Background on the Scenario:
One of the first recorded naval battles after Actium. Romes navy was in disrepair. The threat of the large Vandal navy however prompted somewhat of a revival.
The Byzantine Navy background from the Wiki:
“The primary warship of the Byzantine navy until the 12th century was the dromon (δρόμων) and other similar ship types. Apparently an evolution of the light liburnian galleys of the imperial Roman fleets, the term first appears in the late 5th century, and was commonly used for a specific kind of war-galley by the 6th. The termdromōn itself comes from the Greek root δρομ-(άω), “to run”, thus meaning “runner”, and 6th-century authors like Procopius are explicit in their references to the speed of these vessels. During the next few centuries, as the naval struggle with the Arabs intensified, heavier versions with two or possibly even three banks of oars evolved. Eventually, the term was used in the general sense of “warship”, and was often used interchangeably with another Byzantine term for a large warship,chelandion (Greek: χελάνδιον, from the Greek word kelēs, “courser“), which first appeared during the 8th century. “
In 550, the Gothic War was in its fifteenth year. The first years of the war had seen a series of successes for the relatively small Byzantine invasion force under Belisarius, which had led to the fall of Ravenna and the apparent restoration of Imperial rule over Italy by 540. Subsequently, Emperor Justinian I recalled Belisarius. The commanders left behind soon started squabbling with each other, while the Goths rallied their forces. Under the leadership of their charismatic new king, Totila, they soon reversed the situation, overrunning the imperial forces. Not even the return of Belisarius could stem the Ostrogothic tide.
By 550, the East Romans were left with a handful of coastal strongholds in the mainland, and in the spring of that year, Totila even invaded Sicily, the Romans’ strategic base. Wishing to deny the Imperials easy access to Italy and the ability to land fresh troops or reinforce their outposts, Totila had also created a navy of 400 warships to contest the seas with the Empire. At the same time, Justinian prepared one last major effort to reclaim Italy, under the eunuch Narses.
Totila, aware of the looming threat, was determined to deny his enemies their last important bases on Italian soil, most prominently Croton and Ancona.
He withdrew from Sicily, and while his troops besieged Ancona, with 47 ships blockading it from the sea, he sent the rest of his fleet, 300 ships strong, to raid the coast of Epirus and the Ionian Islands. Ancona was likely to fall soon, and therefore the Roman general Valerian, commander of Ravenna, called upon John, a very experienced general who was stationed at Salona in Dalmatia awaiting the arrival of Narses and his army, to send a relief force. John immediately manned 38 ships with his veterans, and was soon joined by 12 more ships under Valerian himself. The joint fleet set sail for Sena Gallica, some 17 miles (27 km) north of Ancona. This is what transpired:
This is the first part of the battle. Already we can see that there is a disparate situation developing. The Roman crews are better, and are better led.
This delta is reflected in game play in the ease with which the Romans may Rake thier oppoenents successfully.
The Goths on the other hand have little chance of a successful Rake 8.3% versus 50% for the Romans. This difference is so significant that the scenario is going to be a wipe out. So lets take a look at the War Galley system.
The War Galley System:
I have put off playing this game for a long time due to the self imposed notion that this was a complex game. This could not be further from the truth. The rule book, given when it was written and format is very well done.
The major systems are well defined.
Command like all Herman/Berg ancients games is centered around leaders and in this case the squadrons they can influence. This game however also provides for single units to engage after all other formations/squadrons have conducted their actions. Simple, and it seems to work in this small setting. The concept of Squadrons is however fluid. As a function of range units may be ‘led’ by one Leader one turn and if in range a different leader the next turn.
Movement has a few quirks for Oar and Wind assisted craft. But turning, back drafting and facing are all well handled and easy enough to use. This certainly give a good flavor for the period.
Understanding the value of Crews as they become fatigued is critical. You lose the ability to attack in essence once fatigue sets in. Which means under reduced movement your only choice is grappling and using the Manpower of the craft to ‘assault’ the enemy boats.
Once a craft is attacked via Raking, Ramming or one a small handful of other variations on this you are in trouble if the enemy is successful. This leaves you dead in the water and at worst fouled with your attacker.
So all that is fine, crippled ships all over the place. Well that does not obtain VPs!
Ships must be sunk or captured to count in most of the scenarios I have read about. So you are going to have to revisit all of those crippled units and finish them off up close and personal. Once grappled boarding attempts are made and the ship can be captured.
One area of weakness for me is the missile combat system. The ease with which ships catch on fire seems to me to be a tad forced. Then once alight the chance of anything significant happening is low 2 in 6, so ships sit and smoke a lot.
So with all this in mind how will a large battle fought at sea play out? What would Salamis or Artenisium be like with a 100 odd counters??
Given that after just a few turns I have 2-3 counters stacked on those who participated in combat I think the biggest flaw of WG starts to come out. That of counter management. More so than even GBoH, the counter density is a major drawback to a great looking game. Keeping track of this for a 100+ ships is not going to be fun. IF you thought GBoH was too heavy on info counters then avoid this game.
If however you want to experience the subtleties that seep out in this game give it a shot. There is a level of fun here, choosing which units go into what squadron for the up coming turn, the speed they will travel at, and then seeing what you opponent will do. I like it. War Galley is however too “fiddly” . I’m going to try Alexsandar Pesic’s simplfied rules http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/44202/war-galley-faster-easier-simplified-rules-outline to see if this helps.