Roman Seas at Historicon
A month or so before the con, Eric posted a note on the Roman Seas Yahoo group that he was finally happy with all of the core mechanics of his Roman Seas rules and hoped to have them available soon. I had already been in contact with Eric about some prize support, so after a few email exchanges, Eric agreed to get me a copy of the rules as soon as they were back from his editor. The days until Historicon grew short, but the week before Eric sent me a full set of mounted counters along with the prize package. Finally, on the Saturday before Historicon, the rules arrived and after a quick read, we did a playtest game on Monday. The playtest game was a blast, so I hurriedly converted my scenario and set off for the con. The number of troop stands needed for his rules versus the ones I’d used before was about double and I needed a number of additional stands for deck crews and such. So there was a good bit of furious basing and snipping of my 4-man Baccus figure strips into 2-man figure strips, but in the end it all came out and I was ready to put on the game at 1 PM Saturday.
The scenario is basically the same as last year, although the total number of boats was reduced a tad. The Imperial Roman fleet was sallying forth from the Rhenus River to find the fleet of the rebellious general Carausius and his Frankish Allies. The Romans were in 4 squadrons, 3 of which had 5 liburnians, while the command squadron consisted of a trireme, 3 liburnians, and a scout ship. The rebels fleet had two squadrons of 4 liburnians and the admiral’s command squadron of a trireme, 2 liburnians, and a scout ship. The Frankish allies arrived in 9 Frankish longships, less refined precursors of the famous Viking longships of the Dark Ages. The Romans sent one squadron close inshore among the shoals, a second just outside that, with the command group in the center and the last squadron to the north. The plan was to form a line of battle NW to SE, but the Rebels deployment immediately through them off, as the Franks had appeared to their northwest and Carausius sent a squadron out to flank from seaward (west).
The Rebels command group was close inshore and was almost immediately engaged by the inshore squadron of the Roman fleet. Upon seeing the enemy, the inexperienced officers of the Roman squadron (they had had to quickly rebuild a new fleet after Carausius appropriated the Classis Britannia, the Roman fleet for Britain and Gaul) pushed forward and attempted to ram the rebel’s ships. Unfortunately, their poor training meant that most of these attempts caused more damage to themselves than the enemy. But these attacks served the purpose of slowing down the rebel command squadron, which was soon engaged by elements of the second Romans squadron. As the grappling hooks started to fly, Carausius found himself heavily outnumbered.
In the center, one squadron of the rebel’s liburnians went after the Roman command group. The Romans had become a little scattered trying to get out of the river mouth and gaps had appeared on either side of the command trireme. Two liburnians accelerated to ramming speed and successfully oar raked each side of the ship. The big ship lost most of her oars in a single pass, leaving here crippled and slow, but still dangerous with a full load of marines and artillery engines aboard.
In the northeast, the seaward squadron of rebels and the northernmost squadron of Romans clashed while the Franks tried to circle around them and get at the Roman command group in the center. After a number of mostly unsuccessful ramming attempts, the ships became grappled and were in close combat. At this point, a Roman liburnian dashed in at ramming speed and smashed into a grappled rebel liburnian, crushing her hull and sinking her. The Romans were able to cut loose the crippled wreck before it went down.
Back in the lower half of the table, most of the moving had dies down as groups of ships became grappled and boarding actions ensued. The rebels command group and second squadron were each facing a squadron and a half of enemies and so were usually grappled by two or more ships. A scout ship was taken as a prize first, followed by a liburnian. In one melee the rebels were gaining the upper hand until a friendly ship tied alongside the Roman vessel and began transfering marines to her decks.
As our time ran out, the rebels had lost one ship sunk and three captured. A further two ships would likely be captured in the following turn. Some of the remaining rebels could likely escape as the Romans had many ships with severe movement problems, mostly as a consequence of failed ramming attempts, but the rebel’s flagship was isolated, barely mobile, and surrounded by enemies. It looks as if Carausius rebellion ended a little early this time out.
The game went really well, especially considering my time to get familiar with the rules. Everyone had a great time and the game looked great. I had many people stop to enquire about the boats, so hopefully Eric will get some new business in exchange for his generous prize support. My only regret was that my pictures didn’t turn out very well…
The Roman Seas rules themselves are IMO great. They are fun and dynamic, with a great mix of playability and realism. A lot of people don’t like hex based games (and I profess to have been in this group in the past), but for things like this, they are great because they allow the movement part of the game to go by really quickly, which means you get in lots of action. The rules for ramming and oar rakes are straight forward and easy to work out and I like that they include potentially unpleasant consequences for attempting these rather dangerous actions and failing. Missile fire is annoying in small numbers, but a ship surrounded by several enemies with archers aboard can easily find the decks swept clean by enemy fire in short order. Both melee and archery is resolved with an easy single d10 roll per stand, so it’s fast. Artillery engines require only a single extra die roll. Overall, all of the players in the game really seemed to enjoy the rules and after just a couple of turns were running all of the charts themselves. Hopefully Eric will have them finished up and available soon as I think they are just what owners of his models have been waiting for.