Nantucket is a game based on the adventures of Ishmael in the years after the hunting of Mobydick by Captain Ahab of the whaling ship Pequod. This guide explores the different aspects of the game, suggests crew compositions, looks at the combat and everything for getting your teeth into this game that drips with salty flavour and theme, but has some odd little mechanical and design quirks.
Nantucket is a strategic game of being the captain of a whaling ship, combined with a mission-based narrative of tracking down Mobydick and exacting your revenge against him (and conducting some period-appropriate side quests). It has relatively simple strategic mechanics of sailing across the oceans, combined with a turn-based combat dice game and some simple choose-your-own-adventure missions.
The mechanics and narration are simple, but what saves the game is the strength of the theme which drips from the artwork to the music, the pace and the mechanics. There are several criticisms that can be levelled at some of the gameplay choices and UI, but the feeling of authenticity behind the period portrayal is very strong.
You start with a small ship with space for three crew members and a small seed fund in the port of Nantucket. You scan the monthly newspapers in port for missions, make money by whaling, build prestige by completing missions such as taking cargo to different ports, locating and evaluating whaling grounds and tracking down ships that have gone missing.
The game has four interlocking parts – things you can do in a port, sailing around the world map, encounters both at sea and on land – and then fighting.
Things to Do in Port
There are only seven available whaling ports around the world map. You begin at Nantucket on the East Coast of North America.
- Nantucket (East Coast US)
- Horta (The Azures – Mid-Atlantic)
- Peterhead (Great Britain)
- Imbituba (East Coast South America)
- Cape Town (South Africa)
- Honolulu (Hawaii)
- Kororareka (New Zealand)
Each port is rated for crew available to hire, quality of newspapers available, quality of shipwright available, and quality of market for essential goods.
The tips screen suggests there is a variety of ways of hiring crew from port, but the only one I’ve found is visiting the pub. You can hire cabin boys or someone with a professional skill; sailors, hunters, craftsmen or men of science. Each professional has a level (1-10) and you can hire up to your prestige rating in total class levels. Initially that is 4. The higher the rating of the pub, the higher the maximum level of professionals available.
Firing a crew member costs you one prestige, but it is sometimes necessary to make space for someone better or with a skill that has become important. If you can earn prestige quickly enough, you can hire level 10 crew that can make surviving battles a lot easier.
Newspapers change every month and give you some flavourful articles and, more importantly, missions that can earn you money, prestige and experience. Missions vary between locating new whaling grounds, moving cargo, tracking down ships lost at sea or hunting epic beasts that have been terrorising shipping.
To put the rewards on offer into perspective, filling up your starting cargo hold with blubber will net you around $1,000. Missions do not seem to be an easy way to make money – they seem to be secondary to hunting whales.
You also need to go to the newspaper to claim your reward once a mission is complete. You can’t see new missions until you have completed any missions accepted and claimed all rewards, which is a bit annoying, but slows the pace somewhat.
Market – Buying essentials
You need four consumables in your ship to survive for any time at sea. Fresh water, preserved food, materials to maintain and repair the ship and, finally, grog (diluted rum.) You buy these by the barrel from the market. The quality of the market determines how good the prices are per barrel (more stars is cheaper.)
The game, handily, tells you how many days the resource will last given your current crew complement. The map of the oceans tells you how long you are expected to take (one way trip!) with a reasonable wind given your ship’s normal speed. You are advised to over-cater. The winds can be fickle and delays are inevitable. Also various encounters during a voyage can see you losing resources through accident, neglect or misadventure.
If you have to choose, water is most essential and seems most prone to getting lost mid-journey. It’s also usually the cheapest thing to stock up on. You can get food from hunting sea creatures, which can be sold back to the market after returning from a successful hunt.
I routinely overcater for safety – starting with 100 days (3 months) of supplies to potter around the North and South Atlantic, and then upping it to 150 days to head round the cape into the Pacific.
You start with a small ill-equipped ship. You can swap to a new ship at the shipwright with the right money if you have unlocked the right technology upgrades. You can research technologies by having a crewmember with the right skill in your roster, and then spending the money and time on researching the upgrade. Clearly this is an important hurdle to jump early to give you the chance to upgrade to a bigger ship if you so desire.
