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A friend noted, that the English Captain who can build ship improvements for 1 Gold is very powerful, compared to his drawing an extra Cargo Card in English ports for 1 Gold.
Is this just part of the game? Is there real imbalance?
Bryce K. Nielsen
Are you just picking captains or randomly assigning them?
Short Long answer...
The two captains you're looking at I assume are:
Yu Quan (2/4/3/1, Bridgetown. Can buy Ship Modifications for 1 Gold.)
Percival Whitewood (3/3/2/2, Old Providence. In English ports: May, prior to buying goods, pay 1 Gold to draw an extra Cargo Card.)
Besides their special power, you have to look at their stats and starting location as well.
For Stats: Both of these make for good pirates. Yu Quan has a bit better scouting and crew combat, while Percival is better at ship combat (inc merc) and better influence. So they're pretty balanced here (for the pirate life)
Considering Bridgeport and Old Providence:
Bridgetown's bonus is more of a penalty, Big ships take damage porting there. Nearby you have Trinidad where you can hide from navy. St. John lets you buy ship mods for 1 gold and transfer ship mods for 1 gold. This can be useful for most pirates, but Yu Quan already can already do part of this. Finally, San Juan (though a bit further away) is a good place to raid a merchant.
As for Old Providence, if you're a pirate you get Special Weapons for 1 gold, and free repairs. As a pirate this is great, instead of paying 9 gold for the default 3 weapons, you pay 3. And pay nothing for repairs! Nearby you have Cartegena. Here you can find a Spanish merchant ship without scouting, also very nice. Port Royal lets you recruit for free as well if you're a pirate. And if you make England angry you can still enter port (for a price and influence roll. (these two combined let you repair, recruit, and stock up on weapons for just 3-6 gold...) Finally, Havana can also a good place to hunt merchants (though a bit risky).
Of these two, I think that Percival is better off, but a lot will depend on events, NPC ships and luck of the roll. Therefore, I say they're balanced, as most pirates are.
(Long answer but I figure this will give you an idea of what to look for when valuing captains and the map in the future )