Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rules Analysis of "Poseidon's Warriors"

My last post, which I hope you enjoyed, was a heavily slightly embellished account of what happened during our initial play-through of Poseidon's Warriors.

This post will be a nuts & bolts examination of how and why things happened during the game.  Basically, this is a more in-depth look at the rules compared to my first impression.

The Figures & Terrain

Since Poseidon's Warriors "...is a set of rules for playing large-scale naval actions between fleets of classical galleys..." let's first examine the figures we used in the game.

The ship's used were part of a collection Dean acquired from a sale on The Miniatures Page (TMP), and consisted of:

2 x 1/900-scale fleet flagships by Valiant Enterprise's Ramming Speed Series
5 x 1/1200  squadron flagships by Langton Miniatures, while the rest were 1/1200-scale ships from CnC (which, sadly, appear to be no longer in production).

Dean's Red & Blue Fleets saw action twice last year.  First, with a play test of Actium, using a variant of the Hail Caesar rules, and then two game sessions during last year's Enfilade! convention.

My contribution to our tabletop classical war-at-sea effort was the terrain.

Several months ago, I stumbled across a 6' x 4' Ocean F.A.T Mat by Frontline Gaming.  Just as I was heading out the door to Dean's house, I remembered some other terrain pieces I had, and hastily grabbed what I could before dashing out the door.  These items were beaches from Wizard Kraft Modular Terrain and a handful of homemade islands I bought from a private vendor during some past visit to our Enfilade convention.

The Set Up

 We didn't bother with the Point System of the Ship Data Summary Chart, found on page 11 and on the back of the Quick Reference Sheet (QRS, page 64).  Instead, we decided on an identical number of ships and types, which turned to be:

1 x Hexareme flagship, 6 x slow (cataphract) Quadriremes, and 10 x slow (cataphract) Triremes.  None of these vessels mounted artillery.

We, well, I chose Scenario 4:  Channel Dash (pages 32-33) for us to play.  I have to admit that my ulterior motive was to use as much of the terrain I brought over as I could get away with.  This was the first time any of these pieces saw the light of day on a game table, and I didn't want this opportunity to go by the wayside.

"Setting Sail" (Getting Started)

Looking back, I realized we deployed our fleets incorrectly for this scenario.  (This wasn't the only thing we muddled up in the game).  According to the Special Rules, we were suppose to place our ships in one long "line astern," along opposite coastlines, and stay in this formation, moving forward, based on the Aggression Number we each secretly chose (from 1-6) combined with the current turn number.

Well, we didn't quite do that...

...so it took 8 turns in a 6 turn game just to get within artillery range of each other.  If that is, we had any artillery on our ships.  Another reason for the delayed approach was due to the slow speed of our flagships, and our desire to have our respective fleets keep station with them.

The Battle is--Finally--Joined!

Once five of Dean's ships opened the battle by head-on ramming four of my ships, it was all over in three turns.




A Glance at the Game Mechanics

Our fleets spent most of the time closing on each other.  But once battle was joined, we sort-of followed the turn sequence, which is divided into three phases.

Phase 1--Initiative:
Each player rolls a die, with the highest roller deciding whether to go first or not.

Phase 2--Operational:
Players alternate moving each of their squadrons, (Dean and I move our whole fleets until we discovered our error), and conduct actions in the following sub-phases--
--Oar Strikes

Phase 3--Morale:
Players make are required to make a morale check when a significant number of casualties are incurred.

In our game, by the end of the third turn of combat, both of us had to make morale checks, based on the prerequisites listed on page 17 and the QRS.  I lost over 1/4 of the ships in my fleet, while Dean's flagship was sunk.  In a stroke of rare good luck for me, I passed my morale check, but Dean didn't, which meant that his fleet took flight.

So victory was decided by a single die roll.

We were surprised at how quick and lethal ram attacks could be.  According to the rules on ramming (page 13), warships can make 1-4 "ram strikes" per attack, based on a vessel's size.

This is automatic.

Once rammed, the defending player has to roll a six-sided die (d6) for each strike and make a saving throw in order to avoid damage.  Several of the smaller ship types only have one hull point.  So if a player blows his saving throw the ship sinks.  Some can't even make a saving throw, so they sink automatically if rammed.  The medium-sized ships have two hull points, while the massive Deceres and larger Polyremes have three or four.

