Oh me hearties this has been a LONG time coming! After 2 years, a global pandemic, and the resulting logistical issues that ensued, Raise the Black! is finally here! With Blood and Plunder moving into the 18th Century, the Pirates finally have their own Nationality! Chief among the new factions under the Pirate Nationality is the Golden Age Pirates! When someone says the word “pirate”, these are the guys we think of! I was fortunate enough to playtest the faction in early development and got to watch them change into the wonderful form we currently have them in! Let’s take a look into the glorious and often desperate rouges and see just how great this faction is!
Golden Age Pirates Faction Rules
The Golden Age Pirates faction has a mix of gameplay rules as well as hilarious rules meant for flavoring. If this faction is the defender in a scenario (which is more than likely unless you and your opponent, friend/foe agree to select attacker and defender, seeing as this faction has no modifier to the roll to determine attacker and defender for the game) they will be subject to the
Drunk Special Rule (pictured below) This is both a blessing and a curse. While this will certainly help you in melee combat (which is a big deal if you plan on boarding your opponent), it makes them worse at everything else!
The next rule allows your ship to fly false colors in a Sea or Amphibious scenario. It made its debut in No Peace Beyond the Line (which if you do not have I would highly recommend you add that to your next purchase!) This can be great when it goes off, but more than likely it will rarely last long enough to get you into that 12” range. If you manage to not roll a 7 before you’re ready to attack or your opponent can get 12” away, it can change the course of a game!
Lastly, if you manage to roll high and become the attacker in a scenario, you may discard your entire hand and draw new Activation Cards one per game without spending a Fortune Point! This definitely a major boon, but the fact that you need to be the attacker in a scenario definitely stings.
Golden Age Pirates Force Options
The only Force Option available to Golden Age Pirates is the ability to take grapeshot when taking Artillery for free, but only grapeshot can be fired from said Artillery. Grapeshot is fantastic for laying down some hurt on our opponents units, but it will never damage the ship itself. While free grapeshot is fantastic for boarding lists, it’s only 1 point per pair of cannons, so I would say it’s usually better to just pay the extra points so you still have access to Roundshot.
Golden Age Pirates Core Units
The Golden Age Pirates, being a naval faction, utilize a wide variety of sailor units from all of the other nationalities. This allows you to either build competitively or to build a force based on your particular favorites. I have already done an in-depth look at the 4 major sailor units; meaning the Zeeliden, Marineros, Sea Dogs, and Marins respectively. That deep dive was done in my Faction overview of the Pirates faction from No Peace Beyond the Line. If you want to use these units go check it out here (I also cover the European Sailors and Pressed Men, which are support units for Golden Age Pirates as well!):
Once you’ve finished that section of reading, you should know that for competitive lists, Zeeliden are the way to go for the most bang-for-your-doubloons. Marins can be a fantastic budget boarding party (rolling 4s with rerolls if they use their pistols on a charge hurts!) as well! Now that we’ve covered those units, let’s take a deep dive into the two shiny new core units: Pirates and Roundsmen!
At a glance, the Pirates unit may seem pretty mediocre, with their 7/7 for Fight and Shoot, and their 6 resolve all on a unit that is Trained.. However, they come loaded with Brace of Pistols at just 3 points per model! Brace of Pistols is special because it means that whenever you use your pistols to shoot or in melee combat, they never generate reload markers! The low point cost allows you to hoard up on them for boarding lists!
While the Resolve 6 can be a bit of an issue, you can use decent Commanders and Fighting Men to help manage fatigue (we’ll go deeper into that when we go over tactics). They have the Sailors, Artillery Crew, and War Cry special rules. Sailors and Artillery Crew are pretty standard for sailor units (both will be pictured below and are self explanatory. Artillery Crew is great for keeping swivels or cannons firing, and Sailors is great for changing sail setting or performing advanced Maneuvers like Tacking or Wearing as it reduces the base number for the test to a 5+ from a 7+, and that’s without the bonuses for a Dedicated Action!), but War Cry is typically found on units from the Native American nationality, which is pretty neat! War Cry makes your opponent roll an extra dice on their fatigue test whenever you charge! This is a fun little bonus that can make the difference between a unit with 2 Fatigue or a unit with 3 Fatigue!
