By Guy Rheuark
On the fringes of Spanish society in the 17th century existed the Spanish Corsairs. Named after the raiders and privateers of the Mediterranean, these Privateers did not always have a letter of mark, and sometimes believed that they didn’t need one. Much like the Guarda Costas, Spanish Corsairs were opportunists, attacking with boats from hidden shores, and boarding before the opponent had a chance to organize a defense.
Spanish Corsairs have four relevant faction abilities. The most basic, is a +2 on the roll to determine the Attacker. The Attacker has a slight advantage in some sea battles, so a +2 is a nice perk.
The next faction ability is one of the best reasons to play this faction. It lets all ships move an extra 1″ when using Sweeps. This extra 1″ makes Piraguas, Longboats, and even Canoas as fast as the fastest ship. Fast boats are really empowering, and combined with how maneuverable the Piragua and Canoa are, can help even the odds when fighting a gunship. You do have to devote 15-24 points to rowers, and half of the units in each boat, but I’ll cover that in Tactics.
Boats are not the only ships that benefit from moving 1″ extra with Sweeps, as two ships, the Tartana and the Corvette, have/can have Sweeps (3). While moving 4″ total with Sweeps is not as impressive as moving 5″, a ship that can ignore the wind and even reverse is impressive. They also have the benefits of Hard Cover, and space to add more than one cannon.
To further boost the Spanish Corsairs at sea, this faction also gets to reroll one failed Throw Grapples test once per turn. Grapple tests already succeed on a 5+, so the reroll once per turn makes it a near certainty. This not only helps boarding actions, but also boosts the myriad of situations where you would want to grapple to piers, objective markers, wrecks, or your own ships.
The last ability this faction gets is to ignore the special rule Poorly Equipped. While the Spanish have the reputation of Poorly Equipped being a faction wide ability, only the Marineros have Poorly Equipped from among this faction’s units.
Spanish Corsairs have two core units, the 6 points Corsarios, and the 4 point Marineros.
As the unit that this faction is named after, Corsarios are in an awkward place compared to the other 6 point professional units from the main European nations. Corsarios specialize in melee and surviving protracted boarding actions, with the low Fight score of 5 and Fight Save of 6. This unit has a Shoot score of 6 and the standard Shoot Save of 7, along with a Resolve of 5. As most Spanish units, Corsarios have Ruthless. This unit also has Sailors, a welcome addition to any unit that is going to spend time on a ship unassigned.
As a melee unit, Corsarios have Swordsmen, an ability that doesn’t do anything most of the time. This special rule gives the opponent a +1 penalty on their Fight test, but only if they are attacking with standard melee weapons. This problem is that this doesn’t help against the best melee weapons; pistols and lances. Your opponent can also play around Swordsmen, usually by saving a unit with pistols to charge the Corsarios. I’ve only had it trigger twice in over twenty games with Corsarios.
This isn’t to say that Corsarios are a bad unit. They are an amazing professional unit compared to what the Spanish usually have to work with. Having a unit with a 6 shoot score helps start the Ruthless engine, as does a resolve of five. When it does come time to board, Corsarios can lead the way, and be hard to unseat, but do not expect this unit to work any miracles, or be better with their muskets than a unit of Kapers or European Sailors with Muskets.
Of the upgrades available, there is no benefit to not upgrading this unit to Firelock Muskets. I suspect that this upgrade is just here because the game designers wanted to reuse the Milicianos models.
Depending on how many points you have free, and the scenario, making these Veteran is not a bad deal. Corsarios do not have Fast Reload, or any ability that triggers on a Spade, so it will take three actions a turn to fire and fully reload their Muskets. Corsarios only have an average Shoot Save however, so be wary of purchasing this upgrade when you plan to deploy the unit on land or in a boat.
As for the last upgrade, I have come to believe that it is also worth it to give this unit Bayonets as well. Bayonets solve two problems the Corsarios have: it gives them a good melee weapon, and it allows them to make multiple defensive attacks, and at a 5 Fight score instead of a 6 Shoot score.
