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This is originally a board game for two players, though it can be played with pencil-and-paper and has been adapted to computers. The classic Milton-Bradley set-up has two identical plastic half-boards, one red, one blue. Each half has two 10-by-10 sections: one flat one with peg holes where you place the ships, and a vertical section with peg holes which has the dual purpose of marking where you fire your shots and hiding where your ships are from the other player. Both grids are labeled with letters in one direction and numbers in the other, A to J and 1 to 10 respectively.
The most common setup gives each player one two-peg destroyer (formerly a patrol boat), one three-peg submarine, one three-peg cruiser (formerly the destroyer), one four-peg battleship, and one five-peg aircraft carrier, which are arranged on the flat board in an arrangement of the player's choosing. Each turn, one player says where he's firing his shot; the other declares whether they miss or hit (you can place pegs in the ships when they hit), whether a ship is sunk, and the type of ship. The last player with at least one ship on the board wins. One game variant allows the player to fire as many shots as they have ships still afloat.
This board game has examples of:
- Awesome but Impractical: The aircraft carrier. Being five pegs long, it is the easiest ship to find, and when that happens it is only a matter of time before it is sunk.
- The Game Boy Radar Mission gives players a reason to specifically hunt out the opponent's aircraft carrier first - if it's not sunk before 15 turns are up, an aircraft gets launched from it. Said aircraft counts as an additional ship (meaning it must be hit to win), is 1x1, is NOT subject to the near miss rule, and is placed randomly in a spot not yet fired upon. It's not that uncommon to lose because the aircraft was in one of the last 5 spaces on the board.
- Awesome Yet Practical / Paranoia Fuel: The destroyer (formerly the patrol boat). Being two pegs long, it can evade detection for quite a while.
- Calling Your Attacks
- Cash Cow Franchise: There have been countless variations of Battleship over the years, including a vaguely realistic fleet-based RTS (Simply packaged under the name Battleship), a vehicular combat game (Battleship: Surface Thunder), and the latest version of half Naval Ops, half Call of Duty (more of a tie in with the movie with little else in common with the classic game). The most popular remains "Two people with five ships shout/punch in numbers and reply with 'hit' or 'miss'," which also tends to come packaged (with minor variations) with many of the Battleship spinoffs.
- Catch Phrase: "You sank my battleship!"
- Critical Existence Failure: Damage doesn't affect a ship until it is sunk.
- Partially averted when playing the game variant that grants each player one shot per turn for each of their surviving ships. This only counts for the player's fleet as a whole; the individual ships still count the same until they get sunk.
- Cool Ship: Guess.
- Excuse Plot: Assuming they have one at all, Battleship spinoff games tend to have paper-thin plots. Surface Thunder's entire plot fits onto one page of the manual, and in no way required to play the game.
- Fog of War: Another optional game variant allows the players to keep the identity of their ship a secret when their opponent scores a hit (until something gets sunk of course).
- Luck-Based Mission: Taking blind pot-shots at your opponent's fleet and hoping you score enough hits by essentially random chance before they can do the same to you is basically a textbook example.
- There is some room for strategy, though, such as ruling out spaces or deducing a ship's direction by firing at the surrounding points. This gets easier once the the smallest ships have been taken out.
- Psychology can enter into the equation as well, especially if you know your opponent's targeting habits. They can compensate for this, however.
- Mundane Made Awesome: The live action adaptation. How does one make an action movie based on a simple tabletop game? Simple, ditch the pegs and add aliens.
- One Ship Navy: According to the 'plot', the player's nation in Surface Thunder has been completely reduced to a single warship: you.
- Palette Swap: The cruiser and submarine are essentially the same; only their physical models are different.
- Recursive Adaptation: The film adaptation of the board game was also turned into a board game.
- Recycled in Space: There's a Star Wars tie-in edition, with a hexagonal space grid and computerized hit/miss notation.
- Refuge in Audacity: Some of the possible ship arrangements.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Some versions of the board game even make explosion sounds, which probably helps keep players honest.