Introducing Francis Drake

I'm a sucker for games with great components. There's something about eye-candy that grabs our attention, and somehow over-produced bits do make a gaming experience more enjoyable. Don't ask me to explain how this works; it's just true. Now components alone don't make a game, and even the shiniest bits of gaming bling will only end up in disappointment if the game-play isn't any good. But when there's a game with great components and the promise of solid mechanics and fun game-play, I'm all ears.

So when I first heard about Peter Hawes' latest release, Francis Drake, it had my immediate and full attention. Francis Drake has only just been released, and is being showcased with other hot new games at Essen this year. Designer Peter Hawes has designed a number of solid games over the years, but this is one that he considers to be arguably his best yet. In this particular title, he has ensured that no expense was spared in producing the most outstanding and beautiful quality game. Given that it's essentially a euro type of game that relies on worker placement, this could have been something churned out like many a Stefan Feld type title has, i.e. with production values that are the equivalent of cheap cardboard take-away. Thankfully that mistake hasn't been made with Francis Drake, which features over-produced components in every way imaginable, and is the result of the designer's own publishing company, Kayal Games, partnering with the well-known Eagle Games.

"But why should I care," you say, "convince me the game is good!" Well I think this is a solid medium-weight game that should please gamers around the world, and it's certainly one of the better euros that I've seen so far in 2013. Whet your appetite with this thematic overview of the game from the official print: "Players will attempt to emulate the feats of Francis Drake by mounting 3 voyages to the Spanish Main. Before leaving England’s Plymouth Harbour, they will have to find the necessary crew, guns, ships and supplies. These may be picked up in the streets of Plymouth or obtained via wealthy investors, Queen Elizabeth or Drake himself. Once ready to sail, each captain must chart his course on the Spanish Main and decide which forts, towns and galleons to plunder. Documents taken from the Spanish Admiral and Governor will make their tasks easier, as will informers who give information on the plans of rival captains. With their boats full of loot and plunder they will then sail back to Plymouth Harbour and be rewarded by Queen and country depending on how much havoc they wreaked on Spain’s New World Empire."

Sound interesting? To explain this in terms of mechanics: each of the three voyages to the Spanish Main consists of two phases. Firstly in the provisioning phase, players use worker placement to get crew, guns, supplies, trade goods, pinnaces, and galleons, and get help from the personalities like the Queen or Drake. Secondly in the sailing phase, players will place mission discs at various map destinations, which are then resolved in turn, scoring victory points, or giving booty or commodities that will score points at game end. At the conclusion of three voyages, each player's current score is increased by points earned for sets of commodities and for the gold, silver and jewels squirreled away in their treasure chests.

So yes, it's a worker placement game, but what's neat about Francis Drake is not only that the worker placement features some really interesting twists that really keeps things interesting, but the worker placement aspect is only half of the game! Because the game also has a sailing phase, which manages to incorporate some really fun interaction and theme seen in few other euros. Intrigued yet? I sure was! So let's go find out more about this latest big box game from Eagle Games (teaming up with Kayal Games), as I share some first impressions about what the game looks like, how it works, and some initial thoughts.



COMPONENT OVERVIEW

Game box

Our first impressions of the game-box are immediately positive: It's huge. And it's heavy! Really, any gamer worth his salt will just spend a few precious seconds enjoying the heft of this new baby, and maybe even cradle it back and forth a few times - you can't help yourself, can you?! That size and weight bodes well indeed! And here's our cover boy himself, Francis Drake:


Game box

We turn over the box, and our first impressions continue to be positive, because take a look at that board and those game-bits pictured on the back! Wow, does that ever look impressive!


Box back

Can these lofty expectations be maintained after opening the box? Well, we finally pluck up courage to open the box, and will you take a look at that box insert?! It even has a plastic cover to keep everything in place! And a notch on the side of the box to make it easy to lift out the game board! These guys have thought of everything, haven't they?! Really, this is about as deluxe as a box insert can be, although this won't surprise anyone who has seen some of the other well-produced games from Eagle in recent years.


Box insert

Component list

And seeing the pile of components is the equivalent of an instruction to drool. Folks, there's a lot of stuff in this box. And it's all beautiful! Take a look at this lengthy list of components:

● 1 Game Board
● 1 Plymouth Harbour Chart
● 1 Voyage Marker
● 5 Frigates and 5 Galleons (1 in each player colour)
● 5 Ship Logs (1 in each player colour)
● 5 Player Treasure Chests
● 30 Player Mission Discs (6 in each player colour, plus stickers)
● 50 Player Discs (10 in each player colour)
● 20 Player Cubes (4 in each player colour)
● 5 Player Scoring Markers
● 5 Investor Tiles
● 3 Sets of 16 Location Tiles (for 3, 4 and 5 Player games)
● 4 Spanish Troop Counters
● 3 Spanish Frigate Counters
● 3 Spanish Galleon Counters
● 1 Governor Counter, 1 Admiral Counter, 1 Informer Counter
● 2 Pinnace Counters
● 21 Commodities: 3 Indigo, 6 Sugar, 6 Coffee, 6 Tobacco
● 64 Cubes: 28 Crew (grey), 28 Guns (black), 8 Trade Goods (purple)
● 21 Supplies (barrels)
● 33 Treasure (glass stones): 12 Gold, 12 Silver and 9 Jewels
● 1 Die
● 1 rule book


All the components

(Deep breath). I told you it was a ton of stuff! Let's walk you through the components, showing you all the pretty bits that come with the game, and give you a basic idea about what each of them are for, which will make it easier to understand the rules and game-play.

