Battle of Lake Erie, September 1813

“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Armed with Pennies!”

By Pete Pellegrino

Naval War College


Background:  The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Put-In-Bay, was fought on September 10, 1813 on Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio during the War of 1812.  Under light and variable winds, nine American vessels under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry challenged the British Commander Robert Barclay’s squadron of six vessels for control of the lake.  Whoever controls the lake controls the movement of troops and supplies along the border between British Canada and the United States.  Victory goes to the side disabling or sinking the most enemy vessels. 


Setup: Click here for the vessel, base and wind sheets as a single PDF file.  This game uses rolling coins as cannon fire.  On a single hard surfaced 7.5’ by 5’ table place the North, South, East and West compass markers along the appropriate edges.  Arrange the British vessels near the northern edge, sailing south.  Deploy the American vessels opposite near the southern edge, sailing north.  Place the Wind Marker initially at the eastern edge.  You will need one six sided die (1d6) and 23 pennies. 



British Royal Navy

United States Navy


Detroit (flagship)

Queen Charlotte


Lawrence (flagship)







Lady Prevost








Little Belt






Hull Strength

Salvo Size

Sail Points
























Vessel performance varies with type.  Hull Strength indicates the number of hits the vessel can withstand before sinking.  Salvo Size indicates the number of pennies fired per broadside.  Sail Points indicate the number of combined turns and/or forward moves possible per turn.


Turn Sequence


1. Wind Check and Drift

2. Initiative Check

3. First Move and Shoot

4. Second Move and Shoot


Wind Check and Drift: The wind is light and variable.  Roll 1d6 and move the Wind Marker according to the table.  Any vessels with no sail points remaining turn their bows downwind and drift forward one base length (1BL is equal to the length of the vessel’s base).  If a vessel drifts to the edge of the table, it remains there pinned against the shore and shallows until a shift in the wind.  Any collision or ramming (overlapping bases) arrests movement and results in one point of hull damage to both vessels.


 1  No change
 2  North
 3  East
 4  South
 5  West
 6  Wind dies



Initiative Check:  The side with the furthest upwind underway (i.e. not drifting) vessel goes first.  In the case of no wind, initiative goes to the side which held it the previous turn.  In any case where the initiative is ambiguous, flip a coin to determine who moves/shoots first – heads, Americans; tails, British.


Movement: All vessels of a side move simultaneously.  Each Sail Point allows any combination of turns (90 degrees or less per turn) and 1BL forward movements.  For example, a sloop with 4 sail points could turn 30 degrees, sail forward 1BL, turn 90 degrees and sail forward another 1BL).  Schooners and sloops with their fore-and-aft rigging can take advantage of light breezes and tack into the wind.  Therefore they can move nimbly in any direction regardless of wind direction, as long as there is some wind.  The larger square rigged ships and brigs however cannot sail ‘closer’ than 90 degrees to the wind (or wind abeam).  In other words, the bow of the vessel can never point at the ‘windy’ extended edge of the table.  The side of the ship or brig can be parallel with the windy edge, or turned away.  See diagram.  If a wind shift places the wind onto a ship or brig’s bow, during its turn it must use one of its movements to first turn away.  If a vessel has no Sail Points remaining, it cannot move and drifts per above, though it can still fire its guns.  If the wind dies, no vessel can move.


 Shoot:  All vessels of a side fire simultaneously.  Each vessel mounts between one and three pennies, which are flicked and sent rolling toward enemy vessels.  To fire, steady the base with one hand.  With the opposite hand palm up, extend a finger beneath the pennies and quickly flick the finger upward, sending the salvo rolling away.  All coins are launched in the same direction.  Coins must come to rest touching some part of a vessel’s base to score a hit.  Vessels jarred by coin impacts stay in the resulting position.  Any pennies which fall out of a vessel due to impact are considered fired for that turn.  If a coin lands heads up, it scores a hull hit; if tails up, a sail hit (Heads:Hull, Tails:Sails).  If a coin does not fall over, flip the coin to determine kind of hit.  Hits count no matter who fired the shot, even if one of your pennies lands on your own base, whether it was intentional fired or knocked free due to impact!  Record hits, then recover and reload pennies.  When the last hull point is lost, a vessel sinks. 


Tips and Optional Rules:  You want a smooth hard level surface for the pennies to roll over.  To keep the pennies from rolling off the table, make a low barrier out of yardsticks, rulers, pencils, dowels, folded paper, etc along the edges.  Depending upon the size of the table, the angle of the vessel and the height of the player, a stool may be necessary to enable a player to reach their vessel and flick pennies.  There is no right or wrong way to flick pennies, as long as they all roll simultaneously.  As an optional rule, rather than endlessly reloading, give each vessel a limited number of pennies in their ‘magazine.’  After each collective salvo, sweep the surface clear of spent coins, as they will interfere with subsequent shots.  There are no do-overs for bad shots, so it pays to practice beforehand!    






Battle of Lake Erie:

National Park Service, Battle of Lake Erie:

The Naval Operations of the Great War Between Great Britain and the United States. Roosevelt, 1882.

Thanks to Jim Walton and Sean McDonough for the vessels used in this game.