A Simple Game that Teaches World War II Naval Tactics – "FLEET ACTION: JAN-KEN"

bismarckww2mR090BismarckWith the anniversary of the sinking of the Battleship Bismarck and the Battle of Midway behind us and the anniversary of the Battle of the Phillipine Sea just ahead, I thought June’s blog would be a good time to share a simple game I’ve designed to teach children about naval strategy in World War II. The game is in draft, not-yet-playtested form, so your comments are welcome. I’d love to make improvements to how well it portrays strategic and tactical considerations at the end of the age of the dreadnaught and the birth of naval aviation – but NOT at the cost of losing the game’s simplicity.

I recently showed the game to both the National Park Service at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and their “friends of the park” partner organization Pacific Historic Parks. I was discussing the new education institute focused on WWII in the Pacific that these two organizations are planning and I wanted to impress upon them both that gamers are a big market segment for military history-focused parks and that gaming is a valuable, hands-on, interactive way to teach history.

What follows is the text from the Fleet AcThe Battle of Midwaytion: Jan-Ken One Page Instructions.

The game requires four different kinds of ship tokens. You can use any four distinct objects – coins, dried beans… whatever. I use the little ship miniatures from the Axis & Allies board game. IMG_3708

I’ve also created a sticker template that works with Avery-brand 30-label mailing labels, the Fleet Action Jan-Ken Token Sheet.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: Conventional warfare is about capturing and holding land. In the end, you need foot soldiers to do that. Even the most advanced military technology is often used to help the infantry. In the Pacific cheap cialis online in WWII, the “ground” being fought over was islands spread across a huge ocean. Aircraft couldn’t fly very far or couldn’t carry much, so ships had to be used to cross these large distances. Warships like battleships get a lot of attention but it was the transport ships that carried soldiers and their weapons to the fight. The side with more soldiers and weapons woud usually win the battle. So a large part of WWII in the Pacific focused each side trying to destroy the other side’s transports while protecting its own. Navies sent out submarines and aircraft to sink the enemy’s transports while keeping some planes and ships back to defend their own. When these attackers and defenders met on the ocean fierce naval battles took place.

FLEET ACTION: JAN-KEN is a simple game that teaches about how naval battles were fought in the Pacific Theater in WWII. It is based on Rock-Paper-Scissors—another simple game that almost everybody knows how to play (Called “Jan-Ken” in Japanese). FLEET ACTION: JAN-KEN is a two player game but can be played by any number using two teams. To play, each player will need copies of four different types of tokens that are easily distinguished from each other. Assign a ship type to each of these tokens.CUPPED-HAND

TO WIN FLEET ACTION: JAN-KEN you must be the last player holding a Transport token.

HOW TO PLAY: Begin by having both players secretly build themselves a fleet using an agreed-upon number of points (12 for a short game, 20+ for a long game) . Fleets can be made up of any combination of four types of ship tokens: battleships (BB), aircraft carriers (CV), submarines (SS) and transports (AP). Each ship token has a point cost (see table, below) and each token allows players to throw one of the types of hand gestures (see table). Players keep their fleets hidden from the other player. Play rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors. FLEET ACTION: JAN-KEN adds a 4th gesture, called WATER, made by cupping your hand, like in the picture, above.

Before each round both players choose the gesture they are going to use that round. Players secretly place the ship token that matches their chosen gesture in their hand. Players MUST throw the gesture that matches the token in their hand—if a player throws a gesture that doesn’t match their token they automatically lose the round. Each round, the losing player must discard his/her token. Tokens have additional special game effects (see table below). These take effect regardless of whether a player wins or loses. In a tie, both players return their token to their hidden pile but the token’s special game effects still occur in that round (If a tie results from both players using submarines to throw scissors the special effect is ignored). The game ends when only one player has transport tokens in her/his fleet.


Enjoy! Let me know what you think!