Blood and Plunder from Firelock Games started life as a successful Kickstarter and has since had 2 expansions, including the most recent successful Kickstarter, a tie-in fleet battle game, and also a WWII game using the same system. In this article, we'll take a look at this 17th-Century skirmish wargame, mainly at the core rules and what you need to play. In our next article, we'll look in detail at some of the product options there are for Blood and Plunder, as well as detail what's in the expansions.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
You can buy all the Nautical Tabletop Month products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
The Blood and Plunder rulebook has a beautiful flow to it, and for those who like visual rules, Firelock has produced a series of videos that take you through the rules chapter by chapter. The rulebook starts with a historical overview, before moving through the game introduction and required components. Activations and combat are then covered and then followed by 3 key rules areas, which are ideally introduced stage by stage. The first is terrain, then artillery, then ships (which are handled like terrain with artillery).
It's this logical and well-presented nature that makes Blood and Plunder such a great system. There's some complexity to the combat rules in order to maintain the historical realism that Blood and Plunder strives for, and that's offset with a hugely simple and incredibly effective characteristic for troop types. Other than armaments, special rules, and experience level, units have 3 stats. Fight, Shoot, and Resolve. The fight and shoot stats have 2 numbers, the first for attack and the other for defense. Blood and Plunder uses 10-sided dice, and the attack and saves stats are the target number for the D10s. Taking attacks builds up fatigue on a unit, which has negative effects and the resolve stat is used to remove that fatigue.
Initiative and actions are handled by using a deck of playing cards. Any standard deck of cards can be used, and Firelock has produced their own decks that include all the details to speed up using the cards. At the start of the turn, each player draws a card for each unit they have on the battlefield. Players then place one of their cards facedown and reveal them simultaneously. The card played details which player gets to activate a unit first, and how many actions the unit they choose will get. There is a hierarchy to the suits, and any ties are broken by the printed number of the card. The number of actions depends on the suit of the card played, and the experience level of the unit. The number of actions works in the opposite hierarchy to the initiative suits, so going first means you get fewer actions.
In the core rulebook, 4 factions are detailed, each with 4 unit types. English, French, Spanish, and Unaligned (Pirates). The unaligned get to pick units from the other 3 factions. It also details the rules and costs for several ships and artillery.
The unit stats and experience levels help keep the game realistic and grounded. There are no huge variations in stats. Some units are great at the close-up killing, and others shooting, but most units are only 1 or 2 difference apart on their stats. Another extremely effective realism mechanic is commanders. Commanders don't have their own stats and instead are incorporated into a unit, taking their stats. They have their own armaments, along with a command range and command points. Commanders can use their command points, when the unit they are in is activated, to give any unit in range an additional action. This can be an active unit or another unit. This means that rather than commanders being insane killing machines themselves, cutting through swathes of troops, they instead force other units to fight harder and more effectively, with overlapping tactics, combat, and firepower.
If all that great design wasn't enough, the way that ships are incorporate seamlessly into the rules really makes Blood and Plunder stand out. Ships that are mobile move 3 times during a turn, once during the first activation of that player's units, once during the last activation, and once during any activation of the controlling player's choice during the turn. After artillery is covered in the previous rules section, in just a few short pages in the ship rules, Blood and Plunder covers everything you need for epic ship action.
To play Blood and Plunder, players will need a few things. In the upcoming 2-player starter set for Blood and Plunder Raise the Black, it will be easier to get into the game, but for the moment, the following is required:
- Blood and Plunder rules
- A few 10-sided dice
- A deck of playing cards per player (custom Blood and Plunder cards are available and are very useful)
- Tokens or markers for fatigue and reloads (official Blood and Plunder dice markers are available)
- Miniatures for your crew
Other items, while not essential, add a lot to games:
- Unit cards/stats (unit stats are available in the rules, but having either physical cards or the stats written down speeds up gameplay)
- Ship miniatures (Blood and Plunder is a fantastic system, but it really shines when ships come in)
- Game mat and scenery (playing on a bare table with books for hills is fine, but having a great looking battlefield really helps immersion)
In our next article, we'll talk about the different products and expansions available for Blood and Plunder.
The Bottom Line
Blood and Plunder is an incredible system. It captures historical detail while blending land and sea combat in a simple ruleset with no-nonsense stats and abilities. The rulebook is well laid out and the flow of learning is logical and straight-forward. The realism and historical accuracy mean that there's not a huge difference between troops types that players of fantasy or sci-fi wargames might expect, but this puts the emphasis on commander control of troops and maximizing any advantage you can get. The use of cards for initiative and activations works extremely well and creates a balanced turn. The buy-in for everything with ships can be pricey, but the upcoming 2-player starter set including 2 plastic ships for Raise the Black will change everything.
Get This Game If:
- You want streamlined rules that incorporate land and sea combat.
- You want a great command system that rewards tactical decisions.
- You want an awesome and realistic system.
- You want a balanced and tactical initiative/activation system.
Avoid This Game If:
- You want magic, fantasy, or science-fiction.
The copies of the Blood and Plunder products used to produce this review were provided by Firelock Games.