Buccaneer’s Companion Vol. 1 Review

The Buccaneer’s Companion organized play campaign has been out for well over a year now and it’s time to do a review! Guy and I played the entire thing as Spanish and English, respectively. We started it in August 2020 and finished in December so we’ve had a while to reflect on the experience. In this review, we will be independently answering some basic questions regarding the campaign, then touching briefly on each of the scenarios.

What is the Buccaneer’s Companion?

Guy: At its heart, The Buccaneers Companion is a free organized play expansion to Blood & Plunder. It is rather robust, containing a wealth of new historical writings, new commanders and characters, and a new six scenario campaign. This has been compared to the free downloadable New Factions & Units, and New Commanders expansions that came out between the release of the core rulebook and No Peace Beyond the Line.

The main draw of the Buccaneers Companion is the six scenario campaign. These scenarios are more or less modified from those in the core rulebook and No Peace Beyond the Line. They designate the English as the attacker and the Spanish as the defender. Each scenario after the first also gives a bonus or penalty depending if certain objectives were met during the previous game. These objectives range from easy to accomplish to difficult, and can theoretically make every playthrough of the Buccaneer’s Companion unique.

The new commanders of the Buccaneer’s Companion all share the special rule “Shifting Command”. This allows each commander to be purchased as a character for a much-reduced point cost, but limits the character version to one command point at a 0″ range. It also forbids the unit from receiving command actions from any other source. At its worst, outside of the campaign, this gives the English Buccaneers and Brethren of Coast access to several half-price Officers, and a new wealth of list-building opportunities. The new characters also add to this wealth, providing named characters to pepper your force with.

Joseph: The Buccaneer’s Companion is almost a mini-expansion for Blood & Plunder. It doesn’t contain any new units or forces, but between the wealth of historical background, new commanders, characters, rules, scenarios, and the new linked-scenario format, the Buccaneer’s Companion is a pretty substantial addition to the game. 

The entire project was released for free on the Firelock Games website, although it is a little hard to find, tucked away under the Community tab at the top of the page.  Each element of the “product” is its own separate pdf or webpage which makes it a little hard to absorb and appreciate as a whole. There are webpages for a Historical Introduction, a Timeline, a page of Character Bios, and then pdf’s for each of the 6 scenarios and a 7th pdf for the new Commander and Character stats. 

The new commanders and characters are great, but the big new thing is the campaign structure of a sequence of linked scenarios. I found this system interesting and rewarding for this game and I think there could be lots of opportunities to expand on this format in the future. 

What the Campaign Did Right

Guy: The Buccaneer’s companion offers a great narrative, with each scenario strung together and conditions granting bonuses based on previous experience. This is a great contrast to the other Blood & Plunder campaign, from No Peace Beyond the Line (NPBtL), which has no connection between each scenario. From running that campaign, I often had problems with why players were fighting each other.

Joseph: This is a totally different beast, isn’t it? The NPBTL campaign focuses much more on the development of each commander as a character and the interaction between characters, nations or forces is very secondary. This campaign, based on historical events, tells a story in a very different way. 

Guy: This is helped by lengthy historical accounts that were a joy to read. Before each game, I made a point to read through it and draw some insight from what had happened during the real battle, and later when we were using our own lists, as a guide to list building.

Joseph: I did the same. Sometimes I found myself making very sub-optimal force building choices because my reading of the actual events shaped the way I wanted the game to play out. I found the combination of the historical narrative and gameplay very compelling. I’d love to see more of that in the future!

Guy: The Buccaneer’s companion doesn’t provide the same freedom as NPBtL; the only factions you play as are English Buccaneers and various Spanish, but this isn’t really a problem. Each scenario is varied enough that, and even if you ignore the historic lists to make your own, the same list isn’t going to win every game. From running a few campaigns before the Buccaneers Companion, I really enjoyed the restrictions on factions. For the historically minded gamer playing the NPBtL campaign, coming up with a reason that the French Canadian Militia are attacking the English Caribbean Militia in 1674 is a little bit of a struggle.

