Biremes, Triremes, Quadremes, Quinqremes, Oh My!


A Roman fleet versus a Charthaginian fleet with Greek Allies.The fleet view.

This is a quick play rule set for Anceint Naval Wargames. Its meant to be fun and flavorful. Enjoy yourselfs and remember "Ram Speed!"


You can set up on any size table, with any amount of ships. Each figure represents 1 figure and a crew. Ancient ships used oars for movement and did not rely on the wind. they did, however, need calm seas. With oarpower these ancient ships could manuever much like Modern tanks, that is, they turned by pivoting. They could turn while sitting in one spot, they could move directly forward or in reverse. They could move fast or slow. They did not have effective missile weopons so, like ancient land warfare, the ships had to attack by ramming or boarding.


There are only four types of ships we will deal with. The Bireme, a small ship with two banks of oars; The Trireme, three banks of oars, longer body, more crew; The Quadreme, larger, more crew, and the Quinqreme, the broadest and largest crew.

the BIREME was the original warship of the ancients. Small, light, fast, with two banks of Oars. This ship carries a crew strength level of 10.

the TRIREME became the standard warship of the Ancient period, before the Roman Empire. It was light, fast, had three banks of oars. It carries a crew strength level of 20.

the QUADREME also had three banks of oars and was as long as the Trireme, however, it was much broader giving it more crew space and more weight. This would become the standard ship of the Roman era. It has a crew strength level of 30.

the QINQREME was also a three bank oared ship, but it had a very, broad deck and hull which carried a large crew. This particular example (see image) is a Roman Quinqreme with a Corvus at the bow used in boarding. The Quinqremes were used as troop transports and as flagships. They have a crew strength level of 50.


Sea battles of this age first began in the Persian war period between Greek and allies of Persia (Phoenician and Asian Greeks). During the Age of Classical Greece, Greek vs Greek battles predominated, especially between the rivals of Athens and Sparta (The Peloponesian war) The Age of Alexander and the successors saw huge Greek and Greek type navys from all the former conquered lands. Then came the great naval battles between the Romans and the Carthaginians in the Punic wars. Last but not least would be Roman action against Greek navy's and against their own navys in the Civil War period. Throughout all these periods there was always pirates to deal with by any national naval power.

Ancient Naval Battles were always fought near land. Set your battle near a shore, in a channel, in a bay, near islands, etc. You can roll dice or decide amongst yourself if the forces are even or mismatched. If the battle is a meeting engagement or if one side has had time to set up a defence, or if one side is beached when the enemy suddenly appears. You can draw up a large map of Greece, or the Greek islands or Italy, etc and have naval campaigns where the navy elements battle for supremacy of the sea lanes. You can roll 1d6 to determine opposing sides if you wish.

Greek vs Persian Allies = 1

Athenian vs Spartan = 2-3

Roman vs Carthaginian = 4-5

Naval power vs Pirates = 6

In this case some attributes to remember in play.

Greeks get a +1 to any melee during boarding. In the Greek vs Persian era.

Athenians get a +1 to Ram and Oar Swipe rolls, while Spartans get a +1 in any melee after boarding.

Carthaginians get a +1 in any Ram or Oar swipe, while Romans get a +1 in any melee after boarding.



Each turn begins with a roll of 2d6 amongst all participants. Highest roll moves first, and so on. Determine ties by rolling again.

Movement and combat may happen in the same phase.

The player announces the movement and any offensive combat action that a ship is undertaking. He should perform this movement and combat with each ship, one at a time, until done. Ships that don't move or are locked in melee due to a boarding can be announced last.

Once he has moved all his ships and conducted whatever actions his move entailed, his turn is over and it is the next persons.



Oared ships may travel forwards backwards and may turn up to 180 degrees. They may choose to not move at all and sit in one spot.

On each Turn a ship has 5 movement options it may choose from.

MOVE FORWARD: This is a straight line, 90 degrees in the direction the bow is pointing, with no angling of the movement.

VEER RIGHT OR LEFT: Using the Veerance Template, a ship may move forward and angle itself up to 25 degrees from the direction of its bow.

