By Guy Rheuark
The French Buccaneers were one of the most feared factions in the Caribbean during the 17th century. Most likely leaving France as economic, religious, or political refugees, these interlopers started on Hispaniola and Tortuga hunting wild cattle and boar, working with the natives and learning how they smoked meat on a boucan.
They became marksmen to better hunt their game, favoring longer hunting rifles, and became practiced hands in its use. Some boucaniers, as they would be known, would kill over 60 boars a day. They created a culture of teamwork and responsibility, and celebrated when the work was done. A brotherhood.
It was only a matter of time before they turned their new expertise on the Spanish ships they would see passing their island homes.
French Buccaneers get three faction abilities.
The first, and most basic, is a +2 when determining the Attacker. This is a nice bonus for sea games, as the attacker is usually favored at sea. For land games it’s not as good, with most scenarios giving the Defender a small advantage.
The second faction ability allows you to discard your hand once per game and draw a new hand. The other six buccaneer factions have this ability as well, but it is welcome here. Most of the core units and support units have abilities that trigger off Spades, and fishing for high cards in the middle of a game lets you be efficient and go first.
The last faction ability lets you opt into free grapeshot for your cannons, at the price of only using grapeshot for the entire game. If you are playing a dedicated gunship, and expect to be facing other ships, this isn’t usually a good trade off, and only saves you 2 to 6 points. Solid shot is very accurate and only gets more deadly as the game continues. Grapeshot is good for clutch plays. A group of nine sailors running three light cannons with grapeshot costs 48 points and hits as accurately as nine Boucaniers using marksmen (a cost of 63). Boucaniers are known for firing every turn, however, while to do so with cannons requires a bit of finesse.
French Buccaneers Core Units
This faction has four core units, at a variety of point levels. Being a French faction, three of the core units have buccaneer guns and a shoot score of 6. Unlike other French Factions half of these buccaneers are good in melee, as long as they started the fight.
Engages (pronounced an·ga·jé)
These indentured servants serve an important role with the French Buccaneers. They have most of the same stat line as Boucaniers, but only cost 4 points each, allowing you to fill out your force, and have a cheap unit to take risks and apply pressure. If Engages have a home, it is with French Buccaneer.
This unit has three special rules, but two of them are all downside. Ball & Shot is the simplest, and is a nice bonus for when you close the distance.
The most debilitating special rule is Timid, and can mostly be played around by not keeping any friendly units within 5″ of your Engages. Also do not put them in a building or a ship. I’ve only ever had one unit of mine rout by having 7 Fatigue, and it was a unit of Engage in the stone watchtower.
Their special rule support also doesn’t usually affect the game as often, as Boucaniers and Filibusters will usually be the reason you are playing the faction.
Boucaniers (pronounced bou·ka·nyé)
This is the premier French unit, Boucaniers are among the best shots in the game, with a shoot score of 5. To further add to their shooting expertise they have Ball & Shot, Fast Reload, and Marksmen, along with a shoot save of 6 and Elusive. This unit has a melee score and save of 7, so avoid melee as much as possible and try to keep some shot in the barrel to ward against melee charges.
As for the options, Boucaniers are some of the best units to upgrade to veterans, as marksmen are very good on this unit, allowing you to hit on 8’s at 16-20” when most units would need 10’s, but it takes four actions to do that and reload. Upgrading this unit to veteran makes an already expensive unit 8 points each, but will allow them to get four actions on a Spade.
I’m convinced the Plug Bayonets option is a trap, as no one would buy boucaniers and kit them out for melee. Are they going to run out of musket balls?
Flibustiers (pronounced fli·bus·tyé)
Flibustiers are a well rounded unit: they fight well, they shoot well, and they can sail your ship. Armed with a buccaneer gun and a brace of pistols, and with Sailors, Fast Reload, and Ball & Shot.
The typical way to play Flibustiers is to advance with them and shoot, closing the distance until they can charge.
The only downside to Flibustiers is they die as easily as most 7 shoot save units, and the aggressive play style they are capable of constantly puts them in the line of fire. As a 6 point model, though, every Flibustier lost hurts.
As for the options this unit has, I don’t usually make them veterans because I always prefer more. Bayonets are mostly useless on this unit as well, since they have a brace of pistols, and you will usually be using it for charges and defensive attacks.
