Black Seas

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Black Seas
Black Seas Logo.jpeg
Wargame published by
Warlord Games
No. of Players 2-6 depending on game setup
Session Time 1-4 hours
Authors Gabrio Tolentino
First Publication 2019
Essential Books [Black Seas Rulebook]

"Do you not know that in the service … one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?"

– John "Lucky Jack" Aubrey

"Stop blowing holes in my ship!"

– Captain Jack Sparrow

Released in October of 2019, Black Seas is a squadron-scale, Age-of-Sail tabletop wargame produced by the venerable Warlord Games. The system's release was accompanied by several swanky, 1/700 scale models that typically come in boxes with multiple models per pack, at astonishingly affordable prices considering how many you need to play a full 2,000 point game.

Black Seas's lead designer is possibly the only Italian who has ever contributed to the economy. Gabrio Tolentino might be a recognizable name to anyone with copies of Cruel Seas or Pirates of Nassau on their shelf.

Ye be warned: you're about to become much more acquainted with naval terminology than you're comfortable with.

YARRRRR[edit]

Gabrio states pretty plainly what his design philosophy was when writing the system down right at the start of the rulebook on page 3; "These rules are designed for a fast-paced and fun game, rather than to give a completely authentic sailing simulation. They're realistic in many respects, but several of the intricacies and difficulties of battling with a fully rigged sailing ship have been simplified to avoid games becoming bogged down in unnecessary minutiae and book keeping."

Boy, does he deliver. Weighing in at a respectable, yet not overwhelming 95 pages, the Black Seas rulebook is an approachable system for players looking for an excuse to blast sea shanties during their game night. The main rulebook contains all you need to play the game, including faction rules, ship points and profiles, upgrades and their costs, as well as, well, the rules. Players coming from the world of Games Workshop will breath a sigh of relief for not needing to carry a library with them to game night if this is on the menu.

One praiseworthy aspect of the rulebook is that it essentially contains two "halves;" a simplified set of rules in the first half, and the full, "advanced" rules in the latter portion of the text. Players can therefore choose how in-depth they'd like to get with their game, such using the basic or advanced wind gauge (discussed later). This can cut down on play time significantly in bigger games where more than a dozen ships are maneuvering and blasting away at each other. The book also contains several scenarios, ranging from an imitation duel based on the opening engagement from Master and Commander, to a to-scale recreation of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) which requires more than forty ships, and an 8x6 foot table!

Core Mechanics[edit]

The starter set comes with a double-sided sea battle map, 3 frigates, 6 brigs, the rulebook, a bunch of D10's, and some other goodies for a price that would cause GW to have a stroke if they tried to offer similar product at the same MSRP.

Black Seas uses a handful of simple mechanisms that are integral to the game's function.

Weather Gauge[edit]

This determines three very important aspects of the game; who goes first, where the wind comes from, and how fast a particular ship can go depending on its heading. Simply put, the "wind" necessary to fill our sails always comes in from a table edge, and the ship closest to the wind's source activates first, no matter who controls it or went last. Once that ship has finished, the next closest ship goes, and so on. However, players roll at the beginning of each turn to see if the wind changes direction, effectively giving a chance for a new part of the table edge to be the wind source. Therefore, you can never be entirely certain what ship will go first. The weather gauge widget included in the aptly named Master and Commander starter set is used to record these details. Finally, depending on how the wind hits a ship, it might be possible for the vessel to use its top speed, or come to an abrupt stop if the wind is against it. In the event of the latter, there is real potential to damage your ship as the masts take a beating.

Sails[edit]

The amount of sails deployed by a ship determines its speed (duh). The more sails, the faster she goes. Sails can move up or down by one level per turn. There are four levels of sails; anchored, light sails, battle sails, and full sails. Each higher level of sails allows an additional move. As an example, a ship with light sails moves once, while one with battle sails moves twice. Some ships can only use certain levels, while others are restricted. For example, First Rate ships can never use full sails because they're simply too massive to move that fast in a combat situation when its crew is otherwise occupied, not to mention how dangerous a huge wooden behemoth filled with highly explosive powder and more than 3,500 tons of displacement going full-tilt in a crowded battlefield is.

