Category Archives: naval

S-177 On the Seas of Tekumel, AAR

This is a general After Action Report (AAR) of a game from the recent HISTORICON 2015 show last weekend called On the Seas of Tekumel.

On the Seas of Tekumel. GM: Steve Braun. Fantasy. 28mm. Rules: Homebrew/Savage Tales. Tekumel is home to many non-human races and the high seas are a great place for them to meet up a settle their differences! See what happens when the insect-like Hluss bring their ancient Lightning Bringers to fight ships made of wood and iron. Join in the fun as the frog-like Hlutgru storm aboard your vessel.

Background: The Tekumel universe was created by Professor MAR Barker, back in the 1970s and possibly as early as the 1940s  (I’m not a Barker scholar, though I know a few).  VERY broadly speaking, Tekumel is a planet that has been colonized by many alien races — the humans who become the “Tsolyani” and the other alien races who have also shown up: Hlǘss, Ssú, Hokún, Mihálli, Nyaggá, Urunén, Vléshga.  Many of these are distinctly non-human in flavor, sporting six legs or radically different physiology, and certainly different philosophies.  At some point in the distant past of high science, a “Bad Thing” happened and Tekumel, its moons and other surrounding planets were transported to a pocket dimension.  As a result, there is no more contact with any of the alien’s home planets, and no more advanced technology, although many artifacts are here and there on the landscape.  Professor Barker took this setting and with the help of Gary Gygax back in the 1970s, created one of the world’s first roleplaying games, THE EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE, back in the 70s.  I owned a copy, which was much thumbed through but rarely played.  D&D was always easier to grasp (although far less elegant) and my gaming buds liked their RPGs like they like their coffee, dark, bitter and easy to grasp.  Empire of the Petal throne has enjoyed a long lasting niche popularity over the years and has gone on to be republished and expanded upon by the fanbase.   There have been five novels, by Barker (I believe), I only have read two of them and found them very interesting, if a little dry.

The Seas of Tekumel is a a brainchild of Steve Braun, whom I believe is a teacher in Maryland, and without a doubt a fan of Barker’s work. He adapted material present in the Petal Throne series (there’s a lot more to it now, contributed by subsequent generations) to a simple, fast playing game mechanic about naval warfare on the ship to ship level. To paraphrase one of his comments– if you are a diehard naval gamer that stresses over armor thickness and gun calibers, this is likely not the system for you. Units of movement are single small ships for the various racial types on Tekumel, all of them roughly 15mm in scale and of galley or large war canoe vintage. The simple sailing rules of movement preclude full speed straight on movement into the wind (which makes sense). Players play a single ship and its crew, which all have a secret goal to attend to.

The playing area was a standard 5 x 8 smaller playing surface– aquatic with small volcanic islands represented on them.. most with alien vegetation and some with structures. Dotted here and there were “opportunities” to loot sites for artifacts from the past.

I was assigned the H’luss, the native species of Tekumel, which are a sort of large six limbed insectoid race. They are depicted as being xenophobic in the extreme and rather hateful of the alien usurpers (which is how they view all the other races). Of all the races on the board, I was the one with a submersible, which looked like this:

The H’Luss Submersible, which I captained.

I had had this faction the last time I played and it was a lot of fun to play them. Unliek everyone else on the board I didn’t move normally== I plotted movement on a piece of paper and showed it to the GM to give him an idea of where my submersible was. Last year, I played it to the hilt and it made for some hilarious moments:

Picture from Historicon 2016 game

We had a much denser playing field than last year, it would seem.  I misread my goal entirely and as it had something in their about this being OUR water (being natives) I thought I had to look for a well!  Nope, he meant “Go steal alien tech and kill them all”.. so I wasted some time on non-existant subtlety, I admit it.

I made up for it by trying to reprise the old “surface and swamp the ship” trick which worked last year.  A large Tsolyani Frigate was parked on the same island as the Hlutgu, who were my victims last year.  I tried to surface under the (now empty) ship and drag it away, leaving the Tsolyani stranded.  It partially worked!

The Xenophic H’luss take the human frigate for a Missouri boat ride

Unfortunately a Tsolyani frigate is substantially heavier than the Hlut Go canoe and I ended up submerging quickly or it would destroy the boat. Mission accomplished, though, they humans were dispatched without a shot fired.

Out on the rest of the seas of Tekumel, the ships were fighting a hard scrum.  I surrendered any idea of taking the Humans frigate for myself, and indicated to the (giant lizardmen, forgot their name) that they could have it, even if they get more points from it. The smaller group of pirates with canoes were all swamped or died fighting. The various other ships got into a traffic jam in the center. The (big lizards) and (giant artificially made people) then got into it right above me, so I swam under them and came up behind them. I had to get some tech.  See that red McGuffin on the back of his boat?  That was part of a multi-piece “something” that it turned out I had to go look for.  Might as well start at the beginning.

I surfaced next to their stern and brought MY ancient artifact on deck to fire at them.  The results were.. unusual.   The weapon of the ancients fired, then blew up, making the back of the enemy craft (and his replacement captain) into plasma.  Oddly it didn’t do much to my boat, beyond killing one of the lower ranked H’luss crew.

