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Introducing Pirate Dice

From RoboRally...

Do you like the idea of programming robots, sending them out onto a factory floor with obstacles like conveyor belts, teleporters, and more? That's the basic concept of RoboRally, a game by designer Richard Garfield that appeared in 1994. It's not for everyone, but it's considered a classic game of controlled chaos, constant interaction, and plain old fashioned fun. Even today it has a small army of enthusiastic fans who consider it one of their favourites, and it still enjoys a respectable place in the BGG Top 200. Other games have appeared using a similar "movement programming" mechanic, where players choose their moves in advance, and then reveal their orders and move their pieces on the table accordingly - the Wings of War series being another such example.

...to RoboDerby

As awesome as RoboRally was, it did prove somewhat long and even somewhat frustrating to some people. Others wished that a similar feel could be captured in a shorter playing time, or with less players. So in 2010, along came Clint Herron with an idea to make an express version of the game using dice. In his words: "The ideal game of RoboRally has 5 or 6 players of relatively equal skill level, and 2 or 3 hours to play. When you've got that combination, you've got a challenging, fun experience with lots of player interaction and hilarity. But when you have fewer players, or mixed skill levels, or less time available, then RoboRally can be a rather uncharitable game." And so the seed was sown for RoboDerby: Express, a slimmed down print-and-play version of RoboRally playable in under 45 minutes. As Clint describes it: "So we focused on finding a way to capture the feel of the fun and chaos of a larger, longer game of RoboRally down into a fun game for 2 players."

One of the chief objectives of RoboDerby Express was to make RoboRally lighter and more friendly. In line with that, Clint Herron's mantra was to keep things light-hearted by injecting chaos wherever possible. "Whenever a design decision came up that could result in more or less chaos, we almost always ruled in favor of more. "Moar chaos!!!" was our warcry, spoken with a certain maniacle quality found best in Galaxy Trucker fans such as ourselves." The success of RoboDerby Express speaks for itself. It was nominated for the Golden Geek Best Print & Play Board Game Award in 2011 and 2012, and it won Game of the Year at the 2011 Print & Play Awards.

...to Pirate Dice

The next step was a commercial edition. Gryphon Games picked up the game, and with the help of Kickstarter, decided to publish it under the new name of Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas. Along with this new name came a new "pirate" theme, in which players are sending out pirate ships, giving them navigation orders in their quest to be the first to get to the treasure. Fun filled interaction happens by means of cannonfire, in which you try to take out your opponents ships, or by interfering with their plans with the the help of an anchor (thus putting a halt to their movement plans) or a rum barrel (a drunken captain can hardly steer straight, after all!) Given that this game now had the benefit of quality components, it was no surprise that the project proved to be a huge success, the Kickstarter raising around $34,000, nearly 500% of its goal.

So now it's time for you to find out more about this little game that has hit the big time. Are you ready to send out your pirate ship into the treacherous seas, braving the winds and whirlpools, and perhaps most importantly being prepared to have your fellow gamers tinker with your plans for success? Let's go find out about Pirate Dice!



COMPONENTS

Game box

Considering that this is primarily a dice rolling game, this is a big box. I suppose it does contain oceans and seas, and all that swirling water can take up a lot of room. Then again, pirates aren't exactly known for having small appetites, and so it shouldn't come as a surprise that this game comes in a very sturdy, impressive quality box, with a thrilling illustration of pirates engaged in battle - undoubtedly a foretaste of the rollicking and frenzied interaction that lies within.


Game box

The back of the box has a familiar picture of the game in play, and summarizes what the game-play is all about: "Pirate dice is a light but strategic dice game where players compete to be the first to find the sunken treasure in Treasure Cove! Will glory and fame be yours, or will you and your crew end up at the bottom of the sea? Players roll and place customized command dice to pilot their ships around the sea. Commands allow ships to move, turn, fire cannons, and even interfere directly with their opponents!"


Box back

Component list

As for what's inside, you actually get more than what is listed on the back of the box. Yes, really: more! Pirates don't exactly have a reputation for being forthright, and like to hide a little treasure on the side if they can get away with it, and so it appears that there's actually more treasure inside than we first thought - nothing wrong with getting a few extra map boards than I bargained for, I say!

● 8 double-sided map boards
● 4 ship dice (1 in 4 player colours)
● 20 command dice (5 in each player colour)
● 1 treasure die
● 4 player mats
● 4 player screens
● 16 tokens
● instructions


All the components from the base game

There's even a few additional mini-expansions that are available separately, but I'll wait with showing and explaining those until you've seen the main game first.

Maps

Let's start by showing you the maps on which you'll be playing the game. From the outset let me mention that the production quality of these is fantastic - very thick, sturdy, with a quality finish, and lovely artwork that includes reefs and islands. The box and instructions say that there are 6 such map boards, but actually there's 8 of these. That's because a number of Kickstarter stretch goals were reached, one of which resulted in extra maps being thrown in, and these extra maps are included in all copies of the game, not just the Kickstarter ones. More is better, I say! And that's not all - each of these boards is double-sided, meaning that there's a different map on the reverse side of each! Even better still! All the maps also feature a unique name in small print.

Starting maps

The basic aim of the game is that players are pirates moving their ships (represented by dice) on these maps, trying to be the first to get to the treasure. The usual configuration is an L-shaped set-up consisting of three boards, which means that there's lots of flexibility in terms of which boards you'll use. Usually though, you'll be playing with two key boards, the "Starting Shoals" (where players' ships begin on the spaces marked A,B,C,D), and "Treasure Cove" (which will house the Treasure on the big space marked X - after all, isn't that how pirates always mark where they hide their treasure?).


The start map (left) and finish map (right)

As mentioned already, the reverse side of each of these features a different map, including the alternative "Cannonball Regatta" map which can be used in a variant that we'll explain later.