Rate of Knots[edit]

Depending on the type and size, ships are assigned a Rate of Knots (typically from 3 to 6), higher numbers being faster. This value gets translated directly to inches of movement. This ties back into the level of sails. Using our prior example on a ship with a Rate of Knots of 5, if we assume it is using battle sails, it will move 10 inches. Meanwhile, if it goes to light sails, it will move 5 inches.

Turning[edit]

Ships turn either 35 or 45 degrees depending on their size at the end of every turn to a maximum of three turns per activation. Some ships, such as First Rates, can only do two per activation. Bear in mind that a ship *must* move more than once to get those extra turns, so remember to have battle sails on if you want to make that wide turn!

Skill Tests[edit]

Roll a D6 and hope it goes high. Inexperienced crews pass on 6, normal on 5+, veteran at 4+ (I think). Dozens of things get decided this way, from tacking to sailing close to other ships without entangling ropes and sails, as well as boarding actions and repairing.

Striking Colors[edit]

All ships have what's called a Break Value. If the ship's health drops to the Break Value, that boat must make a Skill Test at the top of every activation thereafter if its ship points are not above the break value. If a test is failed, the ship surrenders. Do not remove it from the board, now it's simply terrain.

  • You can repair your way out of this, but you better hope you pass the skill test to get a thicc D6 repair roll.
  • What this means is you can go several turns straight of passing break tests, and eventually succumb to the roll of statistical failure.
  • If you keep battering a ship past its break point it'll just sink once the ship points reach zero.

Ship Mechanics[edit]

Yes, you're looking at four fucking gundecks. By the time the Spaniards got done hollowing out more of the ship and installing more guns in 1802, the Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Trinidad, also known simply as La Real, had 140 guns on her ranging from 8 to 36 pounds in shot weight, making her the most heavily armed ship in the Age of Sail ever put to sea.

Ships are condensed into five main subgroups. In ascending order of size:

  1. Tiny: sloops, cutters, gun yawls, things that you can sink by driving your car or moped into it at relatively low speeds.
  2. Small: Brigs, schooners, small galleys, xebecs, basically the boats you wouldn't want to be on if anything heavier than a watermelon gets thrown your way.
  3. Medium: Frigates, smaller merchant ships, and built-up ships like oversized galleys. These are the backbone of most fleets, as they're capable of both dishing and taking respectable punishment while also maintaining maneuverability.
  4. Large: 3rd Rates, US Navy "super frigates" from the late 18th century, and other things that compensate for lacking manhood.
  5. Extra Large: The only examples of these are the real thing. First Rate ships like the HMS Victory, L'Orient, or even Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Trinidad fit in this category. As is befitting their obscene excess, these ships are prohibitively expensive and bringing even *one* can eat anywhere from a quarter to half of your budget, depending on the agreed point ceiling.

Guns[edit]

Where would we be without guns for which to shoot each other? Black Seas condenses all the various types of naval artillery into four main categories: Heavy cannon, Light cannon, Carronades, and Mortars (which technically also apply to rockets, so fuck them and their individuality).

Heavy cannon are your traditional long-range middle fingers. They shoot the farthest, and deal good damage, but are expensive. Light cannons are the same thing but smaller, with the bonus of being cheaper. Mortars are guns which allow you to fire at an enemy you cannot exactly see or draw a clear shot to, however they are wildly inaccurate and unpredictable, leaving potential for scattering your shot elsewhere.

A side bar on what in the fuck is a carronade[edit]

Expand this if you don't know what a carronade is. Otherwise, carry on.

Back in 1759, an enterprising Scotsman with a hankerin' for innovating new ways of blowing people up noticed an unmet need in the market for a polite way of telling people trying to requisition steal the shit in your boat to fuck off.[Robert Melvill] met with his associates at the Carron Company, located in Falkirk, Scotland, to find a solution.

I guarantee you, your hearing will be gone if this thing goes off and you are anywhere within ten feet of it.

