Building a fleet
In Pirates CSG, there are a multitude of different strategies that you can use to win games. There are a few basic strategies that are integral to winning often, but once a player is used to them it becomes more interesting to win in unorthodox ways.
Gold runner: a fast ship (preferably S+L base move or faster) with enough cargo space (preferably at least 4) for an explorer and a good amount of treasure. Gold runners are often small and inexpensive, although there are plenty of notable exceptions as well. There are many abilities that help out gold runners, but more abilities that help out gunships. Also referred to as treasure runners. Example: Le Bon Marin
Gunship: a large ship (at least 3 masts) that has very accurate cannons (rank 2 is best). The range of the cannons isn’t as important as the rank, but L is better than S. However, some ships can’t be hit by S or L range guns, so it’s nice to have a mix of both. Like gold runners, gunships also love speed, since it allows them to get the first shot against enemy ships, which is extremely important. It’s also good for gunships to have large cargo holds, since this allows you to pack on a lot of deadly crew. When you factor in their point costs and necessary crew, gunships get expensive in a hurry. Example: HMS Titan
Hybrid: a ship that can either run gold or fight, possibly doing both in the same game. There aren’t a ton of great hybrid ships out there, but hybrid ships often have amazing stats – they need enough good cannons to function as a gunship, but still have enough speed and cargo space to grab gold. True hybrid ships often have at least 5 cargo spaces, which would leave 2 spaces available for gold if you add a captain, helmsman, and explorer. Example: Darkhawk II
I’ve ranked the top 5 or 10 gunships and gold runners for every faction in the Rankings threads.
Basic fleet design
Balanced fleet: This is the bread and butter of Pirates CSG: at least one ship for getting gold and at least one ship for fighting. The number of ships isn’t important here because it depends so much on the build total used; for example, a 40 point game isn’t likely to feature more than 2 gunships and 2 gold runners, and very well might include just one of each. Since gold is the path to victory, I generally would suggest you use 2 gold runners and 1 gunship in a 40 point game if you have 3 ships, although there are also ships that have large cargo holds that are big enough to run gold and fight. If you have 2 gunships and just 1 gold runner, your gold game will be crippled or nonexistent if an opponent takes out your only runner. Example: Balanced French fleet
Gold fleet: This is a fleet that concentrates exclusively on getting as much gold as possible, disregarding combat. Since gold is so important, these fleets generally fare better than guns-only fleets, but there are some exceptions. Ships in these types of fleets need to be very fast in order to escape the firepower of enemy gunships. In addition to the standard helmsmen and explorer crew that these fleets rely on, there are a lot of “positive UT’s” (unique treasures) that help out your gold runners in their quest for treasure. Either way, a balanced fleet is the way to go in most games, especially as the build total rises. Example: Hai Peng Fort Frenzy (this one is complicated)
War fleet: Comprised of only gunships, these fleets are extremely dangerous but essentially need to sink or cripple every single ship in the enemy fleet before any of their ships get back with gold, because if even one ship gets through, this fleet probably won’t be able to make up the difference. War fleets are often fun to play but hard to win with, although there are some ships that, when paired with certain crew, can make a guns-only fleet competitive. There are a good amount of nasty, what I call “negative UT’s” (unique treasures) that greatly aid in the winning ways of combat-oriented fleets. These UT’s wreak havoc on enemy gold runners when discovered at wild islands, killing crew, stopping ships from moving, and causing major problems. Example: HMS Grand Temple
Swarm: These fleets use a ton of smaller ships to overwhelm the enemy fleets with numbers. Usually light on crew and gold-oriented, these fleets are easy pickings for a huge superfast gunship, but when split up in different directions can be quite effective. Example: Dakmor’s swarm fleet
Boarding: These fleets focus on ramming and boarding to win. There are a lot of different boarding abilities, and some of them are quite useful. However, this strategy gets expensive in a hurry as most of your boarders will need captains and helmsmen to be reliably effective, essentially upping the cost of every ship by 5 points. Boarding can be useful for killing enemy crew, but even more devastating if you manage to take an enemy gold runner’s entire cargo hold of treasure and bring it back to your home island. Example: Small Fry Boarders
Mixed nationality fleet: This is a very common tactic where a player uses ships and crew from more than one faction. This is especially helpful and almost necessary when playing as the Vikings or Mercenaries, who have a lot of trouble gathering gold. There are also a number of “alliance” ideas that make sense, such as the Cursed Pirates or the Franco-Spanish. Either way, remember that you can use ships or crew from any and all nationalities in your fleets, so don’t let a small collection limit your options! Coagulation of Nations
