Small Arms – Blood & Plunder Sea Tactics Pt 3

There are many ways to build a force in Blood & Plunder. In this series, we’ve identified 6 different styles of forces people build for sea games and we’re going to look at each one individually. The 6 types for sea forces this series covers includes:

Each of these styles has specific strengths and weaknesses and some will be be stronger at different scenarios. In this article we will look at the Small Arms style of sea force in detail.

This will be a detailed look at this style of force building, covering:

  1. Basic Elements Needed
  2. Strengths & Weaknesses
  3. Strong Ship Choices
  4. Appropriate Factions
  5. Strong Commanders & Characters
  6. Example Forces
  7. How it relates to the core scenarios

Small Arms Forces

The “Small Arms Build” focuses on quick & accurate musketry (possibly mixed with some swivel guns) to suppress the enemy crew and deprive them of actions while whittling them down. These forces will focus on the Buccaneer style units with high musketry skills and try to keep at a medium range from their enemy most of the game. This style of force is more flexible than both the Big Cannons and the Fast Boarding styles since units usually have viable ranged and melee options and they don’t have to be assigned to cannons. But on the other hand, it’s one of the trickiest to actually succeed with since you have to manage your range carefully, deal with constant hard cover on enemy models, and build with high cost models.

Important elements needed in a Small Arms Build include:

  • Units with 6 or 5 base Shoot Skill
  • Units with Buccaneer Guns or Firelock Muskets
  • Units with the Fast Reload and/or Ball & Shot Special Rules
  • Access to rules that can increase musket accuracy like Ruthless, Drilled/Expertly Drilled, Marksmen and Deadeye
  • Ships with Fighting Tops
  • Usually smart to have a couple units competent at boarding

Small Arms Strengths

This is probably one of the easier forces to manage, but harder forces to win with in the current meta (in my opinion). But it can ve done well and it can be a lot of fun! Strengths of the Small Arms builds include flexibility, easy management of units and ships, and the ability to precisely target problem units in the enemy’s force.

Having units firing small arms means they aren’t assigned to cannons, meaning they can do anything needed at any time, including sailing tests, repairs tests, movement, dropping prone, etc. All these actions are a challenge for a dedicated cannon crew and the boarding crew is just praying it can get close enough to grapple without getting massacred.

With fewer reloads, and less restrictions on your actions, this force is just a little less demanding and technical to manage. There’s details that can be optimized, but there’s less room for dramatic failure with this tactic than there is with Big Cannons or Fast Boarding. Without worrying about lining up broadsides, you’re free to sail more defensively and still get off shots every turn. You don’t have to coordinating multiple decks of cannons either. Just keep those muskets firing quickly, optimizing ranges and targeting the units most dangerous to your force.

Although models can be more expensive, you can spend a higher proportion of your points on models if you aren’t buying cannons, artillery or fancy ship upgrades that might be more necessary in other styles of lists.

Small Arms Weaknesses

While this force is flexible and relatively easy to manage, the main challenge is producing enough hits to actually suppress and destroy units. Ranges are generally longer at sea and all models are getting cover, making sniping a little harder at sea than on land. In general, model cost is high in this style of build, making your force lower in model count and making each casualty painful. I would consider this style one of the weaker main approaches in the meta right now, but with smart play, it can be a very effective playstyle.

Strong Ships Choices for Small Arms Forces

You can kind of go any direction with ships in this force. If you go for a fast and maneuverable ship like the Sloop, Corvette, or Bermuda Sloop, you will have a good chance of keeping out of cannon arc and positioning yourself well. If you go for a big tall ship like a Galleon or Fluyt, you will benefit from an elevation advantage, making your musketry that much more deadly. With tiny boats, you can spread out your units, making them harder to suppress and much harder to hit with cannons. Canoa are great for this since they have Paddles, and Piraguas are a solid choice since they can sail so fast.

I would especially recommend the Sloop of War alt rig for the Brigantine model. You can add the Fighting Top for 2 points each and have some models up there, gaining an advantage for shooting down on the enemy’s decks while still keeping costs down and sailing 5″ downwind.

