By Joseph Forster
The successful Raise the Black Kickstarter project was just gearing up a year ago and now we can almost see it on the horizon. It looks like the shipping date has been moved back to January so we have a bit of a wait still, but it will be worth it!
While this is an expansion to an established game, it is also a great starting point for new players. The affordable Starter Set Box, cheaper & customizable plastic models, and the iconic time period make Raise the Black a great product for new players. And a lot of new players have joined! But what if the wait is long and you want to get started right away? In this article, we will look at some smart ways for backers of Raise the Black to buy into the game and start playing Blood & Plunder now while we wait for Raise the Black to be delivered.
You’re new to Blood & Plunder and you’ve backed Raise the Black but you’re excited to start learning the game and playing right away. Excellent choice! It’s a great game and no need to delay! But how should you approach the game and what should you buy now, considering you have a nice fat Kickstarter pledge coming early next year?
There are a few variables involved here but I’ll try to give some suggestions and help you get going with the game without buying material that might be duplicated later when you receive your Kickstarter pledge.
First, let me address a couple of common questions.
- Raise the Black brings the game into the 18th century and while there are some important differences in equipment, tactics, and models, this expansion is “backwards compatible.” You can play the 18th-century factions against the 17th-century factions released in the original rule book and No Peace Beyond the line and they should be reasonably balanced. That’s a long way to say “most anything you buy now will still be useful when you receive your Raise the Black pledge.”
- Many of the current units, currently represented by metal models, will still be useful in Raise the Black. The new plastic models coming with the Kickstarter are much more customizable and less inherently unique to a specific nation, but if you buy a unit of English Militia or Sailors now, you can still use them in your 18th-century forces found in Raise the Black. This isn’t 100% true of every single unit in the game, but many of the basic metal Sailors, Militia, and models with Flintlocks will be easy to incorporate into an 18th-century force.
What Do You Need to Play Now?
If you want a fuller introduction to the game, you can check out this article, but let’s quickly look at the basics you need to play Blood & Plunder, then compare that with what you’ll get in your Kickstarter pledge, and then we can look at making smart buying choices now.
To play Blood & Plunder you need:
- The Rules
- Miniatures (men and probably a ship)
- Dice, Ruler, Ship Movement Template
- Deck of Activation Cards
- Terrain and/or Game mat
Now let’s look at what you get in your Raise the Black pledge and see how we can buy what we need now without duplicating a lot of what’s coming in the Kickstarter. Most of the following will be based on the assumption you’re receiving the $119 Captain’s Pledge, which was the most common backing level for Raise the Black.
The starter set that’s the centerpiece of Raise the Black includes a full, softcover rulebook. The original rulebook is a hardcover book and currently retails for $35. You need this to play but the new one you’ll be getting covers the same territory and will have a handful of updates (errata, new rules from the No Peace Beyond the Line expansion etc). While all the rules will be in this softcover book, there will be meaningful differences in the factions included in this book compared to the original. The original book’s factions focus on the French and English Buccaneers, the Spanish militia, and Guarda Costas but this new rulebook will focus more on the scummy pirates and their English antagonists in the early 18th century.
All that to say the new softcover book will be plenty when it arrives, especially if combined with the long list of new factions in the Raise the Black expansion. But you still need the rules now if you plan to start playing before the Kickstarter is delivered. I think there’s a couple of good purchase options here:
- Buy the original rulebook now. You’ll get value from it while you wait and it different forces.
- Buy the digital rulebook. This is much cheaper ($15 vs $35), you can get all the rules out of it now, and you can always have it on your phone or computer as a searchable pdf even after you get the new rulebook. The digital rulebook also has the advantage of being updated with Errata.
- Skip the rulebook for now and just watch the rules videos on Firelock Games’ YouTube channel. This is not optimal but it will get you going without putting any money out on a rulebook that will be largely replaced when you get your pledge. If you know a local player, you can always ask them for rules clarification from their rulebook.
Personally, I recommend option 2. I have a physical copy of the rulebook, but I’ve found the digital copy well worth the money just for the convenience. If you really want to dive into the game with both feet right now, you might as well get the pdf of the No Peace Beyond the Line book as well. You can get both the base rulebook and No Peace as pdf’s for a total of $35 which is amazing value.
This is slightly trickier than talking about the rules. The miniatures you’ll need/use largely depend on how you plan to play the game. Blood & Plunder covers conflicts on land and sea as well as amphibious combat, and the miniatures you’ll need vary a little depending on if you want to play a more land-based militia style force or sea-based navy or pirate-style force.
The starter set you’ll be getting with Raise the Black is very sea-focused. You can play on land as well, but the primary miniatures found in that box are sailors. The 24 sailor models in that starter set can be put together in a variety of ways and you can make several different nations or factions out of that box. You can use them for pirates, Spanish, French, or English but they will still be sailors and you can’t make a militia or army force out of that set of minis.
