Launch your fishing boats and construct a thriving harbour in this epic dice game!
Whenever I post on Instagram about Cartographers, Hadrian’s Wall, Sonora, Welcome To etc. and ask “what’s your favourite roll and write?” a load of responses will come back saying Fleet: The Dice Game. In fact I’d say most people who said they loved it also said it was the best roll and write ever made. So naturally being a big fan of the roll and write scene I was keen to get a copy and see what all the fuss is about. At the UK Games Expo in 2022 it was genuinely the first game we saw as we walked into the first hall on the Friday morning and so it must’ve been fate.
Finally I was able to put the game to the test, how does it compare to some of the greats? Does it deserve a plaice in the hall of fame? That’s the last fish pun, I promise.
How the game works
You could probably guess from the artwork on the front, but Fleet is all about boats and fishing. Players are selecting dice to develop their own fishing industry by launching boats, building the harbour and most importantly catching a shed load of fish.
Points are scored from catching fish, launching boats, obtaining fishing licenses and constructing buildings on the wharf, but how does it work?
Each player has two score sheets, one for the boats/licenses/fish side of the game, the other for the harbour and wharf side. Each sheet has various tracks that contain empty boxes offering all sorts of rewards when checked off.
There are 10 rounds in a standard game, and each round consists of 3 phases, plus an additional fishing phase on each of the even-numbered rounds.
- Boat dice – The boat dice are rolled (1 per player + 1) and players take it in turns selecting one to use. In addition everyone also uses the unselected dice. In this way you’ll always be using two boat dice each round.
- Income phase – Each player gains 1 coin (doesn’t seem like much, but there are various ways of increasing your income) which they cross off on their coin-tracker. Every few coins earns you a star action, which can be used as a wild and allows you to cross off any box on either of your sheets. I can’t stress enough how important it is to earn lots of coins (and therefore star actions)!
- Fishing phase (only on even numbered rounds) – each of your boats gains one fish (except oyster boats which can catch two each). Any full boats can’t catch any more fish.
- Town dice – The town dice are rolled (1 per player + 1 boat dice) and players take it in turns selecting one to use. The town dice either allow you to develop your harbour, your wharf, or gain coins from the market. As with the boat phase the unselected dice is used by everyone.
There are 5 types of fish (I know I should say seafood but it’s easier to say fish, I am aware an oyster is not a fish, although the more I think about it there are actually only two types of fish in Fleet*); Shrimp, Cod*, Lobster, Swordfish*, Oyster. When you select a dice face with one of those on, you check off the next box on that fish’s track. If you ticked off a license box you have earned the next license for that fish, if you ticked off a boat box you launch the next boat.
Each of the licenses in the game gifts you new and exciting rewards that can trigger all manner of chain-reaction benefits. Shrimp licenses allow you to use shrimp dice as wild, cod rewards you every time you launch boats, lobsters increase your income, swordfish gives you extra benefits after each fishing trip and oysters increase the capacity of their boats from 6 to 8 to 10. These benefits all increase the more you gain for that fish, and the 3rd and final licence will also grant victory points.
The harbour contains the King Crab which has no dice face so licenses/boats can only be achieved using harbour dice and star actions, but each boat grants 3VP and the license gives you a special end of game bonus, so it’s well worth going for. Also adorning the harbour are three more types of boat (including the barge which takes on any excess fish caught on overflowing boats) and the Captain’s Club, which grants additional fishing trips just for you. This is an opportunity not to be missed!
The market simply gives you coins depending on how many fish you’ve caught thus far. The basic is 2 coins but if you manage 40+ fish you’ll get 7 coins for visiting the market. Remember coins can gain you star actions so essentially the market can be changed to any action a lot of the time.
And finally the wharf. The wharf contains 8 buildings that you can construct over the course of the game, offering bonuses such as extra star actions, bonus coins each time you use the market, bonus income and most importantly VP. They contain a varying number of boxes to check off before they’re built, my favourite being the Seafood Buffet (yum), which only takes one box to build initially, and then scores points depending on how many unique fish you have on offer there. Up to 15 VP if you manage one of each and a good way to use up unwanted dice rolls!
