Of all the professions, few think of piracy as an equal opportunities trade. Yet, curiously, in past ages when women in 'civilised society' were scarcely permitted to own property in their own name there were enterprising women who swashbuckled their way to wealth and glory as pirates on the High Seas. It's these Women of the High Seas who are celebrated in Marge Rosen's light card game from Seaport Games.
Pirate Party is a rummy-style set collection game for 2–4 players. The deck of 65 cards is divided into six suits. For each there is a Captain - each modelled on a real-life female pirate - as well as several crew and artefact cards. In addition there are six ship cards; these have no designated suit. There are three Mermaid cards that act as Jokers. Players start with a hand of eight cards and on your turn you lay down any sets you can form. These can be within a suit: using a Captain, at least one crew member of matching suit and at least one other card from the same suit or a ship card; or they can be three or more of a kind. You can also add to sets already laid. If you use a Mermaid, you have to specify what card it represents and any player with that card can at any time substitute it and take the Mermaid. Having played any sets, you then draw a card to end your turn.
There's a charm to Laura Erwin's artwork that adds to this game's appeal, although we found in our Board's Eye View plays that the cards don't lend themselves well to being fanned in the hand: the suit designation is in the top right-hand corner and, for some us, fanning the cards to the left didn't come naturally. And with six suits and only one draw at the end of your turn, you can find you go several turns without being able to complete a set and so you can have quite a large hand of cards to manage. Pirate Party is a game where you'll benefit from using card racks.
The cards all have points values, totted up at the end of the game, and the value of all the cards in your hand becomes a negative score, but you never know when the end will come... When any player draws the Kraken card, the game ends immediately. The rules don't invite any seeding of this card so it's possible it could come up at the end of the first player's turn! There's not much of a game if players don't even get a turn so we house ruled that the Kraken card should be shuffled into the bottom third of the deck. We'd also recommend completing a round when the Kraken card is drawn so that players all benefit from an equal number of turns.
As players are penalised for any cards left in their hand when the game abruptly ends, there's no incentive to hold onto any cards and the lack of any negative points seemed to be the only benefit of fully emptying your hand (the other way of ending the game). We'd have liked to see more incentive to push-your-luck and hold onto cards - perhaps rewarding with double scores any player who plays all their cards in a single turn. You can add cards to a set already played, regardless of who played it, but the rules seemed unclear about who benefits from such play. If I've played a set of Treasure Chests and you add one to my set, you are thinning your hand but are you adding to my score in the process? If you play it that added cards are kept separate and credit the player who played them, then that would be an effective way of incentivising players to hold onto sets in order to deny build opportunities to other players.
There are several 'take that' cards that feel thematically spot on, and with simple tweaks to the rules along the lines we suggested, you can have a lot of rummy-style fun with Pirate Party. It works especially well when players find themselves having to weigh up the risk of opening up the game for their opponents against the prospect of getting caught by the Kraken for a handful of negative points... And what's more we learned a little more about the Women of the High Seas as we played.
Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas is due to set sail on Kickstarter on 14 September. We'll hoist a link when the KS goes live.