Other maps

During setup you'll be placing another map between the Starting Shoals start map and Treasure Cove end map pictured above. There's four boards to choose from for this purpose, each again being double-sided, meaning that there's a total of 8 different maps to choose from. These include: Shoal Reef, Prevailing Westerly, Doldrums, Windswept Reef, Rolling Breakers, Trade Winds, Waterspouts, and Eye of the Hurricane. Several of these feature squares marked with icons representing winds and waterspouts, which will potentially play havoc with your ships when they end up on these locations. There are also islands and reefs that have an impact on navigation and cannon-fire.


Four additional double sided map boards

Bonus maps

In connection with the Kickstarter project, a contest was held that enabled people to submit entries to a map contest. From a short-list of six designs, three were selected by popular vote. As a result, the publisher was able to include in all copies of the game a bonus promo map entitled Pirate's Peril, as well as the three winning entries in the map contest: Le Clerc's Traverse (by Bill Glasgow), Octopus Lair (by Matthew L. Smith), and Siren's Embrace (by C. R. Veatch).


Two of the bonus maps

It's interesting to note how Kickstarter is having an impact on the final form of games. On this occasion every single copy of the game will include these user-submitted maps. I think it is a pretty neat concept, because in this instance the publisher has actively engaged the community and even incorporated their input into the published game.

Ship dice

The pirate ships that players are using to traverse these wild waters are represented by dice, and there's one in each of four player colours. The "health" of your ship can be up to a maximum of 6, and players will rotate their dice accordingly as they take damage from the cannons of their competing buccaneers. The dice themselves are very large wooden dice, colourful, chunky and solid - the kind of thing that a rugged pirate could appreciate.


The dice representing the players' pirate ships

Command dice

You'll be programming a series of four movements or actions for your pirate ships using command dice, that you'll roll and re-roll Yahtzee style, and set aside to "program" or "plan" your ship movement. Each player gets five of these in their colour.


Five command dice in each player colour

The dice feature a number of icons, which will determine how the ships move, e.g. moving forward a number of spaces, rotating, or drifting sideways. Icons with a star indicate firing bonus cannon-fire. Two special icons worth mentioning are the anchor and the rum barrel - these will enable you to engage in skullduggery and interfere directly with your opponent's plans!



Treasure die

This six sided die represents the treasure that we're all competing to get to first, and will be placed on the space marked X. In a more advanced form of the game, players not only need to capture the treasure, but return it to the starting board, and in the process can add the treasure die to the dice they roll, making use of its special abilities.


The treasure die features some unique icons

Player mats

Each player gets their own player mat, on which they'll place the dice that they set aside as they roll them. There are four columns or "bells", representing passages of time that will be resolved one at a time. The lower row is the "ships wheel", and dice placed here will be activated; the row above it is the "anchor", and dice placed here will have no effect. The empty spaces in the row above that will store "locked die", which is where dice go when your ship gets crippled by enemy gunfire, and you won't be able to re-roll those dice until your ship is repaired.


One of the individual player boards

Player screens

A screen is also provided for each player, since dice need to be rolled and placed secretly. These feature highly attractive artwork, and prove quite functional - unlike screens I've seen in other games, they actually stay in position rather well.


Player screens for each player

The reverse side of the player screens has a handy reference summary of dice and map symbols, as well as the different phases of game-play. This proves particularly useful when learning the game, and is a great touch.


Information on the reverse side of a player screen

Tokens

There are 8 Skull Tokens, which players will use to keep track of how many of their ships are sunk - three down and you're out of the game! The Treasure tokens can be placed on the map instead of the treasure die, should players prefer. The six Doubloon tokens aren't needed in the base game, but some of the variants and expansions do make use of them.


Skull, Treasure, and Doubloon tokens

Instructions

The rules consist of a brochure style manual consisting of six sides, and includes a short FAQ and some variant ways to play. A separate reference sheet is also provided, which contains summary information similar to what is on the reverse side of the player screens. The official rules can be downloaded here: Pirate Dice Official Rules


Instructions and reference sheet

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The basic aim of the game is to be the first to get to the treasure by moving your ship there the quickest - meanwhile thwarting your competing pirates. To set-up the basic game, take the Starting Shoals and Treasure Cove tiles (placing the Treasure die or Treasure token on the space marked X), and place them in an L-shape by placing another map tile between them. Players use a "roll off" to determine who gets first choice of the starting locations (A, B, C, or D), where they place their ship with an initial strength of 6. Players all get 5 command dice in their own colour, along with a player mat and player screen. Let's roll!


A three player set-up

Flow of Play

Phase 1: Roll Dice & Select Orders

Simultaneously and secretly behind their player screens, all players roll their five command dice. After each roll you must select at least one of your rolled dice, and place it on your play mat, either on a ship's wheel (where it will later execute a command for your pirate ship's movement/action), or on an anchor (where it will be ignored). Only one die can be placed on each column (= "bell"), and they do not have to be placed in order from 1 to 4. You may also place more than one die after each roll, but you must keep rolling until eventually four of your five command dice are selected and placed on your play mat.


Blue has selected its orders

Phase 2: Execute Orders & Move Ships

Turn order

When all players have finished rolling and placing their dice onto their playmats, they can reveal and carry out their orders. Since each "bell" represents part of a watch at sea, each such column is resolved one at a time. So all players look at the die they have placed in bell/column 1, and carry out that order. To decide which player executes their chosen action for Bell 1 first, use the "priority numbers" in small print on the face of the dice (which are far from random, as is evident from the careful explanation here). Players carrying out their orders in turns from highest to lowest (whenever numbers are tied, simply "roll-off" using your unused fifth command dice to decide who goes first). After everyone has done their action in turn for bell (= column) 1, you proceed to bell 2, etc.