TURN LEFT OR RIGHT: Turns are accomplished in 90 degree angles. A ship may turn to any point within the angle it is allowed to turn. For instance, a ship that is allowed to turn 180 degrees, may actually stop its turn anywhere within that 180 degree allowance (26 degrees to 179 degrees) Use the Turning Template.

NOTE: Turning, other than a 25 degree veer, is a seperate move and no forward or reverse movement can be made if the ship chooses to turn more than 25 degrees.

SPECIAL NOTE: The Bireme, due to its lighter form and greater speed, has more agility than the other ships, thus it is the only ship that may turn and move in the same sequence. It may only turn 90 degrees if it chooses to also move. It may only move half its allowable distance if it also turns (3 inches if forward) It must conduct its turn at the beginning of the move or at the very end of it.

REVERSE: This is a straight 90 degree movement to the rear or stern of the ship.

STAY ON STATION: The ship doesn't move at all.

In this image, the bottom ship is the moving ship, and the three top ships represent its movement options. 90 degrees ahead, or 25 degrees veerance left or right.

this image demonstrates a 90 degree turn.

SPEED is equated as distance a ship can move. Due to size some ships are slower than others and move shorter distances. Any ship may move as fast or slow as the player wants, depending on the distance he wishes the ship to travel.


BIREME's: These may move forward up to 6 inches a turn, and in reverse up to 2 inches. These tiny vessels can turn upto 180 degrees.

TRIREME's: These ships may also move up to 6 inches or reverse in 2 inches, and may turn upto 180 degrees.

QUADREME's and QUINQREMES: These ships may only move up to 3 inches or reverse 1 inch. They may only turn upto 90 degrees.


This is the main offensive action of Ancient Naval Warfare. Each warship is fitted with a bronze and wood Ram at the bow. The object is to generate enough speed to slam this home into the side of an enemy ship and sink it. A ship may ram another during its turn by the player declaring its intentions, its target, and making sure the requirements for a RAM are met.

In order to Ram another ship, that target ship must be within the RAM SPEED parameters. These are a minimum distance that the ramming ship may be to the target and a maximum distance it can move to strike the ship.

Minimum Distance to declare Ramming.

BIREMES & TRIREMES: Must be 3 inches from target.

QUADREMES & QUINQREMES: Must be 2 inches from target.

Any target that is closer than these ranges, can not be Rammed. By declaring a RAM, the ramming ship is given a speed increase. This is RAM SPEED. The ramming ship may strike a target within this distance. Movement may not increase if no target can be rammed.


BIREMES & TRIREMES: May increase their normal movement by 2 inches.

QUADREMES & QUINQREMES: May increase their normal movement by 1 inch.

NOTE: The more distance traveled in order to Ram a target ship, equals more power in the Ram attempt.


A ship can only be rammed if it is one of two positions relating to the angle that the Ramming ship bow. 90 degrees dead on, and 25 degree oblique. If the target is bow or stern on, then no Ram can take place.

This is a 90 degree or dead on (to the side) Ram.


This is a 25 degree or Oblique Ram. Both rams are permissable.


In this position no Ram could be undertaken, but an Oarswipe could.


Declare your Ram, then move until the bow of your ramming ship touches the target at the correct angle and roll 2d6 (Two 6 sided dice) and modify the roll if any modifiers are in effect.


SUNK : .........................................10-12

STUCK FAST : .............................08-09

DEAD IN THE WATER : ..............06-07

IMMOBILIZED : ...........................04-05

RAM GLANCED OFF : ................02-03


Bireme vs. Quadreme: -1

Bireme vs. Quinqreme: -2

Trireme vs. Quinqreme: -1

Quadreme vs Bireme: +1

Quinqreme vs Bireme: +2

Quinqreme vs Trireme: +1

Target ship is immobilized or dead in the water during attack: +2

Attack is at Oblique: -1

Attack is 3 inches or less: -1

Attack is 4 inches or more: +1

SUNK: Target ship is sunk and removed from play.

STUCK FAST: Ram succeeded but both ships are stuck as if grappled. Boarding must take place on next turn and whoever wins must occupy the Ramming ship, as the Rammed ship will sink when seperated.

