Low Profile Boats – Blood & Plunder Sea Tactics Pt 4

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. In this article, we’re going to look at using small, low-profile boats. The 6 types of sea forces this series covers include:

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

This will be a very detailed look, 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

Low Profile Boats Forces

In a sea meta where cannons are strong, a fleet of Boats might be the great anti-meta choice. Up to this point in Blood & Plunders history boats have been more of a liability in the 200-point game space, only succeeding at times because of skillful play, lack of experience fighting them, or leaning on the Piragua’s four swivel guns. This new relevance is a return for Boats, because when the game came out they were very hard to hit with cannons reliably.

The big new change to Boat’s status comes completely from the Low Profile ship trait and how it interacts with the new cannon rules. Low Profile (4) adds +4 to hit on the initial cannon dice. This is in addition to the base score of 4, meaning that point-blank cannons at 0” to 8” still need an 8+ to hit. It’s still very bad when the cannon hits, however most boat strategies at 200 points use multiple boats to mitigate this.

Basic Elements for Low Profile Boats Force

A boat force is unique among the 6 Sea Force types because it is defined by having boats instead of how the list tries to win. Because of this, a typical boat list will also be a Quick Boarding force, a Small Arms force, or Piragua Swivel Force, or a mix of all three.

Important Elements needed in a Boat Build include:

  • Swarm of 3+ boats.
  • Each boat should be relatively equally invested, except for the Command boat.
  • Half or more of the units need to be able to shoot Swivels, Muskets, or Poison Arrows.
  • Have models with a 6 Shoot Save or have 36+ models.
  • Decide during list building to Paddle, use Sweeps, or use wind for Piraguas. All boats should move at the same speed, as even a 1″ difference will can that boat out of the game.
  • Use the Canoe Assault Expert Character (Raise the Black) if playing as Native Americans.

Low Profile Boats – Strengths

In addition to Low Profile, boat lists usually rely on swarm tactics to devalue large attacks. Concentrated fire, such as a 5 cannon broadside or 4 swivels, may cause one Canoa to become Shaken, but the others will be unaffected. Spreading shot to different boat targets is also a poor choice for the opponent, as it makes it easier to recover.

The exception to boat swarm tactics is the Piragua. These boats are fast when moving under sails, maneuverable, and can be armed with 4 Swivel Guns. This boat can be the centerpiece of a Canoa swarm, or in a flotilla of 2 to 3 Piraguas. A fully armed Piragua with 10 sailor models and 4 Swivel Guns is 53 points however, more than a fourth of the list, and requires even more points if you want it to stay operational the entire game.

A boat force can also be hard for an opponent to evaluate what it can do or where it might go.  A boat using sweeps can move as little as 1″, or up to 3″ backward when it needs to move. Canoas and Piraguas can also start a turn from anywhere along their hull. This can make these two ships act as if they skip across the water, and put them in boarding range unexpectedly.

Low Profile Boats – Weaknesses

Boat lists will lose a prolonged small arm fight against a similarly outfitted small arms ship. This is because boats do not grant Hard Cover. This 10% difference will lead to you suffering more casualties due to attritition. For this reason, most boat lists want to board sooner rather than later. 

Canoas and Longboats are also slow when in use by a faction that does not specialize in them. A skilled ship player can keep at the 16-24” range the entire game against boats.

In a 200-point game the boat player will usually have more units, letting the ship player use their last move first. This will consistently keep the Ship out of range of the boats.

Boats are also susceptible to ramming, though this can also be a double-edged sword. To ram a boat and damage it, and possibly kill models, the keel or front (or stern/back) of the ship has to make contact with the boat. This can be devastating, as models can just fall out of the boat, and 3+ deck ships can even prompt a Critical Hit. However, most boats want to board and have an equally invested force, so a poorly planned ram can play into the boat players list as they are now closer to being Grappled.