Movement

In most cases, taking your action will involve moving your ship, according to the icon shown on your die. These symbols are explained on the reference sheet and on the reverse side of the player screens. As you can see, the icons indicate things like moving your ship in a forward direction 1, 2, or 3 spaces, rotating your ship 90 or 180 degrees left or right, or moving backwards 1 space. Ships can't move past islands/reefs/board edges, but they can push opponent's ships, even causing them to take 1 damage if such a collision (called "ramming") happens at a speed of 2 or 3.



Map effects

After movement, ships on a whirlpool location must be rotated, while ships on a wind location must move one square in the appropriate direction.



Example of Play

Let's illustrate the above with an actual game example. In the example shown below, the orders would be resolved as follows (numbers in brackets are the priority numbers on the dice in question):

Bell 1: Blue (84) forward 3; Yellow (52) drift 1 left
Bell 2: Yellow (85) forward 3; Blue (25) turn left and fire cannon (NB: the wind pushes Yellow an additional 1 forward at the end of this Bell)
Bell 3: Yellow (23) turn left; Blue (anchor) nothing
Bell 4: Yellow (81) forward 2; Blue (73) forward 1


Example of movement

That's a fairly basic example, because there were no collisions involved, and things quickly become interesting if you can get your opponent's ship to a spot he wasn't counting on! But there are two special types of icons that we haven't mentioned yet, and need explaining:

Special icons: Bonus cannon-fire

A die face with a small explosion icon allows a player to shoot opponents in a direct line left and right immediately after moving, and any opponents hit in this manner must take one damage (i.e. lose one health).

Special icons: Skullduggery

The "anchor" and "rum barrel" icons give players opportunity to mess up their opponents plans in a direct way.
a) Choosing the anchor allows you to force an opponent of your choice to ignore his die in the corresponding bell, as if it was placed on the anchor, so that it does absolutely nothing that turn.
b) Choosing the rum barrel allows you to force an opponent of your choice to re-roll his die in the corresponding bell, and he must then use whatever the resulting roll is. This can result in some crazy things happening, and as the rulebook notes in small print, the moral of the story here is to never drink and sail!



You may protect yourself from skullduggery by targetting yourself with a rolled anchor or rum barrel, thus making yourself immune to the skullduggery of opponents that might target you in that or any future bells that turn; this comes with an added bonus of improving your ship's health by one hit point.

Phase 3: Cannon-fire & Repair

Cannon-fire

After movement and map effects have been resolved for all four bells, all the pirate ships fire their cannons on both sides. Apparently shouting "Kaboom!" at this point is a free expansion on the base game - whoever said that pirates don't have a sense of humour?! Cannonfire will stop when it hits an island, but a reef won't protect you from the blazing gunfire of your pirate enemies! Whenever cannonfire does hit a ship, it needs to take a damage - which happens by rotating the ship die to reduce its health by 1.



Damaged and sinking ships

Taking damage can't happen indefinitely, because there can only be so many holes in your ship before you have to take some course of action! Even the best pirates aren't completely invincible! Here's the problem - when you get down to 4 hit points, you must place your fourth die on your player mat into the "lock" position. Basically you can't roll it or change it, but you are still bound to execute that command! As you can see, things quickly become tricky when your ship is determined to steer left, and the treasure is facing in a different direction! And if you're down to 3 hit points, then you must move your third die into the "lock" position, and so on. A crippled ship is tough to sail!


Green's ship is down to 3 hit points, and has two locked dice!

If you lose your last hit point, guess what, your ship has just sunk. Not to worry, you take a skull token, and return on the following turn with a new ship starting at 5 hit points (as a small penalty, it must be placed on a map board closer to the start than where you ship sunk). But while cats have nine lives, apparently pirates only have three, because the rule here is: three sinks, and you're out the game.

Repairing ships

Fortunately there is a way to avoid the embarrassment of constantly sinking ships, and that's to lower your sails at the end of phase 3, and spend the entire next turn doing nothing. Your ship still runs the risk of getting knocked around or pounded on by your opponents, who might do their best to take advantage of your temporary leave of absence from the captain's wheel by their furious dice-rolling and nefarious gunfire, but assuming your ship is still in one piece, you can repair three hit points at the end of that next turn and get back into the action with a fresh coat of pirate paint.

Game End

The game ends as soon as someone ends a turn on the treasure square - they've recovered the treasure, and entered the pirate's hall of fame.


Blue is poised to take the win by capturing the treasure

Variants

A number of variants can be played with the components of the base game, and instructions are provided for this. This is after all the kind of game that promotes house rules and new ways to play, customizing the game experience and length to your preferences!

Advanced Game (Return the Treasure)

You can make the game last longer by enabling players to pick up the treasure if they land on the appropriate space, and requiring them to return it to the home X square on the starting tile (or by being the last player afloat) in order to win the game. This "Return the Treasure" variant is essentially considered the "Advanced Game".

A few extra rules come into play with this form of the game. When you pick up the treasure, you take the treasure die into hand, and get to use it along with your other dice. It has regular commands like the other dice, but it also has two unique icons: one which allows movement two spaces backwards, the other which gives a round of bonus cannonfire without moving. You can also steal the treasure from an opponent by ramming them at high speed; instead of taking damage, they give you the treasure token. If you sink while holding the treasure, your next ship returns on the next turn as in the regular rules, while the treasure token is placed on the map space where your ship sank, making it available for other players to snatch up. This encourages interaction, and typically results in a game takes twice as long to play, since players essentially need to cover twice the distance to win.

Cannonball Regatta

The "Cannonball Regatta" map is on the reverse side of the usual "Starting Shoals" map board. You use it along with three other maps to make a 2x2 square, and the aim is to be the first player to complete a full counter-clockwise lap through all boards and end on the X of the starting board. This variant eliminates treasure altogether, and essentially makes the game a race with your pirates to be the first back to the dockside tavern! It's also about twice as long as the basic game, since you're covering about twice the distance as normal.


The Cannonball Regatta in play

Expansions & Extras

Numerous additional goodies for the game are available, some of which were stretch goals for Kickstarter supporters, but which are also available separately from the publisher.

