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Kenway's Fleet Basics
First, a lot of this will be old news for players who are well into the game, so it's mostly intended for newer players. Second, I don't have access to any of the development team, so this is just observation from my own game. I'm probably wrong on some of the finer points, but it's a place to start. There is a free companion app for iPad and Android tablets. My comments are based on the iPad app, but I assume they are true for 'Droids, too.
Kenway's Fleet is a minigame that runs in parallel with your AC4 game. It does not become available until sometime near the start of Memory Sequence 4. Up to that point, all you can do with captured ships is use them to repair the Jackdaw or lower your wanted level. Once you hit Memory Sequence 4, you can keep captured ships. Probably a good strategy once it's available is to capture everything you can and send it off to the fleet.
Your actions in the main game have no effect your minigame aside from the number and quality of the ships you have and your minigame has little effect on the main game aside from gaining a few collectibles and earning some cash. Look at them as being separate games rather than extensions of each other.
In order to get the most out of Kenway's Fleet, add people to your uPlay friends list. You can speed up and heal each other's ships when the ships are on missions and you're logged in to the game (or the app). If you do not have uPlay friends, there are several threads in the Ubisoft forums (http://forums.ubi.com/forum.php) where people have published their uPlay gamertags so that others can add them. Feel free to add your own to the thread and you'll probably get a dozen or so friend requests within a couple of days.
You can access your fleet in-game from either the Captain's Cabin on the Jackdaw or from your Hideout. One caution, though. If you use the companion app, you cannot access your fleet in-game while the app is connected to Ubisoft's servers. You must terminate the session on the portable device before trying to access the fleet in-game.
Building Your Fleet
You start the game with three dock slots available, but can expand your fleet to a maximum of 15 ships. You must build new docks to hold anything beyond the original three. You pay for new docks with gems and each new dock costs about double the cost of the previous dock. The last dock costs 5000 gems, so plan on spending close to 10,000 gems to build out completely.
You get gems by salvaging captured ships or by winning naval battles to clear trade routes, but more on that in another section.
Once you have an open dock slot, you can add a captured ship to it. If you have a captured ship, but do not have an open dock slot, you must either pay for a new dock or salvage an existing ship that is not out on a mission in order to open a dock slot. Captured ships may not be held in queue when a ship is available for salvage.
For example, if you have captured a Schooner that you want to use to replace an existing Schooner, but all of your Schooners are out on missions, you can only hold onto that new Schooner if there are no other ships in the dock. If you have a nifty Frigate at the dock, you must either salvage the Frigate or salvage the new Schooner. So when you have new captures, your best strategy is probably going to be to access the fleet only under these conditions:
there are no ships in the dock (in which case you can hold onto your capture for a while)
all ships are in the dock (in which case you can choose the one you want to replace)
you are absolutely certain that a ship you are willing to salvage is in the dock
If you access it at any other time, you may be forced into a choice that you won't like. Remember that nothing happens to the Kenway's Fleet ships until you access the fleet in the Captain's Cabin (or hideout) or from your mobile device. So captures can be held indefinitely as long as you don't look at them. Makes it sounds like the "Schrödinger's Cat" problem, but that's the way the developers chose to go.
You gain ships by capturing them in the main game. Most ships can be captured and added to your fleet, but a few cannot. Gunboats, Legendary Ships, and a few mission-specific ships (mostly from naval contracts) cannot be captured, but just about anything else with sails can.
There are four different ships that can be added to your fleet: Schooners, Brigs, Frigates and Man o' Wars. Each of those types comes in three levels, differing in speed, firepower and cargo capacity. The higher the level, the more speed, more firepower and greater cargo capacity they have. Cargo capacity is most important for trade missions. Speed and firepower are more important for reducing the naval battles to clear trade routes.
Schooner: Level 4, Level 8 and Level 11. Ships of Level 4 (15 cargo) and Level 8 (15 cargo) can generally be found in the central and northern sections of the map, while Level 8 (15 cargo) and Level 11 (20 cargo) ships are more common in the central and southern parts of the map. Level 11 Schooners commonly appear as Pirate Hunters (along with a Brig) when you are at Wanted Level 2.
Capturing a Schooner requires disabling it and then killing five crew members during boarding.
