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Wooden Ships & Iron Men - simplified game rules

Wooden Ships & Iron Men - Simplified Rules

If you want to read the Basic rules click here, or read the Introductory guide if you are new to the game or need some clarification.


Wooden Ships & Iron Men is a tactical simulation of naval warfare during the great age of sail. The game covers the period from 1776 to 1814 when the great square sail ships-of-the-line dominated the oceans and the speedy and durable American frigates gave world recognition to their young parent navy. The game is played by two or more players each commanding a ship, squadron, or whole fleet! Scenarios depict the famous naval engagements of the American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars.

This online version, called the simplified version, is based on a reduced subset of the basic game rules for the Avalon Hill board game Wooden Ships & Iron Men. If you are familiar with the board game, the following are not implemented in the simplified version:

  • Grappling and boarding parties
  • Drifting
  • Most Advanced Game rules, such as wind change, full sails, different types of ammunition, wind effects, backing sails, anchors, and reduced field of fire.
  • Optional rules
  • Critical hits
  • Build your own scenarios


  • Can't pick target: The game automatically picks the target to fire at from among eligible candidates based on the highest Hit Determination Table (HDT). If multiple targets have the same HDT, it picks one randomly. Unless circumstances change, it will always pick the same target due to technical reasons.
  • Collisions: The winner of the collision always occupy the hex (in the boardgame in some cases the winner could choose to occupy the hex or let the enemy occupy it)
  • Different broadside targets: Rigging or hull can only be picked per ship, not per broadside.
The Basic version implements more rules.



The mapboard is the playing surface upon which the ships are maneuvered. The hexagonal grid is used to determine movement, firing ranges, and the positions of ships. A wind direction arrow is placed in the center of the map, under the hexagonal grid.

Ship icons

Every ship in the game is represented by an icon which spans two hexes, a flag and 3 letters. The icon represents the ship's class, either Brig, Ship of the Line (SOL) or Frigate. The flag identifies the ship's nationality. The three letter tag under the ship is the first part of the ship's name. This will help you match each ship with its ship chart beside the map (or visible as a popup if you move the mouse pointer over the ship's icon).

Your ships have the three letter tag written in blue on white. Other players' ships have the tag written in white on blue.

Ship Chart

Move: 2
Turn: 2
Bucentaure 2nd SOL
Player Name
Crew: 16/17
Type: average
Rigging: 14/21
Value: 27Pts. - Tons:80

For every ship in the game there is a chart that describe the ship's status, point value, movement allowance and other useful information.

The chart is divided into four columns:
  1. The first column shows the movement allowance and turning allowance of the ship. In the example on the right, the ship can move only with wind attitude A (2 hexes) and B (1 hex), due to the damage suffered in the rigging section of the ship. See below for a description of the wind attitudes.
  2. The second column contains (in the upper section) the name, type and owner of the ship. Under this is a picture of the ship with the number of guns and carronades available on each side of the ship. If the ship has lost any guns through battle damage, those destroyed are reported with a red box while the guns still available are green.
    Under this is the type of ammunition the guns are loaded with. The simplified version uses only round shot.
    The status of each broadside is also shown:
    The guns are loaded with initial broadside round shot.
    The guns are loaded with round shot.
    The guns are empty.
  3. The third column shows the ship's Hull status. As with guns, damage is shown here as red boxes. When all the hull boxes are damaged (red), the ship will surrender.
  4. The fourth column shows Crew and Rigging of the ship. As with guns, damage is shown here as red boxes. Hits are recorded from the top down such that when an entire section is lost, the ship's gunnery will be affected (crew section loss), or its movement allowance will drop (rigging section loss).

Game Log

This appears on the left column of a game page. It will not appear until some event has occurred, so it may not appear for several turns.

Here you can find all the events that happened during the last five game turns. Enemy ships are red, friendly are blue. Your own ships are bold.

It also lists which hit table was used and how it was determined with the Hit Determination Table (HDT). There is more about the HDT later.

Players should review the game log each turn to see if their ships are doing what they expected and find out who is firing at them.

Movement input window

This is where you order movement and firing options for all your ships. Detailed help is available by clicking one of the "?" icons, so this section only highlights some of the most commonly used items.

First, the ship icon shows the ship's movement allowance in each attitude to the wind (more about that later), and its current movement and turn allowance. In general, each hex moved or turned into costs one movement point. If you attempt to move more than the current movement allowance, or turn faster than the ship is capable of, an error message will pop up.

Some ships can turn more than once per turn, but must move at least one hex forward between each turn. So a ship cannot turn twice in the same hex during the same turn. In the example to the right, Hannibal can turn twice per turn (Turn: 2), while Royal George can only turn once (Turn: 1).