Y'see, the crew of merchant vessels weren't exactly familiar hands with naval artillery. This left ships carrying shipping in a precarious position of unpreparedness in the event of piracy. To be fair, piracy as we would think it didn't really exist by this point as most European nations had engaged in a Letter of Marque scheme, but that's not the point.

Melvill and Co. reasoned that most encounters that might require a merchant crew to fire a gun in self-defense would involve a ship of similar speed to the merchant ship itself, having been built to travel from port-to-port as swiftly as possible. Thus, most engagements were at close range. Their solution was simple, brutal, and innovative. Enter the carronade.

Coming in at half, if not less than the size of a traditional long gun, the carronade combined the firepower of heavy artillery with simplicity any civilian could use in a life-or-death situation. Furthermore, its compact shape meant it used less precious cargo space which was needed for the shipping of goods. In practice, the weapon traded range and velocity for firepower and powder efficiency; less need for range meant less of a charge. This was a non-issue for the weapon's intended purpose, and it soon caught on with the British merchant marine, and subsequently, the British Navy. The weapon fired shot well above most other traditional guns, typically in either 32 or 68 pounds, compared to what was regarded as heavy cannon firing 32 pound shot. Seeing the value of using a lightweight gun that needed minimal crewing as a sledgehammer for when opponents came too close, the Brits made it a point to equip numerous rated Ships-of-the-Line with carronades. Hell, they liked it so much they equipped the [HMS Glatton] with 56 of them exclusively; 28x32lbers and 28x68lbers. Some accounts of the Battle of Trafalgar (where both the HMS Victory and the HMS Glatton were present) claimed that a single broadside from the Glatton exceeded the destructive potential of one from the Victory.

Ammunition[edit]

There's about half a dozen different projectiles you can throw at your target. Solid Shot: 90% of what you blast at your enemy will be this. Your bog-standard chunk of rounded iron intended to pulverize whatever is in front of it.

Chain Shot: A frenchman's best friend. Lets you roll twice on the Aiming High critical table and pick which one you want (assuming you proc a crit roll). Also only makes it a -1 to aim high, unless you're French (see below).

  • As you might have guessed, this is used for destroying sails and masts.

Double Shot: Lowers the range of all guns loaded with this to 8" but holy shit, will it put a smile on your face. Despite imparting a further -1 to hit, all successful shots do double damage but can't proc crits. If point black, this becomes tripled. If raking the stern and point blank, it gets fucking quadrupled.

  • Load this on a First Rate with Overgunned (see the Spain section) when the enemy gets close and watch as they call the First Mate for their brown pants.

Heated Shot: For some reason when you shoot this, your carronades cease to function. However, if any critical damage is inflicted then the target is on fire and gets whatever effect you've rolled on the crit table for. Hilariously, if you roll a 10 to hit when shooting this, your gunner spontaneously develops butterfingers and drops it, setting YOU on fire.

Grape Shot: All guns with this in the barrel have at most a 3" range, however you don't get point blank. But, it does 4 damage flat as it blows up the crew. Add a further +2 to the to hit of the ship's first boarding action of that turn.

Ship Profiles[edit]

While ship size and the guns they sport are crucial to determining the imprint of a ship upon a battle, there are 10 different pieces of information given in more than a dozen ship profiles, from First Rates to Fireships;

  • Ship Type: You've seen this before
  • Size: Also, seen before
  • Broadsides: Details how many and what type of gun are available in the broadside firing arc. First Rates obviously have the most, featuring 4H-3L-3C.
  • Stern: How many guns you have poking out of your ass. First Rates have a 1H looking at anyone behind it.
  • Bow: Your chasers. Useful for poking and sniping masts on tricksy frigates and brigs. First Rates get 2H.
  • Ship Points: Hit Points. For context, a First Rate has 104 while a Frigate (5th Rate) has 36.
  • Turn Angle: As noted earlier, determines red or blue angle on a gauge provided in the starter box.
  • Rate of Knots: Speed in inches per movement.
  • Break Value: If your vessel's ship points reach this number, you must start taking skill checks to see if it will surrender. You *can* repair your way out of it, but you're going to take a skill check every turn until you do.
  • Points: Ship point cost per your list budget.

