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Wooden Ships & Iron Men - Newbies' Guide

Wooden Ships & Iron Men Newbies' Guide


Use the HDT

HDT = Hit Determination Table (HDT). Looks complicated, right? It's not so bad. Start at the left-hand column (number of guns) and your range. That shows your base hit table. Continue to the right adding or subtracting each modifier if it applies. Whatever number you end up with is the hit table you'll be on. There's one for hull and rigging. The game will apply the die roll it generates for you to the appropriate hit table.

There are links to it from every game. Don't assume that moving closer or farther away will help (or hurt), or that one more gun won't matter (although sometimes they do). There are groupings for number of guns (1-3, 4-6, etc.) and range (5-6 and 7-10). Check the HDT before deciding.

Be aware that the crew section modifier is for each crew section lost and we don't use the ammunition or anchor modifiers. Don't forget to check crew quality.

You might have noticed the "Rake" column, which leads us to...

Avoid rakes

A rake occurs when a ship can fire at an enemy but is outside the play of the target ship's own guns. To the right, the French ship is about to find out what a rake is (from fore and aft) because both English ships can shoot at it, but it can't shoot back (dark blue area).

Even at a long distance, rakes can be devastating. For even 7-9 guns, the modifier is +3. Note that does not include range, so even at maximum range (10 hexes), a rake scores a +3 modifier. That's the difference between losing that last rigging square or getting away. Avoid rakes!

That said, we all eventually find ourselves in a position where a rake is unavoidable. Since you know from the HDT that fewer guns deal less damage, if you HAVE to get raked, it only makes sense to get raked by as few guns as possible, so...

Note damage

Use the mouse-over popup box to check damage to enemy ships and your own. If one of your ships is seriously damaged, try to move it away, or at least where it won't block your own (or where it will block the enemy).

Other than the hull, damage to ships degrades their capabilities. As you saw earlier, in general, a ship with fewer guns will shoot on a lower table, so try to stay on the side of a ship with fewer guns. Concentrate on damaged ships to make them surrender. Each lost crew section results in a lower hit table.

Each full rigging section lost means that ship has one less hex of movement in each attitude. If just one section is lost, that ship can never move in attitude C (other than turning). So if you're upwind, that ship can NEVER move closer -- YOU decide when to engage at a closer range. Knowing that a ship can't move forward, or can only move one hex instead of two, will help you anticipate what the enemy can do.

Not all ships can turn twice, though, so pay attention to...

Turn allowance

Large SOLs can only turn once per turn, but most ships can turn twice, which is enough to turn around and fire an initial broadside (see The 120 below) . Note in the picture that Duc Bougogne can only turn once ("Turn: 1") while Provence can turn twice. Again, knowing the difference can help you anticipate.

Also, an enemy in in the wrong attitude, or a ship of the line with a lost rigging section, can't turn twice (even in Attitude A), so be aware of your enemy's capabilities and plan accordingly.

Look for opportunities to turn your own ships. It can come as quite a surprise and give new life to a ship with many lost guns on one side.

Speaking of guns, don't overlook...


Carronades are short range guns. They only count if the target is two hexes away or less. Check your ship and the enemy's -- if you have carronades and he doesn't, consider closing the range! If the reverse is true, you might want to stay at least three hexes away.

Carronades are shown on the ship status box under regular guns. To the right, Adamant has two carronades on each broadside ("Carr: 2").

If you're close enough to worry about carronades you should also...

Avoid Collisions

If any two (or more) ships try to occupy the same hex at the same point during movement, they collide and always stop at that point. There's also a chance they'll foul. In the Basic version, fouling leads to melee and boarding parties, which you may not want. Also, a collision can lead to other collisions as ships run into each other when one in front stops suddenly.

Be especially careful while turning. To the right is a very common mistake. In the first frame, the lead ship has turned while the other moves up behind it. In the second frame, the lead ship has not yet cleared the hex and a collision occurs. The second ship should stop after its first hex of movement.

Now that you know how to avoid collisions...

Look for Collisions

Surprise! Collisions can also be your friend. Since they have the effect of stopping a ship immediately, it's an effective way to slow down the enemy's line/ship, and, as noted above, can even cause other ships behind the collision to collide and foul. Since fouled ships can't move, they're often easy to rake.

With the Basic rules, collisions have a whole other use: fouled ships allow boarding parties and melee, which, depending upon your purpose, can be good or bad.
Depending upon your plans for the collision, be sure to set...


When ships collide (even friendly ships), there's a chance they'll foul, which means their rigging is tangled. Fouled ships can't move. There are times when this can be a huge advantage, or a devastating blow. If you have an enemy ship fouled, you know it can't move and might be able to rake it or concentrate fire on it, so it may be to your advantage to stay fouled. You can influence this with the "Unfouling" list:

  • all: A fouled ship always rolls to unfoul
  • friend: A fouled ship only rolls to unfoul from friendly ships
  • enemy: A fouled ship only rolls to unfoul from enemy ships
  • none: A fouled ship never rolls to unfoul

Notice it says "rolls to unfoul." The game checks each ship's Unfouling setting and rolls a die. If either ship has its unfouling set and rolls a 1 or 2, both ships unfoul, so even if you set yours to "none" or "friendly," they may still unfoul if the other ship set its to "all" or "enemy" (and a 1 or 2 is rolled).

Something else to consider is...

Hull or Rigging

Usually you'll want to shoot at the hull. A surrendered ship can't fire -- a dismasted one can. There are situations where you want to fire at rigging, mainly to slow a ship so it can't get in front of you, to slow it down so others can catch up, to stop a sidestep, prevent it from sidestepping or moving in attitude C, etc. The only problem is that a ship with no rigging can still fire. Unless the fight moves beyond her range, a ship with no rigging is still in the fight.

Note that any shot which is fired from six or more hexes automatically fires at the rigging, even if you set it to hull.

Now that you've fired, what about...


Ships can fire both broadsides in one turn, but can only reload one. You can pick which side to reload with the "Load" pulldown list. If you don't pick, the game chooses a side randomly, so you could easily lose a rake or not finish off a badly damaged ship. Don't forget to reset it if that ships turns or you want to fire the other side.

So how do you know if both broadsides have fired? The brown "fired" image will appear on both sides, like on Formidable to the right.

Now that you've completed an entire turn...

Check the Log

The game lists each event that happened during the previous turn, including which ships fired (target ship, hit table calculated by the game and modifiers like a rake or crew section loss, die roll, and damage caused), fouling, grappling results, boarding parties, melee results, etc.

You should review the log each turn to make sure your ships are firing, who's firing at you, the targets, combat results, etc.

Introduction Continued
Advanced Maneuvers

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