Capture the Treasure expansion

Pirate Dice: Capture the Treasure & Ghost Ship features two additional double-sided map boards, and comes along with an extra treasure die and rule sheet. These boards enable a set-up that is essentially a mirror image, where players start on identical boards opposite each other, each board containing a treasure die. To win, you must capture the treasure from your opponent's home square, and return it to your own square before he does (or eliminate your opponent for an early finish). The "Skull Haven" map can be used with the identical "Treasure Cove" map from the base game; alternatively players can use the two identical "Reef" maps. Be aware that the first printing had a misprint that resulted on the "Reef" maps being back-to-back, and thus this map is not playable with this variant, but an additional board is available from the publisher (details in this thread and especially this post), and I'm told that it should be fixed in the event of a reprint. You can play this variant with the Skull Haven map, however. Again games take about twice as long as the simple base game, but provide a different challenge, and can be a great deal of fun.


The "Reef" (left) and "Skull Haven" (right) map boards

Ghost Ship expansion

Pirate Dice: Capture the Treasure & Ghost Ship is another mini-expansion that emerged as a result of the successful Kickstarter campaign. It adds a special Ghost Ship die to the game, representing a phantom vessel that rises from the ghostly depths when a player recovers the cursed treasure. The Ghost Ship die only awakens when a player picks up the treasure, but after it has done so it will move and fire cannons each turn, in a relentless attempt to hunt down any successful treasure hunter, seeking to drag their ship down to a watery grave.


The Ghost Ship die

Rough Waters expansion

Pirate Dice: Rough Waters Expansion was originally dubbed the "Challenge Pack", and features two more double-sided map boards, with the following maps: King of the Sea, Great Horn, Maelstrom, and Cape of Lost Hope. Expect some challenging waters, and numerous encounters with strong winds and waterspouts! Special mention can be made of the "King of the Sea" board, which presents a real navigational challenge, and which gives players a new destination to try to reach - the first to get to the distant corner will be the winner, but weather conditions will make this very difficult!


One side of the two new map boards: Maelstrom & Cape of Lost Hope

This mini-expansion also includes instructions for a variety of map layouts and other variants that experienced players can use with the basic and advanced game, giving room for endless customization! Check out this file to get an idea of some of the many, many different possibilities for set-up and gameplay. Talk about replayability!

Fifth Player

Pieces for a fifth player are also available, and include an additional set of dice (orange), plus another player mat and screen. The rules with the Rough Waters expansion suggest possible starting layouts best suited for playing with five players, particularly a more open-route map layout, along with the "Duggery Doubloons" and "Multiple Treasures" variants.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It is beautifully produced. Pirate Dice is actually a fairly small and a fairly light dice game. But you wouldn't think so from the production values, which are grand: a big box, lavish artwork on the player shields, beautifully produced maps, solid and chunky dice. This game has come an awful long way from being a print and play dice game, and with the quality and love that it has received from the publisher Gryphon Games, it looks amazing! Judging from the components you'd think this was a grand and epic game, and you do well to remind yourself of the fairly straight forward concept that this game is, and not expect too much from the game judging by the size of the box alone! Fans of the print-and-play version must be pinching themselves over how beautiful the end result looks!

It is easy to teach. I had good success teaching the game to children 8 years old and up, and they were able to catch on and play in little more than 5 minutes. This makes the game quite accessible and helps give it a broad reach.

It is intensely interactive. If you don't like other players messing with your plans, then you want to stay far away from this game. Pirates aren't in the business of being nice, and nor is Pirate Dice. You can expect strong interaction, first of all by means of other players potentially pushing or shoving your ship in directions you don't want; secondly as a result of unfriendly cannonfire; and perhaps most dastardly of all - the dreaded skullduggery! Now I'm not usually a fan of `take that' style games with a high degree of confrontation or nastiness. But because Pirate Dice is light and quick, this intense interaction feels just right, not to mention that it's delightfully thematic! There's something tremendously satisfying about ramming your opponent's ship and sending him off his planned course, and chances are that he'll be laughing along with you at the results! It's similar to the kind of pleasure I feel when riding bumper cars at the midway!

You are in control ... sort of ... most of the time. Pirate Dice is not a game devoid of decisions or control. The dice-rolling mechanic works well, and for the most part you'll have more than enough options to plan your series of movements because of the options for re-rolling. Of course there will be the odd time where you take a risk and select your dice for the second or third bell, hoping to roll that left turn you need for the first bell - only to have it not show up, only to have your ship go in a rather different direction than you planned! But when this happens, it's usually quite hilarious. But the "frustration" will rarely come as a result of the dice, and if your plans do get nixed, it's usually because of the nefarious interference of your fellow pirates!

It is chaotic and full of light-hearted fun. Pirate Dice is not a game to take seriously by any means. Sure, you want to try to keep your wits about you, and be sensible in the moves you're planning. Being able to re-roll your dice also gives you considerable flexibility in deciding what to do. But expect bad things to happen, and when they do, laugh along with everyone else, even if it's your ship that ends up floating in completely the wrong direction, as a result of an unplanned encounter with a rum barrel! One of the designer's mottos was: chaos! That's not to say that there is no control - because complete chaos will only prove frustrating to a true gamer. There's enough control that you actually feel that you are determining the course of your ship more often than not, and if you win you'll feel it's been hard earned. But a significant amount of chaos will happen, and you know something - that's just great for a game of this type! It makes the game full of surprises and genuine fun.

It is full of bluffing and bluster. Just like pirates really! The light hearted nature of the game, and particularly the skullduggery mechanic, encourages trash talking, and trying to out-think or double guess what your opponent may have planned. Executing a well planned "rum barrel" or "anchor" maneuver on your opponent can prove immensely satisfying - but even more satisfying for him if he manages to anticipate such a move himself!



