Cadet-Captain Mike's Guide to Basic Piracy
How to pick a good ship or crew? Start by considering where the ship comes from. Some factions are set up to give better value with a gold-running strategy, while others are aimed predominantly at fighting. Here's my take on which fleets are good for which tactics.
Part 4: Factions, Crew, Events, and Forts
Another area to consider is generic crew, which are the same for all factions. Which ones are the good ones?
- Pirates tend to be fast, decently armed, and above all, cheap. A Pirate ship will often cost 2-3 points less than an equivalent ship in most other navies. Their special abilities are a good mix, but without some of the "killer" fighting attributes found in other fleets. A Pirate fleet works best when using a gold-running strategy or a combo fleet. Even with 30 points, you can easily buy two or three cheap ships to hunt gold and two fair fighters to guard them.
- England is a brawler. The first few series of English ships were slow, with average cannons, and with fighting attributes unmatched by any other fleet. For example, there is still no equivalent to HMS Leicester anywhere else in the game. English crewmen also favor battle over gold. Later series of ships have added some speed to the Royal Navy, but this is mostly so they can get into the battle before the battle is over. Good English gold ships are few and far between.
- Spain is the opposite of England. Spanish ships tend to have average speed, large cargo capacity, and attributes that favor gold running, or quick battles to dissuade pursuit, as opposed to knock-down, drag-out battles. Their fighting attributes favor defensive rather than offensive tactics.
- France is like Pirates in many ways; they're fast, flexible, and not too expensive, especially their big ships. French ships make good combo fleets, with fewer ships than a Pirate fleet, but more firepower.
- USA is typically on the slow side, a bit overpriced, and meant for battle. There are very few inexpensive USA ships, but many mid-priced ones with fine abilities, and their big ships are a fearsome lot indeed. American crew have a wide mix of useful abilities, but all tend to be somewhat more expensive than other navies'.
- Barbary Corsairs, like their real-life brethren, are set up for boarding, which is a hard way to win. The Galley keyword makes it possible to ram, board, and either run away or back off and board again. Barbary ships have decent speed and low cargo capacity. Their guns range from good to the worst in the game, so if you mean to go fighting, pick your ships carefully. There aren't many crew available to a Barbary player; you may have to rely on those ships that allow Pirate crew to serve on them.
- Jade Rebellion is a fighting fleet. Their cargo and speed are okay, but only a couple of ships have abilities that enhance a gold-running strategy. They can ram and board decently; the Junk keyword means they can fire everything they've got while pinned, something few other ships can do. But the majority of their attributes are combat-oriented, and those monstrous six-masted junks weren't meant for anything but fighting. Jade crew are almost all aimed at improving their ship's chances in battle.
- The Cursed are a battle-and-boarding fleet. Their ships are flexible but rarely outstanding, although they can add other factions' ships with their crew's Black Mark keyword. Their crew tend to be expensive but powerful. The main appeal of the Cursed is the sea monsters, which are rammers and boarders par excellence.
- Mercenaries are yet another fighting fleet. They have to be -- they aren't allowed to dock at your home island, so bringing gold home is tough, if not impossible. Their ships and crew are okay but not thrilling; their abilities aren't new, but are mixed and matched in new ways. The main purpose of the faction is to introduce Submarines, which are all about ramming and sneak attacks.
- Vikings are built for both fighting and boarding. Their Longships get two cannons for every mast, which makes them deadly on attack but a bit weak on defense (nothing bigger than 3 masts). They also get a +1 on boarding rolls, plus the galley-like abilities of no-pin and a built-in Oarsman, with a Schooner turn thrown in. Their special abilities are weak, they have very few named crew, and their ship prices are dauntingly high. Vikings are definitely not a fleet for an amateur admiral.
What about events, those powerful abilities that can be used only once? Are any of them worth it?
- Captain is probably the best value in the game. No other crew guarantees a free second action, and the point cost is more than fair. Put simply, you can't go fighting without a Captain, or a named crew that gives the Captain's ability.
- Cannoneer gives one of your cannons a second chance. If your cannons are already accurate (3-rank or better), you most likely don't need this crew, and if they're 4-rank or worse, maybe you shouldn't be using that ship in combat anyway. There are exceptions, though. A ship that removes two masts with one hit, for example, could make very good use of a Cannoneer. And if you have two points to spend and don't need any of the other crew, you'll almost certainly get a chance to use this crew's ability on the fighting ship of your choice. Think of him as "bad-dice insurance."
- Musketeer adds a 3S cannon to your ship. Like the Captain and Cannoneer, this crew is for a fighting ship. He's at his best on a ship with good attributes but not-so-good cannons, or too few of them. One-masted ships can really benefit from a Musketeer's talents. Another good use for them is on an expensive ship with all L-range cannons. Should the enemy use a ship that can't be hit by L cannons, your ship could be helpless against it; a Musketeer will give you something to shoot back with.
- Shipwright lets you do a Repair action at sea. Normally, if you need repairs, it means you're in the middle of a battle, and you'll want to either shoot back or run away, not sit still and do repairs for the enemy to knock right back down again. But, like the Cannoneer, this crew is good in specific places. If a ship has the "two hits required to remove one mast" or "ignore the first hit each turn while intact" abilities, a Shipwright can wipe out the effects of two hits with one Repair, and that is very good. Also, if your ship or crew has a SAT (same action twice) ability, the Shipwright could repair two masts in one turn, and that's also very good.