Blockade/Home Island Raiding: This is a strategy that is very difficult to pull off. When running a blockade, you’ll have multiple gunships surrounding an enemy HI (home island) in hopes of sinking or capturing their ships when they arrive home with gold. The problem is, if your entire fleet is on blockade duty, your opponent can sail around unfettered as your ships wait all game for them to get back. In addition, it’s tough to cover all entrances to an enemy home island, unless you set up your ships perfectly. Even if you manage to surround it completely, your opponent may have access to mysterious islands, unique treasures, or crew that let them move YOUR ships! If not, your enemy can concentrate their firepower and offensive assault on one side of their island, and as soon as the blockade is broken, gold runners will start docking. This strategy is sometimes combined with home island raiders (HI raiders), which are ships or crew that have an ability that lets them dock at enemy HI’s and steal gold. These abilities are difficult to use because your opponent will often have ships coming and going from their HI, making it hard to get in and out without being attacked. In addition, if you steal an opponent’s gold, they will usually make stealing it back or sinking your raider a high priority. Example: The Best Raiders of Spain (normally you don’t base your whole fleet around this)
Fort and flotilla zone control: This is a strategy that centers around speed at the beginning of the game and defence thereafter. If your ships are fast enough, you can build forts on wild islands, protecting the gold until your gold runners can safely sail it back to your home island. The forts are a great deterrent to enemy ships, and flotillas stationed in strategic positions can further increase the reach of your cannons’ firing arcs, giving your wide swaths of “zone control” until your opponent potentially knocks them out. Note: flotillas don’t affect the base move of a ship as regular towing does, but when towing a flotilla you aren’t allowed to gain the +S bonus from the helmsman ability and other such movement bonuses. Therefore it’s advisable to use flotillas with ships that have high base moves, preferably as high as S+S+S or L+L, with S+L as a minimum. Example: Ultimate Zone Control
Mind Control: This is my favourite “gimmick” strategy. It’s not very viable as a competitive fleet design since it’s so dependent on the luck of the dice, but when executed correctly it’s one of the most fun ways to win. This is more complex than most other strategies, but the basic idea is to use ship, crew, UT, and mysterious island (MI) abilities to move enemy ships to your advantage, giving you “mind control” and move your opponent’s fleet as well as your own. Example: Mind Control
Crew capturing and possession: This is another gimmick fleet that relies on very specific abilities. Captain Davy Jones (from the POTC set) and Wraith (SS version) allow you to “recycle” crew after they’ve been eliminated, giving you access to their abilities. Captain Nemo (MI) allows you to capture crew when you win a boarding party, whereupon they can use their abilities on Nemo’s ship. In addition, there are a handful of crew and ships with the “possession” ability, which allows you to capture an enemy crew on a ship within S if you roll a 6. Finally, there are some crew and ships with the “gold capture” ability, which allows you to capture enemy crew when you board, and then turn them into gold worth their point cost when you unload them at your home island. Any combination of these strategies is difficult to pull off, but as with the Mind Control strategy it’s very fun to attempt. Examples: Blackheart + Nemo + Zeus=doom, Crew Recycling 2.0
Underwater fleet: Sea monsters and submarines can submerge, making them virtually invincible to anything other than cancellers and “sub hunters” – an ability that lets the ship shoot at submerged ships within S of the ship. This strategy is tough not because it’s a bad idea, but because sea monsters and submarines are both rather slow and overpriced. There are some sea monsters that are playable, but they can’t carry crew. Most submarines don’t make good gold runners, and no subs have more than three masts, so their offensive output is limited as well. Example: From the Depths
Extra Action speed fleets: These fleets use the sac ability (eliminate a crew to gain an extra action), EA (extra action on a 5-6), and SAT (same action twice on a 5-6) abilities to move very fast. This is one of the best strategies out there, as these abilities don’t cost much and give you a lot of bang for your buck. Speed is huge in Pirates, and with multiple ships capable of moving twice in one turn, your chances of winning go up in a hurry. The sac ability is seen as particularly cheap because it doesn’t depend on a die roll and only costs 2 points, but there is no denying its effectiveness. Example: EA Gold Runners
UT-dependent fleets: More for fun games, these fleets are dependent on finding specific unique treasures to win the game through their effects. There are plenty of powerful UT’s, such as Nemo’s Plans, which lets you keep UT’s on your ship that are usually removed from the game after just one use. There is even a UT that lets you bring a Kraken into the game if you roll a 6! Example: Dead Man’s Chest UT Fleet
Fog hopping: Another very gimmicky idea, this strategy uses the handful of ships with the fog-hopping ability. This lets ships go into a fog bank on one turn, and then “hop” and come out of a different fog bank on their next turn! This fleet is particularly interesting when combined with the smokebank/reverse captain strategy, which is often intertwined with HI raiders. This is one of the more complex fleets out there, and it’s tough to use such an expensive and fragile strategy unless the build total is higher than the standard 40 points. Examples: TOoDJ 2nd entry: Cat and Mouse, Fog hopping and smoke dropping
There are other types of fleets too, but this should give you plenty of ideas!