It is well themed. Overall the retheme to pirates has worked rather well. The idea of programming moves using a ships wheel for movement and an anchor for ignored commands; the winds and the whirlpools, using the special anchor and rum barrel dice to interfere with your opponents, as well as the mandatory cannonfire - all this suits the theme very nicely! The game may have lost some things by abandoning robots (the idea of "programming" a series of moves is a particularly good point in favour of RoboRally's theme), but Pirate Dice has gained other things with the transition to the world of pirates. While it may not be better than the original robot theme, I think it's still an excellent choice of theme, and it works. As such, the theme does fit the mechanics rather nicely, and evokes an atmosphere appropriate to the light, chaotic, and interactive game that this is.

It is quick to play. I also like the fact that games play quickly - on numerous occasions, we were able to whip off a basic game with 2 players in little more than 5 minutes! Having said that, the game will take longer when you add more players, or play with extra boards or the advanced form of the game. But there's quite a few different ways to play in which games can easily be completed in 20 minutes or thereabouts. The basic game is certainly the quickest, and there is a risk that the Advanced Game (Return the Treasure) can overstay its welcome; but we particularly enjoyed trying out the King of the Sea challenge, Capture the Treasure, and the Cannonball Regatta, all of which can be played in reasonable time as two player games especially. With these forms of the game, when played with minimal map boards, you'll rarely even need to worry about keep track of how often your ship sinks, because it won't really happen too often, although perhaps this becomes more critical in games with more players or longer forms of the game. The only problem with the longer forms of the game is that they are, well, longer. Given how light the game is, it does have the potential to overstay its welcome if it drags on too long. I don't know that I'd want to take on the "Return the Treasure" advanced game with four map boards and with four players, for example. I think the designers made a good choice by going with 3 boards as the standard game, leaving it up to the players to increase the size of the playing time and game time if they wish.

It is incredibly customizable. From the sheer number of components, rules, and add-ons, it's evident that a tremendous amount of love and work went into this game. I can't think of many games that are as customizable or flexible as this one. Want a longer game? Add more boards, or play with the advanced game that requires returning with the treasure. Want a new challenge? Try the King of the Sea challenge, or play the Cannonball Regatta variant. The amount of variants in the rules with the Rough Waters expansion leave open an incredible amount of possibilities to explore. All this is a good thing, because it helps you make the game fit what you want. And if you love this kind of thing, it's going to take an awful long time before you've exhausted all the possibilities offered by the variants!

It encourages house rules and casual play. If I had a criticism to make about the game, it would be that the rules at times don't entirely make clear how various aspects of timing work, and in our first few plays we found ourselves with a number of rules questions about specific situations. Fortunately I was able to find most answers in relatively short order here on the BGG forums. But at the end of the day, these kinds of questions don't really matter, because much of the game is about theme and chaos, so you can houserule these questions on the fly as you prefer, playing whatever the group prefers or decides. Doing so is not likely to destroy the game's balance, precisely because this is a game with a lot of chaos and is more about the fun and experience anyway. Unlike pure euros, where all the mechanics are carefully balanced, and getting a slight rule wrong can completely turn a game on its head and sour the experience, that's not at all the case here. If you do happen to resolve things like bonus cannonfire and map effects in the wrong order, it won't really matter too much.

It is particularly good with 2 and 3 players. Players are rolling their dice and planning their orders simultaneously, so even with more players there is little downtime. Nonetheless, with more players on the gameboard, there's going to be a whole lot more pushing and shoving, not to mention more cannonfire fizzing about, making it quite hard to carry out any decent plan. Games are probably best with 2 or 3 players, because of a slightly greater degree of control and shorter play time. But with the right group, Pirate Dice can still prove tremendously fun with 4 or even 5 players.

It's RoboRally! Inevitably, comparisons are going to be made with Roborally. In fact Pirate Dice invites such comparisons, because even though Roborally isn't specifically mentioned in the rulebook (a somewhat surprising omission perhaps), it certainly is the game that inspired Pirate Dice, and much of the original game has survived all the changes. In his designer diary, Clint Herron explains how RoboRally inspired him to distil the fun and chaos of RoboRally into a lighter and quicker game that would work well with less players. After the involvement of Gryphon Games and a pirate retheme, this initial design (RoboDerby: Express) became Pirate Dice. It's not surprising then that the basic idea of how the game works is derivative, and just like RoboRally. That's because this basically is RoboRally, slimmed down and scaled down, with pirates and dice added.

It's not RoboRally! The first and immediately obvious difference from RoboRally is a different theme, which I have discussed above already. But perhaps more importantly, Pirate Dice shortens the original RoboRally and makes it playable with just 2 or 3 players. That doesn't necessarily make it better than RoboRally, but even the diehard fans will have to admit that you don't always have the 2 hours available that a more epic game of RoboRally might need. And there will be others who do prefer a shorter and more streamlined game to begin with. As one gamer states "Clint's dice-based version took all the awesome from RoboRally and kept all the frustration out." There's also less set-up, and particularly when played with the advanced game that requires players to capture the treasure and return it to home base, there's a great deal of interaction - and the small playing field further encourages this.

It is a small game in a big package. That's intended as a compliment, not a criticism, by the way! What I mean is, that it would be unfair to evaluate Pirate Dice as a big box style game, or compare it with games that have a similar amount of components and box size. To give it a fair assessment, it needs to be remember that it originated as simple print-and-play dice game with three pages of simple instructions, and a limited number of straight forward maps and components on a single sheet of paper. This is really the core of the game. However, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, it has had the benefit of wonderful production, with high quality art, and a wide range of extra maps and extras. Rather than criticize some of the extras, a better and more fair approach is to take the base game on its own merits, and to be grateful for all the additional bits and pieces that come with the game, which allow for lots of potential exploration if you are so inclined. When remembering its humble beginnings as a small print-and-play game and evaluating it in that light, Pirate Dice has come a long way!


A two player game gets underway

What do others think?