And that was about that for the game.  It felt short but it was about 4 hours.  I didn’t get the chunk of artifact, but I did prevent my enemies from claiming it.  I had wasted a little too much time trying to achieve a wrong goal early on to acquire it it.  Victory was determined mathematically, based on things accomplished.  I narrowly beat out the guy who took the empty human frigate as prize, because the GM was being nice about me attaining my goals.  So the stunning victory of the H’lussi on the high seas underscores our basic philosophy: GET THE HELL OFF OF OUR PLANET, ALIEN SWINE

If memory serves, I think the HAWKS (Hartford Weekly Kriegspielers) had an entire “Tekumel track” at last Historicon, and this was just one of those games.  I may be hallucinating.  I know I played in this game, and had a great time with it– the rules were simple, the setting was exotic and the game told a story.  Well deserved bravo zulus to Steve Braun for putting on this game, I really enjoyed it.

Here is a slideshow of every picture I took for the Tekumel game



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!

So I built a Maori war canoe in less than an hour…

Last night, I dusted off the first of my HISTORICON 2016 purchases, a lovely MAORI WAR CANOE I bought from the Eureka USA booth at H’con.  The canoe is a representation of a giant ocean-going war canoe designed to convey a large war party from island to island in New Zealand.  This is a laser cut kit vended by Eureka.  I’m not sure if the kit originates with them or was created by someone else and Eureka just sells it, as the kit came in a plastic bag with almost no instructions.   None were needed, really– just a picture of the final model:

Eureka Picture

If that picture looks familiar, it ought to. Check out On the Seas of Tekumel, played last Saturday night at Historicon.

The kit wasn’t cheap, but not overly expensive either.  Just under 40 bucks.  Like the Viking Ship from Laser Dreamworks I built a while back, it is built in layers that stack on top of each other, building a hull with flat keel and high gunnels.  In addition there are scrollworked sidewalls, tail and prow to add on.  Glue might not be necessary but I added it anyway.  This kit is built for 28mm figures but I’m guessing 15mms will do just fine– my plan is to use it as a new ship for Big Danged Boats.

The kit assembled in about 30 minutes max.  I’m doubtful that it even needed glue, but I added some PVA glue (sparingly) here and there where it was needed, especially around the scrollwork.  The result was very attractive, and surprisingly sturdy.  My plan is to paint the hull portion a brick red and the scrollwork a bright yellow.

For armament, I’m going to install some 28mm scaled portable siege weapons, and have the two large ballista stand in as Harpoon throwers, and the two smaller ones as straight up ballistas. I might even mount a few swivel guns on the gunnels.

I’m not sure which BDB faction will get this, but one things for certain, this model is a beauty, and will look great on the table. I’m glad I bought it.


Taranto Progress… Planes almost done

Surprisingly, I’m making a fair amount of progress quickly.

23 Pico Armor Fairey Swordfish models are assembled, painted (rudimentary style) and 21 are even mounted on bases precariously on wires.  I will bump the final count up to 24 so I can have 8 teams of 3 in the final game.  21 flew the historical mission in two waves.  I will have the real pilots names on all the bases (and 3 fictional pilots).  I have 8 Fulmar aircraft, only 1 of which is shown above.  Records indicated Fulmars flew as combat escorts, I’m not sure how I will include them.  It might be fun to have a range of hypotheticals included on the Italian side, including possible support from the Regio Aeronautica.  I’ve ordered some period Italian planes to cause havoc in the future.  i need to touch up the paint jobs, add some detailing and decals, and they are finished.

I’ve got barrage balloons in various stages of completion, these proved to be easy, but I’ll need another order of them.  I have 10 AA tokens painted up, and I just got ten more on EBay.  I’m going with an zone style approach to anti-aircraft fire.  The Italian response was vigorous but inaccurate historically.  The ships all had various AA factors and it seems to be clear that they participated in defensive fire as well as gun emplacements.  I might nominate an AA gun range and give each ship a choice of which plane to target per turn, and that plane gets another AA roll against it.

The fleet is done– painted, based and labeled with names.

Next step is to figure out terrain.

Let’s talk about that Taranto Project


“Taranto, and the night of November 11–12, 1940, should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon.” — Admiral Andrew Cunningham, British Commander at Taranto

So what’s this all about?

During the first year of World War II, the Italians were a not insubstantial threat to Allied war aims in the Mediterranean Sea.  From their position at the tip of the Italian “boot”, the Italian Regia Marina possessed a geographical superiority over the English and French: from land bases, they could reach out and affect just about all of the Western Mediterranean ocean– including having the ability to strike nearby Malta and interdict naval convoys to the North African theater, and resupply Axis forces there.  Without building expensive aircraft carriers, which suited the Italians right down to the ground.  The ships of Regia Marina were a significant strategic threat that the Royal Navy had anticipated as early as 1936, when the seeds for an air raid plan had first been drawn up.   After war had begun in earnest, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham dusted off the old 1936 plan and created OPERATION JUDGEMENT, a plan for an air raid on Taranto Harbor, located at the “instep” of the boot of Italy.   The goals of the air raid would be to damage or destroy as much of the Italian fleet as possible, by bombing and torpedo attacks.

