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 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 Balanced style of sea force in detail.
This article will be a very detailed look, covering the following topics:
- Basic Elements Needed
- Strengths & Weaknesses
- Strong Ship Choices
- Appropriate Factions
- Strong Commanders & Characters
- Example Forces
- How it relates to the core scenarios
Balanced Sea Force Overview
The idea behind this style of force is you use a little of everything instead of focusing on one particular tactic. You include elements in your force that can cover every situation, but cover those situations less “competently.” Also known as the Jack-of-All-Trades force. These can be some of the more difficult forces to manage at a high level. But, since they also don’t have one particular deadly weakness they are hard to counter.
From a historical standpoint, this style is probably the most realistic of the various sea tactics we’ve looked at in this series. Even while not as focused as most min/max lists, this can be a very effective build style just because it can reasonably handle any style of force it faces and the various scenarios.
Basic Elements for Balanced Sea Forces
To build your force, you need units to cover artillery, small arms, and boarding opportunities as necessary! This tactic usually includes:
- Some Cannons
- At least one solid boarding unit
- 1-2 units that can lay down small arms fire
- A Commander with fairly “generic” rules, or a good well-rounded set of rules.
- At least one deck of swivel guns
Strengths of Balanced Sea Forces
The main strength here is this style of list has no Achilles’ heel. There is nothing that this list should be totally “useless” at doing. You have the ability to react to a variety of enemy forces:
- Up against a small, weak ship? Hit it with Cannons!
- Up against a cannon ship, try to suppress the crew with small arms fire or board it.
- Facing a boarding list? Try to sail away while shooting with small arms and swivel guns.
- Up against a small arms ship trying to suppress your crew? Utilize your Inspiring Commander or Grizzled Veteran to keep the crew effective.
Weaknesses of Balanced Sea Forces
The main weakness of this style of list is that you can’t do any one thing really well. A Jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none(emphasis on “master-of-none“), can leave you at a disadvantage against specialists. If your enemy has a focused list, they can likely accomplish that tactic much better than you can. For example, if your enemy is focused on cannons, they’re likely doing that better than you can. Which means you will more than likely lose in a cannon duel. When facing a specialized force you don’t need to match it head on, you need to be able to make use of all your other tools to counter.
The other weakness is uncertainty about how to approach a game. With “all tactics” available, it can be hard to know where to start. It takes some experience with a list like this to know how to best use its various elements simultaneously. There can be some finesse required to know the “order of operations” for which elements to use at which point of the game and where/when to use the options available.
This style of list struggles at lower point games (150-250pts) because you spread your resources too thin. I find these forces tend to work a little better, or at least feel a little better, at higher point limits. At 300-400, you have enough points to do some of everything without feeling like you’re skimping too badly.
This last point isn’t a weakness of the list itself, but just an observation: newer players often build “well-rounded lists”, simply because it’s fun to have some of everything!
Strong Ship Choices for Balanced Sea Forces
Almost any ship can be used effectively in this force. Because available points are going to be tight, the main key is to not spend too much on features you aren’t going to use.
The new plastic sloop is pretty great but suffers from being a little small for some 200-point lists and being very fragile. That said, unless you really want the speed, the Balandra is a little tougher and cheaper, making it a bit for this style force.
A standard Sloop (not the 18th Century Bermuda/Balandra) is extremely flexible, inexpensive, and good for about anything, so they are an easy first choice. A sloop is cheap enough to play in games of 200pts or less but durable enough to play in 300pt games.
If you are playing a larger 400+ pt game, you will likely want a 3-deck ship for more space to place a variety of units (up to 6). For a 3 deck ship, it’s hard to beat the Light Frigate for speed and durability. It has a top speed of 5″ allowing it to keep up with smaller ships, but also has the hull integrity to take punches from bigger ships.
For more info on each of these ship types, check out our more detailed ship guides:
Tips & Tricks for Balanced Force Forces
- Know your force. With a little of everything, you need to know what each unit is supposed to do and work to get maximum value from each unit.
- Know the three basic sea tactics: cannons, boarding, and small arms. Know where you’re strongest and weakest among those three. And be familiar with the weaknesses of each to be able to exploit them in your enemy.
- Build in some overlap if possible. This can be done by using well-rounded units. For instance, your Enter Ploeg might be your devoted boarders, but if they get badly shot up, have another unit like Sea Dogs that can be at least competent to board if necessary.
- Well-rounded units that are good at least 3 things are a good choice. Examples:
- European Sailors units are all-around good at sailing, shooting, and artillery.
- Kapers can shoot muskets, have Artillery Crew allowing cannons, and Brawlers for boarding, and Expert Sailors for ship-focused actions.
- Zeelieden have Expert Artillery Crew for cannons, Hard Chargers for Boarding, Expert Sailors for sailing and can be upgraded to muskets if needed.
- Be willing to pivot your strategy mid game. If your small arms tactic isn’t working shift your focus over to artillery by favoring those units with Command Points. This list have flexibility and that has to be used to advantage.
