Sunday, 8 December 2013


Many problems associate with making a good trireme game are, I have decided, to do with time and space.
.. but maybe not quite so profound..
The first problem is the game turn sequence. Who goes first? What is done first? And what next ? And what last ?
The usual, my usual, approach is reductionist and logical. I build some complex idea with all possible options and aspects included. This is then dissected and pared down to, hopefully, reveal a skeleton which works logically and effectively in a game.
But. Some things do not let themselves get processed effectively by this method.
Ships attacking each other at sea appear to be one of these awkward things. (aerial or spaceship combat is probably another)
'Bridge says you have to wait there because it's their turn now..'
The basic game-turn, since the dawn of games is 'I go, You go'. Nefatafl, Chess, wargames have followed this principle.
One player moves his men - attacks, reloads etc. Then his opponent does the same.
The antithesis is the 'Simultaneous Move'. Here players have orders which should predicate what they make their game pieces do. Both players move, attack, etc. together and consult to ensure the appropriate timing of events.

Simultaneous movement seems to offer the more realistic option. Something closer to the real world because opponents do not wait in real life for their enemy to have his strike before replying in kind.

In a game, rather than a pure simulation - simulations which, because of advances in computing power available to us all are probably best done as a software model or algorithm - the simultaneous move does not hold up so well. 

Charles Wesencraft put it succinctly, even acerbicly, in 'With Pike and Musket'.
'I have always found the simultaneous move leads to argument, general confusion and even cheating.'
'If there is an argument about the movement of that unit, the loser of the game feels cheated, He cannot prove it, but it remains in the mind. The simultaneous move lose friends!'
(read the rest of his argument in Chapter 6 of the book- very entertaining)
With ships, and even more so, aircraft, the problem is heightened because the units are theoretically in constant motion relative to each other. There is no possibility of a pause to help explain hiccups in movement or action during the game. An attempt at a truly simultaneous move system is doomed to failure - accurate time and distance control is necessary, too much to expect unless we can have autonomous programable models and outside of the computer this does not work (?yet) A simulation approach thus cannot work on the tabletop for triremes and so a simultaneous game-turn cannot either.

The primitive 'I go, You go' sequence actually has some arguments in favour of it actually being realistic in some aspects. Opposing sides in a battle rarely approach each other but one will hold a position and wait for an attack which will then be countered. Stroke and counter-stroke is more likely.
'I believe it was my turn, Mikhail Feodorovich...'
 Alternate  moves remove doubt and keep the confrontatonal aspect of the game to the fore. However, we must ensure it can cater for the degree of realism we would like for a trireme game.
The essence of a trireme battle, as I understand it, is constant positioning like two lines of rams or bulls facing each other. Shifting position may take the enemy off-guard and then a charge can be made with advantage. With triremes the added aspect of feint attacks lets a more mobile party trail their cloak before the more static side and see if they can be tricked into breaking formation. On top of this we have the diekplous. The diekplous is the manoeuvre which allows an attacker to pass through the opposing line and attack it from behind. Unless one takes the scale up to tracking movement in very short periods or down to an abstract level this is very hard to recreate on the tabletop. 
There's 170 rowers, 12 hoplites and 4 archers in there...(wrong story maybe ?)
The answer seems to be some kind of overlap. Players' turns overlap with each other so that ships can travel ahead in time when necessary, or even, maybe, back.

