Just before I moved from College Station, one of the gamers there had purchased some of the 1:300 Roman Seas paper ship models from Hotz Artworks. I got to see some of the finished models, which looked really nice, but never got to play in any of the games. I decided to get some of these and to make getting a Roman naval game my 2008 Historicon Project.
I purchased the regular Roman Navy set as well as the Rome versus Barbarians set. The Roman Navy set includes most of the ship types used in the Republican and Early Imperial eras. The Rome versus Barbarians includes more ships of lighter type that became ubiquitous in the later Imperial Roman navy as well as Saxon and Veneti ships.
While casting around for an engagement to base my game on, I started building a prototype ship, choosing a Roman Trireme, in order to get the hang of working with paper models. One of the nice things about this project is that it’s very portable. I can bring my cutting board and a little glue out into the family room and cut out and glue up ships without needing to sequester myself away at the painting desk. The assembly guide provided with the models is straightforward and even my first ship out of the gates turned out OK and would be usable on a gaming table.
For the Historicon game, I’ve decided to represent a naval action between Rome and the forces of the rebel Carausius circa ~288-289 AD. Carausius was a general and admiral who had made a name putting down marauding bands of rebels in Gaul. He was then given command of the Roman fleet based in Gaul and ordered to stop the raids by Frankish and Saxon pirates. He did this quite effectively, but appears (at least in Roman sources – Carausius’ side of the story has not survived) to have chosen to intercept the raiders after their incursion and to keep the captured booty rather than return it or turn it over to the Imperial treasury. For this he was ordered to be executed, but instead fled to Britain and established a break away empire that lasted for several years, included parts of the coastal regions of the continent, and even minted coins that were superior to any other in circulation at the time.
Around 288-289 AD, the Romans assembled a fleet and sent it against Carausius. The Romans record that the fleet was destroyed by storms, but it is just as likely that it was destroyed by the naval forces of Carausius. This is the battle that I am choosing to base the game on. Roman fleets of the time were composed almost entirely of Liburnians, smaller ships with two banks of oars, and some smaller scouting vessels. As a convention game this works out well as it makes the forces involved fairly homogeneous, so a player will not need to keep the capabilities of many different ships in mind. The smaller ships should also make for more decisive actions and encourage maneuver more than if each side had larger ships that could get into protracted slogging matches. That’s the thought anyway.
My goal is to have at least 20 ships on each side, which should make for a nice spectacle. I’m going to get some Baccus 6mm minis to put marines on the decks. For rules I have purchased Salamis ad Actium written by David Manley. These look to have plenty of flavor but also to play fast enough for me to give each player several ships and still have the game move fast enough. As I work on the game to get it ready and arrange playtest games with the locals, I’ll post reports here.