Here we have a unit that should be familiar to any Spanish player: the Marineros are a basic sailor unit. It has middling scores and saves, like most nations’ sailor units. The only noteworthy thing here is that the Faction ability takes away Poorly Equipped, makes arming this unit with Muskets a little tempting, as Ruthless can drop it’s Shoot score to 6 , and activating on a Club won’t leave you with three reload markers.
Most of the time you will be purchasing Marineros to man your sweeps and run your swivels and cannons. If using this unit as a gun crew on anything other than swivels make sure you purchase a Master Gunner. It is a good idea to always take away each Marinero’s pistol, sometimes even when you are making a boarding list. For boarding I usually arm my lead unit of Marineros with Pistols and Blunderbuss, and sometimes a granadoes.
Spanish Corsairs have five support units; three of them are Dutch, one is Spanish, and one is Generic Europeans. I don’t play the Dutch, but I have proxied Zeelieden and Kapers with Spanish Corsairs, and have seen Enter Ploeg in action more than once.
Zeelieden are a very dependable 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 better than Marineros in every way, so they can be tempting to take as a primary or secondary gun crew, or as the forward boarding party.
This unit has the same sailor upgrades as the Marineros, and can follow most of the same suggestions. This means always taking away their pistol if used on a gunship.
This Dutch unit offers a slight discount compared to Corsarios, 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. The Special Rule 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.
Spanish Corsairs do not have very many musket units with a 6 Shoot score, so this is a good support choice if playing a land game, if you do not plan to use European Sailors with Muskets.
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.
Enter Ploeg has a reputation for being deadly and all you have to do is look at their stats to see why. This unit is most at home in a sea game, and preferably as part of a boarding list. As Veterans with an Expert Artillery Crew, you will be tempted to put them on some swivel guns, though if bringing them to board it is also a good idea to have them start prone mid deck, to protect these 6 point models.
This unit is one of the best reasons to play a Spanish gunship, and it is a shame they are not a core unit. Marineros Piqueros are a slightly harder to kill gun crew and sailor.
Using the famous Lancero models, these men armed with pointy sticks make a great support unit for the fore deck swivels. The Shoot Save of 5 on a ship makes your opponent less likely to fire on them, and in turn gives you a unit to ward off boarding, or counter charge a successful boarding action.
While Marineros Piqueros are excellent in starting melee combat, with a seven fight save they will not last long in the protracted melee that most boarding lists expect, and while Lances are great weapons, they do not offer the flexibility that pistols do. Because of this Zeelieden or Enter Poleg are better support models for a dedicated boarding list.
The only reason to consider this unit is that, as a four point trained sailor unit, it has a 6 shoot score. Every other aspect of this unit is the same or worse than every other sailor unit. It has a 6 fight score, and a 7 fight Save. Its melee special rule is Battle Hardened, an ability that most people would be familiar with from the Grizzled Veteran. While marginally useful, most would rather have Ruthless or even Brawlers.
If you do take this unit, you want to give it Muskets for 4 points a unit. If you do, they make a reliable professional unit. You can also give one third of them Blunderbusses and the rest Muskets, by applying upgrades in layers, and only half fire when at range.
Untested/Experienced/Seasoned Spanish Corsair Commander
Like most Spanish commanders, these commanders have the completely unnecessary Ruthless, and are armed simply with a sword and pistol.
The free Untested Spanish Corsair Commander is a typical naval commander, with a short 4″ command range, a single command point, and no worthwhile Special Rules. Notable only for it’s point cost, like most Untested Commanders, this commander is most useful in games under 100 points.
The Experienced Spanish Corsairs Commander is where it gets interesting. It has the Special Rule Commodore, an ability usually only found on high cost commanders. The true purpose of this is for boat based sea lists, giving your commander a 20″ command range when on a boat, or a ship surrounded by boats. This commander also has Lead by Example, like the experienced Buccaneer Commanders, along with the usual Experienced Commander upgrades.
