I like playing Battleship, and I would like to teach my nieces to play. What's a good, simple strategy to teach someone new to Battleship? In my particular case they are 8-12.

3 Answers 3


Teach them two things:

  • Don't let your ships touch each other.
  • Don't let your ships touch the sides.

By doing that, no matter where a ship is hit, there are at least two adjacent places to target that will be misses.

Children less familiar with spatial concepts might take longer to place their ships, but there's also a lot of flexibility given those rules, so one niece could put all her ships facing the same direction while another one could have them alternating back and forth across the board.

It may be useful to remember that there is a difference between teaching the game itself and teaching the game as you or someone else might play it. There will be time to teach them more specific strategies later if they become interested in the game and also show interest in strategic thinking; with this in mind, pay attention to how they respond to what you teach. If one niece doesn't seem interested in planning, let her put her ships where she likes. If another one questions you right away as you explain how to set up your ships – "But if I do that, you'll know what I'm doing!" – then you could probably go straight into more advanced techniques with her.

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    If you know that no ship touches the side though then they must be within a smaller rectangle. Make sure that no ship touches the side of that rectangle... It's like the surprise test paradox: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surprise_test_paradox
    – tttppp
    Dec 21, 2011 at 8:47
  • Not really ... the idea is to create space around each ship. There's no need to make a bounding rectangle or to shrink it. Anyway, most basic strategies are going to have weaknesses once you learn your opponent is using them; that has to be put aside when you're teaching. More complex strategies can be discussed later if they like ... but some people never care to get to that point, and that's OK too. Dec 21, 2011 at 12:05
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    I agree that any simple strategy is going to have a weakness, but if you're playing against someone and you know that none of their ships touch the side, then you have a big advantage. The paradox reference was that you're trying to surprise the opponent by avoiding the edge case, but if they know what you're trying to do then you have a new edge case. :-)
    – tttppp
    Dec 21, 2011 at 12:13
  • This is basic strategy, though. Once they understand how that applies to Battleship (if they get to that point; not all kids want to), then you can talk about the consequences of repeatedly using a specific strategy against the same opponent. I edited my answer to reflect that. Dec 21, 2011 at 13:22

In terms of finding ships, instead of placing them, try teaching the concept of sub-dividing spaces, diagonally. Start with a simple X shape on the board, then proceed to making other angular lines within the shapes. You can use the trick of "try to place a ship inside this pattern and see how hard it is" to prove the point.


I use Battleships as a teaching tool in my English Foreign Language classes, so I've developed a simple way to teach the game to my teenage students. I'd recommend breaking the game into steps, something like this:

  1. Start with a real world example. "This is a game about ships at sea. They can't see each other, so they use maps to try and hit their target."
  2. Explain the different ships. I wouldn't go into too much detail at first. "You each have one long ships that takes five spaces...".
  3. Help them set up the board. If you're playing on graph paper, draw out an example.
  4. Show them an example round. This should include missing, hitting and sinking of ships.
  5. Let them play. Watch the game and see if they understand.

By playing they will learn to develop their own strategies, which will make it more enjoyable to them. Don't teach them strategies, because they'll be less likely to want to play more often. They'll be watching you, so that will inform their decisions in future games.

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