ve grown boat-brained as I have gotten older, a galley game sprang to mind as an easy candidate. It’s not the most complete design, I would have liked to touch on boarding combat, siege weapons, multi-ship combat, fatigue, and flesh out the Ramming rules a little. There’s only so much you can do with 6 sentences.

The Wooden Walls

1) Ships can be 1 hex sized Liburnians (5 hits/5 crew/Ram of 5/no archers/Maneuver 3/speed 5)
1.5 hex sized Triremes (7 hits/7 crew/Ram of 7/2 archers/Maneuver 2/speed 4) or 2 hex sized Quadremes (10 hits/10 crew/Ram of 8/4 archers/Maneuver 1/speed 3)

2) Ships move on a hex map that regulates distance & turning: 3 hexsides turning & 5 distance for a Lib, 2 hexsides turning & 4 distance for a Tri and 1 hexside turning & 3 distance for a Quad.

3) Ships Move/Ram, then Resolve Combat by side (dicing for initiative each turn)– in no specific order.

4) Ships RAM at end of movement (if touching another ship) by rolling # of dice equivalent to Ram Factor, looking for 6s– each 6 is damage point deducted from the target ship’s “hits” total– until it hits zero and sinks.

5) If a Target ship has not yet moved this turn, it may react to a ram attempt by trying to maneuver left or right, pivoting on either end of the ship, up to their maneuver factor, to avoid ram

6) Ships with Archers may attempt archery by rolling a D6 per archer against enemy crews (only), looking for 6s (at 2 hexes distance) or 5, 6 (at 1 hex distance) to eliminate enemy crew.

So herein is contained a first stab at some galley rules from the top of my head.  Sentence 1 defines the variables.  Sentence 2 describes the physical environment and abstract scale.  Sentence 3 attempts to resolve conflict  Sentence 4 expounds on combat a little more.  Sentence 5 gives the ships some form of defense, and Sentence 6 is a little chrome to add some fun.  It’s hard to get at the essential game element here– I see the point of the contest, to be sure.  How do you define the central game narrative in six sentences?  Does every game have some form of “Platonic Form” that can’t be reduced– a quintessence?  Hard to say, I’m sure I’m not there with with game above.  I could have added tons of stuff to it.

Yeah, I admit, I cheated a little. A few of those are some seriously run-on sentences!

The Many, Many Sins Against History in “300: Rise of an Empire”

300: Rise of the Empire: Clio, the muse of history, stifles her outrage.  WARNING: the following is FULL OF SPOILERS! 

Be sure to read: The 300 sequel is Zack Snyder’s greatest  intellectual masterpiece by Analee Nevitz at Io9 for undiluted snarky joy!!

Themistocles: an oily, muscled version. There’s a lot of that in this flick.

For the record, I’m not one of those guys.  You know the type.  If the uniform facing colors are wrong in a historical movie, than of course the whole experienced is ruined? You know the guy, right?

Honest, I’m not that guy.

I realize a movie’s primary function is to entertain.  Seven years ago I did NOT walk into a darkened theater to watch this film’s predecessor (300) and expect that I was going to watch the cinematic equivalent of reading Herodotus.  That movie did not disappoint– it was a rip-snorter, full of odd, tortured imagery, a world where 300 thong-wearing, oily Spartans with chiseled pectoral muscles could hold off a Persian Army reputed to be one million strong (poppycock.. but more on that later).  300’s unique visual look to the story was due in great part to its source material, namely 300, the graphic novel by Frank Miller.   300, in part, draws from Herodotus’ The Histories as well as an earlier motion picture entitled The 300 Spartans.   A movie about a comic book and another movie, then.  300’s unique visuals– with its attendant monsters, freaks of nature, and armored war-rhinos, were explained (by Miller) as a visualization of “the Persian Behemoth” as the Greeks saw it at the time.  If you activate Miller’s filter in your brain, you can enjoy 300 for what it is, which is a movie made from a graphic novel, NOT history.  For me, 300 is a movie that is kinda hard not to like– Gerard Butler’s magnificent scenery chewing lit up the movie and makes it a guilty pleasure to this day.

So what about 300: Rise of an Empire, then?