COMPONENTS

Game board

Like the rest of the game, the board is visually beautiful and really showcases Franz Vohwinkel's artwork nicely. It's divided into two main parts that correspond to the two main phases of the game.


English language game board

Top: Plymouth Street

At the top of the board is "Plymouth Street", which is where 16 location tile spaces are. This is used for the provision phase of the game, where players use worker placement to get various provisions they'll need before sailing. Also near the top of the board is Plymouth Harbour, where various docks are located for player ships, which will help keep track of turn order.


The Dockside area of Plymouth Street

Bottom: Caribbean map

At the bottom of the board is a map showing part of the Caribbean, where we'll be sending our ships in quest of treasure and to defeat Spanish forces. From right to left there are four main "zones", which are distinguished by different colours, and players will be able to send their ships to the furthest zones in the west only if they have first acquired enough supplies (barrels) to do so. The map has various destinations where we'll be sending our ships to attack, such as Forts, Towns, and Spanish Galleons, and also Trade Ports where we'll get commodities.


A sample of the stunning artwork on the map

Additionally, around the board is a victory point track, while there's also a number of charts to keep track of things, including a Commodities chart (for end-game scoring), a Voyage chart (to keep track of the three rounds of game-play), and a Types of Conquests chart (to keep track of different attacks players have successfully undertaken, for awarding bonus points each round).

Note also that the board is double sided, and the reverse side is identical, but with German language text. This is true for most of the game components; naturally in this review I'll just be show-casing the English version.

Location tiles

There's a complete set of 16 location tiles corresponding to the spaces of Plymouth Street. These will be shuffled for the second and third rounds of the game and placed on the board in a random order, to mix up the order in which the worker placement spaces occur.


Set of location tiles for 5 player game

We'll walk through all the individual tiles later when explaining the game-play, but for now we can say that these tiles represent things like crew, guns, and supplies, which you'll need to go sailing, as well as provide special benefits and advantages.

There's a separate set of these location tiles for 3 players (distinguished with a light blue banner), 4 players (blue banner), and 5 players (dark blue banner). The reason for having a separate set of tiles for different numbers of players is to ensure that the number of goods and other benefits available more or less corresponds to the amount of players.



Voyage marker

This beautifully sculpted brown plastic ship has the simply function of keeping track of which of the three rounds the game is in, each of which corresponds to a key voyage undertaken by Drake to the Spanish Main: Voyage 1 (1572), Voyage 2 (1577) or Voyage 3 (1585).



Frigates and Galleons

There are two plastic ships in each player colour. The smaller one being a Frigate, while the larger one is a Galleon, featuring the same sculptured design as the voyage marker, and which you'll need to attack Spanish Galleons. These are colourful, attractive and top-notch components that look great on the board!



Player discs

Each player will get ten of these small round wooden discs in their colour, that they'll use for the worker placement phase of the game, to place on Plymouth Street.



Mission discs

There are six Mission discs in each player colour, and the game comes with stickers you'll apply to distinguish them. These are the discs you'll place on the map during the sailing phase of the game, to indicate where you're sending your ships. The numbers indicate priority, since Mission 1 discs will be resolved before Mission 2 discs, etc. In addition to the four standard mission discs, there are two special ships:
The Golden Hind is a special disc available to only one player per round, and will be resolved first.
The Ghost Ship is available to players with an unlucky roll at the Tavern, and effectively helps you bluff about your intentions by sending an imaginary ship that you'll remove once the mission discs are turned face up.



Although it was a relative non-issue with my copy of the game, some folks have reported some wooden bits being stuck together - read this thread for how to solve this if your game was affected by this.

Player cubes

This is a euro game, so there have to be at least some cubes! Each player gets four cubes in their colour, three of which are to keep track of the types of attacks you've done in the Types of Conquests chart, and the fourth to mark the zone your ships may travel to (which is dependent on the amount of your supplies).



Scoring markers

There's one of these in each colour, used for keeping track of player scores on the game board's score track.



Treasure chests

As the game progresses, you'll get opportunity to acquire treasure in the form of gold, silver, and jewels, which will be worth VPs at game end. These are stored in your personal treasure chest, which is another superlative example of a wonderfully over-produced but yet most welcome game component. In this case it merely serves the function of storing your treasure and keeping it hidden. They really do look great on the table, and contribute positively to the theme and atmosphere.



Ship Logs

Each player gets a "Ship's Log" in their chosen colour, which is essentially just another beautifully illustrated and thick cardboard player mat for storing their tiles, commodities, and supplies. As with the other components, this all breathes quality and beauty!



