South American Tribes – A Faction Breakdown

When the Native factions were announced in second Kickstarter I was immediately interested to see how they would play against the standard “gunpowder factions.” Playing the Spanish with their Indios whet my appetite for Native tactics and now that I’ve finally got a solid force painted and some games with them under my belt, I can say that they are a lot of fun, very different than the other factions, and very strong on land vs the other nationalities.

Faction Rules

Before we look at the South American Tribes special rules we should look at the set of special rules that applies to all 10 Native factions.

The first rule prohibits Natives from taking ships of size 2 or higher. This cuts out everything except the Canoes, Longboats and Piraguas. This rule clearly makes historical sense and it changes the way that the Natives can fight at sea. You can fit a good 20 models in a Piragua but as you start to play larger games you’ll likely be managing a whole fleet of canoes and piraguas. The lack of hard cover hurts the Natives at sea as well. Pretty much everyone else gets hard cover from their ships but the Natives’ boats only give them standard cover and they don’t help with Elusive either. Fortunately the Natives have a 6 Shoot Save across the board anyway but overall, the Natives lose some durability at sea while the other nationalities get tougher.

All the Natives’ boats gain the Paddles trait which is extremely helpful, especially for the tiny Canoe. With Paddles, the Natives can still shoot while maneuvering around the (typically) larger enemy ships. The Native boats aren’t particularly fast and if your enemy just tries to outrun you to avoid battle, you’re going have to have to get serious about manning the full sweeps to have a chance at keeping up!

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Overall I think the Natives excel at defending but if you find yourself attacking, the ability to place half your force using the Lay in Wait ability can really help.

All of your units have Scouts so no unit is excluded from the option of laying in wait. It can be extremely helpful in many scenarios. Even if you don’t decide to place units forward of the rest of your force, the ability to place your units after all your opponent’s are on the board is unnerving to him and helpful for you.

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The final Nationality rule prohibits all Natives from bringing artillery in their lists. The way that rule is worded doesn’t seem to prohibit Natives from using artillery if they are able to capture some in the course of a game.

The South American Tribes faction only has two special rules but I think these two rules reinforce two of the Native’s inherent strengths and make this faction quite strong, especially on land.

Any unit in this faction armed with bows may add Poisoned Arrows for 3 points. That ability sounds super cool but I was initially disappointed when I read the rule.

Re-rolling a single die on a Fatigue test doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it is. It really is. This is a very effective tactic for the Natives and I’ve been using it more and more. It really helps the Natives gain an upper hand. Bows have a hard time killing the enemy but if you can simply drop Fatigue on them consistently, you’ll deprive them of key actions while you enjoy the built-in action advantage the bows give you. If you can get that process started right away in a game, it’s easier to get your other melee or musket units close and deliver that coup-de-grâce in the last few turns of the game.

I did some number crunching to see how the Poisoned Arrows increase your chance of applying Fatigue:

  • Assuming you get no kills after saves and the target rolls 1 Fatigue die at a 5 Resolve that unit would only take a Fatigue 40% of the time. With Poisoned Arrows that likelihood goes up to 64%. That’s huge!
  • Targeting a unit with 6 Resolve, the Fatigue probability on one die goes from 50% to 75%.

The math becomes complicated when calculating more dice with one re-roll but suffice to say, it greatly increases your chances of applying Fatigue.

When fighting at sea, if you’re firing into a ship section with 2 units in it, the efficiency goes up as well since the hits have to be applied evenly to both units. Both units will be able to enjoy the poison!

Spending these extra points on Poisoned Arrows and (potentially) characters to keep the Native troops functioning well adds up and it seems expensive but so far it appears to be worth it in my experience.

The South American Tribes factions also gives all its units the Elusive rule. All Natives units start with a 6 Shoot Save and that’s solid but bringing it down to 5 is awesome. Assuming you’re using primarily bows you’ll be giving your enemies a -3 bonus on saves. The Shoot Save on most units is 7 and with the bows that comes down to 4. It’s pretty hard to kill things when they’re saving 70% of the time but if you consider that your Natives can save on 5’s and Fire their bows 2 to 3 times as fast as muskets (and apply more Fatigue with Poison!) the math starts to look pretty good. It obviously means you need to stay in cover to enjoy that benefit, but you should be keeping your Natives in cover anyway!

