I ran this 15mm Renaissance sailing ship game using Ken Baggaley's "No Heaven For Cowards" Piquet Renaissance Galley naval rules, Friday at 6PM - 10PM. This was the 5th time I've used these ships and rules (still in evolution, but coming close to a finished product, at least as far as the Ship scale I use is concerned). None of the players had ever played Piquet, and most of them had never even heard of it!!! Like all the other games , the game was fun and varied. This one was a particularly wild action....
There were 3 players a side. The Venetians (4 Galleys, 1 Galeass (a slow but very powerful ship), and 2 supply ships) are heading down a strait on their way to the Venetian harbour at Corfu in the Adriatic, when they are surprised by an Ottoman squadron of 6 Galleys and 2 Laternas (large Galleys). The Venetians objective is to get the supply ships and the Galeass down the strait to safety. The Ottoman objective was to sink or much preferably capture the Venetian pay chests on the supply ships, and sink or capture the Galeass if possible. The galleys of both sides were relatively expendable. An 8" square island with some surrounding shallows halfway down the strait adds a surprisingly large element of finesse to the action, dividing the channel into a larger 3 feet wide channel and a smaller 2 foot wide one.
The Ottomans deployed with 3 ships assigned to either side of the island, and the 2 Laternas in the middle, able to veer to either side. The Venetians deployed with 2 galleys to the large side, and the other 2 to the small side, but near the island so they could veer off the other way if needed. The Supply ships started anchored to the rear (for protection - once under sail they would tend to race pell mell down the channel). The Galeass started in the larger passageway, with it's sails down despite several observations on my part about how slowly it would move unless towed or under sail.
The Venetian plan, evidently, was to try to tie up as many ships in the small channel fighting one or two of their galleys, while the rest of their forces tried to force the passage. The Ottoman plan, evidently, was to distribute their ships evenly and rely upon numbers to win the day - - - and the gold!
"Galley Ho!", shouted the lookout atop the foremast of the powerful but lumbering Venetian Galeass, San Marco . "How many?" queried the ships Capitano, Giovanni Mocenigo, a scion of one of the great trading houses of the Serene Republic. "Otto galea!!!" came the response form the crow's nest. Turning to the squadron's commander, Ammiraglio Loredan, the flag captain inquired "Your orders, sir?" Spitting into the sea, Adolfo Loredan swore: "Madre di Dio!" When his brother, the Dodge, had appointed him Ammiraglio of the squadron escorting the pay chests to the massive Christian fleet assembling in the Eastern Mediterranean, he'd had a bad feeling about this assignment. And here he was staring Fate in the face. There were two ways to loose his life in this action - as a casualty of war in the battle, or as a scapegoat of the Senate should he lose the pay chests. Loss of life and ships the Serene Republic might accept, but loss of their treasure? - Unforgivable!
Scrambling up the shrouds to the foretop, Loredan coolly took stock of the situation. He saw the opportunity to use the island to split his enemies forces and allow him to tie up many of the enemies ships by a bold sacrifice, while he concentrated his forces against the remainder of the enemy ships. Crossing himself, he said a brief prayer to San Marco , the namesake of his ship and the patron of Venice, before giving his orders to Capitano Mocenigo. His best ship, the galley Canareggio , under the redoubtable Sea Hawk Capitano Contarini, was to hoist sails immediately and make all speed down the narrower channel towards to the Venetian fleet. Hopefully this bold move disrupt the Ottoman plans, and tie up a number of their ships while the main Venetian effort was made in the broader channel. Spying a crumbling Greek temple to Neptune on the island, he also muttered a low prayer to that ancient God of the Sea, knowing that he'd have to do contrition once he confessed it to his personal priest - if he survived the day!
