This is the first in what I hope to be a series of articles looking closely at the various ships in Blood & Plunder. My plan is to look at their strengths and weaknesses, discover what kind of lists can be built around them and compare their performance with other ships in the game.
I’m starting with the Bark because it’s really the most basic ship. It’s not a fearsome warship but it’s cheap and easy to use. The description on the Firelock website sums it up well:
The common bark is the coastal merchant and fishing workhorse of the Caribbean. Ranging from one to three masts, it is typically square-rigged and designed for cargo, not speed. It is a sturdy, unromantic vessel, yet due to its availability is often used by buccaneers. Spaniards, if they have nothing better, often fit them out as armadillas, or small fighting vessels, against buccaneers. One of the most famous buccaneer versus Spanish battles pits buccaneers in canoes and pirogues against three Spanish armadilla barks.
We’ll start by looking at the Bark’s stats.
A top speed of 4″ is pretty standard for most ships. The lack of a 3″ sail setting makes it less flexible but it certainly makes it easy to slow down fast! The windward value of -1″ makes it less robust than the Sloop or Tartana.
With 4/4 Fortitude and Integrity, the Bark is a fragile ship with the same durability as the Tartana, Corvette and Privateer Sloop. It won’t stand up to more than a one or two volleys from a real cannon ship but at least it’s tougher than a boat! At 3/5 with a +1 penalty for targeting the rigging, the Bark’s rigging is actually pretty stout and tougher than all 3 versions of the Sloop.
The Lightly Built rule also gives you models a disadvantage on their Save rolls when fighting against larger ships. You can upgrade the hull for 3 points which is probably worth it if you think you’ll be rolling at least 10 Save dice over the course of the game. If you’re paying 11 points for a Bark with Reinforced Bulkheads, you could consider paying 12 for a Tartana (which I consider a better ship overall).
There’s several elements that go into a ship’s maneuverability:
- Turn rating
- Sail Settings
- Windward Value
- Skid Placement
- Special Rigging abilities
- Draft Size (sort of)
The basic speed and turn value of 4″ are excellent for this ship. A full 4″ turn goes a long ways. The windward value of -1″ doesn’t help and the lack of 3″ and 1″ sail settings make this ship a little less flexible than some other ships but on the other side, the Simple Rig ability and the sequence of sail setting means you can change speeds extremely fast compared to larger ships like the Light Frigate. In two standard actions you could change from 4″ to 0″ while on a Frigate you’d have to spend 3 Dedicated actions to accomplish the same thing. The ability to change your speeds and do the unexpected can be helpful.
The skids you measure from for movement are fairly far forward on the Bark when compared to the Tartana and Sloop. This means the back of the ship “fishtails” a little on a tight turn but after doing some movement comparisons alongside both the Sloop and Tartana, the difference wasn’t that great. The skids on the Corvette are even further forward when compared to the length of the ship and the turning behavior is more different there.
Here is a lineup of a Bark, Tartana, Sloop and a “mythical” Sloop turning 5″.
I lined them up so the front edge of the fore-decks were all even at 12″ from the table edge.
The three on the Left turned 4″ and the Rightmost Sloop turned 5″.
After a second turn the three “real” ships are all basically pointed the same direction but the Bark seems to be a bit further behind the others, possibley because of the skids being more towards the front of the ship rather than on the middle like the Sloop and Tartana. If you take the windward penalty the Bark has into account, it’s likely the Bark would have turned 1-2″ less over the course of 3 successive turns.
The Sloop has a maneuverability advantage over the Bark and Tartana with its Fore and Aft Rig which makes the Tacking sailing action much easier but the Bark is the only ship of these three that can perform the Box Haul maneuver. Tacking seems to be more helpful than Box Hauling in most cases but at least it has something unique!
Here’s another test of the Bark vs the Tartana.
This time I lined up the skids.
After one 4″ turn.
After three 4″ turns the Tartana has moved a little ahead of the Bark but both have entirely reversed directions.
The draft size doesn’t come into play a lot in my games but a draft value of 5 combined with the Shallow Draft trait means this ship only has a 1% chance of beaching itself in shallow water. This makes it good for moving around islands and through shoals where larger ships would be less eager to follow.
The Bark can be upgraded to gain the Sweeps 2″ trait, but moving 2″ at a time doesn’t sound attractive enough to want to pay for it to me.
Overall the Bark won’t beat the other 2-deck ships when it comes to maneuverability, but anything with a 4″ turn is reasonably nimble and will be able to out turn any 3-deck vessel.