Overall I count action advantage and durability the primary strengths of the Native factions and both Poisoned Arrows and Elusive reinforce those strengths.

Common Abilities

Before we move on to look at the units available to this faction, I think it’ will be helpful to look at some of the common abilities the Native units have.

Hidden

This rule is found on Warrior Archers, Warrior Musketeers and the Warriors and it increases your “survivability” and helps you control the game.

I find Hidden to be most useful in the first few rounds of the game. This usually means you can either get off the first shot as the forces close or the enemy basically wastes their first shot. At 12″-16″ a standard unit with a 6 Shoot will only hit on 10’s which is usually a wasted shot. The basic militia units shooting with a base 7 won’t be able to hit your troops at all unless they use a Drilled shot. Boucaniers and Freebooters using Marksmen are still a danger to you outside of 12″ but overall, this rule forces the enemy to get close before they have an opportunity to do much damage at all.

At 12″-15″ a Flibustier could hit a Warrior Archer with 10’s and the Archer could hit back with 8’s. If you’re commander is attached to the Archers you could use War Captains to bring that number down to 7’s. The Warrior Musketeers could hit on 8’s at that range with the Great Warrior bonus!

Hidden does require you to have all your models in cover, but you want to be doing that anyway! Unfortunately this ability doesn’t do anything for you while at sea since all boats count as structures.

Scouts

This is an easy one. Your units move faster through rough terrain. This builds on your built in action advantage. All the units in this faction have the Scouts rule.

This ability comes in really handy when you get close with the enemy. If you stay outside of 3″ but closer than 4″ away and put some rough terrain between you and them, you can charge them but they can’t charge you without taking 2 actions.

Again, Scouts doesn’t do much for you at sea but it’s very helpful on land.

Evade

This is one of the strongest abilities for the Natives! With terrible Fight Saves, the Natives really want to stay out of melee combat until they have a decisive advantage.

The Warrior Archers and Warrior Musketeers (both of this faction’s core units) have Evade.

In my experience games are often decided by a well-timed charge. If you get caught with unloaded muskets or two Fatigue with no way to make a Defensive Attack, a charge can totally eliminate your defenseless unit or at least batter it enough to make it ineffective for another turn or two. The ability to totally sidestep a charge is so powerful.

You can Evade if you have 0, 1 or 2 Fatigue, but if your unit is already shaken at 3+ Fatigue, you can no longer use this ability. The Fight Save is basically the worst stat for all the Natives so an easy way to avoid engaging in hand to hand combat is so great. In my experience it’s also very frustrating for your opponent!

Core Units

In general the Native factions don’t have as many different units available to pick from but the ability to modify their weapons sort is makes up for that.

The South American Tribes have a mere 2 core units!

Warrior Archers

These are one of the 2 units in the entire game (so far) with a 5 Shoot skill. They’re extremely accurate and have a much higher rate of fire than the French or English marksmen with similar accuracy. They obviously don’t hit as hard with bows and they don’t have the extended range that a Buccaneer Gun has, but they’re still good!

Their stats make them a solid ranged unit and a terrible melee unit that should only be committed to a melee if the results are sure.

Their Shoot Save is that standard Native 6 which makes them hard to hit and Hidden makes them even more trouble to take out at range. Hidden combos really well with that 5 Shoot Skill. By the time most units are close enough to shoot these guys at all, the Archers can fire back hitting on 7’s (in the 8-12″ range band).

These guys will land hits at range and they have the ability to hide well and dodge charges. I think you can run them as a large unit to actually get some kills or you can run 2 or more smaller units with Poisoned Arrows. At some level if you don’t really plan to kill the enemy with arrows, it doesn’t matter how large a unit you’re firing with. If you’re hoping to get Fatigue down, you just need to get at least one hit per attack.

You could easily fit 5 units of of 5-6 Archers with Poisoned Arrows into a 200 force and you could just pour on the Fatigue by the bucket load!