Plymouth Harbour Chart

This is large and study cardboard mat, on which various other game components will be placed, such as cubes, counters, and tokens. Basically it's a handy way of organizing some of the game supplies during gameplay, and helps keep everything neat, tidy, and organized - a fine example of something that is both aesthetic and functional, even if it was not absolutely necessary.



Commodities

There are tokens representing four different commodities: Indigo (3x), Sugar (6x), Coffee (6x), and Tobacco (6x). You'll be trying to get trade goods in order to exchange them for these commodities, which will earn you VPs at game end, especially for sets of all four different commodities.



Crew, Guns, and Trade Goods

These cubes represent key provisions you'll need for attacking enemies and for trading goods. The 28 grey cubes represent Crew, the 28 black cubes represent Guns, and the 8 purple cubes represent Trade Goods.


Cubes for crew, guns, and trade goods

Supplies

These 21 barrels are what you'll need to acquire in order to increase the range of your ships, so that you can voyage to the more distant and western parts of the map.



Treasure

Treasure is represented in the game by glass stones: 12 gold, 12 silver, and 9 jewels. They are rewards given to players who are the first to successfully accomplish an objective at a specific destination on the map, and will earn points at game end.


Gold, Silver, and Jewels

Investor tiles

Each player may only select the "Investor" location once per game, so these five tiles (one per player) help keep track of whether or not you have exercised that option yet.



Governor, Admiral, and Informer counters

These tiles are given to the player who selects these abilities on Plymouth Street, and just help keep track of who the current beneficiary of these special roles is. They'll be explained later, along with the location tile spaces.



Pinnace counters

These are also acquired from the appropriate location spaces on Plymouth Street, and will assist in attacking Forts by making it unnecessary to use guns towards such conquests.



Tavern die

A die is included with the game, but it's not a dice-driven game by any means - the only time you'll use this is when executing the Tavern location tile.



Spanish Troop counters

These four tokens with values 0-2 will help determine the strength of Spanish troops at the Forts, and will be assigned by the player with the Governor counter.




Spanish Frigate counters

These three tokens with values 0-2 will help determine the strength of Spanish Galleons, and will be assigned by the player with the Admiral counter.




Spanish Galleon counters

These three tokens with values 1-3 will also help determine the strength of Spanish Galleons, but also indicate how many victory points they award (4, 6 or 8), and are placed randomly at the start of each voyage.





Rules

Francis Drake comes with 24 page colour rule book, of which the first half is English, while the second half is German. There are excellent illustrations and many helpful examples of play, which greatly assist in learning the game. The English rulebook is available here: Francis Drake Rulebook


Sample spread of the rules

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

On the main board, place the commodity tiles as marked on the three trade ports, the galleon counters randomly on the three galleon locations, and the voyage marker on 1. Fill the Plymouth Harbour Chart with all the items corresponding to it (e.g. jewels, cubes, commodities etc). Plymouth Street is pictured with correct tiles for a four player game, but for a 3 or 5 player game you'll need to put the appropriate matching set of location tiles over the ones pictured on the board.


Complete set-up of a four player game

Each player gets ships in their colour, mission discs, player discs, a scoring marker, ship log, treasure chest, and investor tile. They also get cubes (placing three in the Types of Conquests chart and one on their ship log), a scoring marker (placing it on the number 4 on the score track).


Player starting items

Flow of Play

Each of the three voyages consists of two main phases: provisioning and sailing.

Provisioning Phase

In turns, players get to place their discs along Plymouth Street, which contains a total of 18 locations. Placement starts near the Homebound Docks and proceeds in a clockwise direction to the top right of the board. Most locations allow more than one player to place a disc (places available are marked by a circle icon), although a player can't play more than one of his own discs on the same location. The most important rule for placement is that you must place your next disc further along the street than your last placement - a mechanic that will be familiar to those who have played Egizia.


Playing discs on Plymouth Street

Whenever you place a disc, you immediately get the benefit awarded by that location, which is as follows:



Crew: This gives you crew (grey cubes) you'll use for attacking Towns and Forts.
Guns: This gives you guns (black cubes) you'll use for attacking Forts and Spanish Galleons.



Trade goods: This gives you trade goods (purple cubes) you can trade at Trade Ports for point-scoring Commodities (sugar, coffee, tobacco, indigo)
Supplies: This gives you supplies (barrels) you'll use to sail to further zones on the map.



Pinnace: This gives you a token that lets you attack Forts without worrying about their guns, and it gives you an extra crew.
Tavern: This lets you roll a die to try to get extra crew, or in the event of an unlucky roll of 1 or 2 you get a special additional Ghost Ship mission disc that you can use for bluffing.
Golden Hind: This gives you a special additional Golden Hind mission disc for that voyage.



Shipyard: This lets you upgrade your Frigate to a Galleon, which you can use to attack a Spanish Galleon.
Queen: This lets you upgrade your Frigate to a Galleon, and gives you a gun and trade good.
Drake: This requires placing two discs over two turns, but gives you extra crew and guns.



