Simple ACW ironclad rules

With my new interest in ACW naval wargaming, I thought I would try out a few different rules with a scenario based (very loosely!) on the CSS Arkansas running down the Yazoo River to get to Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.  This is where she was met by the USS Carondelot, Tyler and Queen of the West – the latter being a ram.

This post will describe a very quick game based heavily on the ACW rules published in Bob Cordery’s excellent book:

Gridded Naval Wargames

I really like the use of grids as it makes movement and ranges for firing so much quicker and easier.  I used a simple square grid but broke the cardinal rule and allowed diagonal movement with no penalty – ie you could move just as far as orthogonally.    Clutching at straws, I guess I could justify this on the grounds that there are strange and unpredictable eddies and currents in the Mississippi!

The main changes I made to the rules were for firing.   Here I was making a couple of assumptions:

  1.  Although some of the guns in use had a very long range (eg 11 inch Dahlgrens), in practice, most shooting was done at much shorter ranges.   Ths means I could argue that both light, medium and heavy guns could shoot at the same ranges but with different results.
  2.  I also wanted to cater for the very different ship profiles that existed.    It was not unusual for a vessel to have as much, or even more, firepower in the bow or stern arcs as they did firing to port or starboard.

To develop the profiles, I used David Manley’s supplement to his Dahlgren and Colombiad rules,  By Sea and By River:

by sea and by river

This book has information on most of the ships and gunboats in the ACW.   As an aside, it also has a very nice solo campaign system, which I would like to try sometime.

Inspired by this, I gave the ships involved in the scenario the following characteristics:

CSS Arkansas – 12 Flotation points, Critical stage at 4 points, Ram, 2 movement points and medium guns in bow and stern, heavy to port and starboard.

USS Carondolet – 12 Flotation, 4 critical, 2 Movement and heavy guns bow and stern and medium port and starboard.

USS Tyler – 6 Flotation, 2 critical, 2 movement points + free turn, medium guns bow, port and starboard, no guns in stern quarter.

USS Queen of the West 6 Flotation, 2 critical, 2 movement and 1 free turn, ram and light guns bow, port, starboard and stern.

The sequence of the game turn followed Bob’s rules – Decide activation order, simultaneous shooting and then movement and ramming.  I decided activation by blindly giving a chit to each ship numbered 1 – 4,  with that being the order they moved in.

Shooting was with variable numbers of D6, depending on the range:

Range 1 – 5 D6, range 2 – 4D6, range 3 – 3D6, Range 4 – 2D6, range 5 – 1D6.

Light guns scored a hit on a 6, medium guns scored a hit on a 5 and 2 hits on a 6 if a subsequent roll of the die was 4,5,6 else 1 hit.  Heavy guns scored a hit on a 4,5 and 2 hits on a 6.   1 D6 was subtracted if the ship was at critical stage (ie 1/3 of original flotation points.   Each hit caused the loss of one flotation point.

I pinched the idea of the “All at Sea” table from Nick Wright’s Galleys and Galleons rules.

So – when a ship reaches critical point throw a D6:

1  –  Crew loses heart and heads away from the enemy as quickly as possible.

2 –    Confusion reigns – opponent may move the ship legally wherever he/she wants.

3 –    Panic – ship turns hard to port and moves one grid forward.

4 –    Panic – as above but to starboard.

5.     Wrong target – the ship fires at nearest friendly ship if it can – otherwise treat as 6 below.

6.      Don’t panic and carry on regardless!

If a ship moves into a grid containing another ship (enemy or friendly), then throw 4 D6 if the moving ship has a ram, otherwise 2D6 – 4.5 = 1 hit, 6 = 2 hits.   The moving ship also rolls a D6 – lose 1 flotation point on a roll of 6 if equipped with a ram, if no ram – lose 2 flotation points on a 6 and 1 point on a 4 or 5.

So, how did the game go with the rules above?

Here is the initial set up:

Yazoo start of game
Union ships to the left, CSS Arkansas to the right.   The “Muddy Waters” river is brown – for some reason the pale green land has come out pale blue, which is a bit confusing in a naval wargame!


In Turn 1, all the ships advanced towards each other.  Queen of the West used her free move to point to starboard.

Yazoo end of turn 1
End of Turn 1

In Turn 2, all ships were still out of 5 grid max range.   As the Union ships advanced, CSS Arkansas decided to attempt her dash down river through the narrow channel by the island.

yazoo end of turn 2
End of Turn 2

At the beginning of Turn 3, ships were now in range for the simultaneous shooting phase:

Queen of the West shoots at Arkansas – range 3 so 3 D6 needing sixes as equipped with light guns –   3,3,5 so no hits.

Tyler shoots at Arkansas, Range 3 so 3 D6 needing 5 or 6 as medium guns.   1,2,4 so no hits again.

Carondolet fires on Arkansas – Range 3, 3D6 needing 4,5,6 as heavy guns – 5,5,1 so 2 hits.

Arkansas decides to target the Tyler as she is in the path of her planned escape.    Range 3, 3D6 and needing 5 or 6’s as she has medium guns in the bow.  A deadly roll of 5,5,6 meaning 4 hits, which takes Tyler down to critical state.  (The score of 6 was followed by a roll of 5 to make it 2 hits rather than just one.) This means the Tyler has to make a roll on the All at Sea Table.  A roll of 4 means she has to turn 45 degrees to starboard and move one grid forward – so she runs aground on the south side of the channel!

In the movement phase, Queen of the West and Carondolet turn towards the Arkansas while the latter continues her rush for the island passage.

yazoo end of turn 3
Position at end of Turn 3.

So far the activation order hasn’t been important but this changes in Turn 4.  Unfortunately,  Arkansas receives a higher numbered chit than the Queen of the West.  Not good news as Queen of the West is a ram heading straight for her!

But first there is the shooting phase:

Carondolet rolls 4 D6 as the range is 2 grids.   1,3,5,6 = 3 hits reducing the the Arkansas to 7 flotation points.

Queen of the West is also at 2 grid range and needs 6’s – 1,2,2,4 – no hits.

Tyler is at 1 grid range but loses a dice for being in critical condition and 1,1,4,5 results in another hit on the Arkansas, now at 6 flotation points.

The Arkansas decides that the Queen of the West and her ram are the main threat but a roll of 1,2,3,3, results in no hits.

In the movement phase, the Carondolet moves first and moves astern of the Arkansas to give the Queen of the West (the next to move) a clear route to ram the Arkansas.  This duly happens.   Equipped with a ram, the Queen of the West rolls 4D6 – 1,2,3 6 resulting in the loss of 2 more flotation points, reducing the brave Arkansas to critical point at 4 flotation points.   A roll of 4 on the All at Sea Table means she turns to starboard in a panic and runs aground on the north shore of the passage.   Her dash to Vicksburg fails!

yazoo end of turn 4
Position at the end of Turn 4

My thoughts?   The game did seem quite quick but it was 3 ships against one.  I need to go back and check that the shooting isn’t too powerful.  This was a time when ironclads could pound away at each other for hours – but that would make for rather a boring game!

I’d welcome comments!

I am planning to re-run the scenario with an adaption of Galleys and Galleons and David Manley’s Dahlgren and Colombiad rules in the next few weeks.





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