Tips & Tricks for Small Arms Forces

  • Bring the right weapons
    • Buccaneer Guns are the premier weapon for this kind of force build. With an extended range of 28″, these long guns can at least take potshots at nearly any point in the game. Heavy Matchlocks have an even further range of 32″ and they can be pretty good, but you’re less likely to get some of the other high value Special Rules attached to units with Heavy Matchlocks.
  • Shoot a lot!
    • Keep up a heavy barrage of fire. Make enemy units roll for Fatigue every turn! Fast Reload is a very helpful Special Rule that lets you keep initiative with that Spade, but still keep your units firing quickly. Avoid using too many Inexperienced units or units that get bogged down with rules like Poorly Equipped or Slow Reload.
  • Shoot to Destroy or Suppress?
    • These are two very distinct goals and require different approaches. Ideally you want to be able to do either, as needed. Shooting to kill means you want to buff your Shoot Skill with bonuses like Ruthless, Strict, Drilled, or Marksmen. Getting that shoot skill down to the lowest number possible means the target units with start to really take casualties. Shooting to suppress requires shooting more often (trigging more Fatigue tests), and can benefit from rules like Expertly Drilled that triggers a more difficult Fatigue tests. Even a rule like Terror at the beginning of a game can do a lot to support this tactic. You want to suppress cannon crews so they can’t keep up their fire and to force them to go prone which goofs up their entire process. You want to destroy units with high value characters like strong commanders or that hated Master Gunner.
  • Professionals are Good
    • The new professional Soldier units released in Raise the Black (Soldados Reformados, Regulars, Fusiliers, Latere Soldaten and European Regulars) that have both Fast Reload & Expertly Drilled can fill both of these goals (if managed carefully). If you want to shoot to destroy, doubling down on those bonuses and using large units can be very effective. The best way to double dip into these rules is using Command Points. Usually, if you take a Dedicated Action, Drilled for example, you can’t take any Free Actions (Fast Reload for example). But with a Commander or Officer, you can use that flexible Command Point to trigger the extra Fatigue die from Expertly Drilled and still trigger the free reload off Fast Reload. If activated on a Spade, you can accomplish any combination or Reload, Free Reload, and Shoot with a Command Point, resulting in an entire shooting cycle and applying the extra Fatigue from Expertly Drilled. They also have great melee stats and socket bayonets so they can defend and attack when needed.
  • Overkill Works Really Well!
    • If you score more hits than there are models in the unit, you’re basically deleting the unit (since you can’t roll more saves than you have models).
  • Sail Defensively
    • If you’re up against a Big Cannon List, try to dodge that cannon arch as much as possible, letting yourself into a danger zone only if you’ve suppressed that cannon crew. The orientation of your ship is less important since you can shoot your long arms off any edge of your ship.
  • Use a Mix of Units
    • Even within a force like the English Buccaneers, feel free to use a mix of units. It’s not always great to have all Freebooters. Mix some cheaper models like English Militia in there just to boost numbers and take some hits for your more expensive models.
  • Natives Use Poisoned Arrows
    • Throwing a million poisoned arrows at a ship’s crew is a surprisingly effective way control the game. Shot a lot, watch their Resolve crumble into the sea. Board and break heads. Job done.
  • Don’t be afraid to grapple and board if you’ve suppressed the enemy.
    • If youi’ve killed a unit or two and applied some solid Fatigue, board that enemy ship! Nothing decides a game quicker than a melee! If your enemy is prone or has 2 fatigue on most units, sieze the moment and board!

Strong Factions for Small Arms Forces

The 17th century buccaneering factions found in the Core rulebook and No Peace Beyond the Line are going to be some of the go-to factions for this style of play. The French are particularly good at this play style with solid shooting units in several factions.

The common thread here for me is these factions either have core unit access to 1) accurate units like Boucaniers and Freebooters, 2) cheap musket units like Jamaican Privateers, Pirates, or European Sailors, or 3) core access to regular troops like Fusiliers, Regulars, or Soldados Reformados.

Strong Commanders & Characters for Small Arms Forces

Commanders with rules that can buff shoot numbers will be strong. Rules to look for include Ruthless, Strict, Buccaneer Commander, Drilled, Expertly Drilled, Cold Blooded and Terror.