I’ll admit it up front, since it will sound embarrassing later.   I really wanted to see 300: Rise of an Empire for a few reasons.  Paradoxically, since I know better, most of those reasons were historical in nature.  300RoaE, you see, “historically” depicts events in a space and time that is sometimes concurrent with 300, roughly speaking, and then it explains what happens directly after the earlier movie.   The subject at hand is the great naval battle of Salamis, and I presume its prequel, Artemisium.  Only Salamis is named.  While Thermopylae, the famous standoff depicted in the film 300, was occurring, the naval Battle of Artemisium was also occurring.  Historically, the Greeks lost half as many ships and men as the Persians, but that hardly mattered, so it was a “stalemate” battle.    An indeterminate amount of time later, though probably no more than a few days to a week, the naval Battle of Salamis occurred.   Both of these battles are depicted in 300RoaE.   And that’s why I bought a ticket, really.  There just aren’t that many movies featuring galley combat from the Ancient period out there, bad or good, so when they announced what this movie would be about, I was very interested.  This is a favorite time period of mine.   Imagine doing Salamis with modern CGI technology!

Uh huh. Hrm.. I really need to stop listening to myself.

It didn’t quite work out to my satisfaction, so I might as well start the histrionics and “be that guy” for a while.  Here goes:

1) Really, Gorgo? Really?   The movie starts with the redoubtable Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo of Sparta, Circe of Lannister, and grown up Sarah Connor) performing the standard expository trick as has become standard for Snyder (and now, Noam Murro).   She is standing .. somewhere.. narrating the events that have got us to this point.  Time jumps around a little, we see some 300 flashbacks, but it’s important to note that David Wenham is next to her, wearing an eyepatch, so Thermopylae has already happened.  She describes events at the great Battle of Marathon, a decade before, where the Athenian General Themistocles, seeing the Persians disembarking from their ships, pressed the attack in the center that they were not prepared for, causing them carnage, retreat, and failure.  In the process, Themistocles (in flashbacks) spots the Persian King Darius I  in a ship offshore, picks up a bow and fires an arrow at him.  The young prince present, Xerxes (with a head of hair) delivers the standard dramatic “Noooooooooooo” as it hits Darius clean amidships.  All very fine dramatic material, except it didn’t happen.  Darius I (and needless to say, a younger Xerxes) wasn’t even at the Battle of Marathon.  He delegated the seemingly minor task of wiping out those truculent Greeks to his Admiral, Datis.  No bowshot, no dramatic death, no pain-wracked tearful farewells.   Datis was allegedly one of the 6,200 Persian casualties from that battle, but even that is disputed by Herodotus, who claimed he lived afterward.   As I’ve stated, Gorgo recounts that Themistocles is the brilliant general that pushed the assault forward onto the Persians at Marathon, but that interpretation probably would have come as a surprise to Miltiades, who was actually in command at Marathon, though there are some accounts that also place Themistocles there, but not in overall command.

Did I mention that Greek Soldiers (Spartan or Athenian) looked more like THIS than bare chested, with chiseled abs and a color coded cloak (red for Spartans, blue for Athenians?)? It’s true!

2) Womanly Wiles… The movie now introduces the character of Artemisia.  For me, the Artemisia character as depicted by Eva Green, will forever make this movie a guilty pleasure– she’s a far better villain than Xerxes, and really, this movie needs some over the top action to make up for no Gerard Butler.  In the movie, Artemisia is depicted as a Greek villager whose parents were killed by Greeks, then she was kidnapped as a girl, sexually brutalized (offscreen, in flashbacks) and then discovered by none other than Peter Mensah, the nameless Persian Ambassador that got kicked down a well in 300!  Naturally he takes a shine to her, rehabilitates her, turns her into the Persian killing machine!  She becomes Darius’ right hand gal (in flashbacks), trusted general, and head-lopper. Well, that’s all well and good (if a bit trite by action movie standards), but it commits some major historical blunders.  The historical Artemisia would have been offended at this depiction– she was the daughter of the King of Halicarnassus and actual ruler of Caria (near modern Anatolia).  She took the throne after the death of her husband.  She certainly was of Greek heritage (as were a lot of people living in the Persian Empire and serving in the Imperial armies– nationalism wasn’t such a driving force then).  So.. no peasant girl, no grudge against the Greeks, per se.  The actual Artemisia was present at both Artemisium and Salamis (both depicted in the movie) but she commanded a squadron of five ships.  Artemisia was a subordinate to Xerxes, and performed her duty as she saw it, and did very well indeed– but she was not an uber-Admiral/General of the invasion force.  If anybody was, it was Ariamenes (the older brother of Xerxes) who was nominally in charge of the naval contingent and who died at Salamis, pin cushioned by Greek spears.  Artemisia comes off as a realist from what history records of her.  When Mardonius (the Persian land commander) was sent to her from Xerxes to get her opinion of committing the Persian fleet to a decisive battle against the Greeks, she responded by advising against it– as the Greeks were clearly the masters of the ocean, and the Persian naval allies (particularly the Egyptians and Cyprians) were worse than useless.  History records Xerxes’ decision, and that she did her duty to her overlord– her squadron may have sank as many as 4 galleys at Salamis.  Other than at the day of the battle, Artemisia isn’t mentioned very much in history.  She certainly was NOT the “kingmaker” she is depicted in flashbacks.  There certainly was a woman who advanced Xerxes’ as successor after Darius I died (of natural causes, not an arrow) in 486.  That was Atosa,  his mother and Darius’ widow.  A formidable woman, who, like Ariamenes, isn’t given any screen time.

