How to Play Battleship

Sink Your Opponent's Battleships to Win the Game

Playing Battle ships
Battle ships. Leo Cox photography/Getty Images

Battleship is a board game for two players who try to guess the location of the ships each player hides on a plastic grid that can't be seen by his opponent. Players take turns calling out a row and column on the other player's grid in an attempt to name a square that contains an opponent's ship. Originally published as a pencil and paper game known by several names in the 1930s, the game was eventually released in the late '60s by Milton Bradley as the board game Battleship.

The game is still produced by Hasbro, which took over Milton Bradley in 1984.

Each player receives a board with two grids, five ships, and a supply of hit and miss markers (white and red pegs). One of the grids contains a player's ships and the other is used to record shots fired and an opponent's ships and whether they hit or missed. The goal of the game is to sink all of the opponent's ships by correctly guessing their location.

Setting Up the Board Game

Give each player a board with two grids, one of each type of ship with holes for hit pegs, and a supply of hit and miss markers. The ships are:

  • Carrier with five holes
  • Battleship with four holes
  • Cruises with 3 holes
  • Submarine with 3 holes
  • Destroyer with 2 holes

The two players face each other. Their target grids back up to one another vertically so each player cannot see his opponent's ocean grid and ship locations. 

Each opponent secretly positions five ships on the lower ocean grid by fitting the two anchoring pegs on each ship into two holes on the grid.

Each ship must be placed horizontally or vertically—not diagonally—across grid spaces, and they can't hang off the grid. Ships can touch each other, but they can't be on the same space. You cannot change the position of the ships after the game begins.

Basic Gameplay

Players take turns firing shots (by making a location guess) to attack enemy ships.

On your turn, call out a letter and a number that identifies a row and column on your target grid. Your opponent checks that space on his ocean grid and responds "miss" if there is no ship there or "hit" if you guessed a space that contained a ship.

Mark each of your shots (guesses) on your upper target grid using white pegs for your misses and red pegs for hits to keep track of your guesses.

When one of your ships is hit, put a red peg into a hole on that ship on your ocean grid at the location of the hit. The ships are different sizes and have different numbers of holes. When one of your ships has every slot filled with red pegs, you must announce to your opponent that he has sunk your ship.

The first player to sink all opposing ships wins the game.

Advanced Gameplay

Players who are experienced at playing Battleship sometimes use a variation of the game known as the Salvo variation. The basic rules remain the same with the following exceptions:

  • On the first round of the game, you call out five shots (guesses) and mark each shot with a white peg in your target grid.
  • After you've called out all five shots (a salvo), your opponent announces which ones were hits and which ships they hit.
  • For hits, change the white pegs on your target grid to red pegs. Your opponent places red pegs in the holes of any ships that you hit.
  • Continue in this manner until one of your ships is sunk. At that point, you lose one shot from your salvo. If one of your ships sinks, your salvo is reduced to four shots. When two ships sink, the salvo is three shots, and so on.
  • Continue game play until one player sinks all the opposing ships and wins the game.