Roanoke was the first American ship ever released... assuming the Crimson Coast Mega Pack didn't predate it, that is. Not only did she serve as the entry point for the Americans, she's a really frickin' good ship. She has multiple strengths, an ability that is more useful than it may first appear, and she's among the cheapest five masted ships in the game. It's hard to argue with what Roanoke brings to the table, and for that reason, I'm writing this review.
First, let's look at her weaknesses, to get them out of the way. Her base move of L isn't amazing, though not terrible for ships of her size, and her 4S rank guns on either end are poor, having the effect of making a crew with the Broadsides Attack keyword useless, and giving her an approximate 216% chance of damaging an enemy ship during a shoot action. In other words, this five master is likely to land only two hits, and a third 1/6 times, which is subpar for a ship her size.
Furthermore, the Americans don't really have an amazing crew selection, despite being one of the game's six main factions. That said, they do have strong options for faction-unique abilities, and Roanoke's only ability serves to counteract this, because it allows for use of the most well-equipped faction in the game when it comes to crew, the Pirates.
Before looking into that, however, I'll examine which America-only crew strike me as relevant, which are comprised of both the Cargo Master and either Gus Schultz or Ralph David. The Cargo Master's utility can never be overstated, because its effectiveness scales with fleet size, which keeps the Americans surprisingly relevant in larger games. He doesn't even have to be aboard Roanoke to bring her cargo up to a monumental 7 spaces, either. The debate between Schultz and David may seem obvious—choose the cheap one—but it's not so simple in reality. Saving a point by using David sacrifices this ship's ability to use the plethora of superb Pirate crew, some of which are of immense value to Roanoke, so he's best used when you have no interest in taking advantage of Pirate crew, whereas Schultz's higher cost allows him to cooperate with those scalawags.
Now let's talk about the Pirates. Captain Jack Hawkins is an excellent captain, with an ability that's easy to justify for a single point, and on a ship so large, Bonny Peel proves herself useful, with Roanoke's inherent strength at boarding. Benito de Soto can be used to build yourself an alternate version of USS Stephens, with a higher cost, poorer guns, and fewer leftover points to play with, but superior cargo space. Emperor Blackheart takes up almost everything this ship has, but he's the only source for this kind of crew that the Americans really have.
Capitaine Chevalle has one of the game's most powerful offensive abilities, and at a fair cost. Calypso adds a way for Americans to save time with the use of whirlpools, and it pads Roanoke's mobility. Captain Davy Jones can turn her into a kraken commander, and allow rare American access to the Fear keyword.
One would think Mistress Ching would gives Roanoke the ability to negate one of the biggest downsides of the Ex-Patriot keyword, giving the ability to access a few abilities possessed by the Mercenaries, but my spreadsheet revealed that two of the three abilities offered by the Mercenaries that Americans can't normally get, both of which are on Yeshaji Angria, can be found for less on Devereaux, who is cheaper, and doesn't come with the debilitating Ex-Patriot keyword.
Because of her decent armament, high durability for her price, excellent cargo space, and amazing crew selection, there are an astonishing number of ways to set up Roanoke. She can be a cheap warship, or a well-equipped one, a hybrid, a gold runner, or a specialized boarder.
Basic Hybrid: Hammersmith + Explorer
Mysterious Islands Hybrid Hammersmith + Coconut
Aggressive Hybrid: Crimson Angel + Hammersmith + Oarsman + Wayne Nolan
Whirlpool Jumper Hybrid: Calypso + Hammersmith
Basic Gold Runner: Helmsman + Explorer
Fleet Support Gold Runner: Commodore Edward Preble + Cargo Master + Helmsman + Wayne Nolan
Silver Runner: Ralph David + Helmsman + Silver Explorer + Cargo Master
Offensive Warship: Hammersmith + Capitaine Chevalle + Brent Rice
Enduring Warship: Ralph David + Captain Montana Mays + Captain + Helmsman + Wayne Nolan
Flexible Warship: Benito de Soto + Helmsman + Shipwright
SAC Gunship: Shap'ng Tsai + Helmsman + Oarsman x5
Canceling Gunship: Hammersmith + Diamond Nelson Turner + Stinkpot Specialist + Oarsman
Crew Reanimator: Captain Jack Hawkins + Captain Davy Jones + Helmsman + Wayne Nolan
Crew Ransomer: Bonny Peel + Helmsman + Calico Cat + Wayne Nolan
Crew Incorporator: Captain Nemo + Helmsman + Shipwright + Oarsman
Home Island Raider: El Fantasma + Calico Cat + Helmsman + Wayne Nolan
Shepherd: Jerky Johnson + Helmsman + Commodore Edward Preble + Wayne Nolan
100% Real American Cheese: Captain Charles Richard + Emperor Blackheart + Diamond Nelson Turner + Helmsman + Capitaine Chevalle + Calico Cat
Additionally, some of these offensive builds can be made hybrids if the Cargo Master is in play elsewhere in the fleet used alongside Roanoke, and some hybrid builds can accommodate additional relevant crew, to further accentuate gold running or offensive abilities.
While I have shown Roanoke to be capable in a huge number of roles, there are, of course, ways to smack her down. Just choose a more expensive, more focused ship for the role she has been built for, and bam, you've got a counter. She's still vulnerable to some of the game's odd alt strategies, like marines on subs, sea dragons with extra actions, ram subs, and even the most powerful conventional strats, like those than involve San Cristobal. I wouldn't use her in a game with krakens,
Strengths/Pros: great hold space, astonishing crew selection, decent armament, competitive price, tons of potential setups
Weaknesses/Cons: weak base move, limited potency in most roles, poor armament for her size
Artwork and aesthetics: she's one of the first American ships, many of which featured pinstriped sails in early sets, but what sets her apart is the strip of sky blue along the side of her hull. A subtle, but distinct feature, it and the sails prevent her from being forgettable.
Overall rating: 9/10. So very many roles she can fill, and though she's not always the best at every one, you can bend her to fit almost any strategy imaginable, and she's even capable of being the centerpiece of interesting setups on her own. I didn't originally think she'd rank this high, but after examining her tremendous capabilities, I had to conclude that she was a peach of a ship, and that my own affinity for her wasn't entirely derived from the fact that she was my first American ship. She's just an excellent ship, and exemplifies the limits of conventional game strategy.