Naval Warfare and Privateers
Here's one of the best lines in the game: "Pirates? What Pirates? We have NEVER condoned piracy!" Of course you have. Privateers can be great fun when they are working for you, and of great annoyance when they are used against you.
In fact, because so much of the game is based on shipping cargo and colonists to and from Europe, controlling the seas gives you a great advantage. If you are unable to achieve sea superiority, at least secure your own coastline and keep enemy privateers away from your cargo ships. This article discusses how one might go about doing that.
To counter enemy ships, place your ships so that you are able to reach most of the waters surrounding your colonies. For example: one off your northernmost colony, one in the middle, and one off your southernmost colony. If the computer player tries to block a colony, you are able to strike back.
Naval blockades can be devastating to the economy of nations. Not only do they block cargo ships from entering or leaving a port, but if all ports are blocked, Custom Houses will no longer be able to sell any goods in Europe.
Frigates are very effective against privateers, but they are also expensive. Buy some when you can afford them and station them outside your coast. You might just as well wait there until the computer chooses to attack, because a privateer attacking a frigate is likely to lose.
If you can't afford a large navy, defend your coast as best you can, especially where your ships travel to and from Europe. Try building your colonies in locations where your cargo ships can reach the high seas within one turn -- they're sitting ducks out in the open.
During the revolutionary war your frigates will be an easy match for the king's Man-O-Wars. Avoid attacking them, but rather, let your fortresses have a go at them. With plenty of artillery units inside a fortress, his Man-O-Wars will suffer heavy blows. The fortress automatically opens fire on enemy ships adjacent to it, and the king most often lands his troops around one of your coastal cities.
When your intervention force arrives you usually get some Man-O-Wars. Now, with equal strength and the added attack bonus, you might be able to sink his Man-O-Wars.
Build some drydocks so that you are able to repair your damaged ships during the revolutionary war. They will no longer be able to go to Europe for repairs.
Finally, remember to bring your ships home from Europe before declaring Independence. If you don't bring them home they will be captured by the Royal Navy. Ships on the high seas are also captured, so bring them all the way home and to safety.
Going on the Offense
First, it might be wise to make sure you've covered your own back yard. When you feel that you have set up an adequate naval defense, securing transportation of cargo and colonists, any additional ships you can afford can then be sent off to enemy waters.
Getting Francis Drake in your Continental Congress adds a 50% bonus to all your privateers when attacking enemy ships, and Magellan gives your ships an increased movement of one. Getting these two early would put you in a great position to dominate the seas.
Try covering as much ocean as possible by placing your privateers in strategic locations -- your enemy will have no where to run. Sentry your ships outside rival colonies and wait for the spoils of war. If you are able block entry to a colony in a single square, that's perfect. If not, place it another square or two out. That way rival ships will be slowed down by the presence of your privateer and hopefully not reach their destination. Then, of course, you attack!
What to do with the stolen cargo? If you have a colony nearby, that's great. If you don't, consider establishing one with the sole purpose of bringing in stolen cargo. Keep the population below three and you can abandon it later on, you don't have to worry about getting La Salle. (La Salle causes all colonies with a population above 3 to get a free Stockade, after which you can not abandon it)
Ship the stolen cargo into your new port and set up a custom house or assign a cargo ship to travel to and from Europe. It takes way too long for your privateers to travel back to Europe with it, you need to patrol those enemy waters at all times! Later in the game, when many cargo types are boycotted, a junction pirate's nest with a custom house is the only way to sell that cargo to Europe.
But hold on, there are some other options still. If you have De Witt in your Continental Congress, you are allowed to trade with European powers. Privateers can attack enemy ships without declaring war. That means that you can capture cargo, sell that cargo back to the computer player, wait outside his colony and capture the same cargo when he tries to ship it out again.
Finally, a great trick is to sell any muskets and horses you capture to nearby natives, adding to the problems of your rival. This is probably the most effective thing you can do. Steal his weapons, sink his ship, and sell the weapons you stole to his enemies -- now that's just great stuff.
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