- Explorer is for gold-runners only. He's low-cost, and the ability to dock and load in the same move gives a gold ship a big advantage. Unfortunately, he takes up a cargo space that you'd rather use for gold, so he's a poor choice for ships with limited cargo. And under normal circumstances, his ability helps you only once per wild island, so he may not function more than once or twice in a typical game.
- Oarsman is close to useless. Moving 1S when derelict won't be much help in most battles; the ship that got your masts can overtake you and sink you. I'd rather spend the one point on Divers or a Raft. But because Oarsmen are cheap and don't take up a cargo space, they have one potent ability: they're the best crew to feed to your sac captain.
- Chainshot Specialist freezes a ship in place for one turn. Most pirates would rather use their cannons to knock down masts, so you don't see this crew used very often. He's the kind of crew that you build your strategy around, rather than taking him along to see what happens. He can come in handy if your opponent is fond of S+S+S ships with Helmsmen aboard. Compare his cost and limits with the Mermaids event, and decide if he's worth it to you.
- Firepot Specialist is the bad boy on the block. He can (slowly) take out the biggest ships in the game, regardless of the size of the ship on which he sails. Even if the enemy puts out the fire the first chance he gets, he still loses a mast, so your ship's fighting ability isn't diminished by using this crew. Firepot Specialists are popular and much feared.
- Stinkpot Specialist cancels the enemy's crew abilities for one turn. Like the Chainshotter, this crew is meant for special tactics. If your enemy likes to load up his ships with potent crew, you can really hurt him with this one. If you're facing a gold-running opponent, leave the Stinkpot home.
- Smokepot Specialist has many uses, none of them deadly; he's more of a trickster than a killer. He can put a temporary Fog Bank within S of his ship, and he doesn't have to roll a hit to do it. This makes him a good choice for a valuable ship with bad cannons; the fog can block pursuit or give your ship a place to hide. This is doubly valuable on ships that can move after shooting. He can also serve on a fighting ship to influence a battle, but the three points would be better spent on a Captain or Musketeer in those cases.
Finally, I'd like to say a few things about forts. They're not the most wonderful thing in the Spanish Main, but they have their uses, and WizKids should think about making some more, especially for the factions who don't have any.
- Raft saves the crew and treasure from a sunken ship. This may or may not be a benefit, since they all land on a wild island for anyone to claim. If the enemy gets there first, he/she gets my crew and treasure; I'd have been better off letting them sink. If I have another ship nearby that can reclaim what's mine, then the one-point cost is well worth it.
- Divers is my absolute favorite thing to spend one point on. Grabbing an entire sunken treasure, instead of only half, is worth way more than one point, especially because it also makes your enemy poorer. Whenever I put together a fighting fleet, I try to include this event, and it has never let me down.
- Mermaids is the ever-popular answer to overcrewed ships. Not only can a Mermaided ship not move, it can't even shoot back, leaving it wide open to multiple devastating attacks. Mermaids can also be a "seagoing banana peel" to trip up a pursuer and get him off your fantail. It's possible to waste this event, but with a little experience, you'll learn how and when to use it. This is a good one.
- Foul Winds lets nearby ships be moved around by someone other than their owners. This is fun to drop into the middle of a battle where you aren't involved. Everyone will try to push their enemy's ships into islands, to knock down masts, and this can only make things easier for you. You can also use it near a bothersome enemy, to move it away from your own ship. There are many possibilities; experiment a little!
- Becalmed freezes nearby ships in place for a turn. You can use this defensively, to thwart pursuit, or offensively, so you can catch up to a fleeing adversary. But 4 points is a little steep for this ability, especially compared to some of the other events' costs.
- Cursed Zone subtracts 2 from all nearby die rolls. You'd have to use this with care; -2 is a benefit to someone who's been rammed and needs to roll low to avoid losing a mast. It can also have odd effects on terrain. Place it wisely (like covering a fort you're about to attack) and it can be quite useful. Keep in mind that it stays in play for the rest of the game, though.
- Duel is a quick way to get rid of an enemy crew you find inconvenient, as long as you have a more costly crew to fight him/her with, and as long as you feel lucky. 5 points is a lot, though. You'll probably play this for fun once, and then save your points for more useful things.
- False Treasure is a nasty trick to pull on someone. It removes all gold from that ship. Oh, the pain! But oh, the point cost! Ten points is way too much. Unless you save it for the Darkhawk II or a similar ship when its holds are full, you'll never get decent value from this event.
- Hidden Cove gives one of your ships a free move of potentially unlimited length. You'll want to choose the ship with care, so it gets a free ride to somewhere you'd like to send it. Two points is a very good price to get a gold-running ship to a rich island.
- Rolling Fog sets one fog bank moving at random. It has its uses, none of which deserve trumpet fanfares, but all of which are worth the one point cost. It might be worth it, for instance, to move an inconvenient fog bank away from your home island, assuming it moves in the right direction. This isn't a great event, because it can turn and bite you, but it's cheap enough to be worth trying.
- Favor of the Gods removes every single event from the game. For two points, this is good Mermaids insurance. To really fry your opponent, play some other event with an instant effect first, then play this one when the first one is done.
What can you do with a fort? There are many ways they can be useful, including:
- Build one on an island near your home island, to provide a sanctuary for your gold ships as they race for home with enemy gunships or boarders on their tail. They can drop their gold there and head out for more, while a cheap, slow ship shuttles the treasure from the fort to your home island when the coast is clear.
- Build one near an enemy home island. He'll have to deal with it or waste many turns going around it, and while he's dealing with it, you can run rampant elsewhere. Paradis de la Mer is good for this, since it can be almost indestructable. Don't do this if it's a close game; the gold you lose could cost you a win.
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