By Guy Rheuark
In Blood & Plunder each nationality has certain distinctives that make it interesting and unique. Joseph Forester has been writing a series of articles that look at distinctives of individual factions (there are several factions within each nationality i.e Spanish Militia are very different from Spanish Corsairs) and those articles get into the nitty-gritty details of units, abilities, and strategies. This is part of a new series of (hopefully) shorter articles aimed at newer players or people interested in getting into the game. In each article I will take a bird’s eye view of the several nationalities as a whole. When you buy into the game, one of the first things you will need to decide is which nationality (or nationalities) do you want to play. Hopefully these articles will give you an idea of what makes each nation special, what options you have within that nationality and which factions would be the most fun for you to play.
This article takes into account everything from the core rule book and the No Peace Beyond the Line expansion book. Many of the factions discussed here are found in No Peace Beyond the Line and you won’t find them in your core rulebook but you can find all the info and unit stats on the most excellent Force Builder online.
What Makes the French Nationality Special?
The French are good at shooting, almost merely by being the nationality of the Boucanier. Most units that have a musket are great shots with it, including the militia. On the other side of the coin, French units are usually poor at melee, though they also have two of the best melee units; Flibustiers and Marins. When playing this faction, you need to let your units do what they’re good at.
The French are also hard to kill at range, having some of the best shoot saves. A large number also have an ability called Elusive, that grants a bonus for being in cover.
This Nationality has great variety, representing hunters and fur traders of a fledgling Canada, all the way to the scum and villainy of Tortuga, and everything in between. The French of the 17th century were masters of warfare, and the skill of the units reflect that.
The wealth of Historic Commanders the French have is also a boon, and can lead to some interesting play styles and list building. Jean Bernard Des’Jeans is my personal favorite commander for the wacky forces he can build. Several others are strong choices, like Iron Arm or Laurens De Graff, for the solid Special Rules they bring as commander.
If the French have a weakness, it is that their play style can lead to arrogance. Being able to dump round after round of accurate shot into an entrenched enemy feels amazing. Not noticing the enemy skirmishers moving into melee range does not.
This faction represents the trading posts and small settlements France formed in North America. The unit selection here is amazing; Milice Canadienne are really too good for a four point model, and Coureur des Bois are excellent. You can also play an almost completely native force if you want as well, led by a French marksman.
Being able to take Infanterie as a core unit is a great option. This, along with Miliciens Artilleurs lets you field a traditional soldier and cannon army if you like. You can even use some Miliciens to fill out the force and protect your cannons.
The faction ability in my experience is one of the better ones. With it, once per turn you get a free move for one unit at the end of its activation. This makes the entire faction feel light on their feet.
While you can take this faction to sea, it is not what it is intended for. With only the support unit Marins being able to sail a ship, and most of the core units Special Rules “turning off” in a structure, you want to keep these Canadians’ feet on the ground. Luckily, there is a sister faction, the French Canadian Privateers, that uses most of the same models, but is intended for ship combat.
For commanders, this faction has three generic French Militia Commanders. I try to always play the Experienced one, unless I’m playing 100 points or less. They also get the Historic Commander, Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville for 30 points. Like most historic French commanders, he has too many Special Rules and does everything well.
Collecting models for this faction is a little tricky. The French Nationality starter set is terrible for this faction, as most of the models in it you cannot play. The same is true for the other starter sets. It would be best to buy individual blisters of Coureur des Bois, Milice Canadienne, and European Soldiers to fill out the force you want to field.
Chasseurs is a strange faction. It is not one you would usually collect towards, but can play when you want because the models it uses are ones that you will naturally collect as a French player. The two units this faction has as core units are the Boucaniers and Engagés.
Boucaniers benefit the most from this faction’s most relevant ability, letting you use Tough and Fast Reload on a spade. They are also a very dependable unit.
Engagés, the other core unit, use the European Sailor Musketeer model, just like Miliciens and a half dozen other units. This is the best faction to make them shine. They are accurate but undependable shots that want to be at least 5” away from other units.
This faction’s rules restrict it to boats only. Boucaniers are some of the best units you can use in a boat-only force, with their accuracy and 6 Shoot Save. If you do go to sea with this unit, use Canoa instead of Longboats and Piragua, so you can use paddles.
Chasseurs get their own generic commander and Charles Tore. The Experienced Chasseurs Commander is actually better than the Buccaneer Commander, swapping Lead by Example for Inspiring, and with a longer range. Charles Tore is also interesting, as he essentially gives your force scouts and skirmishers.
Collecting for this faction is relatively easy. Though Boucaniers are a good unit, they also cost a lot of points, 7 for trained or 8 for veterans. You will not usually want more than twelve to sixteen in a standard game. To collect for this force it’s best to buy a French Nationality Starter Set or the Pirate & Privateers Starter Set to collect towards other factions, and then buy more Boucaniers and European Sailor Musketeers to fill out the Chasseurs.
This is the premier French faction. With four core units and eight support units, this faction has some of the most depth you will find in this game.