Marins (pronounced ma·rin)
While at first blush Marins look like the French flavor of the generic “sailor” most factions get, they have a couple traits that can make them amazing on land as well as the deck of a ship. To start with they have a fight score of 5 and Hard Chargers, making them melee specialists. They are also less prone to panic, with a Resolve of 5. Usually this isn’t a big deal, but both Boucaniers and Engages have a Resolve of 6. Marins cost 4 points each, and are trained.
Marins have the usual “sailor” upgrades, but instead of muskets they can get superior buccaneer guns for 4 points a unit, even though their shoot score is only 7. If playing a land game, a small unit of Marins with buccaneer guns can cover a flank, protecting Boucaniers or Flibustiers. Explosives and Blunderbuss are also fun upgrades, as long as you are not using your Marins with cannons or swivel guns.
If making use of Marins as cannon crew on a ship, always take away their pistols. Although it is technically possible to have enough crew to man the cannons and perform a defensive shot if boarded, the realities of most games is that they will never be able to.
Support units – Les Enfants Perdus (pronounced les en·fants per·dus)
Also known as Lost Children, Les Enfants Perdus are the French counterpart to the Forlorn Hope, and are not very good. This unit’s fatal flaw is in its stat line, and they are mostly the same as Flibustiers, except Les Enfants Perdus have an 8 fight and shoot save. Lost Children die by the handful. Even with a 4 Resolve and being naturally Tough, they will most likely rout by the middle of a game. If this unit was only 3 or 4 points a model, it wouldn’t be as big a problem, but they are 6 points each.
The only reason to play this unit is the free grenadoes you get to give one in four. Explosives are good, but one in eight Marins can also take them for 2 or 4 points, and will usually survive long enough to use them.
Zeelieden are a very dependable sailor unit, and might be the best sailor unit. Coming naturally with Expert Sailors and Expert Artillery Crew, along with Hard Chargers, Zeelieden can do everything you need to on a ship, and make a great boarding party. Zeelieden are arguably better than Marins in most cases, however as a support unit you will not have a lot of reason to take them as a support unit, except maybe to run a second set of guns, if none of the other support units are as interesting.
This unit has the same sailor upgrades as the Marins, and everything true about them is true for this unit, except Zeelieden can be given Firelock Muskets rather than the superior Buccaneer gun.
This Dutch unit offers a mid point between Flibustiers and Marins with muskets, at 5 points a model. With Expert Sailors they are useful as an unassigned unit on a ship, to do repairs or advanced maneuvers, and fire their muskets when they are not occupied with those tasks. Brawlers is a nice bonus for melee, and this unit has decent melee survivability. I personally would never assign this unit to cannons or swivels, so I feel Artillery Crew is a little wasted.
This is one of a handful of units that a blunderbuss is good on, though you give up a lot of range. If you have a number of Kapers equal to a multiple of three, such as twelve, you can load up with Blunderbuss and half fire when further than 4” through the game.
The premier Dutch unit finds its way onto French lists. Enter Ploeg has a reputation for being deadly and all you have to do is look at their stats to see why. As veterans with an expert Artillery Crew, you will want to put them on some swivel guns, though having them to do repairs and sailing checks is also a good move.
If you want to have Dutch on board your French ship, Enter Ploeg is a solid choice.
These are personally my favorite support unit for French Buccaneers. At 8 points each, these are the most expensive units in the game (without optional upgrades), but you get what you pay for. This unit has a 6 shoot save, making it especially hard to kill in a ship with hard cover. They also have the same Special Rules as Freebooters, namely Sailors, Ball & Shot, Fast Reload, and Marksmen. Just like Flibustiers, this unit can sail your ship while laying down a barrage of musket fire, but as veterans, you will usually have the extra action to use Marksmen.
If playing a land game, I would usually rather play Boucaniers upgraded to veteran than Veteran Freebooters.
Even though African Warriors have the same stat line as Veteran Boucaniers they are hindered by having bows or slow reloading muskets. This unit is also strictly for land games, as all four of their special rules “turn off” when in a ship. African Warriors can fit in a French Buccaneerland list, they have the same survivability as Boucaniers, with a 6 shoot save and Elusive, and have Scouts and Quick to get them where they need to be.
With experimentation, I believe that it is better to keep these as a bow and arrow unit, then giving them Slow Reload and a musket. Even though musket shot is more effective, you will get to shoot with bows three times instead of reloading.
This native unit is a lower cost African Warriors, but with Evade and Hidden, a potent combination for covering flanks. This is a good unit to fill out your force if you are fighting a land game. I do have problems with Slow Reload, but of the 4 point musket units in French Buccaneers, Warrior Musketeers are a bit more reliable than Engagés. Keep an officer near this unit to help it keep a consistent rate of fire, and it should be fine.