Joseph: Yes, the narrative is much tighter here. I don’t mind restrictions at all. None of these games ever felt historically “silly” as is often the case when playing the No Peace campaign. I thought the character document was awesome for the English. The campaign did the English commander’s full justice. Not all the commanders are good, but it’s always awesome to have some new material that can be worked back into “standard” play of the game. Great material. I only wish the Spanish had the same resource.,,

Guy: As the Spanish player in this campaign, I agree. The Spanish used the factions Spanish Militia on land and Armada de Barlovento at sea. In the first Spanish Militia scenario they have to defend a town, two of the scenarios they are tasked with defending a fortification, two were at sea, and one was mainly cavalry. The ship list I made for Percio was the most fun. The Spanish used three ships during that battle, had segregated their forces, and the historic account only mentioned them using muskets. It was fun to work these things into a list, especially once we upped the point cap to 400.

Joseph: That was an epic battle! As the English player, I used the English Buccaneers faction throughout the campaign. I found that faction just flexible enough to function on land and sea and I didn’t get bored playing it. I think my lists were less diverse than yours, which makes sense. I thought providing suggested lists, then guidelines for semi-historical/appropriate lists was a smart design choice. Not everyone plays Spanish/English factions. That said, you do lose a lot once you stray from the English force since you can’t really use the characters without it feeling goofy. Bartholomew Sharp probably shouldn’t lead the Swedish Militia…

Guy: Even though I didn’t have a chance to use the commanders and characters, I think the approach they were created with was correct. For the most part, they are a little weaker than other historical commanders or NPBTL Characters, with one exception. This makes it so these commanders, and the Factions they are in, do not dominate future tournaments.

Joseph: Bartholomew Sharp was the most interesting character for me. You’re right, as a commander, he is a little spendy at 27 points for only 2 Command Points and a couple of special rules, but he has good rules and I think I’d take him in a “normal game” for that price. But taking him for 6 points as a character is so easy and fun! But who did you consider “the exception”?

Guy: That exception is the Unknown African. He costs 3 points and only has Indomitable, a special rule that removes a Fatigue from his unit when it is activated. You usually put the Unknown African in his forward most units, and with good reason. Indomitable melts off Fatigue, and doesn’t care about the unit pushing each turn like Tough. The unit will still lose an action if it was activated with two fatigue on it, we reasoned, as the action loss from two Fatigue happens when you use a card to activate. The Unknown African can also be used in three Factions: English Buccaneers, French Buccaneers, and Brethren of the Coast.

Joseph: I probably overused that character didn’t I? And he always died because I threw him into the thick of the fighting! He must have died at least 4 times in our campaign… I did find I could exploit him to fire my swivel guns at an incredible rate! I threw 24 dice out of one unit in a Piragua once! He is the one character I probably used the very most in the campaign and the character I have continued to use in “standard games.” But I don’t think he’s entirely overpowered either. When compared to the (in)famous Grizzled Veteran, he actually has a downside since he can’t give anyone else a Rally action. I think he’s decently balanced. But I didn’t have to play against him like you!

New models! I counted this as one of the best parts of the whole kit. Firelock Games produced 3 exclusive models for the Organized Play kit to represent the new leaders and characters. Each model is clearly based on an existing miniature, but its always nice to have some unique models. I’ve used these a lot. They’re perfect for use as characters or historical commanders outside of this campaign. 

The ongoing unpleasantness messed up the distribution and rollout of this entire kit making it very hard to get these minis into the hands of players. But if you have a chance to get these, grab them up because they’re great!

What the Campaign Did Wrong

Guy: The model requirements of the provided lists were hard to fill for me, a person heavily invested in Blood & Plunder. To a new player, it would be next to impossible. The La Serena list uses twenty cavalry models?! That’s $180. Even the first list asks the Spanish player to bring thirty-two Milicianos, five cavalry, and a field gun.

Joseph: Yeah, that’s a real downside to recreating historical scenarios. I don’t recommend running out to buy a whole bunch more cavalry just for that scenario.  But that is a real concern I had when I first read through the scenarios. This is where I’m going to start to question the manner of release a little bit. As a standalone campaign or mini-expansion, I think these larger model requirements are fine. But as an Organized Play product, these force lists are not always realistic. I’ve played Spanish from day 1 and I still don’t have 32 Milicianos! Maybe it’s my different understanding of what an Organized Play kit should be. I see Organized Play as an opportunity for both established players to compete and an opportunity for new players to plug into the community and learn about the game. I didn’t feel this format was very friendly to newer players. 

