Colored models for ‘Fighting Rules for Sailing Ships’

By Mike Crane

A few years ago I was reading through the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian. If you have not read the books, perhaps you have seen the movie, Master and Commander, which starred Russell Crowe and was based on incidents found in some of the books of the series.

Anyway, I found the books so enjoyable that I made a set of rules to wargame sailing ships of the Napoleonic era. Although the rules were written to be “landlubber simple,” the battles themselves could become rather involved as each ship moved, fired, and received damage individually. Therefore, the rules were intended for one-on-one duels and battles involving no more than five ships per side. The one-on-one duels require a lot of maneuvering and should be over within 24 fast moves. Battles with five ships per side will involve more firing and the game should be complete within 12 slower moves.

“Fighting Rules for Sailing Ships” is found in the 2003 Lone Warrior No. 142 issue. The rules are good just as they are written but I would like to make one minor correction and an addition. The correction involves selecting the wind direction at the beginning of the game. The rules say north is selected by rolling 1 on 2d6. Obviously, it is impossible to roll a 1 using 2d6. The simple way to correct this is to use 1d12 instead of 2d6. Or, you could use 1d8 and assign one number to each primary and secondary direction point on the compass. If you are willing to never have the wind come directly from the north, you can use it as it is. The choice is yours.

(Photos and colored models are at the bottom of this post.)

The following addition to the rules results from a situation I encountered while playing one of the games in the photos. Ships cannot pass through an occupied square and may only enter an occupied square for the purpose of boarding an enemy ship. However, one of my ships had only one move due to battle damage to the rigging and was not able to enter a square facing into the wind. It had to move somewhere and the only option was to enter a square occupied by a friendly ship. Here is the additional rule for that: When a ship is forced to enter a square occupied by a friendly ship, both ships are considered to have collided and the resulting entanglement of their rigging will cost each ship a check in one of the Rigging boxes on the Damage Chart. The ships may separate on the next turn.

Two games were played to get photos for this article. One game was a one-on-one duel between two frigates and the other game was a battle between six ships of the line and four frigates. Both games were arbitrarily limited to eight turns but the duel went so quickly that I increased it to 12 turns. There wasn’t much firing but the Red ship received damage and the Blue ship received none (Blue 4, Red 0).

The battle involving 10 ships was only eight turns but lasted much longer than the duel. Side A moved and fired broadside and Side B returned fire. Then the cotton balls were removed and Side B moved and fired. Side A returned defensive fire. The completion of each side’s moving and firing phase completed one turn. It didn’t take long for a lot of damage to accumulate and impede individual ship action. In each turn, every ship had to move its entire allowable movement unless boarding an enemy ship, colliding with a friendly ship, sitting dead in the water, or grounded on the edge of the board. The outcome of the battle was fairly obvious with a lopsided score (Red 42, Blue 30).

The paper sailing ship models are divided into two sides—Red and Blue. One side has red flags and the other side has blue flags. You can decide if you want each side to represent a country; e.g., Red = Britain and Blue = France. Naming the individual ships is fun and the names can be written with a Sharpie pen onto the water base beside each ship for easy identification during the game.

White cotton balls are essential to remembering which ships have fired and which ships have returned fire. They should be removed after each phase of a turn. I had planned to use the black smoke markers to represent sinking ships but no ships were sunk. A yellow button was used to indicate a ship that was dead in the water and a red or blue button was used to indicate a ship had been captured by an opponent.

When playing, if you come upon a situation without a rule, make up two options and flip a coin to select one. Or, use the models below and make your own set of rules from scratch. Whatever you do, have fun.

Here are the ship models.

And the photos are below:

Equipment for playing ‘Fighting Rules for Sailing Ships.’









Blue opens fire and Red returns the favor.










The Blue line breaks.









The playing board at the end of the battle.










The Red side fires parting shots as the captured Apollo is sailed away. Zeus lies dead in the water.










Achilles opens fire on the bow of the Horatio.









Horatio suffers more damage from the stern and Achilles wins the duel.

About mike crane

I am a retired high school teacher living in Texarkana, Arkansas, USA. Although I enjoy wargaming in all periods, my favorite eras are WWII, Colonial, ACW, and Napoleonic. I enjoy making rules that are simple, fast, and fun.
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