Sunday 27 March 2022

Duel of the Ironclads*, March 9th 1862….Game Number 67

U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia exchanging point blank gunfire

Although a little late in the month to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads, I figured that elements of the second day of the action would make a great test bed for my 3 x 3 Portable Ironclad Wargame rules. It is very much a 3 x 3 x 3 action - a 3 x 3 grid occupied by 3 ships!

As mentioned previously the rules are an adapted version of the more formal set for the period I have developed using ideas from Bob Cordery’s book Gridded Naval Wargames and David Manley’s rules Dahlgren and Colombiad. The key differences between the two sets are as follows:

  • No critical hits until a ship reaches its critical damage point
  • Movement distances range from 1 to 4 and turning 45 degrees costs a movement point
  • A firing roll of 4, 5 or 6 equals a single hit point with each score modified where appropriate by comparing the firing value to the armour value
  • A roll of a 6, regardless of any firing/armour modifiers, entitles the firing player to a further d6 roll. A modified score of 7 plus means that two hit points are scored
  • Ship models are deployed in a single square rather than straddling two - this also means that firing arcs are simplified.
  • Movement distances and firing ranges are a third of those in the main rule set.
‘A willing foe and sea room’….The Royal Navy toast for Friday

The areas around the edge of the 3 x 3 grid can be used to add to the fog of war. In order to add a degree of uncertainty to the actions of one’s enemy I am allowing a ship to use those areas to disengage and reengage as the tactical situation warrants. You will notice that the rectangular areas cover all three squares of the central grid. A ship can enter one of these areas and as long as no enemy ships are in the same row as the rectangular zone it is able to redeploy as its move into any of the three squares in any facing after spending a turn there. The rationale behind this idea is that ships are able to gain some sea room for manoeuvring purposes away from the battle. There are restrictions though. Apart from the requirement to spend a game turn in the zone the ship may not fire or be fired upon. Also, should an enemy ship move into one of the adjacent squares the ‘zoned’ ship may not enter play via that square. In the event that the enemy player is able to deploy ships in all three adjacent squares then the ‘zoned’ ship will not be able to enter play at all.

All of these zones (including the corners although these are limited to a single entry square) can be designated as being entry or exit points as per the scenario conditions as well being either sides ‘baselines’. I hope that by using this idea it will enable players to expand their tactical decision making.

The Battle

The protagonists - (from left to right) the U.S.S. Monitor, the U.S.S. Minnesota and the C.S.S. Virginia


U.S.S. Monitor - Size: small, Speed: 1, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 4, Guns: 3/3 (Turret)

U.S.S. Minnesota - Size: large, Speed: 2, Hit Points: 12, Critical Point: 4, Armour: 0, Guns: 5/2 (P, S). 


C.S.S. Virginia - Size: medium, Speed: 1, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 3, Guns: 2/3 (FW), 2/3 (P/S), 2/3 (AW). Ram Bow.

Note: The two numbers after the rating for Guns are for the number of d6 rolled for firing and the penetration factor of the weapon(s) in question. The initials refer to the firing arcs - FW: Forward Wide, P, S: Port and Starboard and AW: Aft Wide. Turret is of course a turret!

Special Rules

The U.S.S. Minnesota is aground and is therefore unable to move for the duration of the action. No ships may enter the square occupied by the U.S.S. Minnesota which means that no ram attacks may be made against her. The U.S.S. Monitor is deployed in the manoeuvre rectangle behind the U.S.S. Minnesota. The C.S.S. Virginia enters the playing area from the corner diagonally opposite the U.S.S. Minnesota. Should the C.S.S. Virginia and the U.S.S. Minnesota both teach their critical point then the U.S.S. Monitor must beak off the action to provide assistance to the U.S.S. Minnesota.

Victory Conditions

The Confederate player wins if the U.S.S. Minnesota or the U.S.S. Monitor is sunk and the C.S.S. Virginia exits the playing area.  The Union player wins if the C.S.S. Virginia is sunk. All other results are a draw.

Starting Positions

U.S.S. Monitor lurked on the port side of the grounded U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the menacing shape of the C.S.S. Virginia heaves into sight.

Turn 1. There is no gunfire as yet. The Confederates are deemed to have the initiative on the first turn and so opt to move to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Monitor prepares to surprise the Rebels.

The situation at the end of the first turn.

