Monday, 19 January 2015

A simple Ironclad vs. Ironclad wargame

Whilst reading the latest addition to the 'History of Wargaming' Project – OVER OPEN SIGHTS: EARLY NAVAL WARGAMING RULES 1873-1904: EARLY WARGAMES VOLUME 4 – I began thinking about the possibility of designing a simple Ironclad vs. Ironclad wargame. Captain (later Admiral) Colomb's THE DUEL: A NAVAL WARGAME rules were far too complex to be a starting point for my needs, but Lieutenant Chamberlain's GAME OF NAVAL BLOCKADE rules – which I have previously used and demonstrated at SALUTE – struck me as being much closer to my requirements.

Lieutenant Chamberlain's rules use a 20 x 20 squared grid, but I wanted to use my Hexon II hexes ... and I don't have enough to create a hexagonal grid that is anywhere near to being that big. Therefore my first major change was to reduce the range of the armament carried by the opposing ships so that they would have room to manoeuvre before being able to open fire on each other.

The second major change I made was to allocate each ship a flotation value. (I am going to use flotation values of 20 for each ship in my play-test.) In Lieutenant Chamberlain's rules ships can only be sunk by ramming (they were written at the height of the era when the ram was seen as being the Ironclad's main weapon) but I wanted my ship's to sink if they were repeatedly hit by gunfire.

The Game Apparatus
  1. A dice marked as specified in Rule 12;
  2. A dice cup;
  3. A playing board (12 x 10 hexed grid);
  4. Two Ironclads armed with one bow  gun, one gun on each broadside and one stern gun;
  5. Islands and/or rocks (Optional ... but no more than a maximum of three of each).
The Rules of The Game
  1. Choose sides by tossing a coin. The winner selects which of the two Ironclads they wish to command. The vessels are then placed as follows:
    One Ironclad in one of the hexes in the centre of the North edge of the board, heading South;
    One Ironclad in one of the hexes in the centre of the South edge of the board, heading North.
  2. If islands and/or rocks are to be used, the player who won the toss up places the islands and/or rocks, aligned with the hexes marked on the board, as follows:
      not less than two clear hexes from the North or South edge of the board) AND,
      not less than one clear hex from the other edges of the board AND,
      not less than one clear hex from each other.
      As for Islands but may be closer to the North or South edge of the board (i.e. not less than one clear hex away from the North or South edge of the board).
    • The first move is made by the player who lost the toss.
    • Move one hex at a time, alternately, except as specified by Rules 15 and 16.
    • Stopping is not allowed, except when disabled. (See Rule 15)
    • Course may be altered by six points, to Port or Starboard, each turn (i.e. 60 degrees) at the beginning of the turn.
    • The speed of the two ships is equal, except when disabled.
    • Going astern is never allowed, even to avoid being rammed.
    • One side wins if sinks its opponent before it gains open sea (i.e. by moving on to any hex on the opposing edge of the board).
    • The Armament of the ships is as follows:
        A bow gun, with an arc of 60 degrees either side of the fire and aft line;
        One gun on each broadside, with a 120 degree arc of fire (i.e. 60 degrees from the fore and aft line);
        A stern gun, with an arc of 60 degrees either side of the fire and aft line.
    • Ships are in range when separated by five or less clear hexes.
    • The Firing Dice is marked as follows:
        One side marked D4 (for Disabled and four flotation points are lost);
        One side marked H2 (for Hit and two flotation points are lost);
        One side marked H1 (for Hit and one flotation point is lost);
        Three sides marked M (for Miss).
    • Ships moving and in range may fire any guns that bear. Ships move before firing.
      • Ships may fire over rocks but not islands. Use a ruler to establish whether the line of fire is blocked by any intervening island.
      • A Disabled ship stops and the other immediately moves three hexes, altering course as required. No firing is allowed by either side during this movement. If the moving ship finishes on the same square as the Disabled ship, the latter has been rammed. (See Rule 16) Otherwise the Disabled ship is brought back into action, moving one square straight ahead, firing as normal if any guns bear.
      • Note:
          Ships are temporarily Disabled only, unless they are rammed;
          Disabled ships have sufficient way to alter course once;
          A ship disabling its opponent twice in a turn, inflicts the loss of eight flotation points, but only gets one ramming attempt.
      • Successful ramming wins the game as the rammed ship is deemed to sink. The only exception is when the ramming is head on (i.e. the ships are bow-to-bow). Ships cannot be rammed head on; they may only be rammed in the side or stern.
      • Hits reduce a ship's flotation value. When a ship's flotation value is reduced to zero (0) it sinks.

