Historically it appears the Pirate Hunters were a diverse lot, ranging from Militia volunteers, Royal Navy veteran to Boucaniers who were likely nearly as lawless as the pirates they hunted.
In Blood & Plunder, this faction is represented by a mix of seamen, Militia and Buccaneers. Their faction ability improves their melee ability which makes them a fairly balanced faction but also makes them lack a clear focus for how to play them.
The Pirate Hunters have minimal special rules. Their main rule gives all their Trained and Veteran troops the Hard Chargers ability.
This helps their melee ability a lot since their core units aren’t as deadly in melee as many other factions’ basic units. Both the Sea Dogs and Militia start with a Melee skill of 6 so Hard Chargers brings that down to 5 which is where you want to be. They still don’t come up the level of the infamous French Marins but with this rule they become competitive in initiating melee combat. One thing to remember is that to receive this bonus on the core Militia unit, you have to upgrade them to Trained for an extra point.
Their other faction rule applies a +2 bonus to the Attacker roll before a game begins. This is pretty standard for most seagoing factions. It means you’ll be attacker more often than not on land (but you probably shouldn’t play this faction on land), or in amphibious games but you’ll have a 50/50 chance of being attacker at sea unless you’re facing a Navy faction (they usually have +4) or a unique commander’s faction (which usually have a +3).
Most factions are shaped by the units they can use more than by their faction special rules. In this case, this faction only has 2 basic core units and then 6 support units. This means you’re pretty well locked into one basic style of force with Sea Dogs and Militia but you can flavor it in several ways with the different support units available.
For small arms fire, the doughty English Militia are your basic core unit. The Shoot, Fight and Save numbers aren’t impressive on this militia unit, but the 5 Resolve is the best thing about the English Militia.
With a Resolve of 5, you save several valuable actions through a game by not having to Rally so often and not falling to 2 Fatigue as many times. This is very helpful, especially if you are running them as Inexperienced troops since they don’t get many actions in the first place. In general I think it’s best to upgrade them to Trained so you have more actions and you get the Hard Chargers ability from the faction rules, but you can run them as cheap 3 pointers if you want.
Militia aren’t particularly accurate but if you are able to do a drilled shot with a club you can get some reasonable accuracy out of them. I like putting a unit of 4 up in a Fighting Top to increase their killing power and (usually) improving their longevity. I find they sometimes don’t get targeted for while if they’re by themselves up there.
Giving them bayonets combos well with their faction Hard Chargers ability but it increases their cost and they’re pretty fragile with that standard horrible militia Shoot Save of 8. I like them well enough and I use them but that Save is their weakness and the Resolve is their strength.
The Sea Dogs are the backbone of the Pirate Hunters for me. These guys are great on your cannons or swivel guns with Expert Artillery Crew. They also have Brawlers and when you combine that with Hard Chargers, they can hit pretty hard if given the chance to board. Their 6 Fight Save is a English trademark that makes this last longer in extended melee combat. Hopefully you’ll break the enemy with that first charge, but if you don’t, that Save, along with decent Resolve and the Brawlers ability can help you continue the fight.
If you compare Sea Dogs with the English Militia, you’ll notice that they have a better Shoot and Fight Save. With the same Shoot and Fight skill, it’s very tempting to give the Sea Dogs muskets and drop the Militia all together. Sea Dogs won’t have Drilled, but over the course of a game, those better Save numbers will save you some casualties and Brawlers might get you a couple extra kills. They’re also have the Sailors rule so they can help manage your ship much more effectively than Militia. If you plan to use Drilled and fire from longer distances, it might not be a good choice, but in many cases, Sea Dogs with muskets are better than English Militia.
My Pirate Hunter forces generally have more Sea Dogs than anything else. They’re cheap, versatile and reasonably tough.
These guys are expensive, but a really solid unit. They can do anything for you. They can snipe with a solid Shoot skill and Marksmen, Fast Reload and Ball and Shot to help out, they can manage your ship with the Sailors rule, and they can take the fight to the enemy ship with Hard Chargers, a sidearm pistol and that solid 6 Fight Save. You can even give them Bayonets to make them more dangerous when boarding.
I’ve been playing the Pirate Hunters at 200 points a lot and I find these a little expensive to fit into my forces, but when I do, I enjoy having them. A solid unit.
If the Freebooters are good at everything, the Veteran Freebooters are better at everything. They’re super expensive at 8 points each but they come preloaded with everything! They’re veterans with 6/6/6/6 stats. Those Saves make them hard to kill, especially when they’re getting that constant Hard Cover bonus on a ship. You’ll be Saving 60% of the time! Always feels good knowing you’re more likely to Save than to lose a man when you go to roll that Save for a 8 point model…
They have the same 4 special rules that the standard Freebooters have along with the same buccaneer gun and sidearm pistol, but they get the plug bayonet for free, the extra veterancy and that coveted 6 Shoot Save for those 2 extra points. They’re hard to fit into a force but they’re amazing troops!
