Who doesn’t love pirates and the exotic adventure of tropical seas as a theme? From the mythic stories of legend to the surprising reality of how ships had efficient and egalitarian crews, there’s something appealing about bold galleons, schooners, and brigantines as cannons blazing, they unfurled their sails in a desperate attempt to outrun the fast-approaching enemy with its cross-and-bones flag flutterin’ in the wind! Heave ho, me maties, heave ho!
That’s the spirit caught in the fun new game Quests & Cannons from Short Hop Games. Heading to Kickstarter in a few months, the company graciously sent me a prototype to play and write about and since it supports 1-6 players with solo, co-op, team, and competitive modes, I decided that I would try out the solo mode. The instructions are definitely not quite finished, so I found myself seeking clarification via endless messages, but the basics of solo play are pretty easy and the design is bright and cheery, so let’s have a look!
Before we dive in, though, the game’s backstory: Mysterious islands have arisen from deep in the ocean to the surprise of the seafaring races of Miraheim. The Dwunnies, Delves, and Porcs have promptly populated these Risen Islands and as a member of one of these races, it’s up to you to bring balance to your ancestral homeland and seek the mythical artifact that could save everyone on Miraheim. The races could peacefully settle all the islands, but, predictably, that’s not how it’s working out. Your quest is to transport resources and search for artifacts even as you try to avoid those pesky other races trying to attack your ship and steal your glory!
QUESTS & CANNONS: SETUP
The board is reminiscent of Catan in that you fit hexagonal tiles into a frame that creates a large 6-sided board, but since each piece is actually a three-hex combination, there are ways you can set it up to make travel difficult and ways you can make it easy. The instructions also suggest different layouts based on the number of players and desired difficulty. It’s a bit tricky if you want to follow one of their layouts, but here’s what I ended up with as my starting setup:
There’s a lot to talk about in this initial photo, so let’s start with the basics: Each player is represented by a ship on the main map area, and has a detailed ship status board in front of them. You can buy sails which let you travel further (the extras are on the top right), there are limited cargo holds and cannons, depending on your ship, both represented by tokens also on the top right, and each island can source a trading good, as denoted by the “?” tokens on the map.
In solo mode, I have three enemy ships trying to sink me before I complete my quests, each shown on the left side. This area also shows a pile of money and the dread hull damage tokens. Shortcut cards to remember what’s going on at each point, along with three stacks of cards: Quests, Loot and Map Clue finish out the setup.
Now let’s look a bit more closely at some of these sections, starting with the map board itself. As you can see, there are a variety of different watery terrains:
These are calm seas, stormy seas (the darker water hexes), treacherous seas (the Kraken), islands (for example, Orchid’s Veil and Albatross Neck), and Trading Posts. Not shown are Outposts and Starting Spaces. Islands are your primary goal for movement and each island has a name and is randomly assigned an unknown trade good from the list of spices, lumber, gems, metal, and canvas. Each hex has a transit cost: 1 action point for an island or calm seas, 2 points per hex for stormy seas. Treacherous seas require you to roll a die each time you transit through one: 1-3 damages your ship and stops your forward movement, 4-6 means you luck out and pass through unscathed.
The Player Board is where you track your cargo, ship health, money, and just about everything else:
My specific ship and skills are detailed in the Champion Tile, slipped into the center. I’m Valkyr Thunderfoot with a ship that can withstand four damage before it sinks (the five hearts) and starts with 1 sail, 1 cannon and 3 open cargo holds, as the board reflects. My cannon begins with 5 ammo (each of the small dice represents one ammo and exhausts for a turn after a single shot). Players always get 3 action points to start, but the sail offers 1 additional movement each turn and I can buy more sails to make my ship even faster. By the same token, I can also buy more cannons if I want it to be more dangerous, more cargo holds if I want to be more efficient in trading, and so on.
The three ships I’ll be trying to avoid are represented by three additional randomly chosen champion boards; the mysterious G1, Quaeth Surebill and Khalgoh Goldtusk:
The special abilities are all ignored because they’re enemy ships (versus other players), but the hearts still represent their ship toughness (notice G1 is slightly more susceptible to sinking) and the starting cannons denote how many cannons each ship has in solo mode. In this instance, the scary ship is Quaeth, with two cannons and lots of toughness to withstand my return fire.
