Saturday 7 January 2017

Galleys & Galleons

Many years ago I was involved in the initial playtesting of a set of starship rules which used the Songs of Blades and Heroes system. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was obvious that the system didn't really lend itself to that style of combat. So when, a couple of years ago, I came across someone developing a set of rules for earthbound naval combat - Galleys and Galleons - using the same system I had some reservations. However I followed the development, read reports and reviews and saw that it did seem to work and produce a fun game. Maybe not a game that would appeal to the hardened historical naval gamer, but something quick and fun. Galleys and Galleons covers small naval actions in the Age of Discovery, concentrating on the 16th and 17th century, and with up to six ships per player being the norm. It's possible to use it for actions outside of the period as well; the rules includes some ancient galley stats, and there are some fantasy elements included too. There is a supplement which adds a little more historical detail, but a full range of fantasy items as well.

So earlier this week I bit the bullet and bought the rules. And today I got a chance to try them out. I don't really have any Age of Discovery ships, but I do have a collection of Napoleonic naval stuff which strays into the esoteric, with gunboats, galleys and Chinese junks, so I reasoned I could pull together forces from that.

I started with the basic 'Pursuit' scenario. In one corner - an East Indiaman working its way to the safety of a friendly port ...

... but on the far horizon are the sails of a pirate junk.

Each ship was worth about 50 points. The junk had the edge in manouever and boarding, whilst the Indiaman was bigger, better armed and with a disciplined crew. Both were lifted straight from the example ships in the rules.

Unfortunately I deployed the junk badly. The aim of the scenario was for the Indiaman to exit the table from the opposite corner to the one it started in. The junk had to capture or sink it. The Indiaman got to choose the initial wind-direction, and I then contrived to deploy the junk such that it had to work its way past a sandbank with the wind very much not in its favour.

A fortunate shift in wind slowed the Indiaman, and allowed the junk to close up into cannon range.

The Indiman replied, but accurate long-range gunnery is not the forte of either of these ships.

The range closed, but neither ship could damage the other. However the junk was still badly positioned to sail in close and board.

The Indiaman tried to slip to the stern of the junk.

The junk turned hard to port, and was now better positioned to block the Indiaman's escape.

More gunfire. No effect.

The junk nipped in fast, deployed grapples and it was Boarders Away! A fierce action saw both sides damaged; the Chinese had an initial advantage through the Derring Do ability, but the Indiaman staved off disaster through the discipline of their Veteran NCOs.

The Indiaman cut free, and tried to make good its escape.

The junk cut across its stern and fired a broadside.

Down came a mast. The Indiaman struck.

Having now grasped the concepts of the game, I set up a larger version of the same scenario. This time the Indiaman was accompanied by a Company sloop; a dedicated warship.

But now there were three junks; two large and one small.

The junks were approaching from the corner the Company ships were aiming for. Unfortunately an early shift of wind saw them in irons. The Company ships turned to work their way around an island, which would put them upwind of the junks, albeit leaving them having to work through a narrow gap between the island and the edge of the table.

The junks turned into the wind, to wait. The small junk was sent off to work its way around the flank.

The Company ships began their run for safety, firing their broadsides as the did so.

The sloop ran for the gap between the junks, hoping to shatter them with gunfire before the Indiaman had to run the gauntlet. Unfortunately it took an unlucky hit from one of the junks which holed it below the waterline.

The Indiaman joined the fight, and a raking broadside brought down rigging on one of the junks.

Despite their disadvantage with regards to the wind, both junks managed to rush the Company ships, grapple, and send in the boarders.

A series of desperate to-and-fro melees ensued. The Indiaman was captured, but the sloop defeated the junk which had attacked it. This was fortunate, because the small junk was now closing in as well.

The small junk boarded. The sloop's crew rose to the challenge, and in a brisk fight they took the second junk.

The final junk moved away from the captured Indiaman, blocking the sloop's escape (in this scenario the Company get points for exiting ships. Recapturing the Indiaman was a possibility, but the best option for a winning score was for the sloop to run for it).

With no other options open to it, the sloop grappled and boarded the junk. And took it.

A good day for the Honourable East India Company. The Indiaman was recovered, and their sloop took three pirate junks into port as prizes.

Both games were great fun to play, and the rules gave no serious issues whilst being easy to follow.

For those that are interested in these things, the stats for the small junk and the Company sloop are as follows:

1 x Sloop (80) – Q2 C3 – Chasers, Galleon Rig, Veteran NCOs, Trained Crew, Drilled Soldiers
1 x Small Junk (30) – Q2 C1 -  Derring Do, Intimidating, Lateen Rig, Yare

If I did it again I might give the Sloop a Master Gunner instead of Trained Crew, to give it an edge as the junks close in. However the terrain did limit its use of long-range gunnery, which is where the Trained Gun Crews excel. The small junk is basically the junk from the rules with a reduced combat value and no Reinforced Hull.

I confess I didn't use the rules as written. The weather change rules are clever, in that they are tied to players' activation rolls, but this creates the strange situation of players being able to game wind-direction changes. So I lifted and slightly adapted a more conventional set of rules from HERE. I also used their rules for reducing and making sail. Both seemed to work OK. I used the optional reload rules from the actual game as well.

And, since I have one slot to fill, still, I'm making 'Galleys and Galleons' Game Six in my 6 x 6 Challenge list, and treating this writeup as Game 1.

6x6 - Game 6-1


  1. I've a copy of these rules, but have yet to play them. It looks like you had a fun battle.

    Good luck on the challenge.

  2. Great pictures, love the pirate junk!

    1. Thanks. The junks are from Navwar, as is the Indiaman and its escort.


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