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Francis Drake… The Best Game to Come Out of Essen 2013!!

When the Gaming Guru Talks…..We Play!

Francis Drake has received a lot of pre-launch reviews, all very favourable. I am fortune to have a board gaming Guru in my area, others may call him a Geek, I prefer Guru. My Board Game Guru has introduced me to some fantastic games and whenever he brings out a game, you can guarantee he will have printed out a  load of gaming aids to assist in understanding the game. So when he announces “I have just got the best game from Essen,” you kind of take note.

Bye, Bye,…….. Ages of Empires 3 and Colosseum!!

Although the game is different to Ages of Empires 3, Merchants and Marauders and Colosseum, it has the same feel. Unfortunately after playing Francis Drake, I don’t think I will be playing much of the aforementioned games for a long time. Francis Drake might lack the combat and troop movement of Ages of Empires, the tile trading aspect of Colosseum and role swapping of Merchants and Marauders, but what it lacks, it more than makes up for in game play.

Francis Drake Board Game - GamesQuest

High Quality Production and a Fun Game!

What Francis Drake does have something in common with the above mentioned games, it is the very high quality of its components and the game board is huge. The game is split in two part parts, both about achieving the same objective – to gain as much victory points as possible and mess with everyone’s plans in the process. This game is so much fun to play.

Skull Drudgery on Plymouth Street!!

The start the game you find yourself in Plymouth Docks waiting to get your ship ready for a raid on the Spanish Caribbean. To do so you are going to need supplies to travel to the furthest shores. Cannon and crew to fight against Spanish held, forts and cities. Trade commodities to acquire exotic goods like tobacco. Upgrade your ship to a Galleon to relieve the Spanish Galleons of their new world treasures. Gain the favour of the Queen, Francis Drake and the Pinnace. Gain advantage by using the Golden Hind, the Spanish Admiral and Governor and lastly the Informer. And you are going to use a bit of Skull Drudgery to do it.

I Went into The Tavern….When I Woke up I was Fifty Miles from Shore!!

Some will say that this part of the game is very worker placement in its approach, but it doesn’t feel like that. You place up to ten counters on the activation tiles and gain the nominated results, but you cannot place in on a used tile space and you can’t jump ahead and then go back.  If you race ahead to say get the bonus of the Golden Hind, you may find you don’t have enough cannon or crew to take on some of the cities, it is a balancing act and you have to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing too. Now you may be thinking why can’t I go back, well back in those days recruitment usually meant you went in the Tavern for a drink and woke fifty miles from shore, with a lump on your head.

Francis Drake Board Game Map - GamesQuest

No Recruitment is the Same!!

The game of Francis Drake is about three campaigns into the Caribbean Seas, so you get to recruit down Plymouth Street that many times. However on the second and final campaign you shuffle up some loose Activation Tiles and place them on Plymouth Street, so the order for recruiting is different every time. It just changes the dynamic of the game, especially if players have scored heavily in the first round, they will start last. I say this because starting first is very important in the second part of the game.

Out on the Caribbean Seas….It is Pretty Foggy out There

Towards the end of Plymouth Street you can elect to stop your recruitment and go straight to the dock for turn order. Now turn order is very important in resolving contested encounters in the next part of the game. However if you have gained the favour of the Spanish Governor you can jump one in turn order – I told you about skull  Drudgery! So now the map is open to you and you should have been thinking about where you can go and how to mess up everyone’s plans.

Francis Drake Board Game Contents - GamesQuest

Someone is Going to lay a Surprise Ambush!!

If you have acquired the influence of the Governor you pick up random troop tiles of varying strength and assign them on Forts and Cities to hinder your opponents and benefit you. If you have only three barrels of supply, you won’t be able journey to the furthest zone, so maybe you want to put the strongest forces there. The same goes for the Galleons if you have Admiral influence. Just take it, if you haven’t figured things out properly, you are going to charge straight into an ambush.