Assuming you’ve backed at the basic pledge level and you’re only receiving the starter box, here are a couple of approaches to buying some miniatures now:
- Buy a nation starter box. This is a good option for two reasons: first, you get a bit of a discount (although it’s still more expensive than the new plastics), and second, the starter boxes tend to be more land-focused. The Spanish, English, French, and Dutch starter boxes all cost $79 and include 25 metal miniatures, including one commander model and 24 models of 4 different types. Each box has 4 sailors in it, which isn’t enough to make a sea force. But adding those 4 nation-specific sailor minis to the 24 generic sailors you’ll get with the starter box will set you up very nicely for a large and flexible sea force. Between the land-focused starter box and the sea-focused new starter set, you’ll be able to enjoy Blood & Plunder on land and sea. The Native starter box is kind of a separate deal…
- Buy a “Generic Starter Box.” The Pirates & Privateers, Unaligned, and European Militia starter boxes are more generic and can be used for several different nations or factions. The Pirates & Privateers is a very similar selection from what you’ll get in the RtB starter box. The Unaligned box is a mix of the 17th century French and English Buccaneer style models. This is a great box to start with if you want to play a lot of sea battles. The majority of the models in here are armed with Firelocks and pistols making them great for the early 18th century. The European Militia starter box has fewer models since it contains the massive metal cavalry models along with a cannon, and it would be a good way to start experimenting with the various militia factions in the game. These models will still be useful in the 18th-century world, although the Soldier models will be upgraded with fancier uniforms, flintlock instead of matchlock muskets, and wicked bayonets in the Soldier sprue available through Raise the Black.
- Buy individual packs that look cool. If you educate yourself a little, you can grab packs that look cool and patch together your own force. This makes it a little easier to tailor your force to your intended playstyle, but you really need to read up first to make sure you don’t buy a set that doesn’t really fit in your faction.
I would personally recommend buying one of the nation starter boxes, exploring the land part of the game, then expanding into the sea part of the game when you get your RtB pledge.
Ships are an awesome part of Blood & Plunder but they aren’t immediately necessary to enjoy the game. The Raise the Black Kickstarter focuses heavily on the notable characters from the Golden Aage of Piracy and the starter box comes with two plastic sloop kits. These will get you straight into the nautical side of the game when they’re delivered but what about now?
I think there are two ways to approach this. If you decide to focus on exploring the land-based part of the game for now, you don’t need a ship at all! If you want to jump straight into the sea battles, there are lots of awesome resin ship models available from Firelock right now. Usually, I’d recommend a Sloop as a starter ship but since two sloops are included in that starter set, I’d actually recommend getting a larger 3 deck ship like a Brigantine or a Light Frigate. The new plastic sloops are slightly different than the original resin sloop (in size and gameplay stats), but they’re more alike than any of the other ships in the game. Both the Brigantine model and the Light Frigate are great in the game and they would let you play larger games in one ship rather than having to run both sloops together. Or if you’re really ready to up your Blackbeard game, you should get the beautiful 6th Rate Frigate model to represent the Queen Anne’s Revenge!
Dice, Ruler, and Templates
The game uses d10’s for gameplay. If you don’t already have some, you can pick up a set of 12 for a few dollars at your local game store. Firelock has some beautiful d10’s but they aren’t cheap and you’ll be getting some in the starter box. The game also uses d6’s for tracking reloads and Fatigue on individual units. The RtB starter box includes cardboard chits for these status trackers instead of the dice. You can go two ways here: use red and black generic d6, or you can buy Firelock’s Marker Dice set. This is a good product to order right away if you want it because it doesn’t overlap with what you get in the starter kit.
The starter kit comes with a cardboard ruler as well but you likely already have a measuring tape you can use for making moves and measuring distances in the game.
If you want to start with sea games right away, you need to have the ship moving template, or “turning gauge.” You can order MDF templates from Firelock or, if you already bought a rulebook, there’s a template this gauge in the back of the book you can simply cut out and mount on cardboard or wood for free. The template set from Firelock costs $15 and it contains a wind tracker as well (which is nice bot not necessary at all compared to the turning gauge).
If you’re handy, the cheapest option is mounting the template that you can find in the back of the rulebook, but I personally would just buy the $15 set from Firelock. If you plan on just exploring the land part of the game until your Kickstarter arrives, you can skip this entirely.
You need a standard deck of playing cards to play Blood & Plunder. The suits determine how many actions various units get when activated and the order of activation. You can use a standard deck, or you can use Firelock’s fancy decks that helpfully remind you how many actions each unit gets. The RtB starter box comes with two decks, one with the Pirate back and one with the British back. The decks are all the same (standard 52+2) deck inside so the back is just for flavor. You can save some money for now by just using a deck of cards you have around the house, or, if you like the shiny decks with the various nations’ flags, you can pick up your favorite from Firelock now.
I would personally just use a deck of plain cards for now if you’re planning to play Pirates or British.
