Hasbro’s BATTLESHIP – How to Win

Battleship has the notorious and mostly inaccurate designation of being a game of pure luck. This is a lazy designation for the classic version of the game and an outright falsehood for the “Commanders” mode.

For posterity, here is the method I came up with for winning nearly ever game of Battleship (Commanders Mode).

Introduction

Battleship has the notorious and mostly inaccurate designation of being a game of pure luck. This is a lazy designation for the classic version of the game and an outright falsehood for the “Commanders” mode.

I am basically done with the game now that I have every achievement. Though I’ve finished the game, I feel the need to preserve my strategy in writing so it does not simply die in the back of my mind. So, for posterity, here is the method I came up with for winning nearly ever game of Battleship (Commanders Mode).

Offense and Defense

Battleship is unique in that it is almost exclusively an offensive game. The only defensive action the players take in any given round is ship placement at the beginning (there are mines as well, but I’ll get to those later). Theoretically, there are some defensive considerations to take into account: The different commanders have different ship shapes, opponents probably have certain coordinates that they are likely to guess first, etc.

For the most part, I don’t sweat ship placement too much. I follow only one general rule: Do not place two ships directly next to each other. Doing this will sometimes allow opponents to inadvertently find the second ship when they are searching for additional hits on the first. Placing ships diagonally is find, but avoid connecting ships directly in any of the cardinal directions

I confess that there is some argument that placing ships this way can cause your opponent some confusion as to what ships they are actually hitting, but I have found the costs to outweigh the benefits.

There is also one exception where I will dedicate a heavy amount of thought to my ship placement and that is when my opponent is playing William Karslake. Karslake players will always get one to two airstrikes off a game and they tend to do this down the longest lines of tiles on the map. Keeping your ships on these lines can result in multiple ships being revealed in one strike. When my opponent chooses Karslake, I do my best to only let my ships share the shortest rows and columns. The practical result is that all of you ships will likely end up hugging the perimeter.

The Theory of Winning

Commanders Battleship changes the basic objective of the classic game somewhat subtly. In Commanders, it is not necessarily a good thing to get hits. Commanders’s rubber-banding mechanic gives your opponent additional power-up energy every time you score a hit, giving them a chance of getting themselves back into the game. As a result, the idealized game of Commanders requires a player to find every ship and then take them all out in one fell swoop. Recognizing this objective, we can break down the average game of Commanders into an Opening – Middlegame – Endgame.

Opening: Shrinking the Map

Your first goal is to find the relative positions of all five of your opponent’s ships on the map at large. This is best achieved through the skill you absolutely should be using most: Sonar. Sonar has the potential to reveal eight unknown coordinates for only three energy and the best part is that it does so without giving your opponent power-up energy.

Throughout the opening, place sonar in the four corners of the map, taking note of how many ships each one finds. Here’s the general breakdown that I use:

  • Sonar 1-2: 1 ship.
  • Sonar 3: At least 1 ship.
  • Sonar 4 of greater: 2 ships.

You will get the occasional hit as well. Do not waste any time attempting to get additional hits on the same ship. Rather, note that this is another ship you have found and continue placing sonar elsewhere. Try your best to prevent your scans from overlapping and proceed in this manner until you are pretty sure you have found all five ships. If you have most of the map scanned and have still not found all five, this means that your opponent either hid them on the border or stacked them close together.

Middlegame: Clearing the Picture

Once you have the majority of the map scanned, your next goal is to determine the shape of each ship you’ve found. This is best done by forming a hypothesis as to where each ship is (based on existing hits and sonar) and testing that hypothesis with your shots. Once you feel fairly certain you know what ship you have found, move on and test another one.

Sometimes it will be impossible to actually form any sort of hypothesis due to lack of information. In this case, start trying to reveal which squares on the sonar scans actually have boats in them. Start on the scans with higher numbers for the obvious reason that you are more likely to get a hit and proceed until you can start making some educated guesses about which ships are where.

Endgame: Mopping Up

At some point you will have sunk some ships and have a pretty good idea about where the rest are. This is the moment to go for the kill. Always proceed from areas of uncertainty to areas of certainty. If you know you’ve found the Z-Ship but are uncertain what the coordination of the 2-block and corner-block, figure out the latter first before you sink the Z-Ship.

In this phase, you are going to be presented with a lot of 50-50 guesses. For this reason, I usually play as Phillip Wade and make use of his “Salvo” ability. Salvo lets you take five shots at once on any coordinates you want. I will usually split these between every remaining area of uncertainty proportional to how uncertain I am about each one. Wade is a DLC character, so unfortunately it is a bit of a pay-to-win situation, but sonar and bombs can be used to similar effects.

At some point, you will know the exact locations of every delicious remaining portion of unsunk ship and you’ll be able to gobble them all up at once, while your opponent helplessly watches.

Miscellaneous

Obviously, this guide cannot be read as a set of step-by-step instructions so procedural that even a potato will pull out a win just by following them. Players still need to use their brains and analyze the use of space. There are a few other considerations to take into account.

Mines

Mines are the only power-up I never use. Sonar only costs one additional energy and does not contain the inherent weakness of randomness that mines have. For mines to be useful, you opponent must accidentally hit them and the mine must randomly place the return shots somewhere useful. I’ve seen so many times where a mine return its hits to locations I have already cleared with sonar or where it would be impossible for a ship to ever be. They’re just a waste of energy better spent elsewhere.

Opponent Mines

Don’t sweat your opponent’s mines too much for the reasons I listed above. Just note when your opponent is placing a mine and keep track of your sonar numbers so you know if one is higher than it should be.

Placement Probabilities

After a few games, you will get an idea of where opponents like to place ships that will make the middlegame go smoother. It can take some time to find the ships shoved in a corner, but the abundance of information you’ve received from your sonar should still give you a leg-up on your opponent.

The same goes for your own ship placement. After a few games, you will develop some preferences as to where your ships should go. Just follow your heart on this one.

Conclusion

Despite what I said up top, Battleship does have a luck component. There is no surefire way to guarantee a win every time. Your opponent could get the first shot and theoretically land every hit; that would be the ball game. That said, I have found that smart strategy determines the game far more often than luck.

Volodymyr Azimoff
About Volodymyr Azimoff 13569 Articles
I love games and I live games. Video games are my passion, my hobby and my job. My experience with games started back in 1994 with the Metal Mutant game on ZX Spectrum computer. And since then, I’ve been playing on anything from consoles, to mobile devices. My first official job in the game industry started back in 2005, and I'm still doing what I love to do.

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