By Michael Chamberlain
Fleet, released in 2012 and published by Gryphon from designers Benjamin Pinchback and Matthew Riddle is a card game themed on building your own shipping fleet. The game plays 2-4 players and play time comes in at a very pleasant 30-45 minutes and so far I have found no reason to disagree with this.
Upon opening the box you are faced with a bag of 100 blue wooden cubes, a deck of boat cards, a deck of large licence cards, rule book and a yellow boat marker (also wood). All of this turns up in a custom insert that holds it all nicely, even if the space for the boat cards could do with being a little deeper to stop all movement within the box. The two decks of cards are beautifully finished and the larger size of the licence cards is a really nice touch when it comes to game play as they are something that needs to be seen from all round the table during play.
Set up for fleet is a mix of really simple and complex depending on how many players are in the game. Regardless of player count each player get a starting hand of one of the six types of boat card (Shrimp, Lobster, Processing Vessel, Cod, Tuna and King Crab). The licence deck is set up by removing the premium licences (King Crab and Fishermans Pub cards) then shuffling them into the lower portion (player number dependant) of the licences deck to ensure they don’t come out during the early turns of the game. And then place 25 cubes per player in the centre of the play area.
Play for the game is split into five phases starting with the auction phase. During the auction phase a number of licences (equal to the number of players) will be face up. Then beginning with the start player they can either put one of them up for auction or declare that they are out of the auction and may not bid on any licences for the remainder of the phase. Licences are bid on using the boat cards each of which has a number of £1 coin depicted on it, as card hand’s are hidden you cannot declare a bid which you cannot afford to pay. Bidding is a fairly standard affair where offers are made until no one is willing to raise the bid then the winning player must discard cards to the value of the bid if they have to over pay using cards no change is given in this game. Each licence gives you two advantages; firstly you can only launch ships of the related type once you have a licence to fish them. The second reason you would want a licence is (and the only reason you would want multiples of the same type) they all grant special abilities based on the number licences of that type you have, with the exception of the Fisherman’s Pub and King Crab which just gives you points. The abilities are either linked into card advantage; (card management is very much the main focus and challenge of this game) either reducing the cost of buying and playing cards or granting you more cards. The Shrimp Licence reduces the cost when paying for auctions reducing the cost by £1 for each Shrimp licence you own. After each player has either won an auction or declined, the auction is over and the auction area is replenished with cards from the licence deck ready for next turn.
Phase two is launching boats and hiring captains. Once you have a licence and can launch boats you may can play one boat card of that type a turn face up to the table paying its launching cost (by discarding yet more boat cards, but thankfully this is also reduced by the Shrimp licence.) The Cod licence is the one that cares about launching boats. In any turn you launch any boats you get to draw a number of cards equal to the number of Cod licences you have. It also allows you to launch two boats (but only one bonus) a turn. Hiring captains for your ships is a simple as placing one of your boat cards face down under an uncaptained boat. The card you want to use as captain can be of any type but as with launching you are limited to once per turn. The licence that cares about captains is the Lobster, granting you free cards based on the number of captains you have and also allows you to captain twice a turn.
Fishing phase comes next, in which you simply add a crate of fish (blue cube) to each captained boat each player controls. Boats may never have more than four crates on them though.
Processing, is a phase players only act in if they have a Processing licence. If they do they may take a cube off of each of their boats (maximum of one off each) and place them onto their Processing licence. Once you have cubes on a processing licence you may remove one of those cubes each turn to draw you a number of cards equal to the number of Processing licences you have. Any remaining cubes can be used either to gain cards on later turns or removed as additional coins for launching and auctioning. As great as this sounds there is a draw back as each of those crates is worth a point at the end of the game as long as it is on a fishing boat, on the Processing licence it is worth nothing at the end of the game.
Finally comes the draw phase and this is the only time you get to draw cards unless you are making use of any licences that allows you to draw cards when you launch boats or hire captains. During this phase each player takes two cards from the deck and chooses one to add to their hand and the other gets placed on the discard pile. The Tuna licence allows players to keep more cards and to have more cards to choose from depending on how many of the licences you have. Play carries on like this until there aren’t enough licences to replenish the auction area or the fishing crates run out. Final scoring is as simple as totalling the victory points you get from your licences (including the special King Crab ones which grant bonus points based on either Crates, Captains or licences and the Fisher’s Pub cards), points on your launched boats and a point for each of the crates of fish on a boat.
I will readily admit that looking at Fleet I didn’t expect to find half the quality of game that I did. To my mind this game is a really nice filler game, which I can see getting a lot of play, as the choices all feel relevant and it has a really nice play length for the depth of game it is. Lots of little details make for a really comfortable play experience. Particular credit to the boat cards that have a lot of information and remain clear and also to the concept of the licences being available to see all through the launch to draw phases, which really allows you to plan ready for that next auction phase. The abilities all do relatively similar things and yet manage to avoid becoming samey. This is in part due to the different coin, launch and victory point values for each type of vessel linked to a specific licence but remains a real credit to this game. If I have a criticism of this game it has to be the rule book as some of the concepts in this game could really use less bulk text and more pictorial help in making them clear. Granted I can make reasons/excuses that it is a small box and they had a lot to get in but it is a problem when learning the game. There is also one inconsistency in that the costs on the cards are written in dollars while the coins on the cards are quite clearly pounds, it doesn’t affect game play at all but it is a niggle. Despite a few really minor issues I had getting to grips with the game; this is now a staple round the table when we need a short but gratifying game.
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