Compared to later operations, the RN did not have a lot to work with.  The principle British Naval attack plane was the Fairy Swordfish, this was a biplane that was by general consensus considered antiquated before the first shot was fired.   The swordfish was slow, it had a low ceiling, it was covered with fabric(!).  However, it was extremely stable and had an excellent ability to loiter over targets.  Swordfish pilots were genuinely affectionate about their aircraft, dubbing them the “Stringbag” for reasons unknown. [editorial note: “Stringbag” comes from the fabric construction and multiple guidewires to keep the wings intact, see the note in comments below. ]

Here’s a little footage of the Stringbag in the air with a torpedo load.  (Video no longer embedded– the owner doesn’t want to share it.  Go here instead)

Accordingly Admiral Cunningham had 21 Fairy Swordfish modified drastically for the long haul to Taranto from the Southwest.  [editorial note: apparently not that drastic, the extra fuel tank conversion (removing the observer seat) wasn’t unheard of, see note in comment below]  The middle seat was converted to a giant extended fuel tank.  The attack was divided into three waves, with bombs and flares being dropped to distract the Italian fleet response while the torpedo planes made their runs.  The resulting attack went astonishingly well for the British.  The Italian fleet was devastated– losing half its operational fleet in an evening:

  • Conte di Cavour had a large hole in the hull, and permission to ground her was withheld until it was too late, so her keel touched the bottom at a deeper depth than intended. 27 of the ship’s crew were killed and over 100 more wounded. In the end, only her superstructure and main armament remained above water. She was subsequently raised and was still undergoing repairs when Italy switched sides in the war, so she never returned to service
  • Caio Duilio had only a slightly smaller hole  and was saved by running her aground.
  • Littorio had considerable flooding caused by three torpedo hits. Despite underwater protection (the ‘Pugliese’ system, standard in all Italian battleships), the damage was extensive, although actual damage to the ship’s structures was relatively limited (the machinery was intact). Casualties were 32 crewmen killed and many wounded. She was holed in three places. She too was saved by running her aground. Despite this, in the morning, the ship’s bows were totally submerged.

Map of the ship dispositions in Taranto harbor that evening. With the barrage balloons up and AA emplacements situated, this was not a cakewalk for the Fleet Air Arm pilots.

Overnight, the balance of power in the Mediterranean had changed drastically.  The operational Italian fleet vessels were immediately transferred North to Naples.   This put them out of easy striking range of Malta.  Although they would play a role in the Med during the ensuing 3 years (until the fall of Mussolini), they would never be the strategic threat they were in 1940 again.

So, why am I interested in this battle?  You mean, beyond the high drama of a desperate gamble on the part of the Royal Navy?  Lots of reasons.  Taranto is the first coordinated attack by a fleet air arm on a major fleet to occur in history.  It served as the blueprint for the Pearl Harbor raid a year later.  Most of all, it just seems such an improbable victory.. only 21 slow, obsolete airplanes against the entire Italian fleet.   A while back, when I first picked up Victory at Sea and wanted to run a few naval games, I picked up enough ships to do Denmark Strait and the Pursuit of the Bismarck (1941).  That led me to the Fairy Swordfish and eventually, to pondering a Taranto miniature wargame.

I bought the Axis and Allies War at Sea models for the Sink the Bismarck game when they were still easily found and affordable on a secondary market, although the game itself is out of print. For the Bismarck game, that worked pretty well, even if the scale, at 1/1800 (roughly), is a little larger than I had in mind. No problems with the miniatures– they come pre-painted and look (roughly) what they are supposed to look like. So, what the heck, I started collecting an Italian fleet from War at Sea models. It turned out to be easy, but painstaking when you are trolling secondary markets– there aren’t as many available as there were a few years ago.

The Littorio and Vio Venetto, left rear. the Caio Diolo, center, some destroyers in the foreground, and various cruisers on the right.

Where to get the ships?  Well, I’ve been a fan of reusing Axis and Allies War at Sea ship models already– when

Italian Cruisers and one pre-Dreadnought era ship, possibly the Andrea Doria.

I’ll probably give them another coating of wash, and touch up the factory job here and there, but pretty much these weren’t hard to collect and maintain. Obviously Hasbro didn’t produce EVERY ship in the Italian Fleet for their collectible miniatures game; to fill out the fleet I made several double buys where one ship of a CLASS of ships had a miniature made for it; that actually is a much easier problem to overcome with the smaller cruiser and destroyer classes where multiples of a single ship model work just fine. Even so, there were a few ships that were either priced right out of the secondary market or were never produced by Hasbro. In this instance, 3D printing came to the rescue. has quietly been providing gap filler models for various games for the last few years; naturally, they came to the rescue for four ships I couldn’t locate at all. Accordingly,I bought three cruisers and a pre-dreadnought from Shapeways to round out my fleet.

It’s an easy paint job. Base primer grey, a gray wash and then a darker ink wash, then the snazzy striped red and white deck stripes to indicate it was an Italians ship from the air.

The material for the 3D printer is a little grainy compared to the injected rubbery plastic the original series from WaS uses, but from the magical 3 foot mark, it looks great to me. The price is nice, as well.

