The Great Battles of History, Volume VII, second printing
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War Galley is the seventh volume in the multi-award winning Great Battles of History (GBoH) series, but the first to venture entirely into the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also the first historical boardgame published, in two decades, to address galley warfare. As such, GMT's War Galley is almost a complete history of this era of war at sea.
What is best about War Galley is how easy it is to play -- the rules are about half the length of the usual GBoH game -- and that means that most battles can be complete in several hours, at the most. The battles themselves, cover all aspects of galley tactics, from the line against line of big ships at Salamis (Cyprus), to the Chase, Turn and Fight of Chios, to the Line Astern vs. Line Abreast at Side, to probably the most unusual of all ancient battles, the Roman arrowhead against the Carthaginian Lines Astern at Drepanum in 249 B.C.
This game is out of print, but GMT seems comitted to reprinting it in the near future and it remains in demand on eBay and such, so I offer this review in hopes of giving you a little more information.
By any objective standards, this game is absolutely terrible. Richard Berg is at least usually known for getting the historical details right, but the rules for movement and combat in this game are bizzare and contradictory (for example, in order to ram a ship you are approaching at full speed, you will generally drive around the target ship in a wide circle to attack some other ship, because ramming modifiers are based on 'hexes moved this turn' rather than speed). The scale of the game is weird; in order to accomodate the massive numbers of ships usually present in ancient naval battles, Herman & Berg have adoped a 'one ship counter = multiple ships' abstraction, but this just doesn't work. The movement abstractions only make sense at all if the game is large-scale (multi-ship counters with lots of space), while the detailed combat resolution sequence only makes any sense if the game is small-scale (one counter = one ship).
Throw in that the system is largely chaotic and lacks interesting player decision making, has a truly excessive quantity of die rolling (you'll get carpal tunnel just rolling for all the missle fire--somthing which has a very small effect on the game) and a group of scenarios that is mostly totally unplayable due to extreme imbalance, and it's amazing anybody even plays this sucker. Although given the history of the Great Battles of Ancient History series, it's possible that nobody actually plays face-to-face.
So as I say, it really is a game without easily discernable merit--neither interesting as a game-playing exercise, nor having any obvious historical interest to speak of. And yet I do kind of like it, in a wierd kind of way. Kind of. Admittedly, it doesn't make my list of 'top 10 wargames I'd like to play today', and that's even counting the 17 games of The Gamer's OCS series, MMP's Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, and Columbia's Front series as only 3 games. And stuff that doesn't make the top 10 usually doesn't get played at all. But, it does have an interesting chaotic feel--sort of like watching that computer 'game' of Life unfold. It's interesting to see what happens, and it does--in a perverse kind of a way--convey what I imagine is the chaotic feel of ancient naval combat.
Anyway, I suspect this game is popular because a lot of people are interested in ancient naval combat, and the games on the subject are few and far between. And mostly bad; despite a few merits, this one is too. This is a challenging subject for a game, but that's relatively little excuse for not trying, as design team obviously didn't here.