Pirates is an odd little game. It tries to be a miniatures wargame, and it tries to be a CCG. In some manners is succeeds admirably, in others, not so much. Here's a quick rundown of my opinion on the game.
Pirates! packs are, like many other WizKids games, a small sample of random pieces. Each package includes (literally) everything you need to play: the rules (a quick-start guide, and an advanced rules page), a collectors guide (not very well used by me), 2 ships (a ship typically fits on 2 to 3 cards), an island, a crew member, and even a teeny-tiny little D6 (the only type of die used in the game). I've read about event cards in the rules, but haven't seen any myself. The whole package is shipped in a nice little foil bag (think CCG booster) that'll cost you around three to four dollars. In my opionion, this is a pretty good deal. Now, as a collectable game, Pirates! has a few flaws. It takes awhile to collect a good amount of ships, and even longer to collect all the crew. Hardcore wargamers probably will not appreaciate this style of purchasing, but if you're a hardcore wargamer, you shouldn't be playing this game!
Each ship consists of 1 or more plastic cards, pieces of which are popped out and snapped together to create a cool looking (if fragile) ship. As of writing there are a huge variety of ships, from the small Junks of the Jade Rebellion, to the behomoth Pirate ships. Each ship also has a deckplate with it, which tells you all the basic stats of a ship. I personally love the ships, I cannot say the same for the other bits however. The treasure pieces are simple plastic tokens with a number on one side, though, even if I don't like the set up, this is most likely the most effiecient way to deal with treasure. The crew are also tokens, except square. Also not that exciting. The biggest dissapointment are the islands and terrain, which are simple cardboard with a top-down picture on it. Fortunately, with a little effort, you can really make the gaming table come to life with much more interesting terrain.
Now to focus on the most important part of any game: the game itself. Behind all the gimmicky packaging and pretty ships, you'll find a terribly simple (yet, depending on who you are, still fun) game. Every turn you give a single order to all of your ships to shoot, move, repair or explore. The first two are used at sea, the second two on islands. Each cannon has a rank and range (represented by either a red or white die with a certain number of pips showing at the base of a mast). To successfully hit an enemy ship it must be within range, and you must roll above the cannons rank. For each hit, the enemy ship removes a sail. The unique thing about range (and any sort of measurement in the game for that matter) is that distances are measured using the card edges (either short or long). Movement simply entails moving your ship the proper number of card length combinations (S+L, S+S, or even S+S+S, for example). I will gloss over repairing and exploring since knowing those mechanics won't add all the much to the review The goal of the basic game is to grab as much gold as you can. That's it, you could (almost) play Pirates! now. The rules aren't all that meaty are they? Fortunately, if your playing with the right people, this doesn't matter. Not long ago, I played with some who had won by grabbing most all the treasure on the map. Afterwards, we agreed to keep playing and blow each other up a bit just to have some fun. Now, the rules say to simply remove a ship when it's sunk, but did we do that? Oh no... we partially deconstructed the ships, scattering sails and wood everywhere, pulling apart little cotton balls to represent the smoke of the wreckage. Game play wise, this had no effect on the game, but these little antics are what make it a more interesting experience. The Pirates! rules manage to capture a cinematic flavour of ship to ship combat, and manage to get you engaged in the game until the end.
-You can really get into it
-Collecting the ships can be a blast!
-Some dissapointing bits
-Collection aspect can ruin the "Game" part of the Game
Overall Pirates! is a fun, simple, experience for those who want to push around ships and say "Arr..." a few times. For those looking for a really complex nautical simulation, do yourself a favour and look elsewhere!
It should be noted that the above review seems to be limited to the BASIC rules. The package contains both instructions for Basic as well as Advanced gameplay. The later adding more meat to the game such as ramming and towing captured ships, treacherous terrain, etc.