Friday, March 28, 2014

The Golden Find - "Francis Drake"

Francis Drake had a very interesting genesis. Australian designer Peter Hawes, M.D. (the M.D. one assumes, stands for Master Designer) read a book in the "Seafarers" Time Life series called The Spanish Main and immediately became fascinated with the subject matter. He then set about designing a game that would encapsulate this interesting theme.

In order to raise the bread and procure the supplies required to fuel an expedition to the Caribbean, Drake really had to bust some major ass. This is nicely represented by the Plymouth Street portion of the game where participants compete for key acquisitions like Crew, Cannons, Supplies, and Ship Upgrades. During this stage you can also enlist help from the Queen, the Admiral, the Governor, the Informer and even the Mac Daddy himself. All of these high-profile peeps give you an opportunity to screw around with the game's rules.

More examples of thematic relevance abound. You can procure a Pinnace, which can be used to avoid eating the Spaniard's cannon bawlz by sneaking in through their back doors (*a-hem*). Also, Drake benefitted considerably from a friendship with the eccentric one-percenter Sir Christopher Hatton who helped curry favor ("MmmMmm, curry... flavor.") from the Queen. Drake was so grateful to Hatton that he re-christened his flagship The Golden Hind to pay homage to the female deer depicted on his sponsor's coat-of-arms. In the game, the Ol' Heinie is a Location Tile which gives the backer the initiative when attacking Spanish targets or tackling trade missions.

The reason I'm mentioning this right off the bat is to show just how committed Hawes was in reproducing the subject matter's theme within the boundary of an abstracted Euro-sytle board game.

Here's the game's overview right from the official website:

"Return to a bustling Plymouth Harbor in 1572 as an aspiring Elizabethan captain making preparations for three exciting voyages to the Spanish Main in search of fame and fortune! As captains, players will have to plan their missions and provision their ships accordingly.

"Francis Drake is a race to see who can set sail and reach the Spanish Main first. The riches of the Aztec and Inca Empires await these swashbuckling captains. Many tough decisions must be made before each voyage:
  • How many crew members, guns and trade goods will be needed?
  • What supplies will be needed to reach deep into the Caribbean?
  • Will a stronger galleon be needed to attack the treasure fleets?
  • Can special charts from the Spanish Admiral and Governor help?
  • Will the Queen or rich investors back the voyage?
  • What information can the informer give?
  • Will Drake himself be available to guide the voyage?
  • Who will get the use of the Golden Hind?
"Each new voyage has its own challenges to overcome, but the captured gold, silver and jewels should greatly please the Queen. Get ready for the voyage of a lifetime!"

Still seeking the New World of enlightenment? Then point your 'lectronic astrolabe towards the following link and prepare to set sail!



Andrew...the Pelican (Red)
Chad...the Pasha (Orange)
Me...the Elizabeth (Blue)
Jonathan...the Swan (Green)



Right away I was intent on scoring a Commodity set as soon as I could. I dropped my first Player Disc on a double-Gun space, picked up two Crew, and then snagged a respectable surplus of bonus resources at the Tavern. Then I jumped ahead for three Supply Barrels, giving me free reign over three-quarters of the Caribbean. I finished up by snaring a pair of Trade Goods, upgrading my ship to a Galleon with a bonus Gun and then I picked up some insurance Crew Dockside just before casting off.

After snatching up the first double Gun Location, Jon gave himself the run of the entire region by plopping a Player Disc down on a four-Barrel Supply space. Next up he followed me into the Tavern with pretty comparable results. He added to this by stealing The Golden Hind and making nice with the Informer. Not only did this last score net him a single Trade Good he gained the power to study the secret defenses of Forts or Galleons before attacking them or take a look at a single stack of Mission Discs and swap the order of any two. Jon augmented this slippery little gent with a last minute Frigate-to-Galleon conversion and another Gun purchased Dockside.

