In this article we will look at how Sweeps work in Blood & Plunder, what ships can use them, what factions they work best for, and if they are good or not.
Sailing is a huge part of playing Blood & Plunder at sea. Raising and lowering sails, tacking, wearing, and box hauling. These are all exciting parts of managing your ship in a game of Blood & Plunder. But there is another way! You can row your ship or boat using the Sweeps!
What Are Sweeps in Blood & Plunder?
Sweeps are oars! Many ships and boats in Blood & Plunder have the “Sweeps” ship trait, or they can be upgraded for a point or two, to gain the Sweeps trait. Each ship has a Sweeps value, ranging between Sweeps 2 to Sweeps 4, and there are possible modifications to that number.
Sweeps require men to man them to function. While manned, the Sweeps let you move around the board at or up to your Sweeps value, regardless of wind. This can be a big game changer to not be at the mercy of the wind. But it does come with both rewards and meaningful costs.
How To Use Sweeps in Blood & Plunder
To use the oars or Sweeps, you basically need a decently sized unit assigned to the oars on the middlemost deck. Here are all the specific requirements (pg 84 of the original & revised rulebooks):
- Your ship’s sail setting must be at 0″.
- A unit must be assigned to the sweeps in the “middlemost” section of your ship. This would be middle deck of a 3 deck ship, or the main deck of a ship like the Bark or Sloop.
- The unit must have at least 2 models per deck of your ship to move at the full Sweeps value for your ship. If you have less than 2 models per deck, but at least 1 model deck, you can move at half its Sweeps value. If you have less models than decks, you cannot row at all.
While your Sweeps have a qualified unit assigned, you may move the standard 3 times per turn, with some modifications to normal movement.
Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of using Sweeps on your ship.
Benefits of Using Sweeps
The main benefit of using Sweeps is increased maneuverability and reliability. If you’re using your oars, you don’t have to consider the wind at all. Wind strength, gusts, lulls, and changes in wind direction don’t affect you at all. You can just punt around the board without worrying about any of those things! You don’t have to fuss with raising or lowering sail, or even advanced maneuvers!
Speaking of advanced maneuvers, you can basically do them all for free!
- You can ignore the wind
- You can move backward (up to 3″) while under oar power.
- You can “tack” or “wear” without any effort at all because your ship is ignoring the wind!
- Your ship can also slow down or speed up at will instead of being forced to move your full sail setting every move. There is a minimum of 1″ per move required while using Sweeps, or you’ll drift.
- Unpredictability which is huge! While under sail power, your opponent can make reasonable guesses as to where you will be moving. While under Sweeps power, you can be very unpredictable and change courses on a dime. Speaking from experience, it can be pretty frustrating to fight against!
Drawbacks to Using Sweeps
So all that makes Sweeps sound pretty good. What’s the catch?
- Cost. Some ships come with Sweeps for free or it may only cost 1-2 points, but the real cost is in the unit manning the sweeps. Even a Sloop needs a minimum of 4 men on those Sweeps. That’s going to cost you at least 12 points (about the cost of the ship itself).
- Fragility. If you start taking casualties, things can go bad. If your unit on the Sweeps gets 3+ Fatigue and becomes Shaken, all of a sudden you’re dead in the water. That can be disastrous. If you take enough casualties where you can’t fully man the Sweeps, your speed is either going to get cut in half, or drop off all together. Again, not good.
- Reduced Speed. Most ships have a Sweeps value of about 1″ less than their top sail setting. Some are even slower than that. A Bark for example, has a top sail setting of 4′ but even if you pay the 1 point for Sweeps, you have a top speed of 2″. Not great.
Are Sweeps Good? Or Bad?
Yes. They are good… and bad. It really depends on how you use them and, most importantly, what ship you use them on. Let’s look at some of the boats and ships that can use Sweeps in Blood & Plunder
Good Ships for Using Sweeps
Some ships are very functional and enjoyable under oar power, some are less so. Most ships have the Sweeps 2 trait which can be too slow to be useful. All the Sloops, Brigantines, and even the Bark have Sweeps 2. Even the massive 6th Rate Frigate can purchase a Sweeps 2 upgrade.
All the size 1 Ships, called Boats in Blood & Plunder, have a Sweeps value of 4″. That’s fast and maneuverable, and you only need 2 models to row, so it’s pretty cheap and easy. On the flip side, you can only have 2 units in your whole boat, so that’s some lost opportunity.
