Force Building IV: Building for Amphibious Games

By Joseph Forster

This is the 4th and final part in a full series of articles on force building in Blood & Plunder. In the first article we looked at some general tips on generic force building, in the second article we looked at building for land games and then we looked at the various ways to build for games at sea and now we get to look at building for amphibious games that combine both land and sea.

Amphibious games are kind of the pinnacle of the Blood & Plunder experience. They’re a lot of fun and I feel they aren’t played enough by the community in general. I felt they weren’t very balanced when I first started playing (assumed and then projected) but the more I play, the more I appreciate the balance that is accomplished through the rules system and the various challenges this game mode presents to both players.

The Attacker always starts at sea in a ship and the Defender starts on land which makes creating a force very different for the two players.

The official setup for a game says you have to build your force before you decide what type of game you’re playing. That technically works then you can’t really build optimally.  I prefer knowing at least which theater I will be playing before building my force.

In most amphibious scenarios the Attacker will have to get troops on land and seize an objective or accomplish something and the Defender will have to drive them away, or  keep control of an objective. Occasionally the Defender will have an opportunity to deploy a boat or ship but usually their entire deployment zone is on land.

You don’t have to customize standard land and sea forces to make them work for amphibious games but there are some ways to optimize.

As the Attacker:

  • One of the biggest variables is the terrain elements you will be using. Specifically if there will be a  dock or somewhere you can pull you ship up to land and debark without using a boat. Boats (1 deck ships) can just sail right up to land and you can jump out but if you get your ship within 3″ of a standard coastline, you’ll run aground (pg. 63). I guess you can just intentionally run aground and jump out but it gives your force a Strike Point… There are lots of ways you can set up an amphibious board but for best results, you should know basically how you will be able to get to land. I like having a dock on most amphibious boards but it can be fun to launch landing boats from your ship as well.
  • Know your scenario (if possible). Amphibious Encounter will use a very different list than Amphibious Escort. Some scenarios require you to start with some units on land while most don’t let you at all. This is especially true of the scenarios in No Peace Beyond the Line.
  • Some of the Amphibious scenarios are essentially land games but the Attacker starts at sea. In this case, it might be best to just use cheap and fast boats to get to land as quickly as possible. Piraguas aren’t exactly the cheapest but they are fast and they can mount some swivel guns so you can fire as you sail up. Longboats are pretty cheap and can hold a lot of units and Canoa are nice because you can use the Paddle ability if the wind is against and you can still fire with all your men while you approach.

  • Other Amphibious scenarios allow (but don’t require) part of the Attacking force start on land (Escort, Plunder, Stone Tower Fort) and then you have to decide how and if you want to split your force. You don’t want your two halves of a force getting destroyed individually if they encounter the Defender at different times so be careful to create a force that can coordinate being on land and sea at the same time. I think this takes some careful building or at least careful play during a game. Building the ship as cheaply as possible with a skeleton crew and some cannons or swivels can be effective. Just sail the ship up close, anchor or dock, then just fire from the hard cover of the decks for the rest of the game while the units on land do the rest of the work.
  • As the Attacker, you’ll need to decide if you want to try to use cannons or not. Firing grapeshot from your ship can clear the way for your landing force but if you invest too much in your ship, cannon and crew, your landing force will end up really puny. It’s a hard balance! Speaking from experience, getting shot up by cannons while on land is terrifying! If you know the Defender will have Fortifications or if there will be structures the Defender will be using as cover, you could rely on solid shot for you cannons but in most cases I would take Grapeshot if you plan to take cannons in an amphibious game. For scenarios like Control the Field or Take and Hold, cannons can be excellent. Anchor your ship with their cannons covering the objective and it becomes very difficult for the Defender’s units to control the center of the board.

