By Joseph Forster
If you like playing Blood & Plunder at sea and you like to focus on cannons, the English Royal Navy is going to be one of the best factions for you! The Royal Navy combines excellent gunnery with stout English grit and courage, making it a very deadly sea faction in Blood & Plunder.
Faction Special Rules
This faction has two special faction rules and then one Force Option that lets you play more competitively on land.
The first faction rule is a hefty +4 on the roll for Attacker at the start of the game. This is typical of the several Navy factions in Blood & Plunder and represents the fact that the navies were often employed hunting down pirates or protecting their nation’s shipping lanes. Many of the sea-going factions have a +2 modification to this roll so it’s not necessarily a forgone conclusion that you will be the Attacker, but there are no factions with a larger bonus, so you will take that role more often than not. Most people prefer being the Attacker in sea games as you have a little more control of the game in most cases, so this is probably a positive ability overall.
The second special rule is what makes me really excited about the English Royal Navy. All Sea Dogs and English Militia gain the Tough special rule. This means that all your core units (and any militia you bring along as well) get to drop a Fatigue after every activation for free (at the end of every activation unless you voluntarily gained a Fatigue through Pushing or moving too far etc.)! Building up Fatigue on your units over the course of the game slows you down and reduces your effectiveness so having built-in passive Fatigue mitigation on nearly all your units is huge! Only a few factions in Blood & Plunder enjoy such a generous distribution of the Tough rule. With every unit available to the Force having either a 5 or 4 Resolve and getting Tough on most of your units, it’s possible to go through an entire game without using the Rally action! This can really free up your commander to accelerate the reload process on your cannons or coordinate devastating broadsides against your enemy.
The alternate Force Option lets you bring Musketeers as a Core Unit if you don’t bring any ships size 2 or larger. This is primarily a seagoing faction but this Force Option opens up more land game options to you. The Musketeer unit is 6 Point “professional solder” unit with a solid 6 Shoot and Expertly Drilled but his real claim to fame is his 4 Resolve. He doesn’t get the Tough rule with the Sea Dogs and Militia, but with 4 Resolve, you hardly need it.
I personally would rather play a militia faction with more unit options if I want to play on land so I don’t use this Force Option very much, but for faction flexibility in campaigns and the like, the possibility of a functional land force is nice.
This faction has the smallest core unit selection possible! Just Sea Dogs!
The Sea Dog unit is England’s basic 4 point sailor and gun crew unit. With a 6 Fight and 6 Fight Save, they’re not winning any prizes when it comes to a melee, but they don’t go down easy and their Brawlers rule gives them an occasional extra hit in a fight. They have the Sailors special ability which lets them handle your ship but their real strength is their Expert Artillery Crew ability.
Expert Artillery Crew gives the unit a free Reload action when activated with a Spade or a Heart. Like most Blood & Plunder special rules, this is subtle but over the course of a game, it makes a difference and will give this crew an advantage over most of their enemies. Firing that second broadside first or squeezing one more shot out of your cannons near the end of a game can be the difference between a loss and a win. That extra free reload on a Heart is a significant advantage over the standard Artillery Crew reload on just the Spade since a Trained unit will get two actions on a Heart instead of just 1. Combining those two actions with the free action and a potential Command Point action from a Commander or Master Gunner is one of the few ways to get 4 actions out of a unit in a single activation.
You can find a long-winded article (by yours truly) on cannons with more details on efficiency here.
Combine this action efficiency with the action advantage you get with Tough and your Sea Dogs should have a real advantage over anyone shooting cannons back at them at sea. These two abilities make this faction a real powerhouse when considering the cannons/gunship tactic at sea.
Sea Dogs have the “standard selection” of possible modifications for sailors including increasing their experience to Veterans, swapping some pistols for Blunderbusses, adding explosives, upgrading from pistols to muskets, and, probably the most utilized, removing pistols for a discount of -1 point per model.
If you’re willing to pay just a bit more, Sea Dogs with muskets are actually a solidly better unit than Trained English Militia. Both their Saves are better and Brawlers, as underwhelming as it is, makes them better on offensive melee as well. You lose the Drilled special rule but sometimes I find the better Saves make them worth paying the extra 4 points to arm Sea Dogs with muskets and use them over militia.
