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Francis Drake

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Francis Drake is a highly interactive game of high adventure, where players are swashbuckling Elizabethan privateers looking to follow in the footsteps of Francis Drake by mounting three voyages of their own deep into the Spanish Main. There, they will be looking to trade for exotic commodities, raid Spanish Towns and Forts, and search for the huge Treasure Galleons carrying the riches of the Aztec and Incan Empires back to Spain.

Players will attempt to emulate the feats of Francis Drake by mounting 3 voyages to the Spanish Main. Before leaving England’s Plymouth Harbour, they will have to find the necessary crew, guns, ships and supplies. These may be picked up in the streets of Plymouth or obtained via wealthy investors, Queen Elizabeth or Drake himself. Once ready to sail, each captain must chart his course on the Spanish Main and decide which forts, towns and galleons to plunder. Documents taken from the Spanish Admiral and Governor will make their tasks easier, as will informers who give information on the plans of rival captains. With their boats full of loot and plunder they will then sail back to Plymouth Harbour and be rewarded by Queen and country depending on how much havoc they wreaked on Spain’s New World Empire.

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“The Reason Francis Drake Won Game of the Year”

“The breeze flows against you as you stare out over the bow of your ship. The seas lap up against the hull, making white, frothy lines as “The Morning Star” cuts through the oncoming waves. “Land Ho!” comes a shout from the crow’s nest. “Check for other ships in the area” you shout back. As Captain of the “Morning Star,” you can’t take any chances of being followed to the bounty or risk a confrontation. You have been out at sea for months and your provisions and ammunition is limited. A few seconds later, the voice shouts down again. “Two ships north-east of us about 2 nautical miles Captain!” Your stomach sinks as you know things will not be easy. Your mind races through all the possible actions you can’t take as you decide and start barking orders. “First Mate, take us straight south! Don’t stop moving till I tell you! Lookout! Keep an eye on those ships and let me know as soon as they follow!” You start charging up the deck to the wheel to confer with your First Mate. With ships on your tail, what is sure to be soldiers and canons at the fort half a day south that you are heading for. You will be lucky to make it out of this alive.

Awards: 2013 Club Fantasci Game of the Year, 2013 Club Fantasci Best Game Production, 2013 Golden Geek Best Board Game Artwork/Presentation Nominee.

I know I am bit late getting this review out as Francis Drake just won the 2013 Club Fantasci Board Game of the Year and 2013 Club Fantasci Best Game Production awards from our awards platform recently but I was not prepared for the onslaught of games right at the deadline of submission so I wasn’t able to review as much during the play time needed to actually give out the awards properly. So let me tell you why exactly this game was such a hit with us.

Francis Drake feels like a full on board game that keeps you engaged the whole time the game is being played. From the moment you begin till the moment it is completely over, every player is involved every second of the game. The players are engulfed in watching to see what every one else is doing, planning their next move, anticipating, debating with themselves in their heads about what they should or shouldn’t do. It has a great feel to it, a theme that comes off very well, lots and lots of choices, great socialization and is easy to pick up and understand quickly while still satisfying every itch for every type of board gamer. It’s almost a perfect game to me . It is easy enough but still challenging enough for strategy lovers. It is engaging, thought-provoking and due to it’s two different phases, it’s like playing two different games rolled into one that meld perfectly together.

In Francis Drake, each players takes on the Captaining of a spanish galleon to travel to the New World and either get resources, combat other ships or attack forts to gather treasure. Each player is looking to gather as many resources in the Provisioning Phase as possible to be able to take as many actions and travel as far as they want in the Sailing Phase. The one with the most victory points after 3 rounds is the winner!

As previously stated Francis Drake is divided into two phases. The Provisioning Phase and the Sailing Phase. I am not going to go into great detail rules wise, but I will give an idea of what happens so you get the basic idea.

The Provisioning Phase:

During the Provisioning Phase, players try to get as many resources as they feel they will need to complete the Sailing phase to their satisfaction. How many crew will the players need? What about guns or supplies? Will they need trade goods? How about upgrading the galleons, buying a pinnace for easier fort plunder. Do you need to get in good with the Governor or the Admiral and be able to use their abilities/influence to maximize their turn?

