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Naval Combat in Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004).

Naval Combat refers to one of the most common mini-games in any version of Pirates!, in which two (or sometimes more) ships battle each other on the high seas. While the specifics may vary between battles, Naval Combat is a contest of captaining skills, requiring both combatants to attempt to outmaneuver and/or outgun each other as they struggle for the advantage. All Naval Combat will end with at least of the ships being sunk or captured, or when a combatant successfully withdraws from the area.

Naval Combat is very simplistic in all its forms, like all other mini-games. However, the skill to master it is both difficult to learn and absolutely crucial to any player. Naval Combat is often considered the raison-d'etre of Pirates!, and is by far the most popular mini-game among the fans.

General Description[]

Naval Combat is a contest of captaining skill between two or more opposing ships. One of the ships is controlled by the player, while the other ship (or in some games and circumstances, ships) is controlled by the AI.

Naval Combat is viewed from a high perspective, much like the Sailing Map. The two ships begin the battle some distance away from each other, and can then maneuver about to the best of their ability, and fire their broadsides at each other. This is played out in real-time, with both ships constantly in motion (assuming the Wind is right).


The goals of Naval Combat depend on the specific wishes of the player at the time. Naval combat can end only in one of the following ways:

  • Either ship is sunk due to the enemy's cannonfire, ending the battle with victory to the other ship. Both ships may be simultaneously sunk due to a last-minute exchange of broadsides.
  • Either ship surrenders due to severe disadvantage (usually also caused by enemy cannonfire). Breaking the other ships masts with Chain Shot will always cause the other ship to surrender unless it is an escort ship.
  • The two ships come into contact, initiating a Boarding, in which case the crew that loses the ensuing Fencing match is captured by the other.
  • Too much time elapses without any of the above occuring, or the distance between the two ships becomes too great. In this case the battle ends in a draw (may still have negative consequences for the player).

At times, the player may prefer to capture an enemy ship intact, and may sue for a Boarding. At others, he may wish to demast or sink the enemy ship to avoid further unpleasantness. Or he may decide to turn tail and run. An accomplished Captain is identified as the one who can reach any desired outcome regardless of circumstances.


The controls for the battle are pretty simple considering the depth of this mini-game.

As on the Sailing Map, the player can turn his ship to port or starboard with the arrow keys (or controller, if used). Your ship's angle to the wind at any given time determines its speed.

The player may fire a broadside at the enemy using another button, and change Sail States from Full Sails to Reefed Sails for various effects using two more buttons (usually "up" and "down", respectively).

Again, since the mini-game runs in real time, everything is about timing: To hit the enemy with your broadsides, both ships must be situated correctly. Quick reactions are required to avoid being hit by an enemy broadside. Even a simple turn needs to be well-timed to be effective, which is not as simple as it sounds.

In the later game, there are also three buttons that allow changing the type of Shot loaded into the cannons.

On-Screen Information[]

The game constantly keeps track of several variables during the battle, each of which is displayed on-screen in one way or another:

  • The speed of each ship, as affected by its heading, the Wind, and the current condition of its Sails.
  • The number of crewmen left on each ship, which can dwindle due to enemy fire.
  • The number of Cannons on board each ship, which can dwindle due to enemy fire.
  • The speed and direction of the Wind, which is extremely important as explained below.
  • The condition of each ship's hull and sails. Again, these drop as the ship takes cannon-fire from the enemy.
  • Whether or not the cannons on either ship are loaded and ready to fire. This is handled slightly differently in each game.

Other than this, of course you can see the position and heading of each ship since both are quite visible on the main part of the screen where the battle is taking place.

It is important to stay mindful of all these various factors during the battle. They will assist you in making the correct decisions - whether to turn for a broadside or prepare for evasive maneuvers, whether to sue for a boarding or retreat to a safe distance and bombard the enemy. Again, making the wrong move at the wrong time can get you unexpectedly defeated - or even sunk. And since this is a real-time match, one must develop the skill to make judgment calls at the drop of a hat. This is what captaining is all about.

Common Tactical Elements[]

Across the various versions of the game, some of the key elements of the actual battle remain the same. This goes beyond objectives and controls, and into the territory of tactics: deciding which actions to take at which time.

Slight differences between these elements, as well as elements that behave differently across different versions, are discussed in the version-specific sections further down this article.

Wind and Maneuvers[]

Main article: Wind
The Wind is perhaps the most important factor in any Naval Combat, because it determines each ship's speed.
Each of the combatants will sail at a different speed depending on how their ship is oriented in relation to the current wind direction. Some ships sail faster when headed in the same direction as the wind ("Running Before The Wind"). Other ships sail faster when the wind is blowing at some angle to the side of the ship. The relation between the ship's heading and the wind's direction is known as the Point Of Sailing, and is used instead of cardinal directions (like North or Southeast) when describing battles.
Since the wind tends to change while the battle is raging, the captain of a ship must be mindful of it at all times. You must know when to turn into your Best Point of Sailing to gain speed, or when it's safe to turn Into The Eye without letting your opponent catch you while your ship is standing still due to wind resistance.
Also, it is important to be familiar with both ships' comparative turning rates - how fast a ship can turn to change its heading, or to bring its broadside to bear towards the enemy. The ship with the fastest turning rate can exploit this to stay outside its enemy's broadside zone, clinching the battle. A slowly-turning ship can become a sitting duck, or find it hard to train its broadsides on the enemy in time.
Finally, note that damage taken in battle (or before the battle!) can affect both the ship's speed and its maneuverability. For this reason it is also important to stay mindful of the current condition of both ships!