The RtB starter box does come with a mat and some terrain elements which is amazing! But they are paper and punchboard so if you want to make a more 3D board, this is a part of the game you can start going crazy on now. If you’re planing to paly primarily at sea, you might just want to pick up a nice 6×4 or 4×4 Caribbean Ocean mat from TABLEWARE and call it good. If you’re planning on focusing more on the land side of things, you can grab this Caribbean Tropics 3×4 or any other attractive land mat. Most land games are playing on a 3×4 and most sea games are played on 4×4, but using a 6×4 can help you not have to scroll the board.
If you plan to play lands games until RtB arrives, you can pick up some cheap plastic palm trees on eBay and maybe some of the great 4Ground MDF terrain from Firelock or straight from the source in England. The 4Ground terrain is awesome looking, doesn’t take too much work, and is affordable. If you have a 3D printer, you can track down a lot of different pirate/New World STL files and start printing away!
Summary of Captain’s Pledge Advice
If you pledged at the Captain’s level and want to start exploring the game now, I would personally recommend grabbing a nationality starter box, the $15 pdf rulebook, along with some cheap dice, a deck of standard playing cards and a game mat, and start learning the ropes of the games through some land games. When you get your Kickstarter package, you can jump into sea games and even amphibious games if you already feel comfortable with land games. Land games aren’t necessarily simpler, but they do push you to understand the movement and cover rules more completely while not having to fully read and understand how ships function in the game.
If you pledged at the Pirate Hunter or Admiral levels, you’re likely getting some more models appropriate for land games and some of the advice given above doesn’t necessarily apply. But the fact still remains that you’re probably getting a good number of sailors and a bunch of big-name pirates in your pledge. So I still believe starting with a land force now is a good option.
I have to mention the Natives Americans here. The Natives are pretty rules-heavy as far as gameplay goes and they aren’t necessarily a great entry point into the game. But if you want to start playing Natives right away, here are a couple of things to know.
There are no Natives in the original rulebook. They are introduced in No Peace Beyond the Line. The Native factions in that book are pretty heavily focused on the Caribbean and South American tribes, as is the current Native American starter box. The plastic Native Box that is being released with Raise the Black is also focused on Caribbean/South American Tribes. So if you want in on Natives right now, you’ll basically need No Peace and a Native Starter Box and then you can grow your force with the new plastics.
To make things a little more confusing, the Raise the Black expansion book will have a lot more of the North American Tribes included as factions. These factions will use the Braves model along with two more sets of models currently in production (not the plastics).
Old Models That Will Be Especially Useful for Raise the Black
The new modular plastic minis from Raise the Black will be very flexible and can be used to represent any of the units in the Raise the Black rulebook, or the new core rulebook in the starter box. But, there are a few units that Firelock already produces in metal that are used a good bit in Raise the Black and are unique enough that the metals might be worth grabbing. The pirates and their naval opponents are represented very well with the multi-pose plastics but some of the land forces had some unique characteristics that some of the custom-designed metals represent really well. From my preview of the Raise the Black book, I can see that the Braves, French Canadian Militia and Coureurs de Bois models will all be pretty useful in a lot of the land factions. Many of the land factions can take Native models along as Support Units so some Braves would be a great choice, even if you don’t plan to play a full Native force. The generic European Sailor with Musket model will be useful in a lot of factions as well, but that kind of model can be easily created with the forthcoming plastic kits. The English Freebooter and French Flibustier will also be very useful in this early 18th century time period.
Buying and painting the commanders from the nation(s) you plan to play would be a great choice as well. I find the different styles of the various European commanders to add to the flavor of the game and give the various Militia factions some thematic color. Your commander is a pretty central part of this game. I find it nice to have a couple of different commander models to choose from when making a force, especially with all the interesting historical commanders in the game.
Speaking of style and color, while the sailor and militia boxes will make creating a force much simpler, I love how each of the metal sets of militia and sailors are different and reflect some of the characteristics of their nation. If you know what nations you want to play and you enjoy some national flair, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up one or two of your nations’ sailor or militia packs to mix in with your more generic plastic models. Even though they are armed the same and have the same basic equipment, I enjoy the subtle differences in style and body language when you compare the English Militia or Sea Dogs models to the French Marins or Militia models.
Raise the Black is going to be great! But Kickstarters always take time and if you want to get in on the game now, jump on in! The water’s fine! I think building up a bit a land force now is a great option for starting to learn and play the game while the Kickstarter finishes production. If you want to start picking up some models now, pretty much any sailor unit or unit with a Flintlock Musket (as opposed to Matchlock) will fit right into the factions in Raise the Black. If you want to pick up a ship, I would recommend a larger ship or a selection of boats that wont overlap with the Sloops in the Starter Set.
I hope this has been at least a little help in sorting out what could be bought now and still useful after you get your pledge. I thought it would be easier to write but there are lots of variables! I’d be happy to answer any specific questions if this has been more confusing than helpful.