- It can be better to invest in several low-cost characters rather than one central commander. An Officer and a Grizzled Veteran cost a combined 11 points and might be able to support a diverse build like this better than a single 10-15 point commander.
Strong Factions for Balanced Sea Forces
We’re mostly looking for factions that have several core unit options that can cover more than one major part of the game. You can make it work if you have core units that cover at least 2 of these roles really well: artillery, small arms, & boarding.
Honestly, there are a LOT of factions that work. The factions that can’t build this kind of force are actually more rare (e.g. the British/English Royal Navy). All the standard Buccaneer and Unaligned/Pirate factions are a good place to start. With Core sailors, snipers, and boarding party units, something like the English or French Buccaneers are perfect for this style of build.
Core & NPBtL Factions
- English Buccaneers
- French Buccaneers
- Brethren of the Coast
- Ostend Privateers
- Armada de Barlovento
- English Pirate Hunters
- French Royal Navy
- Dutch Privateers & Navy
- Portuguese-Brazilian Tercios & Militia
Strong Commanders & Characters for Balanced Sea Forces
Look for a commander with well-rounded abilities, or a generic ability that will always be useful to all like Inspiring. The new Standard Commanders from each nation are easy to use since you can cherry-pick the special ability that will be useful to you. There are many commanders that will fit the bill but there are a few that are good examples. You’re just looking for cheap commanders and characters that give you flexibility. Sometimes it can be very effective to get an Untested 0pt Commander and instead spend 10-20 points on Characters. This allows you to put the Command Points and Special Rules right where they need to be.
Low Cost (0-10pt)
- Standard Experienced Commanders w/Inspiring (Spanish/English/French/Dutch/Unaligned (10)
- “Calico” Jack Rackham (8)
- Richard Sawkins (10)
- Officer (8)
- Grizzled Veteran (3)
- Sharp-Eyed Lookout (4)
- Drummer Boy (4)
Medium Costs (11-20)
High Cost (21+)
- Black Ceasar (22)
- Diego the Mulatoo (30)
- Any 30pt Commander with 3 CP & Very Inspiring
- Mateo Perez de Garay (30)
- Pieter Schuyler (25)
- Abraham “Admiral Crimson” Crijnsen (30)
Examples of Balanced Sea Forces
Here are a couple of examples of 200 point balanced sea lists.
Using a flexible Sloop, this force has some decent cannon power, some swivel guns, great musketry, and the Flibibustiers and Marins to hit hard if it comes to boarding. This has a lower model count but can choose to either stay at range or come in closer for melee combat. The Lucky Commander can be attached to the Boucaniers as an 8th model. His Lead by Example rule should trigger that great Shoot skill on the Boucaniers. His Lucky ability can let you aggressively use Fortune Points to gain an advantage early in a game.
This force doesn’t have the best musketry, but it has some heavy-duty cannons, a really tough ship, and a good chance at avoiding the pirate’s Drunk rule through the Sharp-Eyed Lookout. A Frigate with 3 pairs of Medium Cannons, along with a decent boarding party and 15 Buccaneer Guns isn’t bad for 200 points!
Balanced Sea Forces and the 5 Core Scenarios
The 5 scenarios in the core rulebook are the most likely encounters at a tournament. Balanced Lists should be able to handle most of any of these with a decent level of competence. It’s almost more important to identify the style of list you are facing.
This should be a fine scenario for balanced lists. Ships start at a distance and will have to move closer if the defender is attempting to break out. Being the Attacker might be a slight advantage. There’s an objective that rewards destroying the opponent’s rigging, so that might be a good place to start with your cannons. High suitability.
This scenario requires the Attacker to take the enemy flagship. Being the Attacker is a big disadvantage here. If you’re up against a cannon ship, try to close fast, shoot your cannons at close range, then focus on boarding. If you’re up against a boarding ship, try to run away for a while a whittle them down before having to face a focused melee force. Medium Suitability.
Control the Field
This scenario encourages the Defender to fight their way upwind. The Attacker’s role is slightly easier here because they can set up last and have a good idea of where the defender needs to go. You should try to be the Attacker. Setup is very flexible. High suitability as Attacker, medium as Defender.
Take and Hold
Another “take the enemy ship” scenario. You start the game ready for a broadside. If you’re up against a cannon ship, go for the turn and board as soon as possible. If you’re up against a focused boarding list, try to get at least two shots off with any cannons you have before letting them grapple you. Much luck Raid. High Suitability.
Deploying facing each other with wind abeam, this isn’t that great of a setup for this style of force. The more swivels and small arms you have in the front of your ship, the better here. You’ll need to turn hard to get an early broadside off. If you’re tricky as the Attacker, you might be able to turn upwind, shoot off one broadside, then Wear out of the wind, firing the opposite broadside fairly quickly. Medium Suitability.
Additional Recommended Reading
- Building a competitive list focusing on Great Guns
- List building and tactics focusing on Fast Boarding
- How to focus on Small Arms in your list-building
- Trading Ships for Low Profile Boats
- Building a competitive list focusing on Swivel Mania
- Black Caesar’s Marauders – Sea Tournament List from Adepticon 2023