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"What rules play like Wooden Ships and Iron Men" Topic

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rhacelt26 Jun 2012 5:35 a.m. PST

Back in the late 70's we used to play a board game called Wooden Ships & Iron Men. We used small metal miniatures instead of the cardboard pieces. We had a great deal of fun with this game. I am thinking of getting back into gaming this period and was wondering witch rule sets are most like Wooden Ships and Iron Men. On I side note does anyone still use the rules from Wooden Ships & Iron Men for miniature rules.

taskforce5826 Jun 2012 5:40 a.m. PST

WS&IM is still a fine game, although now I prefer a newer boardgame on the subject – Flying Colors by GMT Games.

Lots of pictures with Flying Colors played with miniatures here:

Timmo uk26 Jun 2012 5:49 a.m. PST

I used to enjoy WS&IM, one of my all time favourites. How does Flying Colors differ? More detail perhaps? Both games look great with miniatures. Let's hopes Ares get there ready made line out some time soon.

I've been trying WS&IM with card activation lifted from Kiss Me Hardy and I like it even more, however the boarding rules still don't really work for me.

45thdiv26 Jun 2012 5:51 a.m. PST

Close action ver 6 was very close to ws&im. I use to play it a lot but that was a very log time ago. There is a new version of close action you might look into.


A Twiningham26 Jun 2012 5:52 a.m. PST


I haven't played Flying Colors, but you can download the living rules from GMT here:

Martin Rapier26 Jun 2012 5:53 a.m. PST

WS&IM started life as a minis game before AHGC ported it to hexes.

We liked them so much we did a 3D space version (LOL!) to play out battles from Asimovs Foundation series.

If you still like them, then no reason not to go on using them.

Dynaman878926 Jun 2012 6:02 a.m. PST

> How does Flying Colors differ?

The rules download available online will show the difference, but in a nutshell FC is geared toward fleet actions and is much simpler then WS&IM.

A Twiningham26 Jun 2012 6:14 a.m. PST

Flying Colors also has an expansion "Serpent of the Seas" which focuses on sfrigate actions. The rules for that one are here: link

taskforce5826 Jun 2012 6:15 a.m. PST

I've played both FC and WS&IM, and I think the complexity is about similar between the two, maybe just a tiny bit more complex with WS&IM because of the plotted movement.

I've never played or looked at the rules for Clash of Arms' Close Action, but from what I've heard it is more complex than the other two.

Old Slow Trot26 Jun 2012 6:36 a.m. PST

Used to play WS&IM years back with the minis(1/1250 scale). Favorite class,British 74 gunner.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2012 8:15 a.m. PST

WS&IM started as a miniatures game, modified by AH for board game and re-modified back to a miniatures game called Ship O' the Line by Battleline.

Sundance26 Jun 2012 8:35 a.m. PST

I've played WS&IM and Close Action. Again, they are comparable with small differences in how various things are handled, but I would say that CA is a little more complicated in some ways. I haven't played Flying Colors.

Kevin in Albuquerque26 Jun 2012 10:01 a.m. PST

In our local Gentlemen Pensioners group one fellow went and created his own hex board (2" hexes) so that we could game WSIM with 1:1200 ships. Then he proceeded to build a bunch of ships and wrecks made of wood, paper and color laser prints for decks, sails and hulls. Nice thing about WSIM is that the game is very easy to chrome up. Gaming next Thursday a French breakout from Toulon harbor with a rain squall and tornado to deal with, in addition to the normal cannonballs.

I've got some picts of earlier games, but nothing posted online to link here ….

Ashurman26 Jun 2012 10:02 a.m. PST

Ship O' the Line, as mentioned, was the direct miniatures equivalent rules set. A print run was done by "Juggernaut" in the early 80's, but I have no idea what has happened with the production/printing rights since then. I think I once read on TMP that the rights reverted back to the original author.

They were a lot of fun, not too complex…maybe needed a quick update or 2 to match the vastly larger information pool now. Somewhere in storage I still have both an old original print run copy and several of the "Juggernaut" versions…

highlandcatfrog26 Jun 2012 10:58 a.m. PST

Ship O' the Line is what you're after. It can be found on ebay occasionally, usually in the $10 USD – $20 USD range. I've been playing it for over 30 years and still love it.

Mark Barker26 Jun 2012 12:27 p.m. PST

The author Ship o' the Line (S Craig Taylor) very recently passed away – I agree it is an excellent ruleset and well worth tracking down.

It was developed by Battleline into WS&IM and then ported across to Avalon Hill.

Flying Colors/Serpents is built to be a faster playing game, no si-move plotting, no gun or rigging section losses, in fact no paperwork at all if you want as all damage etc can be recorded via counters.

Where it is different is that Flying Colors has a command and control system based on commander radius (limited) or formations (unlimited) which forces you to keep the lines historical.

Flying Colors definitely plays the faster of the two games and I have played it almost exclusively since it came out, but WS&IM in all of its versions is still an absolute classic.

Best regards,

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

Timmo uk26 Jun 2012 1:20 p.m. PST

Thanks for the links.

sillypoint26 Jun 2012 4:29 p.m. PST

Our group used to play hex less WSIM, now play Trafalgar. Big glossy book, only 27 pages of actual rules, suited our needs as we only tend to play it 2-3 times a year, our ambition is to replay Trafalgar (it's simple enough to play really big games), when we are actually able to remember all the rules (aah, old age).