So, I have the Italian fleet, more or less.. and I’m not worried about the big scale size. They are nice and chunky, the way I like it, and it’s not like they are going to maneuver around in this scenario and go off the table– most of these ships are just Anti Aircraft platforms in this projected game.  I was projecting maybe there being an Italian player who might want to game that side, maybe make a victory condition escaping the harbor under power or something, but I can’t see it.. it wouldn’t be a lot of fun for any Italian player. So the ships will pretty much be stationary objects in this scenario.

Airplane models. I needed 21 Swordfish, I bought 26 from Pico Armor. Plus some Fairy Fulmars.

If I wanted to be true to scale, the aircraft would be pinhead sized. Aside from the fact that there probably aren’t any plane models in that scale, they would just lack any visual impact. So I compromised and went with PicoArmor, who have a great WW2 aviation section. PicoArmor look great and are reasonably sharp in detail (although that’s from a distance). Good choice, even if construction of the plane models is hellishly irritating. Nothing fits together perfectly; I have to cut off flash, rough the edges of the join between upper and lower wing before glueing. THEN I have to hold the model while the glue sets, often gluing my thumbs to the model! At least I have decals. I won’t have to paint the rondels.

As for rules, I was leaning towards Victory at Sea at the start of this project, because I had used it before and it’s relatively “light” and fun to play. However, I’m not as satisfied with the aerial torpedo element of VaS. It’s far too simplistic for what I had in mind and really doesn’t provide some of the elements of the narrative that need to be there, such as the poor state of alert of the Italians, the poor training, the element of surprise. I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t going to be a game where the players play the Italian fleet at all; that would be almost cruel. Yet I want the Italians to have a fighting chance even as targets. So I’m monkeying around with various levels of alertness, and skill and whatnot. I may take a look at General Quarters 3 for the rules, as I like the level of granularity, although I may have to crunch some numbers on the ground scale.

So that’s where I am more or less. There’s other stuff, such as the map terrain.. building the harbor of Taranto, setting up the Anti-Aircraft on the Italian side (which was fierce.. the British lost two aircraft). I’ll probably write a follow up posting on those items when I get to them.

Thanks to Wg Cdr Luddite below for some comments clarifying the Swordfish.

Lepanto big and chunky and in 1:300 scale.. just the way I like it

Recent developments in pre-cut, laser etched designs have created a new niche market in wargaming.  I recently built a Viking ship in 28mm scale from just such a kit, and was impressed with how quickly it came together and how well it represented the historical ship.  There are other vendors popping up here and there on a small scale, vending historical products– such as 4Ground Ltd‘s building and terrain bits.  Another niche company is a small outfit called Skull and Crown.  They are mostly specialized in doing spectacular flats of soldiers from various periods called “Wooden Wars”, but they recently branched out to create a product called Galleys, Guns and Glory!, a set of rules for fighting in the Renaissance era, with an emphasis on Galley combat, a la Lepanto.

More importantly, Skull and Crown has also produced a line of wooden punch out and build kits for several types of Mediterranean galleys of the period. You can see the Venetian Galley above (and at 25 USD, it’s a little higher than average price for a single ship).

I can’t attest to it yet but construction appears easy from a blogpost I read.  The player takes the template, which is precut, and punches the pieces out and build them from the ground up. I built the Viking ship in exactly the same way.

I have no idea what the build time on this might be, but I’d have to include paint time in there as well, and probably pre-build painting and sanding too. So maybe a little under an hour per ship. Maybe more to paint some fiddly little details.

The end result is quite colorful and spectacular.

Credit: Jay’s Wargaming Madness. Read the exciting AAR of his first big battle of GGG! by clicking this picture.

As for the rules? Well, I don’t know squat about them. They appear to be simple and elegant, and that’s what I want out of a naval system. Jay (of the blog mentioned above) seems to have a high opinion of them. I’d be inclined to go with the published rules instead of making my own or using something I have in my collection, as they clearly have a long “tail” of support from Skull and Crown.. lots of neat odd little markers and bits that seem tailor made for the game. I can’t help myself, I love the little fiddly bits.

Will I invest in this? Probably not until after I get done with the Taranto game (what’s that?? you ask? Stay tuned for another post this week on that subject). I at least want to get one galley to put together and see if I like the results.

Realistically, at an average of about 15 dollars a ship, and most fleets looking like this:

A thumbnail guess, that’s probably just a little under 300 bucks there for a fleet.. multiply by two to get an order of magnitude..
Credit: Skull and Crown GGG Blog

Note, I’m not begrudging Skull and Crown their prices, they aren’t that shockingly high for a ship model.  I’m just bemoaning the cost of jumping into a very narrow niche period where I know there won’t be any cheaper options in this scale. I won’t have any other models that I can swap in to save money, so it’s these models or not at all.  So I’m rubbing my chin and saying “Hmmmm” for now.

Stay tuned!