Strong Ship Choices for Low Profile Boat Forces

This style of force is limited to boats by its very nature! But not all boats are created equal. There are currently 4 different boats available in Blood & Plunder:

  • Piragua – Great Flagship for this style of list.
  • Canoa – The cheapest boat and comes with paddles
  • Longboat – The third type of boat, good for Native Americans as the command longboat (since Native Factions grant the valuable Paddles trait).
  • Birchbark Canoe – Uses the same rules as the dugout Canoa, but has a larger model capacity

Tips & Tricks for Low Profile Boats Forces

Boats have their own set of eccentricities and dangers (and opportunities).

  • Do all you can to avoid getting rammed by a larger ship! You’ll take damage and potentially lose many models which is brutal.
  • Don’t forget you can row/paddle backwards.
  • Canoes and Piraguas are especially manouverable since they don’t have a fixed turning point like 2 deck ships and the Longboat. You get to choose where you turn from, meaning you can push yourself forward, or turn really quickly by measuring from the front or back of your boat.
  • For most forces, the Canoa is a better boat than the Longboat, just because it has the Paddles trait (meaning it can move 3″ forward or back every turn without sails or manning the Sweeps). The Longboat has a little more capacity, but that’s usually not an issue.
  • Try to evenly spread your units into several boats. If you put all your expensive units into one boat, that will become the clear target, but if each canoe/boat is equally dangerous, you can’t lose too much of your force to one lucky cannon shot, or one super deadly Swivel Gun volley.
  • Don’t forget that grappling a ship from a boat won’t stop it from moving or even slow it down. Boats are so small, the ship will continue to move as normal.
  • Sailing a fleet of boats actually takes some skill. You want to keep them close enough that you can still use Command Points well and half your fleet won’t be out of action for half the game if your enemy chooses to run one way or the other.
  • If you’re using Paddles or Sweeps, you can ignore the wind. Or at least use it to your advantage. It can open up new tactics and new opportunities that will confound your enemy if they’re at the mercy of the wind direction and speed.
  • If your enemy just tries to run from you with superior speed, there’s a mean little trick you can use (if you’re allowing scrolling of the mat). Sail your least valuable boat towards the other side, achoring the board so it can’t be scrolled and allow him to continue to run from your school of piranha boats. The rules actually specify if one player needs to scroll the board and that would knock the other player off the board, the “runner’s” ship immediately hits an unseen hazard and becomes grounded. Don’t let the cowardly tactic ruin the game!
  • Piraguas are a really good little ship. With 5″ speed with sails and that Low Profile trait, and space for 4 Swivels, they’re are very effective. Zoom zoom!
  • Be careful of how you approach a larger ship to board. You may have to Climb to actually get into the ship since boats are so low. Make sure you have your Commander ready to give that Command Point for the Dedicated Climb action so you don’t come up short after grappling.
  • You don’t necessarily have to have your entire fleet of boats catch your target ship, just one of them. Once the lead boat has grappled the target you can then grapple your own boat and take Move actions from your boat to another boat to the ship.
  • The “Ship’s Boat” trait can open up some interesting possibilities. This rule lets you split a large unit between two boats. It’s a little wonky, but one thing it does accomplish, is expand your opportunities to grapple. The boats clearly have to stay closer to each other for the unit to stay cohesive, but it does expand the arch of grappling possibilities. It’s been ruled that if one boat grapples a ship, both boats will become grappled at once.
  • You can also do fun little tricks by grappling to your own boats. If you’re able to get one of your boats grappled to an enemy ship, then you can grapple on to your own boat, making a little “path of boats” which might be quicker and easier to move through than actually grappling the enemy ship again.
  • Boat models are considerably cheaper (in actual money) than ships, but since you need several, it’s not necessarily always cheaper in the long term.

Strong Factions for Low Profile Boats Forces

Some factions in Blood & Plunder are especially appropriate to this style of force because of other bonuses they have. The Guarda Costas and Spanish Corsairs have a bonus to the Sweeps value of all boats/ships. Other forces (Expeditionary Forces, Black Caribs etc) are limited to size 1 ships (e.g. boats). And some factions aren’t necessarily better at using boats, but are indirectly forced to because they don’t have any units with the Sailors Special Rule, making larger ships impractical.

