[S]wift on either part
The fleets essay the open; and the ships
Tremble beneath the oars that urge them on,
By sinewy arms impelled.
— Lucan, Pharsalia (Bk III)
The first of the two light ships available to in the Imperial Era, the War Galley represents the archetypical Mediterranean-style galley, capable of good speed but with mediocre tactical performance, because of its size. This genus of galley is faster than the stronger yet clumsier sailing ships, such as the cog or the carrack, yet suffers from a general lack of space on board - so, the firepower of the War Galley, meant to be used as a fast escort ship, as a line unit, is highly limited. Yet, the speed and ease of construction of a war galley makes it a useful unit, until the more costlier cannon-armed warships, namely the lanternas, carrack, and brigantine, make their appearance.
Not all factions, however, build war galleys. The Chinese, Japanese and Mongols all specialise in the construction of swoopers, which performs the same role as that of the war galley in Europe. Muslims residing in the East (as well as their enemies, the Spanish and Portuguese) must make do with the cheaper but inferior fusta. This ship isn't as strong in firepower than a war galley, but is faster and cheaper to build, meaning that, for instance, an Imperial war galley fleet, matching the same budgets allocated to a Portuguese fusta fleet, will either be destroyed or heavily damaged when the last fusta is sunk.
Contrary to the popular Anglocentric misconception that galleys were clumsy ships that relied mostly on brute force, the new ships developed by the Italians and their contemporaries of the Late Mediaeval period then consisted mostly of streamlined vessels capable of moving through aqueous bodies with little effort (to save on human muscle power when necessary), and a sophisticated sailplan to make good use of whatever wind existed. The merits of galleys were attested by the fact that at the onset of the Hundred Years' War between Plantagenet England and France, the sovereigns of both nations attempted to recruit Italian and Portuguese galley fleets to bolster the strength of their navies against each other. Even long after the Plantagenets were driven out of France, galleys continued to find homes in the navies of northern Europe. The last notable battle involving galleys was the battle of Gangut, fought off the Finnish Baltic coast in 1714 between Russia and Sweden using medium-calibre gunpowder artillery.
- Mediterranean-style galley, as a light ship capable of good speed but somewhat mediocre tactical performance
- Taking Enemy Fire — The increased speed of a War Galley makes it efficient for raiding and defending against Fire Vessels. On the other hand, her low cost makes them ideal as decoys for the same.
- A Warm Welcome — As war galleys are weak against , complement your fleet with fire ships to keep enemy heavy ships at bay.
- Fusta - As for various Mediterranean powers, the Turks, Sicilians, Portuguese, and Saracens must make do with the cheaper but inferior fusta.
- Martino Sacchi, Venetian galleys in the 15th century