Essen Preview: Francis Drake (Eagle Games / Kayal Games)

Francis Drake

  • Designer: Peter Hawes
  • Publisher: Eagle Games / Kayal Games
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 120 minutes
  • Players: 2-5

Times played: 2 (once at the Gathering of Friends 2013 and once with a preview copy provided by Eagle Games)

Drake box

Francis Drake is a 2013 release from Peter Hawes that will be at Essen 2013 through Eagle Games.  Over the three rounds of the game, players are trying to equip expeditions to the Caribbean and score points by defeating Spanish galleons, conquering forts and towns and collecting treasures (gold, silver and jewels).

Each of the three rounds of the game has two phases, and each .  The first phase is set in Plymouth which is found at the top of the board.  The city essentially is a 18 space path with different actions available on each space.  There are differing numbers of spaces on each action space as well as different rewards (more reward for placing your piece there earlier).  In order, each player places a marker down on an empty space. The catch is that Plymouth is essentially a one way street.  You can only place your marker in the dock-side direction.  There are benefits for being the first player in any space, so you may want to jump ahead, but if you do, you definitely leave stuff behind.


There are a number of different things that you can collect on your way through Plymouth.

·         Crew (gray cubes)

·         Guns (black cubes)

·         Trade Goods (purple cubes)

·         Supplies (brown barrels)

·         You can convert your sailing ship to a warship

·         Hire a pinnace to help you fight

·         You can take on the role of different personalities to get special abilities (Governor, Informer, Queen, Sir Francis Drake, Admiral) – I’ll explain these along the way

Once all players have made their way through the town, everyone has to stop at the dock and each player gets the chance to collect their choice of a crew member, gun or supply.  The order in which you reach the dock also turns into the turn order for the second phase.  As you collect these things, they are placed on your personal board.  In the first round, you use the spaces that are pre-printed on the board.  In the later two rounds, there are tiles with the same spaces which can be randomized to change the order in which you encounter the different spaces in Plymouth.

Close up of the town spaces.

Close up of the town spaces.


There is a bit of setup to get ready for the second phase which takes place on the bottom two thirds of the board which is a map of the Caribbean, split up into 4 regions.  Your ability to travel on the board is determined by the number of supply barrels you collected.  On this map, you will find 3 spanish galleons, 3 trading posts, and a town and a fort in each region.  The trading posts are filled with goods and each other location gets some sort of treasure (gold, silver or jewels).  As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of personalities that you can control in the first phase.  The Admiral and Governor get their special ability in this setup phase.

Admiral – the base strength of each galleon is decided by a random draw of the 3 galleon tiles.  However,  each of these ships also has a frigate counter which possibly increases the strength of the Galleon.  The Admiral gets to take the 3 counters and place one next to each Galleon.  Only the Admiral Player will know which frigate counter is where –and this could be valuable information in the second phase.

Governor – the base strength of each fort is printed on the board, but each of these is accompanied by a Troop counter which possibly increases the strength of the fort.  The Governor player takes the four counters and chooses which one goes with each fort. Only the Governor Player will know which troop counter is where –and this could be valuable information in the second phase.

Once the counters are placed, the second phase can begin.  Going in order of their finish in the first phase, players take turns placing a mission marker on any of the 14 locations in the Caribbean.  The markers are numbered 1 through 4, and the lower number means a higher priority.  In addition, the player who chose the Golden Hind spot in the first phase will get an extra mission marker which essentially has a number 0 on it (it has highest priority of all missions).  Play continues around the table until every disc has been played.

You can see the board here - the city is on top, the caribbean on the bottom

You can see the board here – the city is on top, the caribbean on the bottom

Then, all discs are revealed and the missions are resolved.  The first mission to be resolved is always the Golden Hind mission.  Following this, the number “1” disc of the first player in turn order is done and so on thru turn order until all the “1”s have been resolved.  Then, on to the “2”s, “3”s and finally the “4”s.  When a player’s turn comes up, he is not obligated to complete the action at that space, but priority at a space is important because each space can only be completed twice each turn (with the exception of one trading post which has 3 spaces).