Upgrades[edit]

Ships can be fitted with tons of different upgrades to enhance performance in certain areas, from gun accuracy to potency in boarding actions. For a price. I'll probably get around to discussing them here eventually, but I'm really not exaggerating when I say there's an upgrade for basically everything.

National Fleets[edit]

You didn't think they'd send this game out without caricaturing the conduct of nations in the Age of Sail, did you? Upon release, there are rules for American, British, French, and Spanish national fleets. Accompanying them are a gaggle of national heroes as well that can be bought for points and attached to a vessel for the duration of the battle. They are as follows:

Britain[edit]

"Lieutenant, I don't want to see the French anymore." "Understood, sir." - Recorded exchange of commands in an unmarked naval log from a Royal Navy vessel, sometime in ~1800.

Being a British company, Warlord of course gave England has some of the best, if not the best fleet rules in the system. As salty as we may be about it, the skill and culture of the Royal Navy precedes itself. The training and testing required to escalate as an officer filtered out the chaff through mechanisms such as the infamous Lieutenant's Exams, which are still conducted today in a similar fashion as they were in the 18th/19th centuries. Furthermore, British officers conducted gunnery training more frequently than other powers did, so gunners on Royal Navy ships arguably produced higher quality broadsides (as much as a smoothbore gun with significant windage allows). Their officers are also above-standard compared to other nation's options. While most others are giving situational buffs, British officers tend to give generalized ones, meaning you can bring them into pretty much any game and slap the shit out of your opponents. To reflect this, British fleets gain:

  • Drilled:+1 to hit when shooting
  • The Admiralty: British ships can re-roll one failed skill test per game, but you *must* accept the result.

British Officers: I'll give you three guesses on what captains you get.

  • Edward Pellew

You can re-roll one skill test per turn, which is a damn good way to manipulate tacking into the wind to your advantage. You also never strike colors "no matter the circumstances," making his ship a feisty salt-wench.

  • Horatio Nelson

This is like bringing a Primarch to the table. Every ship within 20" (and his own) gains +1 to a dice roll of EVERY skill test. His ship, of course, never strikes colors. Once per turn, EACH gun position on his ship can re-roll once dice that failed its hit, which is fucking nuts. However, they did build a weakness into this beast of an Admiral. If you can land musket fire on Nelson's ship, a D6 roll is triggered. If the result is a 1 or a 2, Nelson dies as if it's Trafalgar in 1805, after which "his special rules have no further affect on the game."

  • Cuthbert Collingwood

The cheapest officer, his only (but not to be underestimated) trait is to give every British ship in a 10" bubble (+ his own) a re-roll on the first broadside it shoots. That means all dice of the volley, not just one. So, if you skunk the shit out of your roll he's a good insurance policy to have around. This does, however, render him useless after the first shot of your fleet. However-however, he is essentially a slightly more expensive Master Gunner, costing only 10 points more but sporting a 10" bubble instead of a localized buff. You'll probably be taking him whenever you can.

British Named Vessels:

  • HMS Victory

The legend itself. If you get in Carronade range, you're throwing 11 dice at your target per broadside, potentially firing 28 dice at your opponent assuming you pull a Nero and FIRE EVERYTHING. She's a beefy fucker too at 115 ship points and a break value of 20. Her fleet buff of +1 to skill tests to all ships within 20". Combine with Nelson for maximum cheese.

  • Nelson + Victory means +2 to skill tests, making even inexperienced crews useful if they hug the Victory. Maybe worth considering if you can manage to keep the Victory afloat and in a good position.
  • At 550 points, capping out at 610 if you combine with Nelson, this is going to be more than a quarter of your budget in 2,000 point games. She's probably not worth taking in anything below 1500.
  • The Spanish fleet's Trinidad has more dakka than Victory, so if you're looking for the big tuna, this ain't it. That don't make her unloveable, however.
  • HMS Bellerophon

An aquatic, wooden bulldog. She's got a respectable broadside at 3H-2L-2C, but you really should take her for the ridiculous 5+ FNP against all hits scored against her, rendering 1/3rd of all shots that land useless. For 360 points, not a bad deal.