Where everything was, and when it happened.

Eva Green’s depiction of Artemisia as a sadistic, power mad, head-lopping devoted follower of Xerxes (who secretly has the hots for Themistocles), while entertaining in a campy sense, is about as different from the real Artemisia as she could manage.  Eva Green can act large on screen and I appreciated her performance as “giggle-inducing”, but that’s about as far as it goes.  The real Artemisia wasn’t in charge of the naval forces (just one squadron of it), had no burning hatred of Greeks, didn’t casually lop off heads for no reason, didn’t have sex with the enemy commander (we’ll get to that), didn’t engage in epic sword duels on the ships’ deck, and had no forces of the Imperial Guard under her command– just a lot of backwater yokels who actually did very well indeed for the Persian side.

3. Our whey-faced non-hero.  And now, for Themistocles himself, the architect of Greek naval victory.  As played by Sullivan Stapleton in the film, Themistocles isn’t so much inaccurate as he is a bit of a dud.  Here is where the manic scenery chewing of Gerard Butler is missed the most.  Stapleton portrays Themistocles as a martial hero (with an inferiority complex about Spartans, apparently) and cunning strategist. The real Themistocles was both of those things, to be sure, but his character was far more complex than the blank-faced automaton given to us by Stapleton.  Themistocles was a politician by trade, a consensus builder and powerful persuader of groups.  If any one person is responsible for the Greek naval victory at Salamis, it’s Themistocles.  He not only persuaded the Athenians to build a very large fleet (by Greek standards) but he also roped in most (but not all) of the naval forces available to the Greeks to join together in an allied fleet to confront the Persians.  INCLUDING THE SPARTANS, who sent a token force of 5 ships, then demanded to be in charge!  Themistocles allowed a nominal Spartan commander (Eurybiades), understanding that even with such a weak commitment from their side, he could claim that the Spartans were with him and get even more reluctant allies to join in.  The movie shows Themistocles in the Agora one time, trying to convince the delegates from other city-states to join the defense forces, and twice trying to appeal to Gorgo for assistance (unsuccessfully each time).  Of some interest are her motivations– she doesn’t want to see a “United Greece” as a future rival for Spartan dominance.  Oddly enough, that’s exactly what happened in real history, but that was after the second Persian invasion was repelled.  My biggest problems with the filmic Themistocles were that he wasn’t nearly charming enough and just seems to going through the motions when trying to exert leadership.  His inspirational speeches were flat and unemotional and hardly inspiring.   His so called tactical genius, alluded to many times by Artemisia, was difficult to follow the way it the two great naval battles were depicted in the movie.  (shot in that by-n0w-irritating grainy film with a rainstorm to hide the CGI lines, a trick we all know from the Matrix era, thank you very much) We know a trick is being played at one point in the Battle of Artemisia, but it’s not clear what’s going on.   Sadly the Persian galleys didn’t look hugely different from the Greek ones (except bigger with more ornate prows), which led to the visual confusion.  I guess the worst part about Themistocles is that he doesn’t convince us that he is anywhere near as clever and tactically superior as his historical counterpart, although the facts of the battles aren’t grievously divergent, if you can shrug off things like Armored Tankers spewing oil and Suicide Swimmers.

