The Best Values in Ships
How to pick a good ship or crew? The right tactics can make any ship better. Here are my thoughts on the main features of the Pirates battlefield, islands and terrain.
Part 7: Using Islands and Terrain
You home island is your destination for gold, your shipyard for repairs, and your sanctuary when you've got an enemy ship on your fantail.
- Try to mentally keep track of how many turns it should take for your ships to get home in a hurry if they have to.
- There's nothing in the rules that says you can't station a Marine on your home island. This can be insurance against home-island robbers.
- If you have a ship that's effective as both a gold-runner and a fighter, leave the fighting crew home at first. Your ship will have more cargo spaces for gold at the start of the battle, when the most gold is available. Then run home and pick up the fighting crew, turning your ship into a killer when the enemy may not be expecting one.
This is where the gold is. And that's all that most players use them for. But a wild island can be so much more, if you use it wisely:
How close should wild islands be to each other? The rules say they should be 3-4L apart. If they're close together, ships with multiple move components have an advantage in maneuvering; that is, a S+S+S ship can thread its way through the islands much more easily than a ship whose move is L+L. The farther apart the islands are, the more important high speed becomes.
- You can lurk or hide behind it, so it blocks the enemy's line of fire. You can use wild islands to be sure you get the first shot, or as obstacles to your enemy if you're running away.
- You could drop an assortment of crew on a wild island near your home island, and swap them as needed throughout the game. It's unlikely the enemy will try to steal your crew when they're that close to your home. Having quick access to, say, a Shipwright could save you several turns compared to the extra time required to get home and back again.
- Wild islands are just one more thing for a Ghost Ship to pass through. Don't take the long way if your ship can turn Ghostly and stay on course.
- Don't forget about building Forts on wild islands. See my article on "Factions & Other" for some suggestions about using Forts.
- The Mysterious Islands give an island a special effect, which can be good, bad, or indifferent, depending on the die roll each turn. Some islands can be worth visiting more than once, even if the gold is gone, if you feel lucky.
My gaming group has found that, if the islands are closer together than the rules prescribe, it makes for a more interesting game. Ships zigzag among the islands, trying to get the drop on each other or to quickly load some gold. Our preferred layout (we usually have four players) is an atoll of eight islands in a circle, with one big island in the middle with a double portion of treasure. That big island gets fought over in wonderful ways.
Suggestion: don't grab the gold from the nearest wild island as soon as the battle begins. Go for something more remote first, before the enemy can get it. Nobody's going to grab "your" gold; you can come back and get it at leisure.
The terrain types in this game don't get a lot of use in my gaming group. But they definitely have their uses.
- Fog Banks can actually be good things, unlike the other two terrain types. A ship that doesn't want to be shot can hide in fog indefinitely. You can also use a fog bank to block an enemy's line of fire, either as you flee from him or as you sneak up on him. You don't control which side of the fog you reappear in, but unless your ship is a total tortoise, you can get to the desired side easily enough. There are a couple of Cursed ships that can move instantly from one fog bank to another, which could let them fly all over the map if the fog banks are in the right places. A Smokepot Specialist can provide an instant fog bank at will, but it lasts for only one turn.
- Reefs favor small ships, which have a better chance of passing unscathed than ships with many masts. Bad luck on a reef can rip your ship's bottom out, in the form of lost masts, so you'd better feel lucky if you want to pass over one. I wouldn't risk it unless I was desperate.
- Sargasso Seas favor large ships; smaller ships have a bigger chance of getting stuck. Unlike reefs, the worst that can happen is that you lose a turn or two, so passing through a sargasso isn't a big risk.
- Icebergs liven up the game, since some of them move around each turn, and woe betide the ship they bump into! Unlike other terrain, a ship can't enter or move through Icebergs, and they can be removed from the game (by an Icebreaker ship). To get the best effect from Icebergs, you'll want to use at least two of each numbered type.
- Whirlpools give a gutsy player a shortcut from one part of the map to another, useful for ambush attacks, quick escapes, and fast raids to grab gold. You run a 50/50 risk of taking damage, but you get to choose the damage type. If you expect to be using Whirlpools a lot, load an Oarsman on board as a low-cost way to pay the damage without hurting the ship.
- The issue with terrain is that it's so easy to ignore. Terrain features aren't that big; if you don't want to deal with them, just go around them, at a very small reduction in the distance you cover. If you want a reef or a sargasso sea to be a threat, you have to break the rules and string two or three of them together. Or put a reef so it extends out from an island, a situation that happens a lot in real life.
- The ships and crew that allow you to ignore terrain while moving are only useful if the map has a lot of terrain on it. Otherwise, it's cheaper to just go around the offending terrain, skip the 3-point crew, and buy a ship with a more useful ability. The exception is Fog; a ship or crew with this ability can find sanctuary in Fog if needed, then sail away at will.
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