The other problem with turn sequences is that of players' intentions.
The intention of a player or his models should not reveal clairvoyant capabilities due to seeing the opponent's success or failure and changing his plan accordingly so that the moves he makes show no relation to what he may logically have been expected to do at the turn start. The all-seeing god-like players should have some realistic limitation in moving their pawns.
That Larry Olivier - perfect bastard I hear...
This problem can be addressed by forcing players to write detailed orders which his models must follow. The documentation, time and problems of interpretation associated with this are legion and order writing should be avoided like the plague, in my opinion. Order writing can just so well lead to unrealistic behaviours and also to a strange new language which is a source of argument between friends.
Ties not compulsory but Order Pads...
So the answer I am after should be a form of time-travel which forces players to declare their intentions without writing anything down while making them keep to a plan. ?#%&
The solution lies in what I have called REACTION ORDERS. Yes, language harking back to the good old WRG 'reaction test'.
In the present case, however, the REACTION is a specific action written on a counter. Both players must commit their models to doing something at the start of each game turn which they cannot regret. In practice, each unit gets a counter placed face-down to indicate what it will do in the turn and what it will do if attacked. When the unit comes to move the counte ris revealed to show what the player intended. When a unit is attacked then the unit's response must also tally with the player's initial inentions. 'Flee at full speed', for example, or maybe 'Stand and Fight'.
Time-travel enters the scene when units interact with each other. If I have a unit which has already acted but gets attacked then it needs to react despite the fact I have done something with it. Can it act twice in one time period ? No. What we do is to allow the attacked unit to react but mark it as 'owing' a move. In the next round of 'I go, You go' this unit has to pay its debt and the owning player cannot use it. As he moves his models in his next go we consider that the attacked unit is executing its reaction from the last round. 
Appropriately papery means of time travel.
What about within the same round if we want to use the equivalent of Avalon Hill's revolutionary 'opportunity fire' ? OF is where a unit is set ready to act like a cocked gun which is triggered when the opponent does something. The reaction order also allows something in this line.

The game turn sequence we end up with is quite complex in terms of the variety of time threads that can be catered-for.

Both players indicate actions using markers ( no writing)

First player acts

(he cannot use any units marked as 'owing' a move because they had a second, 'reactive', move last turn)

Second player reacts to attacks

Second player acts with any units that have not reacted
(he cannot use any units marked as 'owing' a move because they had a second, 'reactive', move last turn) 
First player reacts to attacks

(if his units already did something then they are marked so they cannot move in the next round unless to react again)
In this way the successive rounds are interwoven in time without using simultaneous movement and keeping a specific sequence so there is no doubt who is moving and when.
And why am I so happy with having sorted out this mental spaghetti?
Trireme fighting relied on speed. Speed of reaction and speed with which one could cover ground. Mix these two (time, time and distance) and we have acceleration (distance/time2). Acceleration is important.
A ship sitting still on the water in a conventional 'I go, You go' game is a sitting duck. It needs to be given the chance to get moving as the enemy attack it or we have an unrealistic game.
A ship sitting still on the water may find an opponent moves a model quite close to him and would therefore like to attack. In a simple game-turn he must wait until next turn, when he can attack it if he gets to move first.
In both cases, the acceleration of each ship is made irrelevant, it is simply the distance separating them which decides if they can attack.
'Ha(re) ha(re)  I rolled first, I win ! '
If we take speed and acceleration into account then we can make some simple rules which avoid such oddities.
In real life, if a rowing boat saw a speedboat close by he would never consider getting stuck in to an attempt to close with it. Even if the speedboat comes quite close, the rowing boat cannot move fast enough and the speedboat can react fast to keep a separation between them. The only situation they will meet is if they are on a collision course and neither changes that situation. So it was with galleys. A skipper knows the capabilitis of his vessel and can judge the possibilities for overhauling or getting alongside another. From a distance of 500 metres he can reckon out his chances of beating his rival into port. Or his chances of knocking a hole in his side.
Who can catch who here ?
Our game rules should not allow a vessel to attack another moving at a speed he himself cannot attain. In a simple turn structure speed and acceleration does not matter, it is just a question of getting close and getting the chance to move first. Our game rules must have a kind of 'danger zone' around vessels, also, which forces ships to keep away from hostile vessels unless they are driving in to make a serious attack. Otherwise we are allowing otherwise sensible skippers to dawdle into danger – which they would not do.
USS Schofield does trireme imitation

Triremes could turn more tightly than any modern warship – in a diameter of 200 feet - and at an angular speed of 3 degrees per second. A trireme could shift at full speed (close to 10 knots), come to a stop and then proceed at full speed astern within 1 minute. The whole raison d'etre for their construction and the training of their crews was to achieve this extreme performance. 
A trireme game needs to allow this to be demonstrated and used by the players against each other. 
For 'Horse Archers' read 'Triremes'

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