Updated: Oct 24
This is a little gem of a game. It was published towards the end of last year after a modest but successful Kickstarter campaign and it was being shown off at this year’s UK Games Expo. It’s a pirate-themed hand management pick up & deliver trading & raiding game. Tho’ thematically this leaves it in well-trodden water, Pirates of Penryn incorporates an interesting mix of mechanics that mean a game that’s easy enough to pick up and play as a family game also has enough subtlety and depth to engross some of the most grizzled gamers.
Designed by Cait Russell and Matt Tweed, and published by SeaGriffin, the premise of Pirates of Penryn is that players are pirate captains with galleons moored off shore. They also each run a little boat from ship to shore that’s seeking to smuggle barrels of rum to the ports on England’s Cornish coast. Players have cards representing the rum, crew members and the florins used as currency in the game: cards stashed beneath the galleon are safe and will be scored at the end of the game; those transferred to the ‘rumrunner’ boats are in play and form the player’s hand (a maximum of 9 cards). At the start of the game and subsequently whenever the rumrunner returns to their galleon, the player decides which cards to take into their hand. They may choose to load up with rum for sailing and selling at port, they will want to include some crew cards (offering attack and defence values when interacting with other players’ rumrunners and when dealing with the requirements of hazards that occur when passing through a whirlpool symbol) and they may want to include some florin cards so that they can bribe the Morgawr sea monster to gain extra moves or to threaten other players.
Movement is affected by wind direction, which changes each turn, and the tide, which each turn advances along a rondel: at high tide everywhere is accessible but sandbanks become impassable (and some ports become unreachable) when the tide goes out.
Players sell their rum in port, where they can also spend money to buy more crew (useful on the rumrunner and worth points when stashed under the galleon). When taking florins, they have to decide what mix of cards to select: if they take high value cards, the florins are taking up fewer of those 9 card slots in hand but they are at greater risk of being lost to an ill effect or stolen by a rival.
Players whose rumrunner is abreast of another can declare a skirmish (comparing their crew members' ferocity or charm symbols – with the winner stealing two cards at random) or a duel (a rock/scissors/paper style crew card symbol comparison). The winner of a duel takes just one random card from the loser. Players gaining cards in this way are still subject to this game’s strict 9-card hand limit, so if you win a skirmish when you already have a full hand you will need to discard either your ill-gotten gains or other cards already in your hand.
From its attractive cloth map and charming cartoon artwork to its lively player interaction, Pirates of Penryn delivers a fun ride from start to finish. The game ends when a player has unloaded all their galleon’s rum barrel cargo and declares they are ‘home and dry’. You’ll wait to declare till you’ve got your rumrunner back to its galleon because the cards in your hand will only count towards your winning total if your rumrunner is at the galleon. This means there’s a high probability that the win will go to the first player to race back to their galleon having sold all their cargo, but, you never know, another player may have fared better with their trades and raids…
And there's more. The game's 'Rules of Engagement' include a host of variants to keep the game fresh. For example, the rum barrel cards aren't all the same, so there's the option of varying the value of barrels according to the type of rum they contain. Likewise, there's the option of allowing players not just to sell but also to buy rum at port with the aim of selling it at another port where the price is higher.
If you can't find Pirates of Penryn in stock at your local game store, you can get the publisher to ship you a copy direct at https://piratesofpenryn.com/shop/