Ahoy there! I see yarr leavin’ the forest for a new experience at sea. Well, there be a whole host of interestin’ critters here looking to eke out a livin’, whether it be by runnin’ the roosts or smugglin’. Grab your boat, let’s head out and see who can get the most Famous the most quick like!
2-4 Players | 1-2 Hours | Designed by Greg Loring-Albright
with art by Kyle Ferrin
Ahoy popped up mid 2022 from Leder games, Kickstarter free and direct to retail. The game follows Vast, Root, Fort, and Oath in the 4 letter title series, and it does it well, with exactly 4 letters in its title. The game continues the 4 letter title game series tradition of being illustrated by Kyle Ferrin, who has created a charming and adorable realm of sentient sea creatures living in a vaguely Treasure Island-esque world. While somewhat similar to Root in terms of theming disguising what can be a bit of a cut-throat game, Ahoy is certainly much lighter and much more chilled than what I’m going to refer to as its parent Root, it’s clear to see some inspiration has been drawn from Root to build Ahoy, and I would initially frame Ahoy as ‘Root Lite’, if I was pressed for a 2 word description of the game.
How does it work?
Ahoy is an asymmetric area control game, or a pickup and deliver game, depending on the faction you choose to play. There are 3 distinct factions with different play-styles and rules. The Bluefin Squadron (Sharks) and Mollusc Union will always be in play, with Smugglers added for a 3rd and 4th player. Shark or Mollusc players gain points through controlling regions of the map at the end of each round, and Smugglers get points from delivering cargo. Once a player gets to 30 points, players tally any bonus scoring and see who shivered the most timbers.
All players share some basic actions, regarding moving their ship around the map, gaining crew, and triggering/fighting combats. From there the actions available to each faction and how they score points diverge. Players perform actions by spending dice into the action spaces on their player board, with some restrictions based on the values of the rolled dice. If a player chooses to arm their cannons as an action, until the end of the round, if they encounter another player on the map (on their turn or otherwise), a combat will be triggered. Combat rewards include points, and other useful bonuses that vary by faction.
The Bluefin Squadron commands a network of operatives that are deployed every time their flagship moves. These units add to region control and can trigger combat with other players. The Sharks can also build Strongholds on the map which help to defend their control in a region and deny other players access to that area. The Sharks also have some actions specifically to target and attack their main enemy, the Mollusc Union.
The Molluscs rely on their swarms of Comrades to control regions. Comrades add to the control of a region but are quite peaceful, they don’t engage in or trigger combat. Unfortunately they are quite expendable, with both the Sharks and Smugglers having actions that can easily remove them from the map. The Molluscs have a deck of special secret action cards that they draw a couple of each turn. These cards allow for surprise abilities, depending on the situation. They may be useful in combat or regular actions, and sometimes allow for additional ships to be added to the map.
The Smugglers largely ignore the area control game taking place between the Sharks and the Molluscs and sail between islands picking up cargo cards and delivering them to their desired destinations. When a delivery is made, the Smugglers get to choose from a grid of rewards, and also increase the points value of the region they delivered to for the area control players, an interesting side effect. They also speculate on the end game state of the map, earning points for correctly guessing who will control certain islands at the end of the game.
Once a player reaches 30 points, the Smugglers will add on points from their speculation (it could be a sizeable amount of points) and we see who wins! Ahoy!
What do I think?
Ahoy is a lighter game, on par with Fort in terms of rule complexity, maybe an ‘advanced family’ level game. I’ve played it 4 times now at 3 and 4 players and I’ve gotten a chance to try out each faction. Games typically lasted from 1 to 1.5 hours. I will say that during my first play of Ahoy things felt a bit opaque and disjointed, the game felt much clearer on my second play, and I think that also translated through to a more coherent teaching of the game from me. I will admit I didn’t really prepare much before our first time trying the game (and was supported a fair bit by the well put together aid materials included!)
The Good Stuff
- Ahoy is a very nice production overall. I appreciate the appropriately sized box, the quality pieces and dual layer boards. The insert in the box is very functional and it’s very nice to have included 4 player reference leaflets.
