Wooden Wars: Play Testing and Ship Building

“They were setting off on an adventure, and Hornblower was only too conscious that it was his own fault.”

           - C.S Forester

The HMS Smeagol is hit by hot shot, causing a fire on deck!

So-  Campaign and convention season is now upon us, which means submissions for upcoming cons. We have two very good local Northern California conventions, both of which I love to run games and show off my toys, and hopefully generate some sales. 

The first convention is Kublacon- the Khan of cons!  It is a very family friendly convention, with a great location and even greater staff! I usually run 2-3 games at this con, with at least one of them being a Wooden Wars game. This year I’ve signed myself up for a bit of naval fun, because, I can’t stay away from the sea for too long!

Here’s the blurb for it. 
 Join in on the first ever Wooden Wars naval action, wherein the HMS Smeagol has been ordered to transport and support British troops in taking a French coastal fort. 

Wooden Wars (tm) is a miniatures game which harkens back to the days of H.G. Wells. Players command armies of sturdy wooden soldiers, cavalry and artillery (and now ships!) against each other on an expansive floor battlefield. Victory is achieved by knocking over all the opposing side's army by firing(tossing a small rubber balls)and melee(moving into contact), or by capturing key objectives like a star fort or the enemy's flag. This is a very visual and visceral game, where tactics, positioning, excellent hand-eye coordination and good old fashioned luck will win the field!

This is a great game for children age 8+ and families!

Great, fine, brilliant; now I have to build a ship, boats, shore battery and some guns with naval carriages… oh and some wooden wars sailors. Right. I should probably play test the viability of this as well.

The Design pitch

Play Testing

After getting a working hull of the Smeagol, (see below for more on this) I “white boxed” the rest and volunteered Young  commander Fossling and his first mate Lieutenant Malcom to give the scenario and more importantly the ship a shake down. This is a bit of a blow by blow as to how the process went.
The playtesters show they have the... ammo 

Design Pitch and Test Parameters

To get everyone on board as to what we are trying to achieve, I wrote up a design pitch on the chalk board.  This shows a general map layout; forces available and the game’s goals (take the fort/ Defend the fort).  
Next, I explained to the testers the goals of the play test:
See how viable a ship was in the game against rubber ball

  • Which parts are getting hit?
  •  Is the ship too vulnerable?
  •   Repair of ship an option?
Define how many turns the poor rowboats would have to row before hitting the beach

  •  Should ships have to slow down for firing? 
  •   How many guys left to still man a boat?
  • Test ship movement
  •   How fast per turn
  •  Damage to masts = ship speed? 
 And of course anything else that comes up

dis-mating in action! Also note green ball in the stern!

three quick shots showing mast being taken down.

Testing in action!

We did a half a dozen fort broadsides of two gun batteries (IE two balls per play tester) at the ship- with a 60% hit rate over all. Mind you, these are seasoned veterans to the Wooden Wars game.  We had balls strike the hull, balls land on the decks, and balls hit masts- it was Glorious!  The biggest, coolest piece of actual test feeback was when balls struck the hull. It rocked the ship a bit, and the shock sometimes knocked over soldiers on deck.  This of course was called out as splinter damage!
I love it when cool things that that happen!

Those poor rowboats!

Yeah, so the rowboats, being essentially a unit in column march (aka the domino formation) were, if hit, very vulnerable, and rightly so, to the cannon fire! It was considered that maybe the British side needed 6 instead of 5 rowboats, because if they can’t get at least 2 ashore they really don’t stand a chance of taking the fort.  (an alternate to this is I’m going to reduce the forts guns from 8 to 6).

Play Test Feedack

The play test went rather well, with lots of good physical and verbal feedback.  At one point, Lt. Malcom suggested that the fort should shoot flaming cannon balls.  I excited explained what “Hot shot” was, and we came up with rules for using it, and what it did when it hit. Cool!
Other feedback was that the ship should be able to repair to some extent, as ships have spare parts and carpenters, and a good crew.  My wooden Wars rules have an advance rule called “Reinforcement coins” that are allotted to generals, so I decided to incorporate those into the game as well. 

The HMS Smeagol

As mentioned I needed a ship for this scenario. I’ve based the HMS Smeagol off of the  brig, USS Eagle. I was going to do a sloop of war but realized the sail set up would just mostly be in the way. I’m sure I’ll screw up the sail and mast set up anyways, but this is going to be a ship at which rubber balls are hurled at it, not a display piece.  

Base deck and fitting for guns

I laid out and laser cut the deck, the glued that to foam. Made a few mock ups of the sides, at the same time made a naval carriage and cut those to see how many guns she could handle. 

After I had that figured, I cut the sides out of thick matt board and hot glued them on. The stern and rudder  are made of laser cut ply.  This not being my first ship rodeo, things went together without too much, erm, adjusting… and the hull is ready! 
Ship with parts. Hull sides are made of thick matt board that I laser cut.

Stern piece with ship name. Made the plate separate so I can paint it then glue it on.
For the ships wheel I used a wagon wheel and made handles on it. The wheel holder (insert nautical name here) is also laser cut. The wheel is designed such that it can be hit and knocked over. This will cause the ship to make an immediate turn 45 degrees either port or starboard during the game.
The masts for now are tinker toys mock ups. Still trying to figure if I want to build them in sections with magnets holding them at each section or just a full mast with magnets holding them in place on the ship until struck hard enough to fall over. More testing on this needed.

Tinker toy masts built by my son. They worked surprisingly well for play test purposes!

 Next play test will involve something else we've not done in Wooden Wars: firing onto a raised fort! 
Stay tuned for more thrilling adventures, and I'd love to hear your feedback and ideas!


  1. So looking forward to playing this game. It's going to be another beautiful field of battle. I see no reason to slow down when firing. Also think the Tinkertoy/mast solution might be close to the best. Skip the magnets and keep things simple. As you stated, this is a game for hurling rubber balls about.

  2. Looks great! I too am looking forward to more play testing and more importantly, seeing the game live! I agree that with the esteemed poster above, keep it simple. Tinker Toy masts fit w/Wooden Wars very well and you don't have one more thing to design for the con. You can always adjust your Fall plans based upon how things go at Kubla.

  3. Superb! I've been planning something similar using 1914 era light cruisers (think Emden v Sydney!) in the garden...

    Seeing your post rekindles that particular fire and reminds me that I'm not the only barking one out there!