DEAD IN THE WATER: Damage was not sufficient to sink the target ship, but it may no longer move during the game.

IMMOBILIZED: Target ship is immobilized for 1 turn. Put a marker (a small piece of paper or cardboard or plastic) that marks it as immobilized and then remove the marker after 1 turn.

All modifiers are accumulative.



Another offensive manuever in which the attacking ship tries to smash the opposing ships oars before that crew can pull them in for safety. There are minimum distances required, but no bonus distances. Their are also angle requirements. Once all requirements are met, the owning player declares an OAR SWIPE and moves his ship to touch the side of the ship in question.

Minimum Movement requirements.

BIREMES & TRIREMES: Target ship must be within 2 inches.

QUADREMES & QUINQREMES: Target ship must be within 1 inch.

NOTE: Their must be enough movement left for the Swiping ship to move at least 1 inch beyond the Target.


If the target ship is at a 90 degree or dead on angle, no Oar swipe is possible. An Oar swipe is possible if the target ship is at a 25 degree oblique angle or bow/stern on.

No Oar swipe is possible.


An Oar swipe is possible on a bow on or Stern on angle.


An Oar swipe is possible on a 25 degree angle as well.

Once declared the Target ship has one of three defensive options it may attempt.

1. It may attempt a sudden turn that will move its Oars away from the swipe.

2. It may attempt to save its Oars by drawing them in quickly.

3. It may allow the Oarswipe an attempt to grapple the other ship as it passes.

If the Target ships player chooses 1 or 2, then he rolls 1d6 to determine if he is successful. On a 5-6 he is successful.

If the Target ships player chooses 3, then he must wait til the Oarswipe is completed, then roll for a successful Grapple (see Grappling & Boarding) If the grapple is successful then the Oar swiping ship is brought back and placed side by side with the target vessel.




IMMOBILIZED ONE TURN : ........................05-09

NO APPRECIABLE DAMAGE : ....................02-04


A larger ship Oar swiping a smaller one: +1

A smaller ship Oar Swiping a larger one: -1

ONE BANK OF OARS DESTROYED: That ship looses 50% of its movement for the rest of the game. (movement loss is accumulative. Another 50% loss would result in the total immobilization of the ship)



Another offensive move or even a defensive one, is to attempt to Grapple the other ship and hold it fast so that your crew can board and destroy or capture the other ship. This is the other, most commonly applied offensive move, as ancient warfare, land or sea, was about the sword and the shield and man vs man. Enemy ships were more valuable captured than sunk.

Their is no minimum distance requirement or bonus movement. The player whose turn it is, must declare the attempt to grapple and then move his ship side by side with the target ship. Oar swiping angles are in effect. If the target ship is 90 degrees to the moving ships bow, no grappling can be attempted.

This is the position for both an Oarswipe and a Grapple attempt. In an Oarswipe, the swiping ship would then move 1 inch further on. In a grapple attempt, if failed, the target ship could move 1 inch further on or in reverse.

As in Oar Swiping, the target ship may attempt a quick turn on a 1d6 roll of 5-6. This would negate the grappling attempt.

If no sudden turn is made, then the ships remain side by side and a Grapple is attempted. Both players roll 1d6. If the grappling players roll is equal to or higher than that of the target ship, then a grapple has succeeded.

NOTE: No defensive roll or grappling roll is neccessary for an immobilized target ship. The grapple attempt is automatic.


Attempt to grapple a larger ship: +1

Attempt to grapple a smaller ship: -1

If the Grapple is not successful the target ship may move 1 inch to the front or to the rear or may turn away (up to 90 degrees)

If the grapple is successful then boarding by the grappling ship is automatic and melee may start.

Note the respective ships crew strenghts on the roster. Ships crew maximum strengths are noted above.

Melee will take place until one side or the other has totally defeated the others crew (when that crew's strength reaches 0) There is no escape from melee for a ship that has been grappled and boarded. Melee will be conducted in one round per turn for every turn the ships are in Melee.