As I mentioned earlier you can get some pretty useful combinations here, and as with a lot of roll and writes, that’s sort of the key to doing well at the game. Obviously star actions will help you a lot, and getting lots of coins will give you many of those. But it’s not just that, the licenses are vital to your success because a level 3 Cod license will grant you 3 coins each time you launch a boat, and a level 3 lobster license will give you 3 extra coins every single income turn. Yes, getting boats are good for catching fish but licenses can be much more useful in the early game.
Once the 10 rounds are complete, you tally up your scores. You get 1 VP for each fish across all of your boats, so this will often make up a sizeable chunk of your score. You also score points for any level 3 licenses, buildings constructed, boats launched and then the bonus points if you grabbed the King Crab license (if you didn’t you’re silly). The winner is the player with the most points!
I really really really like Fleet: The Dice Game. What it does really well is it keeps the game nice and short and the options relatively compact, meaning the games fly by, whilst still making it feel as though you have plenty of choice with your turns. It’s a really fun puzzle trying to maximise your turn, gain as many additional actions as possible and ultimately catch the most fish.
So far in the dozen or so games I’ve played there’s not been one strategy that can reliably win the game. Afterall, you may not get the dice rolls to undertake any particular strategy! Each player begins the game by rolling a single boat dice and crossing off three boxes for that fish, granting them a license and a boat to get started. This should give you a nice focus to start aiming for and obviously gives you an ongoing benefit to maximise. They each have their benefits and none of them seem to have an edge over the others as far as I can tell.
That makes every game exciting because as the game goes on, different players will go for different fish and as the player order changes you can start to take the dice your opponents might want – and remember whoever is last in turn order will be using both dice (as the unselected dice is used by all players), so they control which of those two dice everyone else gets.
I love the look of the game too, I know the theme is a little dry (insert joke about the sea actually being very wet here) but the nerd in me really likes it, and I love the artwork on the score sheets, there’s a lot crammed in to a relatively small space.
I found it very easy to learn and to teach- roll and writes such as Fleet/Hadrian’s Wall can be quite intimidating to learn because of the various segments of the sheet which need explaining, and the worry is by the time you get to the wharf bit, they’ve forgotten the fish bit! But in our experience that doesn’t happen because it isn’t that big, there aren’t too many sections so it all glues pretty quick. One criticism of Hadrian’s Wall is that there are A LOT of different sections so learning it for the first time is brutal, and requires repeat plays. Someone recently described Hadrian’s Wall as a spreadsheet, which I think is a little harsh as I love the game, but I see their point!
But is Fleet the best roll/flip and write I’ve ever played? I think it’s still probably too early to say as I only bought it six weeks ago so the initial fascination with the game is yet to ware off, but I think it’s going to be a very close second to Cartographers. They’re very different so difficult to compare, but I think Cartographers’ replayability is a big factor here. There are multiple different objectives which change each game and in different orders, whereas Fleet is the same each time, the only variances being the dice faces rolled and your starting license/boat.
What I do love about Fleet is that because each player selects a different dice to use, everyone’s scoresheets look different from the get-go. In Cartographers everyone a) has the same flipped card to draw from and b) is working toward the same objectives, therefore you can end up with fairly similar looking sheets after the first couple of rounds especially, taking away that smugness of having done something really clever that nobody else will have thought of.
All that said, I love them both, they are both fantastic games, and I would happily play either of them any time.
I definitely prefer Fleet to Hadrian’s Wall though due to the sheer overwhelming nature of those scoresheets, and the fact the flip and write element doesn’t really change that much from game to game so you can more or less employ the same strategy.
There’s also a nice (but brutal) solo game for those of us who can’t convince our wives to play a game instead of watching Love Island, and although its just a case of trying to beat your own score, I really enjoy it and I can rattle through a game in 15 minutes (enough to fit in four games during one episode of Love Island, in case you were wondering). I won’t go into detail but the automa is striking through boxes from the bottom of each track, taking away the potential for point scoring. Makes it very difficult to completely fill in one of your fish tracks or even get all three licences, annoying!
Overall I highly recommend Fleet: The Dice Game. It’s not overly complicated, it’s quick, it’s fun and it looks great. And if you like fish and seafood, it’ll make you hungry for a crab sandwich.
And once more just to cover me, I know that shrimp, lobster, oysters and king crabs are not fish!
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