Admiral: This lets you decide where the three Spanish Frigate Counters are placed on the board, thereby determining those Galleons' gun power, and lets you get points for unclaimed gold on the board at the end of that voyage.
Governor: This lets you decide where the four Spanish Troop Counters are placed on the board, thereby determining those Forts' troop strength, and lets you get points for unclaimed silver on the board at the end of that voyage, as well as move up one place in the outbound docks sailing order.
Informer: This gives you a trade good and the Informer Counter which you can use at start of the Sailing Phase to peek at some mission discs or a fort/galleon defense.



Investor: At a cost of 4VP, and only playable by each player only once per game, this lets you upgrade your Frigate to a Galleon or gives you some crew/guns.
Dockside: This lets you take 1 crew or gun or supplies.

When a player has placed as many discs as he wishes, his ship is placed in the Outbound area of Plymouth Harbour, which will determine turn order for the Sailing Phase.

Sailing Phase

At the start of the sailing phase, the treasures (silver/gold/jewels) are placed on the board on the marked icons, while the players who holds the Admiral counter gets to place the Spanish Frigate counters face-down beside the Galleons, and the player who holds the Governor counter gets to place the Spanish Troop counters face-down beside the Forts - basically these players have inside knowledge on the strength of those forces.

Placing mission discs

In the order determined at the end of the provisions phase, players now in turns place their mission discs (numbered 1-4) one at a time face-down in various destinations around the board. The Golden Hind is an extra ship that will be activated before any others, while the Ghost Ship is simply used for bluffing and will be discarded once the discs are turned face up. The areas you can place your mission discs is determined by the amount of supplies (barrels) you have, and to keep track of this you place one of your coloured cubes on the board indicating the furthest zone you can reach. More than one or two discs can be at the same location - you just stack them, bearing in mind that only two successful attacks are allowed at each destination. Mission discs will be resolved in order of their number, so this limitation will play a role in deciding where to place them.


Placing of Mission discs

After all mission discs are placed, the player who holds the Informer counter may either (a) look at the mission discs at one location and swap two of his mission discs around; or (b) look at the troop or frigate counters at one location, and move one of his mission discs away from there.

Resolving missions

The mission discs are now all revealed, and resolved one at a time, in the order indicated by the number on the mission disc (the Golden Hind getting effectively counts as a 0 and gets first priority), with ties resolved by current sailing order. In other words, Mission 1 discs are resolved first in player order, then mission 2 discs, etc. Only the first two successful attacks at each destination will count, so it's possible that some mission discs don't get an opportunity to make an attack. The first player successfully attacking at each location gets the bonus listed there (e.g. gold/silver/jewels) which they hide away into their treasure chest.


Ready to resolve some Missions

Here's the different actions you can take during this phase:

● Attack a Town:

Spend 1 crew cube to neutralize each troop, and then earn the VP displayed.



Example: The Red player uses a grey cube to attack this Town for 2VP

● Attack a Fort:

Spend 1 crew cube and 1 gun cube to neutralize each troop (including the number listed on the troop counter there) and cannon, and then earn the VP displayed. Having a Pinnace lets you ignore guns.



Example: The Green player uses two grey cubes and one black cube to attack this Fort for 3VP

● Attack a Galleon:

Spend 1 gun cube to neutralize each cannon (including the number on the frigate counter there) on the galleon.



Example: The Yellow player uses three black cubes to attack this Galleon for 6VP

● Trade Goods:

Spend a trade cube in exchange for one of the commodity tiles available there.



Example: The Blue player uses a purple trade goods cube to choose one of three available commodity tiles

Other bonuses

As mentioned already, players who are first to win a battle, get a special bonus in the form of gold, silver or jewels, which will earn points at game end. You also get increasing bonus points depending on how many different type of attacks you've made (galleon/town/fort), which you keep track of using your cubes on the Types of Conquests chart.

After completing a mission, a player may return to Plymouth, taking back any unused mission discs, because the first person to do so gets a "hero's bonus" of 2 VP, and the second player to do so gets 1VP. When all players have returned, they get bonus points depending on the number of types of successful attacks they have had on towns/forts/galleons: 1VP for one type, 4VP for two types, and 10VP for three types, as indicated by the Types of Conquests chart. Before the next round begins, the Admiral gets a bonus of 1VP for any unclaimed gold on the board, while the Governor gets 1VP for any unclaimed silver.


Bonus points from the Types of Conquest chart: Blue gets 10 VPs, Yellow/Green get 4 VPs, Red gets 1 VP

Next Voyage

At the conclusion of the sailing phase and ahead of the next voyage, players discard any unused crew/guns/trade goods/supplies (and reduce all ships to frigates), with a new turn order being determined by current scores in reverse order. For voyages 2 and 3, you shuffle the 16 location tiles and place them on Plymouth Street in a random order, and the galleon counters are also shuffled and placed randomly on the board, while all treasure and commodities on the board are replenished.