Broadly speaking larger boats give you more crew space, more cargo space, more whaling boats and extra amenities on board.
A Closer Look at Crew and Captain Skills
Classes and basic skills
Skills as seen in combat
- Cabin Boy (White die) – 2/6 chance of hitting in combat (Non-hunters all get this)
- Hunter (Red die) – 3/6 chance of hitting in combat (replaces white die)
- Scientist (Green die) – 3/6 chance of healing someone in the same whaleboat
The following are only used in combat on the seas, and are not used in hand-to-hand fighting
- Sailor (Blue die) – 3/6 chance of a defensive maneuver to protect someone in the whaleboat
- Craftsman (Yellow die) – 3/6 chance of granting a reroll to someone in the whaleboat
At prestige level 1, cabin boys choose one of three classes – Hunter, Sailor, Craftsman or Scientist. At prestige level 2, crew members choose a specific career path available to their class which locks them into a specific set of three skills, which are then unlocked as they level up.
Skills are listed below. Skills in italics add a special die face in combat. Those with two stars ** unlock the ability to invest in selected ship technology upgrades which grants access to purchase different vessels. Those underlined are focused on the creation and use of safe docks. Other skills offer passive benefits, immunities, economic bonuses or buffs of various kinds.
- Pain master
Man at arms
- Cover fire
- Cannon **
- Clean bill of health
- Die hard
- Perfect balance
- Confusing maneuver
- Black market
- Captain’s cabin **
- Man of the masses
- Wind rider
- Safe docking
- Weather man
- Tech support
- Balanced rationing
- Caboose **
- Healthy food
- Try-works **
- Master boiler
- Emergency kit
- Have some rest
- Sick bay **
- Guinea pig
- In vivo testing
- De rerum animalia
In my opinion, the most important skills for surviving battles with creatures of the deep are: Bandage (everyone in the boat is immune to bleeding), Perfect balance (everyone in the boat is immune to falling overboard), Evasion (remove an enemy card) and Confusing maneuver (remove an enemy card and stun the enemy). Tech support (pick a result on a colleagues die) is also good.
For sea battles, Harpooners, Carpenters and Whale Men are a potent combination against whales that breach and ram (bigger cash whales). Not as strong against whales and sharks that cause bleeding effects, but these tend to have lower hit points.
As Captain, you can purchase skills from any career path, although you still have to buy lower tier skills before you can access higher tier skills. Skills cost the same number of upgrade points as their tier. You can only have a certain number of skills active at any time. The number increases as you level up your captain.
Captain skill choice
My Captains tend to take the place of a Whale Man in whaleboats and so maxing out the whale man skill list is essential for me. Evasive (1), Perfect Balance (2), Confusing (3) [Captain should specialise in removing enemy cards and stopping crew from going overboard].
Having the captain perform double duty as a field doctor is less critical if you avoid narwhals and killer whales, but Emergency kit (1), Bandages (2) [Protection from Bleeding is good value]. I don’t find resuscitate that useful on the whole.
The Captain is often dragged into life or death fights against pirates, guards and other miscreants. Having a method of removing enemy attack cards in these fights is crucial. Covering fire (1) [working up to Grenade (3) is a luxury]
Clean bill of health (1) [Bonus to HP is very welcome]
Allocating captain stat points
- The damage you cause to targets is based on red dice / Hunter skill points
- The amount of hits you can heal is based on green dice / Science skill points
- The bonus to ship speed or visual range is based on blue dice / Sailor skill points
- The bonus to crafting jobs is based on yellow dice / Craftsman skill points
In general, there seems little point in your captain having more than a point in Yellow. Any Sailor can give you plenty of speed and vision bonus – your Captain need not spend points there. So Green dice are valuable for healing capacity – and red dice for damage output for those fights where you’re boarded by pirates, or ambushed during a mission.
Selecting a Crew – Whaleboat Combinations
Each whaleboat can have up to three people, but each round they can only do one action between them (except for the craftsman’s re-roll and certain artifacts).
Harpooner, Harpooner, Carpenter
In the early game, when one harpoon hit will kill a target, you may want to maximise the chance of getting one hit to finish off enemies quickly. Each harpooner offers 3, 4 or 5 chances out of 6 to hit. If they are given an offensive item (such as a special spear), that can increase to 6 out of 6 guaranteeing a hit barring the chance that their dice are locked by a combat condition.
