This is a very subjective Ranking post and a lot more opinion-based than some of the other Ranking posts. However, over the long haul it would be neat to have a ranking for “everything” playable in the game, so this is a category I wanted to tackle. Feel free to post your own list in the comments below! You can find all the terrain rules in pages 8-10 of the Combined Set Rules (a slightly modified version of the Complete Game rules).
1. Fog Bank
Fog banks are incredible because they offer near-total protection from the hostile factors of a game. While in a fog bank, a ship can’t be shot at, rammed, or boarded; cannot be targeted by abilities that require range/line of sight, and they can stay in fog for as long as they need to. No defensive abilities ensure that level of protection from harm. For better or worse, fog banks offer probably the #1 stall tactic in the game. Rolling to determine fog exit location after being lost is a fun mechanic, and can result in some tactical maneuvering opportunities if you get a good roll. Lastly, fog banks are an essential part of the Fog-Hopping strategy, which is a fun gimmick that The Cursed have a monopoly on.
Whirlpools have long been one of my favorite terrain pieces. They are incredible because they allow you to teleport to different places on the map. While fog banks provide an unrivaled level of protection, whirlpools provide an opportunity to move a ship faster than the fastest ships can travel. This allows for really dynamic gameplay that often spices up games quite a lot. It also opens the door to various strategies. One of my favorites is whirlpool attack squadrons that use extra actions to move and shoot coming out of a whirlpool. You can also strategize around the creation of new whirlpools during the game to expedite trips to wild islands, such as with Calypso or the Lost UT. The downside of having to lose a crew/mast/treasure 50% of the time feels like the right amount of dissuasion.
Reefs are probably the coolest looking terrain type. They feel like a classic and much-needed addition to the game, evoking stories of old treasure galleons that were dashed on reefs by storms and later looted by pirates. They also offer a counter to many of the game’s best ships, which are often the largest ships. Reefs are a popular way to “sabotage” islands and potentially influence someone’s home island choice during the Setup phase. They are the closest thing we got to “shallow water” rules that induce a negative for ships with deeper drafts. While shipwrecks on reefs are quite rare in my experience, they look incredible and add a distinct seafaring flair to the game.
4. Trade Current
The final terrain type to appear – only in the final set, Savage Shores. Trade currents are the only terrain type added exclusively after the game begins, usually by the Navigator generic crew type. They offer a nice little speed boost that can be beneficial many times throughout a game, lending themselves well to large games when a lot of ships can travel over them, as well as games with many return trips to wild islands. However, I do feel they have more cons than most other terrain types. They are somewhat hard to come by, and don’t look as good as the other terrain types. They can also be confusing to use, because if multiple players use trade currents, there must be something to distinguish which TC belongs to each player. Last but not least, they sometimes clutter up the board in longer games. If a navigator is able to place a lot of them, they end up littering the sea with trade currents and make the game look a bit less attractive in my opinion.
5. Sargasso Sea
These have never been all that interesting to me, and have by far the hardest rules to memorize for any specific terrain type. They’re almost like the opposite of reefs – worse for small ships but usually inconsequential for larger ships. The “seaweed” is great to place if your opponent has a lot of small ships in a swarm, since some of them might get stuck. However, they’re generally the most-avoided terrain type in my experience because they are one of the few terrain types that almost never offer a benefit to the player. Fog, whirlpools, and trade currents all have tangible benefits, while reefs and icebergs can be used to sabotage your final ship to try to end the game earlier if you know you’re winning on gold. You can technically get stuck forever in a sargasso sea and thus potentially trigger an endgame condition, but this is quite rare in my experience. Overall, they just feel like the most boring terrain type.
If sargasso seas are the most boring, then icebergs are the most annoying. If at least one iceberg is in play, every player must roll a d6 at the beginning of each of their turns, every turn. Players (myself included!) forget this so often that it makes them feel like a chore. Partly because the iceberg rarely ever damages a ship. Often they don’t even move, and even when they do, it’s not very far and usually doesn’t result in anything. Although they are a decent thematic addition to the game, when they’re used they should probably be used in large quantities to make them relevant. I’d argue they’re also the terrain type most in need of house rule help, since they’re even less likely to impact games when they permanently stop at islands. It can help to have at least one of each number (1-6) in play, so that an iceberg will move every turn. This cuts down on the completely inconsequential d6 rolling that often comes from only having a couple icebergs in play. It also helps to let them continue moving after hitting islands, and possibly allowing “clusters” of icebergs to combine and move as a megaberg.
Thanks for reading! I’d be curious to know how you would rank all the terrain types!