Digital Rule Project: Limeys and Slimeys EPUB

Ships firing in an L&S game. Original 15mm resin hulls

Limeys and Slimeys is a rule set for miniature warfare set in the Age of Sail (Napoleonic/Revolutionary War) period. I don’t think anyone who has played a game of Limeys and Slimeys will complain about horrifically complex the rules are– the original version was printed on 3 very small pages, and seemed so simple at first glance that one might wonder what the attraction was.  The rules came as an insert with the Limey and Slimey kits.. usually a resin hull (or two) plus a ton of 15mm unpainted Minifigs as standins for the crew figures.   Obviously the rules were there to sell the kits*…

And yet, there’s a LOT of game in those 3 pages– I have played many games of L&S (usually shepherded by Brian Whitaker, of the Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS)). The measuring was all by eyeball and the gunfire was usually devastating. Who cares, it was a blast!

Just for fun, I made a copy of the Limeys and Slimeys rules in EPUB format. These have been out there for a long time as a DOC or PDF file so I doubt there will be a big kerfluffle about making it available for Tablet computers and book readers.

My version of the cover for the EPUB

The L&S Epub is available (as usual!) on the DIGITAL RULES PAGE

(* parenthetically, I bought a few of those Limey and Slimey kits.. the earlier hulls were pretty great, later bootlegged ones were scrofulous).

BDB: Introducing the Tiny People Flotilla

In the islands of Middlesea, the “Big Folk” have charted the course for the lives of of the wee for thousands of years. In a world of Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Orcs and other larger framed entities, the smaller folk of Middlesea have tried to make their own way, largely ignored and under-appreciated by the Big Folk, who considered them by turns amusing or annoying. The current generation isn’t accepting their second place status any longer! The Gnomes of Kanthus, The Fauns of the Black Oak Wood, The Wee Folk, and (occassionally) the Gulley Dwarves have created a new Federation, the League of Tiny People. They have recently banded together to create their own Naval forces out of a sense of desperation. The Tiny People Flotilla was the result of this effort. The Flotilla is a motley collection of vessels which suit their smaller stature & unique natures.

The Kanthus Tug (R), Aquatic Mines (Bottom), the Fire Ship, the Sacred Grove, and Thing 1 and Thing 2.  Kanthus gnomes & gnogr in ships for contrast. Click to embiggen

The Gnomes of Kanthus are not like their close relatives in Battenburg. Unlike their urban cousins, they are taller and stouter, and generally better at Melee fighting. Kanthus Gnomes are less mechanically inclined than Battenburg Gnomes, and favor a mixture of steam technology, Stahlheim cannon, and their own biological weaponry. The Kanthus Tug tows a sacred grove into a warzone, with at least one Mushroom grove on it. Eating a sacred grove mushroom will cause the Gnome to turn into a Gnogr for ten turns before he either recovers or dies. The Kanthus gnomes also use pollen flingers which can cause groups of infantry to be overcome with sneezing (one stick range, incapacitates target for following turn). The Sacred Grove is a small island of turf that is planted on a large towed raft. As an offensive tactic, a Gnome will leap to the Sacred Grove and consume a mushroom, then turn into a Gnogr the next turn. Gnogrs fight with an extra dice in combat, and can take 2 hits instead of 1, which makes them almost as doughty as the Spartans, but with more staying power.

Two new additions to BDB arrive with the TPF: Fire Ships and Nautical Infernal Devices

Although lacking in the industrial facilities of Stahlheim, the Iron Forge Dwarves or even the Battenburg gnomes,  The Tiny People Flotilla is still a very clever group of mechanics and improvisers that makes the best they can from all of their contributions.      The Fauns are credited with first coming up with the idea of Fire Rafts.  This will be pushed in front of the Kanthus Tug until it is within drift range, then released, drifting down among clusters of larger ships, catching a wooden rival with FIRE and eventual explosion.   The Wee Ones (Leprachauns) invented the notion of hidden aquatic firepots.  These are infernal devices that can either be dropped from the back of a vessel, placed with hidden placement (using the Ipad method), or as a depth charge for submarines.

The Sacred Grove raft, demonstrating two pollen flingers and two trays of Sacred Mushrooms. A recently turned Gnogr is on the raft. 1 mushroom converts one Gnogr.

Fleet Tactics: the TPF will operate as an independent flotilla, much like the Dwarves and Undead do. So all ships will move and conduct operations on the same initiative round. The TPF will prefer standoff tactics, as they aren’t as good at melee fighting as the Big People. They will have one Medium gun each in the Kanthus tug and Thing 1 and 2 ships, thought the Gully Dwarf Longship (not pictured above) is more like a Ragnar brothers longship, without any cannon.

The TPF makes its debut at the Game Camp for kids, next week! I look forward to chronicling their exploits.

BDB: The Mad Quest for the Orb of Power at Historicon 2014

Down to the Sea in Cheese!

NOTE BENE: attached are some pictures I took with my Ipad during this game on Saturday. The complete package is HERE in a Flickr Slideshow.

I ran my first convention game in a while, a BIG DANGED BOATS game, with something other than “sail around and bash at each other” for a scenario.

We even sold out! WOOT!

