Friday, October 17, 2008

Setting Sail: Collecting Ships for Tabletop Games

Last updated November 3rd, 2019.
Every self-respecting pirate crew needs a proper vessel. There simply is no way around it for any aspiring captain, if he wants to become a true legend of the High Seas. Thus after collecting your crew you will also want to get yourself a ship. I mean, if it weren't for boarding enemy ships on the roaring high seas, we might as well chuck in our pirate career, grab a horse and ride off into the sunset.

In this article I present and compare various producers of vessels designed for tabletop gamers specifically. Granted, you can always look for a suitable scale model ship, but in the required size (between 1/73 and 1/61 or even bigger) they are pretty pricey and will require much more assembling work than the tabletop ships. They do look the most realistic, of course, but the downside to this is that the rigging and sails are likely to get in the way and hinder gameplay. Nonetheless ships like the Mayflower from Trumpeter are certainly worth consideration if you have the time. You can see a description of using that model for wargaming here (in German!) and here.

Note: If you are looking for Chinese pirates or junks, have a look at this article.

Making your own Vessel
Before I get to the manufacturers let's have a quick look at how you can build your own ship and what others have come up with. These examples serve as a great inspiration as well as motivation.

Scratch-built Ships
Stu from Tabletop Terrain has built a ship from balsa wood (see here and here). This is a great example of what is possible when making your own ship.

You can find many inspiring works on the Lead Adventure Forum, for example the scratch-built merchantman by Pedro or the Foamboard Sloop and the Foamboard "Tartane" by fsultana.
I recently found Erwan's blog Terre des Hommes. His pirate posts are well worth a look as you can find not only some beautifully painted miniatures but also a stunning scratch-built ship.
Another nice inspiration might be this scratch-built ship.
Also check out Scott Bowman's scratch-built Temptress.

Gary Chalk Ship Plans
The ship templates by Gary Chalk were first published in Wargames Illustrated and used to be available online on the Foundry website but were taken down as they have been republished in the new Foundry Compendium but they can probably be found online somewhere as well ...
Check out this great article by Kieran about building a ship with these plans.

Kieran's 28mm Pirate Ship made using the Gary Chalk templates

Black Pearl Templates
There are downloadable PDF templates for making a model of the Black Pearl. Even if you don't use all of them they can be used as a helper just like the Gary Chalk plans above.

Manufacturers of Tabletop Ships
This list features producers of ships, made specifically with wargamers in mind. If you know of any worthy additions, don't hesitate to write a comment or email and I will gladly include them here.

Ainsty Castings
Ainsty Castings currently have three different ship sizes on offer: A sloop, a Merchantman and a Man of War. The ships are also available as a "fleet bundle" containing free cannons and a rowboat.

You can see photos of the medium sized Merchantman here on LAF.

Ainty's pirate ships in boarding action
(taken from Ainsty Newsletter December 2013)

Pirate Boat / Dinghy from Barrage Miniatures
Barrage Miniatures
Barrage Miniatures have a number of boats on offer. There are a number of multi-period boats but the most interesting model for the scurvy captain is the Pirate Boat/Dinghy which measures 25,5cm length, 8cm width and 4,5cm height. This makes it not that small at all and should be able to transport quite a number of salty dogs.

Black Cat Bases
Black Cat Bases used to have a ship on their workbench for a long time. As I wrote in this post, they had a couple of them as prereleases at Salute. You might have noticed the ship model in the Legends of the High Seas rulebook on various pages (28, 41, 44, 46, 48 and 88).
Update September 14th, 2017: The ship is now officially available from their website for £80.00.

Blaze Away Miniatures
Blaze Away claims to offer "some of the best readymade model ships for gamers and collectors". The Shipyard contains two Chinese junks and an Arab Dhow, which makes them relevant to a small target audience of Chinese/Arabian pirate players. For $ 85.00 and $ 80.00 (Australian dollars!) the junks sure are affordable. However, they have a strong self-made look to them that makes me wonder why I shouldn't just scratch-build my own ship...
Update 25/09/2012: Their shipyard is gone and no ships are currently available from their site.