The criticism

Pirate Dice certainly does have its share of critics. Most of them acknowledge that it fills a niche as a lighter and more accessible version of Roborally, but the harshest critics simply preferred the more lengthy original, also on account of the theme. In comparison to RoboRally, they considered the pirate theme to fall short, and also found the boards too small and crowded by comparison. The moral of the story is that if you really, really like RoboRally, then you may find that Pirate Dice just doesn't live up to the original. On the other hand, if you didn't like the original, or are looking for something with a similar feel that plays more quickly and with less players, then Pirate Dice may be for you.

The praise

There's also no shortage of enthusiasm about the game, as is evident from comments like these:

"Very fun, fast." - Eric Foldenauer
"Robo Rally the dice game rethemed is this game. Bits are beautiful." - Larry Rice
"Entertaining game on the high seas. Fairly random but really good interactive fun." - Peter Duckworth
"Really fun, and I am not usually a huge Dice Rolling, Navigation player." - Mark Tietsort
"This is a solid, fun, light filler. It's easy to teach, and easy to play." - Starla Lester
"A very fun and fast dice game with great components and those AWESOME wooden dice." - Matt Riddle
"Lots of maps and variants should keep this game hitting the table for a long time." - David Anderson
"Great game where you need a bit of luck but also being able to predict what your opponent is going to be able to do." - Matt Gort



The fiendish challenge of King of the Sea

Those who compare Pirate Dice favourably with RoboRally have this to say:

"Having finally played, I'm alarmed at how great the similarities to RoboRally are. That aside, the game itself is fast, fun, and rather more chaotic than Roborally." - Stephen Tavener
"I feel this is a good dice adaptation of Roborally. I'm glad they decided to use non-similar dice in order to better simulate the card experience. This game did everything I hoped it would do: streamline the original into a shorter, simpler game but still deliver nearly all the same thrills." - William Bussick
"Fun little dice game that feels like RoboRally without having to set everything up." - BT Carpenter
"Yes, it is Robo Rally as a quick game with dice instead of cards, and I think there's a definite place for that." - Starla Lester
"I'm sure it's been said before, but it's basically a shorter and more funly packaged version of Robo Rally." - Tim Westfall
"I liked it as a faster Roborally." - Bruce Miller
"Imagine RoboRally on smaller, tighter boards, with a smaller variety of board elements to hose you. Now replace the huge deck of uncooperative cards with uncooperative dice. Throw in a goodly number of variants, and you have a more family-friendly way to scratch that RoboRally itch." - Nathan Morse
"After trying the more commercial game I realized that Clint's dice-based version took all the awesome from RoboRally and kept all the frustration out. The changes made with the retheme to Pirate Dice take the game that final step further." - oldschoolgamr




Recommendation

Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas is not about to make RoboRally obsolete any time soon, because hardcore RoboRally fans will likely prefer the greater depth and customization available in that game. But Pirate Dice doesn't pretend to have such lofty ambitions either. It's deliberately engineered to be a smaller and simpler RoboRally that retains much of the fun and interaction of the original, while supporting less players. As such it has a different appeal and meets a different need. It will appeal to fans of the original game who don't have the time or the players for the full monty. But it will also appeal to folks who really didn't like the length of the original to begin with. As such, it should have a fairly broad appeal and can expect to be well received in a variety of contexts. There's nearly always room for a fun and light game that is engaging, interactive, and especially one that works well with 2-3 players. Pirate Dice fits that bill exactly, and when measured by that standard - rather than with inflated expectations based on the size of the box - it's a small game with a big heart that should find a welcome home in many a collection.



Update: From information received subsequent to me posting this review, it appears that I have been misinformed and the retail version of the game does not include the two bonus boards. See the relevant posts below, and also the discussion here: Retail version

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Robert Manore
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Colorado Springs
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Warlord beats Troll, Troll beats Elf, Elf beats Water Sprite, and basically everything else beats Enchanted Bunny.
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Awesome review!
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Paul M
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Pirate Dice has several advantages over Robo Rally.

1. Pirate Dice ends, even on large setups.
2. If you fall behind in Pirate Dice, one good roll and you're back in it.
3. You can directly attack people with anchors and rum barrels in Pirate Dice, so leaders must be cautious.
4. Because of 2. and 3. I've rarely seen a runaway leader in a game of Pirate Dice.
5. If you have a bad roll in Pirate Dice, you only have to use one (or none if you put a die on the anchor) and you can reroll the rest of the dice. Got a bad hand in Robo Rally? Good luck sucker!
6. Pirate Dice has outstanding components. The latest Robo Rally does not. (To be fair, the original Robo Rally + Expansions were high-quality.)

Every game of Robo Rally I've ever played had a runaway leader or two, and there was no chance for the people who had fallen behind and nothing they could do about the leaders. All the fancy double damage lasers and extra pushing power in the Robo Rally factory can't help you if you are one board behind, which is VERY common. Gaming time is precious, and I'd play Pirate Dice ten times before I'd play Robo Rally even once more.

Disclosure: The designer of Pirate Dice is my friend. I helped playtest frequently in the summer of 2012, and I even named a board or two. Friend or not, however, if your game stinks or has problems, I will tell it to your face. I did not have to do that with Pirate Dice. It's outstanding.

Edit: 7. I'd play Pirate Dice with 2, 3, 4, or 5 players. It's good with all of those.
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Christopher Walker
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I really, really did not enjoy the game due to the length and amount of randomness (ie, lack of control). It did not end quickly and we were all eventually rooting for SOMEONE to win so it would be over. Just wanted to warn people like me who might think a game like this is light-hearted fun! Nope. (YMMV)
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Robert Manore
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Warlord beats Troll, Troll beats Elf, Elf beats Water Sprite, and basically everything else beats Enchanted Bunny.
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harmonicaman79 wrote:
I really, really did not enjoy the game due to the length and amount of randomness (ie, lack of control). It did not end quickly and we were all eventually rooting for SOMEONE to win so it would be over. Just wanted to warn people like me who might think a game like this is light-hearted fun! Nope. (YMMV)

Our first run through with 4p was overly long as well, but we later learned that we were playing a lot of rules wrong which extended the game. After that, the game length shortened tremendously.