Gunslinger26 Jun 2012 9:23 p.m. PST

I always felt Heart of Oak played like WSIM.

rhacelt27 Jun 2012 5:25 a.m. PST

Thanks for all the input. I am starting to think I should just dig out my old copy of Wooden Ships & Iron Men and start from there.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2012 5:29 a.m. PST

I have a house game called "Hearts of Iron and Ships of Oak", which is an evolution from parent games WoodenShips&IronMen, Ships0fTheLine and HeartsofOak. With a few more cycles of learning, I will put in a a free games list. If you want a look, drop me a line.

Bohemund27 Jun 2012 7:06 a.m. PST

Roy, a twin cities fellow, War Artizan, has developed a great game played with paper ships, Away Boarders. It is really fun if your looking to start fresh. It is simple, elegant, and lots of fun.

Timmo uk27 Jun 2012 9:37 a.m. PST

I've read a bit more about Flying Colours and it does sound good.

JPKelly27 Jun 2012 12:12 p.m. PST

Ship O the Line & WSIM were both written by Craig Taylor & are the same ruleset, one for hexes & one for miniatures.
Personally I would recommend getting David Manley's Form Line of Battle or Heart of Oak, both from Wargame Vault. It is Warm Work & Sea War 1805 are also worth consideration, also from Wargame vault. One of those sets should make most everyone happy, the last 2 being the simpler ones.

John Kelly

Mark Barker28 Jun 2012 3:11 a.m. PST


I did the historical research for Serpents of the Seas (Volume 2 of Flying Colors), so I am biased. Yes, it is good :-)

I've written a series of articles and additional scenarios for GMT's magazine C3i, including an analysis of the Trafalgar campaign and a more historical lay-out for Trafalgar.

C3i #25 includes a overall review of the system for those interested in having a go. A review of the magazine contents is on You Tube.

YouTube link

The Flying Colors article is about 5 minutes in, the reviewer says nice things. (I don't suppose I would have posted the link if he didn't !)

Best regards,

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2012 4:47 p.m. PST

To keep with the original question, if you want WSIM or a derivative there are only three I am aware of:


Close Action – A direct development of WSIM. Much more detailed and impracticable for fleet actions.

Flying Colors/Serpent of the Seas – Most playable of the three. I recommend this set the most, however the gunnery charts are clunky.

There is also a free hex game Beat To Quarters which is fun and simple. Other than that, all other games mentioned really have different mechanics entirely.

Attila the Pun28 Jun 2012 5:36 p.m. PST

I have played both "Wooden Ships & Iron Men" and "Ship of the Line." As previously stated, they are essentially the same game except in the use of a hex map and cardboard counters for the former. I still think they are very fine games for single ship duels and small squadron actions, but they do tend to bog down for any kind of fleet action, even small ones.

jowady30 Jun 2012 7:11 a.m. PST

Close Action is a great game but its actually designed for one player, one ship, which makes fleet actions difficult. You can command more than one ship, but it bogs down if you command more than say three. I see Hearts of Oak listed, great sailing rules but combat rules are a disappointment. The hull of a Constitution class frigate for example is no stronger than that of a Pomone class. Ship O' The Line and WSIM both still hold up, the great thing about SoL was all the additional ships from countries like Portugal and Russia. Rod Langton has rules to go along with his great 1/1200th scale line of ships, Signal Close Action IIRC) but I have never played them.

combat wombat02 Jul 2012 10:27 a.m. PST

flying colors is a great set. I like Form line of battle by David manley for minis.

JPKelly04 Jul 2012 10:46 a.m. PST

Played Form Line of Battle yesterday. It is a superb fighting sail game. It plays quickly & allows one to adjust the level of detail. It & perhaps a more beer & pretzels set like Its Warm Work should cover most evry fighting sail need.

John Kelly

GROSSMAN04 Jul 2012 12:58 p.m. PST

Wooden Sips Iron Men.

surdu200516 Aug 2012 3:17 p.m. PST

The miniatures version of Wooden Ships and Iron Men was called Ship of the Line. It's almost exactly the same game, but for miniatures. I still enjoy it.

Lately, my club has been playing Fire as She Bears, which is quite fun and allows games with slightly larger fleets.

Buck Surdu

Major William Martin RM16 Aug 2012 9:37 p.m. PST

Started with WSIM and then migrated to Ship O' the Line. Worked with Craig for a brief time when he was with Yaquinto/Battleline and he supported many tourneys that we ran with the rules. I still play them and tracked down several sets for my group a couple years ago.

Very easy to scale to larger scale models also. I even used hand-carved balsa frigates about 3" long as an intro tool to teach new players, 1 on 1 and 2 on 2. We also played tourneys with pointed-out squadrons of between 4 and 7 ships with no problem, but the game was still 1 player vs 1 player.

If it isn't broken, I don't replace it.

Sir William the Aged

Stalkey and Co17 Feb 2020 10:03 p.m. PST

I have to say…if you enjoyed WSIM, go ahead and dig it up. Ok, maybe not for huge fleet actions, but…

My original game club played their version of this regularly for years. We always finished games in one evening, handling several ships apiece. I vividly remember manipulating the 6:1 odds on the boarders table with a Spanish 120 or something and seizing a British 74! He failed to make defensive boarding parties, quite understandable since he was focused on destroying my ship thru gunnery.

Ah, good times!

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