Guy: In the previous NPBtL escalation campaigns that I ran, we would always have players drop out once we hit 150 or more points. Larger games require more models, and newer players, or more casual players, were very reluctant to drop more money in the game after the initial $200 entry price. Some members of our local club don’t want to play miniatures that are not painted, so that’s also a huge time and energy barrier.

Setting that player down and asking them if they have thirty-two Milicianos? What, they don’t?

I might be reading into it, but I can see some intention in the first Spanish list to help new players. If the player had bought the Spanish Nationality Starter set, and the Colonial Militia Starter Set, and they used the European Soldiers as Milicianos (they look very similar), that player would have most of the force they would need, but would still have to buy four blisters of Milicianos for $48. It is still highly unlikely that a Spanish player will have that many Milicianos, as the ones I’ve asked only have around 16-24.

This isn’t a problem because I don’t think people should spend money on this game. It is a problem because, as an organized play event, new players should be the intended audience. When someone decides they want to try out Blood & Plunder they need to network with the players in the area they are in, find a place to play, and learn how to play the game. An organized play campaign packages these three things together.

Joseph: Yeah a new player might feel a little lost or bewildered trying to learn the rules, process all the documents for this product, make their small collection work for the scenarios, and then attend enough events to actually get through a few of the scenarios. That’s another thing I really think doesn’t work as an Organized Play kit. I usually consider an Organized Play event as a bunch of players meeting up to play once. There’s no way a group could work through or appreciate this product in its entirety at one event. Even if a local group met up 6 times, getting each player to find the perfect opponent for the next scenario would be a logistical wonder. The idea of 6 linked scenarios just doesn’t lend itself well to (what I see) as a great Organized Play event. I love this format, but I didn’t find it helpful for bringing new players into the game. I do have to say it was perfect for us, as we play each other regularly. It was great to have a structured campaign to work through as regular opponents. I think printing and selling this product as a booklet expansion would be awesome! 

Guy: I would pay money for that, it would of saved us so much ink! The first two games we played using the historical forces were a little eye-opening for a couple of other reasons. I played the first scenario, Portobello, twice, and it is heavily weighted to the Spanish. The English are asked to move 18″ towards two different objectives, without knowing what objective will matter. The Spanish are asked to shoot the English, and outnumber them 2 to 1.

Joseph: And “shoot the English” you did. As the English player, I felt the same way. Some scenarios were pretty easy while others were very difficult. We’ll touch on that a little more in the scenario summaries. That first scenario was a bloodbath… I managed to get the objective, but I think I took 85% casualties. That scenario witnessed the “zombification” of John Coxon. He died in that scenario but he faithfully came back to die again in almost every scenario. 

Guy: While I think it is possible to win with the English Buccaneer historic list, I think that it is the wrong list for the scenario. Forlorn Hope and Flibusteirs are great units to have, but need support from other units that move with them to open up holes in a defense as they advance. Veteran Freebooters and Freebooters are also good, but usually want to stay in one spot, in cover, and use marksmen and fast reload to outgun their opponents.

Joseph: Yeah that basic scenario is already difficult as the Attacker, then layer on being outnumbered by 2:1… That was brutal. Paying 25 points for John Coxon actually aggravated that problem.  Your 15 point commander was actually better than my 25 pointer and all my models cost almost twice as much! I like asymmetric battles but I have to agree that some of the suggested forces made the scenarios a little imbalanced. 

What Does the Campaign Mean for the Future of Blood & Plunder?

Joseph: I don’t honestly know. I enjoyed the campaign as a whole and I’d love to play through it again. I’d also really like to see more historical campaigns produced in the future! But I have to say I’d like to see a more modest and beginner-friendly model for Organized Play in the future. I’d be happy to pay for individual campaign books, but I’d hope for a simpler 3-5 page organized play product that could make for a great 1-day event with all the players in our local community.

Guy: Splitting these two ideas off like that is a little like the future I think we can expect. Lets discuss the organized play product first, because we both have some experience in that. One thing that we haven’t gone into much detail about is that this campaign was originally going to have a reporting mechanic. Although I don’t know all the details, players were going to send in their game results, and they would have some effect or tracking.