The core units are a mix of range and close combat specialists with Flibustiers being good at both. This lets you try out a number of strategies with a strong base. The faction ability to discard your hand and get a new one operates mostly as a free fortune, letting you fish for a spade when you really need to go first.
The French Buccaneer’s support units are widely varied and spread across four nationalities. Veteran Freebooters and Freebooters are some of the best options. Warrior Musketeers and African Warriors give you interesting options, as does the number of Dutch units. None of them are terrible, even Zeelieden have a place compared to Marins, giving you access to Expert Sailors and Expert Artillery Crew.
This is one of the rare factions that is excellent on land and at sea. Using the Marins, often without pistols, to run the cannons and filling out the command group with excellent shots or boarding parties. The force option of free grapeshot can be a mixed bag, as often you’ll want to use solid shot at first and transition to grapeshot when the enemy is close.
This faction is tied for the most commander options in the game with eight historic and legendary commanders. All of them have great build-around potential, especially the two legendary commanders, Francois l’Olonnais and Lauren’s de Graff.
The French Nationality Starter Set was made to collect this faction, as was the Pirates & Privateers if you intend to Captain a ship. It’s not a bad idea to buy one of each and your choice of ship to start. This will give you 16 Marins, 8 Flibustiers, 8 Engagés, 8 Veteran Freebooters, 4 Boucaniers, and 4 Marins without pistols or Zeelieden.
French Canadian Privateers
This is the sister faction to the Canadian Militia that is focused on ship combat. This faction gains Marins as a core unit, but loses Infanterie and Coureur de Bois.
Milice Canadienne and Warrior Musketeers are your other core units, allowing some forces to focus on bulk musket fire instead of swivels and cannons.
Having Marins as a core unit lets you take as many as you need to man a ship of any size and her guns. Sometimes you might take only Marins as they are the only unit in this faction that can adequately man both the swivels and cannons, sail the ship, or have an attached Carpenter for repairs.
The faction abilities are almost identical to the French Royal Navy. Giving most units Brawlers is a nice compliment to the Marins already great melee abilities, and also helps make the other units not completely terrible in melee. Rerolling a Lucky or Critical Hit against a ship’s Rigging is handy, as long as you remember to target the rigging. The last faction ability that gives Broadside! makes the generic French Militia Commanders equivalent to the French Navy Commanders.
The excellent Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville makes an appearance as a historic commander for this faction, and will lead most of your large scale naval battles.
Pick up the Pirates & Privateers Starter Set to start collecting for this faction. This will give you an assortment of Marins. From there pick up blisters of Milce Canadienne, Marins, and a French Commander, along with a maneuverable ship, like a sloop or tartana.
French Caribbean Militia
Mixing in a healthy dose of Buccaneers, the French Caribbean Militia is one of my favorites to play. They represent the residents of France’s Caribbean holdings and settlements, namely in Haiti, Tortuga, and Martinique. This faction can also be used to represent French settlements along the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
On the tabletop the core of the faction are Boucaniers, Milices des Caraïbes, and Miliciens. All three of these units have their own strength. Boucaniers let you project power over the field and cover any advances your units take, while also being hard to take out at range. Milices des Caraïbes are well armed, with a Buccaneer gun, a pistol, and plug bayonets. You can use them as your main fighting force or to cover your flanks. Milicien are the cheap unit option, but are just as hard to get rid of as the Boucaniers.
To round out the faction it has seven support units to give you enough variety to handle any land force. The two notable units are Flibustiers and Milice à Cheval as both of these units can be made into a core unit if you want with a force option and filling some requirements. Flibustiers can let you sail a ship as militia if you want and are a good but pricey unit. This militia might also be the best place to use cavalry with the Milice à Cheval being the most accurate shots from horseback.
The faction shares its ability with the French Canadian Militia, letting you move one unit a turn at the end of its activation. This has a number of uses that I explained in the article I wrote for this faction.
Other than the generic French Militia Commander, this faction has two historic commanders, each that you’ll usually take only when building around. Julien Lambert lets you use Flibustiers without the downsides of the Tortuga Militia. Jean Pinel is one of the more unique commanders in the game. He lets you make any brigantine with six or less guns into his ship, the La Volante, and gain the increased speed it was known for.
Look for the French Nationality Starter Ser to collect for this faction, and the European Colonial Militia Starter Set for support units like cavalry and field guns. Because the French Nationality Starter Set was made for this faction, it’s also not a bad idea to pick up a second box when you want to expand into larger games, instead of buying individual French blisters.
French Expeditionary Forces
This is one of the more unique factions in the game. Expeditionary Forces are military groups European powers would gather and send to other countries. Often a mix of professional soldiers, militia, and mercenaries, the practice of forming these groups by the French carried on into the 20th century.
The French Expeditionary Forces allows you to use almost the entire line of French models and gives you the flexibility to mix them however you wish, as long as you bring several units of Milices des Caraïbes, Milice Canadienne, or Infanterie.
The most common way I play this faction is to take more field cannons than you would usually be allowed. You can also include both Boucaniers and Coureur de Bois and spark a shooting competition between the two groups. Or make a melee Force with Native American Warriors and Milice à Cheval. It’s really up to what you want on the table.