The Piragua is unique in that it has the Galley 4 rule instead of the Sweeps trait. This is just an upgraded version of Sweeps that allows you to row while your sails are set, and you can basically use whichever “power” is more advantageous at the moment (but you have to move at least as fast as the sails would move you).
It’s not a big ship, but the Tartana is one of the faster ships under Sweeps power. Sweeps 3 is a 2-point upgrade for the Tartana. At 3″, it can keep up and compete with most ships if it can force the enemy to work against the wind.
The Corvette is an odd duck, but it does really well under Sweeps power. The Firelock Corvette is a MDF kit so it’s not super popular which is unfortunate. Because it’s a really fun ship! Part of what makes it unique is the Sweeps 3 ship trait. Moving 3″ isn’t super fast, but if you can reliably move 3″ in ways that are difficult for a ship under sail power to respond to, it can be enough. The Corvette also has the advantage of having the Sweeps: 3 trait for free (its not an optional upgrade).
For those who think outside of the box, here’s a fun idea… Corvettes have the option to mount Chaser Cannons on the Rear Deck. Sweeps allow you to travel backward, which means you can use your rear Chaser guns while closing on your opponent to board.
Good Nations & Factions for Using Ships with Sweeps
There are a couple of factions that stand out as the best choices for using Sweeps on your ships. First, the Spanish Corsairs faction from No Peace Beyond the Line is great because its faction rules give a 1″ bonus to all ships moving under Sweeps power. This is a big game-changer!
That means all those ships that are usually kind of out of the question are worth considering again. And those top choices are not great choices. A Corvette moving 4″ every move under Sweeps power is really fun. The craziest option is moving 5″ with Sweeps in the Piragua. That’s fast, and it’s cheap!
The new version of the Spanish Guarda Costas in Raise the Black gets this same rule. RtB Guarda Costas is a great faction! Lots of fun options.
Pressed Men as Sweeps Crew
Any faction with the option to take Pressed Men is also decent for using Sweeps, just because you can have cheap rowers! That unit cost is real, and having access to 2 points models helps mitigate that cost. Most of the Pirate factions like Brethren of the Coast, Pirates, Golden Age Pirates, and The Flying Gang have access to Pressed Men as a Support Unit.
Use Militia as Sweeps Crew
It’s a cost in and of itself to use your Support slots for rowers, but at least it’s cheap. You can also do the same thing with some of the Militia factions that have Militia Artillery Crew style models as Support units, but their unit options will be less strong at sea. If needed you can abandon Sweeps and take a shot at the crew on deck.
In general, it can be smart to run a faction that wants to board if you’re going to use Sweeps. As long as you aren’t chasing a fast ship that has the luxury of running from you while sailing large, you should be able to catch up to them pretty well, and you can be very maneuverable on your approach. Finally, if you board, you can pop your rowers off their oars and use them as a melee unit, getting a lot more value out of that unit than merely powering your ship.
Scenarios that Favor Sweeps
There are a few scenarios in Blood & Plunder that using Sweeps in will be a particularly good choice. The Listless scenario in Raise the Black is the most obvious choice. The wind starts at -3″ which makes moving under sail power painfully slow. But imagine your enemy’s dismay when you come with a ship equipped with oars and rowers! All of the sudden you’re moving at about 3x time their speed. You can set up a raking shot with that kind of advantage!
Any scenario that forces a player to start with their ship to windward, or pushes a player to sail upwind will be heavily effected by Sweeps being present.
- Breakthrough as Defender
- Control the Field as Defender
- Escort (NPBtL)
- Anchored (RtB)
- Listless (RtB)
Closely related to the Sweeps ship trait is the Paddles trait. Paddles are closely tied to the Native factions (and a couple pseudo-Native factions like Black Caribs), but it is also present on the Canoa.
A unit does not need to be assigned to the Sweeps in order to move this boat with oars. It may always move at its Sweeps value – 1” as long as there are enough models on the boat to satisfy the requirements. If a unit is assigned to the Sweeps, the boat may move its full Sweeps value.
Now we’ve already discussed the two weaknesses of Sweeps: speed and the cost of the unit to man them. Paddles add an additional -1″ penalty to speed, but it removes the cost of having a unit assigned to the oars. This is primarily useful for Piraguas, Canoas, and Longboats with the Sweeps 4 trait. This is not really an issue since most Native factions can’t take size 2+ ships anyway.