The event description reads:

The return of a game of bloody conflict with dubiously seaworthy ships in an all out donnybrook to achieve naval supremacy. In this installment,Gordon the Enchanter has holed up in his Wizard’s tower with the stolen Orb of Power, a stout body guard and several siege guns to back up his demands. The Elves, who consider themselves to be rightful owners, would sell their own grandmothers to get it– resulting in a rare alliance between the hoity toity Sea Elves and the Earthy Wood Elves. Other parties (virtually everyone else) seek to own it themselves, or at least put one in the eye of those who have a better claim! Very kid friendly. very casual and extraordinarily silly game. Under 12, will probably require a parent to play with. Rules taught. 

Essentially this is gaming a rather dusty trope from fantasy– the local mad wizard gets his hands on artifact that grants him some special power, a group of distrusting allies band together to thwart his evil scheme, and etc., etc. The unique element is the nautical flavor– Gordon is locked up in his tower, along with the Orb of Power (which is a battery for Spells), and the various local powers in the Middle Sea have to figure out how to get him out of his tower by force. This is more difficult than it looks due to terrain and the small army of mercenary soldiers that Gordon has acquired to defend himself with. Gordon’s Tower is situated in the ocean near the large volcanic island of Ket, in shallow water dominated by many small rock formations. These would provide a solid ring of outer defenses to the Tower.

Newish to the BDB rules (which always seem to be evolving) are rules for landing parties and spell casting wizards. The latter are purchased like mercenaries early in the game using SMCs (shining moment coins). Both of these worked just fine– in some cases, splendidly.

The Rat Men of Ingoldsby and the Followers of F’Vah approach the tower nervously.

The game began with some intense jockeying for position as the ships approached Gordon’s tower. They were hampered by a ring of outposts on the rocks. Many of these had a small field piece, some pikemen and missile troops.

Lantern Rock Outpost getting raided by the Spartans

I need to streamline the rules a bit yet, they are still a little too kitchen-sink for my liking. I can’t help it, I’m a tinkerer. Most people got the ideas behind combat, maneuver and magic easily enough. I had fixed the broken weather table with a better approach. I’m not happy with how steam works; I will be redoing that one as well– I think I may just go to tokens (yes, another token) to indicate current speed, and then redo the speed change table to see if the ship blows up when changing speeds.

Various Ships on the Table

The ships chosen were The HOPLITE (Spartans), The PRIMUS (Rat-men), FOOT OF THE DEAD GOD (Followers of F’Vah), The STEELHEART (Empire of Stahlheim), The SYLVAN TERROR (Wood Elves), the three ships of the Ironforge Elves: VON RIPPER, PLUNGER and RED MENACER, and The GREY EMPRESS TZU (the Seng). Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

The game commenced with the Wood Elves skirmish with one of the outposts to the South and the Spartans skirmishing with one in the North. Both did for their opponents in trademark style: the Wood Elves dispatched the opposition with a hail of arrows, the Spartans landed a landing party that took out the outpost, looted a cannon and rowed off with it. Style points all around for that.

Spartan Landing Party kicks butt

Meanwhile, the PRIMUS and the FOOT made their way to the base of the tower from various routes– with Gordon the Enchanter casting a STINKING CLOUD on the Foot which missed them. The 3 Dwarf ships and the Steelheart appeared to cooperate until it came closer to resolution– and then they fell out, with Steelheart ramming Red Menacer ineffectually, then the Von Ripper doing the same to Steelheart (due to the Stalheim player throwing in their “Sheer OFF!” action card).

The two technology driven factions, Stahlheim and the IronForge Dwarves, get into a fierce set-to South of the Tower. Hey, fellas, what about that evil despotic wizard?

At the far side of the battlefield, the Spartans and the Gnomes were getting fractious because they weren’t in at the denouement, like the other factions were. The Spartan player had to leave a little early, so we ruled, for the sake of game narrative, that he spent some fatigue points to charge the HOPLITE to the base of the tower but ran aground on the rocks, spilling his daunting Spartans, wizard and two cannon into the drink. The Rat-Men, perhaps guided by mercy, dispatched a lifeboat to pick up survivors (ahem, maybe it was ‘mercy’, or maybe they wanted a free wizard and the best melee troops in the game working for them?)

Rescue Ops underway. “Squeak! You work for uzzzz now, Wizzzard!”

The Gnomes of Batenburg wanted to get their grimey paws on the Orb of Power, too! They could see they weren’t getting to Gordon’s Tower fast enough, and the intervening terrain was just blocking them. So they had to go the long way around.. or did they? The Gnome player, a young lad (and BDB veteran) played his first Wizard Spell in the game, GASEOUS FORM, which turned the Siege Machine into an intangible mist that went right through the rock!

No GIANT ROCK CLIFF is gonna stop me! I’ll go right through it!

Unfortunately this put the SIEGE MACHINE directly into the path of the onrushing SYLVAN TERROR. The Wood Elves got their wizard to cast RIVER OF WIND which pushed the Siege Machine 3 sticks away. They maneuvered back into a position in front of the Terror and unloaded the famous (or not so famous) Gnome Marines. While this was being accomplished, the Wood Elves, now a bit thwarted from being in on the kill, decided to to board the Siege Machine (which they were up against). Boarding procedure requires the potential border to reach into the Red Bag of Courage and fish out a token, which will determine how things proceed. The Wood Elves, unfortunately, drew “STUPID” and that caused the boarding party to dash off in a random direction AWAY from the Siege Machine.