  • The Piragua can function as an awesome little coastal battery if you just zoom it up on to the sand with a crew on the 4 Swivel Guns.  If you position your Piragua just right, you threaten nearly every inch of land terrain on the board with Swivel Guns. Your crew can just stay in the boat and shoot while enjoying cover.
  • Most amphibious games have a turn threshold where you will start taking Strike Points at the end of the turn if you don’t have men on land. Depending on your tactic, you might be able to ignore this for a turn or two and just take the Strike Point while you try to soften up the Defender from Sea but eventually it’s going to matter. Amphibious games feel slightly more rushed to me because of how much ground the Attacker often has to cover. The board is generally 4×4 instead of 4×3 for a standard sized game. You will have to sail across the water, get on to land somehow and the start working on the objective. You need to plan your turns fairly carefully, especially if you have to accomplish something with a Dedicated Action which might fail the first time (like spiking guns in Raze). In general you want to get to land as fast as possible.

  • Try to include units in your force that can attack while your ship/boats are moving to land. While the Attacker has to cover a lot of ground in most Amphibious scenarios, they get the perk of being able to move 3 times a turn for free while they attack if they want. If you only include units with close range weapons like pistols or melee weapons, you’ll be wasting the first couple turns. Cannons, muskets, Buccaneer Guns and accurate archery will all let you hurt your opponent while moving which helps balance the game.
  • To summarize the Attacker needs to: include boats or make sure there will be a dock, decide if they want to rely on cannons or exclude them, plan to get to land quickly, and make good use of the time they can move and fire at the same time as they approach the land.

Examples of Attacking Amphibious Forces

100 Point Carib Force

This small force can get to land super fast at 15″ per turn in a Piragua. It only has 2 units but they are much larger than most units in most 100 point forces you’ll encounter. You can see this force in action in this battle report. Captain Tabary is an excellent choice for an Amphibious battle since he can attack at night which will limit the incoming fire on your boat/ship as you approach land.

150 Point English Force

This force relies on a dock to get to land but it can fire effectively for sea for as long as necessary. The Sea Dogs can remain in the Bark the entire game and man the Swivel Guns while the rest of the units jump out and make the assault. The Forlorn Hope are your toughest unit that can assault a fort or building if necessary. You could keep them prone on the approach to keep those expensive models safe.

200 Point French Navy Landing Force

This list uses a base force of a sloop with 3 pairs of Light Cannons with Grapeshot to support two Longboats full of heavy infantry. The large unit of Marins will man the Cannons, the small unit of Zeelieden will maintain control of the ship. The small unit of Marins with pistols can be used as rowers for one Longboat and the other longboat can start under sail with the second unit of Infantrie on board. With a split force like this, you just need to carefully coordinate your cannons and boarding party. Hopefully the cannons can cover the landing and drive back the defenders while the infantry land.

200 Point Caribbean Tribes Force

Landing with Natives is a lot of fun and it can be pretty effective. This list features King Oldman, a very affordable but powerful commander and 5 canoa full of Natives ready to fight. You can get to shore fairly quickly at 9-12″ per turn or you can just paddle around in your canoa and fire on the enemy for a couple turns while in cover.

300 Point Pirate Landing Party

Jean Hamlyn is another fantastic Amphibious commander on the attack because his false colors can give you the first strike at close range. This is just a Merchant Frigate full of nasty pirates. You can survive at sea if you need to but if you get on land and come to blows Those Veteran, Ruthless, Quick, Scout Flibustiers (with Hamlyn attached) will wreck everyone in their way.

