So recently I spent time with a 10-yr old boy who is fascinated by all-things-Navy.  This ranges from Phoenician triremes to Nelson’s battleline to the Monitor/Virginia and on up through battleships to modern day warfare.  We wound up spending an afternoon playing the old 1970s classic boardgame “War at Sea”:

In school, like many 10-yr olds, he has ‘trouble staying focused’ for more than 20 minutes.  Able to do an activity on a subject that is challenging or interesting, he didn’t get up from the table for any reason for two hours!  This is important to me as a teacher–make a subject interesting and there isn’t trouble with focus…I know, not everything will be of interest to every individual–but there’s a principle here.  We learn better when we are interested; it is the teacher’s job to spark that curiosity and interest.

In any event, before leaving, I wrote up a really quick, messy set of rules for him to use with his models, micro-machines, and 3d-printed ships.  These rules aren’t the most realistic, they don’t cover every possible situation.  They were written to give a broad framework for learning and having fun–>remember, the target for this is a pre-teen (who knows a bunch of stuff) and not a military expert.


You need a ruler.  You need normal dice like in a Yahtzee game.  You need ship miniatures–but you can also trace ship outlines on paper, make small boats from Legos…whatever works.

Ship movement:  Ships get to move a number of inches equal to the ship’s top speed in knots divided by ten.  (KTS / 10).
–The person this is written for knows ship speeds (and knows how to do an internet search, too…).  The math calculation is moving a decimal place, so it is math than can be worked in the head.

Firing/Ranges: When you fire, ships are at one of four ranges and the rules for hitting an enemy ship change with each range.
Close Range – Up to 12″ away.
Medium Range – 12-24″ away.
Long Range – 24-30″ away.
BB only – 30-36″ away

–The ranges are arbitrary.  There is no official scale here in use.  The reason for the distances (up to 36″) is governed by the space available for playing without interruption by siblings or dogs.  These ranges can be arbitrarily changed at your whim.

Roll one die for each main gun turret on the firing ship.
Close Range: Multiply the roll by 4.  If the product is less than or equal to the size of the gun, a hit is scored.
Medium Range: Multiply the roll by 5.  If the product is less than or equal to the size of the gun, a hit is scored.  EXCEPTION: Destroyers and light cruisers can not hit battleships at this range.
Long Range:  Multiply the roll by 6.  If the product is less than or equal to the size of the gun, a hit is scored.  EXCEPTIONS: Only battleships can hit battleships at this range.
BB only:  Roll a single die for each turret.  On a ‘1’, a hit is scored.  At this range battleships will not target any other ships other than other battleships.

Example: The Iowa fires at the Yamato at close range.  It rolls three dice (one for each main turret).  Iowa rolls 2-4-6.  Two of the rolls count as hits as 2×4 = 8 and 4×4 = 16…both results equal or small than the Iowa’s 16″ guns.

Torpedoes:  Destroyers within 12″ of a target can say they are firing torpedoes. There cannot be a ship in between the destroyer and the target Roll a die.  If it is a ‘5’ or ‘6’, success!  Roll the hit again and the result on the die is how many points of damage are taken by the hit ship.  Each destroyer can only fire torpedoes once.

Airplanes: This is done BEFORE the battle begins.  For each CVL/small carrier, roll one die.  For each fleet carrier (CV), roll 2.  Choose targets from enemy ships.  A roll of ‘5’ or ‘6’ causes a hit.  Roll the die again to determine damage to the target (just like with torpedoes).

Ships sink when they take too much damage.
Destroyers: 2 hits
Light Cruisers: 3 hits
Heavy Cruisers: 4 hits
Small Carriers: 4 hits
Big Carriers: 6 hits
Battlecruisers: 6 hits
Battleships: 8 hits
Super-BB: 10 hits (Bismarck, Yamato, Iowa)

That’s enough rules to keep a kid or two busy–but also loose enough that the rules can be modified or made more complex as desired.  My intent, though, was something accessible to a pre-teen.

If they have an interest in World War 1, then you simply ignore the rules for airplanes and Super-BB.

The beautiful thing is you can take these rules and create rules for sailing ships as well with few modifications.

To hit, you roll a number of dice equal to guns on the ship divided by 10 (round down all fractions).  They hit on a ‘6’.  All guns have a range of 12″
SOL (ships of the line) with the wind: 3″
SOL perpendicular to wind: 1″
SOL against the wind: 0″
Frigates with the wind: 5″
Frigates perpendicular to wind: 2″
Frigates against the wind: 1″

Damage taken–something like 1 point for every 10 guns on the ship.
Boarding parties:  Each ship rolls one die.  SOL get to add +3 to the roll.  If you roll 2 higher than your opponent, you capture the other ship.

Now, think of how you can create something like this for a number of subjects.  Can you create something fast/simple that models government?  Widget manufacturing?  It is not about 100% accuracy–it’s about getting kids to think and find ways to be directly involved with the subject matter.  In time, if interested, they will then gravitate to more realism or complexity.