Finally, let’s peek at a few representative cards from each of the three decks:
Left to right, it’s a Map Clue that lets me gain a Prosperity point or Loot card, a Quest that requires me to deliver lumber and canvas to either Windshear Retreat or Scrollbound Librarium but pays out 2 Prosperity, 1 Loot card, and 2 Coins, and a representative Loot card that lets me once only sneak in an extra round of shots against an enemy if I’m attacked.
The goal is always to achieve maximum Prosperity and in solo mode, there are three additional tasks depending on which Champion Tile you choose: Cannons (sink at least 2 enemy ships), Cargo (complete at least 3 hard quests), or Sails (return home with at least 6 completed Map Clues). Since I’m starting out as Valkyr Thunderfoot, that means my solo mode question is Cargo. The ‘hard’ quests have darker edges, if you’re curious, and often require 3 trade goods, not 2.
Let’s jump into play now that I’ve spent so much time talking about how to set things up and what everything means!
HOW TO PLAY QUESTS & CANNONS
The basic idea in solo mode is that I have 15 rounds to achieve 15 Prosperity and complete my solo question. In my case, that means I have to complete at least 3 hard quests. Each round I have 3 action points I can use to move, gather resources or attack an enemy vessel in range. Any additional sails I have add +1 each to my movement range, so if all I want to do is zip along, I can move 1+1, then 1, then 1. How far I actually travel depends on the hex terrain, of course. Since trade is so important, it’s smart to constantly be popping by different islands to find out what resource they have, earn 1 coin if you’re first to the island (which you always are in solo mode), gain another quest card (you can have a max of 3, or, with my champion, 4) and collect any resources you’d like.
Which can lead to things like this:
I’m the ship on the right and I moved to Lettuce Sands and discovered it has gems. Then the dastardly Quaeth Surehill zoomed over and attacked me (enemies will head over and attack if they’re within 2 hexes of you). He carries two cannons, so for his attack, I rolled two dice, producing an 8. Bad news: each 4 points on the combined dice roll produces 1 damage, so my ship now has two damage (and I can only sustain four before I sink!). I fire back with one die – remember, I only have one cannon – and get a 4, so he’s hit too.
A bit further along I’ve picked up Canvas at one of the islands and am in an Outpost, which means I can trade Canvas and 3 coins for a new sail that will let me travel faster:
Notice the two hull damage tokens reminding me that my ship is already a bit banged up. Not so good, me landlubbers, not so good at all. it’s here that I make a major mistake, but you’ll see how it plays out momentarily.
I proceed for about six rounds, including accomplishing a Quest and completing a couple of Map Clues. After round 5 the enemy ships automatically increase their attack range to 3 (and to 4 after 10 rounds). Again I run up against that darn Quaerth, who this time does me in, mates. He done sink me ship, he did:
The hull damage tokens tell the tale, and ’tain’t a pretty one. In fact, I lost by having my ship sink, which was a darn shame. What I forgot to do was pull into an Outpost and repair my ship, being too focused on trading and exploring the islands. My bad.
THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS
It took me a bit to see how everything fit together, but there’s a lot to enjoy in solo mode with Quests & Cannons and I’m ready to reset the board and go again. I haven’t yet tried any of the various multiplayer modes, but I expect that they’re actually a bit easier than solo mode because all the other players will have their own quests, not just be floating about waiting for you to come in range and attack! Setup is a bit fiddly so I’m hoping that Short Hop Games rethink how that can be done (though I could just place all the tiles randomly), but once you get everything set up, this is a really fun solo game!
Now, to get back to the board and see if I can’t achieve victory, me chums, and split the loot with the rest of ye!
QUESTS & CANNONS: $60 from Short Hop Games and on Kickstarter September, 2021. If you’d like to keep track in the meantime, sign up for news at Short Hop Games.com or join their Facebook group.
Disclosure: Short Hop Games sent me a prototype of the game in return for this preview writeup. Which was definitely very fun!