What was the point of the most un-erotic sex scene ever between Themistocles and Artemisia the night before the conclusive battle?  Just to show off Eva Green’s considerable natural charms?  You’ll be shocked to discover that nothing like that ever happened, though what actually  did happen would have made a better story– the Persians made an offer to switch sides to Themistocles the night before the battle which (apparently) Themistocles convinced them that he was considering.  People switched sides a lot back then, it wasn’t such a bad tactic when you’re outnumbered 5 to 1.  The next day, the Persians were convinced there wouldn’t BE  a battle and weren’t in formation at the onset– yet the Greek fleet was already singing the mighty Paean to the gods and rowing out to meet them at top speed and in formation.  Wouldn’t THAT have made a better visual?  Come on, Hollywood!

I could go on and on about the little things I found were howlers in 300: Rise of an Empire.  I don’t think that’s much of an exercise and the movie is just too easy of a target, bloated and rotting like an apple that’s been hanging for too long on a dead branch.  I will address the worst bit– the ending.  Salamis ensues.  By this point, I was drumming my fingers.  Ships crash together.  The Persians have discovered metal SHIP ARMOR and Greek Fire.. before the Greeks did!   Wait, what?  Really?  Was the giant flame ship the naval equivalent of a the armored rhino?   Of course we have to have a stunning denouement, at which point Themistocles RIDES A HORSE from his boat to the Persian flagship (they’re all smashed together you see, and they make a wooden path right to the enemy flagship…) where of course he fights Artemisia in deadly hand to hand combat.   And wins.  Even with that small victory things look bleak for the Greeks  as they have taken so many losses.. but of course.  the curtain rises and here we find Gorgo and the Spartan fleet, rowing in to save the day.  Remember how she started the movie by providing all the background narrative?  Well, she was doing it on the deck of the Spartan flagship all along, as they were speeding in to battle to save the Allied fleet form destruction!  Of course.  Because we can’t have a movie in the 300 franchise without having SPARTANS in it, can we?  All of it is poppycock– the Spartans couldn’t come to the rescue .. they were already there (five ships worth).  They certainly wouldn’t have been led into battle by Gorgo the Warrior Queen– whose historical accomplishments were considerable, but she never led troops in any battle.

I could go on and on, but really this is a pointless exercise.   The original 300 got a lot of things wrong but I was willing to forgive most of them for reasons stated– it was a movie based upon a comic book that was about Thermopylae.  THIS movie is a movie based upon ANOTHER movie based upon a comic book which was based upon another movie.  In the original 300, I still had the impression that someone (Frank Miller, really) read an actual history book at some point in his life.  In RISE OF AN EMPIRE, not so much.   I only marginally enjoyed the movie for the non-fantastical galley fight sequences, even when they were hard to follow.  My main problem with Snyder as a visual stylist is that he insists on filming action sequences in a gray grainy haze, or pouring rain.  In reality, NO SHIP FROM EITHER SIDE would have taken to sea in those sea conditions!  They would have been swamped!

IN CONCLUSION, At best, 2 stars out of 5.  If you’re a fan of this historical period, you’ll be chewing on your beard at the mistakes, omissions and hollywood dreck that’s jammed into this film.  If you’re a fan of light hearted action pablum, you might rate it higher.

Some points to ponder, if you decide to go:

Keep in mind that the “Empire” in the title.. what does it mean?  Not the Persian empire.  It’s a reference to the (eventual) ATHENIAN empire, which was an outgrowth of the Athens-led Delian League, set up to defend greater Greece against the Persian threat.

The Persians didn’t have another cataclysmic encounter with the Greeks again.  They remained enemies, but their strategies changed after Salamis and Plataea.  The Persians recognized that they could foster the rivalry between Sparta and Athens by supporting political divisions within the alliance, and thus achieve greater security without risking their army in a third great defeat.

VERY briefly we see the greatest achievement of the whole Second Invasion happening over Xerxes shoulder in one scene– namely, bridging the Hellespont and moving his gigantic army over it to attack the Greek mainland.  By the standards of the day, this was one hell of a trick– with logistics as primitive as they were back then.  The movie could have done so much more with this!