So What is Important about the Caribbean Shores

So now we have the open board before us, it contains four zones and you are only limited by the amount of supplies you picked up before you set off. So having only two barrels, means you can only travel in the first two zones. If you have six or more barrels, it means you have probably stabbed everyone in the back.  In the first two zones there are trading goods to be won, gaining a set of four different trading goods throughout the game will net you 26 victory points, so it is important not to forget their importance. In the second, third and fourth zones you will find the Spanish Galleons, these will give you the most victory points. In all the zones there are forts and cities, varying in troops and cannon and hence victory points.

Gems, Gems and Gems…..Means Victory!

Treasure is found in the form of gems, the frigates have ruby and the cities and forts will have gold and silver, the higher level zones with the gold ones. Only one player wins the gem at a location during one pass of the game, they are replenished at the start of each conquest into the Caribbean.

Francis Drake Board Game Contents 2 - GamesQuest

At the start of the second phase of the game each player in turn places a numbered disc, blind on the board at one of the locations. You start with four numbered discs and if you were unlucky in the Tavern a ghost ship which counts as a bluff. If you were lucky enough to acquire the Golden Hind you get this token too and it wins every over every other counter. Taking it in turns, all the players place a token of hidden value, one at a time in turn order, until all the encounter discs have been placed.

Then in sneaks the Informer!!

Then if someone has the informer tile, they can look at one location and change their disc for another – there is no end to the Skull Drudgery in this game. Then the admiral and troop tiles are flipped over to the anguish or delight of players and the so are the discs. The encounters are resolved in that the lowest numbered disc wins and if there is a draw, then the player with the lowest turn order wins, if he has enough cannons and crew to defeat the encounter. Although two players will gain victory points for winning the encounter, only the winner takes the gem and puts it in his treasure box, which is tallied up at the end of the game.

Francis Drake Board Game 2 - GamesQuest

After all the encounters have been won and lost, there is a encounter box on the bottom of the board where you tally up if you defeated a city, fort or frigate. Winning on of each different encounter on an expedition will give you ten victory points and over three expeditions it comes to more than a full set of trading goods.

What I Love Most About This Game….Is Ownage!!

What I love about this game is the ever changing tactics, with five players it can hilarious. Watching players faces as they race to end of Plymouth Street to get the Golden Hind, only to find they only have one crew member. Or someone who controls the Governor and forgets what strength of troops he has put where and ends up stabbing himself in the back. Yes it may be tiles and counters, but the game play feels like combat. In a five player game you feel as if you are fighting for every supply barrel, every cannon and crewmember. If you don’t have enough then there is a once in a game lifeline at the cost of 4 victory points, were you can use your Captains tile for a ship upgrade or a crew and cannon combination. Then there is the placing of encounter discs, if feels like a huge, blind bluffing, mental chess session. Where you are looking at what everyone has on their ship’s log, how much trade goods they have, what they need to get that full set, do they enough supply for zones three and four and if not, then that is where they are surely going to put the strongest forces!!

So is Francis Drake the Best Game to come out of Essen 2013!!

Francis Drake is a 3 to 5 player board game, I have enjoyed it with three, four and five players. You can use rule amendments on BoardgameGeek for a 2 player session, and although enjoyable, I prefer playing with more players. The game from Essen game came with extra blank tiles, where you can put higher value forces for the land and sea encounters. We found after about ten plays that this spices the game no end, as some of the forces were too weak. Some believe that every player should have the Ghost Ship to add extra bluffing to the game, unfortunately this does add to the length of the game. Is Francis Drake the best board game to come out of Essen 2013, I haven’t played the other 500 games that were launched there, but having played the game nearly twenty times, it doesn’t feel jaded. If you don’t pick up this game and for some reason it does not get reprinted, then you feel very envious of someone who does have a copy. So yes in my opinion Francis Drake is the probably the best board game to come out of Essen and it will become a Classic.

Don’t forget you can pre order the Francis Drake strategy board game from GamesQuest here.

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Paul Matthews

Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.