Turn 2. The only firing is from the forward guns of the C.S.S. Virginia as neither of the Union ships are able to fire - the U.S.S. Monitor because she is in a manoeuvring zone and the U.S.S. Minnesota because her guns are broadside mounted so the C.S.S. Virginia is currently out of her firing arc. The C.S.S. Virgina has a forward facing battery rated at 2/3 (FW) meaning she rolls 2d6 to hit and has a penetration factor of 3. She rolls a 2 and a 3. To each of these scores the difference between the penetration factor of the firing gun and the armour factor of the target is applied - in this case the 3 of the C.S.S. Virginia deducts the 0 armour of the U.S.S. Minnesota - she was a wooden frigate and so very vulnerable to shell fire - meaning the scores are now 5 and 6 which equal two points of damage on the hapless Union ship.

Initiative - Union 4, Confederate 6. The wily Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first so as the intentions of the U.S.S. Monitor can be determined.

At the end of turn 2 the C.S.S. Virginia continues to head towards the U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the U.S.S. Monitor attempts to bar her way.

Turn 3. The U.S.S. Monitor opens fire against the C.S.S. Virginia. Her turret mounted artillery is rated as 3/3 whilst the armour of the C.S.S. Virginia is rated as 3 meaning that there are no modifiers applicable to the d6 roll. A 1 and 2 x 6s are thrown meaning that 2 points of damage have been scored AND the Union player is entitled to throw an additional 2d6! These come up as a 3 and 4 meaning the C.S.S. Virginia has taken 3 points of damage! She immediately returns fire on her previously unseen assailant. Her guns are rated 2/3 whilst the armour of the U.S.S. Monitor is rated at 4. This means that each of the 2d6 rolled will have a minus 1 modifier. A 5 and a 3 are rolled which are adjusted to 4 and 2 meaning that the ‘Cheese box on a raft’ sustains a single point of damage.

Initiative - Union 3, Confederate 4. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first.

Have the Rebels made an error? Instead of Turing to face the U.S.S. Monitor the Confederate ship moves to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota although in doing so will be exposed to the full broadside of the Union ship.

Turn 4. Once again the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia exchange shots. The Union 3d6 come up as 2, 3 and 6 with the extra roll being a 4. This means a further two points of damage on the Rebel ship. Her response was a 3 and a 4 each of which deduct 1 meaning no hits are scored. The rebel ship is in trouble.

Initiative - Union 5, Confederate 6. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union to move first.

The U.S.S. Monitor opts to move in such a way that she can cover the U.S.S. Minnesota whilst the C.S.S. Virginia decides against moving across the broadside of the grounded frigate.

Turn 5. Again the two ironclads exchange punishing point blank fire. The Union roll a 6, a 5 and 4 meaning 3 damage points and the extra d6 comes up a 2. The three points of damage are sufficient to move the Confederate ship beyond its critical point so a d6 roll will need to be made to determine her fate. Realising it is her final round of firing she instead opts to fire at the U.S.S. Minnesota. A double 6 comes up! As each d6 adds plus three making two scores of 9 this equates to four damage points AND a further two d6 rolls - these come up as a 2 and 3 which then become 5 and 6. The U.S.S. Minnesota has sustained 6 points of damage in all which also gets her to her critical point.

The C.S.S. Virgina rolls a 4 on the critical damage table and so loses gunnery factors to the value of 2. It could have been worse as any further hit points would be sufficient to sink her outright! The grounded U.S.S. Minnesota rolls a 3 which translates as engine damage. 

Initiative - Union 3, Confederate 4. Once again the Confederate opts to allow the Union player to move first.

In response to the grievous condition of the U.S.S. Minnesota after the battering she received at the hands of the C.S.S. Virginia as well as the fact that the Rebel ship appears to be breaking off the action, the U.S.S. Monitor is content to observe the enemy ship from a distance, her job done. She would never know just how close she came to sinking the Rebel ironclad outright.

A view of the action from behind the U.S.S. Minnesota - who was largely a spectator of the unfolding drama

Endgame. That was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning and no mistake. The result was even fairly close to what actually happened although the C.S.S. Virginia was very lucky to survive. Wooden ships are incredibly vulnerable and indeed, had the C.S.S. Virginia not been distracted by the U.S.S. Monitor then there is little doubt the U.S.S. Minnesota would have been destroyed. The U.S.S. Monitor proved to be a tough nut to crack - the armour rating of 4 certainly helped - and perhaps the Confederate may have fared better had she chosen to use her ram. As it was she was comprehensively out shot by the Union ship. All three ships would live to fight another day.

Although it did not look like a lot happened in the game it certainly did not feel that way as every decision seemed to be magnified in terms of the immediacy of its effect.