While swapping out the Brace of Pistols for Buccaneer guns may seem tempting, this should only be done if you plan on bringing as many muskets as possible, as a 7 shoot is pretty abysmal, even at point blank range. However, adding buccaneer guns essentially turns these guys into discount Later Filibusters (another unit we will get into later)!
Being able to have both a Buccaneer gun for shooting and Brace of Pistols for Charging is both amazing and hilarious if you have the points to spare.If you plan on boarding, stink pots are a MUST as they block line of sight for any unit inside the cloud and thus will prevent defensive fire when that unit is charged. Having a blunderbuss for every 3 models for free is also a must, as it makes for great defensive fire when charged or even more dice when trying to soften up a unit with point blank shooting right before charging. Upgrading the unit to Veteran may seem tempting to get more actions on your Activation cards, but more than often it’s better to spend the 1 point on adding a Buccaneer Gun. While the Pirates aren’t the best of the sailor units (Zeeliden are superior in almost every way, save for the lack of Brace of Pistols) they are cheap and heavily armed, which is a first for Blood and Plunder.
Using the new Plastic Sailors kit from Firelock Games, I was able to assemble these Pirates (pictured above) pretty easily. I gave them a simple pistol and cutlass and any unit options such as explosives and blunderbusses were added to the model.
Roundsmen are another new unit and are quite the opposite to the Pirates. They come in at 6 points per model, and like the Pirates they come with Brace of Pistols and standard melee weapons. What sets them apart is their Fight and Shoot Values. Their fight is 6/6, making them much more likely to hit in melee, and their shoot of 7 makes them “okay” candidates for buccaneer guns (which they can take for +1 point per model or replace their Brace of Pistols for free). The shoot save of 6 is pretty awesome for a sailor unit, and it usually drops to a 5 while on a ship! They retain the Artillery Crew and War Cry Special Rules that the Pirates have, but receive an upgrade from Sailors to Expert Sailors. This drops the target number on Advanced Maneuver and Sail Setting tests to 4+, before the bonuses you get for a Dedicated Action (which they will unusually receive as they are a Veteran unit!). The key upgrade, however, is that Roundmen have a Resolve value of 5 instead of 6! This means they have a 60% chance of resisting Fatigue and knocking off Fatigue when they Rally (as opposed to the 50/50 chance of the Pirates)!
At 6 points a model, they make a solid compliment to your force and a good command unit. They can be equipped to be a solid boarding party by adding Blunderbusses and Stink pots, or a good shooting unit by swapping out their Brace of Pistols for Buccaneer Guns. You may be tempted to just add the Buccaneer Guns for +1 point, but I personally think this is a bad choice. For me, 6pts a model is great for a non-professional unit like the British Regulars. Spending 7pts/model is getting into Forlorn Hope territory, but at least the unit here is already veteran.
To make Roundmen, I started off with the Plastic Sailors kit and then assembled them to lol a little “meaner” than the regular Pirates. I armed them a little unorthodox-like, with 2 pistols or 2 blades. This adds a little more character to them and makes them look more experienced in my opinion.
Golden Age Pirates have some pretty interesting Support units to help round out your force. The only two I’ve already touched on before are the European Sailors and Pressed men, which were discussed in my previous article about the 17th Century Pirates. Here, I will be discussing Warrior Musketeers, African Warriors, Jamaican Privateers, and Later Filibusters.