If you’re relying on Paddles in your Native forces, make sure to check out the Cano Assault Expert Character in Raise the Black. His bonus removes the Paddles penalty: When a ship in this Force moves under Paddles within this model’s Command Range, the boat may ignore the 1″ movement penalty for using Paddles.
The Canoa has the Paddles trait even when used by other factions, often making it a better choice than the Longboat, even for European factions. Being able to move 3″ every move, even against the wind, without any units devoted to that movement is actually pretty good. Canoes were commonly used by Pirates and Buccaneers, and the Paddles trait makes them a fun and affordable option in Blood & Plunder.
Strategies for Attacking With Sweeps
- Deployment can make or break you in a sea game. If you can win the Attacker role, it forces the Defender to place their ship first. That allows you to place your ships in a position downwind to better intercept ships that try to run. And if they turn windward they are slower.
- Depending on your target’s ship, you might consider attacking it’s rigging rather than the crew to try to slow the enemy down and make it easier to close. A Lucky Hit or Critical Hit can lead to the 1″ Speed difference you need.
- Consider splitting your forces. This makes it harder for a single enemy ship to be able to run because they risk being able to turn away as easily.
- Move to Intercept rather than chase your target. Too often new players want to move straight at or follow behind an enemy ship. Get in front of it or move toward where the Ship is likely to be in a turn or 2, not where it currently is.
- Take enough extra crew in the unit manning the Sweeps to take a couple of casualties so you don’t stall out.
- Keep your Fatigue managed and Rally BEFORE you get Shaken.
Strategies for Defending Against Sweeps
- Most force builds with Sweeps tend to focus on boarding. If you have the option, the easiest defense is simply to run away. Defending yourself just involves putting the wind at your back and sailing away from the slower ships.
- Ramming is typically not a good idea in Blood & Plunder. It hurts you as much or more than your target. Boats, however, are HIGHLY susceptible to damage from ramming. They take double the normal damage and all units aboard have to make a 5+ save or be thrown overboard resulting in instant casualties.
- Anti-Grappling Measures are a new ship upgrade available in the Raise the Black expansion. They make it 20% harder for your opponent to grapple your ship and therefore harder for them to board you.
- Concentrate your shots on one boat at a time. If you can inflict enough fatigue to shake the unit manning the Sweeps that ship has a Move 0 until they Rally. That gives you a huge edge if you are already running away. In fact, they may never be able to ever catch up to you for the rest of the game.
- Use Small Arms or Swivels over Cannons. Boats have the Low Profile attribute which gives them a strong defense against cannons.
- Explosives, especially Fire Pots, can be devastating to Boats. Since they have only a single Deck, if the fire spreads at the end of the round or they suffer two Fire token hits the boat is destroyed.
Sweeps are a fun little corner of the rules in Blood & Plunder that can be easy to overlook. They can open up some fun new possibilities in your sea games.
At the time of this article’s release, the 2023 Summer of Plunder campaign is currently ongoing and our objective of the week is “Doldrums: play a sea game with the wind speed starting at -2.” This is a perfect time to try using Sweeps! Get your men on those oars and line up those raking shots with ease as your opponent flounders with limp sails!
The reliability, flexibility, and maneuverability of Sweeps make them a worthwhile tactic to explore in your sea games of Blood & Plunder.
Article by Joseph Forster
Additional Recommended Reading
- A Corsican Vendetta — Against the Pirates of the Caribbean! – Blog post from Benerson Little featuring Spanish Corsairs and images of ships and boats using Sweeps.
- Fast Boarding – Blood & Plunder Sea Force Building Pt 2
- Small Arms – Blood & Plunder Sea Force Building Pt 3
- Low Profile Boats – Blood & Plunder Sea Force Building Pt 4
- Check out an entire article on ways to use Fortune Points in Blood & Plunder
- Piragua– Possibly the best boat to use with the Sweeps ability
- Canoas – a staple for the Natives, but also a great boarding boat for any other faction
- Longboats – better-carrying capacity than the Canoa, it also allows you to use a Sail Setting of 3″
- Tartana – A fast, light ship with Sweeps 3″.
- Corvette – It has Sweeps 3″, Rear Chaser Guns, and a troop capacity of 27 for boarding.