Kickstarter is an interesting place filled with the entire spectrum of success, from complete failure to brillinant genius. I've listened and read about people's experiences from the great to the wrost and everything in between. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the game itself, and rather it's the business model that hurst things, like not shipping on time, or utilizing a publishing company with poor quality components.
All that said though, when you find that one game that's both a creative and well designed game, that has top notch components, and provides a great experience, you just beam with happiness! Grab your tackleboxes dear readers, because it's time to go fishing with one of those exact games, Fleet, from Gryphon Games!
Fleet, which is for ages 10 and up and plays in about 30 minutes, is a 2 to 4 player game designed around resource management. The story behind the game is that a previously unknown bay in Canada has been discovered, and of course, it has a bountiful supply of fish! As such, fishermen from all over are coming to claim the prizes and fish up the wealth!
Fleet is short, in about 30 to 45 minutes, and can be both an all nighter or a filler game, depending on your style of gameplay. Four player games can be almost an hour, and do work well, but we found optimally, the game plays best with 3 players. 2 is fun, but the Auction phase is not as strategic in a 2 player game, but more on that in a moment.
Your goal is simple, have the most victory points at the end of the game. You obtain victory points through acquiring licenses, launching ships, and captaining them to go fishing. There are several mechanics in the game, from hand management, to auction bidding, to even a rare die roll (which brings the slight opportunity for luck to affect the game, without it impacting the win/loss condition in a major sense). The trick is managing all these things at once, to ensure your path to victory!
I’m positive people have passed this game over, simply because of the theme. In an industry where science fiction and medieval fantasy reign supreme in theme, a fishing game on the shelf may not always "catch" someone’s eye. I for one am guilty of this myself. I first saw Fleet just after their kickstarter had ended (successfully), and while I liked the art style, even having a fishing background, I decided to pass it up.
I spoke recently with Matt Riddle, one of the designers (Ben Pinchback being the other), and he said something that impressed me. He told me to check it out, if for nothing else, “because he was confident in the product”. Now yes, every kickstarter will tell you that, but it was the way he said it that convinced me, it was genuine, not him trying to hype it up.
So try it I have, played it I did, and reviewing it I am! I must say, to my surprise, I’m very happy I have looked at this one! Let’s take a look at the gameplay before I give you my final thoughts and rating.
Fleet is made up of a set of oversized cards that are Fishing Licenses, regular sized cards that are boats, and blue wooden boxes that represent the fish in the bay. The game set up scales based on the number of players, 2, through 4. The more people you have, the more licenses you have, and the more of different types. There are Premium Licenses and Standard Licenses, with of course, Premium ones being as you may imagine, worth more victory points, costing more, but providing greater benefits.
Each license has a different in game affect it will provide, from allowing you launch more boats, to hiring more captains, to drawing cards, and more. In addition, if you own more of the same type of license, the affect is amplified and becomes better. So for example, while owning one Shrimp license gives you a $1 discount when making transactions, owning two provides you with a $2 discount. Each standard license scales like this, making them valuable in duplicate.
The game is primarily symbol driven, but there is some text. Each player can be provided a reference card reminding them what each symbol means, but after a few games, it's fairly simple to pick up and you probably won't need them much. In addition, the backside has the turn sequence.
Each player starts the game with one of each type of boat, Lobster, Cod, Tuna, King Crab, Shrimp, and Processing Vessel in their hand. These cards, while representing the boats you can launch, have three actual uses. First, they are the boats themselves. Second, they each have a different coin value in the lower left, which allows them to be used as cash in purchases. Finally, they may all be used when hiring a captain (more on that in a moment).
The game starts with one license being drawn face up in the center for each player in the game. The person with the first player token (which is a cool yellow meeple boat) chooses which license to place a bid on and announces it and their starting bid. Each license has a minimum bid, but you can start at whatever price you want, provided you can pay for it if you win it!
After the auction has started, play proceeds clockwise, with each player passing or increasing the bid. If you pass, you are no longer allowed to bid on that license. Once all players have passed, the highest bidder wins the license and must discard from their hand, cards equal to the amount bid. If they have to discard cards that equal more than they bid, they do not get change.
The next player clockwise after the first player then gets to pick one of the licenses left to put up for Auction as well, and play continues like this until each player has bought one license, or chosen not to buy any. You can go through the entire auction phase without buying anything. In addition, if you pass on one license, you can still put another up for auction, you just can't jump back into the bidding for the one currently being bid on.
Licenses are important though as you may only launch a boat that you own a license for, meaning I can't launch a Lobster boat, until I've won and purchased a Lobster License. One final word on the Auction phase, as you may have figured out, is that if you are the last player to put a license up, and everyone else has bought one, then you will get the license you want for the minimum bid, as no one can buy more than one license per turn, so there is a nice advantage there.
After the Auction Phase, players go to the "Launch Boats / Hire Captains" Phase. This is where your strategy on how much to pay, and what cards to use to pay for your licenses comes into play, immediately on turn one!
Boat cards have a cost in the upper left. As with the Auction Phase, the boat cards in your hand count as money again here. So to Launch a boat for a corresponding license you have, you must be able to pay its cost. Some licenses, like the Shrimp License, will discount your transactions, so depending on what your first license was you won and purchased, this can start to impact the game immediately.
