The Importance of using proper L and S measurements vs. full card lengths.

Measurements of L and S compared to full card measurements

This year I’ve noticed many players measuring L and S incorrectly, usually by using a full card length of a ship deckplate on the top side or using a crew card to measure.  Various third party accessories have also become quite popular, as sometimes a deckplate card leaves some maneuverability or angles to be desired, such as when trying to determine a close measurement or for premeasuring move actions.  I got my vernier calipers out to see what distance differences there are between S, L, full card lengths often used in their place, and some extra straws and tubes I’ve been using.  Disclaimer: Measuring with or without the black border lines on the S and L segments may produce slightly different measurement results.

I used the back of a spare Martinette deckplate that I’ve been using for years as my primary measurement tool, as well as an HMS Goliath deckplate to confirm accuracy given that my official card has been exposed to so much playing that perhaps it isn’t 100% accurate anymore (this experiment determined that to not be the case, though I should swap it out if more finish comes off to the point where I cannot determine the endpoints of S or L).

I measured L at 83.8 millimeters.

Pirates CSG L segment measuring 83.8 millimeters

Using the other side of the calipers with the Goliath card, I measured the same 83.8mm.  It may look like the number should be higher, but that’s because the calipers are slightly above the card and I couldn’t get a camera angle showing it head on at both ends.

Next was the test using the entire length of the card.  This came in at 89.2mm, a 5.4mm bonus compared to L actual!

Measuring S and L segments

In a separate test on the wrong side of the Goliath card, this number was confirmed:

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

S was next.  The official distance comes in at 57.5mm.

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

The Goliath S segment measured exactly the same.

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

Now came another full card test.  Standing the Martinette deckplate on end and pinching the calipers to it, we see a measurement of 63.7mm!

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

Perhaps this measurement was slightly off, but the “inside calipers” still showed the Goliath card at a similar number.  If you average these two measurements to approximately 63.5mm, that means that measuring with the full width of a Pirates card gives you a 6 millimeter advantage compared to using the proper S distance!  As anyone who has played the game surely knows, that can easily be more (sometimes much more) than the difference between: docking vs. not docking; being in or out of range for cannon shots; being in or out of cancelling range, etc.  Even if you don’t add up how big these differences would compound over the course of a full game, any one instance of these measurement differences could be the difference between winning and losing.

Now it was time to test some unofficial segments.  Fittingly enough, I did not make any of these myself, though I have used them in games somewhat consistently, though I still try to use my deckplate most of the time.  That I didn’t make them is not to clear my name of any wrongdoing, as I have played many things wrong in the past and will likely accidentally screw up additional rules (hopefully just minutiae) in the future.

An S straw I received years ago in an eBay lot measures 58.1mm, very close but still .6mm more than 57.5mm.

An L straw from the same lot actually came in slightly short at 83.6, .2mm less than the 83.8 “official” measurement.  Vernier calipers closed over both ends to show it’s raised off the surface for the best possible measurement.

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

Next was the string of metal tubing that Captain Redgoat gave me.  The silver S tube measured 58mm, .5mm more than what we saw from the official segment.

The L tube measured 84.2mm, .4mm above the 83.8mm from the card L.

Measuring S and L segments (Pirates CSG)

I think a fair question to ask is: what could be considered “close enough”?  I would posit that a difference of .5mm or less is fine for most games and all casual play, simply because the difference is barely (or not) perceptible to the naked eye and that distance is likely to be mis-measured anyway due to slight shaking of hands when a ship is placed at the end of a segment, or the slight movement of a hand above a ship measuring the distance to see if a shot can be made.  In addition, I think the benefits of having accessories and convenient tools for players outweigh the slight differences, not to mention other elements such as bumping the table, “undoing” move segments and trying to estimate where the ship’s bow had started, and other accidental calculation errors.

However, I think it would be fair for any player playing competitively or for any kind of prize to request full enforcement of using strictly Wizkids official deckplate cards for all measurements during a game.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is to not measure with full card lengths, as this gives such a player a decided advantage.  In addition, I highly recommend comparing any accessories you may have to the L and S segments on a Wizkids card, and trimming or editing them so they’re as close as possible to standard measurements.

Lastly, I welcome any community feedback regarding my measurements, if you have made your own and they differ, or what your group considers “close enough” as far as unofficial measuring accessories.

Posted in Informational and tagged , , .


  1. Edge versus bar is an important distinction to make. At a 1:1 comparison they’re really not that different, but the slightly greater width of the card would add up significantly over the course of several measurements.

    I can think of at least two good reasons for why WK used the printed bars instead of the full physical edge. First, it’s possible for the actual length/width of a card to vary slightly. Maybe not within a single set, and in hindsight I don’t think they did change much, but the potential was always there, whether intentional or not. Plenty of other game publishers have had issues in the past where cards in an expansion set didn’t quite match with cards from the base game, simply because they used a different printing company, or the same printing company changed their equipment in between. The other reason is that the rounded corners of the cards make it hard to find the exact corner, which in turn makes it difficult to determine the actual full size of the card along the edge where the measurement is actually happening. Cutting it back to a continuous bar avoids that issue.

    As for how close is “close enough”, I think the black lines are definitely within that margin of error, especially considering how much fudge factor is inherent within any measurement made with the game. Subtle differences in how you place your ship along the bar, or even the physical shape of the ship’s hull can technically affect the distance it gets moved, not to mention any shifts that happen just from being bumped into by something else, even from removing the measuring card/tool itself.

    If certain players or even groups insist upon using the full length/width of a card instead of the bars, or custom measuring tools that match the full sizes of the cards, it can be allowed, but only if everyone playing gets to do the same. That’s a big part of why the Pirate Code includes a note that says custom things are allowed as long as they’re made available to all players (Peripherals, Page 6). If you’re playing with a new player or new group, it’s a good idea to watch closely for the first turn or two to see how they’re measuring things, so don’t find out halfway through the game that someone was gaining an advantage, even if unintentional.

    The most important thing is to be consistent on a group/game level. As long everyone is measuring the same way, it should be fine. The trouble starts when measuring methods get mixed up.

    • Indeed, I’ve thought about the rounded corners before and how they make it somewhat ambiguous for the full card length method to be used. Due to that and other reasons, I don’t think groups should allow full card measuring. I think it misleads new players, it lies about what S and L actually are when compared to the rules (since it’s actually S+6mm), it increases fudge factor due to the rounded card edges, and it takes players even more away from the base game in an era where I’ve seen more house rules and playgroup confusion than ever. (different house rules lead to very different expectations, which gets ugly because that in turn affects fleet building happening prior to the game. I always do a lot to mitigate that, but sometimes people don’t bother reading a group’s house rules or they bring a “surprise” player that isn’t aware of any of them) In addition, although the difference may be minimal, technically if my calculations are correct, S gets about a +.6mm relative “bonus” compared to L when using full card lengths instead (63.5mm-57.5mm vs 89.2mm-83.8mm).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *