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Swiving at Sea

Ganesha Games’ Galleys and Galleons Rules


My DBArrrrrgggghhhh Amendments for them

By Peter Hunt

My playmate Jeff and I are probably men born out of time. Not for us the technological connectivity of the Internet age, and cyber wars.  No, if given the choice we would prefer the more intimate and morally looser connectivity of Restoration England, and the wars of the late 17th Century.  This comes, I think, from us at a young and hormonally impressionable age in 1971 watching Susan Hampshire in her prime vamping her way through “The First Churchills” in her inimitable style.  Whatever the reason we find an afternoon “swiving” always well spent: DBR is a fine set of rules; the period is full of charm and interest; the games and the in-period historically accurate dissolute behaviour they engender are great fun; and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as you can go home to your splendid country estate full of tapestries, and so convenient for the Bicester outlet shopping village, where your good lady will later confide to her chum that: “His Grace returned from the wars today and pleasured me twice in his top-boots.” Well, that’s what we would like to think anyway…

To go with the armies of King James and the Duke of Monmouth I have long had their navies in 1:1200 scale based for DBR use.  Once in a blue moon they might actually get on the table, but most of the time they don’t get out of their box, and Jeff’s fleet for William of Orange never got off the building ways.  This seemed a bit of a waste to me and for many years I have tinkered with ideas of how to use them.  First there was “De Bellis Bataviae” (“The Dutch Wars”) which just used the DBR system with a greater variation of ships, this was not very satisfying.  It spun into “Spice, Gold and Powder” which had more stress on the nautical aspects, and attempted to cover everything from the Spanish Armada to the War of The Spanish Succession.  This got too big, with 30 types of vessels with eight characteristics each! So, the little ships stayed in their box.


Then in July Ganesha Games published a set of rules for the period called “Galleys and Galleons” written by Nicholas Wright.  Fellow swiver Frankie uses Ganesha’s “Song of Drums and Shakos” for Napoleonic Skirmish, and I have always rather liked them.  The key to the rules is an activation system where your individual men or units can opt to attempt up to three tasks or “activations” a turn, and to succeed you must equal or exceed their quality level on a D6.  So if their quality level is 4 and you wanted to try to do three things you would throw three dice and you could do one action for each successful 4, 5 or 6.  If you succeed you may activate another of your men or units, but the rub is that if you throw two fails the initiative passes to your opponent, perhaps leaving a lot of your own men doing nothing, this is called a “turnover”.  Thus you only have yourself to blame… you can play conservatively and have each chap only do one thing, that way it doesn’t matter if he succeeds or fails, as with only one fail you still retain the initiative and can activate your other chaps, but if you try to do two or three actions there is a chance you will come unstuck and turnover the initiative.  The combat system is basically DBx, men or units have a combat factor, you make an opposed dice throw, add in the combat factor and tactical factors, and the more you outscore your opponent the more unpleasant it is for him, or vice versa.  Since I knew that the DBx combat system would work in the naval context, US$8 seemed a small investment to see if the rest of the rules would work too.

It turned out to be money well spent… and a substantial financial outlay.  Money well spent because the rules are very good, and a substantial financial outlay, because with my enthusiasm for the period rekindled, orders immediately went off to Navwar and Langton for a lot more new ships, Brigade Models for buildings and fortifications, and Minibits for dice holders. In the meantime a week’s work finally got a Dutch fleet to sea.

The rules run to 78 pages and are well written, in a “tongue in cheek” manner that is clearly aiming at a fun game rather than a deep historical simulation, of which the presence of Kraken to drag you down into the deep, Leviathans to pursue o’er the Seven Seas, Rocs to descend on you from the skies, and an Edge of the World to fall off, leaves you in no doubt.  Don’t be put off if that is not your cup of tea though; there is a good set of rules here that will serve well for historical games.  Almost all the aspects of the Ganesha Games’ system are here, including using short, medium and long measurement sticks to govern movement and shooting ranges, and using multiple actions to make your shooting and fighting more effective, (for example a “full broadside” in Galleys and Galleons is the equivalent of an “aimed shot” in Drums and Shakos.)  Movement is a bit different because it is tied to the wind as you would expect in an age of sail naval game and this is nicely handled by cross referencing the vessel’s rig to wind aspect which will give you a speed in terms of the short, medium or long measurement that the ship will move regardless of whether it is ordered to do so or if there is a turnover.  Each ship can take up to three hits before it is crippled but, because it is harder to score hits on bigger ships unless you have a big ship yourself, this does not mean that all ships are equal.  As damage mounts the effect of additional hits is nicely incorporated into all sorts of unpleasant situations a ship can find itself in, and also into command failures.  Finally this wouldn’t be a set of naval rules if it didn’t have a critical hit table too.  Characteristics for 36 types of vessel, three types of shore defences and 11 monsters are provided and the algorithm and points values for customizing your own ships is explained and simple to use.

Adding the DBR aspects seemed to be a natural marriage for Galleys and Galleons.  The bases are a bit big but that means that the ships are well protected from rough handling and the base length of 80mm nicely equates to a “short” distance under the rules, with medium and long distances using DBx measuring sticks correspondingly longer in the same proportion as in the original rules.  This makes movement simple and the nice rectangular base makes determining wind aspect a lot easier.  We simplified the wind direction and change rules by only using half as many compass points and one-third the frequency of changes, (but changing by 45o instead of 22.5o), and I produced a little tool to make turning and determining arcs of fire easier.

The only thing really lacking from the rules was the kind of “group move” that makes handling units much easier in Drums and Shakos and raises the game above being just a collection of individuals activating, moving and fighting.  This was easily resolved by introducing a rule for squadron moves that makes it much easier to control more ships limited to simple actions until casualties and command friction break up formations.  We tweaked a few other rules that we thought needed tweaking as well, but nothing dramatic.  If you are interested a copy of the amendments, DBArrrrrggggghhhh written in my best pirateese is here .

My only criticism of Galleys and Galleons, and this is almost carping because it doesn’t really bother me, is that the points system does not hold up.  The same algorithm used in Ganesha’s other games is used for calculating the points value of a ship, and this tends to unfairly penalise smaller ships.  For example what I would think of as a 3rd Rate Ship of the Line comes in at 46 points before quality is taken into account, whilst a sloop comes in at 25.  Two sloops being worth more than a 3rd rate seems a bit off to me.  Giving the smaller ships better quality means that they can activate more easily, and perhaps run rings around a bigger ship, but makes them even more expensive, a Quality 4 Man-O’-War comes in at 69 points against a Quality 2 sloop at 63.  If you are playing with like for like ships this hardly matters, and if you are not you can easily tweak it, or just use forces that you consider to be fair matches.

Points aside, Galleys and Galleons plays fast and furious, offers interesting decisions to be made, handles the wind aspects of age of sail wargaming in a relatively simple and satisfying manner, and can be used for Hollywood high fantasy or historical games according to your tastes.  I’m not sure about the statement that:  “Once you know the rules, a game with 200 point fleets… [about three to five ships] per side requires about 45 minutes…” unless you are playing with a chess time clock, and an opponent that you don’t even want to talk to, let alone drink with.  Still, Galleys and Galleons are a lot faster than most naval sets and three of us with 10 ships had a jolly good afternoon’s fun with lots of rolling of rrrrrrrs, and 7-11’s finest vintages in lieu of rum.

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