We play this here with my 10 year old, five year old, with some help from the four year old and myself. It can be a lot of fun and they like the looks of the ships. Yet, our fleet is small - something that Dad is trying to remedy even while living in a small remote community. As a result, I came up with a variant that is easy to assemble and plays pretty quickly.
Take two islands - place them about 24" apart from each other. Then take the Fog Bank and place it between the islands. Pick two markers - we use two different color pennants - and place those on each island. Then create a third wild island place it about eight inches to either the left or right of the fog bank.
It looks something like this below:
Island FOG BANK
Use the standard rules to pick fleets and islands. Here we have five ships and the raft. Each side places its fleet at its home island. The pennant on your home island belongs to your opponent, yours is on their island. Your job is to get it back.
Now, in our house the picking of fleets is done by the little ones first. This can be interesting. For example, "I want the Mermaid - it's a girl" can be overhead -- think 5yo girl and truly that line makes all the sense in the world. So, fleets can be a bit odd in combinations.
We allow opponents to dock and capture the pennant on their opponent's island - but if you are within cannon shot, you can be fired on while you do this. So, even the little ones know to sail to the far side of the island. If you are being chased, the fog bank can be a good way to throw the chase off - if you are lucky. Or, it can toss your tuckus right back at your opponent who sends you to the deep! If that occurs, the pennant restores itself on your opponent's island. If you have the raft, the pennant appears on it as you play the raft card.
Now, we have not got the little ones to figure out crews and such. But, we started with the very basic rules. Then we added the ram rule,the boarding, and the tow rule. It's worked out pretty well. With the boarding, you can steel your flag back from your opponent if you are successful.
It's a fun way to play and the little deckswabbers seem to enjoy it.
Back to the masts!