In my opinion the French are the most playable faction in the game after only the Pirates. The Spanish are close, but France has always had a great mix of fantastic gunships and fantastic gold runners. It was hard to narrow this down to just 10, and even harder to actually rank the top 10.
Top 10 French Gunships:
1. Le Soleil Royal
The Soleil Royal is a near-perfect ship. She gets the #1 spot because she gives you great bang for your buck. There are a few flashier ships, but the Soleil Royal combines a great point cost with good guns and a great ability. Her speed is the only thing that leaves something to be desired; however with 5 cargo spaces there is plenty of room to add a helmsman and potentially a sac captain and some oarsman. On top of everything else she's one of the most beautiful ships in the game, like many of the other French ships.
2. Le Bonaparte
I'd like to put some more five masters above this ship, but there's no denying her from taking the #2 spot. I know that some would rank her #1. However, I feel that her guns and high point cost (and to a degree her 3 cargo spaces) hold her back a bit. Although her ability makes her incredibly difficult to take out, her firepower is a bit lacking. The Soleil Royal costs 16 points even AFTER you add a captain.
That being said, this might be the "best of the pests". Ships with this ability are just so annoying
. Back before "reverse pinning" was banned this ship was nigh unbeatable. Even today she remains one of the best ships in the game.
3. La Delacroix
Often overlooked because of being from FN, this ship is a beast. Great guns, good speed, and a very nice ability that makes her versatile and maneuverable. Her point cost is high and her cargo hold is small, but this ship just beats out a few of the other five masters on this list.
4. Le Superbe
The other French five master from RV, Le Superbe has everything you want in a gunship. The only thing that holds her back a little bit are the fact that all of her guns are L-range. In addition, I felt that the reverse captain ability of the Delacroix was more valuable than the Superbe's ability. However, they can both be very useful and it depends on the situation.
5. Le Gaule
Another beautiful five master, Le Gaule is one of the best close-quarters brawlers in the game. She's expensive but quite powerful. The only thing that holds this ship back are that both her guns and ability only work within S, putting her at a disadvantage when facing ships like the Bonaparte or ships with cancellers.
6. Le Dauphin Royal
Another powerful five master with fantastic guns and a nice point cost. This one's not as flashy as her sister ships but gets the job done. This ship is the only one of the original three French five masters (from CC) to make the top 10; the other two were considered heavily and are listed as honorable mentions.
Also, I felt it was easier to group all of the five masters together at the top since they have more firepower than the following three masters.
7. La Lyon
There are some who will disagree that this ship is above the next two. However, nothing is better to have in a gunship than all rank-1 guns! I've recently acquired this ship and I'm pretty sure the mainmast should be listed as a 2L gun, not 3L. The Lyon is simple but extremely effective.
8. La Belle Etoile
This is a really fantastic ship. This is one of those ships that's just PACKED. By that I mean that she is just great in every way. Fast, capacious, and well-armed, with a high enough point cost to add essential crew like Barbinais
in order to eliminate as much enemy cargo as possible. She can also be used to run treasure or steal it. The only thing that holds her back are her guns, serviceable but not optimal for a ship with such an ability.
9. La Bonne Chance
This thing is the most simple gunship ever created! Put a captain on and you're good. Her speed and ability are fantastic complements, and having just one cargo space may actually be better since it makes your job as fleet-builder incredibly easy. Great value for 13 total points.
10. Mont Blanc
I'd love to award the last spot to a ship, but I really value flotillas as a great and cheap way to boost your firepower. This isn't the best flotilla in the game but it is the only French one. Hook it up to the Bonne Chance and you'll have 7 effective guns (with 4 of them at S+S range) flying around at S+S+S speed for only 22 points! If you don't use/don't like flotillas, a lot of the larger ships in the honorable mentions list could easily be swapped for this one.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): La Ville de Paris
, La Magnifique
, La Charlemange
, La Corse
, Le Descharges
, Morning Star
, La Possession
, L'Ange de la Mer
, La Gaule
, Le Pluton
, La Martinique
, La Republique
, La Provence
, Le Mercure
, Le Duc d'Enghien
, La Versailles
, Le Republicain
, Le Lache du Calvados
, La Felicite
, Le Courageux
, Le Coeur de Lion
, La Vengeance