This is a game involving trading in the Caribbean. Two to four players each control a ship and its captain as it plies the ocean in order to be the first to complete four ‘contracts’. It’s a theme that is hardly novel but it’s done well here in this game by Aron Groot and Niek Jansma, published by Golden Age.
For starters, Captains of the Golden Age involves no element of luck whatsoever. There are no dice. There are cards and some hand management but everyone starts with identical cards and any time a card is drawn, the player can choose from the draw deck any card they like; so there's no randomness there either. Players can sail their ship to an island to pick up goods and they can trade those goods for black pepper which, taken to the other side of the board, can be exchanged for the contracts needed to win the game. This isn’t a race game, however: goods can also be exchanged for ship upgrades: sails increase the distance that your ship can cover; the cargo hold determines how many goods can be picked up on an island and how much can be carried; cannons can be used to attack an opponent’s ship and damage one of its upgrades; crew can be used to board an opponent’s ship and steal some of its cargo.
Combat is optional whenever two ships co-exist in the same space. It is resolved by simple majority, with ties having no effect: if an attacker has more crew than the defender, his crew’s raid will be successful. Even when an active player declines to attack, it is open to the other player to themselves attempt to board or reply with cannon fire. And on top of this, the game involves an element of piracy, where the player controlling the privateers can target the produce of a secretly pre-selected island…
All this makes for an enjoyable surprisingly strategic game. Players will want to upgrade their ship, if only to prevent it becoming easy pickings for their opponents. The cards players hold can be used to bolster the four elements of the ship, so, for example, your rival may seem to have more crew on their ship than you have on yours but you may yet surprise them by playing crew cards to temporarily bolster your crew.
Captains of the Golden Age is a highly interactive game, especially when played with the full complement of players. The circular board helps to make it stand out and it has attractive components. The fact that Captains of the Golden Age is not so well known and has had less impact than other seafaring titles is possibly due to presentation that makes it look, on casual inspection, as if it’s a kids' game. Older children will certainly enjoy Captains of the Golden Age but, despite the box art, it would be wrong to think of this as a children’s game. Although the rules are straightforward and intuitive, this is a decent yet very accessible strategy game.