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Subject: For the Meeple, by the Meeple (Review of Black Fleet) rss

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Michael Carpenter
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BOX ART



Sail your pirate ship and your merchant ship on the high seas while trying to deliver goods to the far away harbors.



QUICK FACTS:
Style of Game: Family
Play Time: 60 minutes
Theme: Pirates and Merchants
Number of Players: 3-4
Main Mechanics: Area Movement, Pick-up and Delivery, and Variable Player Powers
Components: Very nice
Weight: High end of light games


THEME AND MECHANISMS:
- As with most games the mechanisms do not make you stop and wonder how you are doing this thematically.

- There are odd additions to the game, through the Fortune Cards, that add situations that still make some thematic sense but are maybe "unlikely" at best.

- Be aware, the mechanism may not do the job of making the game seem thematic, but the components make the game feel very thematic. If you distinguish between the two feels of theme and you do not enjoy toy-like components and cartoony (but excellent) art, then this game will probably fall short. If you will take theme however you can get it, then this game will offer you a nice atmosphere.



GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW (In five sentences or less):
Three or four players will take control of one merchant ship and one pirate ship each. Players will use their merchant ship to pick-up goods from harbors around the board and deliver them safely to other harbors according to supply and demands of the harbors. Careful though, each player can also use their pirate ship to attack and steal goods from other merchant ships. To top it off, there are two Navy Ships roaming the board that will be trying to take out the pirate ships. Players will use money earned from deliveries to race through the purchasing of a series of Development Cards, including the Final Victory Card.

Rules Clarification:
- Each player must spend money on purchasing Development Cards that will serve a dual purpose of providing the player new powers and progressing them toward the Final Development Card which is the "Victory" Card.

- If players purchase the Victory Card simultaneously the player with the most money leftover wins the game.

ASSESSMENT


My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics, Replayability, and Quality of Design.

Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics

I'm not positive you can be strategical here. Your goal is given to you and your means by which to accomplish this goal are clear to all players. There is very little diversity to how the player can approach this game long-term. This restriction on strategy in my opinion comes from the minimal ships at your command. If you had to organize the routes of multiple merchant ships and utilize multiple pirate ships to protect or attack merchant ships then I could see players organizing different approaches to the game. Instead, you are left to one merchant ship and one pirate ship each and the game basically forces you to do deliveries with the merchant and attack (or simply ignore) the pirate ship. I am not claiming that ignoring the pirate ship is a good idea, just stating that I have seen players spend the vast majority of their focus on picking-up and delivering goods while their Pirate Ship dropped anchor in the corner of the map for a while, never impacting the game.

So, if the game does not offer you depth of strategy or a variety of strategies, is there any reason to play the game? In my opinion... yes, there is still a nice enough amount of tactics to make the game reasonably enjoyable. The Development Cards can mix the game up nicely, and give it some excitement. If it weren't for these cards though, the game would be too mechanical and boring to offer much fun. Add the Navy Ships, which are neutral ships that can be moved by any player according to the cards they possess, and the game becomes just the right amount of game for a family. I can't say that this game is able to transcend the boundaries of the family game category and become a strategical game because it is just not enough game. I base that statement in the fact that on my turns I do stop and make sure I am focusing my efforts in the right area (merchant or pirate) and I do take time to consider which of my cards will optimize my turn, but it is more of an effort not to miss the obvious choice, not to come up with a great move. This seldom effects my next turn, but I do apply the same amount of focus on each turn to make sure I have a chance of winning because at the end of the day, this game is a sprint to the Victory Card and lack of efficiency can hurt you.

Depth of Strategy:
2.5 = The game doesn't really allow more than one strategy, if that, but it does allow you to be tactical and aggressive at times so there are choices to be had.




Replayability

This is where my personal opinion of the game sinks dramatically. This is because the game really only offers variety in what Development Cards come out. With Black Fleet being a family game I can understand that it is more important for the game to establish a feel that is related to the game when it is brought to the table so that kids do not have to analyze a variable setup and organize and execute a strategy for too large of a "fleet", so the game has that going for it. Unfortunately, variable setup is one of those things that has currently been thrown to the forefront of replayability in many gamers eyes and Black Fleet doesn't offer that.

Even after my first play I wasn't all that excited to play it again. I didn't hate the game and I was in a contested finish, but the game relies more on tactics than a desirable number of mechanisms to entertain you on your turn. Even with the game feeling like a sprint to the finish you seldom feel as though you have to stop and make a meaningful decision. The tactical decision you end up making is typically the clear cut decision, even when considering what cards you have.

