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Black Fleet

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Space Cowboys/Asmodee, 3 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 60 minutes, $59.99)
blackfleet1The governor’s daughter has been captured! Rescuing her requires skill, courage – and lots of doubloons to pay her ransom! It’s off to the sea to gather the necessary funds through trade – and pirating – as players command their fleet of ships to victory in the latest game from Sebastian Bleasdale: Black Fleet.

In Black Fleet, players are equipped with a merchant vessel (to pick up and deliver goods), their own pirate ship (to raid the merchant ships of opponents) and share command of two royal navy warships (in purple and yellow) on the prowl to sink pirates! “Development” cards, valued at 5, 8, 11 and 14, are “upgrades” to various ship abilities and everyone randomly receives one of each denomination. These development cards are similar in abilities but not identical. In addition, a “victory card” valued at 10 (or 20 for a longer game) is given to each player as well as one “Fortune” card (but more on those later). First player selection cards (which denote the color of each player) are dealt out with the player getting control of the Black Fleet going first.

Cubes of different colors representing valuable cargo are placed at the various ports, a single color at each location. Starting with the player in control of the Black ships, each player will place his merchant ship at any port of his choice (ports can be shared) and immediately load his ship with three of the goods (cubes) there. (Pirate ships stay off the board and the royal navy begins on marked spaces in roughly the center of the area.) All of these ships are beautifully molded plastic pieces with the merchants and pirates able to actually hold cargo (up to three cubes for the merchants and one cube for the pirates).

Players begin with two Movement cards and start their turn by playing one of them. Every Movement card displays three movement values (one for the merchant, one for the pirate and one for either the yellow or purple royal navy ship) indicating how many spaces that particular ship may move when the card is played: Ships may be moved in any order.

Merchant ships are trying to get their cargo to a port that will accept the type of good (colored cube) they are carrying. Those ports are usually across the board from where that cargo was loaded. When arriving at that port, cargo is immediately offloaded and the player receives a specified number of doubloons (from 2 to 3) for EACH cube. Those doubloons go right into the player’s holdings.

blackfleet2Pirate ships enter the play area from any one of three possible directions. What they are trying to do is raid a merchant ship to capture some cargo! (And no, you cannot raid your own merchant vessel.) If a pirate ship manages to sail adjacent to a merchant, that merchant is considered attacked and loses ONE of its cargo cubes (which is then transferred directly to the pirate ship). On a subsequent turn, the pirate may bury that good at an island location and receive doubloons (as many as six) for that action. Only one action is permitted each turn so a pirate may attack and bury but not do both on the same turn.

While pirates are scouring the sea for merchants, the royal navy vessels are on the hunt for pirates. If either of these ships moves adjacent to a pirate ship, that ship is sunk and immediately removed from the board! (Any cargo that pirate may have been carrying is lost.) The player controlling that navy vessel receives two doubloons as a reward. (But don’t despair pirate lovers. The pirate ship reappears the very next turn and may continue its ongoing mission to loot and pillage.) In addition to movement, Movement cards can also affect your fortune.

Some Movement cards allow you to draw 1 or 2 Fortune cards (or, sometimes, lose them). Fortune cards provide benefits to a player (such as extra doubloons, greater movement, even the ability to move the ships of OTHER players) and you may play as many of them on a turn as you like. (However, there is a three card hand limit on these.)

After moving all their ships, players may pay for those upgrades they have. They do not have to be purchased in any particular order but only one may be bought each turn. These upgrades allow you to bend the rules in your favor (allowing you to attack other merchants or gain extra doubloons or increase movement abilities and more)! Once all upgrades have been bought – and only then, a player is ready to surge to victory.

With all upgrades purchased, a player is allowed to buy the victory card (for 10 or 20 doubloons). Every player is given the same number of turns so if in a round more than one player is able to buy his victory card, the player who is left with the most doubloons is the victor!

Black Fleet is a game of rollicking action. Ships are boarded, sunk, appear and disappear with alarming regularity. The game rewards quick and decisive action. You have to strike and strike fast! But the beauty of the design is that being sunk does not slow down the pace. Since pirate ships reappear with no time lag, no player is ever at a significant disadvantage regarding fleet size. And the atmosphere is only heightened by the beautiful board artwork, the nicely detailed ship miniatures and even the doubloons which are not your typical cardboard cutouts but heavy metal coins! (Even the insert adds to the ambiance as it is shaped as a skull & crossbones!)

While, personally, I would have liked to have seen the blackguards who kidnapped the governor’s daughter clapped in irons and thrown into a dank, dark dungeon, that’s beyond the scope of the game. Players will have to content themselves with amassing doubloons, upgrading vessels and sinking those of their opponents, a completely satisfying alternative. Black Fleet is a very tactical game buoyed by wonderful components which make the game a visual treat as well as a game suitable for friends and families.


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