Across the strait, the Ottoman commander, Mustapha Ben Pasha, rubbed his hands with glee. The spies had been right! Just as he had been told, there were two tubs of sailing ships escorted by a small squadron of 4 galleys and a peculiar looking ship of a design he'd never seen before. This must be the Venetian treasure fleet, carrying the pay chests to the Infidels said to be assembling off the Morea. When they seized the pay chests, he'd be rich beyond the belief. He and his Captain-beys would have to be careful to skim just the right amount off the top before turning the bulk of the monies over to the Grand Vizier. "Amro!", he called to the captain of his Laterna, the Holy Crescent . "Yes, Sire!", replied the Bey of Pigges. "Signal to the Bey of Bengal that he and his Seahorse are to break to the right and proceed down the narrower passage, along with the Bey of Islip in the Flower and the Bey of Rawhli in the Leopard. We along with our sister Laterna, the Grand Saltire under the Bey of Masse - Choosits, will support them, but holding ourselves ready to turn aside into the greater channel. Lastly, the Bey of Foondi aboard the Lion, along with the Bey of Besque aboard the Wyvern and the Bey of Chasee - Pique on the Griffon , shall proceed with all haste down the greater channel and engage the infidels as they come. "Allah Akbar!" he shouted, and, with a tumultuous roar, all the men and officers responded in kind.
As the action began, the 2 supply ships, The Commerce, a Cog, and the Necessity , a Nef, dropped anchor in order to allow the Venetian warships time to interdict the Turkish attackers. Capitano Contarini had the lateen rigged sails of his galley, the Canareggio , hoisted and his ship flew before the wind blowing down the strait. The canvass "wings" made the ship look indeed like the Sea Hawk of his reputation. Turning to his crack ex-Genoese gunner, Falco, he had the heavy bow gun laid and fired at long range at the Grand Saltire , an enemy Laterna. With a deafening roar, the great gun belched forth white smoke and black iron. The Capitano followed the ball as it flew across the open water and struck it's target head on! Falco jumped for joy as he saw the supports to the gun platform of the Laterna collapse and dump the Grand Saltire 's forward cannon into the deep water. The crew of the Canareggio shouted their approval and made rude gestures at the Turks as Contarini patted Falco on the back. In response, no less than 3 Ottoman galleys spat forth their vengeance. The initial shots by the Seahorse and the Leopard went well wide of their mark, but that of the Flower raced towards it's target with unerring precision. A horrified gasp went up from the crew of the Canareggio as the heavy ball struck Capitano Contarini full in the chest, killing the gallant seamen instantly. The men were thrown into Disorder, but Falco seized the helm and vowed that the gallant ship would avenge their famous Capitano. Thus, it continued to speed down the strait towards the waiting Turks.
In the greater channel, the Ottoman ships loosed an ineffective round of shots upon the opposing Venetians, while the latter replied with equal lack of results. Clearly, the range would have to be closed before anything more than lucky breaks could be expected. This occurred only slowly as the Venetian Galleys deliberately held back, wanting to stay as close as possible to the powerful guns of the galeass, the San Marco .
Thus it was that the action returned to the lesser channel. The Canareggio had moved so swiftly that she had already passed the Isola di Netuno and found herself opposed to the 3 Ottoman galleys plus the Laterna Grand Saltire (sans guns!). Falco supervised the gunlaying as the audacious ship rammed the Flower head on, letting loose a devastating close range shot as the 2 sleek galleys closed at breakneck speed. The shock of the impact shook the Canareggio , the damage was no worse than her own gunfire had done to the Flower, except that the mask was broken off at the deck. This was followed by rams by first the Seahorse and then the Leopard, to surprisingly little effect. The four ships then became locked in a prolonged, confused, and completely indecisive series of boarding actions, the combination of swivel guns, arquebusiers, and armored swordsmen defending the Canareggio repulsing multiple waves of attackers. The plucky ship even managed to cut all of the enemy grapples at one point, and back oars to prepare the way for another cannon shot and ram attempt. The Turks, however, had prepared for that maneuver, and it had little effect beyond allowing the Ottoman ships to ram her again. The low speeds involved resulted in minimal additional damage to the bold Venetian ship, and resumption of the boarding attempts.