You can upgrade these models to Veteran for an extra point but I haven’t felt that that is really necessary. Since you take Fatigue for firing more than once a turn having extra actions won’t necessarily let you shoot more and often these Archers are fairly stationary in a battle so they don’t always need the actions for moves. I find it very efficient to attach a Grizzled Veteran to a unit of Archers so they can use Tough and the Rally action to remove the Fatigue they will accumulate by firing so often.

The option to bring Sidearm Muskets is really strong in my opinion. It’s only one volley in a game, but with a 5 Shoot, you’re pretty sure to make that volley count. Even if you only kill one or two enemy models that will very likely pay for the 4 points the muskets cost you. All these upgrades cost points but they’re so good! If you attach your Great Warrior commander to a unit of Archers and use the Sidearm muskets you could hit an advancing enemy unit early at 12″-16″ with a volley of muskets hitting on 7’s before the enemy could even hit you at all! That would be a strong opening.

I’ve been bringing at least 1 unit of these Archers in every South American list I make, no matter the size.

Warrior Musketeer

If the Archers are the harassers the Musketeers are the killers. The Warrior Musketeer is an interesting unit. A European unit with similar stats would cost 5 points (the Dutch Kaper has very similar stats) so these Natives come at a good price but the Slow Reload is their handicap. Every time they fire they get an extra reload which means a full volley will take 3 actions to recover before they can fire again.

This unit has the 3 powerful Native abilities, Hidden, Scouts and Evade and the South American Tribe faction gives them Elusive so they’re loaded with tricks.

With Slow Reload you aren’t going to fire very many times in a game with these Musketeers but if you can time it well, you can shatter an enemy unit already fatigued by the Poisoned Arrows the Archers have been flinging at them. In the early game it can be prudent to fire half shots so you have the chance to fully reload and be ready for a good opportunity to run up close to a faltering unit and unload on them. With a half shot, you can fully reload assuming you have three actions.

A Shoot Skill of 6 is solid but if you attach the commander to a unit of these soldiers he can bring that Shoot down to a 5 with the Great Warrior bonus. That brings them up to a level of accuracy only enjoyed by Boucaniers, Boucaniere, Marksmen Freebooters and a multi-action Drilled shot by Regulars. It’s technically possible to attach a Sharpshooter and the Commander to a unit of Musketeers and then bring their Shoot skill down to a base of 4 with a Marksmen shot!

I like everything about these guys except the Slow Reload. It seems like you should be able to work around it a bit or compensate by upgrading them to Veteran (which helps!), but they still will never fire as quickly as the English and French and even Dutch. Even upgraded to Veteran and paying the extra point for War Captains, they only cost 6 points which is standard for a decent Trained soldier with a 6 Shoot in the other faction.

Even with the Slow Reload, I think they’re still a great deal and a vital part of pretty much any South American Tribes Force. The Archers will hopefully slow down the enemy and load them up with Fatigue and the Musketeers will actually get kills.

If you want to spend the full 25 points on the Seasoned Commander, you can remove the Slow Reload with the Savvy rule, but an extra 10 points over the Experienced commander is a steep cost.

I usually run a large unit of these as my Command unit. The command actions help keep the reloads off the the 5 Shoot you can get with War Captains is just so good!

I’ve never taken the Pistol sidearm with the Musketeers but I suppose it could be useful, especially at sea when you’re likely to board a ship and might want a deadly charge. Those re-rolls could really help!

Young Warriors

The Young Warrior finally has a solid Resolve of 5! Inexperienced with no option to upgrade for 4 points seems a little expensive when compared to the other units available but the combination of Quick, Scouts, Hidden, and Elusive has some real value. The high resolve and Quick make them good enough in my opinion that I’m happy to pay 19 points for a unit of 4 models with Poisoned Arrows which can run around and try to pester the enemy’s flank.

I’m not sure I’d ever went to remove the bows for the -1 point but the option to give them Thrown Weapons could be good.

I wish the Natives had a cheap 3-cost unit but this is as close as you can get.

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Warriors

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The plain Warrior unit can be fitted out to fill nearly any role in a Native Force. The Warrior’s stats make him the hardest hitting melee unit available to this faction and the various options for weapons can make a Warrior charge pretty deadly.