The Seasoned Spanish Corsairs Commander has broadside, a 12″ command range, and is not worth the points.
This commander’s whole package is a great deal for 25 points. For starters, he is the only Corsairs Commander that can be given a musket, and not any old Firelock but a Buccaneer gun. This essentially discounts him 6 points when put in charge of a group of Corsarios.
Just as the Seasoned Spanish Corsairs Commander, Blas Miguel has two command points, a 12″ command range, and Commodore.
Blas Miguel is also the rare type of commander that has half of his Special Rules upgrade the unit you attach him to. Specifically he has Tough and Hard Chargers, both amazing abilities to give to Corsarios and Marineros. Tough is especially nice, because it’s best practice to not put a Grizzled Veteran with the command group. Hard Chargers drops both Corsarios and Marineros melee scores to 4 on a Charge, or 3 if Ruthless is active.
This commander’s last Special Rule is Impulsive, and is meant to be mostly negative but dovetails nicely with the Spanish Corsairs faction abilities. What Impulsive does is that all units within Blas Miguel’s command range that were activated on a Spade or a Heart must shoot or charge an enemy within 8″ of them. If the charge would require grapples, then the unit gets to throw grapples for free, but must charge if successful.
How this Special Rule works depends on your interpretation of the word “Able”. Is a unit of Marineros crewing the sweeps able to charge when activated on a Spade? Is a unit of Cosarios, also activated on a spade, 5″ away from an enemy unit able to charge the enemy? In both cases, no. Impulsive does not direct you to take unassignment actions or even move actions, so even activating these units on a Heart will not spur you to take these actions. The unit still has to shoot if they have a weapon with no reload markers, and needs to shoot even if moving first would give them a better shot.
Jan Erasmus Reyning
This Dutch commander is part of this faction to represent the years he spent working for the Spanish hunting logwood cutters. For 27 points, Jan Erasmus Reyning easily outclasses the Seasoned Spanish Corsairs Commander by having a 16″ command range, Commodore, Broadside, Inspiring, and Elan. He also has the Special Rule Unorthodox Force: Freebooters.
Why would you want a unit of Freebooters in your Spanish force? As much as I hate to admit it, even at the same point cost, Freebooters are better than Corsarios.
They are excellent ranged combat specialists, having Fast Reload, Ball & Shot, and Marksmen. They also come with a pistol sidearm that can either be used for a single defensive attack or during one charge to give them the equivalent of a 3 fight score. I wouldn’t take a whole force of Freebooters, but a single command unit of them will change how this faction plays.
Manuel Rivero de Pardal
This Legendary Commander has three command points, a 20″ command range, and Very Inspiring for 37 points. That’s it. That is the only reason to take this commander in the Spanish Corsairs Faction. His only other Special Rule of note is Broadside, and while Broadside is useful at times, his command points, command range, and Very Inspiring are why you would take this commander.
The other four Special Rules he has might as well be blank. Both core units already have Ruthless and Sailors. Well Equipped is unneeded as the faction already takes away Poorly Equipped from the Marineros. High Standing does stop you from taking a Local Guide, but doesn’t remove any Special Rules that Corsarios or Marineros naturally have. These Special Rules might be useful if Manuel Rivero de Pardal ever uses Avoid Fate to attach to a support unit, but that’s very hard to plan for.
If you want to play this commander, play him in his own faction, so at least you can have Pardal challenge an enemy unit to a duel.
This commander is a little more exciting, and has a unique rule for sea games. Juan Corso and three command points, and a 16″ command range. He also has Commodore, giving him a 28″ command range, or most of the board, when he is on a boat. He also has Resilient, and combined with the resolve of the core units, Juan Corso will pass a strike test on a 4.
Juan Corso hates Spain’s enemies, and shows it by having Vendetta: English, French, and Dutch. While this does a passable job at fatigue management, letting units in the force reroll a single failed rally die, he does not have Inspiring or Very Inspiring, so it’s a good idea to have a Musician follow Juan Corso into battle.