Seeing the tie-up with the Canareggio , Mustapha Ben Pasha recalled the defanged Grand Saltire and it and his own Laterna, the Holy Crescent , turned towards the greater channel. The action had finally become tense there, as the Ottoman ships passed the Isola and came into range of both the Venetian galleys Dorsoduro under Capitano Venier and Lido under Capitano Morosini, as well as the imposing galeass. A concentration of fire by the 2 Venetian galleys splintered the Ottoman galley Griffon , and she slipped out of sight beneath the water, her passage marked by splintered oars and turbans floating upon the waves. The Ottoman Galley Lion then took fire from the Venetian galleys, and rammed the Dorsoduro , firing as she closed. The Venetian ship held, and yet another Ottoman Galley appeared, the Wyvern, maneuvering around the flank and shooting at point blank range followed by an amidships ram! Even this punishment was (barely) withstood by the Dorsoduro . However, she now faced 2 Ottoman boarding parties. Those from the Lion were handily repulsed by a deadly combination of Forecastle swivel guns and arquebusier fire, but in the confusion of battle, Capitano Venier had neglected to detail troops to defend that section of the ship, so a gaggle of Turkish bowmen gained the deck. The threat from the grappled Lion was soon ended as she was turned upon in turn by the Lido . Cannon fire and a ram sent the gallant infidels to the bottom as well.
Meanwhile, in the center, the Rialto had broken to the greater channel and engaged the Ottoman flagship, the Holy Crescent . Capitano Dandolo had the advantage of the preliminary cannonade and ramming, but as the ships became entangled, 4 companies of crack Janisaries moved to the attack! These Fearsome warriors were both experts with the arquebus and skilled swordsmen. The sight of the Sultan's finest warriors challenged the Courage of the defenders, but ultimately none of the Rialto 's crew were shaken.
As these actions were taking place, the Venetian supply ships had quietly raised their anchors (but not their sails) and started to slowly drift downwind towards the Ottomans and, eventually, the safety of Corfu. The Venetian galeass San Marco , falling behind it's galleys, had finally raised sails on all 3 of its masts and finally began to proceed down the greater channel. Aboard the Leopard, Magdhi, Bey of Rawhli, saw that the battle with the incredibly resilient Canareggio was going nowhere. More importantly, he saw a fortune in gold drifting towards him aboard the Necessity ! He had his men cast off from the accursed infidel galley, and rammed straight into the Venetian supply ship. Unfortunately, the lumbering hulk was so massive that the nimble galley did it no discernible harm. Overcome with greed, his men surged to the attack, and scrambled over the gunwales of the ship, the better to seize the plunder they could almost smell!
The climax of the battle had arrived. To the Ventian far left, the Canareggio remained locked to the Flower and the Seahorse, with no-one able to gain the upper hand for long. The Commerce and the Leopard also were locked in a brutal boarding action, as were the Rialto and the Holy Crescent . The Wyvern and the Dorsoduro were also locked in combat, with the Archers of the Ottoman ship implanted amidships of the Venetian galley. The Lido was left temporarily without opposition. Lastly, the The Grand Saltire was also seized by the urge to Pillage and Loot the supply ships, and surged past the Holy Crescent and the San Marco as it rounded the island seeking out the Commerce.
At this juncture, the bow turret guns of the mighty San Marco spoke twice and the poor Wyvern split in two and joined its companions at the bottom of the strait. This left her crew stranded aboard the Venetian galley Dorsoduro! The Lido turned to the left and began to bear upon the Holy Crescent , preparing to target it with close range cannon fire and an eventual ram. The San Marco also made use of her weaker broadside guns to target the gold-crazed Grand Saltire, doing light damage.
