A Review of Winsome Games' Damn the Torpedoes!
by Greg Nichols

1 - 67 card Ships deck
1 - 114 card Action deck
1 - 34 page rule booklet
1 - six sided die
Packaged smartly in a 4" x 6" plastic case (boxed edition)
Approximate cost is $25 (boxed edition), $15 (zip locked edition)


This is a two to six player card game loosely based on American Civil War naval combat. A game takes anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes to complete depending on the number of players. The designer John Bohrer has an obvious love for the period as his tiny rules book even includes a one page bibliography. He claims that the profiles of the individual ships on the ship cards are drawn on a 1:1000 scale. Most of the ship cards include information on: ship class, commission date, tonnage, crew size, and top speed. Unfortunately, none of these ship characteristics figure into game play. Each ship has a point value (1-25) which seems randomly applied. In general, CSS ships are worth more points individually but as a group, they are worth less than the total of the USS ships (379pts to 247pts). None of this matters because the game is a free-for-all (each player draws a mixture of CSS and USS ships) and so the game doesn't breakdown into traditional North/South sides.

The object of the game is the object of most naval games: sink ships! You do this by playing Ammo cards, ramming, or playing special Action cards (i.e. Torpedoes, Submarines etc.) against your opponents' ships. Overall, you need to sink at least 250 points worth of ships by the end of a round to be declared the winner. If more then one player reaches 250 points at the end of a round, then the player with the most points wins. Most games require a minimum of two rounds (usually three) in order for a winner to surface. A round is completed when any player cannot draw up to his required six Action cards at the start of his turn. In the setup, decks are shuffled and each player receives six Action cards and four Ship cards. The Action cards are your concealed hand and are played only during your turn and as the game allows. The Ship cards are laid out in front of you forming a sort of line. The Ship deck is cut in half forming two decks: one known (face up) and one unknown (face down). You can draw from either of these decks when the game situation allows. The sequence of play for each player looks like this:

1) Take a ship (card) if you have no ships.
2) Draw to 6 Action cards.
3) Play 1 or more Additional Ship cards.
4) Attack with your Ellet Rams.
5) Choose one action group to play (8 different groups).
6) Play Commerce Raiders and/or Blockade Runner.

The breakdown of the Action card deck is as follows:

35 Rifled Ammo (5-1ís, 6-2ís, 7-3ís, 8-4ís, 9-5ís)
35 Smoothbore Ammo (9-1ís, 8-2ís, 7-3ís, 6-4ís, 5-5ís)
10 Torpedo
6 Additional ship
4 Leader
4 Fort/Fortress (values = 12, 24, 48, 96)
3 Blockade Runner
3 Commerce Raider
3 Destroy Your Own Ship
3 Men
3 Submarine
2 Torpedo Boat
2 Immobilize a Ship
1 Commando


If you've played AH's "Enemy in Sight" by Avalon Hill then you've played a similar naval card game. To me, card games ought to be fast playing and fun. And if you can throw some chrome on them creating a slightly historical feel and some interesting strategic choices, then you've really got a winner. This game IS fast playing but at the expense of some of the fun. All of the decisions are fairly easy to make. When a game doesn't offer difficult choices then it won't hold the interest of your average gamer for very long.

The game rates very high on the luck chart. Certain Action cards like Torpedoes and Submarines require a dice roll with a high ahistorical success rate (many of these cards will sink ships with a better than 50-50 chance). The designer includes real names and somewhat accurate drawings on many of these cards but like Enemy in Sight, anyone can use the CSS H.L. Hunley or the CSS Squib so there is no historical feel to the game play. Also, there are no random event cards that affect all players or the drawing player.

Is the game balanced? Yes, to the extent that most players feel that they're numerically in the game into the final round. But how can they affect their destiny? Draw better cards and get better dice rolls. While some card games reward good strategic or tactical play, in this game, it's better to be lucky than good.

The components are acceptable but worth the price? Certainly in the zip-locked edition. The card stock is clearly not up to the quality of "Up Front" or "Dixie" and is barely serviceable (I doubt it will stand up to heavy use). The art work is that of a decent amateur which doesn't really compel a person to sit down and look at the various cards for the art's sake but the data on them is interesting. I like the way he packaged the game (plastic box version) which allows for easy carrying to and from work or gaming cons.

Overall, this is one of those games with loads of potential. It's obvious that Bohrer has a love for the period but unfortunately not the resources to make this game live up to its potential. The game's very light entertainment with a heavy emphasis on luck to rachet up the fun factor for the kids. A near miss for me but others may find it just the right depth of play.

(c) Gregory Nichols
This review may not be reprinted without the author's permission.

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Page Last Updated: 9/18/03