I have long had a fascination with wargames; it started when I first spotted a sand-filled gaming table back in the late ’70s covered with Napoleon-era metal figurines. The men standing around the table were arguing over obscure rules and measuring all sorts of distances between cannons, structures, and groups of painted soldiers.
As I’ve grown, my taste in games has expanded to include board games, RPGs, video games, and more. But down in my core, I’ve always been a wargamer at heart. My only issue growing up was the high cost to play. Costs still play an issue today, especially with some of the more modern wargames. That’s probably why I’ve been more engaged with what’s called skirmish wargames. Skirmish wargames typically come at a lower price due to fewer miniatures being needed to play a game. The cost of 50-100 soldiers versus just 10 is substantial, and then toss in the fact that skirmish wargame rules are usually less complex and the games run faster… that’s a win in my book. (There are always exceptions, however, and some skirmish games can be just as complex and expensive.)
One type of wargame that has always grabbed my attention has been the maritime wargame. (Growing up on the Gulf Coast, especially around the Pensacola area with its Spanish history, I’ve always loved the ocean and the tales of pirates and merchant ships.) I’ve seen tables filled with wooden ships, blasting miniature cannons across a blue tabletop, and stood in awe of the amazing crafting and painting skills that go into that particular hobby. One thing I do not need, however… is another expensive and time-consuming gaming hobby.
But about a month ago, I was walking around the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo in Atlanta and my eye caught a colorful scene—a beautiful blue ocean game board, covered with small islands dotted with 3D structures. And scattered across the ocean were these tiny painted ships… galleons, frigates, sloops… and more. I saw around the game board (that consists of smaller double-sided tiles that can be moved to randomize the island layouts) colorful oversized cards, each with an image of a ship and also covered in small six-sided dice. I moved in…
The game is called British vs. Pirates: A Ship Combat Game, and it was created by a very friendly guy named Apollo at Exocrategames and had a successful Kickstarter last year. After some discussions with Apollo (and his wife and daughter who were there to help promote and demo the game), he provided me with a review unit to take home and play. I will admit right now that I could not stop smiling the entire ride home.
Here you go: BvP is FUN! It’s a well-done mix of board game and wargame, with cards and dice used alongside miniatures for up to four players. And should you find just as fun as I have, you’ll be glad to know there is an expansion that allows you to add in the Spanish Armada. (I haven’t yet had a chance to dig into the Spanish fleet, but my oldest son and I have had a *blast* with the basic game and pointing cannons and trying to evade each other’s ships using a very simple wind mechanic.)
What Is British vs. Pirates
British vs. Pirates is a sailing ship combat game for 2-4 players from Exocrategames. Players take on the role of either the British or the Pirates, taking two ships into combat (in Annihilation mode) or escorting a merchant ship to the opposite side of the game board (in Merchant Escort mode). Modified rules are provided for 3-player mode.
A typical game will last around 60 minutes. Recommended age for the game is 14+, although my 11-year-old has done just fine with the rules.
British vs. Pirates Core Game Components
Tucked in the box are the following components:
- 9x Sea Tiles (double-sided)
- 12x Captain Cards
- 21x Ship Cards
- 54x Skill Cards
- 1x Mission Book
- 1x Rule Book
- 36x d6 (six-sided dice)
- 3x d12 (twelve-sided dice)
- 1x Wind Vane
- 4X Sloops (plastic ships)
- 1X Zebec (ship)
- 5x Frigates (ship)
- 3x Fluyts (ship)
- 3x Galleons (ship)
- 3x Line Ships (ship)
How to Play British vs. Pirates
Choose between two game modes: Annihilation Mode where the last ship standing is the winner and Merchant Escort mode where the first player to successfully get their merchant ship (a Fluyt) to the opposite edge of the map wins. In either mode, the ship combat and movement rules are identical.
Two players select two ships and two captain cards. One captain is assigned to each of the ships. (For 3+ players, each player will control one ship and captain.) Each player draws three Skill cards for their faction (British or Pirate) and places them face down in their play area; the color of the card (Green, Yellow, Red, Blue) will determine when it can be played.
Place three sea tiles (one of these is the Wind sea tile) together in a straight line for a 2-player game. For a 4-player game, place five sea tiles in the shape of a + symbol or all nine tiles (3×3 grid) for a longer game. The Wind Vane goes on the Wind sea tile.
Place six-sided dice on Ship cards and Captain cards. Dice starting face values are indicated on the cards.
Players take turns (clockwise) issuing a Move or Attack command in any order. On your turn:
- Draw back up to 3 Skill cards (max). You can discard cards at any time, BUT may only draw back up at the start of your turn. Cards must be used before dice are rolled, and Yellow Skill cards can only be used when it is NOT your turn.