Players will need crew fight soldiers at the forts. For every soldier the player will need at least one crew to match it. The ships need guns to fight the other Spanish Galleons for their treasure or forts for the same. The players need to gather supplies to sail farther and be able to make it back home. Trade good are needed to trade for commodities later used for victory points. Political demands are in order as well as you have the Queen, Admiral and Governor who all want a stake in your success. What about the informer for sneaky abilities or Frances Drake himself for a big boost in guns and crew?

There are so many choices in this phase. Each player has to try to figure what they want to accomplish in the next phase and plan for it here. It could be difficult because once you pass a resource, there is no going back for it, or other players may take all the available spots! Do you play it safe and place as close to the last player to make sure you get goods you need or do you leap-frog to grab the good stuff you think you need and hope there is opportunities for the basics later down the docks? This portion of the game gives you plenty to think about or AP over alone. Each round the dock changes so your strategy will vary every time. What fun!

The Sailing Phase:

During this phase, the players how begin to place their mission tokens hoping to either outwit their opponents or be the first one to go at a specific location. There are four zones to sail to but only if you have enough supplies, otherwise you can only sail as far as your supply total allows.

There are so many options here as well. Players can attack other spanish galleons in hopes of getting their treasure. They can also attack forts or towns for their treasure. Each of these brings their own challenge. Did the players bring enough crew or guns along to beat the blind token that may add 0 to 2 extra guns or soldiers to a location? Do the players trade for commodities which are worth more points for each set of 4 different types they may have.

It is during the Sailing phase that players accumulate victory points. There are points for the sets of commodities a player have. There are points in the treasure with attacking Galleons, forts and towns. There are also additional points to be had if a player defeats a galleon, fort and town. More points are awarded for all three than just one of them. There are even more ways to score points than this! This game is full of great ways to score and strategize a way to win.

This is all accomplished by placing mission discs. Each player has four mission discs and places them in turn order on the spots they want to take an action against. You can either player your low numbers to try to be first at that spot or you can try to bluff your opponent into making a bad move so you can grab something else you wanted. There are two additional discs that be used if they were acquired in the Provisioning Phase. The Golden Hind allows a player to go first no matter what. The Ghost Ship disc is a bluffing mechanism. Another great mechanic that keeps the players on their toes and guessing the whole time.

There is a lot I am not going over here, but trust me, this is a game you have to play and I am sure once you do, it will suck you in and then you will of course have to buy it and it will be in your top 10 list for sure.

The components for this game are outstanding. The artwork is incredible. Way beyond your average artwork for a game. The game board is large and beautiful. There is a lot going on in the game but the board never feels cluttered. They did a very good job on this. The pieces are all either high quality plastic, very thick cardboard or glass jewels that all look amazing and will last a very long time. The box insert holds everything nicely and the game never spills out all over the place. Each time you open the box, everything is very neat and organized. Well done! This is why it won the 2013 Club Fantasci Best Game Production award. It is just superbly done.

Francis Drake is about as close to a perfect game that will fit anyones gaming style that I have ever come across. The balance is so good it screams best game of the year! It is great for worker placement lovers, thematic game lovers, strategy game lovers, first time game players even. While it may look hard at first glance, after one round, it become pretty evident what needs to be done and the flow really picks up. It’s a very intuitive game that really nails it on all levels. I won’t even compare it to other games other than to say, it blows other recent favorite worker placement games like Lords of Waterdeep out of the water (pun completely intended.) The only other game that really grabbed me like this recently was Belfort.

If you are looking for a fun, euro themed with an actual working theme game that is easy to learn, explain and play in under two hours. Frances Drake is the one for you. Even at the $80 price tag, this game will get more than its value in re-playability.

France Drake is hands down the best new game I played in 2013. My hat goes off to the designer and the teams of Kayal Games and Eagle/Gryphon Games. Very well done indeed!

Club Fantasci Scoring (Based on scale of 10):

Artwork: 10
Rules Book: 9
Re-playability: 9
Component Quality: 10
Club Fantasci Overall Score: 9.5

I am giving Francis Drake 9.5 out 10 stars because it is simply one of the best games I have ever played.

This game is Club Fantasci Certified!

Company Website: http://francisdrakegame.com/
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.

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