Overall Evaluation

For a 64-page book selling for about $20, Dean and I thought Poseidon's Warriors was a "convention-friendly" set of rules.  That is, the rules are simple enough for a gamemaster to run a massive session commanded by table-top land-lubbers, and bring the game to a decisive conclusion before the period ends.

Since Poseidon's Warriors is only 64 pages long, Dean and I felt the "Fluff" (backstory/history) could have been eliminated, or at least reduced more, in favor of a tad more "Crunch" (game mechanics).  Instead of artwork, like this found on page 15...

...while evocative; maps, diagrams and examples of play would have been more helpful, especially in understanding the scenario set up.

We also had a question about command and control.  Ships are organized into squadrons of 1-5 vessels, depending on size, which are suppose to remain within 2 inches of each other, in the case of a multi-ship squadron.  However, there's no other requirement, which made us wonder how far apart can squadrons be from each other, or the flagship.

Even though no merchant/transports were used in our game, being an Age-of-Sail enthusiast, I'm still not crazy about these vessels moving "...in any direction irrespective of the wind" (page 21, in the Advanced Rules).  This is unrealistic, because it gives sail-powered ships the ability to turn back around and flee from danger.  A small change of "...in any direction, except heading [within an easy-to-identify azimuth, say 60 or 90 degrees], into the wind..." would have been within Poseidon's Warriors play-ability parameters.

There's one other issue regarding this small rulebook that I mentioned in my first impression post--the font size.  The print in Poseidon's Warriors is small, I'm guessing size-10, and the charts are at least two sizes smaller.  In my rush to reach Dean's place, I forgot my bifocal reading glasses.  During the game we had to hold the rulebook at arm's length to see the fine print.

Despite these quibbles, Dean and I liked the rules and thought the author, John Lambshead, accomplished what he set out to do--provide a playable set of rules for large-scale classical naval battles.  (Designer's Notes can be found on pages 86-87 in Issue #346 of Wargames Illustrated).

Further Readings

In addition to the Channel Dash Scenario I insisted we decided on playing, there are 5 more generic scenarios featured on pages 27-38, along with an outline for a campaign, and historical scenarios on pages 38-60.

A Suggested Reading List For Scenario Ideas is on page 61.

But if pouring over dusty tomes isn't your amphora of wine, you can glean and adopt scenario ideas from GMT's War Galley Living Rules Page and Great Battles of History (GBoH) Scenario Page.

Another rules review can be found on Rams, Ravens and Wrecks.

One final bit of advice for Poseidon's Warriors:  Don't get rammed!

(Screenshot from:  Total War Rome II)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Initial Play-Through of "Poseidon's Warriors"

"Naval battles in antiquity were totally sweet because they were little more than aquatic demolition derbies...Essentially it worked like this:  a fleet of insane wooden deathtraps masquerading as warships would load up with enough sword-swinging warriors to choke a Rancor...and then sail around at top speed with the single-minded goal of crashing head-on into an enemy ship..."
(Badass Ultimate Deathmatch, by Ben Thompson, pg 18, The Battle of Salamis).

Fortunately, Dean and I didn't have to board any wooden deathtraps to play our demo of Poseidon's Warriors.  Instead, we broke out Dean's miniatures, my terrain, and gently pushed the figures around with the single-minded goal of touching bases to represent said head-on crashes in the aquatic demolition derby known as:

The Battle of the Straits of Juno de Fulvio

Two Roman fazions (factions in Italian), led by emperor wannabees Balbus Blu and Rufus Rosso, seek to supply their loyal, as in bought-and-paid-for, legions by sea.  To do so, grain ships must pass through the narrow Straits of Juno de Fulvio. 

Balbus dispatches Diocletian (Dean) with a small flotta (fleet) consisting of the following:

1 x hexareme flagship
2 x squadrons of cataphract triremes (5 ships each)
2 x squadrons of cataphract quadriremes  (3 ships each)

In a case of delusions-of-grandeur minds thinking alike, Rufus dispatches Titus (Ted) with an identical force.

Diocletian and Titus put to sea with their new-formed Blu (Blue) and Rosso (Red) Flottas, respectively, and attempt to secure the straits for their paymasters.

