Eric Walkingshaw
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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As a lightweight dice game, Battleship Express isn't exactly threatening to breach the Earth's core with its strategic depth. But it does have decisions to make, and those decisions do have an impact on the outcome of the game. And while the influence of the dice may obscure that impact in a single game, it is short enough to play a bazillion times in succession, which should allow a superior strategy to rise above the dicey noise.

Here I'll examine each ship individually, providing statistics, then thoughts and tips on ordering and use. In an earlier post I generated a list of ship vs. ship probabilities. The numbers here should be more accurate, as I re-ran the simulation with more iterations, but I also rounded them to the nearest 1% to avoid a false sense of precision.

Also, this article assumes a two player game, which is the only way I've played. With more players, the social aspects of your strategy would likely come into play, but I don't consider those here.

Battleship
Defense: 5
Attack: 8 dice, 4 rolls
Special: Blast symbols don't count as hits.
Odds of defeating...
Battleship: 40 %
Destroyer: 67 %
Submarine: 67 %
Patrol Boat: 88 %
Aircraft Carrier: 88 %

Odds of being defeated by...
Battleship: 40 %
Destroyer: 59 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 17 %
Aircraft Carrier: 17 %


Although it requires only one more hit than the Destroyer and Submarine, the Battleship is by far the most difficult ship in the game to sink. Even the offensive-powerhouse Destroyer can only manage to take it out a little over half the time. As such, your strategy, and your opponent's will often revolve around trying to take out each other's Battleship.

Nearly matching its defensive strength, the Battleship is also the second best offensive unit. Though it can be frustrating picking all those blast symbols back up, the sheer number of dice thrown by attacking Battleships is usually overwhelming.

Since the Battleship is a good offensive unit, and can take the abuse, I like to keep it near the front of my armada as long as it survives. An alternate strategy is to keep it tucked away until after taking out your opponent's Destroyer, after which it becomes much more powerful.

Destroyer
Defense: 4
Attack: 6 dice, 2 rolls
Special: Blast symbols count as 2 hits.
Odds of defeating...
Battleship: 59 %
Destroyer: 76 %
Submarine: 76 %
Patrol Boat: 89 %
Aircraft Carrier: 89 %

Odds of being defeated by...
Battleship: 67 %
Destroyer: 76 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 54 %
Aircraft Carrier: 45 %


The best offensive ship in the game. A single blast symbol and you're halfway to killing almost any ship in the game.

Although it is essential for your Destroyer to attack, whenever it is near the front of your fleet it's going to have a big red X on it. Never start the game with your Destroyer in an attackable position (i.e. the first two spots). Otherwise, if you lose the draw/roll/whatever to go first, you risk losing it to your opponent's Destroyer without even getting to use it.

Also note that, although the Destroyer is your best offensive unit, it's relative advantage decreases as the defense of the opponent's ship also decreases. That is, it is by far the best ship for taking out a Battleship (requiring 5 hits), but its 89% chance of taking out a Patrol Boat or Aircraft Carrier (3 hits) is only slightly more than a Patrol Boat's odds of 84%. Thus, it probably doesn't make sense to move your Destroyer out of safety to neutralize an aggressive Patrol Boat. Let your own less-valuable Patrol Boat, or the higher-defensed Battleship take care of it.

Submarine
Defense: 4
Attack: 3 dice, 1 roll
Special: Blast symbol is automatic kill. May fire at any opposing ship.
Odds of defeating...
Battleship: 42 %
Destroyer: 42 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 43 %
Aircraft Carrier: 43 %

Odds of being defeated by...
Battleship: 67 %
Destroyer: 76 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 54 %
Aircraft Carrier: 45 %


The Submarine is a unit that seems easy to undervalue. It whiffs far too often to be an integral part of your attack, but it is both a key defensive unit and capable of disrupting even the best-laid plans.

By far the most common use of the Submarine, in our games, is as a shield for more fragile or valuable units. However, it also has some extremely useful secondary abilities.

First, it makes a nice counter-Battleship Plan B. If you are unlucky enough to lose your Destroyer early, your best bet for taking out the opposing Battleship is your Submarine. It is only slightly better at this than your own Battleship, but significantly better than either the Patrol Boat or Carrier.

Of course, while it is second best at taking out the Battleship, it is the worst at killing every other type of ship. The boom-or-bust nature of its attack means that the odds of killing any ship are almost exactly the same, with a 0.46% extra chance for taking out the Patrol Boat or Carrier (the odds of rolling three of a particular color).

