The Privateer is a revolutionary unit for two reasons:
- It is (normally) the only unit unlocked via Civic progress, not technological research. This allows Culture-oriented civilizations which are lagging behind on Science to offer a deadly surprise to their adversaries.
- It starts a brand new class of ships, the Naval Raider class.
The Privateer is a true representation of the sea pirates of real history: quick, shadowy ships which appear to terrorize peaceful merchants and coastal colonies, then disappear. Its greatest strength is its invisibility; if its commander is careful, the Privateer may slip unnoticed into enemy waters and wreak havoc on their infrastructure! Its Coastal Raid ability can become a true nightmare for the enemy, with the Privateer appearing out of nowhere, pillaging improvements and Districts, then disappearing into the nearby sea. To perform a Coastal Raid, the Privateer must be next to the land improvement or district that is not separated from the Privateer by a Cliff, and must have at least 3 Movement points remaining.
The Privateer's fighting capabilities are also great. But while stronger than the Caravel (due to being a ranged unit), it is outclassed by the Frigate in both ranged and melee combat. So, when faced with Frigates, try to use hit-and-run attacks to put them off-course. In general, try to avoid fights unless you have a clear advantage, and are attacking solitary ships.
“Plausible deniability.” That principle of avoiding responsibility operated as well in the Age of Sail as it does today. The only difference – and it was a cutlass-edge thin one – between a pirate and a privateer was having a piece of paper, a letter of marque in hand granted by a sovereign. Privateers were privately owned ships (anything from simple sloops to brigs and caravels) commissioned by a government to “gain reparations for the crown for specific offenses [by other nations] during time of peace” … or prey upon enemy shipping in time of war. After the crown took its share of the spoils from the privateer’s raids, the rest – the larger half – went to the owner and crew. Since just about everyone in Europe had a grievance against the Spanish during the colonial era, the 17th and 18th centuries were the heyday of privateering, especially by those English sea dogs coddled by Elizabeth I and by the French Protestant corsairs (who attacked just about everybody).