At 4 points the Warrior start pretty cheap but you’re probably going to equip them with additional weaponry which brings their cost up. I typically give them bows so they have a reliable ranged weapon and I think I prefer the Thrown Weapons over the Heavy Melee Weapon. Those re-rolls on a charge are so great. The Heavy Weapon Save penalty doesn’t seem to provide the same value to me in most cases.

I’ve left off the bows and added the Sidearm Musket to the unit with the intention of getting close, Shooting that single volley, then charging in for the kill. It can be effective if you’ve softened up the enemy with plenty of Fatigue with your Poisoned Archers.

It’s interesting that if you add Pistols as a Main Weapon these Warriors don’t gain Slow Reload. They can fire their pistols at a normal rate.

Warriors lack Evade but have both Quick and Skirmishers which work really well together. I like the idea of a 6 point Veteran model with a bow, thrown Weapons and Quick and Skirmisher. They could move with Quick, shoot twice and retreat with Skirmishers. Or move on a spade, shoot off a bow or Sidearm musket volley and then charge with those Thrown Weapons. That could be a deadly activation!

These are your best offensive melee unit and if you plan to get close and personal, you might want a good unit of Warriors in your force.

African Warriors

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The African Warriors have a lot of the same strengths that we saw in the Warrior but their Fight Skill and Save are redistributed a little and the African has that solid 5 Resolve.

When compared with the Warrior Musketeer or Warrior, 6 points actually seems a little expensive for the African Warrior but with the ability to be Veteran, 5 Resolve, a decent Fight save and flexible weaponry, the African Warrior is actually one of the most reliable units in the Native factions.

The combination of Quick, Skirmishers and Scouts mean they can do that Move, Shoot, Retreat all with a Spade (as a Trained unit) which can be very annoying to the enemy. These guys are your most durable option in a brawl. The Warrior has a better offensive attack with a 5 Fight and Thrown/Heavy Weapons. The African Warrior has a Standard Melee Weapon and a 6 Fight but the Fight Save is a 6 instead of the Warrior’s 7 and the rest of the faction’s 8 which is just deathly.

I’ve had some bad luck with these guys but they’re well-rounded and have a lot of things going for them so I plan to get them into battle again. The 6 cost does seems steep, but you don’t have spend as many upgrade points on them as some of the other units.

 

Commanders

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All of the commanders for this faction have the Great Warrior trait. This ability makes your command unit exceptional and it’s flexible. They can apply a -1 bonus to any one test they make during a turn. While I usually find I apply it to a Shoot test, it can be useful for all sorts of things including scenario objectives (spiking guns, setting fires etc), a crucial rally test, a Fight test, sailing test, or even a grapple. It substantially increases the cost of your command unit, but it’s worth it in my opinion.

Besides Great Warrior, the Untrained commander has no abilities and his 4″ command radius is nothing to brag about (most land-based factions have a full 8″ on their Untrained commanders). The 15 cost commander gets the 8″ command radius and the much needed Inspiring ability. Most of the units in the faction have a 6 Resolve so the ability to remove it more reliably with the commander is valuable. It may be more effecient to just manage Fatigue with Grizzled Veterans and use the commander’s commands for more offensive purposes, but that depends on how you build your force. In general I find command points very useful in the Native faction because you can always order someone to fire bows! It’s helpful to get those Archers firing the Poisoned Arrows when it isn’t their activation so they don’t collect more Fatigue for firing more than once on a turn.

For 25 points you get the full 12″ command radius and the coveted Savvy ability. This removes the Slow Reload from the unit he’s attached to (and would removed Sound of Thunder if it was present). Having the Musketeers fire at a faster rate would be fantastic but 25 points is a good bit to pay! I’ve been going cheap and just upgrading my Musketeers to Veteran to help reload faster. It’s not the same as removing Slow Reload but it helps and it’s cheaper than bringing the 25 cost commander.

In general the Native factions don’t have access to as many unique commanders and the South American Tribes are no exception. Camarao is the only unique commander this faction can use.