However, it also has the unique ability of being able to fire at any ship in the opposing fleet, rather than just the front two. One attempt to snipe an opposing Destroyer camping out in the back may have your opponent re-thinking their strategy. Just remember, if you're attacking any ship in the first two spots with your Sub, and it's not a Battleship, you should probably be using a different ship.

Patrol Boat
Defense: 3
Attack: 5 dice, 3 rolls
Special: None.
Odds of defeating...
Battleship: 17 %
Destroyer: 54 %
Submarine: 54 %
Patrol Boat: 84 %
Aircraft Carrier: 84 %

Odds of being defeated by...
Battleship: 88 %
Destroyer: 89 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 84 %
Aircraft Carrier: 75 %


Ah, the Patrol Boat. A lack of special abilities make the Patrol Boat a bit boring, but like bread and butter, or spending the weekend with your family, there's something intrinsically wholesome about it.

The Patrol Boat is a solid offensive unit and a poor defensive unit. It is a serious threat to any unit but the Battleship, but will almost assuredly be killed by any ship but the Submarine.

I like to use the Patrol Boat in one of two roles. Either as an early attacker, if the opponent is attempting to shield a Destroyer with weaker units. Or as a late-game, cleanup unit, used for sweeping away the opponent's Carrier. Often, however, I'll find myself bringing it to the front somewhere in the middle, when an opportunity for a quick, suicide strike presents itself.

Ultimately, the Patrol Boat's lack of specialization lends itself to versatility. But its lack of defense means that once it enters play, it probably won't be there for long.

Aircraft Carrier
Defense: 3
Attack: 6 dice, 2 rolls
Special: May roll once before choosing target. May fire from any position.
Odds of defeating...
Battleship: 17 %
Destroyer: 45 %
Submarine: 45 %
Patrol Boat: 75 %
Aircraft Carrier: 75 %

Odds of being defeated by...
Battleship: 88 %
Destroyer: 89 %
Submarine: 42 %
Patrol Boat: 84 %
Aircraft Carrier: 75 %


And finally, the Aircraft Carrier. The numbers above reflect a worse offense than the Aircraft Carrier actually provides, as they represent the Carrier's odds of defeating another boat in a one-on-one encounter. The Carrier's unique ability to roll once, then select a target, makes it somewhat more powerful.

Additionally, the Carrier's ability to fire from anywhere masks its low defense. Obviously the Carrier is best used safely near the rear of your fleet.

Offensively, when a particular ship must be targeted, another ship is usually the better choice. But when presented with the choice between, say, an opponent's Submarine or their Patrol Boat, fire first and decide later. I think of the Carrier as providing a sort of luxury, freeing a tired Admiral from committing too early on less important decisions.

I haven't quantified the benefit of the Carrier's roll-before-choosing ability in all cases, but in the simple case of choosing between ships with like defense (i.e. Destroyer vs. Submarine and Patrol Boat vs. opposing Carrier), the Carrier appears to be slightly better than the Patrol Boat at taking out one of the two opposing ships. Against two 3-defense ships, the Carrier will have an 85% chance of taking out one of the two, assuming it chooses to attack the one it rolled the most hits against in the first roll (and arbitrarily in a tie). Against two 4-defense ships, the Carrier's odds of defeating one jumps to 57%.

Conclusion

My current favorite initial ordering is (back-to-front): Carrier, Destroyer, Battleship, Patrol Boat, Submarine. This leaves my Patrol Boat out to dry, but keeps my Battleship and Destroyer safe from a first round Destroyer attack. If the opponent's Destroyer is brought to the front, I will attack it with my Battleship, keeping my Destroyer safe for a later attack on their Battleship. If their Battleship makes the first move, I'll counter with my Destroyer. If neither are within attacking range, I will either attempt to take out one of their front two ships with my Patrol Boat, or if that is already gone, take a potshot at one of the heavy-hitters with my Sub. If I'm lucky, I'll take one out, but I'll stir them into action regardless.

I certainly don't claim that this is the optimal strategy, but I find it a fun one. The best thing about Battleship Express is how quickly it plays. So don't be afraid to try new orderings and new strategies. Although the outcome of a single game is very luck-dependent, the system offers a surprising amount of strategic depth. Play around with it and you'll be rewarded with a very fun little game.
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