Brig: Level 17, Level 20 and Level 25. Level 17 ships (25 cargo) are found in the northern parts of the map. Level 20 ships (30 cargo) are found in the central parts of the map. Level 25 ships (35 cargo) are found in the southwestern and southern parts of the map. You will typically get Level 25 Brigs as lone Pirate Hunters when you are at Wanted Level 1 or in combination with a Level 38 Frigate at Wanted Level 3.
Capturing a Brig requires disabling it and then killing 10 crew members during boarding.
Frigate: Level 23, Level 29 and Level 38. Level 23 ships (40 cargo) are found in the northern parts of the map. Level 29 ships (45 cargo) are found in the central parts of the map. Level 38 ships (50 cargo) are found in the southern parts of the map. Level 38 Frigates appear in combination with Level 25 Brigs or Level 60 Men o' War at Wanted Level 3 or 4, respectively.
Capturing a Frigate requires disabling it and killing fifteen crew members during boarding. You will also be required to kill the Captain, kill two Scouts (gunners) up on the masts, and/or cut down the ship's flag.
Man o' War: Level 36, Level 49 and Level 60. Level 36 ships (70 cargo) are common all over the map. Level 49 ships (80 cargo) are common in the southwestern areas of the map. Level 60 ships will generally appear in the south-central area of the map. Level 60 Men o' War appear in combination with Level 38 Frigates when you are at Wanted Level 4, regardless of your position on the naval map.
Capturing a Man o' War requires disabling it and killing twenty crew members during boarding. You will also be required to kill the Captain, kill ship's officers, destroy powder reserves, and/or cut down the ship's flag.
There are a couple of trade missions that require a ship with 90 cargo, so you cannot complete those missions until you have captured a Level 60 Man o' War, but those can be bypassed by letting the missions reset with new cargo requirements (takes a day or two (real time)). Unless you're absolutely determined to have a fleet composed of the highest level of everything, you can complete all trade missions with no more than a Level 49 Man o' War or perhaps even a Level 36. It will take a little longer, though, since the lower level ships move slower than Level 60s and you'll need to wait for the appropriate missions to reset. Once you have completed all trade missions one time, you can pick and choose.
Updated Capture Information
After playing with AC: Unity and AC: Syndicate for a bit, I came back to Black Flag for a bit of fun on the high seas and discovered a couple of tidbits that may help with building out your fleet.
The game prioritizes the decision of what to do with new captures, so this is the first item you will see when you access Kenway's Fleet. Trade mission reports come next, but ships are not considered to be "in dock" until those reports are delivered to you even though the missions may have completed hours/days/weeks earlier.
In practical terms, if all of your ships were out on trade missions and you made one or more captures, you can indefinitely postpone the decision of what to do with the captures by simply keeping your ships out on trade missions. The sequence will run something like this:
Repeat until the ship you want to replace makes it back to dock
Another updated bit concerns Level 60 Men o' War. When you are at the highest wanted level, the Pirate Hunters sent after you will usually be the highest level ships (commonly a Man o' War and a Frigate at Level 4) and it doesn't really matter where on the map you are. I picked up a couple of Level 60s somewhere between Cuba and Nassau this go-around.
Clearing Trade Routes
Trade routes are the "path" your ship follows as it completes trade missions. At the start of the game, there are only two trade routes open to you: The Gulf of Mexico and the Southern British Colonies. Completing trade missions opens new trade routes to other areas of the map.
Trade routes move up one danger level every few hours (real time). They go from Safe (green) to Hazardous (yellow) to Dangerous (orange) to Treacherous (red). The more dangerous the trade route, the more likely that your ship will be severely damaged or not return at all, but you'll also earn more gems for clearing it.
The Southern British Colonies route seem to be an exception to this as it tends to move from green to yellow in about 5 or 10 minutes, but doesn't appear to move beyond yellow, even over several days. The Gulf of Mexico route also tends to stay in the yellow for a very long time (after a few days of watching it, I'm going to go out on a limb about it not moving beyond yellow, either - could be wrong), but it also stays green for a fairly long time. The South Atlantic route tends to go from green to orange in a couple of hours. The Portugal route tends to go from green to red within a 18 hours or so. The rest seem to take about 20-24 hours to go from green to orange. If you let them sit long enough, they will also go to red.
