Tuesday, 12 July 2016

PW Review

Poseidon's Warriors by John Lambshead: Osprey Wargames
I was pleased to see this  title emerge because galley warfare gets too little attention in my opinion. It was a bit wierd, however, that I saw so little discussion on the web or in Osprey marketing before about February this year. Why keep it a secret so long ?

The book is in the usual Osprey soft-back format and is 64 pages with colour illustrations and photos. The illustrations are all from previous related Osprey titles. Most of the illlustrations show combat or combat situations.The miniatures photos are of Langton Miniatures ships exclusively and most are provided by Langton Miniatures. There are no photos of a game in progress and a single one which purports to show an action. This made me a bit uneasy because the book also lacks any kind of play-through or battle report from a game. Maybe I hanker for the good old days of worked examples too much ? Despite the break-throughs in digital and optical technology of the recent 100 years the photos are mostly not sharp.

The book is divided into a battle rules section of 22 pages and then three sections on how to create an on-table battle which is a one-off or linked by simple 'campaign' rules. Historical information is given as needed, including a timeline and explanations of which end is the pointy one etc. There are some quibbles possible here but bear in mind it is a slim volume. The core of the book is the rules and these are clearly stated and a quick-reference sheet can be copied out.

The best feature of the book, I found, was the second section which gives three ways to set -up a battle. A one-off tabletop encounter, generic scenarios such as 'Invasion' or 'Harbour Break-Out' and historical engagements based on ancient battles and campaigns. The idea with the latter is that all engagements of a period are played and a points table kept to see who is victorious overall. Simple but, importantly, do-able.

The wargame these rules create is to 1/1200 scale with an indeterminate time-scale which would appear to be about 1 minute., and players will deploy 'on average' 6 or so squadrons of 5 ships. That is 30 models per player per side. This does not get up to the hundreds of the big battles but should allow smaller engagements to be done 1:1. I was therefore surprised that the scenarios given reduce the real ship totals to 1/3 to 1/12 of the original number of vessels. Is this stating from the outset  that the rules cannot support a true refight ? or, maybe trying to say a scaled-down and cheaper refight is possible with these rules.

The battle rules themselves group 5 lesser ships or 1 larger -'6's or greater - as a unit. Simple ship records must be kept but it is not beyond the wit of an average player to use a marker system - hopefully better than the horrendous 'gem' markers the author suggests. I find these make my eyes bleed, in the context of an historical miniatures game with decent terrain, only slightly less than the Liquorice All-Sorts on pylons used by Olicana Lad in his games.

Without going into detail, the rules are straight-forward, use a D6 and ship status comprises 'oar banks', 'hull damage' and marines on board. The alignment of a ramming attack within certain arcs allows a retaliatory ram or possibility of hitting oar banks or not. Ships must grapple before attempting a boarding attack. Combat is quick and bloody. Dead ships vanish to keep the battle area clear unless you want to use the optional 'debris' rule.

Control is exercise by 'command distances' and split units are to be avoided. Admirals can add their own special strategems and abilities to a fleet.

I am a fan of manouvere in galley warfare. At this scale it is limited. In these rules it is basic. Movement is by pivoting on the ship's centre. All ships turn at the same rate. Surprisingly, the fastest ship is a 'fast' quadrireme. Ships from a 'Light Galley' to the astronomical 'Forty' are catered-for. Diekplous and Periplous are commented-on as possible tactics but there are no special rules to help implement them. Better ships have more movement distance.

Harpax, corvii, artillery and Rhodian fire pots are all here, the only things I noted as wanting were Athenian 'dolphins' and fire as a weapon for Non-Rhodians.

I will have a few battles with the rules and report them here too. This scale is not for me due to the fact I feel it neither allows representation of marines and crews and ship manouvering nor the large numbers of ships to refight ancient battles.

A major negative point for me was the strange promise given in the blurb. Who writes these ?
It do say ' the rules use an integrated turn system to allow a commander to position ships to go in to ram without being rammed in return, or to employ feints and traps to tempt the enemy out of position and leave his ships vulnerable to a follow-up strike.'  It turns-out that the 'integrated turn system' is an I-Go-You-Go with priority decided by a dice-throw. The other stuff is nowhere to be seen. It may lie 'between the lines' or be revealed in play but this seems to be hype of the oddest kind.

The proof of the rules lies in the sinking of enemy ships, so that is what I will attempt tomorrow..

At this point I would say the rules seem workmanlike and do not try to confuse the issue of a naval set-to with too many bells and whistles. All to the good. In addition, the book provides the nice feature of setting tabletop scraps in context.


  1. Very nice review! Will be helpful when I playtest this.

  2. Dean and I are hoping to "put to sea" tomorrow.
    I did my own review nearly two weeks ago to prepare for our game. You picked up on some items that escaped me.

    1. Good to hear: another wrinkle I found were .. if a ship cannot move 1/2 inch before ramming what are implications ?

    2. It seems there's distance per-requisite to conduct an oar strike, or make a grapple and board attempt. This may be your only options if your ship(s) are hemmed-in other vessels.