The carpenter provides reroll chances as well, either one harpooner, or both depending on the carpenter’s level – even the ability to pick your result. This configuration is superior to Harpooner, Carpenter, Carpenter because the expected result is higher. However it does presume that the Harpooners are of equal damage output.
This combination lacks for defences against bleeding, overboard or other status effects and cannot heal wounds. When the foes are big enough not to go down to a single shot, then this combination starts to look lacklustre. Early game only.
Harpooner, Whale man, Carpenter
Replacing one of the Harpooners with a Whale man does reduce the chances of offensive action a little, but it replaces it with solid defensive potential – protecting weak or injured members of the boat’s crew, eliminating enemy attacks entirely, and even stunning them at higher levels. In addition, the tier 2 skill “perfect balance” makes you immune from being knocked overboard and so is excellent at keeping pressure on the enemy, particularly larger whales that rely on bulk rather than teeth or horns for offense.
This combination is not as ideal for action against Killer Whales, Sharks or Narwhals – anything that can cause bleeding. It relies on not getting hit, rather than having any way of healing injured crew.
Harpooner, Carpenter, Field Doctor
The Whale man’s abilities which eliminate enemy cards can assist boats other than his own, whereas a Doctor’s healing abilities can only be employed by people in his own whaleboat. As such, one might consider having one Whaleman in one of your boats, but having doctors in the others. This combination is good against Killer whales, Sharks and Narwhals. The field doctor’s “Bandage” skill eliminating bleeding from the mix significantly reduces the threat from these creatures. However, there’s no protection from being knocked overboard, so against larger whales which breech and ram whaleboats, you may struggle.
The doctor’s resuscitate skill is annoying, in that you can only use it on people killed in your boat, but the doctor routinely has the lowest hit points and invariably gets killed first. I’m not a fan.
The Captain’s Boat – Captain (Science/Sailor), Harpooner, Carpenter
If you prefer your Captain to be on one of your whaleboats, risking life and limb (or an end game state), you need to decide who gets to be in his boat and what skills the Captain should bring to the group.
If you can buy “Bandage” and “Perfect Balance”, then the boat will be immune from bleed and overboard passively, so you can then take your pick from the remaining roles to fill. The Captain doesn’t get a Morale boost from killing creatures and so it might be worth letting the crew get the kills – so a Harpooner is a good partner. If the Captain can choose the dice colour, it would seem natural to focus on Sailor and Scientist over craftsman – so the Captain can benefit from partnering with a Carpenter.
This takes me to my favourite Captain build – Smart with Sailing and Scientist with more points spent in Science to boost healing skills in combat, with spare points in Sailing to improve ship speed when the Captain’s at the helm. The Captain uses Blue dice for the most part, eliminating enemy cards and stunning enemies, allowing Harpooners on other whaleboats to get the kills. You can switch to Green dice to heal your boat if necessary.
Harpooners are less useful than Men at arms against canoes, but much of the above still applies.
The following are obvious configurations for a three man party against pirates.
Man at arms, Man at arms, Man at arms
Man at arms, Man at arms, Field Doctor
When you captain is, inevitably, drawn into a fight with pirates, then you would want to adopt the following if possible, assuming that the Captain can bring doctoring dice, and skills from the Man-at-arms skill tree as well as some Red dice from Hunter skills:
Captain, Man at arms, Man at arms
Example flexible complement for 10 man crew (large ship)
- Whaleboat 1: Captain (Science/Sailor), Harpooner, Carpenter
- Whaleboat 2: Harpooner, Whale man, Carpenter
- Whaleboat 3: Harpooner, Carpenter, Field Doctor
- Substitutes: Man at arms, Man at arms
Plan: Take Whaleboat 1 and 2 when attacking large whales, take 1 and 3 when attacking Sharks, Narwhals, or Killer Whales. Or just always take 3 and resolve to have one slightly weaker whaleboat in return for an additional action.
I have found that, in general, having a Whale man outweighs having a Field doctor. It feels odd to go out with no healing powers, but the extra chance to simply eliminate enemy cards is very strong as long as you don’t encounter fog (prevents actions against enemy cards).