Final Scoring

At the end of the game, after three voyages have been completed, players get bonus points for commodities and treasures as follows:

Commodities: 26VP for each set of four different commodities, 16VP for each set of three, 8VP for each set of two, and 2VP for a single commodity.



Treasure chest: Treasures earn points as well, 5VP for each jewel, 4VP for each gold, and 3VP for each silver.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Lavish components: Enough good things can't be said about the components of this game - they are absolutely superlative. The artwork by respected game artist Franz Vohwinkel is beautiful and functional, and not so noisy to the point of being over the top. The quality of the game pieces is terrific - sculpted ships, plastic barrels, colourful gems and wooden bits, and cardboard mats and counters (again with beautiful artwork) with a linen finish. The box insert is outstanding. It's an all round stellar effort from Kayal and Eagle Games! At the end of the day, this is `just' a medium weight euro game, but the size and quality of the components make it seem so much more than that! Let's be honest, good quality and attractive components do contribute to a positive game-play experience, and you certainly get quality with Francis Drake!

Medium-weight: When I first saw the size/weight of the box, the sheer number of components, and quality of production, I figured this must be a very deep and super complicated game. Actually it's not!
● It's not a heavy game. Despite the impression you might have from the size of the box and the components, Francis Drake is not a complicated or heavy game. If anything, there are elements in the sailing phase (e.g. the hidden information) which keep you guessing, and might even prove frustrating in a heavier or more complex euro for hardcore gamers. But it feels just right given the `middle-weight' of this game. The rules are actually quite streamlined and elegant, and easier to learn and grasp than one might expect. For a great overview of game-play basics check out the video at the official website - the basic drift of the game is quite straight-forward. Game-play is surprisingly quick as well.
● It's not a light game. At the same time Francis Drake is certainly not a light game, because there's real strategy and decisions to be made. While there's hidden information in terms of what other players are doing and the size of some enemy forces, there are almost no random elements, and the outcome of the game is almost completely in the hands of the players and the result of their strategic and tactical choices, rather than luck. You will have to plan carefully during the provisioning phase, and manage your resources and out-think your opponents during the sailing phase, and this will require smart decisions. The rule-set of the game is also on par with most medium-weight games, and the learning curve, mechanics, game-length, and complexity fit with this categorization.

Worker placement: I love worker placement games, and there's a number of things about Francis Drake that make that mechanic particularly interesting in this game. First of all, I love the mechanism where you're placing your disks along a path of options (Plymouth Street), and where the choice to select a location farther up the track to get a good option ahead of your opponent comes at the cost of not being able to place discs behind that spot. This mechanic is also used in Egizia, another of my favourite games, and it results in a pleasant kind of interaction because you're constantly having to weigh up how important different worker placement options are to you and to your opponents. Francis Drake adds an interesting twist to this because on the second and third voyages the order of the worker placement locations is shuffled, ensuring that the worker placement phase feels different each time, and enhancing the game's replayability. Also, this game isn't only about worker placement, and I really like the fact that there's a whole other layer of game-play that emerges in the second phase of the game.

Typical euro: It's not just a worker placement game, but actually the heart of this game is euro through and through. That's not at all a bad thing, because it is a very solid euro, and will have real appeal to fans of this genre. There's worker placement in the first phase of the game, with some interesting twists in the turn order. Then in the second phase of the game there's a myriad of ways of getting points, set collection and more. Euro-gamers will lap up the wide range of options to get points, and the thoughtful decisions this requires. It doesn't quite have an economy building engine as some euros have, because the start of each voyage effectively requires players to reset their provisions, but it makes up for that by the thematic interaction and gameplay of the sailing phase, which feels fresh, and yet is still thoroughly euro in how point collection works.

Non-typical euro: Although much of the game fits the usual elements of a euro, there's a lot here that makes it stand apart from the average euro too. Special note should be mention of the way the theme integrates with the game-play, the level of interaction, and the use of blind bidding. I'll comment separately on most of these items below, but it is good to realize that this game doesn't fit the usual mould. I also think it's safe to say that not too many euros have enjoyed such a lavish treatment on the level of components either! One comparable big box game that does come to mind is Age of Empires III, also from Eagle Games; it's also a medium weight euro and there are some superficial similarities, although AoE3 has a very different feel because of the area control mechanism it uses for colonizing.

Appropriately thematic: Although the heart of this game is a euro, there is a theme, and it does matter. In some games, such as those by Stefan Feld, the theme is almost non existent, but that's certainly not the case here. For example, upgrading your ship lets you take on battle challenges that would otherwise not be open to you; getting supplies lets you send your ships out further west on the map; getting more crew and guns as resources strengthens your chances against the Spanish enemy forces. Furthermore, the way that players can use the admiral and governor to get inside information on Spanish troops defending the forts and the frigates defending the galleons matches what history tells us about how Drake used intelligence and political connections to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his enemy. See the Designer Diary and Game Basics for a fascinating account of some of these thematic elements and how designer Peter Hawes has incorporated these elements into the mechanics in a way that makes sense on both the level of theme and mechanics. A good theme doesn't make a game or compensate for poor mechanics, but when a game does have solid mechanics, it's nice to have a solid theme that complements it and that works, and that's very much the case here, not least because of how the theme has shaped some of the game mechanics.