Ha ha ha, those Wood Elves sure are stupid!

Well, the main event had to get moving on so we were set up for the big fight in the tower to seize the Orb. Gordon the Enchanter had several artillery pieces guarding the center tower but each of them had been silenced and the big siege gun on the roof had collapsed when the wall went down to a FIREBALL spell from the Wood Elves. Gordon, his ears ringing from the explosion and in a foul temper, ran downstairs to join the defense. Gordon’s mercenaries (mostly pikemen) fought hard and long, knowing they were in a no-quarter situation. The Rat-men swarmed in and were cut down to a man.. er.. rat. Then the Gnome Marines gave it a try and they managed to gain a lodgement, then, finally, defeat the last remaining pikemen with the last three remaining Gnomes. And hurrah! A victory was had by the “Good” guys!

SHOWDOWN: Gordon, his pikemen and a line of Ratmen. They would get chopped down, but you can see there’s a line of Gnome marines ready to jump in right after! Victory!!!

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Orb Scenario was a hugely entertaining game for me to run and I’m relatively certain the players had a great time. The new material (Wizards, Landing parties) caused me to do a crash rewrite of the rules the night before, just to make sure everything worked together well. The new weather gauge really is superior to the old one, even if the old one was more colorful. The Steam Engine rules (and wrenching to fix things that break) will be rewritten for speed of play and elegance. Oared ships work well, so do Magic ships. I wish I could come up with a faster set of sailing rules but they do sort of make sense and are consistent to the universe– if a person is on the ocean in a ship that is powered by wind, they are going to have a slow time of it if they try to sail against the wind. There’s a lot of detail in the rules right now which I will pare down a bit for convention games. With all that said, the game DID play right through to a conclusive end, in the time allotted (slightly over actually, by request). So I’m pretty happy with BDB as it is, it just needs a little fine tuning.

Thanks for the great pack of people that came to play .. little Jake, Doug Kline, Kayla? Kline, Nancy Ott, and etc. BDB is a game that requires a sense of humor to play and I think we hit the jackpot there.

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.

Arrived: The Hunters by Consim Press

This isn’t a real review either.. I won’t have the time and I’m soon off on a cruise ship without internet for about ten days. I just thought I’d give it a quick first glance.

The Hunters showed up in the post the other day, which will force me to issue an amendment to my year in gaming post– I got Cruel Necessity for review, Cards against Humanity for the cruise and The Hunters (a P500 order) all within a week of each other! So add those to the total– it’s clear I wasn’t quite finished getting board games this year.

The Hunters is a solitaire game of submarine warfare in World War II. You play the captain of a German U-Boat in Allied waters. The game isn’t played on a map, per se, although some folks have tried to make one for the game. Essentially the playing space is a chart that depicts a layout of the sub and what ammunition and damage is where.

The Box and some counters (Source: C3I Magazine). Dig that SPI style cover!

The overall effect I had was a game similar to B-17: Queen of the Skies or Patton’s Best, both by Avalon Hill. The focus of the game is the platform, and action revolves around it. Like B-17, players roll on a series of charts to figure out where they will patrol, and cruise from sector to sector rolling for encounters with enemy shipping. They may encounter all kinds of Allied nastiness, such as escort ships and capital ships, which WILL fire back.

The game is very chart heavy (like B-17), but counter sparse. The version I received had several blank counters in the mix, which would have been well served by expanding the game’s options, I think. That’s neither here nor there, the basic game is quite good– very logically laid out and easy to find everything, and the action is mostly resolved with a roll of 2D6. In every sense– design, graphics, visuals.. this was good effort by Consim Press. It’s very clear this game has benefited from a good developer and playtesting– I was never really stuck and hardly needed the instructions after the first combat.

I only had time for a couple of patrols last night. I started with the 1939 scenario with the idea of playing it through as a campaign in different sessions. My X1A type Unterseeboat patrolled the English coast and immediately saw a tasty convoy of two small freighters, one large freighter and a tanker. Alas, all convoys have an escort, so my options were run or fight. I chose to fight, and took her in to close range. My first salvo of two steam torpedoes on two ships damaged the tanker and a small freighter, with only ONE dud. The escort detected me and dropped depth charges, but luckily I rolled “No Effect”. My next salvo was spread out more to three targets and did more damage– finishing off the tanker and previous small freighter, and sinking another small freighter. The escort pounced again. This time I took 3 damage from the depth charge and had to beat a hasty retreat. That’s a sample of the results, it was pretty easy to make this scenario happen once everything was punched out.

I have to say my first impressions are very positive. I really like this game. It’s a bit of a chore to set up but the payoff is definitely worth it. The Hunters has more nuances and depth than I’ve let on here, but you get the general notion of how the game is played, I trust. Highly recommended.

A Magic System for Big Danged Boats

In the existing version of BDB, magic, or “the ability to alter reality” is touched upon as a faction power– the goodly Brothers of Saint Brendan can pray the sea state down to calmer waters (by playing a special action card), for instance, and other factions can perform “magic like” actions like stench power from the Undead Pirates, or summoning a squid god, and et cetera– but they’re not really magic spells per se, just cool powers each faction can use.