Sub in Man at arms for Harpooners in boats 2 and 3 when attacking canoes. You can make do with just one substitute Man at arms if you can put up with a Harpooner against canoes and pirates, and sub in someone who would be good for the ship when sailing – perhaps a Helmsman for faster safer sailing, or an Oil Master to boost conversion from blubber to more valuable oil. Alternatively, have a Man at arms in a Whaleboat instead of a Harpooner.
With this as a target complement, we can work out how we would get there as you upgrade from small to medium and then to large ships. First of all you would want to unlock the ship technologies to allow you to purchase larger ships, once that’s done, then you want to get maximum money and prestige quickly, buy a bigger, better ship and hire the new crew:
I have never found much use in gaining the skills underpinning safe docking, and so I tend to avoid Survivors and Biologists. Carpenters are useful for their combat dice and helmsman for the bonuses to ship speed and ability to avoid weather and sea hazards.
Ships and Upgrading Them
There are nine types of ships in the game, three of each size category (small, medium, large). As you go up size categories, you gain additional whaleboats (1, then 2, then 3), more crew capacity (3, then 6, then 10), and additional crew stations on board that grants certain bonuses and abilities.
In each size category, one of the ships is slow, but has good hold capacity (Sloop, Brig, Barque) and usually requires additional Hold technology, one is fast, but offers more limited cargo space (Cutter, Schooner, Clipper) and requires additional Sails technology, and the third is in the middle (Bermuda Sloop, Brigantine, Barquentine) and requires additional Crow’s Nest technology.
Medium vessels also require Caboose and/or Try-Works. Large vessels add the need for Captain’s Cabin and Sick Bay.
The upgrade path is a bit strange and you need to understand the mechanics to upgrade your ship.
You need to meet certain skill requirements from within your crew to allow you to invest money and/or time at the Shipwrights to level up that crew station – even if your current boat does not have the crew station you wish to research. However, once you’ve unlocked the upgrade and are on the way to completing research in it, you no longer need the crew member’s skill.
So – you need a cook, oil master, harbourmaster and medic only as long as you need to unlock the technology level you need (3 at the most) – then you can fire them and take a crewman you might actually want.
Sailing Around the Map
One of the main parts of the game is sailing around the oceans across the gorgeous, but unzoomable, map. You search for whales to hunt, avoid hazards and follow quests from place to place.
As you sail, your crew health should improve as injuries heal, but you begin to consume your resources on board and morale ticks down over time. The wind can drop leaving you mostly stranded, and if you haven’t stocked up well, you can run out of resources and end up dead. It might take a few playthroughs until you get comfortable with how much stuff you take and the many and nefarious ways you can lose resources on certain trips.
My rule of thumb is 50 days of stuff for pottering between Nantucket, Horta and Peterhead around the North Atlantic. 100 days for trips from North to South Atlantic – and 150 days to the Pacific from the Atlatic.
Whale hunting grounds and Whale migration routes
You get the most money and prestige hunting whales. Whales are migratory creatures of habit.
Whales are best hunted either in their feeding grounds (21st June – 21st September) or their mating grounds (21st December – 19th March). Each of these hunting grounds is connected to the other with a migration route where they can be found in between times (late March to early June and Late September to early December). Sometimes the migration route is very long and is broken down into two or three segments, each with a different date range during which they are active.
When your ship enters a suitable hunting area, you should see a little green whale icon appear in the top right of the screen. If you stop and select “Hunt Whales”, or even just wait without issuing an order and let time pass, eventually, your crow’s nest should spot a fin. If you lower the boats, you will enter a sea battle against the type of whale found in that area.
As you sail around the world, you will reveal certain shipping hazards. Some are static; rocks, icebergs and perilous waters (whirlpools). One is intermittent (storms) and one moves with intent (pirates.) Early on you may be best advised to sail around these hazards, rather than through them. Bad things happen to sailors that take hazards for granted.
Sailing through a storm can result in men falling overboard and people getting hit by lightning. No saving throw. You’ll start taking storms seriously when it happens to your Captain and he dies in one hit. Having a high level Helmsman can allow you to relax a little bit about storms if they’ve unlocked the “Weather Man” skill. Storms can pop up out of nowhere and if you are routinely on 3x speed, then avoiding them can be tricky and require your constant attention and intervention.