Did you know that this was Xerxes last visit to the homeland of those troublemaking Greeks?  You see Xerxes (as portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro) trudging away “Godlike” after his fleets were defeated at Salamis.  The real Xerxes didn’t style himself as a god, by the way.  He went home to a rebellion in Egypt, then a palace coup which killed him and placed his son Ataxerxes on the throne.

Did you know that that Greek nationalist, hero and military genius Themistocles ended up disgraced, persecuted and finally on the run from his erstwhile friends and allies in Greece?  Exiling leaders who had done particularly well was part of Greek political life– early democratic systems had a distaste for leaders who were *too* popular.  Themistocles’ Spartan enemies pursued his exile to the point of mania and he ended up having to flee for his life to none other than the Persians who made him a governor of a province, where lived out the rest of his days.

The real story, the real history– was so much better than the hackneyed, action hero glop served up by 300: Rise of an Empire, it makes my brain hurt.

Big Danged Boats, Get Bit and Olympica.

Thursday: the kids were jonesing to finish Big Danged Boats from Wednesday afternoon. I left it set up for them.


The Spartans were attempting a rear ram, which wasn’t going to happen, even with a broad beamed ship like the Siege Machine. They DID end up next to the Siege Machine not moving, and moved into Boarding and Melee. The melee rules now look like this:

MUCH deplete Spartans charge across the paddle-wheel housing to slaughter some Gnomes.

Boarding procedure:

Target ship being boarded fires off a defensive volley with any shooters that can fire. (The Gnomes had 8 AD worth of fire).

Line up attackers and defenders.

Gnomes and Spartans lining up

each side rolls AD and DD. If they match, go to crit table. If the net result is negative for the attacker, he retreats. If he scores positive, he’s hit his opponent.

Unlike the last game, the Spartans got the butts handed to them this time. Only the Captain and one Spartan were left.

Since the Gnome ship was sinking fast, the Gnome Captain boarded right back, and slaughtered the Spartan crew.

Bad luck for the Spartans!

Cedric, running the Gnomes, played the FROM HELL’S HEART I STAB AT THEE action card. This blows up the ship and anyone around it. He ended up losing some Gmomes and the Black Galley lost some crew as well.

The rest of the action was inconsequential. The Black Galley went down to hard poinding, and then so did the Deadnought.

The last fighting ships were the Wood Elves, Primus, the Gnomes escaping in the Hoplite, and the Dwarves.

We called it as it was starting to drag a bit. <a href="nizzocles's Story” target=”_blank”>Here’s a slideshow


We had a great time running a repise of last year’s OLYMPICA game at Garrett’s request. This is a miniatures version of the old Metagaming microgame, somewhat expanded in scope. Unlike last time, the UN actually got pretty close to the Web of COmpulsion generator and if they hadn’t been converted, would have won this one.

The UN started closer than usual and took advantage of a glaring hole in the tunnel network:

The Webbie’s Tunnel Network. Notice tunnel 5-6. That ends up right behind the web of compulsion, which the UN Figured out.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to finish it, but I thought the UN might have pulled this one off. They at least discovered where the web generator was in this game, but quickly got converted by it.

UN Company converted by the Web Generator. You have a new boss now!

They got this close:

See the WG counter? That means WEB GENERATOR. They were RIGHT there. Sadly the demonic web generator impelled them to desert the UN and join the Webbies.

I tinkered with the balance on this one and will publish a rewrite shortly. Both sides are a little better represented now. I think the game would have reached conclusion in about four more turns.

Olympica 2013

For more pictures, see this Slideshow.