  • Guarda Costas (18th Century)
  • Juan Corso’s Corsairs
  • Spanish Corsairs
  • British Raiders
  • French Raiders
  • Chasseurs
  • French Expeditionary Forces
  • Miskito Zambo
  • Black Caribs
  • Maroons
  • Most Native American Factions

Low Profile Boat Forces Example Lists

Miskito Zambo Canoe Swarm

This is a simple canoa swarm using Warrior Musketeers with Poorly Equipped. Although this unit type does not have any melee abilities (unless you count Hard Chargers from the commander’ Expert Ambushers), the 44 models will outnumber most 200 point lists.

Dutch Piragua Super Swivels

As I stated earlier, arming a Piragua with four swivels and a enough crew to man them can be a good damage source. This simple list uses three of these Piraguas and a commander with Broadside to throw 36 swivel dice a turn.

Westo Burpees

Native American factions in Fire on the Frontier and Rise the Black can go prone when they are shot at, and get half of the prone bonus for that attack. This is a good strategy on boats, as long as your units have the actions to stand up later. This simple list is all Veterans and includes a Expert Scout to frustrate your opponents shoot actions while laying on accurate shots.

South American Poison

This is a nasty force to play against. Poisoned Arrows are very strong for laying down Fatigue. This list is designed to drop lots of arrows into the enemy ship, suppressing the strongest enemy units and hopefully totally shutting down all cannons. The Officer and Commander can trigger additional volleys on any of the units so you don’t generate too much Fatigue on your own units.

South Sea English Buccaneers

Using some of the commanders and characters from the Buccaneer’s Companion, this list uses one Piragua full of Swivel Guns along with 3 canoes of small arms. It’s not the strongest force in the world, but it’s realistic and a lot of fun!

The Unknown African is great on any of the units, but especially good on the Sea Dogs on the Piragua’s Swivel Guns. Push every turn if you want! Bartholomew Sharp is a great upgrade to the Boucaniers since he gives them an extra action and the Ruthless Special Rules, potentially bringing their base shoot down to 4!

Low Profile Boat Forces & the 5 Core Scenarios

  • Breakthrough
    • This is a decent scenario for boats, for both Attacking and Defending. As the Attacker fan out ahead of the direction that your opponent deployed their flagship, and close the distance to try boarding. When Defending, use Canoa as a screen to keep the Attacker 12” away from the Flag boat at the end of turn 3. It is also important to remember that boats under Sweeps or Paddles can do 3 point turns.
  • Raid
    • The sea version of Raid can be challenging for boats, because at its heart this scenario wants to be a chase, but because the Scenario only awards Strike Points at the end of turn 6 it plays like a slugging match. For Attacking, be aggressive in deployment and movement, but don’t let the flotilla get too spread out. For defending, use Sweeps or Paddles to go against the wind, and go on the Attack.
  • Control the Field
    • Everything written about Raid-Sea is true about this Scenario because they play almost the same: only awarding Strike Points at the game’s end.
  • Take and Hold
    • The deployment of Take and Hold is the chief interesting thing about this scenario, and the thing that makes it stand out from Raid/Control the Field. While this deployment does not outright favor boats, remember that the whole board edge is the deployment zone, so slower boats can be placed down wind. This Scenario can also be dangerous when playing boats and boarding with the command boat. An enterprising opponent can grapple the empty boat and win instantly.
  • Encounter
    • Encounter’s deployment is similar to Take and Hold, but you are restricted to 16” in the center of the board. Other than that this plays similar to Raid.


Using your boats as the core of your sea force really changes up the game. It’s not for everyone, but Benerson Little is fond of saying the lowly canoe was really one of the most common pirate vessels during this era! You forfeit a lot (cannons, hard cover, height, safety from ramming), but there are trade offs as well that balance it out! If you enemy invests half their force in cannons and crew, using boats will reduce their efficiency by a huge margin! You can also largely ignore the wind and move your boats in unexpected ways.

It’s a lot of fun, and you can employ several different tactics with boats, allowing for lots of variability and enjoyment!

Article by Guy Rheuark & Joseph Forster

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