Main article: cannons
When the "fire" button is pressed, the ship looses a broadside - a concentrated volley from all currently-loaded cannons. In some games you must wait for all cannons to be loaded before you can do this, while in others a ship can fire a partial volley if the captain decides he cannot wait for all cannons to be rearmed.
Cannonballs spew forth and travel in a roughly direct line out the side of the ship, perpendicular (90 degrees) to the heading of the ship at the time the button was pressed. These cannonballs will fly until they either hit the enemy or splash into the water.
Any hits will cause damage to the opponent, which in some games is distributed between its various components (hull, sails, crew, cannons), while in others causes damage to all components at once. Sufficient damage to the hull can sink a ship, sail damage makes it slower, and naturally the loss of cannons will make its own broadsides less dangerous. Loss of crew can put plans of a Boarding in jeopardy.
Cannonballs will only fly a certain distance before they splash into the water, meaning that cannons have a maximum range. Incidentally, this range is exactly the same for all ships. Some versions provide a vague indicator of cannon range, while others require you to "eyeball" the distance.
While damaging an enemy ship makes it easier to subdue, always remember that too much damage will sink your opponent (same with your own ship), and that a damaged ship is more trouble if captured as a Prize. Cannonfire is therefore used only to serve the captain's final goal, rather than just being something you do during combat. Some captains prefer to forgo cannonplay entirely.
Note that since cannonballs fly in a rather straight line, and are somewhat "slowish" in their flight, some ships (especially faster ones, or crewed by excellent captains) can actually dodge a broadside that has already been fired, by simply not being there when the cannonballs land. Other ships are so small that they are hard to hit even if they don't maneuver at all, and more yet can simply shrug off repeated hits thanks to high Durability.


Main article: Sinking
When a ship has taken enough damage to its hull (or, in earlier games, enough damage) it will sink beneath the waves. This results in victory for the other ship (assuming it has not been simultaneously sunk, which can sometimes happen). However, this destroys any chance of capturing the sunk ship as a Prize, or taking any of its Cargo, its Crew, or its Captain.
If the player's ship is sunk, this can lead to a Marooning, provided the player does not have additional ships in his Fleet to pick him up from the water after the battle.


Main article: Boarding
The most common outcome of Naval Combat is the Boarding. A Boarding occurs when two combatant ships make physical contact with each other. In this case, the crew of the Boarding ship attaches the two ships together with grapnels on ropes, and then rushes over to the deck of the enemy ship to begin melee combat.
When this occurs, assuming the opponent crew does not surrender immediately due to overwhelming odds against them, a Fencing match begins in which both crews participate. It is then up to both captains to prove their Fencing skills against one another, preferably before too many of their men can perish in the melee. In this chaotic environment, the morale of both crews will shift to reflect advantage for either side, directly influencing the fencing match between the two captains.
If the player wins this match, he may then take the subdued ship's Cargo as his own, or even add the ship to his Fleet as a Prize. It may also be possible to recruit part of the enemy crew, or even capture or interrogate the captain of the enemy vessel, assuming he's got any value at all.

The White Flag[]

Main article: White Flag
If either ship in the battle realizes that it has little chance to win, whether by gunfire or through a boarding, and cannot manage to escape, it may raise the White Flag and surrender on the spot. This is considered the same as an automatically-successful Boarding (see above), and prevents further loss of life on both sides. The ship can then be looted for Cargo, taken as a Prize, etcetera.
In the later game, a common option is to force the enemy to surrender by Demasting their ship. This is a good way to avoid needless loss of crew due to a Boarding, though it renders the enemy ship virtually worthless and abysmally slow - until repaired at a Port.


If either ship desires to do so, it may attempt to escape combat. This is done by putting as much distance as possible between one's ship and the enemy ship. If enough distance is gained, the battle is over with both ships surviving (nonetheless, keeping whatever damage they took during the battle, of course).
Escapes are usually easy in ships that can sail quickly at odd angles to the wind, such as the various Pinnaces. No other ship can follow them in such directions with ample-enough speed to close the gap - except other Pinnaces of course. Inflicting damage on the enemy (in some games, sail damage specifically) may cause them to become slower and allow an easier escape. Whichever way it is done, the escape relies almost entirely on the direction chosen for the escape and the difference between the speeds of both vessels when heading in that specific direction.
In the earlier games, escape is a dangerous prospect for a player owning more than one ship. There is a risk of losing another ship from the Player's Fleet if the player is the one escaping from a battle. This was dropped in later games, especially due to the difficulty of determining correctly whether the player was actually trying to escape, or whether the two ships just happened to be oriented in a specific way when the distance between them hit the pre-determined limit.
An enemy that manages to escape from combat will usually not be available for a second attack - they'll simply disappear from the game world. Note the use of the word "usually".

Icon Pirates1987.png Header Pirates1987.pngPirates! (1987)[]

The Original Game's Naval Combat is somewhat more simplified than that of later versions. While the controls are largely the same in all versions of the game, the original imposed several limitations that meant Naval Combat was much harder to master. This is due in part to randomal initial placement of ships, and in part to the way broadsides are handled.

Nonetheless, the Original Game did have one important feature that did not exist in the later game: Fort Combat.

Random Encounters[]

Main article: Random Encounter

Naval Combat in Pirates! (1987) occurs during Random Encounters, and only if one or both parties are seeking battle.

In the original game, Naval Combat occurs as a result of any Random Encounter were either the player or the other ship express a desire to do battle. If both ships remain docile, the Random Encounter will go by without triggering Naval Combat at all.

The player always has the choice to attack, and if this choice is made, Naval Combat ensues every time.

If the other ship is captained by a Pirate Hunter or Named Pirate, it will always sue for combat. The player still has some random chance to get away (possibly based on the overall speed of the [[Player's Fleet|]) if he chooses to try, otherwise Naval Combat begins. It is also possible for Naval Combat to occur if the player tries to Hail For News when the other ship belongs to a hostile nation. That ship will interpret your approach as an attack, and will fight to defend itself.

Just before the battle begins, the player gets to choose a Flagship for the coming battle. This can be any ship from the Player's Fleet. The menu also indicates which ships are damaged - though not the extent of the damage. It is often best to stick with fully-repaired ships, of course.

Initial Placement[]

Typical Initial Placement in Pirates! (1987), with the player's ship at the center and both ships facing directly towards each other.