However, for other potential buyers... don't expect a short game just because it is a dice game. A potential buyer should expect 30 min/player; especially if anyone in your group is AP prone like in my group.
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I don't think I've ever had a game of Pirate's Dice go over 45 minutes, even with 5 players. It's a fantastic semi-chaotic filler, and it seems like every time I show it to new people, at least one person has the "Ooh, I should get a copy of this" reaction.
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Robman wrote:
Our first run through with 4p was overly long as well, but we later learned that we were playing a lot of rules wrong which extended the game. After that, the game length shortened tremendously.

However, for other potential buyers... don't expect a short game just because it is a dice game. A potential buyer should expect 30 min/player; especially if anyone in your group is AP prone like in my group.

To ensure a reasonably quick game and positive first-time experience, my advice for new players would be:

● play your first couple of games with only 2 or 3 players
● use a set-up no bigger than the recommended L-shape consisting of 3 boards
● play the basic game ("first to the treasure wins"), rather than the advanced game ("return the treasure").

Once you're familiar with the game mechanics and have played a couple of times, you'll be able to play more quickly. Then it's easy enough to expand the experience in later games if you really want to (e.g. using a set-up with 4 boards, playing Cannonball Regatta or Return the Treasure).

With just 2 players, we can usually polish off a basic game with the standard 3 board setup in not much more than 10 minutes, and the advanced game (Return the Treasure), Cannonball Regatta, Capture the Treasure, or King of the Sea challenge in about 20 minutes. I think I actually prefer the quicker games in which players don't have to return the treasure.
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Christopher Walker
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Quote:

To ensure a reasonably quick game and positive first-time experience, my advice for new players would be:

● play your first couple of games with only 2 or 3 players
● use a set-up no bigger than the recommended L-shape consisting of 3 boards
● play the basic game ("first to the treasure wins"), rather than the advanced game ("return the treasure").


Did all this. First game was three players, 3 boards, first-player-to-land-on treasure-wins rules. Still intensely disliked it. What was frustrating (rather than fun) was that we had very little control when it came to landing on the winning space. It felt to me like putting on a putting green where your putter is all wonky and not working right. It became an exercise in patience and rerolling, rerolling, rerolling...ugh. And that wasn't fun. :/ But definitely thanks for the advice! It was just the lack of control that made trying to end the game frustrating. I like it when my plans are thwarted by clever moves from the other players; I don't like it when getting to the end of game is thwarted by constant rolls of the dice. Again, YMMV!
 
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Scott Nelson
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I'd miss the little pewter robots that friend of mine painted for me, to look like robots, unlike my attempt which looked like a bad circus clown group of misfits.

And no " the big one"? That's heresy.
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Ender Wiggins
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ipgyst wrote:
Pirate Dice has several advantages over Robo Rally.

1. Pirate Dice ends, even on large setups.
2. If you fall behind in Pirate Dice, one good roll and you're back in it.
3. You can directly attack people with anchors and rum barrels in Pirate Dice, so leaders must be cautious.
4. Because of 2. and 3. I've rarely seen a runaway leader in a game of Pirate Dice.
5. If you have a bad roll in Pirate Dice, you only have to use one (or none if you put a die on the anchor) and you can reroll the rest of the dice. Got a bad hand in Robo Rally? Good luck sucker!
6. Pirate Dice has outstanding components. The latest Robo Rally does not. (To be fair, the original Robo Rally + Expansions were high-quality.)

Every game of Robo Rally I've ever played had a runaway leader or two, and there was no chance for the people who had fallen behind and nothing they could do about the leaders. All the fancy double damage lasers and extra pushing power in the Robo Rally factory can't help you if you are one board behind, which is VERY common. Gaming time is precious, and I'd play Pirate Dice ten times before I'd play Robo Rally even once more.

Thanks for this contribution. One additional advantage that should be added is that Pirate Dice plays well with only 2-3 players, whereas RoboRally really needs at least 4 players to be best enjoyed.

For further points of comparison, this thread may also prove helpful:

how does this game compare to roborally?
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Robert Manore
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Warlord beats Troll, Troll beats Elf, Elf beats Water Sprite, and basically everything else beats Enchanted Bunny.
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EndersGame wrote:

To ensure a reasonably quick game and positive first-time experience, my advice for new players would be:

● play your first couple of games with only 2 or 3 players
● use a set-up no bigger than the recommended L-shape consisting of 3 boards
● play the basic game ("first to the treasure wins"), rather than the advanced game ("return the treasure").

Once you're familiar with the game mechanics and have played a couple of times, you'll be able to play more quickly. Then it's easy enough to expand the experience in later games if you really want to (e.g. using a set-up with 4 boards, playing Cannonball Regatta or Return the Treasure).

With just 2 players, we can usually polish off a basic game with the standard 3 board setup in not much more than 10 minutes, and the advanced game (Return the Treasure), Cannonball Regatta, Capture the Treasure, or King of the Sea challenge in about 20 minutes. I think I actually prefer the quicker games in which players don't have to return the treasure.

I totally agree with you. I just need to introduce this game to a different group other than my normal gaming group. They like to mitigate the randomness too much and not enjoy the game as it is designed.
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Daniel Cisek
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Spectacular review. Really, really nicely done.
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Jas Brown
Australia
Boat Harbour
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We changed the 'hack' dice rules significantly and the game goes a lot quicker. Both hack dices just shift your dice one place to the right, so it doesn't completely stuff up your turn. I know this makes for a massive difference but we have been enjoying it much more this way when you have more than 2 players.
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Neil Christiansen
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OOK! OOK! OOK!
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Do you mean anchors when you say "hack"?
 