To lower the danger level of a route, you need to fight whatever ships are on the route by selecting "Ship Battle" from the route menu. Keep in mind that higher pay-out routes put you up against tougher opponents. Clearing red (Treacherous) routes will typically put you up against Man o' Wars and Frigates with an occasional Brig. Clearing orange (Dangerous) routes will typially pit you against Frigates and Brigs with an occasional Man o' War on higher pay-out routes or Schooners on lower pay-out routes. Clearing yellow (Hazardous) routes will typically put you up against Schooners and Gunboats with the occasional Brig on higher pay-out routes or just Gunboats on lower pay-out routes.
Using Fire Barrels to help with red routes is highly recommended. I occasionally use one to clear an orange route, but have never needed them on yellow ones. Add some people to your uPlay friiends list and speed up their ships to replenish (enrich?) your supply of Fire Barrels. Once you've opened all of the trade routes, they probably won't be needed much if you regularly play. If you go a few days between game sessions, you'll likely need to use them more often.
Winning a battle will lower the route's danger by one level, give you some gems, give you some trade goods and, occasionally, give you a fire barrel. Gems are the currency used to repair your ships and build new docks. If you are careful in how you array your forces, you'll gain more than you spend for repairs. If you're not-so-careful, send a lot of captures to Kenway's Fleet. Gems cap at 9999, so there is lots of room for error once all of your docks are built.
There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to when Fire Barrels drop, so it appears to be a random loot drop. But if you're relatively diligent about keeping your trade routes clear (green), you can expect an increase of between two and five per day.
You may bring up to three ships into a battle. The ship in the top slot has 10 added to its speed. Speed controls how fast the ship fires its guns. This can be particularly helpful when your ship tends to be slow (common with players on their first game), or the enemy ships tend to be fast (lookin' at you, Gunboats). The ship in the middle slot gets 5 added to its firepower. Firepower controls how much damage you do to the enemy ships. The ship in the bottom slot is supposed to get some points added to its defense, but it doesn't say how many and I haven't noticed much of a difference in the amount of damage bottom-slot ships take in comparison to the other two slots, so it's not very much, whatever it is.
In my experience, speed is often the determining factor for how battles progress. A Level 11 Schooner in the top slot can take out any Gunboat, any Schooner, a lower-level Brig or any two of those, often before the other ships can even get off a shot. So your priority should be to capture a couple of Level 11 Schooners and a couple of Level 25 Brigs as quickly as possible. The rest of your fleet can be composed of whatever Frigates and Man o' Wars you can get and have dock space for.
Your ships will generally tend to fire at the most powerful ship(s) and leave the less powerful ones for last. This can be frustrating when your Schooners are busy pounding on a Brig while a speedy, but less powerful Gunboat that could be taken out in one shot is hitting your Schooners with impunity. But enemy ships tend to follow much the same strategy, giving their attention to your most powerful ship, so it can be used to your advantage. If you have two ships of equal strength, the AI tends to alternate between the two. This, also, can be used to your advantage.
If you need to bring the "big guns" to bear, drop your most powerful ship into the bottom slot and fill the other two with something less powerful. The main exception is when you've got the enemy completely outmatched in speed. For example, a 48-speed Frigate in the top slot (making it speed 58) and two 60-speed Brigs in the bottom two can take down three Frigates without breaking a sweat. But if you're slower than the enemy, give them a nice Frigate or Man o' War in the bottom slot to soak up damage while your Brigs/Frigates in the top two chew them to pieces.
If you find yourself overmatched, you can drop Fire Barrels at any time. But you can't point them at particular ships. Instead, they tend to be applied from top to bottom or most- to least-powerful, so effectively using Fire Barrels will take some finesse. Fortunately, Fire Barrels will usually not be needed for most battles at orange level or lower, but they can be very handy on those red-level routes.
If your odds of success are not at 100% before you start the battle, feel free to back out. Reselecting "Ship Battle" from the routes screen will almost always cause a different set of opponent ships to generate, so you can keep doing that until you get a combination you can beat.
