Saturday, 26 June 2021

Ancient Naval Games

As part of the upcoming ancients campaign I will be playing one naval game at the start of each campaign turn to determine which side completes all their campaign moves first. I opted to write my own hex-based simple rules with combat mechanisms using opposing dice rolls. I have endeavoured to keep bookkeeping to a minimum with matchsticks broken in half (which hopefully looks like debris) placed beside ships to record successful oar-strikes.

Start of a game.

From my limited reading on this subject the aspects of ancient naval warfare are:

  • Commanding a fleet was no easy feat and they generally adopted the "follow the leader” approach for manoeuvres. 
  • When the fleets came together and combat started, plans would fall apart into confusing melees with every ship for itself.
  • Attacks involved oar strikes to disable the enemy or ramming and boarding.

To try and reflect this:

  • Ships must move in groups and any single and isolated ships cannot attack. They are expected to regroup and move towards friendly ships. When more than half the ships are lost, then these isolated ships are removed. So keeping all your ships in groups is important, if they get split up your are going to be at a disadvantage.
  • To keep the rules simple there are only two types of attack: oar strikes which will disable a ship and reduce its effectiveness, and ramming and boarding which will result in the sinking of the target ship. However, ramming and boarding can result in both ships being entangled and both considered destroyed. When this happens they remain on the tabletop and an impediment to movement, representing the carnage of the sea battle.

There are lots of classes of ships and I have chosen, again for simplicity, to have ships classified as being small or large in the rules:

  • Small ships representing the Trireme class of ships which are more manoeuvrable, but not as effective when ramming and boarding.
  • Large ships representing the Quinquireme class of ships which are most effective at ramming and boarding.

Games will need about 10-12 ships per side.

On to the rules...

Sequence of play

The game is played in turns. During a player’s turn they:

  1. Check their fleet’s morale
  2. Activate ships one ship at a time completing all their actions before activating the next ship.
  3. When all the ships have had the opportunity to be activated, the opposing player begins their turn.


All ships have 3 movement points (MPs) and they can use their MPs to move, turn, and make attacks on enemy ships. It costs:

  • 1MP to move straight ahead 1 hex.
  • 1MP to turn the facing one hex side for large ships.
  • 2MP to move backwards 1 hex
  • 1MP to make an attack on another ship

Small ships being more manoeuvrable are allowed one free turn during their activation.

Ships do not need to use all their MPs in a turn, but cannot carry over any unused MPs.

A ship’s MPs are reduced by 1MP for every damage to the oars from enemy oar-strike attacks. Ships with no MPs after 3 oar strikes cannot move, they are dead in the water and very vulnerable to attack.

Ships which do not start their movement in an adjacent hex to a friendly ship can move, but cannot make attacks.

Ships cannot move through hexes occupied by other ships.

A ship spends 1 MP to turn 1 hex side and 2 MPs to move ahead 2 hexes.

Example of an isolated ship is shown by the red arrow.

An example of a small ship making one free turn, then a second turn (1 MP) before moving ahead using the remaining 2 MP's. 

Resolve Attacks

There are 2 types of attacks:

  1. Oar Strike - attacks on the front or rear of a ship.
  2. Ramming and Boarding - attacking the sides of a ship to sink it.

Oar Strikes

An oar strike occurs when attacking a ship from the front or rear ships. Successful oar strikes reduce the ability of a ship's movement by shearing off a ship's oars. The procedure is:

  1. Both ships roll a D6 and subtract their oar damage. 
  2. If attacking the stern, add 1 to the attacking ship's score.
  3. If the attacking ship’s dice score is higher, then the attack is successful and an oar damage is placed on the target ship. 
  4. Otherwise the target ships successfully avoided the attack.
Two examples of oar strikes. The red oar strike will benefit because that are attacking the stern.

Examples of ships with damage from oar strikes recorded with broken matchsticks.

Ramming and Boarding

A ramming occurs when attacking a ship from the side. A successful ramming and boarding attack will sink the target ship. While an unsuccessful attack can result in either no damage or both ships getting entangled and out of the game. The procedure is:

  1. Both ships roll a D6 subtracting their oar damage.
  2. If attacking from aft, add 1 to the attacking ship's score.
  3. If a large ship, add 1 to the score whether defending or attacking.
  4. If the attacking ship’s dice score is higher, then the attack is successful and the target ship is removed as captured or sunk. Move the attacking ship into the vacated hex.
  5. If the scores are equal, then both ships are damaged and are locked together. Move the attacking ship into the hex with the target ship. Both ships are out of the game and other ships cannot enter the hex.
  6. Otherwise the target ship has avoided the ramming attempt or fought off any boarding attack.
Two examples of ramming and boarding attacks. The red attack will benefit because they are attacking from aft. 

The battle continues on around two entangles ships

Check Morale

When more than 50% of ships are lost. Any isolated ships not in an adjacent hex to other friendly ships at the start of the player’s turn are removed from play. Note, friendly entangled ships are ignored and do not count as friendly.

Winning the Game

The games ends when one player cedes the game.


  1. Replies
    1. They are quick to play, 30-40mins seems to be the average time to complete a game with 12 or so ships per side.

  2. Simple but effective! That’s what I like.

    1. I have a definite preference for simple rules.

  3. Can small ships turn twice during their movement? They get one free hex face turn as part of their move, but there is no movement cost for small ships to turn.

    1. Ships can turn one hex side per movement point expended, and as you say small ships are allowed to turn one hex face at no movement point cost. So a small ship with 3 movement points could turn through 3 hex sides at a cost of 3 movement points, and spend their last to move 1 hex.

    2. In that case the "for large ships" is not required in the rule "1MP to turn the facing one hex side for large ships" as the only difference between the two is that small ships get the extra free turn.
      Looking forward to the first game.

    3. Correct, small ships can turn quicker. I will check the wording and also add some examples later this week. Thanks.