As of this writing, the most recent thing we did as a community was the Summer of Plunder, that Blood & Pigment had an outsized hand in.  I came up with its frame work, and the lowest barrier to enter that I could think of, to let in as many players as possible. I think a historic campaign can work as a Organized Play Product, this is a Historic War Game™, but maybe just one or two really good scenarios.

Guy: If this was collected as a PDF, and not released for free, how much would you pay for it?

 

The Scenarios

Here’s a quick review of the 6 scenarios. 

1. Portobello

This is essentially the Plunder scenario from No Peace Beyond the Line. We found the historical forces a challenge to fulfill for the Spanish player.  The English player was battered badly but accomplished the Objective. We played with the suggested historical lists and it felt like the Spanish had a substantial advantage.

2. The Avio de Aviso Portobello

This is an entertaining custom scenario. It starts with a helpless English Sloop up against a decent Spanish Fluyt. If the English Sloops survives the first few turns, a big English Frigate shows up and the Spanish find themselves at a real disadvantage. Cat & Mouse & Dog. We found the English secondary objective nearly impossible in achieve in this one. Let us know if you were able to take over the Fluyt with the Sloop’s skeleton crew! We played with the suggested force lists and it felt like the English had the edge.

3. Santa Maria

We had fun with this one! We went a little crazy and used the Army Scale rules and expanded the game to 500 points per side, split into 3 Companies per side. We were almost able to recreate the actual numbers of the battle. 

We also used the palisade fort using the Beta rules to make the scenario more accurate. This was an epic game and the way we played it, we found it pretty balanced. 

4. Panama Perico

This is a unique scenario that puts the Spanish in ships and the English in canoa and piraguas. The suggested lists are 300 points but we pushed that up to 400. It was a great game and felt pretty balanced while still being asymmetric. The English were too terrified of getting their boats rammed and victory went to Spain.

5. La Serena

This is the infamous cavalry scenario. The historical force list calls for 26 cavalry models! We pooled our combined cavalry and had the Spanish entirely mounted per the actual history. This was a very close game but ultimately the cavalry were repulsed when making the crucial charge and it turned into a turkey shoot.

6. Arica

The finale! We had some big questions when reading through this scenario. Historically, the Spanish were in a good-sized fort that the English assaulted without any real plan or proper equipment (ladders or explosives). The scenario calls for a size 3 fort but shows an image of the Stone Tower Fort (which is size 2) on the diagram. The cost for the fort is also not considered in the historical force list. The Spanish forces utilized an Experienced Commander for 15 points, but calls him don Gaspar de Ovieda who is actually in the game! I’m not sure why the force just didn’t include the correct commander. We ended up building our own forces for this last battle as well. We even added some hapless Spanish villagers who the English controlled as human shields. It was a fun battle but a complete blowout loss for the English. That poor Unnamed African led the charge on the gates of the fort and just barely made it to the door before being countercharged by masses of Spanish Milicianos. The scenario forced the English to rush all the way across the map and take a fortified position (which the Spanish player didn’t have to pay for) while the Spanish got to sit cozy in their fort and mow down anyone who tried to approach. We had a historically accurate outcome, but it felt it favored the Spanish.

Final Thoughts

Joseph: I really enjoyed playing through this campaign. There were some moments of frustration but overall, it was a great experience. I appreciated the storyline, the combination of easily accessible history, characters brought to life (over and over again in the case of “Zombie” Coxon), special scenarios, and meaningful gameplay where events in scenarios affected what followed in the next scenarios. 

Guy: I enjoyed playing through this Campaign as well. I had a small ritual before each game: I would read through the historical report, making notes of anything it mentions about the Spanish. I would then look up any detail that seemed to stand out, and try to make a themed force around my notes. It led me to some interesting decisions, for instance, I didn’t use Hostigadores or cannons for Santa Maria.

Joseph: I love the project as a whole but found it a bit large and ambitious to be marketed as an Organized Play kit. This was named The Buccaneers’ Companion Volume 1 and I’m eagerly looking forward to Volume 2! I would be even more excited it Firelock Games printed it up into a 40-page booklet and sold it for $10-15. Having all this material bound together in one place would make the entire experience better for me. 

I hope Organized Play will come back in 2022! I would personally vote for something simpler for the Organized Play kit but I’ll be playing it in any case.

 

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