A couple of members of the Board’s Eye View review team expressed a feeling of déjà vu while playing Pirates. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Tho’ Pirates is a new title from Queen Games, it’s actually a reimplementation of the game Buccaneer, which they first published in 2006. Before that it had an incarnation in Germany as Die Safeknacker, published in 1996 by ASS Altenburger Spielkarten – albeit that the theme of the 1990s game was safecrackers rather than pirates.
To avoid any confusion, this isn’t Geoffrey Bull’s classic game Buccaneer (Waddingtons), which was first published in 1938, it’s a design by Stefan Dorra. In Pirate, players have a set of five tokens (chunky wooden counters) representing their crew. Each token has an assigned value: 2, 3, 4, 5, ?. Players are trying to assemble boarding parties with a large enough crew to successfully board a ship or lost ruin or tackle a sea monster. The cards representing the ships et al specify on them the minimum requisite crew size.
To assemble a boarding party, players will be stacking their pieces on top of those of other players. The stack is controlled by the player with the topmost token, and that token is designated the captain. The second pirate in the stack is the ‘mate’.
Assembling a boarding party is one of the four actions you can choose to take on your turn. Alternatively, you can attempt to Capture a ship, lost ruin or sea monster from the random four in the display. Provided the stack has at least the number of tokens in it specified on the ship/ruin card, then the captain gets first pick of any booty tiles on the card (contributing to end-game set collection bonuses) and the mate gets any remaining booty token. The captain then takes the loot (ducat coins) indicated. They then have to pay all the pirates in their crew, paying them the value indicated on their token, except that any pirate with a ? on it is paid an amount specified on the ship/ruin card. The captain then keeps the captured card (face down – there’s a memory element to this game in keeping track of how well your opponents are doing). If the captain doesn’t have enough money to pay the crew, they are paid by the bank but the captain does not win the card. Unusually, the ship/ruins display isn’t replenished until all four cards have been attempted.
The third option available to a player is to take the Black Spot card and incite a mutiny in a stack that is large enough to attempt a Capture. They move their pirate in the stack to the top, promoting it to captain and making the former captain the mate. The stack is immediately placed out on a ship/ruin card. The card is resolved as for a Capture action except that the captain has to pay each crew member double.
Finally, a player who has no single pirate available to them and doesn’t have the captaincy of a boarding party can choose to ransom a pirate: paying the captain of a boarding party 5 ducats, retrieving their pirate and immediately performing an Assemble boarding party action (ie: immediately making that pirate the captain of a boarding party).
Those are the options and they make for a lively and appropriately cutthroat ‘take that’ game. Although it may initially feel like a semi-cooperative game because you’ll each need multiple players’ tokens in a crew and players get a payout whenever their tokens contribute to a crew, you’ll in practice be jockeying for position to seize the role of captain for the extra booty and – unless you miscalculate – the extra loot beyond what’s paid out to the crew, but most of all you’ll want to maximise your cards for the end-game score they will give you. This will be a formula based on the number of anchor and ship’s wheel symbols, so it won’t always be obvious who is ahead…
Queen Games have done their usual grand job in the production of Pirates, and this new edition features art by Michael Mayne , which fans will recognise from the pirate comic Bonnie Lass! For fans of the comic, Pirates will be an instant buy, but it’s a great 3–5 player family game that should appeal to everyone’s inner swashbuckler.