Once Naval Combat begins, the two combating ships (the enemy ship and whichever ship the player has chosen as his Flagship) are placed on the combat map in a specific arrangement:

  • The player's ship is placed near the center of the screen, facing in any direction.
  • The enemy ship is placed "in front" of the player's ship, some distance away, facing directly towards the player's ship.

This randomal placement does not take into account any factors such as the Player's Fleet's orientation before the battle. Therefore it is impossible to "prepare" for combat in any way to ensure better utilization of the wind.

In addition, wind conditions during the battle seem randomal as well - they do not appear to have any direct influence from the wind conditions on the Sailing Map just prior to the battle, and the wind can change radically during the battle anyway!

As a result, naval combat in this game can be very unexpected. Either ship can start the battle heading Into The Eye, giving it terrible speed at the start of the battle (or possibly even sailing backwards!). Quickly responding to the starting conditions is crucial.

Combat Display[]

Almost all relevant information is displayed on screen.

The combat screen is divided into three sections:

  1. The battle zone, taking up the top 2/3 of the screen. This is pretty much a lot of empty water, with the two ships shown moving and fighting in it. A small indicator also shows the direction from which the wind is blowing.
  2. The status area, taking up the bottom 1/3 of the screen. This display shows the statistics of both ships, with crew count, cannon count, current speed, current damage, and the state of the sails (or "cannons ready" display) at the very bottom.
  3. The wind indicator line, in between the two areas described above. It shows the speed and direction of the wind, verbally.

The Battle Zone[]

In the top 2/3 of the Naval Combat screen, you can see the battle zone. This is basically just a large, endless expanse of empty water.
This is where the two combatant ships appear. The two ships move about in real time, turning and firing at each other.
The relative positions of the two ships determines whether they are within cannon range of each other. Also, the heading of each ship determines where a broadside will go if fired.
The battle zone display also has a basic indicator for wind direction. The letter "W" (for "Wind") appears somewhere near the edge of this display, signifying the direction the wind is blowing from. For example, if the W is seen at the top right corner of the screen, then the wind is coming from the North-East, blowing towards the South-West. Of course, a much better indicator is always visible below the battle zone screen (explained later in this article).

The Status Displays[]

In the top 1/3 of the Naval Combat screen, you can see the status of both combatant ships. Stats for your ship are on the left half of this display, while enemy stats are on the right.
This display shows the following variables:
  • The amount of Crew remaining on each ship.
  • The amount of Cannons remaining on each ship.
  • The current speed of each ship.
  • The current condition of the ship (damage).
  • The current state of the ship's sails OR guns, as required. For the enemy ship, this only includes its current sail state. For your ship, it can display the "Guns loaded" message to show that you are ready to fire, and will also display messages when the Sail States are in the process of being changed.

The Wind Indicator[]

This is a line of text appearing in between the Battle Zone display and the Status Displays. It shows a verbal readout of the wind's speed and direction, I.E. "Light winds from the SE", "Medium winds from the E", etc.
Keep an eye on this display whenever you notice a change in the wind (easily spotted if the "W" at the edge of the Battle Zone display changes position).


There are exactly 5 buttons/controls available in this version. On a keyboard, they are:

  • Left: Turns the ship's heading to port (left). You may press and hold this to continue turning.
  • Right: Turns the ship's heading to starboard (right). You may press and hold this to continue turning.
  • Enter: Fires a broadside. Only works if all guns on board your ship are loaded at the time.
  • Up: Raise the sails. Only works if the sails are lowered at the time.
  • Down: Lower the sails. Only works if the sails are raised at the time.


Just as on the Sailing Map, a ship can turn to port or starboard (left/right, respectively) to change its heading. In this game, turns are always made in 22.5 degree increments. You cannot turn less than this much.
The turning speed of a ship is defined rigidly by its Ship Type. Neither damage taken nor the direction of the wind influence a ship's turning speed in this game, so a ship will always have the same turning speed throughout any battle.
As a ship turns, its speed is influenced by the relation between its new heading and the direction of the wind. Depending on the Ship's Type, it will attain faster speed when heading in a specific Point Of Sailing and lesser speed at other headings. Naturally, all ships will slow down (even partially) when heading Close-Hauled or Into The Eye.


Main article: Cannons
If the cannons on your ship are fully loaded (as reported at the bottom left edge of the screen), you can press the firing button to release a broadside. This only works if all guns are loaded, otherwise the button does nothing.
Broadsides are always represented by the same icon - a group of three red cannonballs flying out the side of your ship. These cannonballs will travel in a direct line, perpendicular to the heading of your ship as it was when the broadside was fired. They will keep flying until they make contact with the water. If that point is close enough to the enemy ship, a hit is registered. Otherwise, a splash (miss) is registered.
Once a broadside is fired, the cannons must be reloaded - a process that is done automatically and takes a specific amount of time based on the ratio of men-to-cannons you have on board. More cannons and fewer men means reloading will take much longer.
Note that broadsides have a maximum range. If the enemy ship is too far away, the broadside will splash down in the water short of the enemy ship.

Changing Sail States[]

Main article: Sail States
You also have the ability to change your Sail States during the battle. All battles begin with both ships at "Battle Sails" mode, as shown on the status displays at the bottom of the screen.
Once the "Raise Sails" button is pressed, the crew will scramble to raise the sails to "Full Sails" mode. This process takes a short while, and the indicator at the bottom left edge of the screen will reflect this, and will notify you when the process is complete. When in "Full Sails" mode, the ship's speed is influenced more significantly by the wind, adding a speed bonus when the ship is near its Best Point Of Sailing, but giving a speed penalty when sailing Close-Hauled or Into The Eye.
While at "Full Sails" mode, you can press the "Lower Sails" button. Again, the crew will take some time to lower the sails, as indicated at the bottom left of the screen. Once "Battle Sails" mode has been reached, the ship is less influenced by the wind - it does not get its maximum possible speed when near its Best Point of Sailing, but will not be slowed down so much when sailing Close-Hauled or Into The Eye.
Changing Sail States affects the speed of reloading cannons. If you fire a broadside before changing sail states, the sail change must be completed before the crew avail themselves to reload the cannons - making you wait more time before you can fire again.
Note that you can only see the other ship's current sail state in its status display at the bottom right of the screen. You are not informed when the other ship's captain orders a sail state change, only when this process is completed.
Also note that, unlike later games, changing sail states does not affect the turning speed of either ship.