      These are by no means a perfect set of rules for an Ironclad vs. Ironclad battle ... but I think that they will be worth play-testing.


      1. I think I'd drop rule 8... allow it but at reduced rate

      2. Steve-the-Wargamer,

        Thanks for the suggestion. The rule is carried over from Lieutenant Chamberlain's original rules.

        The problem with reducing the rate at which a ship could go astern is problematic as the normal rate of movement is 1 hex per turn. The ship would have to be stationary for one turn before going astern, and would then only be able to go astern every other turn.

        I think that I will keep the rule as it is for the moment ... but like everything else, I want to see how it will work during any play-tests.

        All the best,


      3. This might be the basis for something a little more elaborate, or at least permitting a variety of vessel types. The rules seem to call for casement ironclads of the type 'Merrimac' or 'Arkansas' - or the Eads gunboats. But imagine the wooden casement types like 'Essex', turreted gunboats like 'Monitor' or fast cottonclad rams. These could make for interesting duels too.

        The rule set could equally well work for riverine warfare along the major waterways like the Ohio/Tennessee/Mississippi river complex.

      4. Years ago I adapted a 'one brain cell' rule set I found in a magazine for my 1:300 ACW scratchbuilt river fleets. Had some exciting battles with them. In one memorable encounter, I had, after a few turns of brisk action, sunk four vessels: two of the enemy (Union) and two of my own (Confederate)!

        At one point, my cottonclad rammed a Union gunboat and put it in a sinking condition, tasking some damage to itself. The following vessel, too close to turn betimes, ran aboard her successful sister and sent her to the bottom in turn.

        Shortly afterwards, I timed a turn to ram too late, flashed by the enemy's stern, and found myself hurtling towards the shore at 12 knots, and no room to turn nor to stop. The bow fetched up way on the bank and no chance of bringing her off.

        I don't recall much of the rest of the naval action other than both sides lost two vessels.

      5. Archduke Piccolo,

        The original rules would be ideal for re-fighting actions between Confederate blockade runners and Union blockaders.

        I think that your suggestions are all good ones, and if the play-tests are successful I may well add some further ship types and different gun and armour ratings.

        All the best,


      6. Archduke Piccolo,

        The rules you describe sound very much like Andy Callan's ACW Naval Wargame rules.

        The battle sounds as if it was great fun ... and the fact that you can remember the major events means that it must have been quite memorable.

        All the best,


      7. Ross Mac,

        I plan to play-test these rules once I have finished my current toy train conversion project. This should be later this week or early next week.

        All the best,


      8. Bob,
        Somehow I missed these rules until now! I have questions about Rules 17 and 18.
        17: It says a rammed ship sinks unless it it has been rammed head-on. It goes on to say a ship cannot be rammed head-on. Does the first sentence refer to an accidental head-on ram? Also, is a head-to-stern ram treated the same as a broadside ram?
        18. How many flotation points doers a ship begin with?

        I know this is coming WAY late, but the rules look very interesting.

        Best regards always,

        Chris Johnson

        1. Chris,

          Sorry for not replying earlier but your comment went into the pending folder and I have only just found it!

          In the current draft of the rules, the section about ramming now reads as follows:
          'A successful ramming wins the game as the rammed ship is deemed to sink. The only exception is when the ramming is head on (i.e. the ships are bow-to-bow). Ships cannot be rammed head on; they may only be rammed in the side or stern.'

          The assumption is that ships equipped with rams need to hit their opponent where they will do serious damage, such as in the side or the stern. Hitting bow-on, the ram will not connect with anything other than their opponent's ram, and the ships are likely not to connect but just to scrape past each other.

          I have not stipulated how many flotation points a ship will have as I thought that gamers would like to decided that for themselves. In my trial battles I gave each ship 20 FPs, and that seemed to be about right.

          All the best,