  • HMS Indefatigable

This is the secret weapon of any British fleet, and if you don't take her you're stupid. Any ship that is below half ship points must immediately test to strike colors at a -1 if they take damage from the Indie. You get 2H-2L-1C and 60 ship points, breaking at 20, with 4" of movement and an INSTANT "fuck you" for 240 points. With good rolls, you can take out the best ship in your opponent's fleet with half the effort before round 4. Fucking disgustingly good.

France[edit]

A cultural exchange between France and some waterborne Goddams.

The French Navy tended to go either one way or the other; it was a rare moment when the battles it engaged in weren't either decisive victories or defeats. At the command of the French government (whichever one happened to be in power), they tended to act opportunistically. Such was the case in 1775 when they basically ensured final American victory in the American Revolution with the Battle of Chesapeake, which effectively prevented the British from saving Cornwallis. While officers were not exactly of as reliable quality as their British enemies, French ships tended to be well-made, which sometimes made up for... errr... varied qualities of crews and officers. They're some speedy bois though, so don't underestimate them on account of some HONHONHON.

  • Streamlined: French ships get a super discount on Streamlined Hull (only 40 points now). Combine this with the next discount and you got yourself a fleet of aquatic boxers.
  • Double Planking: Their usual trend of shipbuilding, which sometimes accessed American methods of architecture (as evident in the highly recommended film and book series Master and Commander) meant some of their vessels sported unusual fortitude. So, we get the same discount as Streamlined but for Sturdy.
  • Aiming High: French gunners were trained to aim for the enemy masts with the philosophy of disabled their maneuvering ability with the added benefit of creating the possibility of capturing the enemy ship, rather than sinking it. This was a damn good idea if you wanted to take prizes, or if you were in the higher circles of naval strategy, grow your fleet at the price of balls, powder, and some men. Shots that aim high only get -1 rather than -2, unless you're firing chain shot, which suffers no penalty, which is fucking absurdly good. Enjoy whipping the shit out of your target while dancing circles around then with Streamlined.

French Officers Somewhat lackluster, but better than nothing.

  • Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve

It's an unspoken rule that you can only use this character if you wear a beret and smoke a cigarette from a baguette while playing. He was accountable for the defeat at Trafalgar, which says a lot about why his only special buff is allowing his own ship to test skill to ignore critical damage.

  • Captain Robert Surcouf

This guy is a troll on sails. For 40 points you get the Privateer upgrade for free on whatever ship he captains, but it ALSO effects every ship in Surcouf's fleet, except those rated between 1st and 4th rate. Take him on a 3rd rate + a pile of frigates and brigs for lols in boarding actions.

French Named Vessels:

  • L'Orient

Highly situational, but fun when it works. +1 to hitting British Vessels, and if when your opponent lights her on fire with heated shot spam at the expense of many brigs, an unmodified 1 on a skill test to put out flames means she fucking explodes.

  • Combine the +1 against British targets with aiming high and she will become your primary means of disabling the enemy fleet. With 4H-4L-3C and 1H on the stern and 2H on the bow, you'll have a lot of chances to make it work. The cost can be a turn-off, so make your own judgement call on if she's worth it.
  • Bucentaure

In keeping with the French theme of blue and yellow 'unz go fasta, the Bu can make an additional change of direction during any part of its move, and gets a +1 to all skill tests. Combine this with tacking and you've got a ship better than a greased pig at avoiding enemy maneuvers. At 370 points, I'd say she's worth it.

Spain[edit]

Captain Salazar Admiral Gravina upon discovering Spain is a fleet in Black Seas.

Though an oft-repeated joke, the Spanish machismo is quite present in BS. This is evident by their frequent use of more gun. Not unlike the French fleet in a similar era, the Spanish Navy was a bipolar fustercluck. Most people like to play up the loss of approximately one-fifth of the Spanish Navy to the British in the surrender following the 1762 Siege of Havana. However, this isn't the whole story. Multiple battles and maneuvers by the Spaniards not only took pressure off the Americans during the Revolution, but in 1741 the Spanish Navy managed to create an resounding victory for the ages at the [Battle of Cartagena de Indias]. In this action, Spanish sailors in six ships and several terrestrial gunnery positions manned by 6,000 ground troops not only staved off 124 ships and nearly 28,000 British infantry, but inflicted a loss of 50 vessels and 18,000 casualties upon the Royal Navy and its charge. Unfortunately, training and discipline were not uniform, and quality varied wildly. As a general principle, however, the Spanish like guns, and lots of them.

