The following is a review of 'Naumachiae' which I published in the NWS journal, 'Battlefleet':
Those of you who tour the shows may have seen Rod Langtons ancient rules being played over several years. Well, the wait is at last over: the last playtests are complete and the rules are now available. Unlike Rods Napoleonic rules, these are written by Martin Johncock, with additional input from Rod and Carol Langton. The first thing that strikes you about them is the format. Instead of the usual A4 or A5 portrait format Rod has gone for an A4 landscape style - quite distinctive. Presentation is excellent with large, clear text and some lovely illustrations. At £14.60 they are not cheap, but for the price you get, as well as the 124 page rulebook a 24 page supplement covering fleet lists, warship development and tactics, a card with wind direction and attitude indicators, compass and turning aid, three A4 quick play sheets, and five sheets covering two introductory scenarios. These also include completed Ship data Cards and are an invaluable starting point for the new player (or reviewer!). So, they look good and distinctive, but how do they play?
The answer is, very well. Each turn is subdivided into two parts (one for each player). The first, or Initiating, player checks for wind change, then resolves signalling, announces orders for their ships, makes an Ability Throw, then adjudges the outcome of moves and combat. Having completed this, the opposing player goes through the same sequence, but without the check for weather. The astute reader will have noticed the words Ability Throw above - yes, these rules use Rods famous Ability Chart, as pioneered in his Napoleonic naval rules. Poor rolls here will mean that ships fail to manoeuvre as planned, missile fire misses (or even damages one of the firing ships, fires rage uncontrolled and signals are misinterpreted. Good rolls mean everything goes to plan or, for particularly good rolls, mean excellent results, maybe a critical hit. The key to the chart is that only one roll is made, its effects covering the whole of the players turn. This reduces the tedium of endless die rolling and leads to a fast completion of a turn, even when large fleets are in use.
The key to ancient naval warfare is the ram, and Martin has developed
a simple yet effective system. Models are mounted on rectangular bases with
the corners cut off at a prescribed angle. These extended octagonal bases
are used to determine the location and aspect of the ram, and hence the
type of damage inflicted, whether straightforward rams or oar rakes. Perhaps
the only criticism is that, once players close to ramming distance there
is a tendency to hold back looking for the opponent to make
a mistake and allow a decisive attack, but since one could imagine the players
historical counterparts doing just the same thing perhaps this is a good
thing. It is noticeable that this reluctance to close lasts only a few moves
until the wargamers natural tendency to charge sets in, and mayhem
ensues regardless! Moving on, the rules also cover boarding actions, missile
fire such as spears, bows and bolt throwers, and more esoteric special weapons
such as the Corvus, Harpago, swarms of bees, quicklime and Rhodian fire
pots. The whole ensemble is finished off with a glossary of common nautical
terms encountered in the rules.
I was most impressed with these rules, which just ooze quality. I think they capture the feel of ancient naval warfare quite well and they are bound to be a success. The rules are written in a clear, concise style, helped by the large typeface and the two column layout, the use of copious examples and many explanatory diagrams. Finally, the rules are set off very nicely by some excellent line illustrations by Giles Read
Yes, they are expensive, but as they say, you get what you pay for,
and they are most definitely worth the price.
Naumachiae: What does that title mean? According to the rules, Naumachiae is the Latin name given to the mock naval battles fought out in the Roman arenas. The arena was flooded and several galleys brought in to fight each other, for the amusement of the crowds.