Tactical Elements[]

While considered as the "basis" for comparison to other versions, the original game's Naval Combat has a few of its own characteristics that do show up in later games.

Wind and Maneuvers[]

As explained earlier in this section, Wind in the original game can only have three states: Light, Medium and Heavy.
Wind speed affects sailing speed for both ships in the battle, though it acts on each ship based on its specific Ship Type and current heading.
Uniquely to this version of the game, ships heading Into The Eye of the wind, or at least Close-Hauled, can experience negative speed. When this occurs, the ship is actually not sailing forward, but being dragged by the wind in whatever direction the wind is currently heading. The lower you go below 0, the faster the wind will drag your ship. Larger ships, and especially ones with considerable damage, will experience more of this effect when trying to turn into the wind.
In this game, both ship heading and wind direction will always be in one of 16 pre-defined directions. If "Directly North" is the first direction, each additional heading is 22.5 degrees off that, giving us "North-North-East", "North-East", "East-North-East", "East", etcetera. It is impossible to turn in less than 22.5 degree increments.
Ship turning rates, as discussed earlier, are also defined by Ship Type. However, they are not affected by wind nor any other factors, and will remain exactly the same throughout the battle.
Also note that wind can change radically while the battle proceeds. It can go from a light north-easterly wind to a strong south-easterly wind without going through any intermediary changes of wind intensification or direction change.

Cannonfire and Damage[]

In this game each broadside is represented by a group of three red dots, flying out the side of the ship. If this broadside sprite lands close enough to the other ship, this registers a hit with the firing ship's entire cannon complement.
Therefore, there are no "partial hits" - either all your cannons have hit the target, or none did.
Ship damage is tracked as a single value, encompassing both the hull's and sails' conditions. This is presented as a scale of damage "categories", going from "No Damage" to "Sail Damage", "Lost A Mast", "Hull Leaking", and finally "Ship Sinking". The next "stage" is the actual Sinking of the ship.
The amount of damage caused by a broadside is determined by the amount of cannons on the firing ship, as well as the Durability of the target ship. A "weaker" broadside hit may not be enough to cause a drop from one damage category to the next, though partial damage like this is still tracked by the game, meaning it still counts somewhat towards the next damage category. Conversely, a particularly powerful hit can drop the ship more than one category at the same time.
Since damage is not split between sails and hull, each lower "category" of damage brings the ship closer to sinking, but also makes it slower. When "Sail Damage" is recorded, most ships will drop their speed by 1-2 knots regardless of heading. At "Ship Sinking", most ships will be able to sail forward only when heading at their Best Point Of Sailing, and have 0 or negative speed at all other headings.
Again, if a ship receives enough damage to drop it below the "Ship Sinking" category, it will actually Sink, with consequences explained below.
As mentioned above, each broadside in this game involves all the cannons on board the ship firing at once. For this reason, no ship can fire any of its cannons until all of them have finished reloading. The "Guns Loaded" indicator appearing at the bottom left of the screen will let you know when you are "cleared" to fire.
Also remember to note the Blind Zones problem, explained in detail on the Cannons article.


An enemy ship takes excessive damage and sinks beneath the waves.

When incoming cannonfire causes a ship's condition to drop below the "Ship Sinking" category (which itself only indicates that the ship is in very bad shape - the ship can continue sailing regardless, just very slowly), the ship will actually sink. This is accompanied by a graphic showing the burning remains of the vessel.
As with all other games, sinking an enemy ship prevents you from capturing it or the cargo it is carrying. If the ship was carrying a captain of high importance, such as a Pirate Hunter or Named Pirate, you will not have the opportunity to fish him out of the water for interrogation or otherwise. As soon as you dismiss the text prompt for this image, Naval Combat is immediately over and you'll be returned to the Sailing Map.
If the player's ship is sunk, one of two things will happen: If the Player's Fleet had more than one ship in it before the battle, he'll be picked up by his friends and resume adventuring. Otherwise, the Player Character is Marooned on a nearby deserted island, spending a few months or more before being picked up by a passing vessel. Note that if your character's Health is too low at this point in your career, you may be forced to Retire immediately upon being rescued.


A successful Boarding will allow you to loot the enemy ship and/or take it as a Prize.

If the two ships ever come into contact during battle, a Boarding will occur.
Before a Fencing match can erupt though, the game weighs the size of the enemy crew against the size of your crew. If the odds are overwhelmingly against your opponent, their crew will surrender immediately, skipping straight to the looting menu (this is the same as an automatic Fencing victory).
Otherwise, a crew-to-crew Fencing match ensues.

White Flag[]

An enemy ship raises the White Flag due to overwhelming odds against it.

If the enemy ship sustains some damage, and also has an overwhelming disadvantage in crew compared to your ship, it may choose to raise the White Flag before you even get the chance to make contact with it. This occurs when your ship is about two ship-lengths away from the enemy, i.e. it doesn't require actual contact between the two ships.
This type of surrender is the same as the one described above (Boarding section), as it counts as an automatic victory in a Boarding Fencing match - taking you directly to the looting menu.


To escape from combat, a ship needs to put as much distance as possible between itself and the enemy. This distance is equal to just a little less than the length (or height) of the battle zone display.
If the enemy ship escapes, it is gone forever. You will not be able to engage this ship again unless by chance another ship is randomly created with the same exact stats (or the same exact captain, for Pirate Hunter and Named Pirate ships) at the start of a future random encounter.
If the player is the one escaping, the enemy ship also disappears forever. However there's a certain risk of the player losing one ship from his Fleet. This is only possible if the Fleet contains more than one ship (the Flagship you were using for this battle). The lost ship is determined randomly, and there seems to be a bias towards selecting larger (i.e. slower) ships for this loss. Note that the loss does not occur automatically every time you escape combat - the game randomly decides whether this is eligible to happen.

