Designer: Clifford Von Wickler
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Date Released: 1931
Number of Players: 2
Age Range: 8 and up
Setup Time: About 5 minutes
Play Time: Around 30 minutes
Originally a pencil and paper game known by various names, Battleship became the renowned game we know today in 1967 when Milton Bradley traded pencil and paper grid for plastic grids with holes where players could place pegs to record their guesses.
A game of Battleship begins with each player deploying their ships (which vary in lengths of 2 to 5 squares) secretly on a square grid. Once their ships are deployed, players take turns shooting at the other player’s grid by calling out a location. The defending responds with whether or not the turn player “Hit” or “Missed” one of their ships.
Players deduce where their enemy’s ships are through deductive reasoning and previous shots. The first player to sink all of their opponent’s ships wins.
Battleship is a classic modern tabletop game that’s seen its share of rule changes and promotional tie-ins. It even had an action movie, starring Rihanna, based on it in 2012.
The core gameplay is solid – I’ve even played some of the pencil and paper variants of the game – and it has inspired numerous games that have come after it. The how many did I get right versus how many did I get wrong mechanic gets a twist in games like Mastermind of the 1970s. Battleship even popularized the secret unit deployment game mechanic which was used with great success in 1947’s Stratego. Further still, a game’s duration doesn’t take long which was odd for games of the time. See Monopoly.
But Battleship has limited strategy. You don’t have to thing a whole lot to play it. There are surefire ways to locate another player’s ships (like going in a checkboard pattern on the grid), and you can only hide your ships for so long. A lot of the gameplay comes down to luck, too. If you take down a couple of the smaller ships by dumb luck, you’ll have a much easier time locating the larger ships.
Some of the modern variants have – that have done things like adding islands to the grid, increasing ship placement strategy – have reduced game times further, but even with the shortcoming of a lack of strategy, Battleship remains a classic tabletop game. It deserves its status.
Verdict: A classic tabletop game light on strategy and critical thinking, but strong with two player fun and introduced the world to some game mechanics that are still used today.