Getting to revisit Ahoy wasn’t an opportunity I was expecting to have. This may surprise many but when we originally published Ahoy it was intentionally developed for no further expansion. We wanted Ahoy's rules to be rock solid and dead simple to learn, this meant closing off a lot of design paths would allow for much crazier interactions. Opportunities where the design could spiral into several new things were often cut in favor of a cleaner core experience.
Flash forward to release and our fans were engaging with the world and characters more than we expected! Almost immediately upon release people were imagining and theory crafting potential for new factions.
I knew it would be a unique challenge and I was even really skeptical of the capacity to expand the game but I was prompted to at least try.
When looking at the task ahead and roughing out where the difficulties would be, I was reminded much more of my time working on Vast: The Mysterious Manor than any of my work on Root.
Similar to Vast, roles in Ahoy have very specific outputs that other factions depend on existing in order to give themselves an identity. What does a Bluefin Squadron do if there are no Comrades around? The answer is nothing, the only reason their existence is even exciting is BECAUSE Comrades exist. A real Batman/Joker situation.
All that is to say when designing an alternate to the Bluefin Squadron there was really one important thing, Patrols. The faction would need to put out Patrols in a unique way that was also interesting gameplay. Thematically I knew I wanted to do whales and I wanted them to feel fast and aggressive.
In my first cut of the Blackfish Brigade I attempted to put the focus on movement. I wanted a faction who roamed the water more than the original and whose flagship was more powerful but limited.
Sail allowed players to move up to 3 and remove a Comrade but you couldn't turn.
They were able to place Patrols with Expand, maneuver them with Whale Song and remove Comrades with Hunt.
It had a lot of potential but the incentives for players were all out of whack. Since Patrols are the most critical piece for the military faction by locking it behind any type of die slot it was immediately the most important action, essentially mandatory even. This quickly led to problems where players have no reason to use dice for other things, using every part of their actions and gold to make sure you get your 2 Expand actions.
Additionally the straight line limitations on the Flagship weren't making it feel powerful. Even with the capacity to occasionally remove comrades the sheer value of position in Ahoy is so high that the lack of flexibility with Flagship had it feeling just cumbersome.
So for the next version I knew that the gaining of Patrols needed to be more free. I don't want players wasting their few actions sitting still and spawning Patrols, I want them playing Ahoy! Which means sailing, exploring and fighting, so the playerboard needed to encourage that.
This version introduced 2 big things, the passive rewards for placing dice and the first version of the whale pod!
This version of the whale pod was a square punch board piece that would be placed on the edge of the region tiles. Any Patrols gained were placed on the punch board and moving the whale pod would move it one space along the outer edge and place a Patrol.
There was a lot that was promising about this version, primarily it solved the hyper focus on any single action that gains/places Patrols. As promising as it was, I was worried by the whale pod. It was functional but had a lot of limits, one was just map size. Early game the pod was able to reach most places by scooting around the edges but by mid/late game sometimes even 12 moves wasn’t enough to get it near a reasonable position. Then also was the rules side, there were just too many new rules and questions being spawned about all the implications of this edge piece.
After one of our office games someone suggested splitting the whale pod into two pieces, one going around the region die to indicate position and a card for storing the gained patrols. It solved all those previous problems and even added some new layers like deciding what quadrant of the pod to assign Patrols to.
The final piece of the puzzle was Surge, previous versions put the comrade removal primarily on the Patrols scaling with how many were in a region. This caused the Flagship to lose much of its character and left it not being seen as a threat, really just a radio tower. By changing the means of Comrade removal back to the Flagship all players now cared significantly about the position of the Flagship again. It also made for a wonderful little triangulation puzzle between your Flagship, Pod and Patrols.
With some small adjustments to the die restrictions and rewards I arrived at the version you see today.
(a small rules note you must use the left tailwind slot before the right)
The Blackfish Brigade has been a blast to design and I'm incredibly happy with the current shape they are in. I think they offer a shockingly thinky but equally aggressive style of play to their Bluefin counterparts.
Check out the Ahoy: New Horizon campaign on BackerKit for more info!