Britannia Miniatures
Britannia have three impressive frigates in their Napoleonic Naval Ships and landing Boats range: A British, a French and a Spanish one. However, the price of £125.oo is equally impressive. Their landing boats for £22.50 are also nice, and a lot cheaper than the landing boat from Redout for £50.00 (see below). You can read a review of the landing boat by Roly Hermans at Fusiliers.
Update 25/09/2012: Not in the webshop any more.

Dixon Miniatures
Dixon has two ships in their pirates range: the Single Masted 6 gun Sloop (£45.00) and the Twin Masted Merchantman (£55.00). Unfortunately they do not offer any pictures of the ships. Fortunately though, there is the Lead Adventure Forum and photos of the sloop can be found here.
Update 25/09/2012: The remastered Dixon ships are available again - also from Ainsty Castings (see above).

Eureka Miniatures
Eureka has a pirate ship model for £ 60.00. European customers can order Eureka products from Fighting 15s. However, after adding the ship to the shopping cart you will see the enormous shipping costs for the item, resulting in a total price of £107.00 (ca. 137 €)!

ESLO Terrain
ESLO Terrain offers three ship sets, prices are 41,95€, 49,95€ and 63,95€. You can see more of them on youtube: Crusader Ship (largest one) and medium ship.

The largest of the ESLO ships

Firelock Games
Firelock Games ran a successful kickstarter campaign for their pirate game Blood & Plunder in A sloop, a brigantine and a frigate. Check out their Facebook page for news and updates.

Pirates and their vessel by Firelock Games

The Frigate (Firelock Games)
The Sloop (Firelock Games)

Flagship Games
US-based Flagship Games has some 25mm ships in their Pirates! range, available through Scale Creep Miniatures. Of interest are probably the Galleon ($50.00), the Gunship ($35.00) and the Sloop ($35.00). Unfortunately shipping to Europe from the USA is expensive making this subpar option. I'm not sure about the details of the model since from the photos they appear rather rough and have a certain "scratch-built look". It may be only the painting, though, which is a tad bit too colourful for my taste.
Update 04.10.13: The ships are now available from Scale Creep Miniatures.

Games of War
The Sea Prince from Games of War

The Pirate Supplies range of Games of War was designed specifically for the LotHS game. They have a small tender and a small ship - both made of resin and coming for great prices. A comparison with the Minimi Miniatures range comes to mind, although the Sea Dog is slightly smaller than the Large Sloop (9.25" vs 12"), it is much cheaper (ca. £9.00-£12.00 less). For more photos of the Sea Dog have a look at this thread on the Lead Adventure Forum as well as this gallery. You can see a wonderful enhancement of the model by Silent Invader on the LAF.

Games of War also offers two types of ship's boats: a tender and a jolly boat. You can read my review of them as well as see more photos here. For my review of the small sloop, go to this post. I review their British Unrated Cutter 'Fly' in this post.

The medium ship Sea Prince looks awesome but is currently out of stock.

Note (Feb 10th, 2018): Games of War have recently opened a new web shop under the new domain name:

Pirates on jolly boats attack the crew of a Sea Dog
(Jolly boats and Sloop by Games of War)
Comparison of Games of War's ships (top to bottom):
Bermuda sloop, Unrated Cutter and Sea Prince (source: matakishi)

You can find some interesting ships at Shifting Lands. Unfortunately there are no prices assigned to the various vessels and they have a very special style that may not be appealing to everybody.

The Buccaneer Ship from Shifting Lands

Laser Dream Works
Laser Dream Works produces a range of laser cut ship models in 28mm and smaller scales. If you thought laser cut models were cheaper than resin models - these will prove you wrong. Nevertheless, there are some very impressive models on offer. You can find a review for one of their kits on the Lead Adventure Forum.

HMS Cyane from Laser Dream Works

Miniature Building Authority
Miniature Building Authority offers a prepainted resin Bermuda Sloop as part of their Spanish range.