Splintered Light Miniatures “Warriors of Magic” set– click to embiggen

So, I’ve been contemplating about adding single figure unites to the system, designated by a special base marking, playing the role of Wizardly types– just a single class of figure different from a LDR that encompasses someone who can render supernatural or divine assistance to a boat crew in crisis moments. I was greatly inspired by seeing Splintered Lights’ “Warriors of Magic” set painted up, so it set my mind to work, and I have picked up some 15mm wizard figures, starting with the pack you see above.

Assorted Demonworld Wizards and Shamans found on Ebay lately.

Assorted Demonworld Wizards and Shamans found on Ebay lately.

I also located some Demonworld Wizard figures from various alignments on Ebay. As you can see, the sculpts are quite colorful. All told I might have about 15 magical single figures, which should be more than enough for this idea.

Going through the old spell books from D&D I found a few that would work in the BDB universe.. things like warp wood or stinking cloud, or shock person or lightning bolt. Magic should be a close up activity, I think. So no more than 2 sticks away from the intended target. I would like the spells to be a mixed bag– clerical and magic users, all reasonably consistent with the universe. My thinking is that the spells could have level numbers and spell effects listed on a card. The card would be like a weapon that is fired at short range by a Magic User type. The MU rolls dice per spell, looking for 6s. The target person can fire off a counter-spell, if they have a wizard, but he may be of only a certain level to attempt this.

Effects would be varied, and hopefully it wont’ be enough to require generating a large amount of specialty spell tokens. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Ebay sure is funny at times

If you follow this blog you know I keep a weather eye open for potential 15mm ships becoming available at a reasonable price.  So it’s safe to say that if something from Old Glory Shipyards (ex Merrimack Miniatures) shows up on ebay, I’ll probably be somewhat interested.  When I saw this pair of ships come available, I jumped at the opportunity to bid– especially at a starting bid of 8.50 each.



Monitor with single turret, 15mm, ACW era.



6 Gun Casemate, probably the CSS Virginia


I could use these– ACW is a little late for Big Danged Boats but I could kit bash them to look a little more primitive.

Now, I was all in when this was 8.50, and bid for both of them at that price. Then I got notice two days before the deadline that someone else was bidding. So I counter-bid, not very aggressively, just driving the price up a couple bucks. I wasn’t really interested in capturing the item definitively, just serving notice that I was interested and not going to quit. The real action would happen in the last 30 minutes of the auction. So I set an alarm on my phone and it beeped me in time to bid again before closing. Rapid counter-bid. I bid again. Rapid counter-bid. So I waited. Then bid again five minutes out. The counter-bid came again, this time in an amount that was much larger. At this point the asking price was getting up there, and I did a short look up on both ships. They could be purchased brand new for much cheaper than the auction price. At this point, I stopped bidding, but both ships went for more than ten dollars over the highest bid I was willing to pay.

Okay, fine, you keep those, says I. I didnt’ expect either of these to go for more than about 18 dollars, but people surprise me. That’s how ebay works, compulsion and the fear that you are missing out on something the next guy is getting. Once you start disciplining yourself, Ebay becomes a lot easier.

BDB: Summon the Squid God? Now we have a squid god.

One of the more peculiar groups in Big Danged Boats game is the mighty Cult of F’Vah, the inhabitants of the FOOT OF THE DEAD GOD. The cult is a pretty strange group, consisting of a small cluster of high priests riding on a platform that serves as a floating altar for calling up their God, F’Vah the Squid God.

The Cult of F’Vah sails into Danger!

Certain factions in BDB get their own thematic FACTION CARDS, or capability. This is a balancing mechanism to give them an edge on more powerful opponents. The Cult of F’Vah has a unique capability from their Faction Card. Useable once per game, they can SUMMON THE SQUID GOD for free.

Summon the Squid God!!!

When played, F’Vah would show up and slap a ship with the equivalent of a mega-ram factored tentacle slap. Prior to a recent discovery, I had a few tentacles stand in for F’Vah to demonstrate his Mighty Presence:

The Squid God Slaps the Gnomish Siege Machine SILLY!

The tentacles were a lucky find from AUGIE’S GAME STORE ONLINE. They are made of durable vinylish plastic, similar to heroclix stuff.

I like the tentacles just fine and they certainly work, but the implied menace of a really, really pissed off aquatic god was missing. The Cultists can summon him once for free; in subsequent turns they can summon him again (in tentacle form) by removing (sacrificing) one of the crew… and he may or may not start getting angry. If he DOES get angry, he might just show up in person to protest. That’s the form I wanted to capture for the game. And so I did.

All hail the mighty F’VAH! Destroyer of Life!

The idea being that F’Vah might show up and try to eat the High Priests if they anger him unduly. This is a model from Scotia Grendel in the U.K. It’s the “Swamp Creature”. I love the look of this one.. the big angry eyes and the way he’s encrusted with plant life. Had to get it. I’m not crazy about the tentacles, which had to be drilled and pinned before epoxying. So I’m just going to stick with Auggie’s Kraken tentacles for now and I painted F’Vah to match. I think it’s a great model and I think it will add some fun to our games.

All Hail the Squid God.