  • Heavily Armed: Spanish First Rates may take the Over Gunned rule for free, but for the trade of never being able to hit full sails without a skill test.
    • This makes the Spanish fleet the navy of choice for anyone wanting to run a fleet of as many First Rates as possible. No one will ever be able to match your sheer amount of iron in the air.
      • This also has the off-handed effect of making the Spanish much less viable at low-point games, since you're only running one First Rate per every 1,000 points. Your sweet spot is going to be a budget of 2,000 so you can cram two First Rates into a school of large Third Rates.
        • It also makes the Spanish much less beginner-friendly since it is very easy to get entirely lost with what in the fuck is happening within the chaos of a multi-thousand point game.
  • Out of Practice: Upgrading a crew to veteran status costs 30% rather than the usual 20% since Spanish crews "were not trained very often." However you more than make up for that with your sheer volume of firepower since you brought two first rates, right?

Spanish Officers

Don your feathered cap and frocked coat, because you're about to become the manliest motherfucker ever to wear stockings in a firefight. Otherwise, we're really scraping the bottom of the barrel for naval heroes, here.

  • Ignacio María de Álava y Sáenz de Navarrete

Despite having a name you can chew with your teeth on its way out, Ignacio is a cheap officer of only 30 points, but he lends the fun bonus of +1 to hit versus privateers for every ship within 20" of his. While situational, it helps clear out privateer fleets in scenario matches, otherwise useless.

  • Juan de Lángara

The Scientist-Captain himself, he's got a fun little ability that lets you re-deploy him from any battlefield edge after everyone else has placed their ships. A fun choice for only 30 points because you can chuck him on a Fireship and ram him into your enemy's back line for lols, or drop him into a bomb ketch and chuck high-arcing explosives into the heart of the opposing fleet. A fun choice for all, and family friendly.

Spanish Named Ships

  • La Princesa

A vessel of exploration and colonization, the Princesa has a neat little ability that puts a shore gun emplacement on a beach within 6" of her so long as she's anchored for two full turns within 4" of a beach. Otherwise she's a fragile lass with only 34 ship points and 1H-1L-1C to fight with.

    • This stacks, so in four turns you can get a pretty scary shore battery set up and use it to provide overwatch for damaged ships while they repair behind it, so the Princesa is extremely useful in certain situations as long as there's a landmass nearby.
  • Santísima Trinidad

You don't get this for any other reason aside from having a fort with sails. 144 ship points, possibly breaking at 48, featuring 5H-5L-4C and 2H on the aft and stern. She's a monster, but can only change direction for any reason ONCE per activation, and can only hit full sails after a skill test. Put her next to the island you've fortified with Princesa and let her shoot the ass out of anyone who thinks it's ok to be within 20 inches of her.

The United States of America[edit]

"I have not yet begun to fuck your mother." - Captain John Paul Jones in response to the enemy captain asking if he had struck his colors, said in action on the USS Bonhomme Richard against the HMS Serapis, off the coast of Northern England, September 23, 1779.

The creator of this article would like it to be known that he plays this fleet, and, in fact, anyone who thinks there is a better one is a huge virgin.

AMERICA FUCK YEAH

The United States Navy has a fascinating story beginning in 1774. In the span of forty years, it expanded, shrunk to one ship, which was subsequently auctioned off and the branch dissolved, then re-constituted in 1794, sailed to fight pirates in the Mediterranean in 1801, then the French and British between 1800-1813. Their story is a nice break from the usual "XYZ Navy sailed against ZYX Nation and engaged in a be-all-end-all apocalyptic battle in which more than a hundred ships and so many cannon fought until..." blah blah blah.

