Naval Warfare

Skull Cleaver

I’ve been testing the Skull Cleaver naval rules must say bit disappointed,

Set up a game with 2 triremes and 3 transports on the ‘Convoy’ side and 3 triremes on the ‘Pirate’ side. The Convoy Triremes had ‘Highly Trained’ crews with the transports and Pirate Triremes having ‘Trained’ crews.

To cut a long story short Highly Trained crews will sail rings round and out shoot ‘Trained’ crews, the pirates couldn’t seem to hit and when they did (once) reduced the steering of the target by 1 degree (ignore that one ) the Highly Trained crews could row faster and shoot more accurately than the Pirates, they could also stay ahead of the Pirates thus preventing any rams and screening the Transports, so the Convoy won this encounter.

Couple of things that ‘irked’ me one was that it took too long to turn the Triremes, my research suggests that a Trireme with an experienced crew can go from cruising speed to full stop turn 180 degrees and be back up to cruising speed in around 90 seconds!

The other thing was the reduction of steering by 1 degree, probably mathematically accurate but irrelevant in game terms, also there is no degree in movement, oh yes your ships can move none, some or all of their allotted move each turn but it doesn’t seem to have any effect on combat (I suspect that the system uses each ships maximum speed in calculations – that’s why the Pirates with Trained crews, rowing slower were never able to ram the opposing trireme)

The Skull Cleaver manual is a bit on the naff side generally but when it comes to naval encounters it’s best to know what you are doing as regards naval warfare.

Overall the encounter lacked ‘flavour’, I ran it a few times with tweaks to try to get a good balance without increasing the enjoyment factor.

In the Campaign setting its worse, with the above convoy against 4 pirate Triremes all with Highly Trained crews the first encounter saw the convoy defeated with the loss of all the transports, subsequent days action (5 in all) saw five defeats for the remaining 2 convoy Triremes but no losses to ships or crew – odd.


Roman Seas (available as a PDF download)

In contrast to Skull Cleaver Roman Seas is a full Naval ruleset – complete with 1:300 card ships.

I used the simple card tiles (supplied in RS) in both the Skull Cleaver and Roman Seas games as they required less playing area, indeed all the games were played on a 3’x3’ playing area.

RS is a ‘classic’ game in the sense that you have lots of charts and tables and need to throw lots of dice. As with SC familiarising yourself with the documentation is a must but the RS learning curve is no more than the SC, indeed I used some of the RS rules to ‘fill the gap’ in SC.

RS has a more ‘rational’ movement structure in that each ship has a maximum acceleration and deceleration and a maximum speed so that once a ship is moving without any deceleration applied it will keep moving. So you need to mark each ship with its current speed with a card marker. Turning is straightforward but as RS is designed for playing on a hex grid I made a 60deg turn template to aid me.

Speed in RS is vital as relative speed effects ramming and for grappling the level of training for the marines and how many are committed to the attack (you can’t just commit them all as part of them may have to stay on the other side of the ship to stop it overturning!).

In a game with this complexity preparation is all important RS helps by having all the Ship cards available as either part or completely filled out (I used the ready filled out ones 😀 ).

During combat I laid out the relevant card next to each ship and recorded results as required.

The result of the game was a win for the Pirates with all ships in the Convoy being captured, the 2 Convoy Triremes having all of their marines killed and one of the transports suffering hull damage. Two of the Pirate Triremes suffered heavy losses in the boarding actions with further reductions being made in a transfer of troops to take control of the captured vessels.

The Game took no longer to play than the same scenario in SC and I suppose in general terms both systems produced a similar result, but for me RS had MUCH more ‘flavour’.

In future I’ll use the SC campaign system to do the strategic moves, the SC Battle system to fight land battles but I’ll use Roman Seas for my Naval battles.


There is a lot of material available on naval warfare for my research I relied mainly on:

Greek and Roman Naval Warfare by W. L. Rodgers publish in 1937 has a facinating if heavy section on the motive energy needed to move a particular size of ship at a particular speed for a particular time (complex but great stuff to wheel out in an argument 😀 )


Vol II, issue 3 of Ancient Warfare (the entire issue covers Trireme Warfare) possably one of the latest and most accessable sources highly recommended.

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