The Bermuda Sloop from Miniature Building Authority

Minimi Miniatures
Minimi's Pirate Ships range includes a whaler, a pinnace, a sloop and a chinese junk. The Large Sloop is quite interesting as it looks the best for the decent price of £20.00 (plus £4.25 UK/£6.90 Europe shipping). Using Black Scorpion pirates for scale is always a plus (they could use smaller minis to make the ship appear bigger).
The latest and biggest addition to the shipyard is the 14" Brig, which comes with cannons and everything you need - for £35.00 (+ £10.40 for shipping in Europe).
Lastly, their cannons are very tempting for £1.00, so you can order them there, too.
For some great "in action" shots of the ships have a look at this thread at the SD Forum.

North Star Military Figures
Along with their range of figures for Osprey's On the Seven Seas pirate games rules set North Star released laser cut MDF ship models to use instead of paper templates as described in the book. There are two models: The Brig (£40.00) and The Sloop (£25.00).
Update July 24th, 2016: These model seem to be no longer available.

Laser cut MDF ship models from North Star
The MDF ships in action (source: North Star's Facebook page)

Boarding action with Blackbeard and his crew
The Royal Navy fighting pirates

Old Glory Shipyard
The 25mm ships from Old Glory Miniatures/Old Glory 25's are probably the biggest tabletop ships. They are extremely detailed but expensive as well. I'm writing this from a European point of view, though. The Brigantine e.g. - a very fine ship of 17" length - costs $76.00 (ca. £41.39/€52.68) in the US, whereas Europeans ordering from Old Glory UK have to pay £50.00 (ca. €63.68) for the ship. The difference between US and UK prices is even greater for the huge Man of War: $251.00 (ca. £136.68) in the US, £170.00 in the UK. That's a difference of about £ 34.00/$ 62.00. Now please don't get me wrong - I don't mean to blame Old Glory! Shipping from the USA does cost a lot. For European customers this means that the Old Glory ships unfortunately have to struggle for being competitive with other producers more than they would already do because of their (not necessarily inappropriate) prices.

I do have to mention that the Old Glory ships come supplied with all necessary cannons. This means 10 cannons for the Brigantine and 40(!) for the Man-O-War and should probably be considered when comparing prices. (Thanks to Joel for pointing this out.)

Tim Kulinski's version of the huge "Pirate Hunter" model can be found on his blog Cursed Treasures.
Also check out another version of the hunter on the Fist Full of Seamen blog.
You can take a closer look at the Man-o-War over at Tom's Boring Forum.

For kicks: There is an Adventure Galley that appears to have gone out of production. However, you can see some great photos of building one on Maksim Smelchak's blog 6mm-Minis (you'll need to scroll a little) and in his gallery.

Update: By now I have bought and assembled the Old Glory Brigantine. You can read a full review and see many more pictures of the model in this post. Also, currenty Old Glory seems to no longer stock any ships.

My version of the Brigantine by Old Glory

Redoubt Enterprises
Redoubt doesn't produce any large pirate vessels, but they do have a nice longboat with landing party for Royal Navy Crews that comes with a full (rowing) crew and cannon. This is the perfect counterpart to the Pirates rowboat from Old Glory. For cheaper landing boats see the Britannia ones above.

Renaissance Miniatures
During their successful Kickstarter campaign Renaissance Miniatures released a couple of laser cut ships.

HMS Surprise with La Bete in front of it (source: Kickstarter)

Sailpower / Sea Dog Game Studios
Sailpower is actually a 15mm nautical wargame, but they also produce a few 28mm ships. It may just be the paint jobs in the webstore but the models do not look too convincing to me.

Stronghold Miniatures
The Village Green range at Stronghold Miniatures contains three nice ships between £33.50 and £60.00. Shipping is 15% for the UK, 20% for Europe.

Do they look familiar? Well, Ship 1, the Two masted Schooner/Brigantine, is depicted on pages 77, 83 and 98 of the Legends of the High Seas rulebook. In fact, they also look quite similar to the Dixon/Ainsty ships (see above).

For more photos of their Ship2 have a look at this thread on the Lead Adventure Forum.

SHIP01 Two masted Schooner-Brigantine (Stronghold Miniatures/Village Green)

Thomarillion offer a number of boats and most notably the caravel (produced as a hard foam model by Ziterdes, similar to their buildings). While the caravel hull looks somewhat unspectacular by itself,  Stefan Weil proves that you can make a beautiful ship out of the base model by adding further accessories and painting it up nicely.