It's important to note that any ship can fire both of its broadsides in the same turn, but can only reload one broadside per turn. The Load: option Any side will automatically reload any single broadside, but if a ship fires both broadsides and you want to specify which one to reload, you should pick the right or left side. If you don't, it will pick one randomly.

When you are satisfied, use the Move my Ships button. When all players have completed their orders, the computer simultaneously moves them, then resolves firing and damage.


Determing Movement and Turning Allowance

A ship's movement allowance depends upon ship type, rigging damage and the ship's attitude to the wind. There are four possible attitudes: A, B, C and D. Each letter represents a different position of the ship in relation to the direction that the wind is blowing.

In the diagram to the right, wind is blowing from the north (top). The first ship, in attitude D, is facing into the wind. As such, it has no movement allowance and can only turn. The next two ships, in attitude A, have wind blowing into all their sails, so this attitude gives the most movement points. The ships labelled C are facing somewhat into the wind, but can still move, though obviously slower. Finally, a ship in attitude B has wind blowing only into its stern sails.

The charts below show the movement allowance for a ship of the line (left) and a frigate (right). The maximum movement allowance is for a ship in attitude A, with the allowance being reduced by one for each successive attitude. It is further reduced by one for each rigging section lost. Regardless of its movement allowance, a ship may always turn once per turn. EXCEPTION: Fouled ships (see below) cannot move or turn.

The movement allowance is the maximum number of hexes a ship may move in a movement phase.
Ship of
the Line
  • A ship of the line (left) starts the movement notation phase in attitude C. Its movement allowance is 1.

  • A frigate (right) starts the movement notation phase in attitude A. Its movement allowance is 4.

  • A ship of the line starts the movement notation phase in attitude B. It has lost one rigging section. Its movement allowance is 1.
  • Movement Mechanics

    Movement points may not be accumulated from one turn to another nor may they be transferred between ships. A ship never has to move, nor use all its movement points. The number of hexes a ship may move is up to the player within the limits of its movement allowance.

    A ship always pivots around its bow. Since each ship icon occupies 2 hexes, as a ship turns to point to a new hexside, the stern will swing into a new hex.

    The movement allowance for each wind attitude also limits the number of hexes a ship may move while in that particular attitude. Example: A ship in attitude A has a movement allowance of 4. If it turns to attitude C, it may only move one hex in that direction as the movement allowance for this attitude is 1. It may turn back to attitude A after moving one hex in C and finish its move in attitude A. This does not work in reverse, so a ship starting its turn in Attitude B has a maximum movement allowance of 2 (for example) even if it moves to attitude A later in the movement phase.

    This does not limit the number of turns in any attitude (other than the limit of 1 per hex traversed), just the number of hexes into which a ship may move.

    A ship which has a movement allowance of 0 may still turn in place 60 degrees.

    Fouled ships (see below) cannot move or turn.

    A ship which turns into attitude D (into the wind) must immediately stop and may not move or turn for the remainder of the movement phase, even if it has movement factors remaining.

    Collisions and Fouling

    If two or more ships (enemy or friendly) are found to be in the same hex at the same time during movement, a collision takes place and all movement ends for all ships involved.

    Only one ship can actually remain in the collision hex. If the bow or stern of one ship was already in the hex when one or more other ships attempt to enter that hex, the ship occupying the hex remains. The other ship moves back to the hex it occupied just prior to the collision. If the stern of a ship enters a hex in a turning maneuver at the same point in the movement phase as the bow of another ship, the bow enters the hex. The turning ship moves back to its previous position. In all other cases that might occur, a random winner of the collision is chosen and the other ship has to move back.

    When a collision occurs, the rigging of the involved ships may entangle and be fouled, locking the ships together. For each collision, the game determines fouling automatically. Fouled ships are shown on the map joined by two black lines, as depicted in the image to the right.

    Fouled ships cannot move or turn in place, but can fire. On following turns, the game will automatically determine if fouled ships become unfouled. If so, the black lines are removed and the ships involved can move and turn normally.

    There is a 50-50 chance that collided ships will foul, and a one third chance that fouled ships will unfoul. Players can pick unfouling options in the move input window with the Action: pulldown list:

    • Unfoul All: The game will determine unfouling from all ships normally.
    • Unfoul Friend: Only attempt to unfoul from friendly ships, but remain fouled to enemy ships.
    • Unfoul Enemy: Only attempt to unfoul from enemy ships, but remain fouled to friendly ships.
    • Remain Fouled: Remain fouled to all ships.



    Ships may fire cannon broadsides at enemy ships in their field of fire and within range. Firing and damage determination is carried out automatically by the computer. Firing is simultaneous, so any damage received will not count against a ship until the following turn.

    Players may order their ship(s) to fire at the hull or rigging. Note that the move input window only has one area where this can be specified, so you cannot, for example, specify hull for one broadside and rigging for the other. Also, hull shots can only be ordered if the range is five hexes or less. Any shot at a range of six or more hexes will automatically be aimed at the rigging, regardless of what the player ordered.