Freebooters are the English counterpart to Flibustiers, and have close to the same weapons, stats, and Special Rules. Freebooters have a 6 in Fight and a 6 Fight Save. They also have only a single pistol, and the Special Rule Marksmen. Freebooters are played similarly to Boucaniers; find a good spot in cover and lay down shot after shot towards the closest enemy. Unlike Flibusteirs you want to avoid close combat, they only have a single pistol that is best saved as a defensive attack.
If you like Freebooters, use Veteran Freebooters or Flibustiers instead in a French Buccaneer force.
The French Buccaneers faction has eleven different commanders to choose from, including both current Legendary commanders.
Untested to Seasoned French Buccaneer Commander
I’ve recently gone over the generic commanders in my First Tactics Article, but I will repeat my analysis here. The 15 point Experienced commander is this best commander for most games, though if you are playing 100 points or under the free commander is fine as well.
Because the commander can and should have a Buccaneer Gun, always attach them to Boucaniers or Flibustiers if you have those units in your force. Getting essentially a free Boucanier, a 7 point model, when most other commanders only have a brace of pistols is a perk of playing the French.
Monbars the Exterminator
There are two reasons to use Monbars. You want your command group of Boucanier or Flibustier to be ruthless, or you want to use Native Americans as the core of your force. As a 25 point commander, Monbars is at least a little better than the Seasoned French Buccaneer Commander. His 12” command range will be fine most of the time, and Vendetta: Spanish is also marginally useful.
Alexandre Bras de Fer (Iron Arm)
Old Iron Arm is a great commander for only 20 points, and I wish I used him more often. He has Inspiring, Lead by Example, Broadside, and Lucky. The only weakness is his 8” command range, but that can be played around by putting him on a ship, or keeping his men close to him. This is the cheapest source of Inspiring for the French Buccaneers, and one of the only ways to get Lucky. When playing Iron Arm, try adding a Spiritual Leader to your force to take advantage of Lucky.
The Special Rule Very Inspiring can have an outsized impact on a game by maximizing your rallies. Julien Lamberts has two command points, a 16” command range, and Very Inspiring for 25 points. I want to like him, but at 25 points he is restricted from most smaller games, and there are more exciting commanders for larger games.
One of my favorite French Commanders, Jean Pinel, doesn’t really do a lot. He costs 25 points, has 2 command points with a 12” command range, and has Brawlers, Broadside, and Lead by Example. The Seasoned French Buccaneer Commander is a little better than him if he didn’t also have a Ship: La Volante.
When you bring Jean Pinel on board a Brigantine, it makes one of the most mediocre ships into a dangerously fast ship. He adds 1” to its max speed, and adds 1” to each sail setting when sailing large. This lets it match speed with fast ships like the Frigate. He also changes the windward value to -0, the same windward value of the Sloop and Tartana. He does limit the ship to only 6 cannons, but the Brigantine was never much of a gunship. If you own a Brigantine try Jean Pinel on board, I think you’ll like it.
Le Sieur de Grammont
This commander has Very Inspiring, 3 command points, and a 16″ command range, making him a good candidate for most large games. He costs 32 points, but because of what else he does he is not precluded from 200 point games.
This commander can do two things that no other commander can. He can give Flibustiers horses, at the cost of increasing their melee and shoot saves. This is a terrible idea, as the Flibustiers will not be able to use their muskets, and do not get Quick like other mounted units. It’s really a way to pay points to make a unit worse.
The other thing Le Sieur de Grammont can do is give Marins the Special Rule Field Gun. This lets you give them a cannon of a field carriage, and is one of only two ways to have an entire land force with cannons.
Diego the Mulatto
Here is a Spanish commander by way of the Dutch. Diego is a good choice for larger games, and is an all around effective commander at the steep price of 30 points. He is better suited at sea, however, and unlike the French commanders, Diego does not lead with a musket in his hands.
Legendary Commander – François L’Olonnais
The Bane of Spain is more at home in the French Buccaneers than his own faction. At 37 points, Francois is excluded from most lower point games, but has the right suite of Special Rules for larger sea battles; Ruthless, Broadside, God’s Blessing or the Devil’s Luck, Very Inspiring, and Terror. Even though he doesn’t carry a musket, put L’Olonnais with your Flibustiers or Boucaniers, so his Ruthless may be put to maximum effect.
