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The Orkney Wargames Club meets

in Kirkwall on Thursday evenings.


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Clash off Cape Spada, 1570

 Renaissance Galleys, Galleys, Guns & Glory! 1/300 scale


I almost missed the fourth outing of our club’s Renaissance galleys. I’d arranged to play a Seven Years War game, but that fell through due to my opponent’s child-minding problems. So, it was off to sea in my Venetian lanterna. I’m glad really as I really enjoy these games – or at least I do until it all starts to go horribly wrong. Even then they’re entertaining!  So far the Muslims had won the first game, and the Christians the next two. This game was a bit different for two reasons – first the fleets had expanded dramatically, and now boasted more than 20 ships a side. Second – and this was why I longed to take part – this was the fighting debut of the Venetian galleass – a sort of hybrid between a large galley and a sailing ship. It had lots of guns, so it was billed as a sort of Venetian death star. That’s it in the picture below, in the claret red, to the right of the Venetian squadron. You can see it getting towed into action by two baby galleys (or galiots).These are multi-player games with four players a side – each commanding a squadron. As well as my Venetians us Occidentals or Westerners had Spanish, a mixed Knights of Malta & Papal  squadron, and a fourth one, of various powers, mainly Genoese. The Muslims – Orientals or Easterners – call them what you will – had an Ottoman squadron, as well as Barbary Corsair, Greek and Anatolian ones. Each group have their own characteristics.My Venetians for instance have a better reload capability (they reload their guns on a 4-6 on a D6 rather than a 5-6), so that influences the tactics they use, favouring long-range gunnery to boarding. So, when the two fleets moved towards each other – that was about the height of the tactics – the gun-minded Venetians started blazing away.Not the galleass though – no blazing away for her. While a galley can move 6″ a turn, a galleass only moves half that. So, it was towed into action by a pair of galiots, which allowed it to keep up with the rest of the squadron. Over on the Christian right the Spanish moved quickly into action, helped by good initiative rolls. However, when they got into range a lucky couple of shots from the Anatolians sunk a Papal galley at long range. This seemed a rather ominous start for us – and things were about to get steadily worse!A word about initiative. At the start of each turn the two rival commanders hand out tokens – one per squadron – to determine which one moves first. they then roll off to see which fleet has the initiative. One squadron moves, followed by one of the opposite side, and so on. That’s one of the tokens below – the one for the first Muslim squadron. The other little counters on the ships themselves represent crew – each one equates to about 50 men. As the two sides closed the Muslim luck with shooting continued – three galiots were sunk, in three squadrons, all for the loss of one Muslim one. Like I said, things were steadily getting worse…On the Christian right the Spanish and the Anatolian squadrons got to grips with each other, and a furious melee began. Like many of these, the fighting tends to spread to include a number of ships, until it looks a bit like a logjam, with people fighting over it. Closer to the centre the big Ottoman flagship swept all before it, and pretty comprehensively wiped out the assorted Western galleys deployed between the Spanish and my Venetians. I think the final casualty toll was two ships sunk and another two captured, then set on fire. The real arbiter of victory here was Turkish archery – at close range it can prove deadly, especially when its followed up by a boarding parties of tooled-up Janissaries…The Turkish Ottoman squadron then split its force, sending ships to the aid of the Anatolians on one side, and the Barbary Corsairs on the other. I was having a great time with the corsairs, as my galleass had finally got into action, and its guns sank two of them in quick succession. However, this also meant it was hemmed in by floating wreckage, and couldn’t easily support other ships in the Venetian squadron – or be supported. This brief moment of local naval superiority was soon brought to an ignominious end.First, a Venetian galley was lost when its crew were wiped out by archery. The Corsairs duly boarded it and set it on fire. this was the vessel that was supposed to support my galleass. My Venetian lanterna was too far away to intervene, fighting its own battle against the Corsairs, and doing fairly well thanks to some decent gunnery rolls. However, that’s when the Ottomans appeared. A fresh galley squared off against the galleass, whose crew were down to half strength after a particularly vicious couple of turns of gunnery and small-arms fire being exchanged. I lost a supporting galiot, which I’d hoped to use to re-crew the galleass, but it was too late.The Ottoman galley swooped in, rammed the galleass in the bow, fired its guns, loosed its arrows and then boarded. My crew were wiped out, and Jack claimed the ship as a prize. That was pretty much the last turn of the game – and probably it was just as well. What remained of the Christian fleet limped away to fight another day, but left behind a galleass and six galleys, plus several small galiots. Our two lanternas were still in the fight, but their admirals were running out of ships to command. For their part the Muslims lost three galleys, and a couple of galiots-  roughly half our casualties. So, victory was awarded to a well-deserving Oriental team, making it two games apiece.No doubt we’ll play this again – as it’s terrific fun – and the Venetians will have their revenge! One of the joys of these games is the sheer spectacle – lots of beautiful little ships, prettily painted, and adorned with banners and decorated awnings. It seems incredible that they all started off as a flat sheet of plywood – a real credit to Thomas of Skull and Crown who makes them, and to Jack who painted them. Well done – and thanks!


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