- Kyle Ferrin’s superb artwork evokes a distinct theme without any textual flavour needed. I’m pretty impressed how a game without much explicit narrative manages to tell a pretty comprehensive story of the world of Ahoy with just illustrations and character names
- The rulebook is pretty decent. I found that while most things explained somewhere, there were a couple of snagging points where I felt a little lost. Overall though I think it teaches the game well.
- It’s smooth to get going with new players. Teaching the game is 5 or so minutes of core rules and a quick run-through of each players unique faction. With the now ‘standard’ Leder games player boards making following the flow of a turn so easy, it’s really straight forward to jump in and say ‘follow these steps on your turn!’.
- Playing as different factions really feels like you are playing a different game. The two sides of the area control game have different ways to gain control and pare down the enemy, while the Smugglers play a pickup and deliver game. I like this as it can let players who have difference preferences when it comes to games each play the game that they want but do it together.
- With regards to the area control based factions, I found the ‘engine building’ aspect of playing as one of these teams quite interesting. As it is a ‘tug o’ war’ between the two players, your ‘engine’ will get beaten down as you build it and so decisions revolve around where strategically to deploy your forces so you can balance your points income with the robustness of your deployment.
- While the dice as workers system isn’t really as integral to game as I expected it to be, it is the case that some players can be hamstrung on a turn because of a bad roll. Generally this won’t mean that you will be greatly negatively affected (you can pay coins to modify the dice), but you might have to think of something alternative to do for that turn.
The Bad Stuff
- In some cases I found the rulebook was a little less comprehensive. There isn’t a clear explanation of Smuggler rewards and how they might interact with other things in the game. The same is true for several cards that had vague wording, I think this could have been cleared up easily with stronger language on the cards.
- One of my biggest complaints about Root (and basically any game of this style) is that it is totally up to players to sacrifice their own ‘growth’ in order to keep other players in check: it’s a player moderated game. In this game there is a clear delineation of Sharks vs Molluscs, but if one of those players is getting a long way ahead, the Smuggler doesn’t have so much incentive to intervene as it will directly cost them points and they are largely unaffected by the struggle between the two area control players.
- To build on the above point, it can be clear well before the game ending is a certain player is going to win. This is one of my biggest dislikes in games as the other players are more or less required to sit there politely and take their turns for a couple more rounds while it’s clear they have lost.
- If the market get filled with dud cards there is no way to refresh it. I’m curious as to why you can in a 2 players game, but it’s not allowed in 3 or 4 players.
- When playing as the area control factions, once the game reached its mid point, I found often on my turn I didn’t feel like there was much for me to do. If I was in a stable position I was inclined to maintain it, stretching yourself thin will just give up territory. So I just took some inconsequential actions and passed my turn on, waiting for something I needed to pay attention to.
- Playing the game with 2 Smugglers feels a bit weird. It almost feels like the game is designed for 3 players, but to make it 4 they’ve tacked on another Smuggler but not thought about how that impacts potential for those players. In a 3p game Smuggling seems very strong, while with 4 players it feels harder due to competition. In one of my 4 players games, the market ran out of cards so both Smugglers had to massively change their strategies to try and scrounge any more points.
- I think the Smuggler pledge mechanic is one of the most bizarre mechanics I’ve ever seen! It just feels almost totally random with how volatile the board is during the game. For players to successfully guess who will control islands at the end of the game with anything more than luck – I’m not sure it’s possible.
In terms of my gaming tastes, I think Ahoy fits into an awkward spot where I like what it’s trying to do and respect it, but it’s a little on the lighter side. When I want to play a game like this I would find myself leaning towards playing Root instead. If you are interested in exploring the world of asymmetric games, I think this is a great stepping stone on the way to Root and other more advanced games. I also think it’s important to note that in terms of accessibility, this game is great, both in terms of being family weight, easy to learn and play, and also affordable. If you would like to find out more about the game or get a copy, check out the Leder Games Store. Avast!