The Bark is a small ship but the front deck is still fairly large. The foredeck can hold 23 models and 4 Light Guns and the aft can take 12 models. Compare that to the Tartana’s 21/18 and the Sloop’s 27/16 (all numbers include full complement of Light Guns). I was surprised to discover the Bark’s front deck is actually slightly larger than the Tartana’s. Space isn’t usually an issue in most lists anyway, especially in those larger decks.
The Bark can only take Light Guns and Swivels which limits it as a gunship and pushes it more towards a fighting platform for men with small arms. With two swivels on both decks, you can’t get a massive amount of concentrated firepower out of them like the 4 swivel decks of the Tartana and Sloop but they’re still useful.
The Bark has a very low deck which gives it a slight disadvantage vs larger and taller ships. Several of the larger ships actually have decks more than 2″ higher than the deck of a Bark which means the units in the Bark would take a +1 penalty to their Saves on top of the Lightly Built/No Hard Cover rule. In addition, you’ll want to choose the lowest deck on the enemy ship to grapple if you want to board or you’ll be climbing during your charge which is now a Dedicated action and applies a +1 penalty to your free Fight action. I’m pretty sure the back deck of a Fluyt and all decks of a Galleon are more than 2″ above the Bark’s decks.
The other advantage the Bark has over other ships is that it’s fairly cheap! The price has increased from $30 to $39, but it’s still the most affordable option for getting into real ship vs ship combat. It’s also a nice easy building/painting project. You can paint up a Bark in a couple hours and have it rigged really quickly. A very good intro ship for new players for every reason.
Uses for the Bark
I think the Bark is best used as a fighting platform for Buccanier style forces that rely on mostly small arms. It can’t take enough cannons to make it a real navy style ship but putting some muskets in the front and back and possibly loading up some Swivels and Light Cannons with grapeshot can work well. Going up against a cannon ship you’ll have to work hard to suppress the opposing cannon crew or your ship will be blown to pieces in a couple turns.
I think you could build an elite 200 point Bark filled with accurate muskets with either the French or English Buccanneers or even the Brethren of the Coast. Using the Pirate faction as an attacker could let you get close before letting loose a full volley of cannon and muskets which could cripple the opposing cannon crew.
The Bark is also one of the best boats for smaller sea games at 100 and 150 points. You can reasonably outfit a Bark with a couple cannons and a decent crew for 100 points (especially using the new reduced cost from the Errata 1.3).
The Bark is a nice ship to use when you’re required to take a ship but don’t want to invest a lot in that ship. The new Stone Tower Fort scenario requires the Attacker to bring a ship or two boats and if you wanted to take a primarily land force, buying a Bark is a nice cheap option.
The Bark is also a fantastic ship for running demonstrations. You can outfit reasonably well without making a force too complicated for a new player to grasp and the Lightly Built trait means you don’t have to explain no cover vs cover vs hard cover. You just get to use a unit’s standard Save. I’ve seen Firelock using the Bark for demos, I’ve used Barks for demos and I’ve seen several other groups using up to 4 Barks at a time for demo games!
Here’s an example of a 100 point French Buccaneer list with some cannons using grapeshot (using the new costs) and a reasonable crew.
Here’s a sample 200 point Bark list that’s filled to capacity with accurate muskets and 4 cannons with grapeshot. 34 models, 4 Light Cannons with Grape, 2 Swivels, and 22 models shooting with a base of 6.
Here’s a 200 points English Buccaneer list with only small arms and no cannons ready to board the enemy ship.
Here’s a 200 point Pirate List using Jean Hamlyn. Sail this ship close using False Colors, then shoot a volley of grapeshot, swivels, and 11 Freebooter Buccaneer Guns before the enemy has a chance to respond!
Looking at 200+ games, you can even run 2 Barks with a decent crew while most forces will have only one ship.
Here’s a Guarda Costat 300 point list with 2 fully crewed Barks with Reinforced Bulkheads with cannons and swivels.
Bark, Sloop, Sloop and Brigantine
The Bark isn’t the flashiest or most fearsome ship. It’s just a basic serviceable ship that can be used for a variety of purposes. It’s great for smaller sea battles and demos and it’s a perfect ship for a new player. No fancy rules, easy to paint and easy to build.
If you’ve been using the Bark, how do you like it? Let me know if I’ve overlooked any key strengths or weaknesses.