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Ship's Planks are components of ships which are produced at a Naval Engineer, and used by a Shipyard to build ships, along with Sailcloths. There are 3 tiers of planks.

Level 1 : Requires Coin and Wood

Level 2 (Reinforced Ship's Plank; available @1000 merchants): Requires Coin, Wood and Iron

Level 3 (available @1000 imperials): Requires Coin, Wood, Iron and Copper

You can upgrade planks to higher tiers, but you cannot downgrade them to lower tiers. Also, shipbuilding requires planks and sailcloths of the same tier.