LORDS OF THE SEA, a short review

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of DemocracyLords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read LORDS OF THE SEA in a somewhat desultory fashion in paper about two years ago, and put it down, not to get to it again, not because I didn’t like it, I just lost track of it and didn’t get back to it. Recently I checked out a library audio copy from Overdrive, and I finished it last weekend. I am now going to go back and re-read the paper book to get the names right. LORDS OF THE SEA is an excellent, readable history of the rise of the Athenian navy and the Wars of the Delian League that followed. The author, John Hale, inculcates the story with moments of high drama as the city of Athens struggles to meet the challenge of Persian obliteration, then to achieve naval supremacy against the Persians and other opponents (often other Greeks) in the century that followed the Battles of Salamis and the Eurymedon. This was not a time of unending successes; a disastrous expedition to Egypt to support a revolt against the Persian Empire ended in failure, with 20,000 Athenians lost. Internal disputes among the Delian League members and conflict with the Spartan’s own Peliponesian League in the first First Pelopenisian War further eroded Athens’ claim to hegemony in the Aegean. Throughout their period of ascendancy, Athens understood their power (and culture, as Hale points out) derived from a relentless pursuit of a superior navy and overall “navalization” of their culture. Much like Sparta’s militarization of their entire populace, so did Athens adapt an overall naval focus to every level of society. In an undertaking that required rich men to sit on the same rowing bench as poor men, society soon became democratized as well. Hale’s book touches on all levels of the naval revolution of Athens, including the arts, democracy and society– as well as being an exciting and engaging work of history. LORDS OF THE SEA reads like an adventure book, not a history, and I devoured it. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Third Running: Uncharted Seas Battle of the Steam Plume at Game Camp Aug 2012

(note: I was far too busy with Events Entry for HMGS’ FALL IN to blog more than semi-sporadically for most of August and September, that’s life.  I did have a humdinger of a battle report in the works, and it doesn’t matter if I release it close to the events in question — Game Camp, or not).


Every year at Gaming Camp the big Uncharted Seas battle is the centerpiece of the week; I should routinely schedule more than one day for this as I routinely drop the Thursday activity to extend Uncharted Seas over two days.  This Camp was no exception– I pulled the Battle of the Steam Plume out of the box, which I had run at the Williamsburg Muster and Cold Wars conventions this year.  For details of the scenario, go here, the description of the Williamsburg Muster battle is at the end.  In a thumbnail, you have a huge playing surface, lots of little islands, an active volcano, and fleets from several nations trying to impede mutual progress.

If you aren’t familiar with the Steam Plume battle, here are some basics.


General layout at start: important to note are the placements of islands (and LOS implications) and where the volcano is in the center.

This game is three tablecloths long so there is plenty of sea room to play around with. I did much the same layout as at Cold Wars and Williamsburg; a central volcano and many smaller islands dotting the waterscape around it. This was to prevent a barrage of long ranging shot which would have shortened the game considerably with a competent player!


Iron Dwarf:

IRON DWARVES: basic starter fleet, plus an additional squadron of 2 Heavy Cruisers and 1 additional Zeppelin.


The Imperial Human Fleet appears large but really is just a starter fleet of one Battleship, three cruisers, six frigates, three martyr frigates and a single assault balloon (which was hidden aboard one of the cruisers). They are escorting a 5 ship convoy (acting as a single squadron) of relatively worthless transports.

Shroud Mages:

The Shroud Mages had a Core Set of 1 BB, 3 CR, and 6 FR plus 2 squadrons of 3 Destroyers (of two different types). The Shrouds are excellent ram ships and hopefully this ability will come into play.

Orc Raiders:

In every battle there’s going to be spots on the board where player’s aren’t engaged. This was a problem on the Southern end of this battle, where nominal allies Dwarves and Humans were dominating the battlefield. So I put together a small Orc Raider fleet to keep them engaged constantly through the game– this is a fleet for smashing and grabbing, with three large capital ships stuffed with extra boarding parties and forward-firing weapons. Not a fleet for subtlety or maneuver.  The Orcs will hide behind the islands and look for an opportunity to pounce on the unsuspecting, ponderous human fleet.

Thaniras Elves:

Elf fleet

The Elven fleet of Thaniras is not designed for slugging matches. This fleet has more hitting power than most, having some extra heavy cruisers. The ideal tactic for the Elves is to smash and grab, and keep on sailing no matter what you do. Will the Elves go toe to toe with their neighbors or sail onward?

The humans were somewhat isolated, with the dwarves, on the far side of the Volcano. I wanted to make them part of the game and not spend the entire time sailing somewhere. So I put a scratch Orc fleet on the table and sailed at them with a few boarding specialty vessels and a couple of frigates. We mixed it up pretty well, I didn’t try to ram home more than one time, and still managed to take out a Imperial cruiser. Not a bad swap, one frigate for a cruiser… He disengaged and tried to move onward.

The Humans felt pretty picked upon, and I can’t say as I blame them very much.

