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Wooden Ships & Iron Men - Newbies' Guide

Wooden Ships & Iron Men Newbies' Guide


OK, so you know all the rules. Can you apply them?

Staggered Line

The traditional bow-to-stern line of battle doesn't work as well in WS&IM as it did in real life. Several experienced players avoid it in favor of a staggered, or offset, line because in a traditional line:

  • If any ship loses a rigging section, every ship behind it is also slowed. This is especially dangerous if your lead ship is the slow one because the enemy can get in front of you and envelope your whole line. Also, a clever enemy (or you) can use a slow ship in the middle of the line to open a gap to shoot through.
  • If your line is in anything but Attitude A, no ship can turn out of line without risk of being raked. This goes for advancing and retreating, so you're stuck reacting to the enemy's moves as best as you can.
  • The targeting algorithm always picks the same target once it's "locked on" to a particular ship. Unless circumstances change (a new ship moves into range, another ship can be raked, etc.) the same ship is always the same target of any one firing ship. This tends to be larger ships, so over time your big SOLs will lose a rigging section and slow down.
A staggered line allows more flexibility because:
  • It's easier to turn a ship that's taking a lot of damage out of the line, or just bypass it.
  • If a ship loses a rigging section, it doesn't slow the entire fleet.
  • A slowed ship can serve a useful purpose by screening other ships behind it, rather than just slowing the entire line.
  • You can pick which ships will be targets by placing them closer to the enemy. Thus, you can protect the ships you want to protect.
  • If you're in Attitude A, you can swap ships back and forth by sidestepping, thereby spreading out damage to your ships.

The Blaze of Glory

If a ship is about to surrender, cause as much damage as you can. Turn an initial broadside toward the enemy, fire both broadsides... whatever you can do, do it. Even if it means taking a rake, you're going down anyway, so do as much damage as possible.

Be careful about where you choose to die -- make sure you don't block friendly ships. Sometimes it's worth it to exercise this option just to move a ship so it doesn't block friendly ships, or does block enemy ships.

In the situation to the right, Bucentaure probably won't survive another turn. With an initial broadside on her port (left) side and a possible rake on the starboard (right), the rake from Malta won't even matter. Go out in style... Butch and Sundance would be proud.


Opinions vary on this, but if the rules allow for leaving while ahead and still winning, you might consider it. The game awards victories solely on the basis of points scored, so if you find yourself ahead in points and can retire without risking your lead, RUN! If you feel uncomfortable with that, stay and fight it out. The game starts a counter after five turns without any firing. Five turns after that, the victory goes to whoever has the most points.

Running when you're behind doesn't do much good because the game will still time out while you're behind and you'll lose.

The Wedge

Avoid sticking your bow where it doesn't belong. To the right, no matter how Duc Bougogne turns, she can't get out. This makes a ship an easy rake candidate, or effectively takes her out of the game if the enemy can move the battle out of her range. Sometimes a ship strikes in front of you, so it happens to everyone occasionally, but be aware of it. And look for opportunities to wedge enemy ships.

With the Basic rules, it might be possible to get out because of drifting, but it depends upon when the other ships drift. Under the Simplified rules, you're stuck.

The Swinging Gate

Many players automatically move straight ahead when trading broadsides. This move can make them pay for that. Just turn as they move and enjoy, but make sure you can't be raked if the other ship doesn't move.

To the right, Triton is hoping Java keeps moving straight ahead. If she does, Triton scores an easy rake. If not, Triton can't be raked, so it's often worth a try.

Team Play

Playing as part of a team presents new challenges because you have to anticipate what friendly ships will do as well the enemy. You can do as much damage to your own side by cutting off someone's shot or colliding at the wrong time. Below are some general suggestions for team play.

  • Set Unfouling, because you and your teammates won't always guess right.
  • Communicate! Use the in-game chat to post messages. Tell what you're going to do, or ask what your teammates are doing. True, the other side will see it, but it's often better to be well-coordinated than to carry your secret plan to Davey Jones' locker. Unless it's specifically allowed in a game or tournament, you should avoid email or other forms of communication.
  • Give room to your teammates. Crowding beside them gives them (and you) less room to maneuver.
  • Know what's possible. In the situation to the right, no matter what Adamant does, she's going to occupy the hex right in front of London. London's captain needs to be aware of that and plan for it. Similarly, Adamant's captain needs to see that he can't turn right at first, or he'll hit London.
  • Smaller ships should stay out of the way of SOLs. It depends on the situation, of course, but usually the SOLs will decide the battle. Frigates can help, especially with screening the big boys as they close with the enemy, but you have to know when to clear out and let them do their thing. An effective tactic is to use the frigates' speed and maneueverability to get in front of the enemy line to rake them, become a roadblack, or both.
  • This is where communication comes into play -- ask what the SOL captains want.
  • Don't surrender. Your teammates are left with a weakened position. And it's just rude. Play it out until it's over.

Introduction Continued
Advanced Maneuvers

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