Time Limit[]

Unlike future games, the original version placed a certain time limit on all Naval Combat. When this limit is reached, you are notified that the sun has set and that both combatants have given up the battle. The enemy ship then disappears, never to be seen again, and you are summarily returned to the Sailing Map to continue your voyage.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell exactly how the game decides whether time has run out. The limit seems to shift arbitrarily. It is possible that the game actually keeps track of whether or not there's any chance of one ship catching the other, given their current relative speeds and headings. However, it is difficult to ascertain this for sure.

Icon Pirates2004.png Header Pirates2004.pngSid Meier's Pirates! (2004)[]

While Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) does not change any of the fundamentals of Naval Combat, it does provide plenty of improvements to the classic mini-game. For the most part, better technology and programming result in much more fluid, realistic-feeling combat. However, small tweaks and additions, such as the ability to fire different kinds of Shot, the ability to Demast an enemy, and more.

Unfortunately, as explained below, the game is no longer able to force the player to fight. Enemy ships attacking on the Sailing Map will always confine themselves to fire their cannons remotely while remaining on the Sailing Map, an effort which is usually of little actual danger to your ship.


The Attack Interface allows you to change your Flagship freely, just prior to the battle.

In Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004), all Naval Combat is the result of the player manually attacking another vessel on the Sailing Map. Ships are visibly scouring the Caribbean on the map, and the player may bring his fleet within close distance of any of these ships in order to attack.

When the option to attack is selected, the player is presented with a dialogue enabling him to switch his Flagship if necessary, or leave the ship alone. Retreating at this point is the same as simply not having done anything - it does not affect your ship nor the enemy's ship, which will continue sailing as it did before.

The pre-battle display also allows selecting which enemy to attack, in cases where the player's ship is closeby to several possible targets at the same time, on the Sailing Map. The display also shows the number of men and cannons on your ship, as well as any targets, for easy reference.

Multi-Ship Combat[]

An example of Multi-Ship Combat.

Before discussing any other changes, it is important to note that in Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) it is a rather frequent occurrence to be fighting against more than one enemy ship simultaneously.

The primary reason this occurs is when the player attacks an Escorted ship. And Escort and Escortee travel together on the Sailing Map, and if either is attacked, the other will join the battle automatically. Multi-ship combat can also occur in various other, less documented events, when initiating combat in the vicinity of Pirate Hunters, who can join in to protect a vessel friendly to them.

Note however that the game does not allow the player to bring more than one ship into combat under any circumstances. The Player's Fleet will always remain outside the battle, as it was in previous games.

Multi-Ship Combat is in fact not all that different from normal, one-on-one combat - you're simply fighting more than one ship at the same time. This obviously means you must reconsider your tactics, but does not alter the way the game is actually played.

The few differences to be considered during Multi-Ship combat are explained in the appropriate sections below whenever they are relevant. For the most part however, assume that the normal rules apply here.

Initial Placement[]

A very crucial tweak done in this version of the game was done to the initial placement of the combatants on the battle zone when combat begins. The game no longer places the two ships in a random portion of the battlefield, facing each other. Instead, the game puts the ships in the exact same positions as they were, relative to each other, before the battle began (i.e. on the Sailing Map).

For example, let's say that on the Sailing Map, you pressed your attack key when your ship was southeast of the enemy, and was heading northeast at the time. The enemy, northwest of you, was facing south at the time. Battle will start with your ship at the southeastern end of the battlefield, facing northwest, while the enemy ship will be at the northwestern end of the battlefield, facing south. Just as things were on the Sailing Map.

Note that the game will always put some distance between your ship and the enemy, even if there wasn't any on the sailing map. In other words, if you passed very close to the target ship on the Sailing Map, your ship will still begin battle somewhat far away from the enemy.

Since Initial Placement is no longer randomal, and thus can be influenced by the player through the circumstances preceding the battle, it now becomes a highly important tactical element. Optimally, you'd want to start every battle with your broadside facing the enemy ship, so orient your Flagship that way on the Sailing Map before starting the battle and you gain an automatic advantage!

This is also helpful to get the Weather Gage, another kind of tactical advantage. In this, your ship begins combat Upwind of the enemy, allowing you to collect speed and close the distance with the enemy rapidly. Naturally, beginning combat facing in the proper Best Point Of Sailing for your Flagship's Type will let you do so immediately.

And of course, it always helps to make sure that you do not start the battle with the enemy's cannons pointing directly towards you - though this can sometimes actually be beneficial thanks to a Known Bug...

The bottom line is that correct Initial Placement is another skill the player will find useful to learn.

Combat Display[]

In the new version of the game, the Combat Display is much "sleeker" and more useful than the original. Important data is displayed floating above the battle zone, rather than occupying space. Also, changes to the wind indicator make it much more useful now. Finally, a "loaded cannons" display shows how many of your ship's cannons are currently ready to fire.

The Battle Zone[]

The entire screen serves as the battle zone display now. It shows the water in which the two ships are fighting. Each ship is displayed fully on screen, and the battle camera will zoom in and out to try to maintain both ships in the view as they move towards and away from each other.
Ship damage is also displayed here, as an actual change to the ship itself. When Sails are damaged, they are actually seen as such. Hull damage results in smoke coming out of the ship. A sunk ship will literally explode and/or sink into the water.

If these are not disabled, the crews of each ship will also be visible on the ship's model, waving their hands and flags throughout the battle. Killing crew may cause them to fall overboard - and this is actually a very relevant event, as explained later.

Note that the area itself is no longer just a blank surface of water. Instead, the battle zone is a large-scale version of the Sailing Map world - specifically of the area where both ships were when the battle was initiated. When starting a battle close to shore, for example, the shoreline will actually appear in the battle, and be an actual impassable obstacle. A battle raging on long enough can actually have both ships sailing ridiculously far from their origin (though the ships return to where they were originally, once the battle is over).

