David Sullivan and I were attracted to ACW naval miniatures when we first met back in the early nineties. We drove north to The Sentry Box hobbies in Vancouver B.C. and picked up some of the Richard Houston 1/1200 miniatures and were off to the races. We were immediately attracted to the old Yaquinto rules. We played the rules right out of the box and bought some hex mats for movement and fire.
Of course we could never get hex mats large enough, and it seemed silly to play miniatures on a board game board. We tried other rules as well. Age of Iron, Hammering Iron, and Smoke On the Water are a few of the titles we tried. I hated ‘em all. Though Ironclads is a rule set firmly rooted in its 1970’s origins, David and I just love ‘em.
When Toby Barrett and his 1/600 Thoroughbred miniatures appeared on the scene in the later 90’s we were immediately hooked. But it was clear that the hex mats had to go. Ships now took up two hexes minimum, some were three or more. The only way to make it work was if we went hex free and made the required adaptations necessary to make Ironclads a true miniatures game. I sold my hundred or so 1/1200 ships and concentrated what has grown to about a hundred 1/600 vessels. I’ve never regretted the change.
Just to be clear, Toby purchased the rights to the Yaquinto rules some time ago. It was his intent to take the original board game rules and make them a miniature game. It didn’t happen. My hope is that it could still happen some day. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. These rules are a stopgap, a set of house-rules we have inflicted on our friends for decades, and we’re happy to share them with you if and until the worthy Mr. Barrett comes up with something better. And look, they are yours for free. Enjoy them, or not.
You cannot play these rules without the original Ironclads game. The game was published by Yaquinto in 1979. It was republished by Excalibur games in 1993. In order to play our hex-free game you must have the rules, ship cards and charts. We are simply providing a means of abandoning the hex-grid and making Ironclads a true miniatures game.
The big changes:
The biggest changes in the game are to speed, gun ranges and turning because in the original game rules, these are determined by hexes.
Speed: We agreed that speed would be represented as they were in the rules. One point of speed would be represented by one inch of movement.
Fire: This was a really tricky one. Our problem had to do with scale and the size of the ships we were playing with. Some vessels with lighter guns, say the naval 32pdr, would have difficulty firing the length of their ship, if we stuck with one hex=one inch rule. We agreed to double the gun range. Yes, that gave some ships with really big rifles an advantage, but if we designed interesting scenarios we could avoid exacerbating this problem
- Our house practice is to measure from the gun to closest part of the target. Your house rule could be different-maybe that’s stack to stack, or bridge to bridge, but using a generic firing point messes with ranges in our estimation.
- We also use the firing templates provided in the game by the gun if there is a question. Again, the scale of the models makes it a challenge to use a generic interpretation of what can fire and what can’t. A gun by gun determination works best.
- To determine the range and penetration factor on the ship card, just run the tape measure out from the firing gun to the nearest point of the target. Get an accurate measure. If your tape reads 24” that will be equal to 12” on your ships card. If it is more than 24”, say 24 ¼ “ you’ll have to round up
Calculate penetration factors normally, just keep track of the range changes, and play on normally.
Example: Remember the 11” Dahlgren now has a maximum range of 36” with changes in penetration at 24” and 12”. The 7 “ 2B Brooke rifle now has a maximum range of 102”, with changes in penetration at 28” and 14”
Turning: In many respects turning is the most difficult of the changes. We all know the Union ships tended to have better engines and turning gear than the Confederate ships, but that was certainly not uniformly the case. In the game that is reflected by the number of hexsides a ship is allowed to turn at a certain rate of speed. I would argue these ratings are fairly subjective.
David suggested using turning circles for ships, and he created these on a scale of A to I. The smaller the circle, the nimbler the ship. “A” would be a tug or other small ship. I would be the Virginia with her balky engines and bad turning gear. Remember, in the rules and on the ship cards, the faster a ships goes, the slower it is to turn, so as you’re writing up your ship, be careful to take a look at the movement line, where the turning changes are and rate your ships accordingly. Do your best to make a good faith effort and your partners will be fine.
As I have said many times in many other places, Ironclads is my most played set of rules. I love the period and I love the game. Many complain about the charts, that it’s quite fiddly and mired in its 1970’s roots. I love it because it respects the period and this small-fry naval war so different than what was happening in the rest of the world in the 1860’s.
It doesn’t always get everything right. That’s the risk one runs of trying to rate every aspect of every ship from engine capacity to rear armor to each and every gun. If you run across an error, fix it. Plenty of words and photographs are shed on the American Civil War at sea, don’t hesitate to use them. However, if I had a choice I’d choose The Old Steam Navy, volumes 1 and 2, by Donald S. Canney, which covers most of the Union navy leading up to the war. It does leave out sailing vessels such as the Cumberland. For the Confederates, I’d go back to Canney for The Confederate Steam Navy.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some fine sets of rules out there. If I was doing a really large game, like Mobile or New Orleans, I would use David Manley’s fine Iron and Fire rules. I’ve also played a dozen or so games of Sail and Steam Navies and there is a lot to recommend them. But in the end, I just enjoy Ironclads more, and so do my friends—that’s what counts.
I’ve provided links to two useful items. The first is a file for David’s turning circles. It’s a four page .pdf document. Print ‘em on cardstock and they’ll last forever.
In addition I provided a blank log sheet. If your hand-writing is as wretched as mine and either can’t fit it in the space provided or you can’t tell your “4” from a “9” this is really handy. It’s in Word and easily edited. I also have taken to scanning the ship configuration from the ship cards and replacing the outline on this form because honestly, who draws?
If you give it a try, I hope you have fun with it. Let me know how it goes.