The best reason to include this commander is his unique Special Rule: Surprisal at Sea. This let’s you essentially Lay in Wait with boats. It’s a lot of fun. Usually it lets you place most of your boats in the middle of the table, and get a head start on boarding your opponent or pelting them with the Piragua’s swivel guns.
His other two special rules are again mostly worthless. Ruthless is here to remind you that he is Spanish and Elan is useful while boarding, but will not come up often.
It’s worth noting that even though this commander’s personal faction, Juan Corso’s Corsairs shares a lot of the same abilities as Spanish Corsairs, there is enough of a difference that you might not always want to play him in his faction.
Tactics & Lists
Boarding with Boats
The intent behind the Spanish Corsairs unit selection and faction abilities is that they want you to use boats at sea and do boarding actions. So let’s go over what that looks like for this faction.
With a boarding list, every point that is not spent on a model needs to matter. Canoas and Longboats are the cheapest boats, at 2 and 3 points respectively. These two boats are very similar, but differ the most in capacity, with Canoas at eight models, and Longboats at thirteen. In this list I added a Canoa and a Longboat so I could board with 23 models among 3 units.
The most onerous requirement for moving with sweeps is that a whole unit has to be assigned to them. In a boat, this means half of the units on it can only rally when activated. If you give your oarsmen a ranged weapon, they can half fire if there are at least four of them, but most of the time you will use Marineros and take away their pistols, like I did in this list for the longboat.
The command unit of Corsarios mostly explains itself; they are there to shoot then board. What is less obvious is the eight European Sailors with Muskets and a stinkpot in a boarding list. They are intended to crew the Sweeps until the canoa is close to the enemy, then abandon the sweeps and volley the opponent with musket shot and stink pots. The canoa will still move forward because of the Paddles, and the stink pots will make boarding a little safer.
If you plan on playing a larger sea game and want to use boats, you will need to recognize a problem. You’re going to fight ships that have cannons, and cannons are very good against boats. One way that Spanish Corsairs can counter this is by spreading out their force to several boats, so that even if you lose one, you will have several backups closing in.
This list uses six Canoa that are each near identical. The Ship’s Boat Trait lets you split a unit among several different boats, and this list uses that to give each Canoa a crew of five Marineros and three European Sailors with Muskets. Running six units will mean that you will have a wide selection of cards to use each turn, even though six of them a turn will just be used to rally, until one of your ships makes contact!
Using Ship’s Boat does prevent you from fanning your Canoa out to stop an opponent from running away, but it does have the interesting quirk that if one of the units split in the Canoa successfully grapples, the other Canoas move in and successfully grapple too, even if they were more than 3” away.
If you notice, I haven’t included any Piraguas in the previous lists, even though that the Piragua is considered the best boat in Blood & Plunder. This is because if you include a Piragua, you usually will also want to give it swivels, and crew the swivels. To keep the swivels firing the whole game you want at least eleven crew assigned to them. At that point, you do not want to have any unit on the Sweeps, because the Piragua moves 5” by itself. You are also at 56 points for a Piragua, four swivels, and eleven Marineros without pistols. If you include two of these Piraguas in a 200 point list it would leave you only 88 points for the commander and the “boarders” part of a boarding list.
This higher point total boarding list uses Manuel Rivero de Pardal and three Piragua’s set up how I just described. With a 300 point sea game you can set the Piragua’s up with swivels and a group of Marineros to board. The Marineros are intended to start the game prone, if deployed up wind of the opponent, or on the sweeps, if deployed down wind. Cannons are still a concern. You can also swap out Corso for Pardal and run about the same list.
Corsairs on Land
While the Spanish Costairs are mostly a sea going faction, they are a tempting faction to play on land because all the units have a 5 Rsolve and do not have Poorly Equipped.
This simple 150 point list places the commander in a unit of 8 Corsairs with a Local Guide, a potent way to cross the board quickly. The other two units are six Marineros with Muskets and seven Kapers with an Officer. The plan of attack is to push forward with the Corsarios and Kapers while shooting their Muskets, and use the Marineros to cover a flank or guard any scenario objectives.
