Monday, March 27, 2017

Francis Drake (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

Francis Drake was an English sea captain who carried out the second circumnavigation of the world. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581 and was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada, which made him a hero in England and a pirate in Spain. Eagle-Gryphon Games took this theme and re-created it in a worker-placement game. In this game for 3-5 players (age 14+), players will attempt to mimic his three voyages to the Spanish Main. The game takes 90-120 minutes to play, retails for $80, but you can find it most places for $50-55.
Setup
1. Place the game board on the table. Place the Plymouth Harbour Chart next to the board and populate the spaces on that board with their respective items (gold, silver, jewels, etc.).
2. Place one of each Commodity (Sugar, Tobacco, Coffee, and Indigo) on its corresponding icon at the three trade ports (San Juan, Santo Domingo, and Santiago de Cuba).
3. Shuffle the three Spanish Galleon Counters and place one face up on each of the galleon icons on the board.
4. Give each player the following in their player color - one frigate, one galleon, six mission discs, ten player discs, four player cubes, one scoring marker, and one ship log. Each player also takes a treasure chest and investor tile.
5. Place all the players ships off the board near Plymouth Harbour.
6. Have each player place one of their cubes on each of the three Types of Conquests Chart and one on their ship.
7. Have each player place their scoring marker on space 4.
8. Place the voyage marker on space 1.
9. Pick a set of location tiles determined by the number of players. Use these tiles to populate Plymouth Street.
Game Play - The game is played over three rounds (voyages) with each voyage having two phases.
Provisioning Phase:
1. Starting Order - Place the frigates in a cup or bag and randomly draw one out at a time to determine player order. Then place the ships in Homebound Docks. Give the last player one gun on voyage one, but not voyages two or three.
2. Placement and Selection - In player order, each player places one of their player discs on a circle of a location in Plymouth Street. (Note: Placement may start on the Crew Location or a subsequent location, so long as there is an empty circle to place a disc on.) Players will continue to place their discs in player order, so long as they are moving forward on the street and not placing a disc behind a previous disc. After placing your disc, take the items granted at that location and place them on your ship log. Once you feel you have enough items, you move your ship from Homebound Docks to Outbound Docks. This determines player order for the next phase.
Sailing Phase:
1. Prepare for sailing: Take four silver and place one on each of the two towns and forts. Do the same with four gold. Then, take three jewels and place them on each jewel icon near each Spanish Galleon. Whoever has the admiral counter, place one on the Spanish Frigate counters face-down. The holder of the Governor Counter places one on the Spanish Troop Counters face-down on the troop icon of each of the four forts. The holder of the Governor Counter also swaps his ship's position with the ship in position one to go first. Each player counts his supplies and places their remaining cubes on the navigation marker to determine which zones they may sail to.
2. Each player has a limited number of mission discs to show various destinations and mission order. Each player in player order places one of their mission discs face-down on the first circle at one of the destinations on the map. Play continues in player order until each player has placed all their discs. Since only two successful attacks are allowed at each destination, the order players arrive to each destination is important. All discs are flipped and placed in order from smallest to largest.
Successful attacks net you gold, silver, and victory points. Players may also perform commodity trades at trade ports. The board is then reset, so that voyage two may occur. Commodities are the only thing allowed to be kept by players. Repeat the two phases above. Then, do this again for voyage three. Players then score based on each set of different commodities. They also score based on the treasures from their treasure chests and score those as victory points too. Highest score wins.

Review
Francis Drake is a very interesting worker placement game mainly because of the "one-way street" twist on worker placement, which is similar to Tokaido. When you are deploying your workers, you must carefully look at all the options and decide beforehand what you want to acquire, who you want to visit, what you want to accomplish, and in what order, because once you pick a spot to go, you can't go backwards on the street to claim a spot you or other players skipped. This adds a bit of tension to your decisions as well. Do you claim the next available spot, even if it's something you don't really need in hopes of grabbing something else right after this spot? Or do you jump really far ahead on the street and forego some good stuff for a really great spot? In addition to the one-way street, there's also a press your luck element to the worker placement. Do you take one more round grabbing another spot or do you end your gathering (perhaps slightly prematurely) to be the first in line to explore?

Other mechanics getting mixed with worker placement are secret deployment and set collection. The secret deployment comes from placing your mission discs out at sea in the hopes of claiming various destinations. Therefore, you have to read your situation on what you want to claim and also read your opponent on what they want to claim.

The game is very fun to play and provides a lot of interesting decisions. What I like best about the game is the components. The artwork looks era-appropriate. The ships, even though they are plastic, are of a nice weight and were made from a good mold, because they have good detail and a great fill to them. What I like best are the cardboard treasure chests, which when assembled are very cool looking and serve as the purpose of function and aesthetics. There were a couple of downsides to the game. The first one is game length. It does take about 90 minutes to 120 minutes to play and that's a little more time than my group is willing to invest in a game usually. The second downside is the player count. It plays 3 to 5 people, and my two normal player counts are 2 and 6. Thankfully, there is an expansion that fixes this exact problem. So if you are looking for a medium-weight, historical worker-placement game, consider this one!

This game was provided to me for free by Eagle-Gryphon Games in exchange for an honest review.