Your hands of leather grasp the railing at the bow of your ship as you gaze at the port in the distance. How much gold will you stuff into your coffer this time around? In trade fleet you are a sea merchant making the rounds in the Caribbean trying to acquire and sell Hemp, Silk, Tobacco, Rum, and Cacao.
At its heart Trade Fleet is a set collection game where you be racing to play Port Cards from your hand in order to later sell Goods Cards from your hand to gain gold. After being dealt your initial 5 cards your turn will involve you taking one of the following actions.
Play a Port Card. If you have a Port Card in your hand you may place it face up in front of you. You may only have one Port Card active at any given time, but you can replace one with another for your turn if you want to utilize a different port. Each port list the trade value of each good at that port.
Sell Goods. You may sell any number of goods from your hand at your active port. You gain gold equal to the value indicate on the port card fro each good. If selling more than one of the same type of good, the first sells for full value and each subsequent sells for one less gold, with 1 gold as the minimum. You then discard the port the all sold goods. You take cards from the discard pile equal to the gold received and place them face down to form a gold pile. Using cards from the discard as gold is a pretty nifty mechanic that I have seen used in other games like Oh My Goods!
Discard. Sometimes you will get a bad hand, so you may spend your turn to discard 2 or 3 cards and then draw back up.
Play a Happenings Card. Happenings are basically event cards that add a bit of theme to the game and serve to mix things up a bit. Some Happenings Cards simply benefit you in some way like allowing you to gain gold or goods. Others allow you to mess with other players to give the game a bit of a take that feel. Some of these work well and I like them in the game, but the lost card allows you force another player to skip their turn. I never like that in a game. You can easily remove any of these cards a suppose.
You and the other players will take only one of these actions each turn until the draw pile empties and at that point you will count up your gold to see who the winner is. Trade Fleet plays very quickly, so there is little down time, and that is one of its shining accomplishments, making it a solid little filler game.
I am personally drawn to these types of settings and themes in games. Maybe it is boring to some, but the idea of being a sea captain gathering goods and selling them at port is just intriguing. That being said Trade Fleet could easily be a game about anything, but the setting does work well with the mechanics.
The artwork is serviceable and does a fine job of drawing you into the setting. I would love to see a bit more effort here, but I understand the costs associated with custom artwork.
Without the Happenings Cards the score here would drop by a point or two. They add just enough story to the game to help push the theme. Again, some of them lead to take that moments that will upset some people, especially kids, but they feel fitting to the theme in general. I am sure there was a bit of take that back then between trade merchants.
Trade Fleet is a solid little card game made up of 87 cards with a small booklet and a tuck box. My only concern is the price of $20.99 seems a tad bit high for what you end up with in regards to components and play length. A price drop of a couple bucks would likely have me bump the score up to a 7 here.
It plays super fast and is quite fun for a lighter game. There is a bit of luck of the draw and you can have a bad game based on that, but with a play time of 15-20 minutes you can excuse an occasional unlucky game. Trade Fleet is a solid overall value if you like the theme and concept of the game.
In the end Trade Fleet stands as an above average filler card game that I rather enjoy. There is a decent amount of strategy when deciding on which Port Cards to activate, when to cut your losses and draw some new cards, or when to play a Happenings Card.
Trade Fleet is a good game to reach for before playing a deeper game with a similar theme. I think paring it with a game like Merchants and Marauders, Dead Men Tell No Tales, or even Port Royal would make for an enjoyable game night. Trade Fleet is not really a game I see you playing more than twice in a row in one evening, but would serve well as an opener or a closer and is deserving of a place in my collection.