The Guarda Costas was the original seagoing Spanish faction when the game was released and while there are some other solid choices for taking Spain out on the waves, the Guarda Costas has some unique advantages.
I was surprised to see the Guarda Costas has the +2 on the roll to determine attacker because I assumed the Guarda Costas would be the naval version of the defensive Militia. I reread the description and it appears this force was more like a Privateer force than a Militia force. It looks like these guys were fighting for plunder more than the defense of the Spanish Main. I think the defender’s role is typical easier in most scenarios, but a high percentage of sea-going factions have that +2 if not a 3 or 4. In strictly naval games you’ll probably be attacking just as often as you defend.
The second faction rule strips the Milicianos of their Drilled rule and gives them Sailor instead. This rule makes sense but might be disadvantageous overall. The Miliciano has a standard Militia shoot skill of 7 so that Drilled shot is really helpful when you can pull it off. Gaining the Sailors rule doesn’t hurt but with access to other units to cover your sailing needs, I’d rather have the Drilled rule. Sailors does have the advantage of giving you easy access to some nice characters and giving your Milicianos something helpful to do if you’re out of musket range.
The third rule removes Poorly Equipped from all trained and veteran units which is extremely helpful! No one likes 5 reload markers on their cannons… This improves both the Miliciano and Marinero and lets you use your Clubs without worrying about slowing down your next turn. It does push you to upgrade your Milicianos to trained but that’s probably a good idea anyway.
The Guarda Costas only has 2 core you units: Milicianos and Marineros.
The Marineros are the core of any Spanish naval force. These guys can man your cannons, sail your ships, charge into combat with a mean 5 Fight skill and they have a solid 5 Resolve. They’re main weakness was Poorly Equipped and that’s been removed!
They reasonably costed at 4 points for a Trained model but they’re weaponry options make them fairly flexible. If you just need men to load and fire cannons, you can remove their pistols and bring the Trained cost down to 3 points. I’ve been using this option most of the time for my gun crews so I can bring a few more models. You can’t use this option if you want to change their experience level to Inexperienced or Veteran, but if you want a cheap and efficient gun crew, remove the pistols and add a Master Gunner character. The Master Gunner really improved the entire cannon part of the game. I highly recommend bringing a Master Gunner in any unit assigned to cannons on a ship of at all possible. The extra reload action is extremely useful, especially if he can use it on neighboring units in other sections of the ship to make sure everyone is loaded for the next broadside. The Expert Artillery Crew makes that Heart card so powerful. If they have two normal actions, a command action and a free reload action, Marineros can fully reload cannons in one turn.
The new rulebook also gives the option of equipping Marineros with Matchlock Muskets for 4 points. If you plan on bringing larger units of men with muskets, giving the Marineros Muskets almost makes them better than Milicianos. They have the same Shoot skill, a better Fight skill, Ranged save and Resolve!
A group of Marineros with muskets end up costing 4 more than a unit of Trained Milicianos, but they’re stronger in every way except their Fight save. And you have the option of making them Veterans!
If you keep the pistols you might as well take the 1/3 blunderbuss option.
All that being said, Milicianos do have some potential advantages. You can buy plenty of them at 3 points each and you can exchange their Musket for a Heavy Matchlock Musket which is an ideal small arm for most naval battles.
Milicianos aren’t the best but they’re the cheapest and they have a chance at getting hits up to 32″ away which can be helpful at sea.
I’d recommend upgrading them to Trained in most cases. Losing Poorly Equipped and gaining those extra actions is a substantial upgrade for 1 point.
The Guarda Costas can take either Lanceros or Marineros Piqueros as a support unit. With the exact same number stats the only difference is in their special rules.
The Lancero’s Scouts and Elusive won’t provide any benefit on ships so the only real consideration is the Skirmishers ability vs Sailors and Artillery Crew on the Marineros Piqueros. Artillery Crew is better in most cases. I like to use the Piqueros to man my swivel guns.
I always pick the Marineros Piqueros for naval lists since they cost one less and have more useful abilities. I like to attach a Carpenter to some Piqueros and use them for my Sailing and Repair actions while the Marineros shoot their cannons. Then they can either provide a solid defensive attack if boarded, or do some serious boarding action if they get the opportunity. Just having them on board to apply hits to is valuable. Saving on 5’s with that hard cover!
Overall I think the Marinero Piqueros is a really solid unit and probably your best choice for the lead element of your boarding party. With Sailors and Artillery Crew he can do anything you need him to and he has a solid save and the ability to make a defensive attack or make a deadly charge. This unit is nearly always my choice for a support unit.