Interactive: I like the kind of interaction featured in Francis Drake, and it's stronger than in many euros. This is certainly no multi-player solitaire! First of all, there's the tugging and pulling that inevitably occurs in the worker placement phase, as you're jostling for position on Plymouth Street, trying to surmise what your opponents might do, and whether you should leap ahead further down the street to claim that key location tile, or whether you can afford to wait. Secondly, during the sailing phase, you're forced to try to figure out what your opponents might be aiming to do, in order to one-up them, and their plans will be essential in shaping your own plans. You do need to be thinking constantly about what the other players are doing or might be doing. For me, this especially is a very fun part of the game, because it means that there are surprises to be had. It also ensures there is good interaction, and keeps the game interesting and replayable, which is important given that it doesn't rely on a varied economic engine for replayability. At the same time Francis Drake avoids the direct viciousness or aggression that can be unpleasant for many gamers.

Hidden information: There's barely any luck in this game to speak of, but that doesn't mean everything is predictable and calculable, because there's a great deal of hidden information in the game. You don't know exactly what forces you'll be fighting, or what your opponents are doing, and this creates an element that almost feels like bluffing or blind bidding. Yet you can try to deduct what your opponents are doing, for example the amount of supplies they have might be an indicator of which area of the board they are targetting, and what they are collecting and going for might also be a good indication of what they are trying do (e.g. if they need one more commodity to complete a set of four different ones). Sometimes you can lose out, but you need to take calculated risks based on the information you do have. Fortunately it doesn't get to the point of becoming chaos, and while the level of hidden information and surprises might not be appropriate for a heavier strategy game lasting well over two hours, it is entirely appropriate to a medium weight euro like this one.

Variable strategies: In some euro games, you are forced to either take a single strategic path, or the game forces you to be diverse and punishes you for taking a single path (e.g. Agricola). That doesn't seem to be the case with Francis Drake - you really do have choices to take, and you won't feel that the game is constraining you to take a certain path. Will you focus on points from commodities? Or will you focus on points from attacking galleons? Will you try to ensure you're always first in line to get bonus treasure? Or will you try to bluff your opponents and throw a wrench in their plans with the help of the admirable, governor, or informer? The choice is entirely up to you!

Scalable from 3-5: The game is designed for 3-5 players, and works well with all of those numbers. The provision phase uses different location tiles depending on the number of players, so this automatically ensures that the resources up for grabs is proportionate to the number of players, and feels equally tight no matter how many players there are. The number of players has a bigger impact on the sailing phase, because each game still has 14 locations available, but with five players there is naturally going to be more competition for these places. Fortunately it is not to the point where it feels like things are out of control or chaotic, and if anything this competition is welcome, because with only three players it can almost be too easy to get what you want. With a three player game you can get the satisfaction of seeing most of your plans bear fruit, but a five player game is much more tight, and arguably this is even the best way to play, especially given the tense competition that will be inevitable during the sailing phase. So the game does feel different depending on the number of players, and works well either way.

Two player variant: It's also worth mentioning that a user-suggested two-player variant has appeared. While I've not had opportunity to try this yet personally, the designer has received it very favourably, and it is in the process of becoming an official variant. Something similar happened with Martin Wallace's Brass: Lancashire, and being able to play with just two players makes Francis Drake even more attractive to many consumers.


Ships back in Plymouth for the next voyage

What do others think?

The criticism

It's still early days for Francis Drake, so there's not been a great deal of response to go by so far. On the whole the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Of those who are somewhat lukewarm about the game, comments have centred on these points:
1. The three voyages feel somewhat similar, since goods and resources can't be carried over from round to round, so there's no sense of building an engine. Because of this some have questioned the game's replayability. This may be a concern for some, although personally I feel that this would be a bigger issue if the game was multi-player solitaire. Frances Drake instead relies on the hidden information and interaction to help keep things different from game to game, as well as the randomization of location tiles.
2. The element of `blind bidding' in the sailing phase attracted less criticism than I was expecting, although it's not everyone's favourite mechanic. If anything, some folks wanted more tension to be created by this mechanic in 3 player games. Francis Drake is for this reason arguably at its best with the full complement of 5 players, which creates more competition at the various destinations.
3. Others felt that Francis Drake wasn't sufficiently different from other worker placement games, or found it to be more euro than they were expecting. Well, yes, there are dollops of theme, but it is still a euro!
I can appreciate that there are elements that won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially for those who want everything to be calculable, or more linear, and who only like euros with a significant amount of engine-building, or who don't like euros to begin with.

