Bottleneck Game at 4×50
The latest game at Mox Boarding House in Bellevue Washington was of a similar nature as my previous “Bottleneck Game” – 4×50 (4 players, 50 point fleets) with all home islands on one side of the ocean, with the wild islands and gold only accessible via a bottleneck where two land peninsulas converged. These are the house rules we use, though this was a flat earth game (with hard boundaries you couldn’t pass over) to make sure the bottleneck would be relevant. If you try this idea, I would also recommend banning Ghost Ship and possibly the home island raider abilities – the former to prevent making the bottleneck irrelevant (or at least make ghostly not able to pass through the peninsula landmasses). The peninsulas of the bottleneck can be explored for the purposes of building forts on them.
We used 4 wild islands with 4 coins apiece.
Here are the general fleets in the order of play:
Were we actually ready for what this setup and fleet gamification would bring upon us?
Dan elected to stay at home for the first round. With Kyle’s mighty American presence next to him, it looked like a smart move. I was originally going to have the Paradox in my fleet as well, but removed it to bolster the Raven. With the help of Don and an oarsman she sped off through the bottleneck at the breakneck pace of 8S. The Slipstream dove underwater and headed west… would she be seen again? The Dragon stayed put, likely the best option with gunships looking ready to swarm the bottleneck area.
The Carolina was waylaid by Dan’s forces, captured by the Espada in the below picture. The Atlanta took a beating from the Tartessos as well. John got in on the action with the Marseillais, but missed all shots.
The Tartessos had a broadside ready against John’s flagship, but Lenoir denied Miranda the chance at a sinking. In the meantime, the Raven had explored the central wild island on the western half, finding three 5’s and Shipping Charts. She only had room for one 5, but I was determined to explore other islands since it looked way too risky to come home anytime soon. The origins of my fleet strategy centered around using Moreau (pretty safe on the submerged, cancelling Slipstream) from underwater to shoot Wolves dead at the opportune moment in a way that would let me dictate the endgame. I was playing the long game, hoping to have Wolves protect the final gold in play and then potentially stalling and negotiating in order to better my position at the end by having total control over when the gold that Wolves guards could be accessed.
Although the main purpose of the sub and Marine crew was to let me dictate the endgame phase, it quickly became apparent that my fleet was by far the weakest and I would probably have to incur some damage to the opposition in order to get the Raven home safely. Thus the Slipstream began ramming nearby ships, first picking on John’s French fleet. An annoying tactic, but one that felt necessary given the circumstances and opposing fleets. More damage probably could have been done if I revealed Moreau, but I wanted to keep the marine secret for longer. I also knew (partly through Shipping Charts) that both Dan and John had cancellers, so if they teamed up the Slipstream could be sunk.
The Dragon had a sad game where she stayed at home, as it was too risky to set sail as she would likely get blasted before she could sail through the bottleneck. The island partially cut off in the bottom left corner has been explored by the Raven, who found a Cross of Coronado there as well as 3,3,2. I was noting all of the gold and crew in play and wanted to know more. John soon found the Wolves I contributed at the island the Glaive is docked at, making me curious as to what they would be protecting. The rest of John’s fleet heads north around terrain, shadowed by the Slipstream. The Spanish and Americans eye each other, with repairs occurring in both fleets. Kyle did have designs on the gold islands, but has been foiled. This is because the Tartessos lurks in wait for anyone brave enough to pass through the strait. It looks as though both the Spanish and Americans will be confined to the home island half of the ocean, making it a very dangerous place for any gold runners brave enough to risk a return journey.
A few rounds later and the pace of play chugs along slowly. Seeing what looked like a long stalemate in the endgame full of fearful maneuvering and home island raiding swaps, I wanted to take some calculated risks to improve my position and keep the game moving. To that end the Raven swerved astern of the Enfant Terrible and rammed her derelict (just out of reach of the Marseillais) with the intent to capture soon afterwards. That happened after she explored that northwestern island, finding Marksman’s Map, an abandoned captain and oarsman, and a 1. Not the best island, but now I had both “spyer” UT’s and could easily peek at what Wolves was protecting without having to explore there. Knowledge is power, and now I was on a quest to know what every single face down cargo in the game was. From there I could make calculations, assess what risks I wanted to take, and determine whether to be aggressive with the Slipstream or make sure Moreau could kill the Wolves at the right time later on. The Atlanta has sniped a few masts off the captured Carolina, while L’Afrique is badly stuck on a sargasso sea.
My assets harass the French. The Enfant may not have a lot of value in the game, but I still want the coins she loaded and it’s always better to have more units available if possible. The more ships you have the more options you have.
