Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wooden Ships and Mare Bellicus

Back in November, I was puttering around the blogosphere, as I am wont to do, looking at what interesting, and sometimes not-so-interesting, ideas that my fellow wargamers were working on. I ran into this post on scratch built pre-dreadnoughts at Lead Gardens, which gave me an idea. Nicely dovetailing with that, I saw this from Bob Cordery, with his Portable Wargame pre-dreadnought naval rules. This icing on the cake for my idea was helped by the Old Admirals blog. None of these blogs should be overlooked as they are chock full of inspiration.

So, my issue was this:

I wanted to get my sons some wargames, but with an extremely tight budget, I had little to work with. So, after going through the above sites, and utilizing the weekly 50% to 60% off coupons from Michaels, I hit on the solution to my dilemma.

Using the idea at Lead Gardens, I found these at Michaels.
 A bag of 1000 assorted pieces retails for just under $8, but with my coupon, I got two bags for less than $7. I also got two packets of beads, with coupons, for less than $5. They go for much more (over $13) on Amazon, so avoid that trap. I had white glue and paint brushes and my sister had a large box of crafting paints. I also had straight pins, wooden matches, and I bought an 1/8 inch wooden dowel for under 80 cents. Now, the above picture does not show all of the shapes in the bag as there are at least two other shapes in the mix that are long oblongs, sort of like ship hulls. I turned out that we had plenty of wooden toothpicks for the funnels, so the dowel was not a needed purchase.

With the above supplies, and using the Portable Wargame rules, my project was ready to be presented as a Christmas gift (this was made possible because of the kind folks who supplied the other gifts).

Wanting to start with dead simple rules, the Portable Wargame naval rules fit the bill perfectly. I used the base hull points as the point costs for the individual ships, giving my sons and I each 100 points to build a fleet. Due to the wood pieces being of finite quantity, and of roughly five useable sizes, I removed the torpedo boats and coastal defense battleships from the fleet rosters.

Here are my lads busily calculating their fleets.
I had given the group a short briefing on the characteristics of each ship type, followed by a run down of what a mixture of ships might be capable of, plus the relative construction rates for the types. Essentially, I figured 100 points to be about a task force worth of points, or perhaps a squadron of pre-dreadnoughts.
Then, I described how the ships might be constructed, armed, and included ideas for positioning ship's components. After that, I let them loose to design their ship classes. The  above shapes are tracings of the wood pieces, of different sizes. With the uses for each.
  Note, you can see how one of my sons had designed, on paper, the look of his ships. These pictured are destroyers, as we are doing all the classes, one at a time, together.
The shipbuilders at work, with the materials ready at hand.

One class of DD, the small beads represent barbettes.

These are my own destroyers, the small beads are represent small, quick firing, guns. I later added torpedo tubes in the bow, and a single mast just behind the control room, in the bead located there.I drilled the hole for the funnel completely through the ship, giving both it and the ship more strength. This wood does tend to crack, so small pilot holes were drilled with a pin vise first, which prevented all but one piece from cracking, but that one piece was saved.

Here is the shipyard at the end of the night's work. The white beads with letters are for 5-6" gun  turrets, which will be using also on our cruisers for 8-9" guns.

The nice things about these rules is the exact components don't matter to the game, just the ship type. This meant my sons could design their own ships according to their individual tastes, but have them all be equal in capabilities. I have their fleet rosters, which I will post over on Mare Bellicus soon.

We are also working on our zombie miniatures. We are spending a portion of our free time between each project, trying to advance them both enough to play by next weekend. I will be posting about the zombie game within a couple of days.


  1. Very cool stuff! Great to see such creativity.

  2. It has proven to be well thought of by my sons, as well,. They want to finish their fleets and get to fighting. Once past the 1st, the family events and visitors will no longer delay the work in the 'yards.

  3. I was very pleased to see that my small efforts have been partially responsible for such an industrious output.

    I look forward to seeing the finished fleets in action.

    All the best,


    1. I appreciate the kindness of your reply. Your own blogged efforts have surely expanded my appreciation for a period which I had previously ignored. That my sons can join me in this adventure is a boon that cannot be repaid.

      As to the portable naval wargame, it fills the need for simple, but not simplistic rules, that can be easily and quickly grasped. I am already working on campaign rules to help generate the naval battles.