Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pirates of the Spanish Main CSG with a twist

The Florida Keys are not known as a gaming mecca.  For gaming action, I have to drive over sixty miles (round trip) up to Miami to either a friends house or my FSLGS (friendly semi-local gaming store).  But occasionally I can bribe friends and neighbors with beer and food to humor me and try one of my "strange little games".  Fortunately some of my piratey titles have been a bit of a hit, especially the easy to learn/hard to master Pirates of the Spanish Main CSG.

We've played countless games over the last two years.  With my full collection of the first three sets, we've been able to field as many as eight players at once.  With so many ships, each game was different from the last but I could tell the sessions were getting a bit stale for my non-gamer friends.  So on this particular occasion, I decided to mix things up a bit and try a new scenario. 

I have always been fascinated and obsessed with the story of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Spanish treasure fleets.  I've read, and re-read numerous accounts of the doomed flotilla over the years and really wanted to create a  scenario with the same feel and theme.  So I created a board based loosely on the geography of the route used by the fleets as they left Cuba and skirted the islands and reefs of Florida.  I decided to force the fleet to pass through a few choke points in the same way the Spanish fleets of old were forced to ride the Florida Current between the dangerous reefs of the Bahamas and the Florida Keys (this would also provide interesting game play).  I toyed with the addition of currents and storms but thought better of it for the first attempt.  Of course the game would not be interesting without pirates and privateers hoping to catch a lucrative treasure galleon so they were added the scenario.

Myself and another experienced player took on the role of the Spanish flotilla.  We were each given three two-masted vessels to serve as guard ships but did not allow any of their special abilities.  To give us a fighting chance however, we designated each of the two cannons on board the vessels as strength 2 with long range (red measurement).  We would need that fire power to protect our 9 galleons from no less than four enemy squadrons placed around the edges of the table.  Our objective was simple.  To win the game we would need to escort the treasure ships through the islands and around the reefs and exit the table between the Spanish forts on the far side.  At least four of the galleons had to survive the voyage for victory.

Each of the four enemy players were given two large five-masted vessels and were able to use any special abilities available to those ships, though no crew was allowed.  Their orders were to pick off as many Spanish galleons as possible to enrich themselves and their respective countries.  Between the four factions, all they had to do was sink five treasure ships for the Spanish players to loose.  However an individual winner would be declared at the ending of the game depending on which faction sank the most ships and gained the most treasure.  This fact introduced an interesting twist.  Should they work together to slow the flotilla or go rogue and fend for themselves?

Though the enemy players had played the normal version of the game several times before, they cannot be said to be experienced wargamers.  Most are significant others or friends that simply enjoy the social aspect of this particular game.  I had stacked the odds heavily in their favor to account for what I thought would be a lack of strategy and planning.  To my dismay (and personal satisfaction), I was quickly to learn that I had severely underestimated my opponents.

The game started just as I had envisioned.  Chad and I moved our guard ships out ahead of the flotilla to screen the galleons on the left and right flanks.  Knowing that two choke points existed on either side of the shallow bank, we decided to sacrifice a few ships and send them through the "straits" to the west.  Not thinking our opponents would realize their obvious advantage, we thought they would greedily pounce on the sacrificial lambs and forget about the other galleons.  I would escort the doomed vessels as if protecting them then at the last moment leave them to their fate and cut across the dangerous shoals to join the main fleet to the east (only our two-masted guard ships could navigate the shallow waters in the center of the board).

Our plan seemed to be solid and was progressing quite well until we realized we were the ones being duped.  Eric and Christi made quick work of the defenseless galleons but chose not to sink them.  With all three decoy ships dead in the water, the straits to the west was effectively blocked.  Our opponents realized that they could now bring their entire force to bear on the fleeing flotilla to the east and that is exactly what they did.  I raced across the dangerous bank to join Chad's guard ships which were getting pounded by the large treasure-crazed French, British, and pirate ships.  Though I arrived in time, I could not bring my guard ships within range due to the traffic jam created when Amy and Suzani used their five-masters as blockade ships.  The ensuing battle was both chaotic and bloody.

Though we Spaniards manage to get a galleon or two through, we would have to face a very unhappy King in Spain.  With only one guard ship remaining each, we fled the slaughter and left the helpless galleons to the sea wolves.  Upon arriving at the safety of the forts we surveyed the damage.  Only two of the treasure galleons remained while the other seven fell prey to our opponents.  Looking over the horizon at the pillage and plunder taking place aboard the King's galleons, we realized that we had made a classic tactical blunder by underestimating our enemy's cunning and skill in battle.

With the game over, Chad and I endured a bit of taunting while the other factions tallied up their treasure.  Eric, in command of a pirate fleet, came out ahead followed closely by Amy and her mighty British contingent.  Fun was had by all however and that makes everyone a winner.

I enjoyed the break from the normal rules and plan to run a similar scenario again in the future.  There will be a few changes however, mainly to create balance between the fleets.  I also want to add wind rules which we sometimes use during our normal games.  Being stalled in a calm or driven towards a reef line by storms will certainly add a realistic element and cause captains to rethink their approaches to the straits.  With the added uncertainty of weather, perhaps the game will resemble the story and one of Spain's grandest galleons will find itself enduring the same fate as the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.


  1. Fantastic table and terrain - well done!

  2. I'll second the table comment - beautiful. I will need to steal that design for myself, someday...

  3. Thanks for the compliments. I must give credit where it is due however. I got the idea for a round table from another website a few years ago and knew I wanted to make one. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the site but the guy was quite talented.

  4. Inspiration is great, but you actually turned that into something cool - so don't sell yourself short!

  5. How big is the table?