There’s something natural about NOT steering your ship into a whirlpool. These hazards are static and relatively easy to path around by setting way points using shift-click. One day I might investigate all of the perilous water events by deliberately steering into them, but today is not that day.
Rocks can damage your ship’s hull if you are somewhat indelicate with steering. However, with a decent craftsman, your repair rate should cover it just fine. Creature battles in these areas can involve unique combat conditions such as creatures getting the Bleeding status from scraping against rocks. Like whirlpools, it’s easy enough to path around these for the most part.
You may see a large transparent skull and crossbones (jolly roger) on the world map. These are pirate hunting areas. If you come in visual range of a pirate ship, it will pursue you and attempt to board. You could lose gold to bribe them, dissuade them using a cannon if you have one, or simply accept being boarded and try and repel them. Pirate battles can be deadly because of how they operate and so you would be well advised to avoid pirate hunting grounds even if it means spending a bit more food and water going the long way round.
When you are near a coastline, a little green icon pops up in the top right of the map screen showing a palm tree. This indicates that you can, with the right skill (Helmsman Tier 2 skill “safe docking”) and the appropriate materials (30 wood), construct a safe dock – a home from home.
At a safe dock, crew with the appropriate Tier 2 skill can accumulate resources. You need a Captain or a crewman with Survivor Tier 2 “Hunter” to collect food, Biologist Tier 2 “Rhabdomancy” to find water and Carpenter Tier 2 “Lumberjack” to collect wood.
Given the simplicity of buying the essentials at each port in sufficient volume for any trip, and the faffing involved in buying enough wood, hiring crew with the right skills, and then sticking with them so you can create and use safe docks, I have never found these class features or mechanisms useful. Yet.
Encounters and Events
As you sail, your journey will be interrupted with text events. The tooltip should tell you what each choice entails – sometimes taking a risk for possible reward. Sometimes there is no choice – perhaps a difficulty that needs to be dealt with.
Also as you sail to certain places, you may find a flavourful side quest. Look for a little picture along coastlines. These are multi-step adventures leading to rewards (or ruin). Crew members can sometimes pop up with side quests of their own.
Events and encounters can involve simple choices with consequences, or even battle. Regardless, part of the fun of the game is playing along with them and enjoying the ride. I won’t spoil them here with a list and analysis of where the choices may lead you.
Battles at sea
There are battles between your crew, manning your 1-3 whaleboats (up to 3 crew per boat), against creatures of the sea (whales and sharks) and tribal canoes. You can conduct one action per whaleboat (there are some exceptions), whereas each whale you face can take one action each.
Enemies / Whales
Hunting whales is dangerous work. The older and bigger a whale, the more health it has, the more damage it can dish out, and the more tricks it can do. Before the named legendary whales, there are four general age categories of whale – newborn, young, adult and old.
A starting character will find one or two newborns or a youngster. As you level up your captain and crew, the enemies level up until you could be facing three adult or old whales with dozens of hit points and the ability to do devastating damage to an entire boatload of people in one attack.
Narwhal – All Narwhals can do Tusk Attacks which cause Bleeding status, but no actual damage. A scientist with the right skill (“Field Doctor”) can completely negate bleeding from all crew in one whaleboat, which makes hunting Narwhals almost risk-free. Adults and older can Ambush from underwater, which does lots of damage. With their ability to boost damage output it can one-shot weaker characters. If you can tether the older Narwhals to stop them going underwater, this would be a good move, particularly if you are hunting them in their breeding area where they do bonus damage. If you cannot negate the Bleeding status, then try and ensure the battles do not last.
Blue Whale – (Easily breaks tethers when attacking) The biggest of the whales means more buck for your bang. You can easily fill a hold quickly with blubber and food from hunting these creatures and thus maximise your return per unit time spent whaling. Just off the coast of Hawaii or New Zealand might be good places to look – close to port to sell your catch – close to the mating or feeding grounds to find more blue whales. Perfect. Be careful about a breach attack as it can knock everyone in the boat overboard and do big damage. Perhaps include a crewmember with the skill to avoid being knocked out of the boat (“Whaler Man”).