To launch a boat, you simply discard the amount of money on cards from your hand to a common discard pile, and place the boat face up in front of you. You do not have to launch a boat each turn, and truth be told, you may not have the resources or cards at the begininng of the game to do so at times. This is one of the fun things about Fleet, it scales well, it scales quickly, and it scales dramatically. If you strategically acquire the right combination of licenses, you can become a force to be reckoned with on the high seas!
Just because you have a boat launched though, doesn't mean you can go get fish, let's face it, boats don't captain themselves! No, now you must Hire a Captain! This is the one transaction that doesn't cost you money, and a unique mechanic thrown in. While in the previous motions, the cards in your hand count as money and boats and you're trying to strategically use these as the right resources at the right time, when hiring captains, you can choose to simply take any one card from your hand and place it face down on a boat that has no captain!
Appropriately, the back of these cards has a ship's wheel, making it easy to identify which boats are captained and which aren't. This is a big choice at several times in the game though, as the card in your hand may be worth a good amount of money you need for the next turn, or a boat for the license you planned on buying later. This is another area where Fleet shines. It forces you to make tough decisions, plan accordingly to what is known, and gamble just enough on what's not.
Each turn you may hire one captain, at least, normally. Yes, as you can imagine, there are licenses that will impact the number of captains you can hire on a turn. Each game basically starts where everyone can get one license, launch one boat, hire one captain, and fish each turn. As the game progresses though, the impact of the licenses on each player's strategy will increase or decrease their abilities like the ebb and flow of the waves of the ocean!
Finally, now that you have acquired a license, launched a boat, and captained it, you can go fishing! Fishing is simple and complex all at the same time! To fish, each player takes one crate of fish from the main supply and puts it on each boat they have that has a captain. Each boat can hold up to four fish. This may sound as though you will be out of room soon, and you will, however you can launch as many boats you want, provided you have one license matching the type, and of course, it wouldn't be fishing, unless you could process those little guppies.
One key license in the game is for the Processing Vessel. If you have acquired it, after you fish, you can then process one crate of fish from each ship you have that has a fish on it. You simple move one crate from each ship to the Processing Vessel license, which can then allow you to draw cards or can be used for money later on. An early and well-timed Processing Vessel license acquisition can shift the game's finances in your direction like a salty breeze hitting your opponent dead in the kisser.
Play continues in rounds like this, until all of the fish are fished up from the bay or all of the licenses have run out. Usually we have found that the fish go first, but at times, in larger games, the licenses can run out just as fast. Again, the number of licenses in the licensing deck scales depending on the players involved, as does the amount of fish in the bay. Two players will see 50 fish in the bay, three will see 75 and four will have 100!
Once the fish are gone or the licenses are all bought, then you count up the total victory points for each player. Purchased licenses and launched boats have victory points printed on them. In addition, fish you have caught are worth 1 point as well. Processed fish, if unused, don't count, so while you want to process to get cash and cards, you want to make sure you don't over-process and hurt your scoring! Whoever has the highest victory points is the winner!
Fleet, is a well-designed game. I can't say it any more clear than that. It's rules are well written and clear, the use of symbols and text are done so in simplistic manner, and inside it all is an amazing amount of strategic depth. Just the base game has so many different and challenging choices to make, whether you are deciding which cards to use to pay for purchases, or which cards to use for captains, or if you should buy a license you want, or if you need to buy one to block an opponent, there is never a shortage of well timed, tough, and fun decisions to make.
For kickstarter backers, there were some extremely fun bonuses as well, like Captains who can double the amount of cargo a ship can hold and fish up per turn, to the extremely well done Nunavut Weather Authority license, which can allow you to roll dice and sink ships! In addition, some backers got fish meeples, which are great for using in the bay, coupled with the "Crates" to use for when they are processed.
Fleet is a surprisingly fun game! I am very happy to say I was wrong for passing this game over, as I'm giving it a full Crit! In 2, 3 or 4 player games, we have had an absolute blast playing this game. All ages have enjoyed it, from younger players to older, and even those who didn't like fishing. While yes, if you like fishing, the theme will hit home, even if you don't, the appreciation for the resource management system Matt and Ben have designed is apparent after only one game.
There are challenging decisions to make, strategy to build and enact, and enough changing impact to the game to keep you on your toes in both calm and rough seas! Fleet provides an excellent expeirence, as the game flow keeps everyone engaged during all phases of play, and has you not just building your own fleet of ships but working to ensure your opponents don't get too far out in front of you!
One final thing to note, is that it takes up a bit of room. For a card game, you end up with a lot of the oversized licenses, as well as many launched ships in front of you, and the game only partially lends itself to stacking, so you'll need a good amount of room to play it. Our 42x42 square table was filled in four player matches! That said though, it's easy to learn, it's components are top of the line, and it's small enough to travel easily as well, as it is pretty much just cards and cubes.
Most importantly, Fleet is fun! So what are you waiting for? Grab your rod, your reel, and your lures and let's go fishing!
Critical Score (Crit, Hit or Miss):
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