Everyone loves a bit of adventure on the High Seas, otherwise there wouldn't be half as many pirate-themed games. Piracy is a theme that lends itself to a wide variety of game mechanics, so it's no surprise to see it press-ganged into service here in a lively push-your-luck dice and card game.
In Rolling Plunder, from War Games LLC, the 2-4 players each start with cards representing their Schooner and a single sailor on board as crew. Each turn, you'll flip a card from the top of the Ships deck. If it's a civilian vessel (say, a merchant or a fishing boat), you decide whether or not to give chase. You roll the three custom six-sided dice and compare the number of sails you roll with the three similar dice rolled on behalf of the target ship. You get to re-roll dice if you have more than one sail on your card (your starting Schooner has two sails, so an automatic re-roll on sail rolls). Roll equal or more sails and you catch the ship and are able to fight it. Now you roll hoping to get cannons; and again compare your result with that of the defending ship. Again, ties favour the attacker. If you win, you capture the ship and get to recruit crew. Lose, and the ship sails away and you lose a crew member.
Either way, you get to flip a second Ship card. If you do, you forego the option of recruiting crew from the first ship... And not all Ships are easy prey for bloodthirsty pirates... The Royal Navy has patrols out and its ships are generally more formidable than the frail sloops that you've been hunting. Turn over a Royal Navy vessel and the hunter becomes the prey. You can try to flee, using your chase rolls or you can heave to and fight. When you're engaged with His Majesty's vessels, however, it's the Royal Navy that always wins on a tie... It's at this point you may protest that it seems unfair that wins are awarded to the tie even when neither has rolled a cannon (0-0 is still a tie) - odd that you didn't object when you were battling the civilian ships and you were the beneficiary of this perhaps counterintuitive rule :-)
Crew gets you income and some will add special abilities. At the end of your turn, you'll have the option to spend doubloons to recruit more crew (subject to the limits of your ship) and to buy Plunder cards which give you one-off special abilities. Vessels you capture are prize and give you victory points which you use mid-game to upgrade your ship. To win, you need to have upgraded your Schooner first to a Brigantine and then to a Galleon. And as a bonus, Rolling Plunder also comes with rules for solo play.
There's tension over the turning of the Ship cards. You've got about a 75% chance of revealing a civilian vessel, tho' not all are sitting ducks. Once one or two naval ships have already come up, you'll perhaps be quietly calculating the reduced odds of another coming up on your next card flip... And there are some other cards that can come up in the Ships deck, including 'hidden maps' (which let you roll for doubloons) and Black Spots, which immediately end your turn and which can foment mutiny!: collect two Black Spots and you're likely to lose all your crew and Plunder cards.
If you're expecting ocean-deep strategy then sail on by, but if you're looking for a fast, fun push-your-luck game with enough atmosphere to keep you argh-ing throughout its 30 minutes or so playing time, then Rolling Plunder is the treasure you've been craving. And tho', with dice rolling and card flipping, there's inevitably a high luck factor, there are enough opportunities for the calculating captain to play the odds. Our only gripe was the common one with cards printed in dark or black ink that bleeds to the edge: they're at risk of marking easily with wear so you'd be well advised to sleeve them.
Rolling Plunder is coming soon to Kickstarter, me hearties. Click here to weigh anchor and join the campaign.