The Zeelieden and generic European Sailor provide the Guarda Costas with some alternatives to the Marinero and each has an advantage.
Zeelieden already have Expert Artillery Crew which makes that Master Gunner a little less necessary. Expert Sailors is also an advantage. Their Fight skill is worse than Marineros but Hard Chargers helps. They lack Ruthless but you could still use them to man some Swivels, then board after the ships close.
Even without a Master Gunner, these guys can fire and fully reload swivels on a Heart every turn.
The European Sailor is interesting because he can be the Guarda Costas’ best musketeer! With a shoot skill of 6, he has the best chance of hitting with a Musket until that Ruthless kicks in for the Milicianos and Marineros (with Muskets). Even without muskets, that Shoot skill makes their pistols more effective for a pre-charge volley or a defensive attack. Their Fight and melee Save isn’t anything special but with 5 Resolve and Battle Hardened, they stick around once they get into combat.
The last support unit available to the Guarda Costas is the Miliciano Indios.
On land these prove pretty strong but I don’t like them very well at sea. They can shoot quickly but the -3 save bonus combined with the -1 hard cover save makes arrows pretty weak. Quick, Elusive and Skirmishers are all less useful at sea but if your Guarda Costas Force plans to fight on land, the Milicianos Indios could be a good option.
The commanders aren’t armed very well but they have solid abilities. Command range isn’t that important if you’re only using one ship in a battle. I find the Experienced commander a good choice for 100-200 point games. If you’re using a Sloop or a smaller ship with one deck of guns, the Untested commander can be sufficient but Inspiring is worth a lot. The Seasoned commander is a good option if you’re running more than one ship as your effective command range increases from 8″ to 24″.
Fitzgerald has stats very close to the seasoned commander but has slightly less range and a Vendetta against the English. At 5 points less than the Seasoned generic commander, this guy is a good choice. Going up against the English you’d have no trouble with Fatigue with that combo of Inspiring and Vendetta.
This 25 point commander is even better at keeping Fatigue at bay with Tough and Determination.
This can make small arms fire and your fight skill a little less powerful if you lose your Ruthless abilities, but your troops should be able to concentrate on fighting more and rallying less if they’re losing a Fatigue point every turn through Tough.
With 12″ command radius and Commodore, he’s another good candidate for commanding a larger fleet. Don’t forget Broadside can be used with 2 different ships. You could potentially fire off all the cannons on 2 Sloops with Broadside and get value out of it in spite of using smaller ships.
This commander actually has weapons! I’m not sure that there’s any other Spanish models that can use a Buccaneer gun. Blas Miguel is the perfect commander for attempting to board and take the enemy’s ship. Hard Chargers with a group of Ruthless Marineros using pistols would get you hits on 3’s with rerolls if you used pistols!
Commodore could be especially useful on a commander like this since boarding parties can effectively use several smaller vessels like Piraguas. Tough is always good but Impulsive is a weird one. You forfeit a little control but it potentially gives you a free Grapple action. That’s a well designed game effect.
I wish there was a Spanish unit with Brace if Pistols he could join as the Boarding Party.
Jan Erasmus Reyning
This commander can totally change how your play the Guarda Costas! The addition of Freebooters and Kapers as core units is very interesting. The Freebooters provide some accurate firepower that the Spanish sorely lack.
You could probably build a solid crew with Freebooters and Kapers alone and it would be an entirely different Guarda Costas.
His combination of skills is flexible and let’s him focus on long range cannon fire or concentrated boarding action with Elan. With Elan and Brace of Pistols, he really wants to get in on the action. Attaching him to some Freebooters might be a good choice. He can help them keep up maximum fire until the forces close, then he can lead them into the enemies ship and the entire force can get pistol re-rolls on that initial charge.
Francisco de Peralta
Peralta changes the feel of the Guarda Coasta as well. His Determination removes Ruthless from from all Trained and Veteran unite and replaces it with Tough. Losing Ruthless will make your small arms fire weaker but it’s a good choice for a “gunship” since Ruthless doesn’t effect cannons anyway. You could maintain a higher rate of fire with cannons since you shouldn’t have to spend any actions rallying.
Tough can help in melee as well, but my instinct would be to use this commander in a force focused on cannons. Even if your force gets shot up, that Tough and Resilient can keep you in the game to get those finale broadsides that might finish off the enemy’s ship.
Manuel Rivero de Pardal
If you want to use a larger ship like a Fluyt, Frigate or Galleon, 3 command points will be helpful in firing larger broadsides and Pardal is the cheapest place to find 3 command points in this faction.
