Black Seas, Profiles

Focus: First Rates (1770 – 1830)

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A number of the most famous ships in history were 1st rate ships-of-the-line hailing from the Age of Sail. We take a look at 1st Rates in Black Seas.

Focus: First Rates

The Rating System

Britain’s Royal Navy introduced a system of rating the ships of its fleet based on the number of guns they carried. This rating system takes its name from the capability of ships to stand in a line of battle (Ship-of-the-Line). Initially introduced by Samuel Pepys in 1677, the rating system underwent numerous revisions until the late 1800s. After its introduction, the other nations also adopted very similar systems to categorise their ships.

1st Rates

The largest ships were classified as 1st rate. They were capable of incredible firepower and able to withstand severe damage. They were very costly to build and to maintain but were magnificent war machines that inspired fear and awe in the enemy. By the late 18th century, 1st rate vessels came to be defined as a Ship-of-the-Line that did not mount any less than 100 guns.

Ships of this size were extremely expensive to operate. This can be demonstrated by the Royal Navy only having 5 completed in 1794. They tended to be used as commanding flagships and then only during times of conflict. This ensured a longer life by less exposure to the rigours of the sea. This is how ships like HMS Victory were able to serve at Trafalgar, despite having been in service for forty years at that point.

Famous First Rates

1st rate Ship-of-the-Line, HMS Victory

HMS Victory in 1884

Due largely to their size, power and imposing presence within a fleet, 1st rates are perhaps the most vaunted of all military naval vessels. Arguably the most famous of all them all was HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. She is the only 1st rate ship of the line to survive to this day. Other notable Royal Navy 1st rates include the HMS Royal Sovereign (coming soon!) and HMS Brittania, though these were both broken up in the 1820s.

The largest of all first-rate vessels during the Age of Sail was the Spanish Santisima Trinidad, a mighty four-decked, 140 gun behemoth of a vessel. Its vast bulk would spell its own end, however, as at the Battle of Trafalgar, it proved ineffective due to the light winds of the day. Succumbing to concentrated Brtish fire, it sustained heavy damage and in the wake of the battle was sunk whilst being towed by HMS Prince.


Replica of the Santisima Trinidad in Alicante

Replica of the Santisima Trinidad in Alicante


Look out for the Santisima Trinidad in December!

In Black Seas

1st Rate ships are limited in Black Seas. This means that you are only able to field two for every 1000 points spent on your fleet. A 1st rate ship is a costly investment, you’ll need to be mindful of the role you want your 1st rates to play in-game when preparing your fleet, particularly keeping tabs on how many points worth of upgrades you sink into these vessels.

This is especially true when using the national special rules. Spanish 1st rates, for instance, are allowed to take the usually very expensive Overgunned upgrade for free. However, this does come at a penalty – as any ships which choose to utilise this option may not be crewed by veterans.

Aside from the psychological value on an opponent of fielding a magnificent and daunting 1st Rate, they are an extremely potent force on the tabletop. They mount heavy cannons on broadside, stern and bow. They can withstand considerable punishment too. The likelihood is, however, that unless facing a similarly styled enemy force, a fleet containing a 1st rate is likely to be outnumbered. Positioning is therefore key in gaining the initiative over your foes. The first onslaught of a first-rate’s initial broadside is a crucial moment in a game.


A Warlord Recommendation: “Master Gunner is a 1st rate upgrade!”


The downside to all that power and durability is that 1st Rates are both slower and more difficult to turn. A wily Admiral will utilise the smaller vessels in his fleet to draw the enemy close-in to be ensnared within the kill box of an initial broadside from a 1st rate.

Victory accompanies fleet

Nelson leads his fleet from the deck of HMS Victory

Take to the Black Seas

Begin your seafaring adventures with the Black Seas starter set. You’ll receive a selection of brigs and frigates; giving you the makings of a fine fleet.

Master & Commander Starter Set


View in Store


Add these venerable 1st rate vessels to your fleets!

Dan Hewitson
Dan can often be found contemplating the mound of unpainted minis building up under his desk. He has a tendency to roll lots of ones. He also has a tendency to complain about rolling lots of ones.