Rosso Flotta enters the straits from the east, and Blu Flotta, already in the midst of the straits, approaches from the west.
Rosso Flotta enters the straits' Centrale Canale (Central Channel).

Meanwhile, Blu Flotta is sailing along the Nord Costa (North Coast).
Enemy sighted!  Diocletian orders Blu Flotta to turn into the Centrale Canale.
As Rosso Flotta passes between Canale Isola Tre and Quattro (Channel Islands Three and Four), Titus orders his ships to deploy from column-of-squadrons to line-a-breast.
The two flottas near the center of the straits.
As Rosso Flotta begins changing formation between Isola Tre and Quattro, Blu Flotta is approaching Canale Isola Due (Channel Island Two, in the center).
Rosso Flotta's line-of-battle is almost complete.
Blu Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone (squadron, near the top of the picture), starts to slip between Isole Uno and Due.
However, the signal flag couldn't be seen properly as the Blu Nave Ammiraglia (the Blue Flagship) is masked by Isola Due.  As a result, the Nord Costa Commandte misinterpreted the signal and ordered his squadrone to turn back to the west.
A view from the Sud Costa (South Coast):  Both flottas are just outside striking distance.  Blu Flotta has been keeping station, while Diocletian frantically orders new signal flags hoisted aloft to countermand Nord Costa Squadrone's retreat.
The same point in time, but viewed from the Nord Costa.
Blu Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone finally comes about.
The flottas close with each other.  Two Blu triremes brave the Meridionale Banchi (Southern Shoals).
The battle is joined!
Diocletian's "Blu Nave" rams a Rosso trireme, while four Blu triremes ram three Rosso triremes head-on.
A closer view of the Blu Nave's attack.
The Rosso sailors come out worse for wear, as four of their triremes are sunk, compared to only two Blu ships.  However, the Blu Nave suffered some hull damage as a result of the head-on ram.
A close-up of the carnage viewed from the edge of the Meridionale Banchi.
Titus orders his flagship, "Rosso Nave," and nearby smaller ships to converge on his counterpart, the Blu Nave.
Diocletian orders the Blu Nave to press on and strike first, attacking another Rosso trireme...
...and sending it to the bottom.
But Blu Nave, already the slowest ship in the flotta, has been taking on water, slowing it even further.  Diocletian orders the rowers to increase speed, but to no avail.  His flagship is cornered and rammed by a Rosso trireme and quadreme.
The Blu Nave quickly sinks beneath the waves, as Titus' "Rosso Nave," approaches the scene. 
Is Diocletian among the handful of survivors clinging to the floating wreckage?
The Rosso Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone takes up a blocking position between the Isola Uno and Due.
With their flagship--and possibly admiral--gone, Blu Flotta backs away, turns and retreats back to the west.  Meanwhile, Titus orders the remaining ships of Rosso Flotta to consolidate around Isole Uno and Due, in order to search for Diocletian--to capture him and hold him for ransom.
This has been an embellished account of how our game unfolded. 

In my next blog post, I'll discuss how things happened, some game mechanics, what Dean and I liked about Poseidon's Warriors, and what could be tweaked with some house-rules.

While I'm writing the upcoming rules analysis, check out Dean's pictures and battle report on his popular WAB Corner blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Book Review: Badass--Ultimate Deathmatch

If you dislike pulp/comic book style prose, over-the-top anachronistic descriptions and constant references to causing injury to male genitalia, then Badass: Ultimate Deathmatch is not for you.

This mass-mayhem version follows the same template as the first Badass book I reviewed, but involves includes everything from lone stands by solitary heroes (or villains, depending on your point of view) to major battles and all-out wars.  (I skipped over book #2, Badass: The Birth of a Legend, about gods and myths).

The common theme in all these tales is that the heroes are outnumbered, but decide to fight rather than choose discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor option.  Not every badass lived to a ripe old age, but they earned everlasting renown for their exploits.

While highly entertaining, Badass:  Ultimate Deathmatch suffers from over-generalizations to outright inaccuracies.  Despite this shortcoming, I still learned about obscure battles and badasses throughout history and even within my lifetime.

Badass: Ultimate Deathmatch enjoys a 4.2-star rating on Amazon.com.  Out of nearly 200 readers, 27 thought the book sucked (1-2 stars), 13 thought it was okay (3-stars), 24--including me--thought it was good (4-stars), while a whopping 132 felt it was badass awesome (5-stars).