This Faction doesn’t work at sea though. Being limited to Canoas, Longboats, and Piraguas is hard. You can play an amphibious landing force, but will need to play a different faction to even use something as big as a Bark.
This Faction also has two historic commanders. Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville makes an appearance here as well. If you play this faction he will lead most of your larger point games. Jean Bernard Desjeans is the other historic commander, and using him allows you to bend the rules by making all support units into core ones. The first list I kicked around with him was an all cannon list, but you can load up on other units as well.
The French Nationality Starter Box is a good start here as well to start collecting. The Pirates and Privateers Starter Set or European Colonial Militia Starter Set are also great first purchases, depending on if you want your core to be Milices des Caraïbes, Milice Canadienne, or Infanterie, and the support units you want to use.
French Royal Navy
The French Royal Navy is primarily a naval faction. I know that this is obvious. It takes Marins, and lots of them, to run all the larger ships in Blood & Plunder, so this faction is not hurt by only having Marins and Infanterie as core units.
Surprisingly this faction is not bad at all on land. Infanterie are good, and giving them Brawlers is a nice bonus to their already great melee skills. Marins are also great when they can close into melee, or impersonate militia by giving them all Buccaneer guns.
The last faction ability is a nod to France’s naval doctrine of the time; to avoid unnecessary engagement and focus on the mission. French ships would usually stay leeward or other ships, unless their intent was to engage, and when firing from leeward would often hit the sails of other vessels. This gave their Navy a reputation for cowardice with the English, one that still permeates places like Wikipedia. Being able to reroll a Critical Hit to rigging once per game is not usually useful, but I enjoy the reference.
The historic and legendary commanders in this faction fit well in big ship battles, but the Experienced French Navy Commander is also of note. For 15 points he has two command points, Inspiring, and Broadside. This package is all you need in most sea games.
While the Pirates & Privateers Starter Set is a good choice to collect for this faction, I would also recommend buying individual blisters of Cannon Crew or Marins instead. Most of the time you will be manning your cannons with Marins without pistols, and the Cannon Crew model is great to represent that. Pick up blisters of European Soldiers for Infanterie as well.
Flibustiers de Graff
France has two factions based on historical figures, and Flibustiers de Graff is the better one. This faction has most of the same unit selection as French Buccaneers, so everything true about that faction is true here as well. The units are either focused on accurate musket fire or running the cannons and ship. They all get to be expert artillery crews, but it would seem like a waste putting Flibustiers or Boucaniers on swivels.
Because Laurens de Graff and his faction are focused on ship combat, most of the time the ship will be filled with Marins. De Graff’s hefty point cost will also bar him from most smaller games, as does his factions focus on sea battles. He isn’t terrible by any measure, but an Experienced Buccaneer Commander and four Flibustiers is a good substitute.
Laurens de Graff makes even a sloop deadly to frigates in larger games, and encourages you to dump your fortune in the early game.
The historic commanders are quite affordable in Blood & Plunder, and it’s ok to pick them up even if you will rarely play the faction. The models make great characters like master gunners and officers.
This is the other faction based on a legendary commander, this time François L’Olonnais. Centered around ground combat, the unit selection here is not bad. Les Enfants Perdus have the underutilized Vanguard special rule, letting you push forward and apply pressure right away.
Giving all these units Ruthless works nicely with l’Olonnais Terror special rule, and the general accuracy of the units. This faction also gets Engagés as a cheaper alternative to more Flibustiers.
Like Flibustiers de Graff, Francois L’Olonnais operates as a not insignificant tax on this faction. I have played some smaller 200 point games with this faction, but it usually ends badly on my part.
Even though Francois has Broadside! this isn’t a faction for ship combat in the current cannon focused meta. Putting a unit of Flibustiers and Engagés in a sloop, with Marins running the cannons is what this faction wants to do. Larger ships are harder to crew with support units, because you usually have to max out the units that can fit on the ship to get Marins crewing the cannons.
The model of Francois L’Olonnais is nicely sculpted and a joy to paint. I wish more Blood & Plunder Commander models would be sculpted with capes.
The French are one of the more popular Blood & Plunder nationalities. There is a tendency in wargaming for players to “stake out” a nationality or faction among a group, but the French are varied enough that it can accommodate multiple people playing the same nationality.
If you are new to the game and thinking about playing the French, or have played before but want to branch out into another nationality, the French are a good choice. French Buccaneers and The French Caribbean Militia are great for smaller games, and each use the French Nationality Starter Set. These factions are also a little forgiving to new players by giving you a range of units at different point costs and skill levels to experiment and find what works for you.
French Canadian Militia and Privateers are fine choices to start out with as well, but all the models have to be bought in blisters, and Milice Canadienne and Coureur de Bois are not used by very many French factions.
The French Royal Navy and Chasseurs have a unique problem; you have to collect several of the same model to play them. When someone starts out collecting and painting a miniature game, variety not only helps learn how to play the game, but makes painting more interesting by painting different things.
In the end no matter what faction you choose, the French is a good nationality to play.