The caravel by Thomarillion (converted and painted by Stefan Weil)

Manufacturers of Toy Ships
There is a number of toy ships that are suitable for tabletop gaming. They will require some conversion work but they are often cheaper than tabletop resin ships.

Broadsides and Boarding Parties
This game by MB (BGG | Wiki) comes with nice plastic ships that can be used for tabletop gaming. Check out my blog post for more info.

Thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean film there are some big toy ships available. You can see Arteis' conversion of Disney's Black Pearl on the Lead Adventure Forum.

Disney's Black Pearl converted for wargaming

Mega Bloks
The Mega Bloks' Pirates of the Caribbean range offers some good toy ships. Despite the additional work necessary to make it suitable for wargames some players like to convert them for their priate crew. A definate advantage is the price and if you look on ebay you might be able to get one real cheap. There is a post on converting the Stormstalker on the Lead Adventure Forum. Another great thread can be found on the French An argader Forum.

A classic! Some people like using Playmobil ships because they are larger than the usual tabletop ships. For more information read this post by warrenbruhn on the Lead Adventure forum. More excellent conversions can be found at The Kingdom of Wittenberg blog. Another great Playmobil ship is the Pirate Dinghy.

Trumpeter offers some great 1/60 scale ships. You can see photos of a slightly converted Mayflower at the Lead Adventure Forum.

Weapons & Warriors
The Weapons & Warriors Pirate Battle Game box by Pressman Toy contains lots of pieces that can be utilized for wargaming: a fortified tower, palm trees, a medium-sized ship and even figures. Arteis posted photos of the converted ship on the Lead Adventure Forum.
The game is out of production but you may well find it on ebay or on garage sales.

Aquarium Decoration
Aquarium decorations are a great source of tabletop terrain - especially jungle terrain. But there are also many shipwrecks available some of them large enough to work in 28mm scale.

This blog post show some great examples:

A huge aquarium decoration ship wreck
on a 4x4 gaming mat from Deep-Cut Studio (source)

Manufacturers of Cannons
Most companies that sell ships or pirate miniatures will also sell cannons. Prices vary a lot and it may not always be best to purchase the cannons along with the ship. Note that many of these manufacturers also sell swivel guns.

Black Scorpion£7.50Comes with two crew members
Crusader Miniatures£5.00Price is for 4 cannons
Dixon Miniatures£2.95Six pounder gun. Suitable pirates available seperately
ESLO2,69€Comes painted
Eureka MiniaturesAU$6.00Offers short 9lb, long 9lb and 12lb
Firelock GamesvariousThee sizes: Light ($7.99, 6x), Medium ($11.99, 6x) and Heavy ($11.99, 2x)
Flagship Games$5.00-
Foundry£11.00Price is for 2 cannons. Also offers 32pdr and 64pdr for £7.50 each
Games of War£1.00Nice, cheap, free shipping! [Update: No longer available]
Irregular Miniatures£1.50Offers 9lb, long 9lb and 12lb
Minimi Miniatures£1.00shipping ca. £2.00 + £0.15 (Europe) [comparison shot]
Redoubt Enterprises£2.20Twelve pounder
Thomarillion5,95€Price is for two cannons

The cannon from Minimi Miniatures is the cheapest one with only £1.00 each

So what conclusions do I draw from comparing the various ships? Well, after narrowing down the options I fancy the following ships:
  • Old Glory UK: Brigantine - £ 50.00 + £ 10.00 shipping = £ 60.00
    I really like the look of this ship. For a detailed resin ship that comes with 10 cannons the price appears to be okay. If I lived in the US I probably wouldn't hesitate a second to order one.
  • Games of War: The Sea Dog - £ 15.00, free shipping
    Admittely not really an alternative to the larger Old Glory Brigantine this is very tempting for starters. Without investing much money you get a nice ship that lets you quickly play some games and make use of the ship rules. Buying a larger vessel after that still is not out of the world. Another advantage is that you can order one or two of the beautiful tenders to enhance your port terrain piece or even add to a larger ship.
  • Stronghold Ships - I'd really like to see some better pictures of the largest ship. For a "2-deck 24 gun three masted boat" it is quite low priced. I might write them an email and ask for some photos. It is a shame that so many companies do not offer adequate photos of their miniatures and models. How is a customer supposed to be convinced if he or she cannot see what is actually offered?
  • Update 25/09/2012 - My current favorites are the Sea Prince from Games of War and the Ainsty/Dixon ships (which I own as of now)

