Speaking of departing from reality, we saw in a previous screenshot Scipio headed back to Rome for his new assignment, but many months too late. Had he been where he was supposed to be, he would have been already fighting in Spain and Rome would have won The Battle of Ebro River. Yet in my Alea Jact Est game, no naval combat took place for me so far.
For naval combat I had to dig into my Mare Nostrvm installation. I can’t believe this game has been out for five years now, but there it is. It’s a tactical game of galley warfare in the Ancient world. A player can either engage in a series of linked historical battles or random fights based on army point allocations. The latter can be played either against the AI or against another player. The historical battles are organized as campaigns requiring one to win one battle to move on to the next one in that campaign. Campaigns span history from Greeks fighting Carthage pre-500 BC up to the end of the Roman Republic and the Roman Civil Wars.
The turns are played in a planning phase followed by simultaneous execution. Your ships follow exactly the orders that they are given, although they do have to remain within command distance of their squadron leader (three such leaders are visible in the above screenshot, see the trailing red banner) to be under player control. Commands can also be given just to the lead ships, in which case all subordinates will adopt the same orders, as well as to each ship individually. You can mix-and-match as needed, first giving division-level orders and making individual exceptions.
It’s not a fancy game, but it has enough bells and whistles to make entertaining. As your plan is executed, the sounds of drums and waves accompany the little ships as they move. The decks are animated with red and blue dots running about. When two ships get close, missiles fly between them and when then grapple, the little dots rush forward to engage their counterparts.
The commands themselves are limited. You can instruct your ship either to try to ram the enemy or to grapple. If a ship is not moving fast enough, the ram option might be missing. Plowing into a ship broadside will sink it immediately where as entangling two ships cause a battle to ensue between their crews which might take several turns to resolve. Ships can be sunk, captured, damaged, or just ensnared by another ship.
As far as the simulation goes, it has the features that one might ask for in a game of this type. It models both sail and oar power (although sails may be disabled per scenario, as was the case here). It also (obviously, from the screenshots) includes land. There is little in the way of own-side AI. You, the player, needs to anticipate where the enemy ships are going to be in a turn or two and plan accordingly. In other words, you plot your moves by targeting hexes and not enemies. The computer AI seems competent enough – I’ve been beaten by it a few times and not seen it do obviously stupid stuff.
In the real Battle of Ebro River, Rome used the element of surprise to rapidly gain the upper hand, at which point the Carthaginians turned tail, abandoning their ships on the shore. No such outcome here. Although Rome still won, the battle was a close-fought thing. As you can see, my formations were completely disordered and I lost a number of ships to enemy rams*. If anything, the computer seems like he is holding it together better than I am. However, Carthage started at a disadvantage all around.
The Carthaginian fleet was surprised while foraging, modeled here by restricting Carthage’s movement during the first turn. Their ships were also manned by novice crews, making them inferior to the Romans in ability. Rome also had larger and more ships, giving them further advantage when the fighting turned to hand-to-hand. The Carthaginian’s one advantage was the superior maneuverability of their smaller ships. It was not enough for them to defeat Rome and it was also insufficient here.
*For some reason, I have been unable to sink any enemies using rams in this scenario. Every enemy I have defeated, I have defeated through capturing. I should probably just read the manual.