Tabletop Review: Fleet: Arctic Bounty

Fleet: Arctic Bounty
Publisher: Gryphon Games
Cost: $24.99
Release Date: March, 2013
Get it Here:

The original Fleet was one of those huge Kickstarter successes. It might not look it at first when you see it only raised $37,860, but you have to remember that it was only looking for $6,000 at first AND over 1,100 people backed it. The game also came out on time (a rarity for Kickstarters) but it also received high praise from critics and gamers alike. I took part in the original Kickstarter, picking up the game for my Father as a Christmas present. However I didn’t pick up a copy for myself. So I was glad when Gryphon Games did their second Fleet Kickstarter as it gave me a chance to not only pick up a copy of the original game for myself, but also get the whole reason for said crowdfunding effort – Arctic Bounty.

Arctic Bounty is an expansion for Fleet, meaning that it is not a standalone game and requires the core Fleet game in order to be played. It also means you have to pay $50 to use Arctic Bounty – $25 for Fleet and $25 for the expansion. That’s really not a lot for a board game these days actually. Sure some people might be a little shy of the sticker price it takes to be able to use Arctic Bounty, but the expansion Kickstarter was even more successful than the first, with nearly 1,500 people pledging a few dollars short of $78,000 to make it happen. When the expansion Kickstarter is more successful than the one for the core game, it’s obvious that Fleet has received strong word of mouth about what a quality game it is.

Before we go into all the new cards for Fleet: Arctic Bounty, I should probably give a quick overview about Fleet itself, because this review is probably the first time some of you have heard about the game. Fleet is a card game about Canadian fishing fleets. Each player is trying to become the dominant power in the region by netting the most fish, having the largest fleet of ships and collecting the most licenses. You gain victory points from all these things and at the end of the game (which is between thirty minutes and an hour), the victory points are added up and the player with the most wins! The game is far more detailed than this brief synopsis, but this review is about the expansion, not the core game. Suffice to say, the core game of Fleet is exceptionally well made and a lot of fun. Hell, I HATE fishing. I find it dull, boring and sometimes pretty nasty, but I really enjoy Fleet. It’s one of those games you have to play firsthand to see why it is so much fun.

So what does Arctic Bounty bring to the table? Well, more options primarily. Again, you need the core Fleet game to make sense of Arctic Bounty as it’s only an expansion and doesn’t come with everything you need to play the game. The set comes with 128 new cards that break down as follows:

  • 4 Char Licenses
  • 4 Pacific Oyster Licenses
  • 4 Swordfish Licenses
  • 3 Marinas Premium Licenses
  • 3 Canadian DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) Premium Licenses
  • 3 Hire Crewman
  • 16 Char Boats
  • 16 Pacific Oyster Boats
  • 16 Swordfish Boards
  • 16 Canadian DFO Boats
  • 8 Tugboats Dock Cards
  • 8 Artisan Fishermen Dock Cards
  • 12 Gone Fishin’ Bay Cards
  • 12 Crewman Bay Cards
  • 1 Corporation Card
  • 2 Captain Cards

    To use the cards from Arctic Bounty, you’ll put in some of the cards from this expansion and pull out some of the Fleet cards. You need to make sure you pull out all the boats and seafood from Fleet and replace them with the Arctic Bounty cards. So, for example, you would take all the Lobster cards (both licenses and boats) and put in Swordfish. In the end your deck should have FIVE standard licenses and two premium licenses. You should also have two Dock Cards (two of each card per player) and as many Bay Cards as you want So even if you want to only use the Arctic Bounty cards, you’ll still need a single set of licenses and boats from the core Fleet game.

    I should also point out that Fleet is not a deck building game, but a resource management one. Once you’ve doled out cards to players, the decks between players are more like stacks – one of licenses to pick up and one of more boats to add to your fleet. So this is not something akin to Miskatonic’s School For Girls, the DC or Marvel super hero deck building games or even the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. If anything Fleet and its expansion are a nice hybrid of a card game and euro style board games.

    The new cards all bring something different to Fleet. The Swordfish lets you catch a boat card instead of a crate of fish and the ability to discard one boat card from their hand in exchange for a boat card from the supply stack. Even better, Artisan and Innuit Fisherman can be used with Swordfish for a nice combo. Pacific Oyster cards let you catch two crates per turn and the Oyster boats have a higher capacity than other boats in the game. Char gives you two extra actions per turn – one for a launch and one for a captain action. Although a lot of this is probably gobblygook to those that haven’t experienced the core game, people familiar with Fleet are no doubt thinking about how they could make use of each of these fishing licenses in their game.

    The premium licenses are also pretty neat. The DFO licenses lets a player take a crate from other players (when first launched) and these boats do not require a captain to be played on them. The Marina lets you place any one boat card from your hand into play (under the marina) for free. That’s pretty nice! This doesn’t count as a launch for the card though. You just get the victory points for these cards.

    The two new Dock Cards in the set are interesting too. Tugboat becomes a second hand for the player where it keeps getting new cards placed under it, one per round, and at any time its owner can take those cards and put them into his or her hand in exchange for removing the Tugboat from the game. It’s a hard card to understand at first and its usefulness varies based on your personal strategy for winning at Fleet, but it really can make a difference. Artisan Fisherman becomes a member of your fleet and while it doesn’t require any captain or licenses to launch, it can only have a single crate at a time. So it balances out speed and savings with a lack of storage.

    Finally we have the two new Bay Cards. Gone Fishin’ can net you some quick cash or extra victory points and that’s about it. Crewman however take a page and half of explanation in the rulebook. I’ll sum it up quickly here by saying there are many different types of Crewman cards and each has its own abilities. These are best left until you really have the rules of Fleet down pat.

    Arctic Bounty also has a new two player rule variant and a single player mode. I wasn’t too impressed with either. The new two player variant is just three player with an NPC as Player Three. There is a corporation card with gives the instructions for how the non player fleet should proceed with each turn. Solo Play is similar but you have two “A.I. ” opponents. I was hoping for a more solitaire version. So I really didn’t care for either new version of play, but they work well enough for what they are.

    Before I close out this review, I should point out that there were also seven Kickstarter stretch goals which netted backers some exclusive cards and other rewards. These included an oversized wooden die for play, some adorable crab meeples that have their own special rules for obtaining, rules for a five and six player game (Previously the game could only be played with 2-4 players, but the expansion gives you enough cards to increase the player count), another set of rules for Epic Fleet!, which involves using ALL the cards in both the core set and the expansion, and then four new sets of cards (First Mate, House Boat, Salmon License and Salmon Boats, and Trophy Cards. Unless you are a backer for the game, you probably won’t see any of this stretch goals.

    First Mate works in conjunction with a Captain and nets you some extra victory points in the boat he is on has a full capacity of crates. House Boat is a way to spend some money up front and get a lot more back later on. They can also be used for VP. The Salmon license and boat lets you draw an extra boat card at the beginning of your fishing phase and then either put it in hand or tuck it under another boat you already have out there which then adds an extra capacity of four crates to said boat. Also, with Salmon cards, you now have enough to let Arctic Bounty be its own set instead of having to mix in the core cards. Finally, Trophy Cards are optional ways to earn VP by completing the requirements on the card. Three are randomly selected for the game and are shown face up so each player can view the requirements.

    All in All, Fleet: Arctic Bounty is a terrific follow up to the original core game. The cards are all great and add a new dynamic to Fleet. I’m really glad to have backed this game twice on Kickstarter and although newcomers will need to invest in both sets to make use out of Arctic Bounty, it really is worth it as Fleet is such a unique and enjoyable experience.

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