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Shawn Sparks
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Recently I played a 3 player game of Francis Drake which is an exploration style board game. The game consists of 3 voyages (rounds) where each player will take turns moving along Plymouth Street and then set sail in the Caribbean to trade commodities, conquer forts and cities, and even sink a Spanish galleon. In one way or another all these things are done in an attempt to gain an advantage over your opponent and/or build victory points.

There are 16 sortable spaces (tiles) and 2 permanent spaces found along Plymouth Street. These spaces make up the first phase of every voyage and essentially represent each player’s ability to add the things they will need for a successful sail. Players may choose up to 10 options while moving along Plymouth Street with a few exceptions. First, most spaces are limited by a certain number of uses (1, 2, or 3 in most cases). Second, Plymouth Street is one way, so once you pass over a space you cannot go back. Moving along Plymouth Street each player will possibly be able to add various supplies, cannons, trade goods, crew, galleon upgrades, and what I like to call favors from noteworthy individuals (Informer, Queen, Admiral, Governor, and even Francis Drake himself). I say possibly because other players may take these supplies before you have the option to do so. In those cases you simply move further down Plymouth Street until you find something of need or perhaps you can even choose to block your opponent from getting something they want. Prior to the 2nd and 3rd voyage (rounds) Plymouth Street will change entirely as the tiles will be shuffled and laid out in a random order. This essentially means Plymouth Street will be different every time. As players finish moving through Plymouth Street it will determine where they begin in the sailing phase. First out will be 1st; second out will be 2nd, etc.

The second phase is where players set sail by taking their numbered tokens (1-4) and placing them face down on a selectable spot within the Caribbean. The Caribbean itself is divided into 4 sections which can only be reached if you have enough supply (barrels). Once all numbered tokens are placed players will then flip them over revealing their values. Although each spot can have many numbered tokens it can only be played twice. So the players controlling the tokens with the highest values will have the opportunity to play that spot. The player who goes first on a given spot will gain the victory points, gems, gold, or silver associated with it. The player going second will only gain the victory points. Each spot will consist of 1 of 4 different things a player can do. Exchange trade goods for commodities, attack a city using crew, attack a fort using crew and cannons, and attack a Spanish galleon using cannons. In addition, you must have a galleon of your own to attack a Spanish galleon. Players continue taking their turns choosing whether to play each spot in the order of the numbered tokens. After playing a Caribbean space each player has the option of returning to the harbor before finishing out their remaining numbered tokens. The 1st player to return to the harbor gets 2 victory points and the 2nd player receives 1 victory point.

Once all that is done players add bonus victory points for successfully accomplishing a certain number of tasks (attacking a Spanish galleon, fort, or city). Extra victory points can also be added via the Governor and the Admiral. The board is then reset and the new turn order is determined by the current score in reverse order. The player in last place will now go first, etc.

PROS:
• The game looks fantastic and the pieces are very cool.
• The historical theme is good.
• The box has plenty of compartments and an internal lid that is great for packing it away safely.
• My favorite part of this game is Plymouth Street. I love how it changes every round and I feel like this is where the biggest strategy comes into play. Not only was I trying to add things I need for my voyage, but I’m also paying attention to what my opponents are adding. This knowledge can be used in the sailing phase to try and block your opponents.
• The actual sailing phase plays very quickly and I like the bluffing aspect of placing your numbered tokens facedown.
• Unlike most games, running out of resources quickly isn’t such a raw deal since you can simply head back to the harbor early and get bonus victory points. That’s a really good idea, especially if you got hosed out of the good stuff on Plymouth Street.
• I also like that the player in last place gets to go first on the next round (if there is one). Being in last stinks, getting to go first doesn’t stink. Nice counter balance.

CONS:
• I had to go over the rules a few times, so in my opinion they are not overly easy. I’m not saying they are hard, but there’s a lot going on in this game and it was important to make sure that I understood everything correctly.
• Unless you play this game frequently you will likely need to keep the rulebook nearby because it is difficult to remember what every tile does on Plymouth Street. Some of them are self explanatory, but there are a few that need further research.
• This game is expensive. At $80 (new retail) I would not recommend you buy it until you play it first. I’m glad I bought it, but I want others to be aware of the price.
• Here is my biggest complaint and its one that cost this game at least 1 full grading point. There are so many pieces that it takes a long time to reset between voyages (rounds). It wouldn’t be such a big deal if you didn’t have to essentially set the game up again between every round. It almost feels like you are starting a new game every time you move to a new round. Thankfully there are only 3 rounds.

Alright, so I like this game, and it will go on my shelf for now. It fills an exploratory sailing niche that I have wanted for some time. That said if by chance I should ever stumble across a game that plays a little quicker with similar mechanics I would replace it. I still give Francis Drake a solid grade of 7 out 10 (equivalent to a B-).