In larger games you can use Blas Miguel, add an extra unit of Corsarios, or additional small units of Marineros with Muskets. The center of most Spanish Corsairs land lists will usually be a unit of Corsarios.
Tactics – Boarding Ships
By far the most common way to start a Blood & Plunder boarding list is to choose a ship that moves 5″; the Privateer Sloop, Corvette, Sloop of War, Light Frigate and 6th Rate Frigate. Most ship based boarding lists also have a secondary way to win, usually cannons and swivels, in case the opponent starts with the weather gauge.
The Sloop of War makes a good boarding ship because it moves 5″ when sailing large and has four swivels on the foredeck. In this list led by Blas Miguel, the Marineros Piqueros manning the forward swivels are also intended to be the main boarding party. The eleven Marineros with the Master Gunner are on the main deck manning the cannons, and also as a secondary boarding party. Finally Blas Miguel with a Sailing Master leads the Corsarios on the poop deck. Running only three units should also let this ship clear 16″ by the time the third unit activates.
This ship can do a fair amount of ranged combat, with four swivels, two light cannons, and nine Muskets. Once you are in range of grapples, however, Blas Miguel can give an unassigned unit a free Grapples test if they activate on a Spade or Heart and the faction rules can let you reroll it if it fails. Even though it seems like the Corsarios are far away from the bow, they can move to the Main deck once the ship seems to be on course to board, and even grapple for free if they are activated on a Spade or Heart.
The other ships that move 5″ can also make great boarding ships, you just want to make sure you don’t devote your whole list to only boarding. I once fought an opponent that outfitted a Corvette with Enter Ploeg and Zeelieden prone on the main deck, with only a unit of Zeelieden standing on the poop deck to steer the ship. I sunk his ship on turn four because all I had to do was sail away and shoot, and he couldn’t do anything to my crew
Tactics- Spanish Galley
One of the more unique things that the Spanish Corsairs can do is make the Sweeps on a ship useful. Usually sweeps on ships are completely ignored because using the wind, even when sailing windward, is faster. The two ships that the Spanish Corsairs make into good galleys, the Corvette and the Tartana, cost about the same amount of points, after upgrading the Tartana for 2 points. These two ships differ greatly in the types of list you can build around with them.
If you’re looking for a ship for smaller games, the Tartana is a great fit. In this list the Untested Spanish Commander attached to a unit of Marineros, with a Grizzled Veteran, are crewing the main decks four swivel guns. On the same deck are six Marineros without pistols as oarsmen. On the stern deck are five Marineros Piqueros, with a Master Gunner, assigned to four light cannons with grapeshot. On the same stern deck are six Marineros with muskets, to repair, and hopefully get some Ruthless musket shots in.
A two deck ship powered by its Sweeps isn’t going to win any speed awards, so you this ship doesn’t try throwing grapples as quickly as it can. What it can do is ignore the wind, reverse up to 3”, and only move when you want to. This list wants to let the swivels hit a forward deck, then swing the stern forward for a six dice grapeshot hit against the same deck. Keep close to the opponent and surprise them by turning backwards towards their ship, to let the Marineros in the stern throw grapples and board.
The best way to buy into the Spanish Corsairs is to start with the Spanish Nationality Starter Set. This box comes with eight Corsarios, eight Marineros Piqueros, four Marineros. It also comes with four Milicianos Indios that you can use in other Spanish factions. From there I would suggest buying four blisters of Marineros, and one of the two deck ships that you like the look of: a Sloop, Tartana, or even the Corvette. Instead of getting a ship you can get a boat like the Piragua, or two Canoa, though with the understanding that it can be an upstream battle at times to fight cannons and hardcover.
Of the factions that I have played at sea, none are as interesting, or have as much potential as the Spanish Corsairs. They are not a top tier naval faction, and their faction abilities overshadow their unit selection, but this is a fun faction to play, and I hope you give them a shot.