I'd consider Badass:  Ultimate Deathmatch awesome too, if the outright inaccuracies were minimized.

The website, Badass of the Week can still be found on-line.

(Full cover art for Badass: Ultimate Deathmatch)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Product Review: WarCraft, The Roleplaying Game (1st Ed.)

I've probably said this before in previous posts, but I'll reiterate my feelings about video/computer games:

They make me ill.

Oh, not because I'm some sort of 21st Century Luddite, but because I'm so prone to motion sickness that I become quickly nauseated watching the on-screen action. 

However, I still have an ounce or two of Geek Cred, and have been vaguely aware of the on-line phenomena that is the World of Warcraft (WoW). So vague is my knowledge of WoW, I missed the Warcraft film that opened two months ago, and apparently so did many non-WoW fan viewers.

(Image:  Warcraft movie banner)

Anyway, bad movie reviews aside, last year I stumbled across Warcraft: The Roleplaying Game at Half Price Books.  I may not be able to play WoW on-line, but I sure can play this tabletop version.

That is, if my rotating work schedule ever meshes-up with any of my fellow gamers that would be interested in a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D, 3rd Ed.) adventure set somewhere in Kalimdor on the planet Azeroth.

The case-bound, hardcover book is divided into the following chapters:

1. A World At War
2. Heroes
3. Adventuring
4. Magic
5. The World of Warcraft
6. Campaigning

Player characters (PCs) set out on their quest a year after the Third War (the primary setting for the earlier computer/on-line games) and can be any of the following races:

1. Human
2. Ironforge Dwarf
3. High Elf
4. Night Elf
5. Goblin
6. Half-Elf
7. Half-Orc
8. Orc
9. Tauren (Minotaur)

(Image found on:  Henchman-4-Hire)
Some of the races are standard D&D templates.  There's no changes to humans, while Half-Orcs and Half-Elves suffer from similar discrimination as they do in other settings, maybe even more so.

Meanwhile, Dwarves are on a quest to discover the origin of their species, Goblins act more like Ferengi than the malicious second-class cousins to Orcs.  Speaking of Orcs, they're not inherently evil, as has been the case in every setting since Middle-Earth.  Instead, Orcs were duped by demons, and are now trying to get back to their shamanistic roots.  And while nominal allies, the Night Elves, users of divine magic and guardians of the Well of Eternity, can barely tolerate their arcane magic-addicted cousins, the High Elves.

Divine and Arcane Magic can be compared to the Light and Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars.

The races are divided into two general categories.  The Orcs and the Tauren comprise "The Horde," while everyone else is cobbled together into "The Alliance."  But this isn't ironclad, as some individuals have defected to the opposite faction.  Meanwhile, the Goblins out to make a profit.

Had I known this book was published back in 2003, (the second edition came out two years later), I wouldn't be so "late to the WoW party."  While I can't compare Warcraft:  The RPG to the on-line source material, I liked the book overall and have only two minor complaints.

First, the artwork is great, but exclusively black and white.  This isn't a problem in and of itself, but it would have been nicer if the map of Kalimdor was in color.  Second, there are several short-story/vignettes scattered throughout the book.  These are made to appear as if they're written on parchment by some scribe working by candlelight.  The font used in these stories, while elegantly ornate, can sometimes be hard to read.

Copies of Warcraft:  The RPG, can still be found on Amazon.com, ranging from $9.65 to $49.95 (plus S&H), and enjoys a 4.3-star rating.  The sole 3-star rater thought the material was out of date compared to the on-line games.

Undoubtedly it's even more outdated now, but despite my lack of knowledge of WoW, I'll give it a 4-star rating.

(Full cover image found on:  wowwiki.wikia.com)
A Note About My Current Reading Endeavor:

I do a lot of my reading while during my stationary cardio machine workouts, but still have a lot of unread RPG material.  So I decided to remedy this situation and go on a "Fluff" (lore) reading quest.  When I read Warcraft:  The RPG, I skipped over the "Crunch" (game mechanics), which save time and kept me from getting bored.  The RPG books I'll be reading will be hardcover and case bound, which I find easy to lay open on a cardio machine's control panel.