Completing Trade Missions
Once a route is open, it will have trade missions available. For example, if you see "Gulf of Mexico 5" on the Naval Map, it means that there are five trade missions available to you. No number means no available missions.
New trade missions will have an exclamation point (!) next to them. Successfully completing these missions will earn you a collectible or open a new trade route. The mission details will tell you which. Once the mission is done (in any game since this is tied to your uPlay account, not to your game), it will never generate another collectible and once a trade route is open, it stays open.
If you do not have a ship with enough cargo capacity for the mission, you cannot start the mission. That's fine. After some time passes, the mission will reset with new parameters. This is why having a Level 60 Man o' War is not necessary. One caution, though. There is one trade mission that says you need 30 Cargo (a mid-level Brig) to haul it, but it's actually 60 Cargo (a low-level Man o' War). You'll recognize it when you try to start it and can't. Aside from that hiccup, the rest of the mission parameters are correct.
Trade missions have three characteristics: time, cargo and pay-out and each route's missions tend to stay within certain ranges.
Gulf of Mexico missions tend to be completed in a matter of minutes, pay out a couple of hundred reales or less and can generally be completed by Schooners.
Southern British Colonies missions tend to be completed in a matter of minutes, pay out a couple of hundred reales or less and can generally be completed by Schooners.
Eastern British Colonies missions can be completed in 3-5 hours, pay out less than 1000 reales, and can generally be completed by Schooners and Brigs.
Eastern Canada missions can be completed in 6-10 hours, pay out 1100-2500 reales and will need low- and mid-level Frigates or low-level Man o' War to complete.
North West Europe missions take 12-24 hours to complete, pay out 2500-4500 reales and will need high-level Frigates or low- to mid-level Man o' War to complete.
Bay of Biscay missions take 10-24 hours to complete, pay out 1500-3500 reales and will need Frigates or Man o' Wars to complete.
Portugal missions take less than 24 hours to complete, pay out 1700-2500 reales, and can be completed by high-level Brigs or low-level Frigates
Mediterranean Sea missions take 18-36 hours to complete, pay out 3700-5200 reales, and will require low- and mid-level Man o' War to complete, although there is one mission that can be completed with a high-level Brig
North Africa missions take 6-10 hours to complete, pay out 1000-2000 reales and can be completed with Schooners and Brigs, with two missions that will require Frigates
Cape Verde missions take 10-24 hours to complete, pay out 1600-3400 reales and require Brigs to high-level Frigates to complete
South Africa missions take 10-36 hours to complete, pay out 1800-5200 reales and require Brigs, Frigates and Man o' Wars to complete
South Atlantic missions take 5-10 hours, pay out 800-1400 reales and can be completed by Schooners and Brigs
I do not know (OK, don't remember) the precise order in which the trade routes open, but as a general rule, the lower pay-out routes open before the higher pay-out routes.
Time can be shortened somewhat by using faster ships. But having your uPlay friends speed up your ships when they play can complete missions in a very short time. Speeding up ships costs nothing, earns one Fire Barrel each time you do it, and generally cuts out about a third of the travel time.
Completing trade missions will also damage your ships. As long as the trade route is green at the start and the odds of success are at 100%, you should be good (emhapsis on "shold be - I've llost high-level ships for being in the wrong plage at the wrong time,) but your uPlay friends can also heal your ships if necessary. Healing ships for your friends costs nothing and earns one Fire Barrel each time you do it. If you see that the ship's health bar is at 100%, for example,, spped up the ship. It will pay dividends later, but you are currrently stuck with "gov't for that guy"
After Finishing the Game
Your fleet is tied to your uPlay account, not to any particular saved game. Once you finish your main game, your fleet remains as it was and will be available in that state if/when you start another game. This means that you can keep playing the minigame through the companion app, even if you're not actively playing the main game and continue to pile up reales for your next game. Remember that your fleet is not available until Memory Sequence 4, so plan accordingly if you're going to go that route. This also means that if you lose a ship, you'll have to fire up the main game in order to replace it, but by helping friends and using Fire Barrels effectively, losing a ship should not be an issue.
Collectibles will only generate one time through trade missions. For subsequent games you will need to purchase them through General Stores.
I hope this little guide is helpful. Best of luck in your gaming and, as always, the goal is to have a good time, so have fun with it.