Thoughts on a 3 x 3 naval game

I have to say that I really enjoyed this. Using such a small playing area really makes you have to think about what you need to do to achieve your specific aim. The Confederate plan was to engage the U.S.S. Minnesota at point blank range off her bow thereby avoiding any return fire. The U.S.S. Monitor put a stop to that but the Rebel ship essentially dithered in the face of two threats and so nearly paid a heavy price. It was all very quick and dirty and indeed, the longest part of the action has been writing it up.

I like the focus on the action this concept gives you and whilst it is not the be all and end all of naval wargame techniques it certainly falls nicely into the edited highlights category. For a challenging quick fix the rules worked out really nicely and to be honest some of the ideas I used for this set will filter back into the parent version. Using the border areas - although only briefly in this case - adds to the tactical decision making which will make for a more ‘rounded’ game rather than just the close range knife fight. 

I shall certainly experiment with this further - the rules need a little tidying up - and plan to use the system for late 19th century Colonial style gunboat actions (Madasahatta here we come!) and even for smaller actions up to the Great War. There is no reason why this concept could not be used for pretty much any pre 20th century naval action and it is certainly something I shall look towards going forwards.

The crude piece of plywood I used as a playing area will now be pimped into something rather more suitable and I will also be looking to get the last of the ACW ships finished. There are also implications for the playing area for the parent rule set as the use of a single square for a model rather than using two certainly makes life easier in many ways!

*Duel of the Ironclads 

From the pen of the prolific Mr Angus Konstam - this Osprey hardback is a compilation of the Campaign Series title on the Battle of Hampton Roads and the two Vanguard titles - Union Monitor and Confedrate Ironclad.

The title of this post was, ahem, borrowed from the title of the above book that I have in my library. Angus Konstam has written extensively on naval matters for Osprey and his ACW selection covers a vast array of ship types. All are highly recommended.


Mark Cordone said...

I love your ship models and this looks to have produced a fun game. It hadn't occurred to me to try this for navel actions but it seems to have worked very well. This has got me to thinking your idea could also be adapted to science fiction battles between star ships as well.

'Lee. said...

Great to see you able to find some relaxing hobby time again David. Hope everything is going well.


Simon said...

This looks really good. Are the adapted rules you are using available anywhere?



Archduke Piccolo said...

David -
You have sure demonstrated 'proof of concept'! I'm wondering whether to try out my Turcowaz and Hellenican Navies ... I'll have to come up with stats for the various vessels. Methinks it would be quite good for actions in confined waters rather than the open sea - such as WW1 naval operations in the Straits of Dardanelles.

Meanwhile, I seem to recall I have some cardboard cogs floating around somewhere in the house, as well as that dromon...

Food for thought, but I'd better for now to get on with my 'Byzantiad' campaign...
Well done, that man!

David Crook said...

Hi Mark,

Thank you old chap! I enjoyed building the models and have plenty of ideas for others so will be busy for a while methinks! The concept would work very nicely with starships (and yes, I have some on the stocks!) and I am even thinking about aerial games as well….

Plenty of fun to be had methinks!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi ‘Lee,

I have to say it felt really good to get some ‘me time’ in whilst the offspring were spoiling their mum for Mother’s Day! We are getting into a kind of routine but it is a long haul for sure.

All the best old chap and take care,


David Crook said...

Hi Simon,

Thank you kindly sir! The rules are currently in the form of a few pages of roughly scribbled notes but I am in the process of bringing a semblance of order to the proceedings, albeit rather slowly. They will be available at some point though.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Archduke,

Thank you old chap and I certainly shared your scepticism about trying this out! Any naval period where the fighting was at close range or, as you pointed out, in a confined space would work well enough. Since I seem to be looking more and more at these types of actions the concept will have a lot of mileage for me. I am thinking about late Colonial gunboats and indeed, the Lake Tanganyika campaign has a certain whimsical charm.

Then of course there is the siren call of Madasahatta….

Do cardboard cogs float? Asking for a friend…

All the best and thanks once again,


Simon said...

Thanks David. Look forward to seeing them!

David Crook said...

Hi Simon,

So will I!

All the best,


Simon said...

Remember the 80% project completion rule!

Kaptain Kobold said...

Gorgeous scratchbuilds, and probably the best application of the 3x3 system I've seen so far! Well done.

David Crook said...

Hi Simon,

80%? If only, if only….;-)

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there Kaptain Kobold,

Thank you old chap - you are too kind! I was pleasantly surprised how well the rules worked out in such a small area - I reckon anything pre 20th century would work and also starships….

I just need to polish the rule and it s good to go.

All the best and thanks once again,


Aly Morrison said...

A lovely looking game David…
The whole thing looks very stylish… I think you are on to a winner here.

All the best. Aly

David Crook said...

Hi Aly,

Cheers old chap! I need to do something with the boards though….

All the best,