The Support Units can give the Royal Navy some variety and there are some solid options.
With the same basic 5 stats, Zeelieden are remarkably similar to Sea Dogs. In most cases, Zeelieden outperform Sea Dogs since they have the Expert Sailors and Hard Chargers over the Sea Dogs’ Sailors and Brawlers. But in this faction, they won’t get the Tough rule from the faction rules which makes them a bit less attractive. They can be a great unassigned unit on your ship to make Sailing tests, but adding a Sailing Master character to a unit of Tough Sea Dogs can be a better option.
This is the unit I usually find myself using as my Support Unit. The English Royal Navy focuses on the cannon tactic, but it’s dangerous to have no units with small arms. Some militia on board can provide some small arms fire, or even defend against a boarding action with either their musket fire or with their plug bayonets if you pay for that upgrade. In a pinch, they can even perform non-dangerous sailing actions. Even a lowly militiaman can help your ship wear away from the wind!
The combination of their superior 5 Resolve with the Tough rule means they’ll stay in the fight, even if they start taking casualties.
With 4 Resolve, these are some of the stoutest soldiers in the game! These guys can knock out crack volleys with Expertly Drilled, laying down extra Fatigue on your opponents, even across an entire board of open water. They can also take Plug Bayonets and even explosives if you really want to invest in them. At 6 points, I find them pretty hard to fit into a cannon heavy list.
If you need to fight on land or want to stage an amphibious landing, these can be a great choice, especially since you can make them a Core Unit if you don’t take any large ships.
This Dutch unit is another fantastic unit available to the faction, but they don’t necessarily fit into the usual tactic used by the English Royal Navy. This is a premier boarding unit, armed to the teeth with Brace of Pistols, free Blunderbusses, and free/cheap explosives. Again, at 6 points, they’re hard to fit into a list that has to buy so many cannons. They can double as excellent cannon crew, but they will cost you twice as much as your standard Sea Dogs. They will lack Tough, but their 4 Resolve kind of makes up for it. A great unit if you want to get into a boarding action, but that’s rarely what the Royal Navy wants to do, so I don’t often use them in this force.
Generic English Navy Commanders
The generic English Navy commander options are actually pretty solid in this faction! The free Untested Navy Commander has the Broadside! ability, making him a solid and very cheap choice for any ship with only 2 decks of cannons. Smaller games using ships like the Sloop, Brigantine, Sloop of War, Corvette, or even the Light Frigate armed with 5 pairs of cannon.
The Experienced Navy Commander adds a second Command Point and the coveted Inspiring ability. The faction-wide Tough ability makes Inspiring a little less necessary, but if you want a commander that can fire off a full three-deck broadside, this guy can deliver at an affordable price.
The 25-point generic commander, often not a tempting choice for most factions, actually adds a lot here for the Royal Navy. The Seasoned Navy Commander adds an absolutely massive command range with a base of a 16″ command range with Commodore adding an additional 12″ when giving commands to units in other ships. He even adds a fourth special ability with Expert Sailors. It’s not a huge boost as you’ll likely have your command unit assigned to cannons anyway, but extra abilities always give you more flexibility.
The English Royal Navy only has 2 historic commanders available but they both fit well into the cannon-focused tactic.
At 25 points, this guy is pretty expensive for what he delivers, especially when compared to the Experienced Navy Commander. The Tough rule doesn’t help a lot here since all the core units already have the rule (unless you use the Landing Force option and attach him to Musketeers). Inspiring is solid but the real attraction here is the Expert Broadside rule which lets him reroll any 1’s rolled on the Critical Hit table after a broadside. His 12″ Command Range is also an improvement over the Experience 15 point Commander, but the 25 points is a lot to pay!
This is your ultimate large-game commander for the English Royal Navy. Spragge’s 3 Command Points let you fire off the glorious 4-deck broadside from the mighty Galleon or 6th Rate Frigate! His 12″ Command Range and Very Inspiring special rule will make any necessary Rally actions super-efficient. His Expert Broadside ability boosts those massive broadsides he can pull off. Spragge, combined with Tough Sea Dogs in a large ship, is pretty close to the most ideal cannon combo you can pull off in the game (William Kidd might be better with Expert Broadside and Strict). If you want to shoot cannons in Blood & Plunder, this is the faction and Spragge is your man!