The Human Convoy

Because the Imperial Convoy gains or loses victory points per each cargo ship he gets past a certain point, the convoy is always a target.  The Orcs attacked it early in the game, then the Dwarves, and the Elves were getting into the act when the game was called at the end of the day.

The Iron Dwarves attack in line, taking out cruisers

Human Frigates Swarm the Ork Battlecruiser, two WarCrocs are in the back

Still, the Human managed to launch his balloon based Da-Vinci Gliders and actually captured a giant ship that way, so he put in a great showing.

The Balloon Attack from the Imperial Humans

Balloons landing and successfully boarding the Iron Dwarf Battleship!! WOOT!

The Iron Dwarves were handled very competently by their young Commodore, however, numbers tell and the Dwarves lost to attacks where they aren’t strong– they were swarmed by the Orcs and Human attacks of various flavors and they just lost manpower.

The Dwarf War Zeppelin was shot down early.


It was a remarkably peaceable battle.  I don’t know what it is about Uncharted Seas.  You get people playing it and the first thing they want to do is establish treaties and non-aggression zones.  After a while, the Undead Admiral shrugged and said “SOD THIS!” in his creaky voice and started attacking the Shroud Mages, run by Gar.


The Shroudies fought back, setting off a savage battle at the far end of the table.   So much for Peace Treaties!  There was a huge exchange of gunfire and the Shrouds got the worst of it, especially after the dreaded snake eyes critical hit, which wiped out a goodly portion of the Shroud Mage fleet!

No captain likes to see this combination pointed at him…

The Bone Gryffons unleash Hell

The “Dead Pile” at the Southern End.

We called it a day at the end of SOLID TWO DAY GAMING SESSION.  Yes, Uncharted Seas held their rapt attention for two days of Gaming Camp.  It was quite impressive.    In terms of a “win”, I’d give it to the Humans, who handled their difficult position with competence and dash.  I give honorable points to the Volcano, which took out 3 ships!

Here’s a slide show “Story” on Photobucket:


Old & New Again via the power of the Internetz

Some years back (2006), I was intrigued by the notion of postcard games (a usually free game where everything needed to play except perhaps the randomizing elements is provided on a post card).  I decided to create one about one of my favorite wargame topics, Greek and Roman galley warfare.  This was Poseidon’s Postcard.  When I posted a test copy on my old blogger blog in 2006, the public response was “meh“.  I admit the artwork is somewhat amateurish and the field of battle quite limited (I used the PBeM tool Cyberboard to make the components, actually).   However, a handful of kind souls did in fact attempt to play it and they reported they liked it.  They posted some questions on my now-defunct Toy Soldiers forum board, which I kept close.  Four years passed, and I mentioned this old postcard game in an offhand fashion on this blog, when I was commenting on using an Ipod as a dice roller for a different postcard game I was playing at lunch (called Rattenkrieg).   The Miniatures Wargaming blog noticed the reference and made it a daily item, so now my humble old post from 2006 has had about 1000 hits on it.  My pride is nettled, I can’t let the game hang their in a half-assed state I left it in in 2006, so I have revised that post with a few edits in red text, labeled “2010”.    I feel better about the final product, even if  I doubt I could put the entire thing on a postcard now and realistically expect it to be mailable.  In any event, take it out for a spin, give it a try, and come back and whine about what needs fixing.

Rules from Poseidon's Postcard

Rules side of Poseidon's Postcard

Poseidon’s Postcard is released through a Creative Commons license, non-derivative and non-commercial.  Users my download for their personal use or post it to their sites along as original credit is given.

Galley Warfare: Roman Seas at Fall In! AAR on Repple Depple

If you like wargaming Galley Warfare like I do, you might want to spare a moment to visit Mr. Brian Cantwell’s excellent after action reports on his three ROMAN SEAS games he hosted at the recently concluded FALL IN! 09 convention. I was in the middle game, Rule Britannia! Rules: Roman Seas (Eric Hotz). Ship models: Roman Seas (paper ships).


Admiral Walticles stares in mounting concern as the left flank is pounced on by Admiral Deweycles' fresh Liburnian Squadron. Click on the picture for the battle reports.