Chad played very frugally, placing Player Discs on each on the first three Locations, scoring two Supplies and a total of three Guns in the process. Picking up on his staffing issues, he was forced to leap-frog in order to pick up a total of four Crew from two more sites. Sensing the importance of certain personages, he also popped in on the Governor. Schmoozing with this dude let him distribute the four Spanish Troop counters anywhere he wanted and get a Victory Point for every Silver Piece left on the board at the end of the Sailing Phase. He then picked up a Pinnace to aid in any future amphibious assaults but then took a four-Victory-Point setback in order to pull off a last-minute ship upgrade. Finally he chucked some more goods into his hold Dockside before shoving off.

Andrew slipped it to the Queen, who, in return, upgraded his Frigate to a single-Gun Galleon pre-loaded with a Trade Good. The randy (and apparently undiscriminating) l'il bugger then mounted Francis Drake himself, earning a metric shit-ton of Crew and Guns over the course of two rounds. After procuring two Barrels worth of Supplies he then went aboard the Admiral, who re-arranged the three Spanish Galleons to his advantage. This also gave him a chance to make away with one Victory Point for every remaining Gold that went unclaimed. He then ended the phase by picking up a second Trade Good.


Mission One

Andrew was the first to set sail, taking out a Spanish Galleon in Mar del Nort for six Victory Points and a Jewel. I used my priority-one Mission Disc to set sail for the San Juan Trade Port and secure the hella-rare Indigo there. Chad got Andrew's sloppy seconds in Mar del Nort, and although his opponent had already "Yoinked!" the Jewel, he still collected six Victory Points. Next Jonathan took a dart over to Santiago de Cuba to pick up a shipment of Coffee.

Mission Two

Cursing my entrepreneurial initiative, Andrew had to settle for Tobacco in San Juan. I felt like weeping when my late-to-the-party Mission Disc in Mar del Nort turned up nothing but bobbing wreckage. Chad went after the Spanish Galleon patrolling the waters up north but Jonathan revealed The Golden Hind and snatched the Jewel right out of his grasp! Despite the contention, both of them took home four Victory Points apiece. Finally, Jonathan realized that he'd over-extended himself and aborted his attack on Gran Grenada, passing up two Victory Points and a Gold!

Mission Three

Andrew had Santo Domingo Trade Port all to himself so he picked up an uncontested Sugar. By the time I rolled up on Gran Grenada Jon had already made off with the Gold so I had to settle for two measly Victory Points. After jamming his Pinnace in Fort Havana (!), Chad made off with four Victory Points and a Gold. Once again, Jonathan was forced to preserve his meagre Guns and Crew and cancel his attack on Campeche, missing a chance to snare a Victory Point and another Gold nugget. Ouch!

Mission Four

Overcoming the Fort in Cartagena, Andrew scored six Victory Points and a big ol' pile of Silvah. Continuing my quest to be the first kid on the block to collect a set of Commodities, I sailed into Santiago de Cuba and fulfilled by sweetest Homer Simpson fever-dreams. Without any rivals, Chad completed the Conquests trilogy by subjugating the town in Puerto Cabello for a single Victory Point and some Silver. Finally Jonathan used his limitless mobility to follow through on his reserve Mission. By sacrificing a Gun and three (!) Crew, he took out the Fort in Veracruz for five Victory points and a Gold.  



With most of my Commodities set collection heavy lifting complete, I decided to turn my attention towards accomplishing every type of Conquest. For that I'd need a lot of Crew and Guns, so I made haste to the Tavern, where I scored the highest possible result and made off like a bandito. Seeing how well Andrew benefited from the eponymous Drake, I decided to give him a spin this time out. By the time my obligatory two rounds with him were over, I proceeded to nail the Queen who rewarded my aptitude with a one-Gun Galleon and a Trade Good. Finally I picked up some Supplies, invested in a Pinnace landing craft and then improved my range with some last-minute Supplies before marching up the gang-plank.