Each of the four types of spaces is resolved a bit differently:

Towns – Towns have their defense strength printed on the board (1 Troop).  In order to conquer the Town, a player must discard a crew member (gray cube) and scores a number of VPs printed on the board next to that town.  Additionally, on the turn chart, he signifies that he has conquered at least one town this turn.  If he was the first to defeat a particular town, he also collects the treasure reward (either a silver or gold piece).

Forts – Forts have their gun defenses printed on the board as well as a mystery troop strength on the Troop tile which was placed by the Governor.  To successfully conquer a Fort, a player must discard a number of guns (black cubes) AND crew members (gray cubes) to match the defensive strength of the fort.  He scores a number of VPs printed on the board next to that fort, and, on the turn chart, he signifies that he has conquered at least one fort this turn. If he was the first to defeat a particular fort, he also collects the treasure reward (either a silver or gold piece).

Galleons – Galleons have their base strength revealed on their tile when the first player attacks them.  Additionally, their extra gun defense provided by the Frigate counter is revealed (the strength of which was known by the Admiral).  To successfully defeat a Galleon, you must discard a number of guns (black cubes) equal to the combined strength of the ship and frigate.  The player will score a number of points equal to the VPs printed on the galleon tile.   Additionally, on the turn chart, he signifies that he has conquered at least one galleon this turn. If he was the first to defeat a particular Galleon, he also collects the treasure reward (always a jewel).

Trading Posts – at the trading post, a player can exchange a trade good (purple cube) for any of the Goods tiles remaining at that space.  There are four different types of tiles, and players are trying to collect sets comprised of different types of goods.

At any point in the round, after resolving a mission disc, a player can choose to return to Plymouth.  This determines the turn order for the first phase in the next round.  There is also a small VP bonus to the first two players to return.

Once all players have finished their missions or returned to Plymouth, the round is scored.  First, players score points based on how many of the three different types of objectives (forts, towns, galleons) they completed this round.  Players get 1, 4, or 10 points for completing 1, 2 or 3 different types of objectives.  The Admiral scores 1VP for each unclaimed Gold piece on the board and the Governor gets 1VP for each unclaimed Silver piece on the board.

At this point, the round is over.  The new town spaces are randomized and placed on the board and a new trip thru Plymouth is setup for the next phase.  The game continues until 3 full rounds are complete and there is a bit of end game scoring.

First, players score their Trade commodities.  Again, there are bonuses for different types.  For each set, players get:

  • 1 commodity: 2VP
  • 2 different commodities: 8VP
  • 3 different commodities: 16VP
  • 4 different commodities: 26VP

Second, players empty out their treasure chest and score their treasures

  • Silver 3VP
  • Gold 4VP
  • Jewels 5VP

The player with the most money wins the game.

My thoughts on the game

Francis Drake is a very well constructed worker placement game.  The game length is admittedly a bit outside of my comfort zone, but to be honest, once we started the game, I was so engaged in the game that I didn’t notice it at all!  With rules and most of the players being mostly new to the game, we got through our first 4p game here in about 110 minutes (which includes a rules explanation).

There are a lot of little turns in the game and the action quickly comes back around to you in this game.  Additionally, I found that I was always watching the decisions of other players as their placements would affect mine.  While each of the three rounds is very similar, the changing setup in the Plymouth phase varies up the action nicely.  Additionally, the secret placement of the discs keeps you on your toes in the second phase.

The rules are a bit longer than a typical Euro game, coming in at 12 pages – but the rules are well laid out, and there are plenty of illustrations to clarify rules and give good examples.

As mentioned above, the game has a lot of little decisions, any of which can play a large role in your overall success.  The key, at least from what I’ve seen, is to be aware of what everyone else is doing.  You need to give yourself flexibility to succeed in as many missions as possible.  In our first game, one of the players took a risk on leaving supply barrels til the end, hoping to pick them up once everyone else was full… and he ended up only getting one barrel.  So, even though he was chock-a-block full of other things (guns, crew, etc) – he was only able to sail to the first section of the sea and did not really maximize the use of his stuff!