The saving grace for replayability of Black Fleet would be that it is built around a mechanism (pick-up and delivery) that is often times more complex than it is in Black Fleet. Therefore, if you want to use this game as a good introductory of the mechanism for kids or for new gamers it would be a good game to have around.

I can't recommend this game based on replayability because I don't see it being something that offers enough game to keep people wanting it on the table.


Replayability:
2.5 = This game will likely only offer replayability to families but could be used as an introduction to pick-up and delivery.




Quality of Design


Area Movement: The area movement in Black Fleet is seldom more than just making sure you take the right route to your next destination. Picking and choosing the right number of moves you are allowed isn't exactly a brain-buster and basically just creates restrictions that are not always balanced at any given moment in the game. There are moments when your desired route may be blocked or threatening but even then it isn't enough to get you too excited.

Variable Player Powers: The powers player obtain through the game come from the Development Cards they purchase during the race to the Victory Card. These cards do give you a sense of differentiated fleets. I have no complaints about these powers (in Black Fleet). If they were in a heavier game I don't think I would like them, but the light nature of this game makes them fun and chaotic.

Pick-up and Delivery: There isn't anything broken about this mechanism. It just simply isn't that fun. I think it would be if there were more ships moving around but for the most part you are just moving one ship and trying to stay away from the other pirate ships. This mechanism relies on the pirate ships more than the mechanism itself to be enjoyable so if your group likely won't put an emphasis on attacking each other's merchant ships, the blend will not be satisfying. If you do like the chaos of attacking each other then the game will be much more fun for you, but be aware attacking only does so much for you and it doesn't crush the opponent so it isn't always the most useful move.


Quality of Design:
3.0 = No major break but the gameplay is just average and not all that exciting.


FINAL THOUGHTS:
Black Fleet has the theme, it has the artwork, it has the components, it even has a mechanism I'm intrigued by, and yet it just doesn't hit for me. There are a lot of good ideas floating around that do not quite come together enough to be a really solid game. I love the idea of pirates and attacking other ships and even tossing some pick-up and delivery in there, but the game doesn't offer enough meaningful progression for doing the "fun" versus just doing the task at hand. The game is too short and puts a strong enough emphasis on a narrow path to victory to allow the other areas of the game to shine. If you just approached this game with the mentality that you were going to be reckless and have fun I think you would have WAY more fun than everyone else. Yes, that is an obvious statement, but I like to see a game allow me to have fun as I try to win. I don't want to have to sacrifice a chance of winning to have fun and I think Black Fleet requires that if you are playing with gamers. In a family setting you could probably slow the progression of the game down and just enjoy the flow of the game and the mesh of the two ideas in the game. So, my rating is reflective of me and my group's approach to playing the game, which is not exactly what the game is designed to do.

If you are looking for a good introduction to pick-up and delivery, look at Survive! Escape from Atlantis. It isn't quite as obvious of a pick-up and delivery game, but at it's core it is just that and it is a better game.

Overall Rating -
Black Fleet is close to being a good game, but as of right now what it offers falls just short of entertaining.

Overall Opinion: Slightly Negative

Notable Positives
- The game is beautiful in every respect.

- I could see it being a solid family game.

- It will act as a stepping stone in the pick-up and delivery genre.

Genre Meter

Survive! Escape from Atlantis | | |colonist | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Merchants and Marauders


colonist = similarity to two other games of its type in the genre.

*Black Fleet shares a theme with M&M but is nowhere near the same depth and complexity. Black Fleet feels much more like Survive! Escape from Atlantis, but it is a different theme and does not blend the exciting aspects of the game with your ability to progress toward a win as well. Both Black Fleet and Escape will function as family games but Survive! offers more flexibility when trying to overlap types of gamers and you won't lose any aesthetic appeal by choosing Survive! over Black Fleet.




If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple
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Don Lynch
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.

Think you missed the boat on this one.

.
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Thanks for your view on Black Fleet. It appears in up to three places in your review you wrote Fortune Cards but may have meant Development Cards.

1)Variable Player Powers: The powers player obtain through the game come from the Fortune Cards they purchase during the race to the Victory Card.

2) Replayability:This is where my personal opinion of the game sinks dramatically. This is because the game really only offers variety in what Fortune Cards come out.

3)Depth of Strategy:The Fortune Cards can mix the game up nicely, and give it some excitement
 
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Michael Carpenter
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ol_bubba wrote:
Thanks for your view on Black Fleet. It appears in up to three places in your review you wrote Fortune Cards but may have meant Development Cards.