As no less than 4 boarding actions continued to see-saw, the Neccessity quietly slipped past all Ottoman opposition and her captain considered at last hoisting her canvass to clinch her escape to Corfu beyond. The troops of the Leopard established a foothold aboard the Commerce, and threw her into disorder. Clearly, the ship would fall to the heathen unless aid was forthcoming and soon. The gun-less Grand Saltire was also threatening to add her Jannisaries to the fray. This had the consequence of drawing the attention of the San Marco as the great Galeass began to turn towards that action.
Meanwhile, the Dorsoduro came about, also aiming for the now isolated Laterna, Holy Crescent , now beset by no less than 3 Venetian galleys. The position of the Ottoman admiral was looking very exposed indeed. However, Venetian Capitano Venier, evidently having nothing but contempt for the lightly armed Turkish bowmen in his midst, had neglected once again to detail any troops to dispatch this annoyance. The subject was brought rather pointedly to his attention when said archers loosed a cloud of shafts at his august personage at point blank range. The heavy armor of the capitano and his entourage were proof against the weak short bows, and only their pride was injured. Unable to ignore the threat any longer, Venier and his cronies surged to the attack, asisted from the other side of the ship by the Dorsoduro 's complement of swordsmen. It should have been a brief moment's work to dispatch the bowmen, armed as they were with little more than turbans, robes, and knives. The redoubtable bowmen, however, repulsed the Capitano and put he and his companions to rout! Perhaps forgeting that 30 pound suits of armor had been shown by Gallileo to be an inferior choice as a flotation device, Venier jumped overboard rather than surrender! The sight of their captain plunging directly to the briny deeps Challenged the morale of the crew of the Dorsoduro , and their will broke as they too jumped off the ship rather than surrender to the hated heathen. The archers, lead by one Wahlid-al-Radwan, whooped with joy as they grasped their good fortune. Wahlid lost no time in turning the galley around and aiming it straight at it's sister, the Lido . "So thoughtful of the infidel to leave us fully loaded cannon!" he bellowed, as he touched the slow match to the touch-hole. The huge cannon ball punched a whole through the Lido just above the waterline, staggering the Venetian ship but not sinking it. "Allah Akbar!" he screamed, as he drove his men to reload the great gun.
At this point, the sequence of events becomes less certain. The journal of Capitano Mocenigo is longer legible after this page, due toi the effects of both sea water and the centuries upon it's vegetable inks. From the official report of Ammiraglio Loredan to his brother the Dodge, penned after the battle of Lepanto, it seems that both the Dorsoduro and the Lido were lost, although it is not clear if it was at this action or at the battle that soon followed. The paychests and the San Marco both made it safely to Corfu, and played their roles in the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto. The exact fate of the Seahorse, Flower, Leopard, Grand Saltire , and the Holy Crescent are also unknown, however, like most of the rest of the Turkish Fleet, none of them survived Lepanto.
This was one wild game! Just about everything that could happen in a Renaissance galley game happened. Decisive and also incredibly ineffective cannon fire. Ramming and Boarding. Abrupt changes of fortune, and more. The turnabout aboard the Dorsoduro was classic, especially as the Ottoman player involved was a roughly 11 year old boy who had lost all his ships, only to be right back in the thick of it after his men captured the ship.
I've played this scenario 4 times, and it's been very finely balanced. The island adds a very critical element of strategy to the game. The Venetian ships are superior to their Ottoman counterparts, but heavily outnumbered.
The Venetians clearly had the superior plan and executed it relentlessly and effectively. The Ottoman players didn't seem to get the point of using their impetus judiciously, or of using economy of force. As a result, we finished only 2 turns in 4 hours!!! Now, they were action packed turns as you can see, but most playtests have gone about 6 turns in the same period. The game also featured my usual full color custom sequence decks.
Anyway, I had an absolute blast running the game, which was extremely intense. I think we were 3 1/2 hours into it by the time I first glanced at my watch.
- Peter Anderson