Low Cost (0-10pt)

  • Untested French Buccaneer Commander (0)
  • Any Nation’s Experienced Standard Commander (10)
  • Sharpshooter Character (4)
  • William, Miskito Striker (3)
  • Bartholomew Sharp (7)

Medium Cost (11-20

  • King Oldman (20)
  • Any Nation’s Seasoned Standard Commander (20)
  • Experienced French Buccaneer Commander (15)
  • Kancamagus (18)
  • Charvles Vane (18)

High Cost (21+)

  • Bartholomew Sharp (27)
  • Captain Daniel (25)
  • Adriaen Claver (25)
  • Samuel Mosely (27)
Blood & Plunder Natives with a Captured Merchant mini

Examples of Small Arms Sea Forces

These are necessarily top tier tournament lists, but they are examples of lists built around Small Arms.

Captain Daniel’s Buccaneer Canadiens

This French Privateers force leverage Captain Daniel’s Buccaneer Tactics Special Rule to give those cheap Milice Canadienne the Fast Reload and Marksmen abilities to increase their efficiency that much more. Unfortunately you can’t take Boucaniers while using the Canadians as core units. This force uses the fast Sloop of War with a Fighting Top for some elevation. The Fortitude of the Sloop of War will help you hold up against a Great Guns force, and you can put the Bravces with their 6 Shoot save up front to absorb and shake off hits from forces like Swivel Mania. The Anti-Grappling Devices will help you stop a boarding list, as the fight skill on Canadian Militia is terrible.

The Officer and Grizzled Veteran characters can help you use that Marksmen bonus a little more often, and keep units with sub-bar Resolve free of excessive Fatigue. Captain Daniel should be attached to the largest unit of Milice Canadienne to increase the likelihood of Lead By Example triggering.

Brethren of the Coast Small Arms Canoes

This is a high cost list for only 28 models, but they are all Marksmen, and the Boucaniers are upgraded to Veterans. The units are spread out into 4 Canoes so you don’t have to man Sweeps or manage sails. You aren’t fast, but you can entirely focus on loading and shooting. The Experienced Commander could choose the Inspiring rule for a support role, or go for more blood with the Strict rule to really boost those shoot skill tests. Bartholomew Sharp as a character provides and extra action and the Ruthless rule to one unit. Attaching him to the Boucaniers and combining Ruthless with Marksmen can get their base shoot number down to 3. The Sharpshooter goes on the Kapers to make them into a slightly discounted Freebooter.

This list is a bit heavy on characters, but each brings something useful to the table.

Small Arms and the 5 Core Scenarios

The 5 scenarios found in the core rulebook are still the most likely to see in use at a tournament. The Small Arms isn’t the strongest force style, but it does benefit from having flexibility and therefore it can jump into any scenario without too much trouble.

  1. Breakthrough – This scenario can require some tricky sailing to do well as Attacker or Defender. As Attacker you need to corner the Defender and as Defender you need to be able to sail upwind. This makes Small Arms forces like Buccaneers and Pirates solid choices. One of the Objectives rewards damaging rigging which this style of Force can’t really do unless it squeezes in some cannons. Solid suitability with a flexible force, but the Rigging objective brings it down to Medium Suitability.
  2. Raid – This scenario only rewards you for taking the enemy’s flagship. That goal isn’t particularly great for a small arms list, but if you learn a little towards melee by bringing some multipurpose units like Freebooters/Flibustiers, you can shoot quickly as the ships close, then board. Not a great scenario for Small Arms.
  3. Control the Field – This scenario rewards controlling the weather gauge which is suitable for the flexibility that comes with the Small Arms style.
  4. Take and Hold – This scenario has an immediate end game effect if a flagship is captured. Like Raid, you might want to make sure you have some units are solid in melee. Ships start out parallel which sets up both the Big Guns and Fast Boarding lists for strong early turns, so be ready to dodge the appropriate direction to avoid getting punched by cannons or grenades! Use your first volley to try to slow down the most dangerous unit coming at you, be that the crew of the main deck of cannons, or the boarding party coming straight at you. Medium Suitability
  5. Encounter – Starting with ships facing each other, the Fast Boarding enemy ship will be a danger to you, but with some tricky sailing, this can be a decent scenario for Small Arms. There are no extra objectives in this scenario, so just shoot away and play smart! Medium Suitability.

Article by Joseph Fors

Additional Content Suggestions

Watch for an overview of the several primary styles of sea forces currently in Blood & Plunder coming soon.

4 thoughts on “Small Arms – Blood & Plunder Sea Tactics Pt 3

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