Black Fleet – Pirate fun for the family

Black Fleet board game

Open seas fun for the family.

Avast mateys!

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?

Black Fleet board game

Play as merchant, pirate, and navy on every turn!

Black Fleet is a great board game to play with your family.

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.

Black Fleet board game

The grey pirate is about to attack the white merchant.

Second, kids need to be old enough to read. All the Fortune and Development cards have text that grant special abilities. Players need to be able to read, understand, and remember how to use the abilities to affect their game play.

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.

Black Fleet board game

The game is getting underway.

There may be many possibilities in the game, but since players have a limited number of cards in their hands, the choices each turn are minimized to what’s at hand. Thus, the game is made up of simpler, tactical choices along the way.

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.

Black Fleet board game

Movement cards in Black Fleet.

Likewise, players strategically choose where to sail their pirate ships, who and when to attack, and where to bury their treasure. And let’s not forget the neutral navy ships – which players strategically maneuver for blocking and attacking.

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.

Black Fleet board game

The Fortune cards add a great twist.

However, the options on movement cards can be augmented by playing special Fortune cards. And that’s where some additional strategy comes into play. Keeping a few Fortune cards on hand to play at the opportune time can definitely change your fortune.

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.

Black Fleet board game

Development cards add cool abilities.

You may have a great plan, but as soon as your route is blocked, a pirate attacks your merchant ship, or your pirate ship is sunk, you’ll have to adjust on the fly.

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!

Black Fleet board game

The ships and doubloons are awesome!

Every piece is fantastic!

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!

Black Fleet board game

Such a cool box insert for a fun pirate game.

Inserts are made to hold game components in place as the game sits on the game shelf. We’re familiar with plenty of box inserts and know that some do their job wonderfully while others get in the way and should be tossed immediately.

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.

Black Fleet board game

Development cards are bought in any order.

We’ve tried analyzing why this is the case and have been testing our theory to see if there really is an inherent advantage.

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.

Black Fleet board game

Love these ships!

Either way, we do pay attention to the possibility of a first player advantage when we play. Maybe the first player will find himself/herself attacked a bit more than the others in our games. We’ll see.

Guess that just means we’ll just have to play some more times to find out.
Awww shucks.

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 board gameBlack 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.

Thanks Space Cowboys and Asmodee for this fun family board game!

The Board Game Family Game Ratings
Caleb: 4.0 Meeples Caleb
Brooke: 4 Meeples Brooke
Jaden: 4.5 Meeples Jaden
Trevor: 4.5 Meeples Trevor
Mom: 3.5 Meeples Mom
Dad: 4.5 Meeples Dad
Average: 4.3 Meeples Average


Comments: 9

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I cannot believe I just saw this post on FB. I read it after spending 2 hours (to bring my total to about 40 hours) of developing a game that began with almost the exact same premise–controlling pirate ships and merchant ships. Since my first play-testing revealed a lot of flaws in the initial design, my game has since evolved into something quite a bit different, and will play very different than this game. In my game, players no longer control merchants and pirates. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see this game. Looks like a fun one! Love your site, by the way. Consulted it again prior to our Christmas family game purchase, and went with Zooloretto, trying to appease all ages in the family.




Great review! I could not agree more! I also agree with your comments about age appropriateness. I would like to add that this game could also be considered 4+ with some slight modifications. When my tiny table toppers and I play, we play that you only have to flip over the goal cards – we do not worry about the benefits that they provide. And we play with our cards face up so that I can help them with what they do. Sure it takes away from some of the treachery and cunning in the game, but sitting with a 4 year old pirate for an hour is pretty fun! 🙂




    David – that’s a great solution for including the younger kids in the game.




    Thanks for posting this variant David. The main reason my copy of Black Fleet is still in shrink wrap is because I haven’t gotten 3+ people yet to play it and my kids aren’t quite to the point where their reading comprehension is good enough to understand. Maybe I will be able to try it with my kids first.




Great review for a great family game!

The age recommendation may be due to the long text in some of the cards and the skill needed to chain them effectively, but mainly because the game contains lots of small pieces and rating your game for ages younger than 10 requires extra safety tests and paperwork (this is an industry standard). That’s the reason why many publishers rate their games for ages way older than most of us consider appropriate.

I’ve played this game with my 8 year-old daughter without problems (you can also give younger children the 10p victory card while you play with the 20p), and it’s among my wife’s favorite games. But as always, every kid is different both in taste for specific games/settings and in their ability to play them, so your mileage may vary.

I’ve not really seen the 1st player advantage thing in our house mainly because in our family we play with the idea that “everyone goes to get the currently winning player” (and no one gets mad about it), so if you are suddenly winning then you are gonna get attacked A LOT, and you better start planning some sweet skill/card combos if you want to stay ahead. Most of the time we get at least two people buying the victory card on the same round.




    Mauricio – That’s great to hear about your experiences with Black Fleet. In our house, there’s a lot of “go after dad” strategies regardless of whether I’m in the lead or not. 🙂




Do you prefer this over Jamaica pirate game? which is better? I know they are both fairly different in their gameplay.




    Clare – We haven’t played Jamaica before (though it has been on our ‘want to play’) list for a while. So we can’t really draw a comparison.




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