Status Indicators[]

At the top of the screen, the status of both ships (or in the case of multi-ship combat, all ships) is displayed. Each ship gets a horizontal "bar-shaped" area, floating on top of the battle zone display. The bar area shows the following details about the ship:
  • The ship's nationality, Ship Type, and name.
  • The ship's remaining amount of Crew.
  • The ship's remaining amount of Cannons.
  • The ship's current speed.
  • All Upgrades installed on this ship.
The player ship's bar is located at the top left. Enemy ship bars are located on the right. If there is more than one enemy ship fighting you, two bars will appear, one below the other; the Escortee's bar at the top, and the Escort's bar at the bottom.

Wind Indicator[]

The new Wind Indicator is now at the bottom left corner of the screen. It is exactly the same indicator used on the Sailing Map. It has a red arrow in the center, which indicates wind direction by pointing towards the direction to which the wind is currently blowing. The size of this red arrow indicates wind strength, which is also printed out in numeric form below this arrow.

Loaded Cannons Bar[]

Just below the Wind Indicator, at the very bottom-left of the screen, is the Loaded Cannons Bar. The bar is transparent when 0 cannons are loaded, and will fill up with red color as they are reloaded by your crew. When the bar is full, all cannons are ready to fire. In addition, the number of loaded cannons is superimposed on the bar, in numeric format.
This indicator is extremely useful, now that firing a broadside does not require all cannons to be loaded - you can fire a broadside with anywhere down to 1 cannon! Glancing at this indicator basically informs you of many cannons will fire when you press the button.
Also, the numeric cannon count will disappear and be replaced with the words "Out of Cannon Range" whenever the two ships are too distant from one another for the currently-selected type of Shot to hit the enemy. Note that this is not always true, especially if the enemy ship is rapidly closing the distance (in which case, shots fired may still hit it).


The controls for Naval Combat as still as simple in this game as they were in previous versions. The only real difference is the addition of three new buttons to select different types of Shot to load your cannons with.

So now, the available buttons grows from 5 to 8. On a keyboard these will be:

  • Keypad 4 (left): Turns the ship's heading to port (left). You may press and hold this to continue turning.
  • Keypad 6 (right): Turns the ship's heading to starboard (right). You may press and hold this to continue turning.
  • Keypad 5 (center): Fires a broadside. Only works if all guns on board your ship are loaded at the time.
  • Keypad 8 (up): Fill the sails. Only works if the sails are reefed at the time.
  • Keypad 2 (down): Reef the sails. Only works if the sails are full at the time.
  • Keypad 7 (up-left): Select Chain-Shot ammunition. Only works if you have the appropriate upgrade.
  • Keypad 1 (down-left): Select Grape-Shot ammunition. Only works if you have the appropriate upgrade.
  • Keypad 3 (down-right): Select Round-Shot ammunition.


Just as on the Sailing Map, a ship can turn to port or starboard (left/right, respectively) to change its heading. In this game, turns are executed smoothly, with ships being able to turn freely in 360 degrees.
The turning speed of a ship is defined primarily by its Ship Type. However, both damage to the sails as well as the changing speed and direction of the wind can affect turning speed (negatively).
Furthermore, as explained below, some ships can increase their turning speed by Reefing the Sails. This is done at the expense of sailing speed, however.
Note that a ship gets a small boost to turning speed whenever it turns past the wind, i.e. when going from a "Close-Hauled" heading, past "Into The Eye", to a Close-Hauled heading in the other direction. This is significant especially when attempting to outmaneuver an enemy, as this surprise turning speed bonus can allow the enemy ship to turn its broadside towards you suddenly, when its normal turning rate should not allow it to do so quickly enough.


Broadsides and cannon use in this game are very different from previous games, as is damage taken during combat. This is due to an extensive reworking of the cannonfire system.
For one, each cannon launches its own cannonball when fired, and each cannonball is treated individually, flying along its own course (still about 90 degrees out the side of the ship, but with some variation). Each cannonball can individually strike the enemy or miss it, rather than the entire broadside either hitting or missing. Therefore, ships with more cannons are also more likely to hit the enemy, since they spray a larger area with cannonballs.
Unlike previous games, Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) allows you to fire a broadside whenever at least one cannon is loaded. You do not need to wait for all cannons to reload first. A bar at the bottom left of the screen shows the amount of cannons currently loaded, in both graphic and numeric forms.
Enemy ships will always wait until all their cannons are loaded before firing a broadside. This gives the player a safe "window" in which to maneuver without fear of the enemy firing back, and can be tactically exploited in your favor. While the game does not give any straight indicator for when the enemy's guns are loaded, it is possible to observe the enemy ship itself (its actual model on the battlefield) to ascertain how close it is to reloading: you can see the gun ports on the enemy ship flip open one by one; when they are all open, the enemy ship is ready to fire.
Note that there is still a "maximum range" for cannonballs. However, this range differs between Shot types, as explained further below. The "Cannons Loaded" indicator at the bottom left of the screen will read "Out of Range" when the enemy ship is too far away to be hit. Note that it is still possible to hit that ship, if it moves closer while the cannonballs are in the air.

Changing Sail States[]

As with previous games, it is possible to fill or reef the sails to alter the ship's speed. However, in this version of the game Reefed Sails come with the benefit of increasing the ship's turning rate in return for its lost speed.
All ships begin combat with their sails "Full", giving them a small speed bonus. The captain can order the reefing of the sails, a process which takes a certain amount of time. Once the sails have been reefed, the ship's speed drops slightly. At this point, all but the small Fore-And-Aft Rigged ships will gain a bonus to their turning rate.
For ships that get this turn rate bonus, reefing the sails is a great tool in combat, allowing the ship to quickly change direction, then fill the sails again to regain speed. This can be used to confuse an enemy, avoid incoming fire, and so on. Again, small Fore-And-Aft Rigged ships like the Sloop Class or Pinnace Class get virtually no turning-speed benefit from changing sail states, and should avoid doing so unless they simply need to lose speed quickly - for instance to stay within an enemy's blind zone.
Another small benefit to reefing the sails is reduction of Sail Damage incurred from enemy gunfire. Enemy ships tend to do this often.
The time it takes to Fill/Reef the sails is based on the number of available men on board. With only a few men on a ship, sail state changes can take a long time.
Note that while the sails are being changed, all reloading of the cannons pauses until the process is completed. This of course only applies if the cannons are being reloaded at the time. You can freely fire the cannons while changing sail states, but then are stuck with 0 cannons loaded until the sail change is completed.

