It’s time for another pirate game review.
But don’t think Black Fleet is just another pirate game. Because Black Fleet is more than that – it’s an awesome pirate game for families.
In Black Fleet players get to play both Pirate AND Merchant!
And that’s not all.
Players also get to take on the role of the Navy – keeping the seas free of scoundrel pirates.
Trust us, you’ll want to dock Black Fleet on your family game shelf.
Get the full scoop in Trevor’s video review of Black Fleet.
Can the whole family enjoy Black Fleet?
It has a fun theme, fantastic artwork, amazing components, and a good balance of strategy and luck.
But above all else, it’s full of great game play.
The game box indicates ages 14+. However, this is one game where we strongly disagree with that age recommendation. We’d recommend ages 8+.
First, because we know kids younger than 14 are going to want to play this game. If you have this out on the table, without a doubt, young kids will be drawn to it. And they should be. It’s great.
Third, kids need to be able to handle being attacked. Merchant ships WILL be attacked and pirate ships WILL be sunk. That’s part of the fun. If a young child is going to be traumatically impacted when his pirate ship is removed from the board, then he/she is not ready to play.
Forth, players should be old enough to have a handle on strategy in games. In Black Fleet, players need to make multiple choices on their turn. Stringing together movements in the best order while integrating the special actions on cards requires some strategic thinking. But it’s not 14+ level strategy.
So in the strategic thinking department, Black Fleet is actually a great way to help kids develop and strengthen this ability.
Balance of Strategy and Luck
One of the elements we look for in a great family board game is a good mix of both strategy and luck. And Black Fleet strikes a very good balance.
Players strategically choose which ports they want to sail their merchant ships between. Traveling farther can earn more doubloons, but will also increase the risk of being attacked by pirates and losing a good.
Then there’s the luck.
The cards players draw every turn (Movement and Fortune), as well as the special Development cards they purchase throughout the game, have a big impact on the game. Since each player only has 2 Movement cards to choose from each turn, the options for movement are dependent on the luck of the draw.
As Trevor shows in his video review, each player also receives 4 unique Development cards to purchase during the game. The special powers on those cards also greatly impact the game. While they’re handed out randomly to begin the game, players get to choose the order in which they purchase the cards for use. Thus, more strategic choices.
And let’s not forget the impact all the other players have on your fortune. While we don’t count this as “bad luck”, what other players do will definitely impact your strategies.
And that’s why we love the game!
There’s plenty of back and forth, changing tides, retaliation, and all around good piratey fun.
The components are awesome!
We mentioned this earlier, and you can see it in the video and the photos, but simply put: Black Fleet has amazing components!
The merchant ships have great detail and perfectly fit 3 wooden cargo cubes on board. The stubby pirate ships also have great detail and fit 1 wooden cargo cube on board. There’s no need to question how many goods each ship can carry, because the ship does all that work for you.
The ships may be plastic, but the doubloons are not. The doubloons in Black Fleet are metallic and make the great chinking sound that all treasure on the high seas should possess.
And all of this is set on a beautifully designed game board with fantastic artwork. Set this out on the table and it just looks great. The game theme can’t be held back when the game board and cards are on full display.
But that’s not all…
Black Fleet has the best box insert ever!
But the box insert in Black Fleet goes a step further and makes even the inside of the game box fun. That’s because the Black Fleet insert is shaped like a skull and cross bones.
When I see the game box on the shelf, I imagine the components inside are having fun themselves because they’re contained in a box that’s dripping with theme even inside the box.
Way to go Space Cowboys!
(Space Cowboys is company that published the game.)
First Player Advantage
The only downside we’ve encountered in our games of Black Fleet is a seemingly first player advantage. The victory in the majority (80+%) of our games has gone to the first player.
I first noticed it after our third game but didn’t say anything about it. In our fourth game, I made it my strategy to go directly after the first player every chance I could. I barely won that game – which was resolved by the tie-breaker rule (most money) because it was so close.
We’ve postulated that it could be because the first player has the biggest opportunity to deliver his/her first load of merchant goods unobstructed/un-attacked. That first player can get far out to sea before other pirate ships even get started. And since pirate ships start in 1 of 3 corner spots on the board, it will take them a couple turns before they’re in range to attack another ship. By this time, the first player has sold goods, earned a bunch of doubloons and purchased a development card that gives him/her a special ability that adds to the disparity.
Whereas, for the player going last, 3 pirate ships are already sailing by the time they get their merchant ship in motion. So by their second turn, their merchant is already being attacked and losing a good (or more).
However, because there are many other factors involved, we’re not yet saying the game is broken or creating a house rule. It could be that the starting port is more of a determining factor. Or that the first purchased development card has always been a super strong one. Or that the person going first was someone we wanted to be nice to and not attack as much.
Guess that just means we’ll just have to play some more times to find out.
We mention here because we want to be thorough based on what we’ve found so far, but it’s not going to stop us playing the game. We have too much fun playing it to stop.
How does Black Fleet score on our “Let’s play again” game meter?
It almost goes without saying that Black Fleet scores very high on our “let’s play again” game meter. It’s the first game we played on Christmas day because the theme and art style called out so strongly to us. We just had to play it. And we’ve played it plenty of times since.
Black Fleet is also a game we’ve introduced to our friends at the first chances we’ve had.
It’s a game we’ve really enjoyed playing because we get to be merchant, pirate, and navy all in one game. And since we get to attack each other, there’s also plenty of retaliation and piratey trash-talking which naturally leads to calls of “let’s play again”.
Why else do you think Black Fleet is the first game on our review list from the 11 games we got for Christmas?
It’s a great game.
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