Each player rolls dice for the casualties he inflicts upon the other crew. Subtract these results immediately. Once one crew's strength reaches 0, then that ship may be captured or sunk by the winning side. The number of dice and modifiers are determined by crew size.

1-6 = 1D6 -1 for every number less than 6 (ie: 4 crew strength = 1D6-2)

7-12 = 2D6

13-20 = 2D6+1

21-+ = 2D6+5

NOTE: See national modifiers at the top for more modifiers. The Romans were the best Melee fighters of the Ancient period.


Other ships may grapple to the sides of ships that are immobilized due to being in a melee, and those ships crews may be added to that players side in the melee. Simply add all the ships crews together. Any number of ships may add on into a melee. However, they will all be locked into the melee until the fight is over, and will share the fate of the winning or loosing side.

This is an example of Multiple grapples locked in a Melee.

Once the melee is over. Ships that are deemed Sunk are removed from play. Ships that are captured must be manned by at least 5 crewmen from the winning players ship (or ships) Then that ship may act as normal on that players side. (any damage suffered previous, such as loss of 50% movement, etc, continues as before)

CORVUS: This is a Roman device which in essence is a Gangplank with a Spike on the end that is dropped and embedded onto the enemy ship. Thus the grapple is very secure and Roman soldiers can easily cross onto the other ship. Ships must be noted as having a corvus. In my ships only the Qinqremes have Corvus. You may limit your corvus to your bigger ships as biremes and Triremes are really more 'sailing' warships than board and melee ships. Any ship with a Corvus may +2 to any grapple attempt.



All crews have archers on board. When no other offensive move can be undertaken or is planned, any ship at the beginning or end of its movement (but only once in a turn) may fire missiles. Missiles may be fired at any ship in range (but only one target may be fired on per turn) and that target may be at any angle. The Firing player must choose what type of missile fire he is conducting. Note, only a creew of 6 or more may conduct missile fire.

1. Crew Attack.

2. Fire Attack.

The range for a missile attack is 2 inches.

If it is a Crew Attack, The firing player rolls 1D6 and that number of casualties are subtracted from the target ships crew.

If it is a Fire Attack, roll 1D6 and on a 6 that target ship catches fire.


The bane of any wooden vessel. if a ship catches fire, place a cottonball on that ship on that turn. On the next turn the crew may attempt to put the fire out. A ship on fire may not conduct any offensive actions, but may move normally. On each succeeding turn the target ships crew must roll 1D6 to put out the fire. If it fails another CottonBall is added. Each ship, depending on its size, will sink when it reaches a certain number of cottonballs.

Roll to put out fire is a 6 on 1D6. Modify by ships crew size. 20 or less is normal, 21+ receives a +1 to the roll.

Number of Cottonballs (one cottonball per turn) until a ship has burned out and sunk.

Bireme: 3 cottonballs.

Trireme: 4 cottonballs.

Quadreme: 5 cottonballs.

Quinqreme: 6 cottonballs.

FIRESHIP: a ship may set on fire at anytime by its owning player and then set drifting towards a target ship to set it on fire. A ship without a crew drifts at 1 inch and only in a 90 angle to the bow (no turning) A ship that still has a crew can move at normal speeds and turn and if it touches another ship (ramming or grappling) while on fire, that other ship may catch on fire. If rammed, the chance is a 1d6 roll of 5-6. If Stuck fast or Grappled the chance is increased to 4-6.

CREW TRANSFER: At anytime a player may move two of his ships side by side and conduct a crew transfer (done on the roster) He must announce what he is doing to the opposing player. He may do this with any of his ships including those that are immobilized or on fire, but not those that are in melee. If he docks with a ship that is on fire he must roll 1D6. If a 5-6 is rolled, that ship catches on fire, otherwise the crew transfer is completed and that ship may move or turn 1 inch from the burning ship.

This could be a crew transfer. If a ship were on fire it would have one or more cottonballs in a line behind it.

Well that should do it my Naval Wargaming friends. To battle and "RAM SPEED AHEAD!"

GOOD LUCK! EMAIL me if you wish to tell me if you found the rules fun to play or not.

Talk to me.


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