1)Variable Player Powers: The powers player obtain through the game come from the Fortune Cards they purchase during the race to the Victory Card.

2) Replayability:This is where my personal opinion of the game sinks dramatically. This is because the game really only offers variety in what Fortune Cards come out.

3)Depth of Strategy:The Fortune Cards can mix the game up nicely, and give it some excitement


Thank you for catching that. I'll switch them right now.
 
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Michael Carpenter
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donlyn wrote:
.

Think you missed the boat on this one.

.


Any particular reason why you feel that way?
 
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Ray Greenley
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Not sure why Don thinks so but I'll take a stab at it. I think the primary driving fun-factor of the game isn't necessarily in the base mechanisms, but in the player conflict that the mechanisms encourage. You had it right in your comparison to Survive. A big part of the fun is in going after the other players. It's fun to steal someone else's goods with your pirate, and it's fun to sink their pirate before he can bury the treasure. It's fun to surprise someone who thought their ship was safe with a Fortune card, and it's fun to unlock the crazy upgrade cards that give you advantages.

To be fair, I do largely play it with my kids and you've already acknowledged its potential as a family game. But I think it holds up as a game that allows for aggressive 'take that' play which doesn't get people too upset in the process.

So if you go into it looking for an interesting pickup and deliver game, yeah you'll be disappointed. But if your looking for an exciting 'take that' game, it's tough to do better.

EDIT - Forgot to add that I think your review is fine. Certainly no game is for everyone, Black Fleet included. :^)
 
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Sean Herman
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Did you play with three or four players in your games? I really think it's best with four and just OK with three because with four the seas feel full of ships and there is almost always something interesting you can do but with three the board does feel a bit open.
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Michael Carpenter
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SeanH wrote:
Did you play with three or four players in your games? I really think it's best with four and just OK with three because with four the seas feel full of ships and there is almost always something interesting you can do but with three the board does feel a bit open.


I have played with both three and four, two plays each, and you are entirely right. Four is way better. Three is really the only time I have seen the aggression fall flat (and I want to stress something I mentioned at the end of the review. This may be an issue with how my family played the game). After the initial post that I had missed the feel of the game I read every other review of the game (ridiculous I know) and I do want to state that it was a mistake on my part not to distinguish the significant difference between three and four players. Many of the other reviewers mentioned it and I clearly should have mentioned it.

 
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Michael Carpenter
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RMGreen wrote:
Not sure why Don thinks so but I'll take a stab at it. I think the primary driving fun-factor of the game isn't necessarily in the base mechanisms, but in the player conflict that the mechanisms encourage. You had it right in your comparison to Survive. A big part of the fun is in going after the other players. It's fun to steal someone else's goods with your pirate, and it's fun to sink their pirate before he can bury the treasure. It's fun to surprise someone who thought their ship was safe with a Fortune card, and it's fun to unlock the crazy upgrade cards that give you advantages.

To be fair, I do largely play it with my kids and you've already acknowledged its potential as a family game. But I think it holds up as a game that allows for aggressive 'take that' play which doesn't get people too upset in the process.

So if you go into it looking for an interesting pickup and deliver game, yeah you'll be disappointed. But if your looking for an exciting 'take that' game, it's tough to do better.

EDIT - Forgot to add that I think your review is fine. Certainly no game is for everyone, Black Fleet included. :^)


Thank you for the *edit*. I would say I am definitely in the minority on this game and I understand your comment about the fun coming from the aggression but in a three player game, it isn't that easy to be aggressive, and in a four player game the fun that does come from aggression just doesn't propel the rest of the experience this game offers over a 5, for me. There was a lot of talk in other reviews about the Development Cards being unbalanced, and while I can see that point, I don't mind them being chaotic in this game. We didn't really get AP over the number of powers that end up being present so we don't mind them at all. For some reason though, the flow of the game just isn't something that struck my interest. Maybe it is because of Survive... If I had never played that maybe I would have considered this take on the style of game better than I do. I do stand by my opinions of the game though since they are just personal preference but definitely think some families could have a good time with this game.

Also, you made possibly the best point of all the info I have read on the game when you said if you go into it expecting pickup and delivery you will be disappointed but if you go in expecting take-that it is hard to do better. I COMPLETELY agree with this and I think there is some truth to that in my opinion of the game. In hindsight I think I may have went in looking for a pick-up and delivery game. I would argue (if it isn't obvious by now) that Survive is better thought, but to each there own and Black Fleet isn't a bad option.
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Ray Greenley
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I think your review is completely fair, and a welcome addition that will help people get the true feel of the game. And it's well written to boot, so thanks for the time and effort!

