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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
So Kelly, who got a review copy of Pirates of Nassau and wrote review of it as a result here: Shiver Me Timbers! A Review!, brought over her copy to our weekend game day yesterday and we got an opportunity to play a four player match. I thought it was a reasonable effort, distinct enough on a superficial level that I think it will end up appealing to quite a few people, but its underlying structure (and some component choices) were ultimately enough that I don’t think it is a game that I am going to bother owning and may not revisit it more than once or twice.
The game’s central mechanic is the best part of the game. The game board has three rows each of which is filled with variable ships carrying coins, potential hostages, and a combination of yellow, brown and black goods that have a thematic tie, but one that I did not bother to keep track of during the game as it was essentially meaningless, and static ports. Each round you roll three dice which will determine how many spots you are able to move during the round, with individual dice being also usable to move into “trade winds” locations between the rows in order to give up a potential ship to attack in exchange for the ability to potentially access better ships. Since these dice can be used to travel in either direction there is a lot of maneuvering as you are forced to consider how other people are going to use their dice for pirating and determine when it is worthwhile to sacrifice a pirating opportunity to get access to a part of the board your opponents will not be able to get to. There is an additional level of decision making available with the valuable hostage resource which gives you a different amount of coins based on which level you deliver them to.
Each ship you attack requires certain resource levels in speed and cannons, with an excess of those values allowing you to gain the resources from the ship as well as a certain amount of infamy. At the end of the round each player is required to deal with a ship of the royal navy, with order based on ascending infamy values. Some cards depict open sea, so it is possible by keeping your infamy low you will not have to deal with the royal navy at all.
With the resources you plunder from pirate ships you are able to purchase additional equipment for your ship, additional crew members, and expand your ship. Coins are particularly valuable in that you can trade them in for two of any resource, but they are also useful for scoring, as you can “bury” them in a provided cardboard chest for scoring. In addition to, or instead of, providing a game boost, crew members and extra equipment both provide values that are used, along with infamy and buried coins, to provide end of game victory points. Each category provides victory points based on your relative position, with 7/5/3/1 being awarded in the four player game I participated in.
The previously mentioned action selection mechanic was probably the best part of it, but unfortunately the rest of the game surrounding the action mechanic was pretty standard, leaving me without any particular strong desire to continue exploring it. Essentially the game is an economic snowball game, where on each round you gather resources and reinvest those resources into your ship, allowing you to collect even larger amounts of resources. If you get too far behind in this accumulation and spending it becomes very difficult to catch-up despite the inclusion of the royal navy to serve as a way to slow down the leader. The fact that whomever has the highest infamy is also the first to get access to both ships and purchases does not really help matters, as whomever is highest in infamy is also probably the winner or close to it, leading to a small problem of the rich getting richer. I also disliked the scoring mechanic, as I generally prefer for victory points to be a bit more granular rather than having a chunky distribution system that results in a fairly artificial tightness in scores at the end of the game.
The components were a mixed bag. I thought the little wooden ship markers were pretty neat, and a great idea in general, but the color choices were pretty abysmal, even beyond my problems with green and red, and the art choices had a bit of a bad CGI quality that I found to be somewhat distracting, though forgivable considering that the game is a first time production from a small company.
The included cardboard chest used for hiding treasure was also a reasonable thematic choice, but considering it involves not only hidden, trackable information but trivial hidden trackable information was sufficient to cause me to wonder why they bothered. I would have much rather had them leave the chest out and made improved the graphic presentation a bit.
Still it was not a bad game, and most everyone else who I played it with enjoyed it. It is simply far enough outside of my area of interest that I doubt I will play it more than a few more times, the dice mechanic is worth checking out more even if I find the game to be not that interesting in the end.