Warrior Musketeers may seem odd to have on a pirate ship, but pirates often had favorable contact with native tribes, which is represented here. Honestly, while they can definitely be thematic and fun to have on a ship, their only real use is to be a cheap musket unit to lay down fire. However, even in this role they are somewhat lackluster due to their Slow Reload Special Rule, which means when they fire with their musket they generate 3 reload markers instead of 2. Evade is useful if they are charged since their 8 Fight Save is terrible and their 6 resolve means they will more than likely become shaken against any competent melee unit, but their other two special rules are about as useful as a screen door on an ironclad when at sea. Hidden adds a +1 penalty to any Shoot test taken against them while in cover (and if that would be an 11+ then they cannot be shot at), but this rule is turned off when inside of a structure…..which a ship is essentially a floating structure. Scouts lets them ignore the -1” to movement when moving through Rough Terrain, but doesn’t work in a structure or while climbing,..not useful whatsoever on a ship. If you take your pirates on land, I can see where it would make some sense to include these guys. However, unless you really want a unit of Native Musketmen on your ship, these are a hard pass in my book.
African Warriors are another representative unit of how escaped slaves or Maroons served on pirate ships. Like the Warrior Musketeer unit, I see these guys more as a solid land unit then a naval unit. Their 6/6 Values for Fight and Shoot are solid, Resolve 5 means they won’t be quite as susceptible to fatigue and stand a good chance of rallying any they gain, and both Skirmishers and Quick (both will be pictured below) are useful on a ship if you run a boarding list! Being able to get an extra move for a charge or being able to Charge and then retreat is something not a ton of Naval Factions have!
At 6pts a model, they are the same cost as roundsmen but are more specialized. If they take muskets, they gain the dreaded Slow Reload Special Rule, but bows are going to struggle to lay on any fatigue in most sea games as the unit being shot at will often get a -4 bonus to their Shoot save since most ships offer hard cover. Once again, I see these guys as more useful on land, but they certainly could have a place in sea games!
Jamaican Privateers are a new unit, making their debut in Raise the Black!, but are also a great support unit. At 4 point a model they are cheap, and their 6/6 Fight is great for melee combat, while their 7/7 Shoot is only okay for shooting. If you need a cheap unit for melee combat, you can swap out their muskets and pistol sidearms for Brace of Pistols at no cost, add blunderbusses for every 3 models, and go crazy! These scrappy Englishmen are quite versatile, and I often use them to help out with musketry. Their Expert Sailors Special Rule is useful, but if you need a unit to be on the Sheets and Braces, Zeeliden are the same price and don’t take up a valuable Support unit slot.
To assemble some Jamaican Privateers, I used the Plastic Sailors Sprue and simply gave them muskets and painted them up to look like former British sailors. This helps them stand out from any Pirates or Roundsmen I build due to their distinct uniform color palette.
Later Filibusters are another new unit for Raise the Black! and are a ton of fun on the tabletop! For just 5pts a model you get a Trained unit with Buccaneer Guns and Brace of Pistols! Their shoot and fight values are 6/7, so they are competent at both but since their saves are 7 and their Resolve is 6 that have issues staying put. If you remove their Buccaneer guns they drop down to 4 points per model which is also amazing! I often have these guys swing over first for an initial charge to tie up a deck of enemy units so that even if they eventually get routed they have softened up the enemy so I can charge with my other units. If you decide to keep their musketeers, they can also shoot at the enemy as you close within grappling distance. Of all the support units available, these are the best choice in my opinion due to the versatility of the unit, the low point cost, and equipment.
Golden Age Pirates Command Options
Golden Age Pirates have a wide plethora of commanders, some of which merit their own overview entirely. However, the Standard Pirate commander has some good merits, and I will highlight a few standouts briefly to help the newer sea rovers find a style that suits them most.