His Broadside and Very Inspiring are really good, especially with such a large command range, but his other traits don’t help as much in this faction. High Standing isn’t much of a penalty on a ship and Well-Equipped is only useful if you attach him to an Inexperienced unit. With Ruthless you can attach him to a European Sailors unit to make them solid musketeers.
I think Corso plays best in his own personal Corsair faction, but he still brings a lot to a Guarda Costas force.
He lacks Inspiring but his Vendettas make up for it and Resilient makes him hard to beat.
His combination of Elan and Surprisal at Sea make him a good choice for commanding a force of small vessels (piraguas and longboats) with a goal of boarding the enemy’s ship. The Spanish Corsair and Juan Corso’s Corsair factions give ships and boats a +1″ move when moving under the power of Sweeps, so he’s probably best used in those factions but he’s still undeniably strong in this faction.
Ranged small arms fire is probably the weakest part of this faction. With Milicianos and sailors as your only units with muskets, the Guarda Costas is outclassed by almost every other faction. Without any real access to Drilled, Marksmen, Fast Reload, musket fire is certainly not your most effective option. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring any, but just know that won’t be your strength. Using a Sharpshooter character can give your Milicianos Marksman which combined with Ruthless could give you some decent numbers at range.
- The other weakness is the lack of an well-equipped and elite boarding unit. The English have the Forlorn Hope, the French Marins are strong and they have the Le Enfant Perdue as an option and the Dutch have the Enter Ploeg but the Spanish have sailors with “pointed sticks”. The Marineros Piqueros is hardy and fairly vicious but without pistol re-rolls or the ranged attack and explosive options other boarders have, they don’t come up to the same power level. They are cheap and hard to kill though so that evens things out. All the Spanish units are actually pretty good in melee combat but they do lack that elite unit with the Brace of Pistols.
Poorly Equipped can be a major weakness for the Spanish but this faction lets you avoid that penalty if you keep your units upgraded.
The Dutch and English have superior artillery crews but you can now close that efficiency gap by taking a Master Gunner (which is pretty much always worth it in my opinion).
I haven’t mentioned it before now but it kind of goes without saying that land battles would be a weakness for the Guarda Costas. The Lanceros are a solid land unit and you can get Well-Equipped Milicianos, but the sea is certainly the best place for the Guarda Costa.
The Guarda Costas’ biggest strength lies in numbers. With Milicianos and Marineros the Guarda Costas can build an extremely cheap force that still packs a punch. They’re probably one of the best factions for running a really large ship like a Galleon since you can just fill it with 3-cost models.
The English Pirate Hunters can also a field a force of 3 cost Sea Dogs and Militia but the Spanish are a little better in melee and the Milicianos have longer range and have the Sailors rule. The French Canadian Privateers can also bring a force of 3 cost units and while their ranged saves are better, their Militia are terrible in melee combat and can’t take the Heavy Matchlock.
I would say the Guarda Costas is a well-rounded naval faction while still being cheap. You can fill a ship with plenty of men and still get the basic jobs done well. If you want a Spanish Navy with better musketeers, the Armada de Barlovento might be better, but if you want to shoot some cannons and be equipped for sending a large boarding parties over the side of your enemy’s ship, the Guarda Costas is one of the best factions for you.
Ruthless is a major strength for the Spanish but you have to either spend actions keeping Fatigue off your units, or spend a few extra points on an Inspiring commander or better yet, a Grizzled Veteran or two.
The ability to get rid of Poorly Equipped isn’t necessary a strength the Guarda Costas has over other nationalities, but it is a strength compared with some of the other Spanish factions.
The Guarda Costas is flexible enough I think it can embrace several different naval tactics depending on the scenario, opponent and what kind of force you like to play.
You could fill your ship with cannons and cheap Marineros with Master Gunners and just aim to shoot your cannons as many times as possible. One group Milicianos might be nice for sailing actions and taking potshots at the enemy when possible. Or you can fill a fast ship with large quantities of Marineros and Piqueros Marineros , shoot off some grapeshot and try to board the enemy’s ship. I’ve won games this way by sheer force of numbers
A force coming at you with a ship full of marksmen like the Boucaniers will be hard to face and your best bet is to hit them with cannons. Keep your distance and try to sink them with solid shot. You can use the Piqueros Marineros for their solid ranges save and just keep the cannons firing. A Sailing Master might be a good investment if you suspect you might face a Sloop full of crack muskets. They’ll probably try some fancy sailing to avoid your broadsides and you’ll need to be able to keep them in your cone of fire.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment with any further thoughts on how to use the Guarda Costas!