Despite such an attention grabbing name, the Gruesome isn't what you'd expect. If you came here expecting the HMS Endeavour of Pirate schooners, you'd be justifiably confused. Instead, what you get is a ship that is best suited to pester and harass your opponents. She's no slouch in a fight, but between her low cost, combination of abilities, and size, the Gruesome was made to be a thief.
For me, the ideal candidate for a ship with the treasure stealing ability is one that has good speed for catching gold runners, mid-to great cargo for holding stolen treasure, durability to survive stealing from a fleet with hybrids like the Darkhawk II, and she'd have to be cheap enough to not be your core strategy.
And that's where the Gruesome comes in. She's the only 4 masted ship with both the Schooner ability, and the ability to steal treasure, both built into her cost. (The only galley is three masts, and Longships are small and expensive) She's reasonably fast, and with a helmsman, she is fast enough to catch a lot of gold ships. For only 11 points, she is cheap enough to not to be the center-point of your fleet, and her cannons aren't terrible either. 2 2-ranks, and a 3-rank canon mean that with a captain, you can send a few shots at your enemy to damage you. And your 4-rank canon can send the warning shot to dissuade them from attacking you back. The only real drawback is her cargo size, which limits how much gold you can steal at once, as well as any supplementary crew.
The Schooner keyword plays an important roll in the versatility of the Gruesome as a treasure-stealer. Most ships plow forward, bow first, and if they ram their enemy, they may end up pinned, unable to escape if things go south. Additionally they'll have to contend with boarding parties either killing crew, or stealing back gold you already stole. While they can pick on little gold runners, larger ships like the Aberdeen Baron and Darkhawk II are going to give you trouble. Forcing you to play more riskier, or give up on the crew you invested points in. Of course, you could also try to narrowly avoid ramming, but then you have to carefully maneuver your ship against your opponents, and depending on your movement, you might not get many canons in range. Alternatively, a schooner can just rotate her stern at the end of her movement to be touching the enemy ship. This gives the Gruesome less of a gap to close with her enemies, as well as an easier chance of escape if you can't/don't want to derelict your enemy. As an added perk, a Schooner also has the best odds off firing all her canons on an opponent directly in front of, or behind them, which means you'll have even better odds of doing damage to your opponents once you've rotated your stern to be right against them.
Strategies and game play:
Send the Gruesome at your opponents and starting taking some gold! If your opponents are forced to run from you, then you've slowed them down. If you catch your opponents, you can take away some of their hard earned gold. Either way, it helps you win.
You'll at least want a helmsman on the Gruesome to keep her speedy enough to catch the enemy, while still staying as cheap as possible. If you have points to splurge, a Captain is a good second choice so you have a better chance in a fight with a hybrid ship.
A secondary fighter would also work well with the Gruesome, with either working as a distraction for the other depending on your needs. Either use the Gruesome to draw an enemy fighter to her, while your gunship goes to attack, or use your fighter to start a fight, while the Gruesome goes to steal gold away from your opponents.
Combos with other miniatures:
Hammersmith gives the Gruesome some teeth, and the much needed burst of speed and saves you a cargo space while doing it. And on the Gruesome, that free cargo space is very useful to have.
Gentleman Jocard is a welcome addition to increase the Gruesome's small cargo space.
Calypso might be too risky to place on the Gruesome as she runs the risk of stranding you with no action for a turn, but she's great for getting any piece across the map in a hurry, so she should could still be be a great tool to get the Gruesome to your enemy quicker, or helping you beat a hasty retreat. You could even consider giving your helmsman's cargo spot to a reroller, or shipwright on the Gruesome to help minimize the downsides of a whirlpool, since she'll be able to move across the seas so quickly. Also, consider an oarsman as a potential sacrifice.
Genny Gallows would allow one of the few pieces of gold you fit on the Gruesome some extra value at home.
Dead Man's Point and The Devil's Maw both could give the Gruesome a safer location to drop off gold that isn't quite as far as your home island, giving her a quicker chance to get back into your opponents gold lanes, which will help her earn her keep better.
Ways to counteract it:
Hybrid ships who can fight and run gold are the Gruesome's main weakness. Turning every potential piece of treasure stolen into a fight for her life. The Gruesome is at risk of not pulling her weight in a game already, and if she takes too much damage each time she tries to steal a piece of treasure, then she'll have to take the time to repair, or just end up sunk.
S-Boarders also may prove difficult for the Gruesome. It ends up defeating the point of stealing gold if your opponent can just steal it back on their turn. 4-masts help, but if you end up taking damage, or just go against a 5-mast warship, you're probably at a disadvantage without the proper crew.
Since I find the part of the Gruesome's appeal to be relative to her competition, I thought I should address her main competition here
When it comes to cost, the Gruesome is hard to beat:
Only the Cursed Blade comes in close. She clocks in at the same price, with 5 cargo, and is even a little faster. The Cursed Blade lacks some of the length the Gruesome has as well as that 4th mast of defensive. Her canons are similarly a bit worse, meaning she's a bit riskier to use. Her cargo hold lets you sneak a few more goodies, but if you get too confident, it may bite you in the butt. I don't think she's worth the extra risk, but I can understand that being a subjective opinion.
Beyond the Blade, the Gruesome's real competition is with quality. If you have the points to spare, or a Devil May Care attitude towards the risks, you could spend 14 pts by putting Skyme the Monkey on the Neptune's Hoard or 17pts with Skyme on the White Rose . That will give you the opportunity to raid your opponents home island too. If you don't have Skyme though, you're looking at spending an extra point on the same ability with Pintel.
And that's for the Pirates who were lucky enough to get a discount on the ability once over. France and the Corsairshave to pay 3pts, while America has to payfour whole points and all of those prices are on top of the price of a good schooner.
Only the Mercenaries got a more potent sounding crew with Nikos Chelios allowing you to take 2 treasures, but with the Ex-pat ability keeping you from docking at home with them, you're stuck holding them until the end, or having to spend points on a way to get them home... (If only the Gruesome had enough cargo to justify Nikos on board taking three treasures at a time, huh?)
Good size (Defensively, and length-wise)
Access to Hammersmith
Good Ability Synergy
Artwork and aesthetics:
In a game with a lot of wooden ships, a lot of them fall prey to being similar. There's a few standouts here and there, but the Gruesome isn't really one of them. She's one of the darker ships, using more grays and blacks than browns and whites. That said, she looks nice among the gray ships. The Skull and Crossbones on her dark sails really capture the Pirate aesthetic, but aren't so large or crazy to be gaudy. Seems weird since their flavor text suggests they are trying to be a cursed vessel, but at least the crossbones on her hull look like some pirates might have painted them on to look cursed.
In my experience, the Gruesome can be a surprise for your opponent. If you're not in the habit of using an ability to steal treasure, this is a ship that can catch your opponent off guard, as you start darting in and out of their gold lanes.
I give the Gruesome a 9. Sure, she's not top-tier in pure usability, but for what she tries to do, I think she excels.