Changing Shot Types[]

A large "mixed" broadside. Round-Shot is visible at the bottom, about to hit the English ship. Chain-Shot is on its way, seen flying high near the center.

One major change to the game is the ability to fire three different kinds of Shot from your cannons. By default, all ships can fire Round-Shot, which is automatically selected when Naval Combat begins. If the ship has the Chain-Shot and/or Grape-Shot Upgrades installed, it may switch to these types freely at any time during the battle.
Shot Type selection applies immediately - you do not need to reload your cannons with the new shot type. In fact it is even possible to change shot type in the middle of a broadside, causing all cannons that have not yet fired to discharge the new shot type. This can be used to create broadsides with mixed types.
Each shot type causes different types of damage to the enemy ship, such as focusing on destroying its sails or killing its crew. Also, each shot type has a different maximum range. If you are outside the range for the currently-selected shot type, this is displayed on the "Cannons Loaded" bar at the bottom left of the screen.

Tactical Elements[]

Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) offers a smoother experience in Naval Combat, as well as a smarter one. Ships can now quite literally dance around one another, exchanging broadsides and adapting to wind conditions, much more so than in previous games. One side effect to this is that tactical skill and pre-battle positioning allow the player to win almost every engagement, giving rise to a large variety of useful tactics. It also means that each Ship Type has its own tactics, and may use different ones to tackle different enemies. This is one of the reasons why the War Canoe, despite being tiny and weak, is one of the most player-favorite ships in the game (where in earlier games, Pinnaces are all very limited in use).

Wind and Maneuvering[]

At the start of the match, wind conditions are the same as they were on the Sailing Map just before combat started. For example, starting a battle with both ships in a storm will yield powerful, 20 knot winds at the start of the battle.
Winds do change during the battle (except on Apprentice difficulty), as seen in the red arrow on the Wind Indicator at the bottom left of the screen. The direction of the wind changes freely, though its speed will change to a lesser degree. As with ship headings, this game allows wind to change at 1-degree increments, rather than the 22.5 degree increments used in the original game. As a result, wind direction and speed changes are smooth, rather than instant: it can take several seconds for an Easterly wind to change into a North-Easterly wind, as it has to slowly shift from one direction to the other by increments of 1 degree at a time.
Wind can no longer cause a ship to travel backwards, though it will indeed stop a ship dead in the water in some circumstances. This is especially true when a large Square Rigged ship attempts to turn Close-Hauled or Into The Eye, and moreso if that ship is running with Full Sails.
Ship speed is again affected by wind, especially the relative angle between the wind and the ship itself (known as the "Points Of Sailing"). Each Ship Type has a different Best Point Of Sailing, where it will sail fastest, though all ships will sail slowest (for their type) when heading Into The Eye. Sail damage reduces a ship's speed at all points of sailing. A Demasted ship (see below) will not move.
Ship turning rate is determined by Ship Type as well. It is also slightly affected by the ship's speed, where a faster ship has a slightly increased turning rate. However, most ships can gain a large bonus to turning rate by reefing the sails - which also makes the ship sail slower, but at the same time reduces any sail damage taken. Also, sail damage reduces turning rate to some degree, with a Demasted ship having a near-0 turning rate.

Cannonfire and Damage[]

In this version of the game, each individual cannon on board a ship will fire an individual cannonball, that flies at a randomly determined angle close to 90 degrees off the ship's heading. Each cannonball flies on its own, registering a hit if it collides with the enemy ship, or a miss if it collides with the water.
Each cannonball, therefore, inflicts damage independently of all other cannonballs. Therefore, a broadside of 20 cannons can still see only minor damage to the enemy, if only a few cannonballs in that broadside actually connect with the enemy ship.
Due to the spreading nature of broadsides (thanks to each cannonball having a slightly different randomal trajectory when fired), ships with more cannons will have a better chance to hit their enemy over-all (i.e. rather than missing it entirely). Again, if only a few cannonballs hit the enemy, this does not count as the entire broadside hitting it - only those individual cannonballs will cause damage.
Cannonball range is determined by type. Round-Shot cannonballs have the most range, Chain-Shot cannonballs have medium range, and Grape-Shot cannonballs have the least range. If the enemy ship is outside range for the currently-selected ammunition type, this is displayed at the bottom left corner of the screen.
Damage in this version is tracked separately for the ship's Hull, Sails, Crew and Cannons. Each of these can be hurt independently of the others. In fact, each cannonball landing on the enemy ship has a certain chance to cause some damage to one of these components - selected randomly at the time of impact.
The type of damage that can be inflicted by a cannonball also depends on its Shot Type: Round-Shot cannonballs can inflict any kind of damage. Chain-Shot cannonballs tend to inflict sail damage, but can also kill crewmen. Grape-Shot cannonballs will almost always hit the enemy crew, with a small chance of damaging the sails instead.
As a result, it is possible to focus your efforts on destroying only part of the enemy ship. You can weaken the enemy overall or try to sink it with Round-Shot, slow it down or demast it with Chain-Shot, or kill its crew in preparation for a boarding with Grape-Shot.

Flotsam and Overboard Crew[]

A Sinking ship, dropping most of its crew complement into the water. These can be picked up and added to your crew, if you are quick enough.