Rather then scramble for supplies at the last second, Chad tried to get all of his Drakes in a row (heh, geddit?) by popping into the Tavern. Unfortunately he didn't roll as well as I did, precipitating two more runs fo' Guns (for a total of three) and a placement for two more Crew. He also pimped out his Frigate at the Shipyard, made two trips to score enough Supplies to access the first three sea zones and then finished up with an eleventh-hour Dockside shopping trip for a spare Crew.

Keen to score some of that sweet, sweet Indigo, Andrew made a move to secure two Trade Goods. Since the Admiral worked so well for him last time out, he was quick to tap that resource again. He followed this up by taking the primary Shipyard slot, which gained him a pre-armed Galleon. Andrew then preceded to shanghai two Crew, hog the three-Barrel Supply space, nab the first Pinnace option and monopolize the Governor's time. After spending two valuable actions courting V.I.P.'s, Andrew became paranoid that he didn't have the resources needed to pull off his ambitious plans. As such, he bit the -4 Victory Point bullet and evoked the powerful once-per-game Investor.

Jonathan kicked off this Phase by capturing the first two-Gun Location space and then the one-Trade Good slot. By the time everyone else placed something, a lot of the more-attractive first-tier options were gone, forcing him to step up to the four-Barrel Supply Location. Once again, Jonathan had free reign over the entire region! He followed this up by capturing a two-point Gun space and once again securing The Golden Hind. Making up for lost ground he also picked up two Crew, triggered the Investor for -4 Victory Points and went Dockside for a spare resource.


Mission One

Jonathan revealed his Hind-quarters, getting the top pick of Commodities in the San Juan Trade Port. By some miracle, this wasn't Indigo so Andrew completed his precious Commodities set. I used the Informer to pull my Mission One Disc out of the five-Cannon scrap in Mar del Nort and then used it to trump Chad in the battle against the Spanish Galleon off the East Coast of Florida. I grabbed four Victory Points and a precious Jewel while Chad collected the four-Veep consolation prize. Unopposed, Jonathan had the pick of any Commodity in Santo Domingo. 

Mission Two

Since he was the only person to play a Disc in Santiago De Cuba, Andrew's Commodity set was nearly complete. I used my Pinnace to sneak by Chad again in Panama, making off with three Victory Points and a valuable Silver. Once again, poor Chad was left with nothing but my Victory Point table scraps. Meanwhile, Jonathan exploited his ability to sail to the far end of the map, landing in Campeche for a Victory Point and a single Gold nuglet.

Mission Three

Andrew managed to elbow his way past Chad, defeat the two Cannons and two Troops and subjugate the Fort in Cartegena for six Victory Points and yet another Silver. Combined with Mission One's bait n' switch, my distribution during this Sailing Phase worked out perfectly. As the sole invader of Gran Granada I snapped up two more Victory points and another Jewel. Exploiting the full extent of his Supply-line, Jon tangled with the Spanish Galleon patrolling around in the Golfo de Mexico, which made him pay through the nose with its three revealed Guns. 

Mission Four

After getting edged out in the northern skirmish, Andrew was on the verge of pushing me to the floor and jamming all of the game's glass beads up my nose. I completed this deft turn but revealing my Mission Four Disc in San Juan. Since I'd already paid my dues to collect the rarer Commodities, coming in last really didn't matter since I could use any of the leftovers. In spite of a nasty three-Troop and one-Gun surprise in Veracruz, Jonathan prevailed, netting five Victory Points and a Gold bar. Finally, as the runner up in Cartagena, Chad helped himself to six Victory Points.  



After press-ganging two Crew, Jonathan passed up five intervening locations before investing again in two Trade Goods. Then, after procuring two Guns, getting cozy with the Admiral and filling his cargo hold with two Supplies he took a dart down to the Tavern where he rolled a reasonable "4". On his two remaining placements he grabbed another Supply Barrel and then did some last minute wheeling and dealing at Dockside before weighing anchor. 

On his turn Andrew was all over the Queen and the Governor like a cheap doublet. He then snatched up a single Trade Good and a whopping four Supplies. This time it was A-Dawg's turn to have full run of the yard! To further his schemes he went after a Pinnace pre-stocked with one Crew, chucked a measly "1" at the Tavern, wrestled The Golden Hind away from Jonathan and then picked up additional goodies Dockside. 

