Scuttling cuttlefish! Board game sighted off the port bow! It appears to be loaded with doubloons and little cubes for the taking. And what’s this? It appears to involve movement, but without dice rolling? Heave-ho, me hearties and haul this prize on board- we’ll see if she’s made of sterner stuff, after all!
Well blow me down if it isn’t Black Fleet from Space Cowboys, a game for 3-4 players with voyages that last about an hour (give or take.) In this game, each player controls a Merchant ship (which sales from port to port, selling goods and filling their hold with new goods to sell at the next port) and a Pirate ship (who robs other players’ Merchant ships and then buries the stolen goods.) In addition, there are two Navy ships which are shared between players (who sink other players’ Pirate ships.) And what is the point of all this? Why, the pursuit of doubloons, of course, ye scurvy dog! Sell goods at a port with ye merchant, ye get doubloons! Steal goods with ye Pirate and ye get doubloons! Bury ye stolen treasure and ye get doubloons! Sink a pirate ship and ye get doubloons! Soon, ye’ll be sailing upon a veritable sea of shiny dosh.
But what’s the use of glorious booty with nothing to spend it on, me hearties? Yer ultimate goal in this game is to raise the funds needed to pay the ransom to rescue the Governor’s daughter. Before ye can do that, however, ye’ll need to purchase four upgrade cards (in whichever order ye wish). Each of these upgrades will grant ye permanent abilities (such as being able to use navy ships to rob merchants, being able to move yer ships more spaces or even getting more money than ye would normally receive for doing different tasks). What’s more, every single upgrade card is different, so each player will play progressively more different from each other as they purchase more upgrades. Soon, ye’ll be crossing the sea in confidence!
Speaking of which- jumping jellyfish, how does one move their ships in this game? Well instead of rolling dice, each turn ye’ll choose between two Movement Cards in yer hand to play. Each Navigation Card shows the three different ships (Pirate, Merchant and one of the Navy ships- either the purple or yellow one) and the number beside the ship tells ye how many spaces ye can sail. In addition, each Movement Card will let ye change the amount of Fortune Cards you hold in your hand (ye’ll either gain one, two, none, or lose one). Ye can play as many of these Fortune cards on yer turn as ye like, and these one-use ability cards will give ye a brief advantage over yer opponents (such as extra movement, using islands as spaces ye can move through, or getting extra doubloons.)
So, my dear bilge rats, what puts the wind in the sails of this brig? Well, first of all, ye can’t ignore the components themselves. Your ships are actual little plastic ships, with goods represented by wooden cubes. Pick up goods at a port or steal a good with your Pirate ship and ye’ll actually place a cube in yer ship, which is a wonderful tactile experience. The doubloons themselves are made of metal (always a wonderful surprise) and make a lovely clinking sound as ye wait for yer turn. The art on the cards and board are bright and charming- reminiscent of the old Captain Pugwash cartoons (at least in my mind.) Turns progress fairly quickly with plenty of player interaction with little in the way of “got’cha” mechanics to be found. What’s more, since everyone is constantly stealing from each other or sinking each other’s ships, ye’ll feel less hurt when it happens to ye and look forward to doing it to another. This game is simple in both presentation and execution, but doesn’t get dull due to the variation injected by the use of Fortune cards and the upgrades one can purchase (and since there are more cards of each upgrade than possible players, every game will have a different mix of them, something that really increases the replay value of a schooner of this fashion.)
What’s more, the light-hearted tone and simple rules make this a great game for any cabin boys (or girls) ye may have bouncing around the hold- a great way to introduce the little kippers to life of a gamer. In addition, there are two differently priced ransom cards included (the final purchase that signals the end of the game) so if ye want a shorter or longer game, ye can easily arrange that. In the end, our crew heartily recommends ye add Black Fleet to yer own collection. Try it and ye’ll see we steered ye straight and true, as always.