I only managed to squeeze in one game this past week but it was a nice big, meaty game with a lot going for it. This week saw me and five other intrepid gamers tackle the high seas and the tense struggles of managing your resources in Francis Drake. There were wooden tokens, cubes, cards and boards everywhere! With the action focused in on the very large main board which featured a beautifully detailed map.
The aim of the game is simple, earn the most victory points to win. The paths to achieving said goal however are a touch more in depth and nuanced. Francis Drake is one of those grand games I love that takes a whole evening to play and while the game only has three turns it took the group of us two and half hours to finish it.
That may sound daunting to you but last night went by in a flash with everyone involved being enraptured by the events playing out on the table.
Each turn of Francis Drake is split into three phases*:
- The Shopping Phase
- The Sailing Phase
- The Clean Up Phase
The Shopping Phase sees players hedging the bets on a marketplace that changes in each of the game’s three turns. The resources and opportunities offered on the market are limited. There is also a great mechanic were once you claim a position on a market tile you cannot claim spaces on the tiles prior to it in the line up. The result of this is that you see the market slowly fill with tokens as everyone makes their way through it. All trying to work out which resources they need for their upcoming journey and how to block off other players. You then get these moments were a player jumps ahead in the market a few spaces to claim a tile they really need or want. Then suddenly a mad scramble ensues as players try to catch up. There are a lot of options and in the first turn the shopping took a while. However by turn three we were all placing tokens on the tiles quickly and speeding through the marketplace.
The Sailing Phase is split into two parts. Part one has players placing numbered tokens face down on the board in locations on the key areas of the map. All these tokens are then revealed and the players with the lowest number on each location can action it first, often claiming an additional reward in the process. Part two has players performing the actions on the areas they have assigned their ship to in order claiming victory points, trade goods and gems.
The board itself is divided up into four areas with a mix of locations in each area. Your access to these areas is limited by the number of barrels you have, one of the resources obtained in the shopping phase. Four Barrels means you have the whole board as your playground, lesser amounts mean limited options. Something that can still work in your favour. The locations themselves include; towns, forts, trading hubs and ships. All of which can be ransacked for goods, points and gems. Players can also earn bonus points at the end of each turn if they manage to take at least one ship, fort and town.
There is a lot going on and there are several tokens that add to the strength of locations which only get revealed once the first player to that location attempts to ransack it. This means that you get this build up of tension in Part One as the tokens are placed on the board and then revealed. Then in Part Two you see how well people have prepared or played off the other players greed leading them into a trap that will cost them a hefty amount of resources.
Finally comes the clean up phase where players work out if they have any bonus points and return their unused resources. Then comes the job of clearing the board of its now many tokens and setting things up again for the next turn.
Like I said there is a lot to the game. So much that I am sure we made one or two mistakes when playing it. It is one of the most overwhelming games I have played at first. There is just a mess of tokens, cubes and options for the players to digest, most of which only really show their value once they have been played for the first time. There is a definite learning curve to the game for good or ill. Still the overall experience was an engrossing and engaging one. One that I would be happy to play again.
*These are not the official names of phases just how I interpreted the overall flow of the game.