    In some situations, players might not want to fire, usually to preserve an initial broadside so it will have greater impact later. To do so, there is a section of the move input window that reads "Fire if HDT is at least" followed by a pulldown list. Pick the minimum table you want. If the game calculates a HDT of at least that high for the ship in question, it will fire, otherwise it won't. Note this stays in place for following turns, so if you set it high one turn, you might need to reset it later to a lower threshold or your ship may not fire.

    Fire Eligibility

    Each ship has a right and left (in naval terminology, starboard and port) broadside. These broadsides are effective only from their side of the ship. Each broadside has a play, or area over which its cannons can reach. The maximum range of a broadside is ten hexes. The play of each broadside is shown in the diagram to the right.

    The two broadsides are independent; any blocking of one field has no effect, whatsoever, on the other field of fire.

    A ship may fire at a single enemy ship in a broadside's field of fire subject to two conditions:
    • The ship being fired upon must be the closest in number of hexes to the firing ship of all ships in the field of fire.
    • If the closest ship happens to be friendly or surrendered, the field of fire is blocked and the ship may not fire that broadside in that turn. If an enemy ship is the same distance away as a friendly or surrendered one, the enemy ship may be fired upon.

    If there is more than one ship which qualifies as the closest, the game chooses the one with the highest HDT. If multiple ships are the same distance and have equal HDTs, the game chooses one randomly.

    A ship may fire both broadsides during the same combat phase, if both sides are loaded.

    Carronades are a special type of gun. They can only be fired at ships within the two hex range. Carronade gun squares are added to the regular broadside capability.

    Fire Procedure

    The game automatically handles all the details of firing. The procedure is identical to the board game, so if you're already familiar with it, or not interested in the details, you can skip this section.

    The game does the following to calculate and resolve firing:

    • Count the number of hexes to the target by the shortest possible route. It may be to either the bow or stern hex, whichever is closest. This is the range.
    • Count the number of guns squares on the broadside firing. Do not include damaged gun squares in this count. Also, do not include carronade squares unless the range is two hexes or less.
    • Consult the range tables of the Hit Determination Table (HDT), cross gridding the number of gun squares firing with the range in hexes.
    • Continue to the right on that line and apply the HDT modifiers (see below). These are variables that will increase or decrease the hit table. All modifiers are cumulative. The Captured Ship and Optional Modifiers are not used.
    • If, after using all modifiers that apply, Table Zero or above has not been reached, the ship will not fire. This is noted in the event log as unable to fire.
    • If a table number higher than eight has been reached, use Table Eight, as this is the highest allowed.

    HDT Modifiers

    The following increase or decrease the damage potential by influencing the hit table used.

    • Crew quality. Crews can be either poor, green, average, crack or elite. Poor and green crews reduce the hit table while crack and elite crews add to it.
    • Rake. Raking will increase the hit table, depending on the number of gun squares firing. A ship is in a raking position anytime an opposing ship lies within the play of its broadside, but it lies outside the play of the opposing broadside.
    • Crew Losses. For each complete crew section lost, the hit table is decreased by one.
    • Initial Broadside. The first time a ship fires a broadside, it will be the most carefully packed and aimed that it will fire. Each ship has two initial broadsides, one for each side. An initial broadside increases the hit table as shown on the HDT, depending on the number of gun squares in the broadside.


    At this point, the game "rolls" a die by generating a random number which is cross-referenced to the hit table number determined above. Each hit table has a hull or rigging column. The die roll is applied to the appropriate column based on what the player ordered (hull or rigging) for the firing ship. Or, if the range is six hexes or more, the rigging column must be used.

    There are four types of hits: H (Hull), G (Gun), C (Crew), and R (Rigging). At the end of the turn, the number and type of hits are automatically marked off by the game in the appropriate sections of the target ship's chart. See below for a description of damage effects.

    All firing is reported on the game's event log along with how the Hit Determination Table (HDT) was calculated (number of guns, crew quality, rake bonus, etc.) and the die roll.

    Damage Effects

    • Hull Hits
      When all of a ship's hull squares have been marked off, that ship will surrender by striking her colors. The ship is considered to be in such danger of sinking that it cannot be sailed or the guns worked for the remainder of the game. The game will no longer allow a struck ship to be fired at. They are still afloat, so other ships can collide with them and even foul. Note that a partially damaged hull operates normally, so a ship with even one hull square remaining can move and fire as if it was undamaged. An example of a struck ship is to the right.

    • Crew Hits
      Crew hits are taken out of the first section until all of its crew squares are gone, then from the second section, and finally from the third section. For each crew section lost, the hit table (above) is reduced by one. When all crew squares on a ship are lost, the ship cannot move or fire. Whoever fired at it receives points accordingly. However, the ship is still a target and can be fired at.