During the battle, damage to a ship's Hull, Crew or Cannons may cause items to fall overboard into the water.
If a ship's cannons have been hit, one may fall overboard. It immediately sinks, so it this has no extra effect.
If a ship's hull is hit, a treasure chest may fall overboard. This chest will float in the water for a short period of time. If another ship sails over the chest before it sinks, it'll automatically add 50 Icon GoldCoin.png to that ship's carried treasure.
If a ship's crew is hit, there's a chance for one or more crewmen to be knocked overboard. They will float in the water for the remainder of the battle. If any ship sails over a floating crewman, that crewmen will automatically be picked up and added to that ship's crew.
Also, if a ship is Sunk (see below), its entire crew will jump overboard (though some may not make it before the ship sinks). Other ships can quickly exploit this to take on plenty of crewmembers by sailing over these overboard crewmen.


Any ship that receives sufficient damage to the hull will begin spewing smoke from on-board fires. This is the only indicator for the hull condition of the enemy ship.
If enough damage has been done to a damaged ship's hull, it will explode and/or sink beneath the water, ending the match in victory for the other ship (assuming it has not simultaneously been sunk as well).
The crew of a sinking ship will hurry to abandon it quickly, jumping into the water. If another ship is quick enough to sail over these men, they are automatically picked up and added to its own crew (see "Flotsam and Overboard Crew", above).
If an enemy ship is sunk during combat, and no other enemy ship remains, the battle will be over a few moments after it disappears below the surface. This gives you some time to pick up their overboard crew, if you are quick enough. Note that you lose all chance to loot that ship or take it as a Prize. Also note that as far as reputation goes, sinking a ship (rather than Boarding it) will yield a smaller reputation change, both with the owners of the ship and with their enemies.
If the player's ship is sunk, and he has no other ships in his Fleet, he will be Marooned. Otherwise, one of the player's other ships will automatically pick him up after the battle.
Finally, note that in multi-ship combat, battle will not end unless the Escortee ship (the one whose status display appears above the others at the top right of the screen) is the one that was sunk. Sinking the Escort will not end the battle. Also, if the Escort manages to Board your ship and you win the ensuing Fencing match, the escort will sink as soon as the game returns you to the battle.


At the very start of a Boarding, the camera moves to a close-up behind your ship. Both ships become immobile and invulnerable once this happens, though it takes a second or two before Naval Combat actually ends.

A Boarding occurs whenever your ship makes physical contact with an enemy ship. For a short moment, the camera will zoom in to show both ships, before sending you to the Fencing itself. during this "cutscene", both ships are immune to all damage.
As in the original game, the enemy ship's crew can surrender immediately if the odds are stacked against them. This is especially true of your crew heavily outnumbers their crew. Crewmen on merchant vessels tend to surrender more often. A surrender counts as an automatic Fencing victory for your crew.
Note that Evil Spaniard ships will never automatically surrender! Neither will Escort ships in multi-ship combat.

The White Flag[]

After a prolonged contest of gunnery, this enemy ship has taken enough damage to convince it to raise the White Flag.

As in previous versions, an enemy ship will raise the White Flag if it decides it has no chance to win or escape from combat. In this version however, ships will more often surrender due to being Demasted. Demasting is done by causing significant damage to the ship's sails (without sinking it first, of course). The best way to do this is to use Chain-Shot ammunition, which damages sails almost exclusively.
If a ship has raised the White Flag, it will stop moving and firing, though it can still turn about on its axis (very slowly). Merely closing the distance with that ship will cause it to automatically surrender (same as a surrender during a Boarding) - you do not actually need to make contact with the enemy ship.
In multi-ship combat, escort ships will never raise the White Flag even if demasted. In such a scenario, the ship will be unable to move, but will still fire its cannons at you. The only way to stop it from fighting is to board it or sink it.
Also, note that while Evil Spaniard ships will indeed surrender when Demasted, boarding them at this stage will still cause a Fencing match rather than an automatic surrender. Therefore, if possible, try to whittle their crew down as much as possible first, to make the boarding easier. This should be fairly easy with Grape-Shot, since the ship will not fire back at you.


A ship can escape combat by putting sufficient distance between itself and the other ship. When this occurs, combat ends summarily. Regardless of whether it was you or your enemy who was trying to escape, the game will cause that ship to disappear from the Sailing Map so it cannot be attacked a second time.
In actuality, the game does this by moving the ship directly to its destination Port on the Sailing Map. This is extremely important, as it means that the ship completes whatever assignment it had. This can be exploited: if you want an AI ship to reach its destination quickly, attack it and withdraw from combat, and it will reach its destination instantaneously. One situation where this can be useful is, for instance, when you want a Troop Transport ship to reach its destination port before an impending enemy Invasion Force reaches that port.
Also note that in this version of the game, you stand no risk to lose any of your ships when retreating from combat. It is assumed that this event was removed from the game because it was tricky for it to determine exactly which ship was retreating from the battle.

Time Limit[]

Unlike previous games, Naval Combat in this version has no actual time limit. You may even notice, on long battles, the sun setting and rising again, as long as the battle continues.

Upgrades in Combat[]

Main article: Upgrade

The Upgrade Bar for this Royal Sloop shows that it has Chain-Shot, Fine Grain Powder and Bronze Cannons installed.

In Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004), ships can be fitted with anywhere up to 8 different Upgrades. All upgrades have at least some effect on combat performance in one way or another:

  • Cotton Sails: Increases the ship's speed at all Points Of Sailing.
  • Copper Plating: Slightly increases the ship's turning rate.
  • Triple Hammocks: Increases the number of Crwemen that the ship can bring into combat by 50%.
  • Iron Scantlings: Increases the amount of damage the ship can take to its Hull before sinking.
  • Chain-Shot: Allows the ship to switch to Chain-Shot ammunition.
  • Grape-Shot: Allows the ship to switch to Grape-Shot ammunition.
  • Fine-Grain Powder: Increases the range of the ship's cannons with all types of ammunition by about 30%.
  • Bronze Cannons: Increases the bias of the trajectory of all cannonballs fired by the ship towards the target, making them more accurate.

The list of upgrades installed on all ships in combat is shown on their individual status bars at the top of the screen. Note that, regardless of how much damage a ship takes, it cannot lose any of its upgrades under any circumstances.