Are you a seasoned harpooner with a steady hand and no next of kin with means to pursue future litigation? Ishmael, legendary Captain of the quaint and barely rotten Melville, is looking for YOU!
Become part of a rough-and-tumble crew with just enough experience to ensure that you probably won’t die at sea like the last man, and the two before him, did. A strong aversion to the drink is a plus, as the beloved captain is currently a little short on cash and can’t afford to stock up the rum.
The seas are ripe for harvest. Where lesser men see savage, bloodthirsty monsters, we see stacks of gold. Come earn your small, small share! We do not offer a retirement plan, but you probably won’t need it anyway. But what’s a few maimed limbs compared to a couple of weeks of financial solvency? Join the crew of the Melville today!
The harbor town of Nantucket serves as the game’s main hub, which is presented via a beautifully inked but relatively static illustration. Crew members can be hired and fired at the tavern, the merchant allows you to buy and sell the staple goods you’ll need to outfit your voyages. The town crier and his newspaper update monthly (months pass by fast when you’re at sea) which will give you period-specific headlines and offer various jobs (quests) to complete to earn money and prestige.
The shipyard allows you to purchase new ships, or upgrade your existing ship’s components. These areas are all menu-based, and can be overwhelming at first, but much of the game’s challenge comes from balancing resources on hand with the ability to successfully complete hunts and jobs in order to support future efforts.
As a budding captain of a small crew, your initial exploits at sea will likely consist of scouting for whaling spots, searching for ships lost at sea, and dealing with the random events that crop up along the way. The further you progress, the more job types and events will present themselves.
There are two types of events you’ll face at sea; narrative events, and battles. Narrative events present themselves through popup dialog which gives you a short, interesting description of an event or situation, and a list of options to resolve said situation. The available responses will depend on your personal stats and traits; sometimes the actions will be non-consequential, but often times a particular action can result in one of multiple outcomes.
For instance, a crew member who is caught ignoring their duties can be whipped in order to cure them of the ‘lazy’ trait, but this will cause a decrease in morale. You may also chose to lead by example, putting extra effort into your own duties in the hopes of inspiring the crew member. This may only offer a 30% chance for success, but failure will only result in no change of the current situation.
Some of these events have much darker consequences. When one of my harpooners fell out of the crow’s nest during a bad storm, he shattered his femur. The wound was grave; and I chose to attempt to amputate the leg in order to reduce the chance of the crew member dying. We returned to Nantucket a man short, but at least I tried, right?
In another instance, a crew member lost his footing and fell overboard. I could have counted my losses and continued on, but what kind of captain would that make me? Instead, I opted to tie a rope to my cabin boy and send him into the waves after our lost comrade. This carried the highest chance of success at just 50%, but failure meant I’d lose both members.
This particular gamble paid off, which I believe makes me the best Captain to ever sail the seas. For what it’s worth, I could have simply thrown a rope, or sent one of our whaling boat – the failure of either of those options would have only resulted in losing the original crew member, but the chance of success was also lower. And honestly, cabin boys are easy to replace anyway. Just don’t tell Earl I said that.
These events are semi-random, but are influenced by a number of factors. The skill level and types of crew assigned to various ship functions, their morale, sea conditions, supply levels, etc.
Because of this, some events will crop up annoyingly often. For instance, during a particularly lean stretch of months, I was forced to run my ships without any rum at the cost of some base morale points. With little to no rum in the hold, an event often pops up where a crew member decides they’re going to give up alcohol permanently. Which is great for a cheapskate captain like me, but it’s a bit perplexing when the same crew member declares they’re giving up alcohol (again?) a few months later.
Encounters play out a bit differently. At the start of the event, you’ll choose which of your crew members participate. Staying aboard the ship and sending the rest of your crew keeps you safe, though as the most experienced crew member, doing so can leave your party without its best asset.
Combat is die-based, and as your characters level up, their dice will give them more potential results per role. For instance, a harpooner’s initial die may have 3 sides that grant a strike against a target of your choosing, and then three empty sides which will yield no possible action. Once he levels up, you can unlock a trait which will replace a blank side with one that will allow you to ‘tie off’ a target, inflicting a ‘tied’ and ‘bleed’ status in addition to the damage.
Most crew have a choice in the types of die the roll. For instance, a navigator might have one dice that gives a 4-of-6 chance to produce an ‘evade’ action, or a second die that gives a 2-of- chance at a harpoon strike.
At the start of each turn, you roll all the characters’ dice, but confusingly, you can only play one action per turn. Even if your harpooner yields a ‘strike’ result and your navigator grants ‘evade’, you can only choose one of the actions to take. However, each enemy on the board will also get an individual action. If you’re fighting three pirates, you’ll likely take three damage cards (one from each), but can only attack one target per turn.
This makes certain combat scenarios feel very unbalanced, particularly early on. Pirate encounters are best avoided altogether. Early creature encounters tend to pit you against only one or two foes, and feel much more manageable. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still dangerous—a fact another harpooner of mine could verify, if he wasn’t currently traveling through an orca’s digestive tract. (On the plus side, you don’t have to pay him a cut of the haul if he’s dead, right?)
You start the game with a goodly amount of gold. Enough to make you feel comfortable, at least. But as I got caught up in the drive to upgrade my ship, I suddenly found myself very short on cash. The problem with the seafaring life is that you don’t get paid until *after* you complete a job or hunt, and it’s hard to outfit your ship for a job or a hunt if you don’t have money.
This meant I had to stretch my crew to the max; praying that we wouldn’t succumb to starvation or dehydration. Hoping that our ship wouldn’t be battered to pieces without the lumber on hand for at-sea repairs. Things got grim. Very grim. Rumors say that we were forced to drink our own urine just to avoid dehydration, though it’s unlikely that any of the crew will confirm that story.
The local whaling spots we found—two through specific quests, and one while exploring on our own—were out of season, but would soon become active. I had just enough gold left to buy enough water and lumber to get us there, but I’d have to rely on a successful hunt to supplement our food stores.
We arrived in the warm waters of the South Atlantic just as the colony of right whales returned to the hunting grounds. Two successful excursions later, and with just minor lacerations to show for it, we returned to port with a hold full of blubber—a prize worth more than gold—and all the whale meat we could eat.
Though our hold is small, the haul was more than enough to comfortably outfit the ship for another hunting expedition, which in turn yielded more than enough gold to outfit the ship for a third, more lucrative expedition. This trip included a very profitable goods delivery along with another hunt.
By the time we returned to Nantucket’s safe harbor, we were swimming in gold. Enough to continue upgrading the ship. Enough to stock up on food and water, and even a barrel of rum (although by now, none of my crew drink it.) We’re still a small crew on a small ship, but things are looking up!
…Still, I can’t help but wonder what the sea will throw at us next. For life on the open ocean is unforgiving, and the more comfortable you think you are, the closer you are to the brink of disaster.