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Antonio Filipe Camarao

He’s costed at the standard 30 points for a 3 command point commander and he has the same Great Warrior and Inspiring that the Experienced commander has. Instead of the Seasoned commander’s Savvy, Camarao has Tactician which lets you filter your hand of initiative cards once per round at the cost of 1 Fatigue. That ability is interesting and potentially powerful but it isn’t a sure advantage like Very Inspiring or Savvy would be.

I think Camarao could be very effective in a land game of 200+ points. Those command points never go to waste on the Natives. If you had 3 units of archers with Poisoned arrows near him, his single activation could release a huge cloud of arrows and potentially drop of a lot of fatigue all over the enemy force.

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Strengths

In my experience this Native faction is very strong defending on land and can be competitive while attacking on land as well. Nearly all of special rules associated with these units are very strong on land. Elusive keeps you alive from Ranged attacks, Evade keeps you alive from Melee attacks, Hidden makes the enemy approach you, Scouts and Quick let you move faster around the board, and Skirmishers helps you as well.

Between the easy movement and no need to reload your bows, the Natives have a considerable action advantage over most other factions. You Ranged attacks aren’t as effective but if you can make each attack count for something, the sheer amount of attacks you can throw at the enemy can win the day.

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I think Poisoned Arrows are a huge strength. That extra Fatigue makes those non-lethal arrows worth something. If you can spend 2 actions with a unit of Archers to drop 2 Fatigue on a unit of Buccaneers that already needs to take 2 actions to reload between shots, your action advantage will eventually snowball. That unit will lose the action from starting with 2 Fatigue, be forced to Rally for one action, then be left with 1 action left to reload hoping to fire on the next turn. Even if you don’t kill that many men right away, harassing units this way can be effective. Poisoned Arrow really helps with this harassing process since it increases your odds of giving out that Fatigue by so much.

The absence of Sound of Thunder is a huge strength for the South American Tribes. With 6 Resolve almost across the board, Sound of Thunder is massively punishing to a Native force! I’ve played the Caribs a few times and that Sound of Thunder hurts so bad.

The Natives really work well at night which I think is a thematic home run for the game. This is kind of a special scenario rule so it doesn’t happen much but it makes everything easier for this faction. In the campaign you can choose a Tactic as the attacker that lets you attack at night and I’ve used that to good effect. Using the Night rule for Naval games might give the Natives a little better chance for a competitive game.

Weaknesses

While the bows are a strength when you look at economy of actions, but they are pretty bad when it comes to killing the enemy. That -3 bonus on saves is a massive penalty. Most units have a 7 Ranged Save which goes down to a 4 if they’re in cover and that means 70% of your hits won’t actually take down a model in most situations. It can get discouraging when you’re throwing 20 arrows in an activation and scoring 3 or 4 hits on every shot and no one dies! On land, you still get some hits through, but at sea, with the enemy constantly in hard cover in the large ships, that ratio gets even worse! A unit with a 7 save will only die on a 1-2 and if he starts with a 6 save, only a 1 is a fail. I like the tactics that bows promote, but I think you can’t rely on them to be your lethal weapon in your force. I think you have to have a solid unit of Musketeers or a solid melee force take actually do the the killing.

My one and only successful naval game. Cleared out a whole deck of Ostend Privateers and “Skirmished” right back into my canoe!

The Natives aren’t very good at sea… If you can get the Poisoned Arrows working, you can make progress, but it’s so hard to get past the hard cover on those ships and actually take models down. Saving on 2 or 3’s is pretty rough, especially your Natives are only saving on 6’s with no hard cover in the small crafts. If your opponent has chosen a faster ship like the Frigate or Privateer Sloop, you may have a hard time keeping up as well. The Piragua is a fast and nimble ship that can use wind power to move a solid 5″ per move, but the Canoes are pretty slow. If you man the Sweeps they can almost keep up with action, but at that point your soldiers aren’t attacking! The Paddles are good once you’re close, but they aren’t winning any races… I’ve had several games were an entire canoe of Natives gets left out of most of the battle because it couldn’t keep up. Turns out they were the lucky ones because everyone else got killed but still, it would have been nice to keep them in the fight.