Standard Pirate Commander
The Standard Pirate Commander comes in 3 varieties: Untested, Experienced, and Seasoned, and increases their Command Range by 4”. This means that the Untested Commander is good for most size 2 ships, and the Experienced and Seasoned variants are good for size 3 ships. If you have a dream of running a Pirate Galleon or 6th rate (guilty!!!!), it is possible, but the Standard Commander can only give enough command points for up to 3 decks (assuming he spends a Command Point on his own unit). Each level up from Untested also allows you to add 1 Special Rule, a new system that allows you to kit out your Commander! While they cap out at 2 Command Points, this means that if you are running a Force dedicated to cannons, he can issue a command point to his unit and two others, capitalizing on the Broadside! Special Rule (which allows you to fire all your cannons at once, instead of rolling for each deck. This increases the chances of scoring Critical Hits!). If you are looking to be more about boarding,
Resilient (The commander gains a -1 bonus to Strike Tests) and Brawlers (The Commander’s unit gets to roll additional hits in melee combat when they roll a natural ten) are solid options. Commodore is good if you’re running lots of smaller vessels (as it increases the Commander’s Command Range by an additional 12” when using a Command Point on another ship in your Force!) as well. Lucky (If you spend a Fortune Point to reroll any dice and the result is worse than the original roll, the Fortune Point is not spent) is a solid choice for any list. The only rule that bottom tier here is Terror, but you can pretty much guarantee that your opponent will eb rolling those Turn 1 Fatigue Tests if you bring a musician.
Golden Age Pirates have a ton of named commanders open to them, but I’m only going to highlight a few. For more details, consult the Raise the Black! Rulebook.
Benjamin Hornigold: This commander is one of the few that has the Inspiring Special Rule, which is a useful tool for managing Fatigue. Hornigold excels at boarding, but is also a solid choice if you choose to run multiple smaller ships due to Commodore. If you plan on bringing several Bermuda Sloops, Balandras, or Barks, this is your guy.
Edward “Blackbeard Teach: I’ve written about him before, and he’s here because this is your go-to for brutal boarding actions. While 32 points is pricey for a commander, Blackbeard excels at close range boarding since any unit he tells to Shoot or Fight gets Ruthless, which is fantastic. In larger games or Scenarios with the Leader of Men Scenario Rule as an option, this is your boarding captain!
Black Caesar: Black Caesar is another fantastic commander. He is a mini Blackbeard, but comes with a blunderbuss for those close-in shooting actions as well as Hard Chargers to clean up afterwards. As a bonus, if you bring Blackbeard as your commander, Balck Caesar can be brought as a Fighting Man for only 5 points, and he is a solid addition to any unit he is with!
Stede Bonnet: Stede Bonnet is an inexpensive Commander and a hilarious personality. His combination of Motivated, Indomitable, and Resilient makes him a monster for only 15 points. His only drawback is that he’s best suited for a size 2 ship.
Jack Rackham: This 8 point terror brings a ton to the table. He has Felicitous, which means if you start a turn with 0 Fortune Points, you gain a single Point at no cost! While Terror is hit or miss, he doesn’t just bring these Special Rules, he brings two Characters to his Force in the form of Anne Bonny and Mary Read! Anne has Tough and Brawlers, while Mary has Battle Hardened and Brawlers. These three together make quite a Force!
Tips and Tricks for Golden Age Pirates
Golden Age pirates is a versatile Faction. They can run a competent Cannon Force, a “Hits like a truck after the first truck hit them” Boarding Force, or use their superior numbers to fire an insane amount of muskets. On land, they aren’t as good as Brethren of the Coast or as many of the 17th Century Buccaneering Factions simply because none of their units that can take muskets have the Marksmen or Fast Reload Special Rules. While the addition of Warrior Musketeers and African Warriors can surprise some players, you’re better off fighting at Sea or in an Amphibious Scenario.
Due to the low resolve rating of the basic Pirates unit, I have found great success in taking lots of Pirates with Fighting Men Characters (Found on Page 148 of Raise the Black! And Page 153 of No Peace Beyond the Line!) attached to them. If you take Blackbeard as a Commander, the 5pt Black Caesar turns an ordinary unit of Pirates into a force of nature! The Loyal Quartermaster and Scheming Quartermaster are also solid choices for Boarding Lists, as each confer the Hard Chargers Special Rule to whatever unit they join. A Grizzled Veteran or Son of Neptune is a good way to get Tough onto your units as well. A Musician and Standard Bearer, while expensive at 5 points and taking away up to 2 models’ weapons except for their melee weapons, will also give you more tools to manage Fatigue since Pirates have Resolve 6. If you choose to bring mainly the 4 basic Sailor units, this is less of an issue, but these same characters will enhance those units as well.
