When first ideating expansion material I approach it with mainly one question: “what do I think would be cool or funny to see in the game world we’ve created” And there is one fishy character who has captivated me ever since I first saw him in 2015… Tahm Kench from League of Legends.
Here’s a small quote from his lore
"Known by many names throughout history, the demon Tahm Kench travels the waterways of Runeterra, feeding his insatiable appetite with the misery of others. Though he may appear singularly charming and proud, he swaggers through the physical realm like a vagabond in search of unsuspecting prey."
Now say what you want about league of legends, (I retired from the rift in 2015,) but what a CHARACTER.
A giant sweet-talking catfish swindler was my initial goal and I dove in. I wanted a faction who had goods and services being offered and occasionally forced onto enemies.
This first version of the Swindler had a lot goin on. They essentially had 3 things to “sell”:
The first was Weapon Caches and Pearls. Whenever the Swindler would end a Sail they could place 1 of either in an adjacent space. Whenever an enemy entered a space with one they’d automatically pick it up. Pearls would net them 2 gold and Weapons Caches would have them roll a new d6 and assign it to Cannons. In either case the Swindler gained 1 fame or 1 gold.
The second was Secret Passage. The Swindler had 5 dice and after seeing everyones roll would assign one to Secret Passage. This treated your Flagship and other pieces as a Tailwind of that value for enemies. If they used it you’d gain 1 Fame.
They also were Persuasive and a Huckster. Being Persuasive allowed them to recruit crew while adjacent to Islands AND to ignore any recruit cost. Being a Huckster, crew on your ship had no abilities but you were essentially a floating Market allowing enemies to recruit from your Flagship, gaining Fame and increasing the Region die. If nobody was buying you could always Strong Arm them, forcing a crew on to their ship and gaining gold or Fame.
Additionally they had Resorts they wanted to build, by cashing out gold they could build Resorts for a small burst of Fame.
I worked on this version for a few months, but the most notable development came when I decided to make the Weapon Cache and Pearl scoring scale with region value. If a Pearl was picked up in a 2 value Region the Swindler gained 2 Fame.
Now the gameplay loop looked kinda like…
Sail and drop resource > Gain small amount of gold > Use gold to make hotels and increase region value > Drop more resources in higher value regions
I honestly was so excited about this development initially, it created hot spots on the map where players did or didn't want to be and all the point scaling was player driven. But it still wasn’t fun or satisfying to play. Where the problem lied was in the Swindler's actual incentives and the initial thematic goal.
I had finished another unsatisfying game and realized the problem.
The Swindler's whole goal was about taking a useful thing and giving it to the person who it's least useful for. I wasn’t getting one over on enemies, convincing them to buy something they don't want. I was just giving a bad gift and being rewarded. You want Pearls? I'll place weapons nearby. Cool crew I found? Better not give it to someone who it's too helpful for. You get the picture.
At that point I decided to shelve the Swindler, they had grown into a very rules heavy faction with an unsatisfying gameplay loop for them and for others. It was time to start fresh!
Looking back I think one of the biggest weaknesses of the Swindler was its lack of grounding in the core Ahoy mechanics. I've found the strongest factions seem to have a strong focus on one or all of these: map navigation, the market, and the region values. Triangulating those was the trick.
And my months of thinking about it paid off because the current version of the Coral Cap Pirates came together very quickly! I had decided on themed ships as the main mechanic and I was off to the races.
You’ll start the game as a loan Flagship with 6 possible Frigates to build (one of each suit) and your goal is to find Captains to Enlist. While your flagship is at an Island with matching Crew you may pay the recruit cost as normal but instead Enlist. Take the matching Frigate card, cover up the Crews ability, roll up the region and place the Frigate on the map, they are now the Captain of that boat!
Each Frigate is uniquely equipped with an ability to score Fame that will also increase the Region value so you have to plan carefully how often and where you use them.
Additionally a Captain is nothing without his crew! Each Frigate has 3 jobs that they’ll gain bonus fame for filling at game end; however, you only gain Fame for filling a Job if all Jobs to its left are also filled. What this creates is an incredibly satisfying logistics puzzle using Parade, allowing you to command multiple ships. But be careful, Frigates lose fame for every damage at game end.
Should you fill the 4 point job even though you have no other jobs filled or instead get a new captain? Can you reach an island without taking too much damage and also score your After Parading ability? These are the types of questions the Coral Cap gets to mull over and with the unpredictability of the market and map construction it never shakes out the same.
I really can’t believe that there wasn't a proper “just pirates” faction before but I’m so glad there is. With just the right amount of swashbuckling and humor they’ve grown to be one of my favorite factions to show people.
Check out the Ahoy: New Horizon campaign on BackerKit for more info!