The praise

Despite only just being released, there's already a considerable amount of positive comments about the game, such as some of the following, which will help give you an idea about some of the things people like about the game:

"Interesting and enjoyable worker placement. Enjoy the two phases to each round and the need for a balanced strategy to succeed." - David Harding
"A good light euro with plenty to think about. The theme is good." - Jimmy Jay
"Great theme and incredible production." - Will DeMorris
"Excellent game! The pre-voyage preparation part is probably my favorite element due to the variability and opportunity cost balance. The voyage portion is a nice resolution mechanic. Plays pretty fast for the punch. Absolutely excellent production!" - Alan Stern
"Basically a worker-placement game, but with enough twists to the basic theme that it feels pretty unique." - Drake Coker
"Over the top components with the gameplay to match it." - Joel Eddy
"It all works so well and it creates some tough decisions. Just a fantastic game with fantastic components." - Mathue Faulk
"This isn't euro where you build an engine and crank it. There are careful choices to be made in gathering resources, and a great bluff element. Excellent components." - Tom Mc
"One if the best worker placement games out on the market. The components are excellent and excellent design art work as well." - Jonathon Broome
"Love this, beautiful game with a well laid out and clear rulebook. Easy to learn but plenty of decisions and strategic options." - Michael Nut
"Really fantastic worker placement game where you have to race to get the action spots you want." - Evan Dunn
"This is my kind of game! Always changing due to the pier buying cards. Plenty of interaction and fun to play. I put this game in the top five of my all time favourite list." - Babak Hadi
"This game looks Fantastic and is Fantastic!!! Solid game design gives players thought-provoking decisions at every part. Great player interaction and plenty of opportunity for the propaganda bluff and bravado diplomacy." - Geoff Barker
"This a great gamer's game, with a ton of interesting and challenging decisions on every move. The variable order of the Plymouth street locations is truely clever and makes its replay value extremely high. The sailing phase provides a different challenge again and encourages individual flare and risk taking. I do feel like Drake heading off into an uncharted Caribbean, not certain what fate awaits me. Now in my top 5 of all time." - Peter Reardon
"Combines worker placement, set collection, some hidden information with a great theme and amazingly cool bits. Rewards efficiency and diversity." - Heath Doerr
"A great well designed game !!! A must have in its genre !!!" - Fiorenzo Sartore




Recommendation

So is Francis Drake for you? I haven't played this game a ton of times yet, so the above reflections are initial impressions, but I have good reason to expect that they will be corroborated with further play. Overall, there are some very solid ideas here that come together in a very pleasing way. Although it's not entirely innovative and relies on existing mechanics for the most part, Francis Drake builds on an established genre by offering an interesting and fresh approach to tried-and-true mechanisms, particularly by adding elements of interaction and competition not seen in many worker placement games. Additionally, it has a theme that feels much less pasted on than it does in many a euro and this really helps make the game-play more convincing, intuitive, and satisfying. Superlative components are the icing on the cake.

While Francis Drake is certainly a step up from gateway games, it's also not something so heavy that it will intimidate most folks. I can see Francis Drake being nominated for next year's Kennerspiel award; because it shares similar characteristics and weight of that award's previous recommended titles and nominees like Village, Hawaii, or Bruges; time will tell whether it matches the quality of such hallowed company. Sometimes the big box games scare me away by making me think they're overly complex - don't let that happen to you with Francis Drake, because it is really a medium weight game, dressed up to look remarkably pretty.

For the gamer looking for a medium-weight experience with solid mechanics and strategic options, combined with a meaningful theme and well-produced components, Francis Drake is hard to overlook, and has to rank as one of the top tier games in this category from the past year. It will be interesting to see how it stands up in the long term, but euro-gamers can expect to get much enjoyment from Francis Drake while putting it through its paces! This is a special game, and you only need to open the box to see how it is a cut above the average euro; thankfully the game-play lives up to this high standard for the most part too. Highly recommended.


Playing Mission discs

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Brian McCarty
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Although the components are great, they could have included grey meeples for crew, and possibly something else for cannons / goods (see the thread about people doing that) - though that is a minor complaint

I enjoyed my play (and not just because I won), but I totally see the "no narrative arc" (other than the commodity collection) complaint. It wouldn't make sense that you keep your galleon from voyage to voyage (you would just upgrade on the 1st voyage). I suppose you could keep the cannons / crew (with tougher opponents each voyage)

Brian
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Manhattan Reject
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Great review of a great game!
 
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Jacob Lee
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This game is so good it's restored my faith in kickstarter (I swore off it for a year, but caved in with this one).
 
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Mathue Faulkner
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Thanks for mentioning my 2-player variant! And I'm excited to have finally made it into one of Ender's reviews under the "What do others think?" section as well. I just wish I had come up with something more witty...

As for negative comments, this review does a good job of presenting those negative aspects: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1043012/sir-francis-drake-vs...
I, however, disagree with a lot of the review, and I posted my thoughts here: http://boardgamegeek.com/article/13608801#13608801

The 'no narrative arc' is what drives the provisioning phase, and makes the game much tighter.

Oh, and I highly recommend playing with the two mini-expansions (especially if using the 2p variant):
Francis Drake: Spain's Revenge Expansion
Francis Drake: Montezuma's Legacy Expansion
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When I saw the remark about it being KS I was concerned but seeing that you can pick it up normally, too, I'm less concerned. I'll have to keep this one on my radar.