The picture above depicts me (the giant freckled arm and concerned visage on the right hand side) observing Dewey LaRochelle’s fresh squadron of Liburnians swooping down around my left flank. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do at this point, as I am locked in melee with several other Liburnians and depeleted in crew. I imagine a prayer to Poseidon is in order.

Mr. Brian Cantwell’s Repple Depple blog is his wargaming hobby blog– and he is an enthusiastic player of many periods of history, not just galley warfare. Worth taking a look at.

Galley Warfare: A Roman Seas game at Fall In 2009

“Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm” –Publius Syrus

I managed to skeeve my way into a game of ROMAN SEAS, a game of galley warfare at Fall IN 09 on Saturday in the AM.  The GM was Mr. Brian Cantwell, a fan of the Roman Seas system and a builder of the paper galley figures. Long term readers of this blog may recall ancient galley warfare is a favorite period for me.


Ram Speed line of battle...

I liked the rules, which are far more simple than, say, Naumachiae, but more complex than the old metagaming Ram Speed or NavWar’s galley warfare rules. A nice balance of realism and playability. Eric Hotz’s rules work very well, they emphasize the current speed of the ship being activated as well as the experience levels of the respective ships in action. I would definitely play these rules again.


The Saxons and Imperials shake it up some

By far and away, the gem of this event was the paper galley miniatures published by Hotz Artworks. They are amazing… fantastic detail, lovely scale to work with, and with proper care and attention and effort put into constructing them, one of the most affordable methods of creating a galley fleet I know of. Each CD of ships comes with a pretty thorough order of battle for Romans, Carthaginians, and Saxon. So for about 20 USD you get a set of PDFs that can generate as many fleets as you like. The mind boggles at what a great bargain this is. I inquired of the GM about his method of creating ships. He prints the ships out (no rescaling) on 8.5 by 11 color paper, then takes it to kinkos to have it laminated on heavy (800 weight is what I heard) card stock. Then he cuts the ships out and mounts them on a piece of cut wood he uses specialty bases made out of hardboard, but basswood is possible, too.


Attack of Dewey LaRochelle's Imperial Liburnian Squadron

As far as the game went, I did reasonably well– charging my squadron of rebel/separatist Liburnians (all experienced, except one veteran) into the opposing Imperial line. Dewey LaRochelle was on the opposite side, running one flank of the Imperials, facing a Saxon Fleet allied to the Rebels. The Southern Imperial commander formed line and I charged his left flank of the line, raking one ship’s oars, engaging in missile fire, and attempting ram across the line. This isn’t a subtle situation.

Two of my ram attempts worked, one did not and one did not have the impetus to crash in the first turn, so instead went in for the oar rake and some missile fire mayhem as we sailed past. Grapples in the subsequent turns were hit and miss. I did manage to connect (or be connected by) imperial ships and managed to board and do some damage. Alas, Dewey got tired of slapping around the Saxons and detached a fresh squadron of Liburnians to head south to help his colleage admiral. That changed the odds drastically. My squadron was struck in the flank by Dewey’s squadron and pretty much disintegrated. Such are the fortunes of war!

The GM declared it a marginal Imperial victory and handed out prizes. A fun time was had by all who played!


Olicanalad’s Galleys

I’ve always enjoyed a niche subject of historical interest, Ancient Greek and Roman galley warfare in the Mediterranean. Well, really, any kind of naval warfare with big, lumbering oared ships. I think that slave galley scene in BEN HUR must have had an impact on me when I was a kid. I like wargames that feature galley warfare as well– I just wish I had a chance to play them more. I have a couple of NAVWAR’s Fleet Starter Packs that I have painted up and based for the game RAM SPEED by Metagaming. Ram Speed adapts well to miniatures with very little conversion. What a pity, I’ve only had this out and on the table a few times.

“Olicanalad” is on a yahoo group dedicated to Galley Warfare I started years ago called war_galley. He is clearly a fellow enthusiast of the time period– as his recent pictures of a galley battle attest to. Olicanalad is using Xyston 1:600 ships here; this is the same scale (roughly) as the Uncharted Seas game I have been playing lately. 1:600 is a great scale for detail and lovely ship models, and Xyston does a wonderful job on them.

Picture from Olicanalad's recent game.

Picture from Olicanalad's recent game.

Click on the picture to get transported to “Contemplating my naval” on Olicanalad’s gaming blog.