Welcome to the page of Oi Navarcoi, a wargame ruleset for fleet battles designed specifically for the classical era.
I developed these rules for the same reason I sculpted the Alkedo miniatures range: none of the other rules felt “right” to me. I wanted units of triremes moving and manouvering and fighting exactly in the way I read in Thucidides and Morrison. Yet I also wanted a streamlined and fast game, with few key tactical concepts for the playes to focus on.
ON is still a work in progress, but the core rules have been written, rewritten and thoroughly tested, and I am now very happy about them. Still need to properly playtest the amphibious/land section and add rules for sailing ships. I will update it here when it’s done.
If you want a more detailed description of the rules, read on.
What is the game really about?
This era, from the V to the first half of the IV century, includes some of the major naval battles of ancient times, fought in the Greek and Persian wars and the Peloponnesian war, as well as in the several conflicts between the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia, the Phoenician city of Carthage and the Etruscans for the dominance of the Tyrrenian sea and Sicily.
At the time, the trireme (trieres in ancient Greek) was the dominant warship. Triereis were war galleys with rowers organized on three levels. They were not built for carrying large numbers of heavy or missile troops: they were long and thin unstable platforms (lenght-width ratio being 1 to 10!), with ram as their main armament. They were built for speed and for hitting other ships. They were, basically, man-propelled guided torpedoes.
Their natural style of warfare, therefore, would have been ramming rather than boarding, as ramming was what they were built for. Naturally, less skilled crews would cram their vessels with hoplibatai and attempt to turn the fight into a grind: but better crews would fully exploit the triereis’ qualities with complex ramming tactics such as the periplous or diekplous. Oi Navarcoi aims to replicate this specific character of classical era naval warfare, which is different from the later Hellenistic and Roman periods – when ships got bigger and bigger and emphasis was definitely on boarding and missile fire (even with war engines!).
At what level is the game played?
In classical times, fleets were generally organized in squadrons of 10-15 ships, and Oi Navarcoi focuses at that level: squadrons are the units that players move around and fight with. Single ships cannot move around or fight by themselves. In ON they are basically “life points” of squadrons.
ON plays best at 4 to 6 squadrons each player, making around a hundred ships per side, which is a fairly average size for a Peloponnesian war battle. This can comfortably be played in an evening. Larger battles such as Salamina, with over 200 ships, are doable but will require more than one session.
What are the players supposed to be doing?
ON puts players in a double role: that of an overall fleet commander, or strategos, and that of his squadron commanders.
The strategos' main task was to formulate a battle plan. The simple system of signals included in the rules will reward with a significant manouver advantage the strategos who spent a few minutes before the battle to formulate a realistic and simple plan, clarifying to himself how and where he wants to engage the enemy. Of course, drafting a plan it is not at all mandatory! If you just want to line your squadrons up and charge at the enemy, go ahead… but if the enemy’s using signals, he’ll be a step ahead.
As squadron commanders, the players will lead their units in battle focusing on tactical challenges. Squadrons will need to manouver properly, getting where they need to be but minimizing the risk of getting disordered during manouvers. Commanders will choose the appropriate formation for tactical movements and for engaging the enemy, and will decide where, when and how to make contact.
Cool, but how does the game actually plays?
I totally concur with the Toofatlardies motto: play the period, not the rules. As such, ON is a fairly simple and strealined game.
Each turn starts with an Event phase. Players roll on a events table to see if any random events occur – weather changing, good or bad omens, admirals falling in the water… This table also determines the end of the game, if a certain result is rolled on the table and a fleet has lost more than half of its squadrons.
Then there is an initiative roll and each player, one after the other, moves all of his squadrons, one at the time. Squadrons attempting complex manouvers may become disordered in the process, or even lose any semblance of order, especially if they are green.
After movement comes the melee phase, when all melees are fought and resolved at the same time. Player can opt for engaging the enemy in a simple frontal melee or can try the more decisive, but also risky, special tactics of diekplous or periplous.
Finally, in the morale phase, all squadrons which lost the battle test in the previous phase must test their morale and are moved away if they routs. Squadrons which routed their enemy must also test to avoid pursuing them.
After one side breaks, you need to take a look at which side of the table the routed squadrons exited from to evaluate if this was a tactical victory or a major victory which ended the whole war here and there. In any case, the winner must elect a trophy!
Ok. And which are the key tactical concepts that are at the basis of a naval battle in these rules?
Planning is important! Choosing where the crucial fight will be and achieving local superiority right there, in quality or quantity, is key to victory. Make a simple plan and use signals to implement it quickly and in good order.
Manouvering is risky. Too many manouvers and your squadrons could become disordered, which is bad for melee. Manouver as little as possible: force your opponent to manouver a lot!
Melee is messy. Once you commit a unit, you lose control of it, sometimes also after the meleeis done. Squadrons could run after the fleeing enemy for booty, and even if they do not, they will most likely be in disorder. Commit them judiciously!
Special manouvers can win you the game, but are also dangerous. Sophisticated tactics such as diekplous and periplous can win a battle by crushing the target squadron in a very short time, allowing you to then redeploy against other enemies. But they are risky, and only the best crews can do them! To use them or not, it’s your call.