Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bastard of the Caribbean, part 2

Our hero is now set for adventure - a ship, a crew that is willing to be ordered around as long as their supply of rum is kept steady, and a whole new world of opportunity and lightly guarded piles of gold (I hope). But since we're still in town it may be a good idea to look around and check if there's anything to be done before setting out to sea.

Port Royale is an English town and it has everything you might want in town: a tavern and, uh... well, you can also visit a trader or the governor if you want, but tavern is all you really need. You barge in boasting about your glorious achievements - or grand plans if you can't even think of any lies that would make your past adventures sound good - and then listen to news shared by other patrons, always true and honest, of course. You may even trick convince a few to join your crew, and if you're lucky, some old disgruntled sea dog might sell his treasure map. This time, we're not lucky and have to check those other places as well.

The town's merchant is offering some discount goods which find their way to our hero's ship, hoping to find a sucker in his travels who would buy them for more. Well, might as well visit the governor too, for completeness' sake. Another piece of nostalgia lies lurking there:

(Please burn that tune into your memory with the force of a thousand suns for maximum effect.) Anyway, the governor informs me that England is at war with Spain and Holland - it's good to keep track of who hates who, but I already gathered as much in the tavern. Realizing this guy has nothing else to offer, our hero politely excuses himself, leaves palace and sails off.

We don't get to sail far before the lookout spots a ship - a slow, bloated merchantman, to be exact. It also happens to be flying the English flag. Hm, could I betray my country for quick cash? Can't see why not. After all, with hardly any protection to speak of, they're basically mobile supply stations. Surely, nobody will mind if I help myself, right? Right.

As expected, it doesn't put up much of a fight, but it appears it had served some other... customers recently, so it only has a meagre sum of 320 gold pieces and hardly any cargo in it. They didn't leave much choice here, so I take the ship as well.

My crew, however, aren't easy to please. They are hungry for loot, and a small prize like this won't distract them very long. I set course south, towards the Spanish port Santa Catalina, hoping they'd have more easily accessible gold. Unfortunately, there is none - the town itself is even less prosperous (read: no chance to profit from trade), and I can only catch a 100 gold boat in its waters.

Well, I clearly need a plan now. The crew is still unhappy, and I can't progress much until there's enough money on ship to distract them - I can't hire more men (which I really need) because then their individual shares will be even smaller. Perhaps it is time to pick a side and start working for one of them governments. Normally, I'd just go with the first to give an offer, but now the goal is to achieve as much as possible in one go - that is, a different approach is needed.

The way it works is pretty straightforward: you are hired by a country as a privateer and get rewarded for fighting on their side, whereas attacking friendly ships automatically nullifies any status you have acquired with that country. Therefore, it is best to start with somebody I could safely ignore for the rest of the game - in this case, the Dutch.

There's no plan without complication.

Problem is, the only few towns controlled by the Dutch (like St. Eustatius there, pointed by a sword) are in the Lesser Antilles - across the sea to the east. Distance is no big deal, but weather is, especially on this difficulty. Unlike lower difficulty settings where wind screws you over by reversing direction every day, swashbucklers are screwed over by realistic weather - specifically, trade winds blowing in the exact worst direction possible.

Even when applying supreme navigational expertise (i.e. zigzagging and hoping for the best) the voyage is taking insanely long. After what must be weeks of in-game time our ships have covered just a fraction of the way, and no encounters in all that time. That is, until the lookout notices a sloop on the horizon. A tiny ship in the middle of the sea? That can't be...


See, that's how pirates (and I) work - get a small fast boat, load it with as many guns as it can hold, and then fill it with a ridiculous number of crewmen. Unlike the couple of battles earlier, this one actually poses a challenge.

A typical strategy that works most of the time is trying to stay behind the other ship, away from its broadsides, and firing shots at your own convenience until you're ready to close in and board it. However, when the enemy can move around just as much as you can, landing shots and avoiding getting shot at is more difficult. To make things worse, pirates have much greater numbers, so boarding is something best left until there's no other choice.

That condition is satisfied pretty soon when the pirates manage to hit our ship twice in a row, reducing the fighting force even further. Luckily, their captain is not much of a duelist, and the balance of the fight quickly shifts to my side when the melee begins.

Captain Wigglesworth isn't good at emoting victory.

And quite a victory it is.

Finally, some decent plunder! Thankfully, our crew is made up of only the most finely selected selfish bastards who don't worry about fallen mates and just concern themselves with their share of the prize, and, naturally, are now happier than ever.

But wait, that's not all!

Sweet, how much XP is that worth? What do you mean there's no XP? How can I understand my progress without a numerical value? Eh, I guess a list item will have to do, then.

So that's one problem down, but weather is still as unfavorable as ever. I decide to make a quick stop in the island of Hispaniola where France has set up a few ports to perhaps hire some more cannon-fodder sailors and to get rid of the merchantman that must have been partly responsible for slowing down the voyage. The ship sells for another 2500 coins, and there's another surprise - the governor informs our hero that the family of Admiral Clinton is ready to pay 4000 gold for his release. All cash is good cash, and now things are really starting to look good.

Next time: I win everything forever?

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