Nearly all of the strong abilities that these units boast are useless at sea. Elusive, Evade, Quick, and Hidden all do nothing at sea and Skirmishers is very rarely useful. To forfeit all those awesome abilities and lose the cover advantage by using boats vs ships makes the South American Tribes, and all Native factions drastically weaker at sea when compared to land. Once you take away all those abilities you’re basically looking at Militia style stats with a weapon that only kills 10-20% of the time. I find the South American Natives have a tough time at sea.

Be careful of those cannons as well. The Low Profile trait helps but if your boat gets hit it may sink instantly. Don’t devote too many expansive models to on boat or be very careful if you do!

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If you want to have a more competitive and fun game at sea, I suggest you use some islands, shoals, coastline or a combination of those 3 to give the Natives a fighting chance. If the enemy is in a ship that can sail 4″ or 5″ inches, there’s no real reason they would’t have an advantage keeping a good distance between their ship and the Natives and simply shoot away at them while the poor arrows bounce off the side of the ship.

It’s a small thing but the commander’s lack of a weapon is a weakness. I assume this decision was based on historical evidence but it’s a little annoying that all the commanders in this faction only have a Standard Melee Weapon. I think he gets the benefit of additional weapons for the command group like Sidearm Muskets or Pistols added to the Archers but I haven’t heard a ruling on this.

Tactics

On land I think you need to find cover so the enemy has to approach to be able to see you through the Hidden rule. Then you can harass them with large quantities of Poisoned Arrows as soon as they get within range. As the oncoming troops start to take Fatigue and lose actions, move up a more lethal unit like the Musketeers or Warriors to strike a lethal blow through a War Captains volley at close range or a decisive charge with Thrown Weapons. I think Fatigue is the way the Natives can control the game.

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Beware of the long range snipers like the Boucaniers and the units with 6 Ranged Saves and especially when they have Elusive as well. Once their Save gets down to a 2, it becomes really hard to apply much Fatigue and Melee combat becomes necessary.

Anything that deprives you of your cover is bad news as well. Grenados are unpleasant in any case but when you’re relying on your good Save numbers and Elusive to keep you alive, losing all that and only saving on 9-10 is terrible! The Sharpshooter can also hurt the Natives.

While the South American Tribes are best defending, their ability to place half their force further into the battlefield with Lay in Wait means they can start shooting those arrows right away. I think the Archer Warriors are probably a really good choice for placing with the Lay in Wait rule. Let them start softening up the enemy while the killing units move up.

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Don’t play at sea if you don’t have to! This isn’t a strong naval faction at all. I don’t think any of the Native factions are particularly strong at sea but the loss of the South American’s Elusive at sea really hurts. The Poisoned Arrows are still helpful, but they haven’t carried the day for me yet.

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I recommend building a force with about half arrows and half Muskets/Melee. The Musket sidearms can be really effective on the Archer with that 5 Shoot and Poisoned Arrows are one of your best tools. Don’t be shy about spending the points to make best use of your strengths. Get those Poisoned Arrows and spend a few extra points to bring some characters to keep your force functioning at full efficiency.

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I think the combination of Elusive and Poisoned Arrows give this faction a strong “Sneaky Native” feel and the lack of Sound of Thunder makes it very competitive on land. I’ve had a lot of fun with this faction so far and I plan to keep using it, even at sea occasionally!

Please comment with any further thoughts or ideas on strengths, weaknesses and tips and tricks you might have discovered while playing the Natives. Thanks to Firelock Games for designing an interesting and competitive set of Native factions that function in a big game like this. This kind of asymmetric play style is not easy to make balanced and fun.

Lists

100 Point Starter Box

100 Point Land Army with Poisoned Arrows

100 Point Sea Force w 3 Canoes

200 Point Small Unit Force

200 Point Well Armed Land

200 Point Sea Force (Battle Report)

300 Point Camarao Land Force

350 Point Camarao Fleet

Battle Reports Featuring this Faction

French Expeditionary Force vs South American Tribes 200 points

French Caribbean Militia vs South American Natives 100 points

South American Natives vs Dutch Privateers 100 points

South American Tribes vs English Buccaneers at Sea 200 points

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