Legendary Commander – Laurens de Graff
This is the Buccaneer’s Buccaneer. A respected sailor and Privateer, Laurens de Graff is about the best sea commander in Blood & Plunder. He is also better in his own faction, a faction that has most of the same units as the French Buccaneers.
The smallest game I’ve used Laurens de Graff in is 300 points, and even then he was 14% of the total list. When playing him, it is not a bad idea to run though all your fortune in the first turn and use that advantage, and the constant drip feed of one fortune each turn, to catapult yourself into an early win.
Strengths and Weaknesses
This is the rare faction that is good on land and at sea. Most land game forces will be built around a unit of Boucaniers or Flibustiers.
If using Boucaniers, you will need to protect them from charges and include enough Engages or Marins with muskets to push your force total to 28 or 32. A force using Boucaniers can be a slower game, and most turns will be moving through cover and then shooting, or shooting and reloading when they are in a good location.
A Flibustier centered French Buccaneer list is one that is always on the move, putting pressure on the opponents forward positions. I think Marins are the best unit to use with Flibustiers, when you want to make aggressive attacks, Fatigue is very important, and Marins are the only other core unit with a resolve of 5.
At sea you can specialize in muskets or cannons. A sloop or corvette is the best ship to use as a French gunship for 200 point games, as all the cannons (or most of them) are on one deck. In this way you can easily add a Master Gunner to your Marins. Make sure you man all your swivel guns as well. It is not uncommon to have a French Buccaneer ship with only Marins, giving you enough points for a robust gun crew, characters, and weapon upgrades.
If specializing as a musket platform, or a boarding party, as they are one and the same with the French, you will still want to crew your swivel guns. Flibustiers or Veteran Freebooters are both accurate and quick shots. You can add Boucaniers instead, but I tend to shy away from Resolve 6 crew on a ship, and I like that Flibustiers and Veteran Freebooters have Sailors.
Small longboat or Canoa battles are very rare, but these tiny games are a lot of fun. This 25 point list uses the Untested French Buccaneer Commander as a free Boucanier, and has Marins without pistols to crew the sweeps and soak up hits.
Small games are a great place for all around good units like Flibustiers. This 50 point land list would be good for Learn to play games. It has a core of four Flibustiers, with the commander acting as a fifth, three Marins without pistols for extra Melee, and four Warrior Musketeers to provide cover with Hidden.
While barks are not glamorous, they are great for small sea games. Buccaneers would often forgo cannons because they didn’t want to damage their prize. This force uses Buccaneers with Kapers and two swivel guns to barrage the opponent with shot.
This gunship force crews a Privateer Sloop with only 24 Marins. The command group of Marins has muskets, but can easily man the Sheets and Braces to eke out extra speed from the swift craft.
This 200 point force is a variation of a force I’ve played before. It couples a large group of Boucaniers with a Local Guide. The plan is to slowly creep through the woods, making sure that the Marin groups are within 4” of the guide so they have scouts as well, and lay down accurate shot on the closest enemy group.
Collecting for French Buccaneers
If you want to collect towards a French Buccaneer Force, the French Nationality Starter is a good first purchase. In it you will get eight Flibustiers, four Marins, and four Boucaniers, along with eight Milices des Caraibes or Veteran Freebooters. From that point you have a few choices you can make.
If you want to play ship games right away, the Pirates and Privateers box is a good second purchase. The European Sailors in it can be used as Marins, as well as the Weapons Upgrades. The Sailor Musketeers are Engages, or Marins with muskets (and Milicien for the French Caribbean Militia), and the Cannon Crew can represent Marins without their pistols. Both boxes together will give you around 20 Marins, enough to crew a sloop, or any other two deck ship.
After buying the French Nationality Starter, you will probably want more Boucaniers. One or two more blisters is about enough Boucaniers for any game you might play. I myself only own 12 of them, and have never needed more. Choose one of the 4 or 5 point musket units, and collect at least 8-12 of them to compliment your Boucaniers.
The French Buccaneers have been a faction since the very beginning of Blood & Plunder, and they are the faction that I first started playing, so this Faction review is long overdue. It is nice that some of the first units created for this game are still some of the best,
I also like the history of the period the French Buccaneers represent. Blood & Plunder, as a historical miniatures game, is a form of living history. When I play a faction I read about their history and practices, and pass it off to those I play with. The history of the Caribbean is a history owned by all of us.