Monday 15 February 2021

The Battle of Surabaya: a G&G game

What follows is a long overdue missive from Mark in Thailand. This game was played back in October, but has been sitting in my inbox judging me until now!


Hi All

I haven’t played a three-handed Galleys & Galleons game before, but the tactical situation following the capture of Kupang (reported on over three posts earlier - part 1, part 2, part 3) demands it.

Briefly, the fleet of the Sultan of Songkhla, with plausibly-deniable pirate allies, is bringing home the loot from the captured Portuguese fortress. It has stopped at Surabaya (on the N coast of Java) to obtain water and supplies before making the dash home across the open sea. A squadron from the Knights of St Michael of Singapore has discovered the Songkhka vessels and plans to attack them, to recover the loot that (they say) is rightfully theirs under the Kupang agreement. And somewhere in the offing Don Marco da Pattaya, leading an expectedly vigorous Portuguese reaction, is prowling around too.

The sides are:

Songkhla (332 pts)
4 x Galleys (48 pts each)
Q3 C3: Drilled soldiers, Galley, Swashbuckers, Yare
2 x Pirate junks (50 pts each)
Q2 C2: Derring-do, Intimidating, Lateen rigged, Reinforced hull, Yare
2 x Merchant junks (20 pts each) (containing the loot)
Q4 C3: Merchantman, Reinforced hull, Square rigged

Knights of St Michael of Singapore (210 pts)
1 x Galeass (66 pts)
Q4 C5: Chaser guns, drilled soldiers, High castles, Master gunner, Square rigged, Sweeps, Veteran NCOs
3 x Galleys (48 pts each)
Q3 C3: Drilled soldiers, Galley, Swashbuckers, Yare

Portuguese (180 pts)
3 x Fragatas (60 pts each)
Q3 C3: Chaser guns, Galleon rigged, Master gunner, Trained gun crews

The aim is to secure possession of the Merchant Junks, and (very secondarily) sink as much of the enemy as possible. Tactical alliances (eg refraining from shooting at one’s enemy’s enemy) are possible, but strong alliances are impossible as all three sides are inveterate foes.


Here’s the tabletop showing deployment of the Songkhla and KSMS squadrons. 🔽 The Knights are coming in from the West, beyond the Experiment Isles. The Songkhka vessels are at anchor in Surabaya Bay in the foreground. The Portuguese are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they are only a rumour.

It’s only possible for vessels to enter or leave the table from the two short edges. The two long edges are land. The island ofJava is on the near side, Madura island, guarded by treacherous mudflats, is just off table along the far side. The wind is blowing from the S (across the table from Madura towards Java), and unlike in most of my games, it may change direction during play ...

The Songkhla side won initiative. The galleys and pirate junks are ready to go, but the merchant junks will need two turns to up anchor and raise sails.


After three turns the two sides are closing and it seems action is near. 🔽 Looking L-R we see the KSMS squadron lined up with the galeass San Miguel on the port flank, the Songkhla galleys mostly lined up but one of them (Srivajaya) is struggling to catch up, the small pirate junks sailing as close-hauled as possible to attack the enemy starboard flank, and the big merchant junks ready to start creeping close-hauled along the coast. 

Interestingly, the merchantmen are going to try to move past the flank of the oncoming KSMS ships, rather than run the opposite way. There are various possible reasons for this. It’s the shortest way home by far, and if the Portuguese are at sea, as some say, it’s by far the best direction to go to avoid them. The skippers must figure they can brush past any KSMS attack.

After six turns, this is where we are.🔽  At top the two merchant junks are sneaking along the coast, but they are moving more quickly because in turn 4 the wind shifted favourably, so they can broad reach rather than sail close hauled. In the centre there is a galley stand-off, and in the foreground the KSMS galley Corona is in a boarding fight with the pirate junk Bok Choy. 

But what about those columns of smoke and flames, I hear you ask. Well, funny you should ask about that. 

On turn 5 the Songkhka galley Borobudur (the one in Rabbitoh colours) fired on, then rammed, the galeass San Miguel. The shooting was very successful, as you can see from the (modified) dice. Two hits, plus rigging damage to the galeass. 🔽

Then the San Miguel fired a full broadside into the galley, also with good effect. The galley’s critical hit was Fire, and as you know, fire spreads to any vessel in contact, and ... well ... poor ammunition handling practises would be my guess 🔽

Subsequently in turn 6 both vessels failed to put out the fires. The galeass has consequently taken a further hull damage and is on the verge of sinking. The galley has oar damage. With the fires burning merrily, no other vessel is going near them.


Now that six turns have expired, the Portuguese squadron will appear over the Eastern table edge when it rolls a 1D6=6. Which Don Marco did, first time. And he won initiative too. Now that three factions are on table, initiative will be rolled-for each turn. This turn for example, the Portuguese will go first, then the other two factions will roll to see who goes next.

After nine turns the Portuguese are making an impact. 🔽 The frigates have opened fire at double-long range with their chaser guns (& Master Gunners) and have sunk the galley Songkhka (not removed yet), which admittedly had been carrying damage from an earlier gunfight with the KSMS galleys. The Songkhka had just moved Into contact with the KSMS galley Corona, which had just captured the pirate junk Bok Choy after a ferocious multi-turn boarding action.

The Borobudur has not been able to extinguish the fire on board, and is now waterlogged as well as oar-damaged. If there were any enemy ships nearby it would have struck to them.

Meanwhile the merchant junks are almost away. One of them had caught fire as the San Miguel exploded nearby, but put out the fire at the cost of a stuck rudder and a single damage point. 

Here’s another view of the situation at the end of turn nine. 🔽

I finished the game at the end of turn eleven. 🔽 By then the merchant junks had left the table and are now on the open sea, belting along with the trade winds, way faster than any galley or pirate junk can match. The only threat to them now is the Portuguese fragatas, but even for them it wouldn’t be easy. There’s a better than even chance the Sultan of Songkhka will be getting his treasure.

Here’s a low angle shot 🔽 leaving out the two doomed Songkhka galleys seen at top R of the previous shot (Borobudur finally lost its battle with the fire, Songkhla has been heavily damaged by Portuguese broadsides, lost the captain, and hauled down the colours).

🔼 At top R of this photo, the sole surviving Songkhla galley (Ayuttthaya) is heading for the exit, prudently keeping close to the coast and out of the way. Over on the to
 L the surviving pirate junk (Bitter Melon) also has ahead a perilous journey home across the Java Sea. In the Centre, there three KSMS galleys are also heading home in column astern, having failed to successfully take back their treasure. Nearest the camera the three Portuguese fragatas are sweeping up as they gear up for a high seas pursuit of the treasure junks. 


A win for Songkhla. Even though they lost 3/4 galleys and 1/2 allied pirate junks, it’s odds-on the treasure (loot from Kupang) is theirs. Quite possibly that lucky change of wind direction in turn four was the decisive factor.

Cheers from Pattaya, where the local shipbuilders are expecting large orders from the Sultan for replacement galleys. It’s an ill wind that blows no good.



In a postscript to the battle the Knights have lodged a complaint that the galeass San Miguel was unfairly penalised when shot at by the galley Borobudur.

This has been investigated and the complaint has been partially upheld. There should have been one hit only, not two. Fault was ascribed to a junior officer on the galeass who  panicked under pressure. But the investigation that noted the subsequent inability of the San Miguel to play any further role in the game, and its eventual explosive demise, were the result of its own shooting at the Borobudur, which caused the conflagration that spread to both vessels.