The game has a bit of the same-y feel to it because each of the three rounds is a complete start over – nothing is carried over other than your score.  If you play with the advanced rules, at least the trip through the town will be different, and you might have to plan your strategy a bit more carefully.  One of my group floated the idea of only playing 2 rounds to make the game come in closer to 75 minutes, but I don’t think you could easily cut the game short by a round though because of the weight of the goods bonus scores – the relative valuation feels right for the full 3-round game.

I’ve enjoyed my 2 games thus far, and it does pass the first test of all new Essen games… after a few plays, I’m still looking forward to my next chance to play it and try out a new strategy!  Of course, given the time of year and the schedule crunch – this may have to wait until Basement Con before I give it another whirl.

the supply board and the town tiles

the supply board and the town tiles

Larry (2 plays):  This is another fine design from Peter Hawes.  The first part of each round, the outfitting, works very well, thanks to the key rule that you can’t backtrack.  This makes the decisions of where to go particularly interesting, particularly since there are a number of viable strategies to pursue.  The second half of the round is quite angst-ridden, where the key is anticipating how your opponents will act.  The game plays very smoothly and the graphics are drop-dead gorgeous.  I found it to be a very enjoyable middleweight design and I expect it will do well for Eagle and Peter’s own company, Kayal Games.

Joe Huber (2 plays, one of the prototype): There is a lot of potential in this game.  As Larry notes, the inability to move backwards makes for interesting tradeoffs during the outfitting portion of each round.  The second half of the round has some feel of blind bidding to it – I’m surprised that didn’t bother Larry at all – but works quite well, as you have enough information with which to reasonably guess at your fellow player’s actions.  (Of course, they have this information too, which can lead to an emphasis on the blind bidding feel of that portion of the game, but on the whole it’s not an issue.)

The problem I have with the game – the biggest thing keeping it from being one I’d add to my collection – is the lack of state.  _Nothing_ is carried over from one expedition to the next.  And as a result, each round feels very similar – and the whole feels less than the sum of the parts.  When outfitting, there is no incentive to take more than you need, which actually reduces tension; if you could carry some over (even, say, half of the excess), there would be reason (other than spitefulness) to take advantage of some opportunities that now offer no advantage.  I think the game would be much better if either some state was maintained between rounds, or if the game was played over one, more extended, round.

Jennifer Geske (at least a dozen plays of 3-5 players): I don’t have the same problem Joe mentioned about nothing carries over from one expedition to the next. I actually like that element as I am planning 3 separate adventures with different goals to maximize my end-game standing, while managing resources in the most efficient way for the specific goals in that round.  There is some amount of ‘guessing what other players will do’ and guessing wrong can have severe consequences. However, the first half of each phase offers you the opportunity to choose resources and roles that can help mitigate the risks. I do like the tension between jumping forward to take something you need (thereby essentially announcing your intention to the other players) or going slow to get more stuff so you can be more flexible but risk not getting the jewels (which can be as much as 30% of the total points at the end of the game). Part of the length of the game is due to teaching – there are quite a bit to cover and a lot of components so teaching and setup often takes as much as 30 minutes. In both the worker placement phase and the ship placement phase, there is enough player interaction so that I don’t get the ‘sameness’ feeling over the 3 rounds. As for different ways to score victory points, they are pretty well balanced (except that I am convinced focusing only on trade goods is not a winning strategy). I agree with Larry that this is another winner from Peter and Eagle Games.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Essen Preview: Francis Drake (Eagle Games / Kayal Games)

  1. “The order in which you reach the dock also turns into the turn order for the second phase” – This is not the case (anymore) : If you come back early (before your #4 disk), you can get a bonus 2VP if you’re first, and 1VP if you’re second. But then for the next round, the order is reset in score order, the lowest score being first; a small, but important, catch-up mechanism.

    Also, you do carry traded resources between rounds. But I’m guessing you’re thinking of the other resources that are used during voyages (crew, guns, trade goods, pinnace).

  2. Doug says:

    Trade goods are carried over.

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