- Movement can go before or after an Attack and is in the forward direction. Reference your ships’ cards graphic for its speed based on the direction of the Wind Vane. Backward movement is not allowed, nor is travel over land (obviously) or through another ship. A Pivot value will allow you to rotate your ship a certain number of hex facings and can be done before or after a Move action. A Pivot cannot split a Move action.
- Attacks may occur before or after a Move action. Firing arcs are identical for all ships, and the maximum firing distance is three hexes. Land will block line-of-sight (LOS). LOS is measured from the center of your ship to the center of an enemy ship. Targets on both sides of a ship that are within range can be fired upon during the same turn.
- Firing Arcs are determined and the attacker must declare the side of the ship being targeted (if more than one side can be hit) before dice are rolled or Skill cards used. Firing arcs are explained in more detail on pages 9-10 of the Rule Book.
- Attacks may be done with Cannons or by Boarding. Cannon attacks are done by determining if a target is within a valid firing arc AND within range. Consult your Ship Card to determine how many D12 to roll (one per hex distance). Add Captain card bonuses and Skill card bonuses to each D12 roll—if the total of each D12 roll ties or exceeds the value of the die on the side being attacked (plus the Side Defense value), a hit is scored and the die is reduced by 1. When the die is reduced to 0, remove the die and apply any penalties on the Ship card that are revealed by the removed die. Any further damage that would go through the side reduced to 0 will be applied to the Structure Defense die in the middle. When that die is reduced to 0, the ship is sunk. (NOTE: A Side Defense value is still added to the Structure Defense die.) An attack roll of 1 on the die is an automatic failure.
- For Boarding actions, both attacking and defending ship must be in adjacent hexes. You’ll use values on your Captain card to determine whether a Grapple (attacking player) or a Repel (defending player) is successful. Both players roll a D12, add their Crew Morale value (the single die on the card), and then the Grapple or Repel value depending on who is doing the attack (Boarding) and defending (Repel). A tie goes to the attacker. Highest value wins. The losing player rotates their Crew Morale die down -1 and lowers their ship’s Structure Defense die by 1. Winning player rotates their Crew Morale die to maximum value (defined on the card). A roll of 1 on the die is an automatic loss (by either player).
Note: Boarding is an amazing way to sink a ship that has strong defenses. My oldest son got me on this by siding up next to me and winning a number of Boarding attacks as we went back and forth.
With the Merchant Escort game mode, the first player to get their Merchant ship to the opposite side of the map wins. If your merchant ship is sunk, you lose, but play continues because the other merchant ship can still be sunk for a tie game.
Why You Should Play British vs. Pirates
I have never played a sailing ship game before, but I’ve seen several played. The one thing I both enjoyed and hated about some of the other games I’ve seen was the complexity of the rules. Complexity can go both ways, making a game long and convoluted but also giving it the granularity that pushes a game to a closer resemblance to reality.
British vs. Pirates is not complex… and that’s a GOOD thing. You don’t have to consult tables about weather conditions that can affect visibility, complex charts to determine how many cannons were lost during a wild volley, and more. With BvP, you’ve the Weather Vane that can help or hurt your movement, Defense values and Skill cards to add to single D12 rolls for attacks, and a few simple stats such as Crew Morale and Structure Defense to worry about. That’s it. Everything else is just maneuvering your ships quickly and easily into firing positions (or to steer around some land).
The game moves fast once you’ve got the basic combat rules down. Movement is easy and quick, and the Skill cards add just the right amount of randomness (without feeling like the game is based on luck) to shake things up. There is nothing more satisfying than watching as one of your ships tears into another and you watch that Defense Structure die slowly tick down … 3… 2… 1… sunk.
Once you’ve enjoyed a few basic games, you’ll also want to check out the Mission Book that contains 15 different scenarios with titles such as “A Fiery Rebuke” and “To Break the Curse” and “A Deal with the Devil.” All scenarios come with a short backstory, Starting Conditions (that include requiring certain map tiles), and Victory Conditions. My son and I are working through them… bit by bit.
I’m having way too much fun with this game. It satisfies the requirements I’ve had for wanting to play a sailing ship skirmish wargame… simple, variety in ships and cards, easy to transport and set up, and expandable. For these reasons, I’m now quite anxious to play the follow-up—British vs Pirates Volume 2 that includes Krakens, resource collection, campaign missions, and more.
This game went with me on the family beach vacation. I typically take 3-4 games that are easy to transport, and because my son and I were having so much fun with it, it just seemed logical given the theme and locale of our vacation. We’re back now, and I’m wanting to paint these little minis up to give the game a bit more color. My son says he’ll help, and that’s even better…
Sometimes you just luck into finding something fun to play, and I am so glad to have discovered BvP at the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo that weekend. It caught my attention, and I have a strong feeling the artwork and the map tiles and the ship minis will scratch the itch for many gamers who have been looking for a fast and fun sailing ship wargame.
Disclosure: Exocrategames provided James a review copy of the game.