Still intent on completing another Conquests hat-trick, I made a bee-line for the Shipyard where I upgraded my vessel to a Galleon. Although she came standard issue with one Gun, I quickly decided to ramp up the firepower with two more. Once again I scored Drake as well as the very same Informant that served me so well in the previous expedition. Extra bonus: my shady little friend also provided the one and only Trade Good I'd need to finish my Commodities collection. I continued my leisurely stroll down Plymouth Street, requisitioning three Supplies and some extra stuff Dockside. At the end of this Phase I suddenly noticed that I'd only managed to place seven Player Discs. Would it be enough? 

Even though Chad was leading with in-game Victory Points, he'd yet to complete a set of Trade Goods and always seemed to be a step behind. Since he'd gotten caught with his pantaloons down last time, he went to the Shipyard right away this time out. Hastily he tricked out his sweet new ride with a total of three Guns and two Crew. Then, after missing out on four consecutive Locations, he bought a Pinnace and three Supplies, one of which he acquired Dockside. 


Mission One

I still needed to get some Coffee to go with my Sugar so I made a trip to the Santo Domingo Trade Port priority one. Inexplicably, Andrew placed the Golden Hind in San Juan, even though there were three Destination Spaces there. Even after taking the initiative, he let Jon have the Indigo to complete his own set inspiring the unspoken question: 'Who is this non-pricky player and what have you done with Andrew?' For his regular Mission One Disc, Andrew beat me to the punch in the north sea, overcoming a two-Gun Spanish Galleon and claiming both the four Victory Points reward and the Jewel. Even though Chad was left to his own devices, he got curb-stomped by the Spanish Galleon in the Mar del Nort.

Mission Two

With my cargo hold chock-a-block with supplies, a complete dearth of competition and only one lonely Troop to contend with, my attack on Gran Grenada was a breeze. This earned me two Victory Points and another precious Gold. Andrew also had no-one to contend with in Santiago de Cuba and added yet another Commodity to his stockpile of goods. Chad edged out Jonathan for dominance of the Fort in Panama, making off with three Veeps and a giant hunk o' Silver. Nonplussed, Jonathan returned the favor in Cartagena, capturing the Fort there for six Victory Points and another bonus Silver. Having said that, the two Guns and three defending Troops stationed there really made him pay for it.  

Mission Three

Even though I didn't capture the Jewel from the skirmish up north, I was quite content just to score the four Victory Points. Like an Elizabethan Hulk Hogan, Chad ran wild all over Puerto Cabello, picking up an easy Victory Point and some Silver. Meanwhile, Jonathan acquired Tobacco in Santo Domingo, completing a Commodities set right at the last second. 

As a side note I have no idea what Andrew did on this turn since he apparently jammed his third Mission Disc up his urethra the split second the game was over. 

Mission Four

With Andrew in control of the Governor, I knew that I was in for a nasty fight in Havana. Fortunately I had a huge surplus of both Guns and Crew so I managed to overcome the two Spanish artillery and three Troops to collect four Victory Points and a Gold. Needless to say, Andrew made things a lot easier for himself in Veracruz where the Fort's single Gun and two Troops proved to be a push-over. This rewarded him with five Victory Points and a Gold as well. As runner-ups to one another, Chad and Jon collected six and three Victory Points respectively from Cartagena and Panama.