If you want to board and massacre those dirty Pirates, the Dutch boarding party will be your unit of choice.
Again, they’re expensive and hard to fit into a force, but they are versatile and they just wreck house once they get into melee combat. They have Expert Sailors so they can help you get close to the enemy, and they have Expert Artillery Crew so you can use them on cannons or swivels until you close and board.
Once you get close, you can unleash a massive amount of firepower at close range with Brace of Pistols, Blunderbusses, and Explosives before charging into the fray with Hard Chargers bringing your charge Fight skill down to 4 with Brace of Pistols re-rolls. The enemy will die. Their 6 Fight Save and 4 Resolve help them stay in that melee until they’re the last men standing.
I like to put a Reformado in a unit of these guys and let them clean up the enemy ship once you get close enough. They’re obviously expensive and you want to protect them as you maneuver to get within boarding range, but if you can get them into melee, they will deliver.
These guys look cool but I haven’t been able to convince myself that they’re good yet. Their stats are the same as the Militia so they go down pretty easily, even with Hard Cover. With no guns, they have to get into melee to do their job but with a Fight skill of 7, they still aren’t that deadly.
Their biggest strength is on defense. Their lances or pikes can repel boarding parties without taking the Fatigue for a defensive attack which can be very helpful but I’m always worried about them getting gunned down before they have a chance to jab at the enemy.
They’re cheap bodies and pretty solid on defense, but I don’t find them on top of the list for me.
These guys are great. If you don’t plan to take any of the more expensive support units, you might as well use a unit of these instead of a unit of Sea Dogs. They have the same stats but have Expert Sailors in addition to Expert Artillery Crew. A solid unit!
I like to bring a small unit of Zeelieden with a Sailing Master in my crew if I can. Five sailors and the character for 18 points and this unit can handle all your sailing needs and take on odd jobs like putting out fires and plugging leaks.
Dutch Kapers are another very versatile unit. If you look at their stats and abilities, they’re basically a Sea Dog with a musket and a 6 Shoot instead of a 7. Their 5 basic stats are the same and their special rules are very similar with their Artillery ability downgraded to standard Artillery Crew but their sailing ability upgraded to Expert Sailors.
The Kapers are a Swiss Army Knife unit that can cover all the bases on a ship and at 5 points, they’re easier to fit into a list than Freebooters or Veteran Freebooters. They are slightly more expensive than Sea Dogs with muskets, but it’s worth it for that improved shoot skill.
Kapers are one of the units that seem to use blunderbusses really well. All of the sailor units have that 7 Shoot skill and after you apply the blunderbuss penalty, they aren’t very deadly, but if you start with a Shoot of 6, they hit a lot more often. If you’re at long range, you can just do half shots with your muskets to keep your efficiency up and then switch to full volleys when you’re in blunderbuss range. Another unit with Brawlers and Hard Chargers that can really do well in melee combat.
The Pirate Hunters faction can choose from the English Navy commander or the English Pirate Hunter commanders. Strangely enough, the NPBtL rule book doesn’t give Navy Commanders as options under the faction description, but the book also doesn’t include stats for the Pirate Hunter commanders which makes the whole thing very confusing. But I’ve confirmed with Mike Tunez that the faction have both sets of commanders available. You can find the stats for the Pirate Hunter commanders in this download supplement that first introduced the Pirate Hunters.
The two sets of generic commanders are very similar but both the Untested and Seasoned Navy commanders have slightly better special rules so you might as well go with them. Getting Broadside on a zero cost commander is nice. Using Broadside with 1 or 2 command points means you will need to attach your commander to a unit of artillery crew to make it work very well. The 15 point commander gets you Inspiring in addition to Broadside which is pretty standard for an Experienced commander. The 25 point generic commander gains Commadore and Expert Sailors but in most cases, I would prefer to take a more interesting historical commander.
This 25 point commander keeps most of the same stats as the generic 15 point commander but replaces Broadside with Expert Broadside which lets you re-roll 1’s when rolling for critical damage on your enemy. Tough is always helpful and will be sure to come into play if you’re shooting that cannons as fast as you can while taking some fire.
I would count this commander as strictly better than the generic 25 point commander unless you’re running a fleet of several ships and need Commadore.
Now we get into the serious 30 point commanders with the full 3 command points. John Morris has Inspiring and Broadside like the generics but he also has Lead by Example to help keep fatigue off your force. The Vast Experience rules is unique to John Morris (so far) and it’s it’s an interesting rule. You can always use the re-roll to help increase your damage on an attack roll but it can often be more impactful to use on “one die tests” since they often result in a “pass or fail.” Having that re-roll available for a Tacking test, rally test, an objective goal (setting a fire, spiking a gun etc), grapple test or something like that can have a huge effect on a game. It can help you increase your cannons’ effectiveness by helping those ranging shots not miss.