Sperm Whale – Similar to blue whales in how they attack and how to tackle them. Beware of being knocked overboard and don’t expect any tether to last very long.
Gray Whale – These chaps do bonus damage when migrating – so best tackle them in their feeding or mating zones. Their attacks can damage stun and they have a skill which makes them immune to attacks, so be cautious and make sure you bring bodies so you don’t get stun-locked by a pod of several of these. I find them some of the most difficult to fight with extensive stunning of crew. The rewards aren’t great either.
Killer Whale – Killer whales can do massive raw damage and cause bleeding. A scientist with the right skill can completely negate bleeding from all crew in one whaleboat which makes hunting Killer whales, while not free of risk, at least easier to manage. They tend to attack the same member of crew, so it is one of the whales where a Whaler Man may be of benefit. However, they don’t yield much resource for the risk and so are not one of the ‘cash’ whales you might be looking for. Avoid.
Humpback Whale – Humpback whales can do small amounts of bashing damage. Older ones can knock people overboard with bubble nets and can stun an entire boat with their massive tails – so bring multiple boats to avoid stunlock. However they are relatively easy to hunt. They do bonus damage in feeding areas, so best to catch them during migration, or in the mating area.
Southern Right Whale – Simple to fight and quite rewarding. Females with calves do bonus damage, but their attacks are not that dangerous.
Bowhead Whale – A good cash whale close to where you start – easy to kill. Some of the attacks knock people overboard. Bring a Whaler Man or multiple attacking options.
Sometimes when looking for whales, you find sharks. Sharks carry all the threat of Killer Whales, but cause more bleeding and killing them is less rewarding because they do not produce Blubber, only food. Like Killer Whales, they attack the same target, so sailors may not be totally useless.
Great White Shark – Sharks do massive raw damage and cause bleeding. A scientist with the right skill (“Field Doctor”) can completely negate bleeding from all crew in one whaleboat which makes hunting sharks, while not free of risk, at least easier to manage. Even old sharks don’t seem to have many hit points.
Fighting natives in canoes is just like fighting sea creatures except the canoes tend to fight more defensively with healing and armour skills, as well as potent shooting attacks. Bring a Man-at-arms per boat rather than a whaler if you can for covering fire and grenades, but otherwise take the fight to the enemy and finish it quickly. Avoid fights with canoes early as they seem disproportionately powerful against low-level captains and crew.
Battles on “land”
There are battles between up to three of your crew and up to three pirates. These work differently in that everyone on your team gets a go each turn. Sailor and craftsman dice do nothing here – only hunting and science. Pirate battles can be deadly early on as pirates can stack damage against one target and there are few defensive options except to kill them quicker than they kill you. To that end, having more than one someone that can do “Cover Fire” and/or “Grenade” as well as significant attack damage is very welcome.
A level 8 pirate might have 34HP and be doing 12 damage on a hit (18 on their first attack). A couple of those shots and weaker characters (Field Doctors, for example) will be close to dead, if not gone in one round. Having Cover Fire to remove enemy attack cards might be very important.
Avoid pirates where you can. Just sail around any sea areas marked with the skull and crossbones, and don’t be afraid to shell out a few hundred dollars to avoid a fight unless you are very confident. Picking fights with pirates does not seem worth it. Hunting whales is more rewarding.
Rolling dice and probability
A cabin boy has 33% chance to hit, which goes up to 56% with a re-roll.
A hunter has 50% chance, which goes up to 75% with a re-roll, and 87.5% with two re-rolls.
So, for an expected outcome of one hit per boat, you would need three cabin boys, two cabin boys and a craftsman, or two hunters. For a greater chance than that, try two hunters and a craftsman or three hunters (expected 150%).
As your captain, uniquely, has the ability to take levels and skills in each class, he can be ultimately flexible in a fight, albeit game over if he falls. It’s easier to hire level 10 hunters than it is to build your Captain to level 10, so I suggest starting him with Sailor and Scientist to begin with (using the Smart trait.) Use the re-rolls by default to maximise offense and swap to healing when necessary. Getting him the Whaler Man and Field Medic skills eventually will give him excellent passive team skills during fights.
Or you might be better off leaving the heavy lifting to the crew for the most part. Your captain does not get morale from killing enemies – whereas your crew does.