What's cool about the USN in the Age of Sail is that it was hyper specialized. The fledgling Republic barely had the revenue, let alone the legal authority to raise revenue for the construction of a new fleet of warships, so whatever they could scrabble together was extremely precious. When Congress authorized the construction of several frigates in response to rising French tensions (that would ultimately lead into the Quasi-War), congressional shipbuilders scoured the young country for specific types of hardwood to make their vessels that much more special. The result of these efforts were a handful of exquisitely built, robust, heavily armed ships that were dubbed "super-frigates" by history. Though they had the displacement of frigates of the Fifth or Sixth rates, they could (and oftentimes were) upgunned to match the firepower of some Old World Fourth Rates. Notable examples include the USS United States, President, Constellation, Chesapeake, Congress, and of course the venerable Constitution.

  • Over Fitted: In keeping with the theme of "everything but the kitchen sink," US ships get Over Gunned for a 20% discount of 80 points, and Sturdy for 40, which is a pretty fuckin' slick way of turning your 5th Rate frigate into a fast and formidable Third Rate. Furthermore, US naval lists CANNOT field AMERICAN First, Second, or Third Rate ships. We simply weren't making any, not that we could if we wanted to anyway due to being underdeveloped and undergunned since British policy in colonial times had involved the prohibition on cannon foundries in the colonies. Hence the super frigate approach.
    • This is literal. A 5th Rate has 2H-1L-1C per broadside and 36 ship points, along with a Rate of Knots of 5 and a 150 points price tag. . A 3rd Rate has 3H-2L-2C with 74 ship and a Rate of Knots of 4 costing 280. Altogether, buffing a 5th Rate with Over Gunned and Sturdy (120+150) rounds out an American frigate to 270.
      • Although 10 points cheaper with the same armament as a Third Rate, you're making a trade here for speed over staying-power. You're going to have almost 20 less ship points than a real Third Rate, but you'll have another inch of speed, which at full sails gets you 3 inches farther than the actual thing.
  • Drilled: Same thing as the British national trait, since American sailors were also periodically trained in gunnery and old hands at seamanship. Combine with Over Gunned to get the most "bang" for your buck with the +1 to hit when shooting.
    • Drilled + Over Fitted means that Americans are the de facto kings of fire-and-maneuver on the open sea. Where the Spanish castle up, the French stay out of their enemy's arc of fire while hitting sails, and the British use formations, Americans are all about planning your moves three sails ahead and putting your firepower *exactly* where it needs to be, while maintaining enough speed to get the fuck outta dodge. This is perfect for avoiding Spanish killing fields, British formation moves, and French disabling maneuvers.


American Officers

Everyone else has a slate of pretentious officers while we got some BADASS MOTHERFUCKERS.

  • COMMODORE Stephen "I fuck pirates with my iron cock of Liberty" Decatur

Revolutionary, Pirate Hunter, and motherfucker all around, Stephen is your anti-privateer officer. Slap him onto a super frigate and have him snipe your opponent's privateers. His +1 to hit against them, followed up by a +2 on boarding actions to them makes him the best officer in the book for the job. Otherwise completely useless.

  • CAP'N James "Don't give up the ship just because I've been shot" Lawrence

One of America's first Naval heroes by virtue of his immortal words (paraphrased above) that he spoke before being carried below decks following a fatal gunshot wound in the course of fighting a boarding action against the HMS Shannon, James has exactly one fun trait: A ship under his command NEVER strikes the colors. The full quote, which justifies this rule, is "Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." Which is pretty badass considering he had been shot at close range by a gun loading a .70 caliber BALL.

  • Oliver Hazard "I came here to chew gum and take your ships, and I'm all out of gum" Perry

The Hero of Lake Erie, Perry managed to capture an entire squadron of British ships on Lake Erie during the War of 1812 with nothing more than 5 schooners, 3 brigs, and a sloop, effectively doubling the American fleet presence in that body. He's got a very simple, yet fun rule for scenario games. Any battle agreed to be upon any US Lake (so the Great Lakes or Finger Lakes, or fuckin Lake George, I don't know) imparts a +1 to hit modifier when shooting an +1 to any skill test to the entire US fleet.