Strengths and Weaknesses
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it yet, but cannons are the Navy’s strength! Sea Dogs can fire and reload as fast as anyone in the game, and their ability to shed Fatigue in this faction will help them keep up that speed throughout the game. Their commanders double down on that ability with Broadside and Expert Broadside so even their partial broadsides are dangerous.
The generic commanders available to the Navy are solid and not overcosted and their historic commanders are a perfect fit for the faction.
The free Tough ability is worth a lot. If you can keep at a good distance from your enemy, most of the small arms shots coming your way will only be hitting on 10’s meaning your crew won’t be taking tons of Fatigue and what does make it through can be dropped through Tough, never slowing the reloads. If you’re in a fairly advantageous position or can accurately predict the next couple activations, that Tough rule can make Pushing much more attractive as well. On a Heart, that extra action with a Push can give you 4 actions on a turn without a command point which is amazing! You could fire the broadside with Command Points early in the turn, then use a Heart to fully reload the guns and be ready to fire another broadside on the first activation of the next turn! Ignoring incoming Fatigue from the enemy, Tough lets you functionally Push every other turn, or in two consecutive turns. It can really help you get an advantage in the early game.
While the Navy is strongest of the strong when it comes to cannons, they do have notable weaknesses. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say their preferred tactic (shooting great guns), has some notable weaknesses. If you’re shooting cannons, your men are vulnerable to being boarded. While assigned they usually can’t make defensive attacks if boarded, and it’s common practice to strip them of their pistols anyway. Loading a ship with cannons costs a lot of points which doesn’t leave room for pistols that won’t always be used. But putting all your eggs in one basket is a little risky! If you find yourself up against a focused boarding list with a fast ship, you could be in trouble. Luckily, the +4 on the roll for determining the Attacker often gives you the wind advantage which can help you keep those crazy pirates and Dutchmen at bay long enough to hit them a couple of times with the great guns, hopefully crippling their ship and causing mayhem on decks.
But if you’re boarded, you’re in trouble. Sea Dogs don’t go down easy with their 6 Fight Save, but their 6 Fight skill boosted only by Brawlers means they aren’t hitting back particularly hard. Avoid being boarded at all costs!
You can mitigate against this possibility by paying for some Militia with Bayonets or Enter Ploeg, but it can be hard to make room in a cannon list.
Tips & Tactics
Shoot cannons. Shoot them fast and furiously. Blow your enemy’s ship out of the water. For more technical details on getting the most value possible out of cannons, you can check out the artillery article on this blog here.
Considering the Navy’s aversion to being boarded, firing on the enemy’s rigging on the first turn can actually be a good choice with this faction. It won’t kill as many models, but getting some damage on those sails can slow your opponent’s ship and sometimes that’s all you need to give yourself enough time to reload for the next thunderous broadside!
Don’t forget about the sailing component of a cannon tactic. You need to be able to accurately manipulate your ship to line up broadsides and use your cannons effectively. You can make a super-efficient list with the minimum amount of models and units necessary to shoot your cannons, but stuff will start falling apart pretty quickly if you don’t have a unit available to control the ship and fix any incoming Critical Hits. I always keep one unit unassigned on deck. Zeelieden are a good choice with Expert Sailors, for 3 more points, you can add a Sailing Master to some Sea Dogs and get that occasional extra 1″ move flexibility on your ship.
When it comes to land battles, loading up on cheap Sea Dogs with muskets and a core unit of Musketeers seems to be your best bet. You don’t have tons of options but your solid Resolve will let you really push your enemy and possibly take advantage of their weak moments when their Resolve crumbles. I would try to avoid land battles with the English Navy but Amphibious battles could go pretty well. Grab a couple longboats, drop 8 Musketeers in each with some Sea Dogs to row them up to the beach and you can shoot off Expertly Drilled volleys from cover while you move towards the objective!