Me...39 Points
Jonathan...37 Points
Chad...34 Points
Andrew...23 Points


Chad...10 Points
Me...10 Points
Andrew...1 Point
Jonathan...1 Point


Andrew...34 Points
Me...28 Points
Jonathan...26 Points
Chad...0 Points


Andrew...30 Points
Chad...30 Points
Me...29 Points
Jonathan...25 Points


Andrew...88 Points

Jonathan...89 Points

Chad...94 Points

Me...104 Points



  • Aesthetically speaking, the game is just gorgeous. The board looks like an olde skool navigation chart and both the Ship Logs and Plymouth Harbor board evoke shades of Elizabethan naval art. This stellar imagery is also applied to the handsome Location and Commodity tiles. In a lesser game, the Supply Barrels, Ships and Treasures would be boring, nondescript hunks of wood, but instead we get some awesome-looking sculpted plastic figures and purdy glass beads. This kind of makes me wonder why cubes were used for Guns, Crew and ship range while discs were employed for actions and Missions. Eurogame street cred? Production cost savings? Whatever the reason, the game is still an absolutely pleasure to stare at for hours on end.
  • Since you only get to deploy one Player Disc at a time during the Provisioning Phase, you aren't sitting around waiting for your turn to come around again like the vernal freakin' equinox. The Sailing Phase is equally arresting, with each participant's primary discs resolving first before you move on to Mission Two.
  • Since there are only three rounds, you can probably play two games into one sitting.
  • Taking a stroll down Plymouth Street involves a fair amount of strategy. Do you want to use the Admiral and / or Governor to save on resources and make your moves surgical? Or do you want to load up on basic Guns and Crew in order to remain flexible during the Sailing Phase? If all you want to do is collect Commodities this turn, how many Supplies will you really need? Or do you want to take on a bunch of Barrels, strike out to the far end of the board and avoid direct competition? Do I chill wif my boy Drake or do he soak up too much time? Should I tap the Investor for a quick boost or avoid his -4 Veep penalty like the plague?
  • Even after players head out to sea, things stay frosty. Since actions are resolved in Mission Disc order you really need to decide what you need to do versus what you could do. Even when you place a Mission Two Disc on a key Destination, you can still get squeezed out, just like I did in 1572. Conversely, if only one of three Trade Port Destination spaces have been claimed towards the end of the Sailing Phase you might be able to score a "Hail Mary" Commodity with a Johnny-come-lately Mission Four Disc.  
  • The game constantly forces you to decide between going after high profile Conquests or avoiding competition via low Victory Point objectives. After getting burned in that first year, I decided to switch to the latter and the resulting Treasure that rolled in really helped me storm back. In the end, Andrew's aggro style seemed to case more harm then good. 
  • The Golden Hind, Ghost Ship and the Informant all serve to throw a monkey wrench in the Sailing Phase, making things tense even after the Mission Discs have been revealed. My ability to pull out of what surely would have been a nasty and expensive fight and then use the same disc to edge out Andrew in the northern Spanish Galleon scrap was a major coup for me. 
  • A balanced approach appears to be optimal. IMHO, the twenty-eight Victory Points awarded for a full set of Commodities is just too lucrative to ignore. Even after all my early headway, I still didn't complete my collection until the game's final year. As a side note, even though Chad did quite well capturing high-Victory Point objectives and nabbing Treasure, his failure to pick up any Commodities really hurt him in the end. 
  • Since you concealing yer booty (I.E. Gold, Silver and Jewels) the final victor always in doubt. Bonus points for the pimp-tastic Treasure Chest. 
  • Some people might grouse about nothing you do in the first year carries over to subsequent years, but thematically, I think this makes sense. These are supposed to be separate voyages spanning several decades, after all. Historically speaking, Drake himself was faced with a complete and total reboot every time he ventured out on a new expedition.
  • For what amounts to a worker-placement Euro, the theme is surprisingly strong. Yes, the art helps to sell things but more importantly, the Provisioning Phase actually feels like a panicked scramble to gather up those desperately-needed last minute resources before your investor's written-in-stone launch date arrives. Hmmmm, 'scuse me while I re-skin this game with a blockbuster movie-making theme.  

None worth mentioning. 
Francis Drake is pretty durned awesome. It clicked so well with me that I can definitely see adding this one to my own collection. This one definitely scores top marks!

Have a burning desire to hit the Tavern, flirt with a Queen, kick some Conquistador ass and fondle some Jewels? Then take a second to click on the image below to learn more about the Francis Drake board game and help fund this blog's next voyage!  

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