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Clint Herron
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Bethel
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AmazingJas wrote:
We changed the 'hack' dice rules significantly and the game goes a lot quicker. Both hack dices just shift your dice one place to the right, so it doesn't completely stuff up your turn. I know this makes for a massive difference but we have been enjoying it much more this way when you have more than 2 players.


Interesting variant!

If you find the skullduggery chaos to be overwhelming with more players, you might enjoy trying the "Duggery Doubloons" variant from Pirate Dice: Rough Waters Expansion -- players receive doubloons at the beginning of the game (in a 5-player game, the player to choose position first receives 0 doubloons, then 1, 1, 2, and 2 respectively). If you attack another player with skullduggery, then you must pay them a doubloon. If you have no doubloons to pay, then the skullduggery doesn't take happen. This creates a closed economy of sorts, and ensures that one player doesn't get picked on disproportionately (and if they do, now they hold all of the power).

I highly recommend using Duggery Doubloons for 4 and 5 player games.
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Clint Herron
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And Ender, wow -- thank you for the excellent review!

It's so encouraging and refreshing to read your thoughts about the game. From the game's history, to the gameplay, to the variants, to the intended audience -- you just nail it on all accounts. I'm humbled by how much you obviously enjoy the game, and the way you express everything so well puts a breath of fresh wind in my sails.

Pirate Dice is the result of the input and contribution of so many people -- particularly those in the BGG community. Thank you so much for your interest, enthusiasm, and support of the game. Absolutely stellar review.
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Original Dibbler
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Ecelent review!
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Jacob Ossar
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This is a marvelous review and made me resolve to pick up this game immediately. Only then did I discover that this was all a cruel tease and that, as far as I can tell, the game is not currently available for anybody who didn't kickstart it. Is there any word on when the rest of us will be able to get our hands on it?
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Robert Manore
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Warlord beats Troll, Troll beats Elf, Elf beats Water Sprite, and basically everything else beats Enchanted Bunny.
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jossar wrote:
This is a marvelous review and made me resolve to pick up this game immediately. Only then did I discover that this was all a cruel tease and that, as far as I can tell, the game is not currently available for anybody who didn't kickstart it. Is there any word on when the rest of us will be able to get our hands on it?

http://www.boardsandbits.com/product_info.php?products_id=24...

They have 3 in stock.
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Ender Wiggins
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jossar wrote:
This is a marvelous review and made me resolve to pick up this game immediately. Only then did I discover that this was all a cruel tease and that, as far as I can tell, the game is not currently available for anybody who didn't kickstart it. Is there any word on when the rest of us will be able to get our hands on it?

To the best of my knowledge the retail version should be available to anyone now already. It's listed on the publisher's website as well as online retailers like funagain.com and boardsandbits.com.
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Jacob Ossar
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The publisher's website was the first place I looked. I got as far as putting in my credit card number and shipping information before I noticed I was about to pay for a pre-order. But with no word on how long before the game is actually available, I was reluctant to pull the trigger.

I found a vendor on Amazon who claims to have copies. I have been burned by this before, notably ordering one of a claimed 10 copies of Eclipse from a vendor who turned out not to, y'know, actually have them, but theoretically my order for Pirate Dice should be here by Thursday, so if they're not on the up-and-up at least I won't be in suspense long.

Thanks for the info, guys.

 
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Original Dibbler
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I bought my copy in april through amazon.co.uk but I am not sure if it was marketplace or amazon itself.
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Jacob Ossar
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Ender (emphasis added) wrote:
In connection with the Kickstarter project, a contest was held that enabled people to submit entries to a map contest. From a short-list of six designs, three were selected by popular vote. As a result, the publisher was able to include in all copies of the game a bonus promo map entitled Pirate's Peril, as well as the three winning entries in the map contest: Le Clerc's Traverse (by Bill Glasgow), Octopus Lair (by Matthew L. Smith), and Siren's Embrace (by C. R. Veatch).


A correction: the copy I received today did not include these bonus maps. I suppose it'd possible that there was a production error, but more likely your review is in error here and they were a Kickstarter exclusive.
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Ender Wiggins
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jossar wrote:
A correction: the copy I received today did not include these bonus maps. I suppose it'd possible that there was a production error, but more likely your review is in error here and they were a Kickstarter exclusive.

That's odd. I specifically checked that point before writing my review, and I even had two sources for that:

1. The designer. See this thread: Retail version
In response to a question "Do you guys know what will be in the box?", Christopher Veatch posted a list of the components included, and added this comment: "I believe the contest winning player maps will be included and player screens." In the very next post, designer Clint Herron wrote "Christopher answered this one perfectly."

2. The publisher. I wanted to be sure I had my facts straight, so before posting my review I wrote to the publisher, listed all the components I understood to be in the retail version, and specifically asked whether the following extras did make it into the retail version in addition to the 6 standard map boards:
- 2 bonus double-sided map boards (includes some map contest winners)
- player screens

The response I received was "It does look like you have it right, yes!"

I know that both the designer and publisher have read the review, because I've asked them to let me know if I was in error on anything, and until now I didn't receive any suggestion that this was not correct. I don't want folks being misinformed or having wrong expectations, so it would be good to get this clarified.

So how many map boards did you receive, and which ones were they exactly? Assuming you didn't miscount, then either I have been misinformed or your copy of the game is missing something. Rather than continue discussion in this thread, where it might not get noticed, you might want to post any follow-up in the thread about the retail version.

Update: I've added an update note at the end of my review, indicating that based on subsequent feedback, it appears that I have been misinformed and that the two bonus map boards are not included in the retail version.
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Silver Bowen
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My copy--also purchased at retail (Miniature Market, I believe)--only has six boards. It has neither of the contest-winning boards.

I suggest editing your review to reflect the fact that some (and I suspect all) of the retail copies do not come with the bonus maps.
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