As the Defender:

  • You will be fighting on land all of the time in nearly all of the scenarios (Plunder is a possible exception). You can really use a “basic land force” and it should work out OK.
  • One of the basic decisions you will have to make is deciding if you want to try to fight a ship, or simply fight the men when the come on land.
  • If you want to fight the ship and attempt to prevent a landing, you will want to invest in artillery. You honestly can’t outgun a ship with land fortifications (yet) but with a Gun Emplacement or two and a couple Heavy Cannons, you can’t make the Attacker think twice about how they want to approach land. The Stone Tower Fort can mount Heavy Cannons and is extremely hard to damage with naval guns. When the Palisade Fort gets Bastions it can be a good option as well. If there is a dock, you want to set up your cannons to cover that area to make landing more difficult. I like fortifications and I find a fort-amphibious game very fun and a strong tactic for the Defender. If the Attacker chooses to not take a large ship but just land in boats, that reduces the value of your fortifications since they can land anywhere along the coast and they can probably dodge your arch of fire. The Deployment Zone is usually fairly large for the Defender in amphibious games which makes placement of Fortifications pretty easy.

  • If you want to ignore the ship and just fight the Attacking units on land, a quick and elusive guerilla style force is effective. With this style of force, you can just hide behind trees and cover, entirely out of sight from the approaching ship until the Attacker starts to land, then rush out and try to shoot the enemy while they are on the beach or docks. This would be a strong tactic for Native, Spanish or French forces that are adept at moving through and hiding in cover.
  • The Stone Tower Fort is a great deal and doesn’t even have to be a centerpiece of your force to be worth it. You can just put 2-4 small to medium sized units of Militia in it and it becomes a real anchor for your force for a moderate cost. The Tower Ambush special scenario showcases the fort’s strengths and is a very difficult scenario for the Attacker in my experience.

  • Just as on land, the Defender generally doesn’t have to move as much and they can more easily find cover and park there to fire. This makes units with strong Shoot Saves an excellent choice as the Defender.

Examples of Defending Amphibious Forces

100 Point Dutch  Caribbean Militia Force

This small force features a gun emplacement with a Medium Cannon with Grapeshot, a simple 1-point breastwork for the Militie and some hard hitting Veteran Boslopers with Thrown Weapons. At 100 points, it’s likely the Attacker will be using a boat and this cannon could do decent damage against it given the opportunity. Just place the Gun Emplacement with a good field of fire on the objectives and it should do good work.

200 Point French Caribbean Militia Tower Fort Force

Made for the special Tower Ambush scenario, this force forfeits cannons which are less use at night for more muskets and good Saves while in the fort. You can see a battle report featuring this list here.

400 Point Spanish Tercios Forces

This list is centered around a large Palisade Fort with Bastions. It has plenty of cannons, veteran Soldados, Native Skirmishers to disrupt landing parties and plenty of generic muskets to man the walls. You can see a full report on a battle featuring this list here.

Final Thoughts

Amphibious battles are part of what makes Blood & Plunder awesome. Hopefully this has given you a decent idea how these battles play out and what you might want to bring along in your force. Being slightly more complicated, don’t be afraid to pre-plan amphibious games a little more carefully than a standard “pick up game.” Select the scenario and assign roles ahead of time so you and your opponent can build fun lists that will work.

A little more care has to be taken with preparing and setting up an amphibious game as well. You’ll need a good mat, or combination of sea and land mats to make it look good. I highly recommend the TableWar 4×4 Caribbean Shores F.A.T mat that I’ve been using recently. It’s really perfect! And if you want a larger table, Deep Cuts makes a beautiful 4×6 mat with a coast line but since it isn’t in the center of the board, you have to combine it with a standard 4×6 ocean mat. That’s all very expensive but it looks great on a big table! Perfect for larger scenarios.

You’ll want some good terrain as well and 4Ground has made a couple awesome sets that can fill out that coast line. The Wooden Port Set is pretty inexpensive and can be used in several ways. They also produce a huge Ports of Plunder set that has a huge amount of docks, buildings, a crane, barrels, and all sorts of other goodies all made from easy-to-build mdf material. You can see reviews of much of this terrain here.

For more Amphibious lists and battle reports featuring those forces, you can peruse the various amphibious battle reports on this blog here.

Thanks for reading! Please chime in with any other thoughts or ideas for building forces for amphibious games. For further reading on Force Building, I recommend this article by Guy.

Leave a Reply