War has long served as an inspiration for tabletop games, and perhaps one of the best-known mass market success stories in the genre is Battleship. Though known today as a successful plastic board game, the original iteration of Battleship dates back to World War I, when it was played as a pencil-and-paper game.

The original Battleship’s origins are somewhat muddled – some believe it took inspiration from the French game L’Attaque (a title which would eventually go onto influence another widely-known board game, Stratego), while others insist it evolved from the 1890 game by E.I. Horseman, called Baslinda. The paper-based version of Battleship was first published in 1931 by Starex, when it was called Salvo; other companies would publish variants on the concept throughout the ’30s and ’40s. These companies included the Strathmore Company (Combat, The Battleship Game), Milton Bradley (Broadsides, The Game of Naval Strategy), L.R. Gebert Company (Sink It), and the Maurice L. Freedman Company (Warfare Naval Combat).

The mass market success story for Battleship came in 1967, when Milton Bradley introduced the plastic board-and-peg version of the game to great success. In both the paper and plastic versions of the game, players work off of two 10-by-10 grids, which are labeled with numbers vertically and letters horizontally. The primary grid, usually larger, tracks a player’s own ships, while the tracking grid records their shot attempts on their opponent. Before the rounds of play begin, each player arranges their ships (out of view of their opponent) on their primary grid. There are generally five ships, which occupy two to five spaces on a grid depending on what kind of ship they are. Ships are accordingly sank when they are hit enough times. Players typically announce what type of ship has been sunk when it happens – leading to the game’s trademark line, “you sunk my battleship!” When all of a player’s ships have sank, they lose the game.

There are some popular rule variants for play, notably a modern interpretation of the original Salvo rules. This variant has players calling shots for all of their unsunk ships all on one turn, and as they lose ships, they lose the ability to call those shots. This is considered a variant for more experienced players, as the game becomes far more difficult as players lose more ships. Another popular style of play is to not have players announce when a ship is actually sunk, which forces the opponent to continue to shoot in a given area on the grid to confirm they cleared it.

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