    • Gun Hits
      Gun hits are marked off the side closest to the firing ship, although if gun squares on the closer side are all marked off, gun squares on the opposite side are marked off. If a ship has both carronades and guns on the hit side, carronades are hit first. When raked, both sides of the target ship are equidistant to the firing ship, so the game randomly picks which guns are lost. A ship's ability to fire will degrade as it loses guns, as shown in the Hit Determination Table (HDT).

      When all gun squares are marked off, the ship will surrender if an enemy ship manages to fire a broadside on it from an adjacent hex and there are no friendly ship of the same or larger class as the firing ship within ten hexes. This is known as surrender by firepower.

    • Rigging Hits
      The rigging squares are divided into either three sections (for ships of the line) or four sections (for frigates). All rigging hits are taken out of the first section until it is destroyed, then out of the second section, etc. Each complete rigging section marked off drops the ship's movement allowance by one hex in all attitudes to the wind. When all rigging sections are gone, the ship cannot move, but it can turn once each turn.

      If all rigging squares are marked off, the ship will surrender to the first enemy ship which can rake its hull if and only if no friendly ship of the same or larger class as the firing ship is within ten hexes. This is known as surrender by immobility.

      All of the above conditions must be met. As an example, if a 1st SOL rakes a ship that lost all of its rigging squares, another friendly 1st SOL must be within ten hexes to avoid the surrender. A 2nd SOL is not the same class as a 1st SOL, so a 2nd SOL or frigate will not qualify. Also, the shot must be a rake aimed at the hull. Since shots can be aimed at the hull only if the range is five hexes or less, the firing ship must be at least that close and order the hull to be the target. A shot aimed at the rigging may produce hull hits, but this does not qualify as a hull rake.


    Ships have their broadsides loaded in the beginning of the scenario. The first time each broadside is fired it is called an initial broadside and receives a bonus due to the extra care and time that went into loading it before the engagement started.

    A ship can load one complete broadside per turn. Only one side can be loaded, not both. A broadside can be loaded in the same turn that it is fired, and fired again during the following turn, or any later turn. Thus it is possible for the same broadside to be fired every turn.

    Reloading is handled automatically by the game according to orders given in the Load: pulldown list. Any side loads either broadside and is sufficient if only one broadside fires. Left or Right can be specified if the player wants one particular side to fire during the next turn. If both broadsides have fired and Any side is specified, the game picks one side randomly.

    In the simplified game, only roundshot may be reloaded.


    The points for a ship forced to strike are split evenly between the players involved in the final shot. For example, if one player has two ships involved and another has only one, they each receive half the point value of the struck ship.

    Note that in rare situations it is possible to receive points for causing more than one type of surrender. A ship which loses her crew is worth her full point value, but can still be fired upon. That same ship might strike later, again awarding her full point value to those in the final shot.


    Victory conditions depend upon the scenario. Any special conditions will be written in the appropriate scenario. General victory conditions will be split into two categories - those for single ship scenarios and those for multi-ship scenarios.

    Single Ship Victory Conditions

    Single ship scenarios end when one ship surrenders. The other player is the winner. If both ships surrender simultaneously, it is a draw.

    As soon as the victory conditions are met, the game ends and is listed on the player's My Games section of this site.

    Multi-Ship Victory Conditions

    Each ship has a point value in its status area. A player which forces the surrender of an enemy ship is awarded this point value. At the end of the scenario, all points are counted and the player still able to fight with the highest amount is declared the winner.

    Multi-Player Victory Conditions

    For games with more than one player on at least one side, each player on the winning side is credited with a win. The highest scorer's name is bolded on the list of finished games.


    If no one fires for several turns, the game will begin a five-turn timer which is highlighted in the game's event log. If neither side fires, or is able to fire, for the next five turns, the game will end. Victory conditions as listed above apply to determine the winner. In this case, the winning coalition is the one with the most victory points still able to fight.


    To avoid having games lasting forever, the game will automatically end after 200 turns, because of the darkness. Also in this case, the winning coalition is the one with the most victory points still able to fight.


    A player may surrender at any time using the move input window. In a two player game, the game ends and the other player is declared the winner, regardless of points scored so far. In a multi-player game, the surrendering player's ships remain on the map but can no longer be targeted. In either case, the surrendering player loses all points scored so far.


    Yuo can read the board games rules in other languages:

    ITALIAN Rules: http://www.arsm.it/articolo.asp?id=53.
    FRENCH Rules: http://naval.histofig.com/-Wooden-Ships-Iron-Men-.html

    Please keep in mind that the game you can play on this site is slightly diffrent from the original board games. The differences are explained above.


    This page was adapted from the original one by Longneck.

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