System: Man O'War
Publisher: Games Workshop
Scupper Me For A Marlin-Spike Else!!
by Steve Blease
Fun & Frolics on the High Seas with Man O'War
I've no doubt that some of you must have thought I'd gone a bit gaming happy when I gave the Evil Empire the thumbs up for Man O'War last year. I certainly know that our current Editor (James F Clay) did... However a year (and a good number of humiliations at the hands of the wife) later I still think it's a good game and one full of potential for those who like to tinker with things. Yet despite enlisting the support of the Treasurer (Simon Evans) (so magnanimous in defeat he was...), James always gave a very skeptical look and short funny laugh when the subject of a game was broached - this had to change!
So one sunny July Saturday evening the die was cast and James presented with a fait accompli of a prepared table and scenario dreamt up by the President that afternoon. With the doors locked and windows barred, James had no option but to bury his prejudices and roll a D6 or two.
Bertie the Bold: A high ranking Government Admiral, he's been captured (along with some gold) by an evil band of Pirates (gasp!).
Felix le Clay, the Earl of Bleadon: known by his crews as 'Bleadon Useless', this was his chance to become a hero and gain a long overdue promotion...
Gerry A'Damme: the evil Pirate commander (or a misunderstood freedom fighter damned to talk through a third party for eternity), all he needs do is get home with gold and the hostage.
Just to keep things simple (and because the President still hasn't painted up anything else but the plastic galleys that came with the game), both sides started the game with six wargalleys, the Government having one extra crew counter on each to represent a marine contingent. The scenario was simple, the Government forces had to stop the Pirates escaping and try to recapture their Admiral and the gold. It was a tall order, especially given Felix's inexperience and rumoured incompetence (especially when it comes to trying to fly Romulan warbirds around asteroids), but he was going to give to fair crack. Lady Luck was definitely on his side, especially as no one had considered the fact that Gerry A'Damme was going to try and be a tactical smart arse!
The game started with the Government forces trying to catch the fleeing Pirates, three ships where directly behind with the other three converging from the port bow in an effort to cut across the Pirates bows.
This move was to be in vain as Gerry managed to gain the initiative for the first four moves and Felix only managed to get within long distance firing range as four of the Pirates were forced to slow and change course as they entered the small islands dotted around the entrance to the Pirates lair, the other two heading west to the far edge of the board at full speed (okay so it's a breach of the rules, but the umpire had other things on his mind!). Whilst his gunnery was off for his first salvo, Felix did manage to hit one of the Pirate ships with his second taking out it's forec'sle.
Both Felix and Gerry noticeably flinched as the umpire casually rolled a large D6 across the board at the end of the move... what did this portent? (This is something I periodically do when umpiring any type of game, never explaining why - it sure gets players paranoid!).
Suddenly the initiative switched to the Government side and this allowed Felix to order his ships to attack. Felix orders Ramming Speed and two of his ships smash into the sides of the Pirate vessels!
One falls to pieces under the sudden onslaught and sinks to the bottom, whilst the other sustains severe below waterline damage before being boarded by Government marines and sailors. A few vicious rolls of dice and the Government troops have captured a Pirate vessel, a quick search of which reveals a bound and gagged, but very much alive Admiral Bertie. Scuttling the Pirate ship, the Government marines reboard their ship.
Luck twisted the knife for the Pirates as the die rolling umpire scored a 5 and a vortex suddenly appeared blocking the route of the two detached Pirate ships. Gerry cursed, questioning the umpires parentage, who replied by saying 'If you think that's bad...' and rolled another D6...
From Bad to Worse:
Still retaining the initiative, Felix pushes on ramming one Pirate ship and firing on another. Still with the luck of the Devil, Felix doesn't smash the rammed vessel but merely damages it, then boards it and recaptures the gold. Gerry looks crestfallen as he realises his plan of detaching two galleys to act as red herrings had failed miserably. In fact the only red thing visible was his face!
Tactically withdrawing the two vessels with the gold and Admiral on board, Felix decide to go in for the kill and complete the humiliation of his opponent. However his cockiness almost betrays him, while his ships pounce on another Pirate ship, one of the two shorebatteries in the bay open up on the Government ships destroying the forec'sle of one. Buoyed by the turn of the events the Pirates close on the damaged vessel and attempt to board the it, but a few failed die rolls result in the tables being turned and them losing their ship as the Government repel boarders, launch a counter attack and scuttle the captured Pirate ship - it was just one of those days...
A Final Twist:
As the Government forces attempt to retire, the umpire grins wickedly as his continual die rolls bear fruit and a huge Gargantuan appears in the path of the retiring ships (okay so it was a bright orange plastic thing from a packet of Frosties, but what the hell).
However Felix's luck stays with him as the monster's attacks repeatedly fail and his ships evade the beast (even the one that rammed the Gargantuan and whose crew tried to board it!). With the ships out of reach, the Gargantuan decides to sod this for a game of soldiers and dives beneath the glossy blue surface of the wargames table...
Hopefully this all goes to prove that Man O'War is a fun and exciting game and easy to play despite its progenitor. James has now decided that it is full of all sorts of possibilities and went off with ideas of creating aircraft carriers and doing a Victorian Steampunk version. Simon? Well Simon just went off with a can of Newcastle Brown, mumbling about next time...
Ed Note: Man O'War is a set of fantasy naval wargames rules published by Games Workshop although at present only available by Mail Order. It was reviewed in Ragnarok 9.
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