Sail the Seas in Black Fleet
from Space Cowboys
Designer: Sebastian Bleasdale
Artists: Denis Zilber
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Year Published: 2014
No. of Players: 3-4
Playing Time: 60 Minutes
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com
From the Publisher:
You command a flotilla of ships on behalf of a nation in a far off corner of the Caribbean. Each turn, you will move your merchant ship, your pirate ship, and a navy ship to try and win doubloons. These riches will allow you to improve your ships and when your fleet is fully developed, you may pay the ransom of the governor’s daughter to win the game.
Set up is not extremely cumbersome (Pro Tip: Separate each of your colored goods into its own baggie, this cuts setup time a lot by eliminating the time required to sort the cubes) and consists of setting up the goods on the board, placing the two Royal Navy ships on their marked starting spaces and shuffling the decks of movement and fortune cards. Players are then dealt one of each of the numbered development cards (extra cards will be put back in the box) which they layout in order facedown in front of them (they may look at their cards at any time) and the agreed upon victory card (either 10 or 20 value.) Finally, each player will be dealt a 1st player selection card which identifies the color of each player’s ships. The player that is dealt the black ship card is the first player (as indicated on the card.)
When the players have their Pirate and Merchant ships, each player will draw one fortune card and two movement cards. The first player (black ships) will place their merchant ship at one of the three docks in the port of their choosing and load three goods from that port onto their ship. The other players will then proceed in turn order to do the same. There are no restrictions as to the port that you choose to start unless all of the docks at that port are taken.
Pirates! It is fair to say that this game virtually oozes them. Each player controls a merchant ship with which they pick-up and deliver goods from one port to another AND they control a pirate ship whose job it is to rob from (and possibly sink) those merchant ships, taking their plunder to islands on the board where they can bury it for doubloons! You also get a chance to control the shared Royal Navy vessels on each turn to patrol the waters and destroy the dastardly pirate ships of your opponents whenever possible. Fortune cards and goal cards are also thematic and add to the flavor of the game.
Black Fleet is an exciting Pick-up And Deliver game that adds Variable Player Powers as the game progresses and plenty of Take That! moments along the way. The game board is an open world map with Area Movement.
As previously mentioned, each player will control 3 ships on each of their turns. The achieve this by playing their movement cards. Each movement card will list a value for your merchant ship, your pirate ship and either the purple or the yellow Royal Navy ship. It may also allow you to draw or force you to discard Fortune cards (which contain rule breaking abilities that can be played at any time on your turn or sometimes on your opponents turns.) You get to choose the order in which to move the three ships any number of spaces up to the number shown on the card. Merchant ships pick up goods and deliver them to other ports for doubloons. Pirate ships steal from (and sometimes sink) your opponents merchant ships and gain doubloons, then travel to deserted islands to bury the treasure for more doubloons. Royal Navy ships attack and sink your opponents pirate ships for, you guessed it, doubloons. When you gain enough doubloons, you can cash them in for your development cards which provide rule breaking abilities and bonuses for your ships. Once you have purchased your 4 Development cards, you then have to earn enough doubloons to win the hand of the Governor’s daughter by flipping over your Victory card (either 10 or 20 doubloons.) Once a player has achieved this, the round continues to the end and if more than one player has a flipped victory card, then the player with the most wealth wins.
Artwork and Components:
The artwork is colorful and fun and very pirate-y. The board and cards complement each other nicely and I like that the Objective, First Player and Victory cards can all be laid out to form a continuous picture. The components are top notch with good quality cards, nicely detailed miniatures for the ships, colorful wooden cubes that actually sit in slots on the ships and metal coins in two color to serve as 1 and 5 value doubloons. The rulebook is thick paper with colorful illustrations and easy to read and understand directions. Also the insert, while maybe not designed for optimal efficiency was designed for optimal coolness as the indents are shaped into a skull and crossbones!
What more can I say?? This is a fun game where you get to sail the open seas (well, somewhat open, there are many islands to constantly sail around) and wreak havoc upon your opponent’s peaceful merchants while avoiding those pesky do-gooder Royal Navy Ships. There is a lot of back and forth with different players usually gaining the upper hand throughout the game. When you start flipping development cards (and to some extent the one-time use Fortune cards) the rules get somewhat tossed on their heads and things get a bit wacky. But that’s ok, because everyone has their own set of unique development cards to upgrade their fleet in its own zany way.
There are a couple of downsides in this game, one of which is the VERY limiting player count (3-4 players) which can make it a bit tough to get to the table. There is some balance issue at times with the Fortune and Development cards that can lead to a run-away victory from time to time, if the right player gets the right combo of cards.
Overall, Black Fleet is a game that I thoroughly enjoy. It is a great pick-up and deliver game for those that enjoy a little lighter fare. Great for family game night with the caveat that the age rating on the game is set a little high in my opinion. I would think that children 8 and up (if they are at a decent reading level) could pick up and enjoy this game easily. The one thing that I would caution is that younger players understand that this is a game in which other players will be taking your stuff and messing up what you want to do but you get to do that back. I have played it with several younger children and as long as we had that conversation up front, feelings were not hurt by the sometimes-mean play that occurs during the game. As long as the game is kept light without getting personal, most people should be fine with it.
Stefan Yates is a professional in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Kansas State University. Finding ways to work gaming into work, he serves on the university’s Alternate Reality Game Committee and is a co-Faculty Advisor for the Board Game Club. He is also a PhD student whose field of research is Gamification in Student Programming. He enjoys playing (and mostly losing) almost any type of game and likes to work in multiple game sessions per week whenever possible. An avid solo gamer with an additional interest in tabletop miniatures games, the stay-at-home orders of the pandemic were not particularly concerning as there was always painting to do and terrain to build. Stefan is also a book and movie collector and a huge football fan (go CHIEFS!)