American Ships

  • USS Constitution

The closest thing we have to a national shrine other than the Gettysburg Battlefield and Washington's Headquarters in Newburgh where the Revolutionary War was officially concluded. The Constitution is a sumanabitch that is a true superfrigate. For 290 points, Old Ironsides has a smackingly good broadside of 3H-3L-1C and 1L on the bow to give anyone a swift kick in the arseholio. She's got 60 ship points, breaks at 20, and goes 5" per move. For 290 points, it's not bad at all considering her special is that every time you're hit, on a successful skill test whatever damage comes from that is halved, rounding up. Old Ironsides, indeed.

  • USS Essex

The whip of choice for a swashbuckler. +2 to boarding actions (ALL boarding actions), which makes her an ideal generic buy. And for 190 points, that's a pretty good deal. Otherwise she's got a somewhat better profile than your normal frigate with 45 ship points, breaking at 15, 2H-1L-1C and of course the standard 5" of your STC frigate.

Collecting your Fleet[edit]

So there's two primary ways to build a fleet. Bear in mind that all boxes come with an adequate amount of sails, ratline threading, cut-out flags and such for national ships, wakes, so on.

The Cheap Way/ Fleet Build for Nations Without National Fleet Boxes[edit]

Those of us who play Spanish, American, Privateer, EITC, and whatever have you that aren't either French or British are lucky because we get to save a few bucks in pursuit of building our fleet. However, that doesn't mean you can't make these ships French or British if you don't care about skimping some details other boxes have (see next section).

You need approximately TWO boxes to get more than enough points to rock a 1500 point game: the [Master and Commander Starter Set] (how original), and the [Third Rates Squadron box.] This will get you literally everything you could ever need.

  • The M&C box has punchout terrain for islands and forts, as well as all the doo-dads and wots-its you might want, such as colored cotton in white, black, or red to use for signifying broadsides or ships on fire, as well as tokens detailing ship critical hits and so on. Most importantly, it also contains the rulebook. At $48, it's a fucking STEAL for what you're getting in it. Just the ships it comes with sell separately for [thirty two dollars], so you might as well just spend the extra cash and get the M&C set. The best part, however, is that it comes with a double-sided 4'x4' gaming mat (might be wrong on those dimensions, but it's big).
  • The Third Rate box gets you exactly 3 Third Rates. Self explanatory. You will need these to flesh out your fleet for larger 1500 point games.
  • Buy a First Rate if you really want one, doesn't matter which, the Victory or L'Orient. Only That Guy is going to give a shit about you fielding a French First Rate in a Spanish fleet.

Moneybags Fleetbuilding *Specifically* for French or British Fleets[edit]

Master and Commander set is still your core purchase because it contains rules, extra ships, and all that shit I just wrote up there. However, you want a fleet box from either [Royal Navy] or [French Navy] options. Each box comes with customized historical plates for the asses of your boats, which is obviously good if you're a fucking nerd like me. It'll also give you an appropriate First Rate plus fifteen other boats and a fucking little flotilla for bomb ketches, which is hilariously adorable that you think something like that would survive thirty seconds on the table. Once you've bought a starter set + a fleet box, you're squared away for games up to around 2,000 points-ish.

Beyond your First Fleet: Expanding[edit]

I think it'd be wise to at least have six Third Rates since they're basically the core of your battle line in bigger games, so I'd say grab the [Third Rates Squadron box] if you just want something to flesh out a fleet roster overall.

Afterwards, I'd say [frigates] is never a bad idea since they're cheap, aren't limited, and fulfill a pretty utilitarian role in your fleet. The upshot of frigates is after you get at least six of them, you can run a pretty tidy American fleet no-problem.

Tie-in to Black Powder[edit]

Black Powder is another game produced by Warlord Games, which is of course the inspiration for the name "Black Seas", the other half of the name being bitten from the game system Cruel Seas, which is WG's other ship combat game but at a patrol boat scale and set in World War 2. There are multiple ideas Gabrio offers in the rulebook about how a campaign could tie together Black Powder and Black Seas, so it's fun to know that the publisher is aware that some players might want to link systems.