Now at this point it comes down to how much free time you have and how much money you are willing to spend on a ship. Old Glory's Brigantine is the most expensive choice that requires the least additional work. The Ocean King is kind of a mix of buying a complete ship (Brigantine) and building your own (Gary Chalk plans). The Sea Dog from Games of War is a great way to get a quick and cheap start into the ship rules of the LotHS game.

I will be posting my decision along with some photos another day so be sure to pop in again soon.

Til then!

Many thanks to the members of the Lead Adventure Forum for additional hints, sources and information!
The copyright of the photos belongs to the respective companies and/or artists. No challenge intended.


  1. Worth adding to the list the Megabloks Pirates of the Caribbean ships, the Black Pearl is quite large but looks great with miniatures on it. It does need a bit of work to remove all the studds though and I'd recommend redoing the main deck but she's a impressive ship.

  2. Thanks, Rob! I'll add it to the list.

    NB: I really like your Pirate town a lot!

  3. Nice article, I like what you came up with, I will pass this along to some folks, keep up the great work.

    Tim Kulinski

  4. when comparing ships between manufacturers, you should also note that the Old Glory shipyard ships do come with all the cannons need for the ship. Some of the other companies require you to purchase the cannons separately, as they do not come with the ship. Also, each of the Old Glory shipyard ships come with a helmsman, except the Black Cultass.

  5. Thanks, Joel! I did mention it briefly concerning the Brigantine in the conclusion part at the end but it is probably worth mentioning explicitly under 'Old Glory'. For the Brigantine the 10 cannons do add up - they certainly do for the bigger ships like the Man-O-War which comes with 40(!) cannons. It does make them cheaper than you think at first.

  6. Chris;

    Thank you adding my comments about the guns that come with the ships. I have read the posting, and noticed that I shoud up date the number of pirate ships that we have available.
    first, the Adventure Galley is out of production, but it was replaced by the Black Cutlass - a ship of the same size. It comes with guns and a ghostly pirate crew (30 figures) for about $150.00. The ship can be purchased without the crew for $120. We have also added 3 new high density foam ships - a 28 gun firage, a Merchantmen ship and a 50 gun third rate ship. Again, the ships come with guns, ship fittings and a helmsman. The helmans for the new faom ships come s with a variety of different heads.

  7. A really costeffective alternative, a beatiful paper model for 17 dollars.

  8. Very useful and informative post.

    I converted a couple of old Playmobil ships which I picked up cheaply. (pictures see -


    -- Allan

  9. Wow, they look great, Allan! Thanks a lot for posting these! Great conversions!

  10. Hello Cianty,

    during my search for a research of "make or buy" I found you very helpful post.

    I will now really think about "buy". ;)

    Regards from Essen,


  11. Not from the Great Age of Piracy, I acknowledge, but I have just received the Blazeaway gunboat model and in terms of value for money AU$80 you'd be hard pressed to get better.

  12. Even though the Disney's Black Pearl R/C ship is OOP there is a imitation that works as well at a sweet price of USD38.98. Check it out here:

    enjoy :)

  13. Thanks for the link! The ship looks very promising on that photo.

  14. Here's the work on my 120 gun ship of the line, if anyone's interested.

  15. now its 2013
    how about an update and some ancients ships like cogs and galleys....please

    i have
    4 mega block dragons ships
    2 cutlass
    2 black pears
    2 storm stalkers
    a flying dutchman
    a empress junk

    i use them for D&D with tons of minis
    its awesome to see when ya do port or sea adventure....
    always hoping to expand to include stormstalker and few more cutlasses....but some more variety in cog merchantman...

    awesome blog...please update
    we are more in the age of sailing era....with no canons yet
    Mr reddog

  16. Phantasic collection, exactly what I was looking for!


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