Having explored the 3 wild islands I wanted to (and with Marksman’s Map allowing me to see the rest of the coins at the Wolves island), Don Pedro sacs the Raven’s oarsman to allow her to both capture a fleeing Enfant Terrible, and tow her into a fog bank all in one turn. I did this only after knowing (through Shipping Charts) that John had not picked up the abandoned oarsman, since that would have delayed my capture attempt. The west gets a little spicier as Dan sails the Espada de Dios through the bottleneck. Some talk had occurred about Dan and John teaming up their cancellers to counter the Slipstream, so I decided it was silly not to start using Moreau’s Marine ability with the sub still submerged. The Slipstream was definitely an offensive pest to be reckoned with, using a ram + “torpedoes” (submerged Marine shot; term coined by El Cazador) combo to eliminate half the masts from the Espada! I knew the Espada had no oarsman, so if she could be quickly dismasted, a capture of her magnitude might change up the game. Also, just in general I wanted to eliminate one of the opposing cancellers since doing so would mean the Slipstream was essentially invulnerable for the remainder of play.
The Raven has snuck away with a French prize, while the Slipstream can deter opponents from blocking the bottleneck for when the Raven eventually wants to make an 8S break for home….
The Enfant explored the Raven while they were in fog, transferring the abandoned captain to the Raven (knowing that if I revealed it, it wouldn’t count against the point limit of the ship unlike regular crew). I then dropped the tow, knowing the Enfant would likely camp out in fog to protect her 1 coin until it was counting time. The Espada flees southwest, docking to avoid being shot at by Moreau (due to Bianco’s Haulers aboard). John’s Glaive picks up the remaining two 5’s for a whopping 10 total gold, something I am intrigued about getting fought over if the gold moves far enough east.
The Afrique finally got free of her sargasso trap and joined her fleetmates for a fateful trip home. The Slipstream would not simply hang out with the Wolves, knocking down a mast on the Marseillais. The Espada has switched sides on the peninsula, with Dan measuring carefully to stay out of the Slipstream’s L+S ramming range. There was a considerable amount of premeasuring happening each round now, mostly concerning the Tartessos and Atlanta, who looked like they might have a clash of the titans as climax scenarios began to approach us….
The Atlanta was the first ship to blast the French on their journey towards home, taking masts off 2 of the 3 ships. The derelict Glaive was the prize that Dan and Kyle had been waiting all game for. 🙂 Unfortunately for Dan, despite an SAT from Castro on the Tartessos, his maneuvering and options were hampered by the Espada’s positioning and Lenoir’s cancellation sitting in his path to the Atlanta and/or Glaive. At the top right Kyle has accomplished a goal of his by recapturing the Carolina after a risky double ram attack while the schooner was still docked at Dan’s HI.
The French take a stand against the Atlanta but do minimal damage. I believe Castro missed an SAT, meaning the Tartessos didn’t have much range on Dan’s turn. Kyle took advantage, using the Atlanta to snipe two masts off the Tartessos! The Slipstream lurks near the bottleneck, as I heavily consider trying to sink the Glaive outright with a well-placed shot from Moreau. By this point I knew there was 29 total gold in play, with all four players having Ransom crew as well to muddy the calculations a little. I was tempted to send the 10 gold to the depths and increase the percentage of total gold I already controlled (only 6 between the Raven and Enfant, but a good start on the 19 that would remain), but decided against it because I didn’t want to draw so much attention to the Slipstream with both cancellers rather close. Better to bide my time with the opposing Lenoir so weak on the crippled Marseillais. Plus, SM Fantasma still lurked on the Dragon, so I wasn’t convinced that whoever got the Glaive’s gold home (if anyone) would retain it against my HI raider plus Dan’s Espada.
The Afrique compounded the problems Dan was facing by revealing fire shot and setting the Tartessos alight! John’s French may have been decimated, but they went down with an admirable fight. Dan took the Tartessos home to extinguish the flames, damaging the Atlanta on the way there in a drive by shooting. The Espada runs away, hoping to repair too. The Rattlesnake snags the Glaive, bringing an important prize into Kyle’s fleet! I finally scored a coup by sinking the Marseillais with Moreau, meaning the Slipstream had no way of being sunk by enemy players for the remainder of the game. I would be able to decide when (and if) the Wolves were eliminated… but that would not be my path to victory, as the game needed to end soon due to time constraints. 🙁 The Raven has finally emerged from fog with a favorable roll and gets into position for a potential sprint home….