For my part, I like Black Fleet better than Survive because you don't have your options reduced as you get hit. I've seen the end of more than one Survive game where all my dudes are dead or saved and I have nothing to do but flip a tile and roll the die. It's not a deal breaker for Survive for me (I still play the game), but I like how easy it is to recover from being hit in Black Fleet. I think Black Fleet hits a perfect balance between feeling good about attacking someone, but not feeling too bad when you are attacked. A very tough line to walk!

...also I like Pirates and sailing ships. So I'm hooked on theme, too! ;^)
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Michael Carpenter
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RMGreen wrote:
I think your review is completely fair, and a welcome addition that will help people get the true feel of the game. And it's well written to boot, so thanks for the time and effort!

For my part, I like Black Fleet better than Survive because you don't have your options reduced as you get hit. I've seen the end of more than one Survive game where all my dudes are dead or saved and I have nothing to do but flip a tile and roll the die. It's not a deal breaker for Survive for me (I still play the game), but I like how easy it is to recover from being hit in Black Fleet. I think Black Fleet hits a perfect balance between feeling good about attacking someone, but not feeling too bad when you are attacked. A very tough line to walk!

...also I like Pirates and sailing ships. So I'm hooked on theme, too! ;^)


I agree with you that the end of Survive can be how you described but for some reason it doesn't effect it for me. I think it is because it's so close to the end of the game by then. I played Black Fleet again tonight just to confirm my feelings (or change my opinion) because I think the reviews I read gave me some new perspective to consider. So I gathered a younger friend of the family (13 y/o), my wife (and avid light to medium weight gamer), and her friend who enjoys games but it relatively new to them. The two ladies started off fast and very well, The young man and I started off awful. He couldn't grasp the use of the cards really well to be really effective at first and I was attacked a lot. By the end game though, with ZERO organized effort, I took the lead and bought the Victory Card first, only to have the player with the last turn of the game buy her victory card and finish with one more dollar than me. It was close but just so chaotic and it has just a little too much going on compared to Survive to win me over. I appreciate this thread though because it has made me really analyze this game even deeper than before. I think it just boils down to Black Fleet offers a hair more than Survive and for me, I am just not interested in what it offers. My wife and her friend really enjoyed it though and my wife's friend even commented on how much she liked it. I think this just confirms what I kind of thought the game does well though. So I feel good about what I said in the review but do realize I am definitely in the minority. I did give it a fair shake though! Thanks for reading. I would like to know what you think of Downfall of Pompeii compared to these two.
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Ray Greenley
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That's some dedication as a reviewer! Certainly can't say you didn't give Black Fleet a fair chance. Again, no game is for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure there are plenty of other people out there with tastes similar to yours, and your review will be valuable to them.

I haven't played Downfall of Pompeii. I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the tip!
 
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Edward B.
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Quote:
Even after my first play I wasn't all that excited to play it again. I didn't hate the game and I was in a contested finish, but the game relies more on tactics than a desirable number of mechanisms to entertain you on your turn. Even with the game feeling like a sprint to the finish you seldom feel as though you have to stop and make a meaningful decision. The tactical decision you end up making is typically the clear cut decision, even when considering what cards you have.


Man, glad someone else feels the same way! I was starting to think I was all alone, lol.

I actually bought this after reading glowing reviews. I liked the theme, the components, and I generally gravitate towards lighter games.

But, man, this one kind of fell flat for me. I played one four-player game and, like you, didn't hate it but had no real desire to play it again.
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Michael Carpenter
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NeedsNewDice wrote:
Quote:
Even after my first play I wasn't all that excited to play it again. I didn't hate the game and I was in a contested finish, but the game relies more on tactics than a desirable number of mechanisms to entertain you on your turn. Even with the game feeling like a sprint to the finish you seldom feel as though you have to stop and make a meaningful decision. The tactical decision you end up making is typically the clear cut decision, even when considering what cards you have.


Man, glad someone else feels the same way! I was starting to think I was all alone, lol.

I actually bought this after reading glowing reviews. I liked the theme, the components, and I generally gravitate towards lighter games.

But, man, this one kind of fell flat for me. I played one four-player game and, like you, didn't hate it but had no real desire to play it again.


I really habe enjoyed the time I have spent trying to give Black Fleet another chance since posting this review and the discussion but man am I glad to see someone shares my opinion. Thanks for commenting!
 
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