Due to the cheapness of the Pirates, the door opens up for several smaller ships even in regular sized games. Bringing a Bermuda Sloop or two against one larger ship is a solid strategy. In larger games, a bunch of Size 2 Ships can really be easy to take with a 3pt unit to man cannons or sails. While most of the smaller ships have to upgrade to provide hard cover, a commander with Commodore can coordinate between multiple ships with ease! Having 2-4 moving targets on the tabletop can seem intimidating, but is a great strategy and will shake up folks who aren’t accustomed to the challenge.
Dan-Approved Lists for Golden Age Pirates
The point of this list is to focus all your muskets on your opponent’s cannon deck. If facing swivel guns, focus on them and keep them suppressed.
Use your 8 swivels to soften up your opponent’s main deck. Once you get close hop off the swivels and board. The Grizzled Veteran and Son of Neptune will help manage fatigue as will Inspiring from the Musician. Put the Loyal Quartermaster with the Marins and keep them prone until it’s time to charge.
Here, make sure you put the 15 man group with the 6 Medium Guns on the Sloop and the Officer in the Tartanna. Use the Swivels and Medium Guns along with Broadside and Lucky to make those hits count. If you are the attacker, stay upwind against larger ships. If you are the defender (Preferred) sail up wind of facing a larger, square rigged, vessel and use your artillery to suppress cannon decks.
Buying Into Golden Age Pirates
Buying into Golden Age Pirates is a pretty easy task. Technically, all of your Core Units can be made from the Plastic Sailors Box! Each box comes with 12 Miniatures so there is an entire squad in the box for games up to 250 points! However, if you’d like to add some variety to your scurvy dogs, the older metal (and eventually SioCast) sailors will add a flair to your force and may help differentiate units from each other visually. For the Support Units, the European Sailors, Later Filibustiers, Jamaican Privateers, and Pressed Men can *also* all be made out of the Plastic Sailor Kit! All you need to do is arm the unit appropriately. The Later Filibustiers can also be made from the older Filibustiers models as well. For the African Warriors and Warrior Musketeers, there are metal/SioCast models available, but they can also be built out of the Plastic Native American Kit.
If you currently do not own any miniatures and are looking to get into the game, the 2 Player Blackbeard vs Maynard Starter Set is a fantastic way to get into the game! This box will give you 24 Sailors that can be assembled in any way just like the standalone kit, the exclusive Blackbeard and Maynard miniatures, two 18th Century Sloop kits that can be built as a Balandra or Bermuda Sloop, two activation decks, dice, a double sided game mat, tokens to track reloads and fatigue, cardboard punch-out terrain and templates, and a Core Rulebook! It’s a fantastic value! As far as ships go, the sky is the limit and the only thing that you are limited by is your budget, as the Golden Age Pirates can sail any craft.
Final Thoughts on the Golden Age Pirates
After 2 long years, Raise the Black! Has finally come to life and in just one faction has given us new tools to play around with. If you’re a veteran player, most of your 17th Century models will fit right in here. If you’re a new player looking to get into the game, the new plastic kits provide a playground of customizations for your very own pirate crew! As always, keep yer dice ready and the wind at yer back, yar har!
Article by Dan Carlson
Additional Reading Suggestions
Learn all about the Pirate Faction from No Peace Beyond the Line
Learn all about the original Brethren of the Coast Faction
Check out the preview of Blackbeard himself!
Find all the details on the new plastic sprues from the Raise the Black Kickstarter.
Listen to a discussion on the entire set of the Pirate factions in this Pirate Review video.