He doesn’t have Commodore but the 16″ command radius makes him pretty effective on land and sea.
I like John Morris but you’ll probably need to be playing at 250+ points to really be able to afford him. I wish we had a special miniature for him. His paragraph in the rule book makes him look pretty awesome!
I think any commander with 3 command points and Very Inspiring is worth it. That Very Inspiring ability is worth so much. It saves many actions. Other than that, Spragge is a navy man. Commodore extends his range to 24″ at sea and Expert Broadside makes those Lucky and Critical hits more reliable.
Again, he’s expensive so I wouldn’t be too eager to take him in forces under 250 points but if you’re running a large force that focuses on using cannons, Spragge is your man.
At 42 points, Henry Morgan is the most expensive commander in the game (along with Laurens de Graff)! He’s an awesome commander with the combination of Lucky and the 4 Fortune from God’s Blessing or the Devil’s Luck making every game with him entertaining and exciting. The Misfortune at Sea restriction makes him a little dangerous to use in naval games, but again, it makes him exciting!
I like his faction rules so much that I prefer to play him in that context, but he is obviously a strong commander and would do just fine commanding a large ship of Pirate Hunters.
The English usually don’t excel at boarding and hitting hard in a melee, but the Pirate Hunter faction boosts that area with their faction wide-Hard Chargers rule. The English Militia can hit decently hard in melee, especially when equipped with bayonets, but the Sea Dogs are a little tougher and would be probably be the best core of your force.
The commander selection offers you a lot of high powered characters which is awesome but all of them are expensive. Beyond the generic commanders there’s only 1 commander who comes in at less than 30 points.
Overall the Pirate Hunter faction is fairly cheap so you’ll be able to bring a decent sized ship and fill it with men. Core units are 3 and 4 points each so even if you bring some of the more expensive support units, most of your men will be budget troops. This is helpful because you’ll have points for either a better commander to make your troops more efficient or numerical superiority.
If you want to go super cheap, you can get Broadside on that 0 cost English Navy commander which makes your cannon fire especially deadly, even in low point level battles.
As an English faction, the Pirate Hunters have solid Resolve across the board. Every core and support unit has a 5 Resolve or better (Enter Ploeg have 4) so your troops should be taking less Fatigue than pretty much anyone you will be going up against.
The Pirate Hunters are clearly very strong in the cannon department. Their Sea Dogs have Expert Artillery Crew and so do two of the suppot units. That combined with Broadside on so many of their commanders means they can run those cannons as good as any faction.
The core unit selection kind of limits this faction. With only 2 core units, you can’t be too creative or varied in your builds. You need to bring able to afford 6 units to take 2 support units which means you need to be playing at a fairly high point count or playing with pretty small units. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it limits the faction a little bit.
The Pirate Hunters are a little weak when it comes to small arms fire. The English Militia aren’t exactly snipers and while they have access to some accurate support units, you can’t load up on them.
The faction special rules strengthens the melee prowess of the entire faction, but when it comes to actually dealing damage in melee, all the core units and most of the support units aren’t particularly strong in that area to begin with (Enter Ploeg being the notable exception). The generic French and Spanish sailors are still better at dealing melee damage than these Pirate Hunter core units even accounting for the faction’s Hard Chargers rule. The English have the advantage of having more staying power with a superior Fight Save, but the truth is they still aren’t the best at melee.
It kind of goes without saying that the Pirate Hunters are a seagoing faction and will be less effective on land. You could make a decent land force with lots of Militia, Sea Dogs with muskets and Pikemen.
With decent melee capabilities, cheap small arms units and very strong cannon options, this force is pretty well balanced. You can easily focus on deadly cannon fire and that can win you games. Or you can focus on melee with lots of hard charging Sea Dogs supported by Enter Ploeg.
In my games I’ve been playing with the Pirate Hunters I usually settle on a “balanced force” with a little bit of everything. I’ve been using a Sloop of War with a full compliment of light or medium cannons, 4 forward swivels and then 1 or 2 units of Militia. With this force I can go either way. If the enemy is bristling with cannons, I can try to rush up and board, or if they outclass me with melee units, I can fire my cannons, swivels and small arms from a distance and hopefully do pretty well.
Overall I would consider the Pirate Hunters a fairly well balanced faction. While it doesn’t have a lot of options for specializing a force or creating a wide variety of builds, most any force you create will be able fight competently at sea.
English Pirate Hunter Lists
You can find battle reports from my Pirate Hunter campaign by clicking the Pirate Hunters tag on my blog.
As always, I’m interested in other players’ opinions and experiences with this faction. If you have played as the Pirate Hunters or against them, I would appreciate feedback on how you feel they function as a faction.
Thanks for reading!