Kyle transferred the Glaive’s coins to the Rattlesnake, who sailed home at L speed, giving the Slipstream another chance to sink those 5’s the Raven didn’t have cargo space to load back on the first explore of the game (another reason I wanted them out of play at this point – I didn’t want them to haunt me if I lost). Alas, only one of the two attack rolls (ram and marine shot) was successful, meaning the Rattlesnake would get home on Kyle’s next turn. Before the Espada got home in the below picture, she was briefly positioned off my home island. I premeasured the 8S total movement of the Raven, and realized I could reveal the abandoned captain on the Raven, hopefully hit both 2S shots, and shock Dan by derelicting the Espada (preventing her from getting home on Dan’s turn, and maybe by some miracle captured by the Dragon soon). However, the Afrique and her fire shot deterred me, since I would have had to sac the Raven’s oarsman. If I did that and the Afrique connected on a hit+ram, the Raven would be derelict with the Dragon unable to tow her home in one turn. So I decided against it and zoomed away from the slowly approaching Sioux, going off in the far southwest where my path to victory was far more clear – with the game’s end imminent, I had to ensure I had enough gold on my ships to win. Knowing the value of every coin in play helped a lot. I made a mistake with the Dragon by repositioning her at my home island in a foolish hope of somehow blocking part of the Espada’s transit home. This just left her a prime target for the Tartessos to ram, so the Dragon lost her helmsman and a mast but still had SM Fantasma for a potential HI raid.
The Atlanta was just getting into position to guard Kyle’s home island as the repaired Espada looked to steal his freshly unloaded gold. The Dragon sailed out to potentially raid Kyle’s HI (after an assurance from the Spanish that she wouldn’t be shot at), but she was quickly sunk by the Tartessos. The Raven was safe and sound in the peaceful southwest, where I ensured victory by exchanging Don Pedro Gilbert, the helmsman, and abandoned captain for the 3,3,2 coins I knew had been sitting there all game. Cheap way to win perhaps, but rules are rules and it was the last round of play. The time had expired and gold on ships counts in multiplayer games. I took the Enfant out of the fog to max out my score, getting a weence lucky she didn’t wreck on the reef connected to the exit location of 5 on the fog bank.
- Ben’s Sneaky Pirates: 14 gold
- Kyle’s Americans: 10
- Dan’s Spanish: 1 (from The Hag of Tortuga Ransom payout)
- John: 0
In the end, this game would have taken far longer than the ~3.5+ hours we played if it was played to completion. It was a weird kind of “stalemate meta” where all game long ships were scared to go through the bottleneck for fear of being blasted on the return journey, or in some cases, rammed and torpedoed into submission by the pesky Slipstream. In the end I think everyone’s plans were foiled. I wasn’t able to dictate a “phantom” endgame with the Marine-Wolves combo (their island held Runes of Magic, 4,1, so not overly interesting to me overall); Kyle wasn’t able to explore the west with either gold runner or win despite the well-earned haul on his HI; Dan was not able to best the Americans with either of his powerful ships; and John was not able to get any gold despite being arguably the most “honorable” and enterprising player by going after the coins as normal.
However, it was still a fun game and rather fascinating in some regards. The meta around gaming an anticipated setup or scenario idea could see potential curbing in the future, as fleets built to exploit planned setups often match up against each other in ways that can cause stalemates or odd gameplay where two different games are being played. This is somewhat reminiscent of the “Other Worlds” games I’ve played where one player is honestly trying to accumulate gold, but others exploit the setup and hang back waiting like vultures to pounce later on. Not saying it’s a bad thing, just an observation on how it works. Of course, I gamed the setup too, as I originally didn’t have Sac on the Raven… but knew I didn’t want to get caught at the bottleneck and crushed in a pincer movement. So I loaded up and got the extreme speed necessary to bridge the gap early, and it paid off since the Raven won me the game by staying safe and loading up gold at the opportune moment right before the gold count (kudos to Kyle as his runner up finish feels more like 1.5/”1B” given he had all his gold on his HI and played very well overall). As an additional note (spoiler alert), this result was somewhat similar to the Other Worlds games in that the players employing a “blockade” or home island-based strategy did not do as well as the players going straight for the gold. A bit of karma perhaps, and arguably a tactical lesson given that it’s certainly a trend now.
I think it helped that the first time I did this idea, the fleets were basically random. Perhaps a “setup wheel” or d6 roll could be made where you roll a d6 and a game idea is selected only after choosing fleets (within reason of course, since some fleets need to be based on some of the more crazy scenarios or ideas). Of course, the problem with that is one of luck, where someone with a terrain ignorer in their fleet could massively benefit from a scenario where terrain plays a big role. For the bottleneck idea, some fixes might include more distance between home islands, banning home island raiders, or introducing a second bottleneck of one whirlpool at each end of the playing area.
We still had fun and look forward to more adventures!