Collecting for the English Royal Navy
This faction uses a lot of Sea Dogs! The English Starter Box is usually a great place to start for an English faction but that isn’t necessarily the case here. Half of the models in that box aren’t part of this force at all so if you’re wanting to play the Royal Navy as your primary faction, buy the Pirates and Privateers starter box instead. It contains 12 models that are perfect to represent Sea Dogs (compared to 4 in the English Starter Box), and every model is potentially useful in this faction. Beyond that, you’ll need a lot of Sea Dogs/Sailor models! The European Sailors, Sea Dogs and Gun Crew blister packs are all perfect to represent that stout English Seaman that makes up the majority of every force in this faction. Even for a small to midsize game of 100-200 points, you’ll want at least 20 Sea Dogs if you’re going to run a decent number of cannons. Then you can supplement your cannon crew with your choice for Support Units. I’d recommend English MIlitia as a good place to start.
Besides models, your choice of ship is very important! If you’re focusing on great guns, a Sloop, Corvette, Light Frigate, 6th Rate Frigate and Galleon are all great choices, depending on the size of games you think you’ll be playing. Even a lumbering Fluyt can be a good choice with 6 Medium Cannons on board!
Once you buy into the English Royal Navy, it will be easy to expand into Pirate Hunters with a few more Militia models, or into English Buccaneers or Brethren of the Coast with the Freebooters or some French and Dutch models.
This isn’t an amazing force but it’s a great way to start with this faction if you’re new to the game. Requiring 14 Sailor models and 8 models to serve as militia, you can actually make this force with the Pirates and Privateers starter box if you use the Sailors with Muskets models as Militia. The Bark isn’t a great gunship by any standards, but here it can quickly fire a couple Light Cannons and some Swivels
At 100 points, it becomes hard to man that deck of 3 Medium Cannons. If you add a character (Master Gunner) and your Commander to a unit maxed out at 8 models, you get up to 10 men to reload the guns! It’s dangerous, but one shot from those 3 guns could really wreck the smaller ships you’ll see on the table in 100 point games. The other two units are just there to sail, repair and take bullets. If you put another unit on the main deck with your cannon crew, you can absorb shots with them, hopefully letting all your cannons keep in action.
It’s very difficult to get a solid cannon Frigate for 200 points and I find the Sloop of War as the next best thing. This force has a solid crew on the 4 pairs of cannons, a crew on the 4 Swivels in the front of that Brigantine model, and a 4th unit of Sea Dogs (with pistols this time!) with a Sailing Master Character to help keep your enemy within the arch of your cannons. I added Shallow Draft as an upgrade with the final 3 points.
This is an amphibious Naval Landing Force in 3 Longboats. Charles Carlile is a bit expensive for this list (especially since he really only bring Inspiring and Tough to the table). but Tough on Musketeers is just insane. The small unit of Sea Dogs can man the Sweeps for the smaller unit of Musketeers and the other two large units can come in on a longboat by themselves. Delivering Expertly Drilled volleys of musket fire while you approach in your boats can break up the defending units.
This force solidly mans 12 Medium Cannons on a Light Frigate while still keeping a unit free to sail under the Master Sailor. With the Experienced Commander, you can shoot off all 3 decks at once if you attach him to one of the cannon crews. At 200 points, you could find yourself up against some nasty boarding lists so try to keep out of close range as long as possible! Shoot out the sails if you have to! That Master Gunner should help you land those hits.
With a full complement of 6 units, this loaded Light Frigate can deliver some frightening Broadsides but also has the capability to defend itself. With 2 units of Trained Militia with bayonets and another unit of Sea Dogs with Muskets, each deck will have a unit that can defend itself against a charge. Spragge’s Expert Broadside on 6 Medium Cannons should dish out some serious pain. His Very Inspiring ability combined with Tough on every unit in the force should make Fatigue virtually nonexistent for this force!
This force was built for the Escort scenario and it doesn’t focus as narrowly on cannons. It uses only the 3 pairs of Heavy Cannons on the 6th Rate. Probably not the best since it slows the 6th Rate but it’s fun to use those big guns! You can read a battle report with this list here.
The English Navy is probably the premier cannon faction in the game. Its combination of great cannon crew, excellent variety and synergy in their Commander options, and unsurpassed Fatigue management make them a fearsome force to reckon with.
If you like shooting off broadsides and smashing your enemy’s ship to bits, this is a great faction for you! Only the Dutch Navy comes close to rivaling the power of the English guns and they lack robust Fatigue management you find here in the English Royal Navy.