Great review by Ender, as usual. Only Neil Thompson is as good and thorough.
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Ingo Griebsch
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Coding Architect | Husband and father | Boardgame addict | Loves Clutch as well as Tricky
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Finally! Thanks Ender...
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Jesse Carrasco
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Thanks for the review! I am kicking myself for not kickstarting this. I was torn about doing so and decided against it. Now I really want it. As soon as it comes out I'm snagging a copy of it.
 
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Stephane Bassiaux
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Wow ! You just sold me that game
 
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Fernando Robert Yu
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This is now on my radar!
 
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Babak Hadi
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Wow - that's what I call a detailed review! Well done.
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Richard Hills
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Ender wrote:

"Lavish components: Enough good things can't be said about the components of this game - they are absolutely superlative. The artwork by respected game artist Franz Vohwinkel is beautiful and functional, and not so noisy to the point of being over the top. The quality of the game pieces is terrific - sculpted ships, plastic barrels, colourful gems and wooden bits, and cardboard mats and counters (again with beautiful artwork) with a linen finish. The box insert is outstanding. It's an all round stellar effort from Kayal and Eagle Games! At the end of the day, this is `just' a medium weight euro game, but the size and quality of the components make it seem so much more than that! Let's be honest, good quality and attractive components do contribute to a positive game-play experience, and you certainly get quality with Francis Drake!"

My opinion is that the components for previous games by Peter Hawes were 10 out of 10, but for Francis Drake the components go to 11. The bonus point is earned for a key set of seven counters which are supposed to be secret. To cover the possibility that one secret counter ceases to be secret because its back gets accidentally marked, Peter thoughtfully provided a back-up set of seven counters.

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Geo
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To sum it up: place workers to get resources, spend resources to gain VPs

Nothing new here...
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Bruce Murphy
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GeoMan wrote:
To sum it up: place workers to get resources, spend resources to gain VPs

Nothing new here...

Well, it's definitely unusual to not build a standard Mk-1 snowball into the game, and the feel of the scramble each turn, with the shuffled tiles can be very different.

B>
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Mathue Faulkner
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GeoMan wrote:
To sum it up: place workers to get resources, spend resources to gain VPs

Nothing new here...
Yes, but being innovative isn't everything.

IMO the worker placement aspect improves upon what Egizia has done (plus cleaner rules and easier to teach), while the bluffing adds just enough to the 'spend resources' aspect to keep it interesting while also increase interaction. It may not introduce a new mechanic, but how many games really do? Sometimes it's more important to refine existing mechanics than to try coming up with something new.
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John Herrera
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BioBa wrote:
Wow - that's what I call a detailed review! Well done.

Ender - your review is above and beyond, thanks! Got to meet the designer and learned the game at BGG Con, now I want it.
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Richard Morgan
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I think people are letting the nice look of the components and the fact they had to pay an arm and leg for it to try and convince themselves it's a good game. Yet another Kickstarter fail.
 
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Mathue Faulkner
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richiebabes wrote:
I think people are letting the nice look of the components and the fact they had to pay an arm and leg for it to try and convince themselves it's a good game. Yet another Kickstarter fail.
Nope. It's a great game. The components are fantastic, but I get rid of games with fantastic components all of the time. I paid more for my KS copy of Drum Roll as well, but that lasted two plays before I got rid of it. My opinion on the gameplay has nothing to do with the price I paid or the awesome components. The components are great, but the gameplay is equally as tense.

This game fired Egizia for me...and I really like Egizia.
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Richard Morgan
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Each to their own, I found it a complete waste of money.

Lewis - I haven't updated my collection for about a year, so ignore my list!
 
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Richard Morgan
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Why wouldn't you have just assumed that I was talking about my money? As far as I am aware I used my own money and not yours. Please try not to be so uptight!
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Bruce Murphy
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richiebabes wrote:
Why wouldn't you have just assumed that I was talking about my money? As far as I am aware I used my own money and not yours. Please try not to be so uptight!

Perhaps you could rate the game appropriately an save the trouble of commenting on multiple threads for this game
 
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Richard Morgan
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Why is it trouble? Are people being defensive because they like they game and are annoyed someone doesn't like it? Is negative feedback a bad thing all of a sudden?
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Tristan Hall
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1565, St Elmo's Pay - October 2019 Kickstarter
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Came for the review, took a wrong turn, got lost in Pedant City.
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Richard Morgan
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egamar wrote:
richiebabes wrote:
Why wouldn't you have just assumed that I was talking about my money?
Why would I make an assumption about what you wrote, when I had the words you wrote on the screen in front of me? You did not use the possessive pronoun when you could have. You spoke of money in general - everyone's money, not your money.

If you did not mean what you wrote, you should not be surprised if it gets a response you did not expect.

richiebabes wrote:
Please try not to be so uptight!
Please try to write with precision.

Good grief!
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Okay BGG nerds, relax. We all like games, we all have different opinions. Let's play nice (I've learned the hard way about this myself and still have a ways to go in that regard).



THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!! angry
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