This is Voyage 2 of our 3 player game.
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Darrell Hanning
United States
Jacksonville
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Played this myself, for the first time, this weekend.

My impressions were:

1) It doesn't scale well. With three players, there seems to be too many trade port options available. (I'm assuming the rules don't change this for number of players, as I only had the game explained to me.) Further, with the excessive number of trade options (seven every turn for three players), the points awarded for trade goods sets seems disproportionately large, in comparison to the points awarded for galleons, towns, forts. In general, the board is too "open" for only three players.

2) I'm still not a fan of blind bidding systems for action selection. I was first rankled by this mechanism in Breese's Aladdin's Dragons more than ten years ago, and as luck would have it, my distaste for them hasn't changed. There are some situations where the range of possibilities is large enough, or the consequences small enough, where the mechanism is mostly inoffensive. This game isn't one of those. YMMV.

3) But my, what a pretty game.
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Todd Kauk
Canada
Winnipeg
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I think the game is fantastic and rate it a "10". I can easily obtain a copy for $60 in Canada (which is an absolute steal for what is in the box!).

I don't necessarily have an issue with you reviewing Francis Drake after one 3-player game, but...it is not ideal in my opinion. The set-up between rounds takes no longer than 1 minute...so I think this is a non-issue. It is not a fiddly as many other games (or 7 Wonders scoring).

The only knock I have with the game is that it is a 4-5 player game only in my opinion. That isn't really a big deal because most complex Euro's are only 2-3 player games (see CoB and TtA) and no-one complains about them. The rules are pretty good and the tiles are very easy to understand and intuitive. Only 2-3 will require a quick reference (compare that to RftG or even Smash Up).

Overall, I'd like to hear your opinion after more plays at different player counts. Thanks!
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John Callahan
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There are variant descriptions available here on BGG that improve the game when playing with three people. They make the sailing phase more competitive.

I agree the commenter above that the game reset between rounds isn't that cumbersome. My group uses it to debrief on what happened in the round and to review others' strategies/approaches/status.

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Mathue Faulkner
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Austin
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If you have an aggressive and competitive set of gamers, then it plays just fine with 3p. Players will be battling for spots plenty in a near zero sum game...
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Jo Bartok
Germany
Zwingenberg
Hessen
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For the cons/pros:

- the rules are not best structured, some wording could be more precise but that aside they are a breeze compared to lets say most fantasy flight rules. The game itself is, in terms of rules, not too complex though, and cause of that the rules could be simpler and have more examples.

+ the rules themselves are not too many and not too complex (think of Descent of Fury of Dracula or Android Netrunner) and should be EASY to remember. There are only a very few tiles and mechanics that are not self-explanatory or spring to the eye.

- while the rules are not too hard to learn and remember, executing them can be hard... I played only one game (alone, 3 player setup) and calculating forth and back the options the other players could take took quite some time. This is the good but also time consuming and hard part of the game. So its more like, simple rules -> hard game.

+ seems like they have awesome customer support, too (even international!)

- it is expensive, yes

+ best theme, awesome design and nice production quality

Replaces Puerto Rico (and would replace St. Petersburg) as a eurogame/worker-placement style game in my recommended gateway games list, e.g. it is recommended for board game starters (but boardgame geeks will sure feel the vibe as well): http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/25962/top-10-gateway-games
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Shawn Sparks
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DarrellKH wrote:
1) It doesn't scale well. With three players, there seems to be too many trade port options available. (I'm assuming the rules don't change this for number of players, as I only had the game explained to me.) Further, with the excessive number of trade options (seven every turn for three players), the points awarded for trade goods sets seems disproportionately large, in comparison to the points awarded for galleons, towns, forts. In general, the board is too "open" for only three players.
I kind of felt that way too, but since I had not played a 4 or 5 player game I didn't want to list it as a Con. Thanks for sharing your input.
 
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Shawn Sparks
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Todd Kauk wrote:
Overall, I'd like to hear your opinion after more plays at different player counts. Thanks!
Thanks for your input. Its hard for me to get more than 3 players, but on occasion I can talk my 7 player RPG group into playing a board game or two. Despite my Cons it is still a solid game and I will be sure to revise my review if anything should ever change based upon playing it more.
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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
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No, I don't get the praise. You play the same mini game of guessing three times, and it is over. There is no story, it has practically no theme, and no new mechanisms. You have these big ship markers that are not used for anything, really. An expensive mega-dud for our group.
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Todd Kauk
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mi_de wrote:
No, I don't get the praise. You play the same mini game of guessing three times, and it is over. There is no story, it has practically no theme, and no new mechanisms. You have these big ship markers that are not used for anything, really. An expensive mega-dud for our group.


Thanks for your input. Every game will have it's detractors and supporters. That's why is so great that we have hundreds of new games each year. I happen to love this game, and find it very thematic.
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