It takes a lot to become a successful pirate. First, you need a ship. Then, you need a plan. You’re also going to need a whole lot of gumption, fortitude, and rum (of course!). You’ve done your leg work and you’ve gathered up everything that you need and now it’s time to put together your crew and commence with the pirating.
Nothing’s that easy, though. You’re not the only one who’s sniffed the scent of future riches and glory in the wind. Other captains from other ships are busy putting together their own crews and the crewmen have realized they’re in high demand. Their loyalties will go to the highest bidder and you aim to be the one they’re loyal to. Of course, if they won’t join you, there are other ways to make sure they don’t do anyone else any good either…
In the game of Choose Your Crew: Pirates, the players will take on the roles of pirate captains attempting to scrounge up a crew for their ship. This is accomplished through the playing of cards in an attempt to influence crew members to join you, steal them from other players, or outright usher them to their meeting with Davy Jones. Only one crew will gather together quick enough to set sail and reap the richest rewards. Will it be yours?
Now, before I get too much further into this review, I would like to take a moment to thank Ky Hale, the game’s designer, for sending me the copy of this game that I am basing my review upon. He has been quick to inform me of any rules changes and to answer any questions that I might have had. His speed and generosity, though, have not had any impact on my opinion of this game. You can rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so. If you like what you read here and you think that this game would make a nice addition to your game collection, then I encourage you to go check out The Game Crafter page for the game and consider purchasing a copy. You can find the page here: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/choose-your-crew:-pirates
This game comes to me in an orange, black, and red tuck box. On the front of the box we find the image of a brown bearded pirate staring out at us. He wears a brownish coat with a red lapel. Hanging from his earlobe, there is a green skull-and-crossbones. This pirate looks scraggly and the cut of his clothing, the tattered nature of his hat, and the eye patch he wears tells us that he has been pirating for a very long time and that his life, while exciting, is anything but easy. Floating above his head is the title of the game. On the back of the box, there is a brief description of the game and what you can expect to find inside.
The sides of the box feature some of the artwork from some of the cards in the game and let me tell you, this artwork is very unique. It’s very difficult to describe just what it is about the artwork that makes it so unique. If you were to take a cross between the characters from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and the old TV show ‘Dr. Katz, M.D.’ you might get something close. While the artwork might be a little on the strange side, I can respect the creator’s efforts and I can admit that the artwork is a heck of a lot better than I could do personally. It’s so bizarre that it has a kind of comic charm about it.
Inside of the box is a deck that is made up of 80 cards. The deck is comprised of four different types of cards – Crew Member cards, Recruitment cards, Man Overboard cards, and Loyalty and Luck cards. The Crew Member cards come in one of four colors (green, yellow, red, and purple) that are numbered from 1 to 16. Each number represents a specific type of crew member. This number appears in the upper left hand corner of each of the cards. In the upright right and lower left hand corner of each card appears a small, skull-and-crossbones icon that is colored in one of the four colors. In the lower right hand corner of the card is another number that informs the player of which crew member this is out of a total of 16. For instance, the Surgeon card reads “11/16”. In the center of the card is a unique illustration of the Crew Member in question. It is worth noting here that every Crew Member card in this game has a unique illustration for a grand total of sixty-four. Directly beneath the Crew Member’s illustration is that Crew Member’s type (i.e. – Surgeon, Captain, etc.) and beneath that is the Crew Member’s actual name.
The Recruitment cards have a bright yellow background and say ‘Recruitment’ across the top. Beneath this is a description of the card (i.e. – Loot, Spiced Rum, etc.). These are presumably the rewards that you are proffering to Crew Members in order to garner their loyalty and trust and entice them to join your crew. Beneath this area is a red banner that describes what the card actually does. The upper right hand corner of the card has a small illustration that reflects the intention of the card that is mentioned in the description that I already mentioned.
The Man Overboard cards are laid out exactly like the Recruitment cards but the colors are reversed and, instead of the illustration being in the upper right hand corner, it appears in the upper left hand corner instead. The descriptions on these cards show the methods used to remove various Crew Members from an opponent’s crew (i.e. – Scurvy, Mutiny, etc.)
The last type of card is the Loyalty & Luck card. These cards come with a brown background. In the upper left hand corner of the card is a smaller version of the illustration from the front of the box and directly to the right of that is the name of the card – ‘Loyalty & Luck’. Beneath this is an area that contains a description of what exactly the card does. At the bottom of the card, in a yellow banner, is the word ‘PROTECTION’. These are purely defensive cards used to guard your own Crew Members from the nefarious plotting of your opponents.
The last item in the box is the rules sheet. Being a rules sheet, there is nothing spectacular about the way that it looks, but it does do an excellent job of explaining the rules of the game and provides helpful illustrations where needed.
The set up for this game is incredibly easy. First, the cards are all shuffled together and then placed face down onto the table. Then, each player is dealt seven cards apiece. The person sitting opposite the dealer will play first.
THE OBJECTIVE and WINNING
Typically, I would save this section for the very end of my review. However, due to the nature of this game, I feel that it is easier to teach it if you know the objectives first.
The game is played in two rounds and the objectives for each round vary slightly but are pretty much the same. In Round 1, the players are competing to be the first player to gather together all 16 types of Crew Members regardless of their color. In Round 2, they are competing to be the first to gather together all 16 types of the same color. The first player to meet the Round 2 objective wins the game.
On a player’s turn, they will draw a card from the deck and add it to their hands and then they will perform one of the following actions:
1. Choose a Crew Member card from their hand and put it into play. Only one of each type of Crew Member may be placed into each ship.
2. Play a Recruitment card to do one of the following:
a. Place two Crew Member cards from their hand into play
b. Steal a Crew Member card from their opponent that their opponent already has in play and put the stolen Crew Member into play
c. Steal a card at random from their opponent’s hand and place it into their own hand
d. Take a Crew Member card from the Tavern area (which will be discussed shortly) and place that card into their hand
After the Recruitment card has been used, it is added to the discard pile.
3. Play a Man Overboard card on one of their opponent’s Crew Members in an effort to kill it. The Man Overboard card is then placed into the discard pile along with the Crew Member that was killed (assuming it was killed).
4. Play a Loyalty & Luck card onto one of their own Crew Member’s which has the effect of preventing that card from being stolen using a Recruitment card and also protecting that Crew Member from a single Man Overboard attack. If such a protection should take place, then both the Man Overboard card and the Loyalty & Luck card are discarded. A single Crew Member MAY have multiple Loyalty & Luck cards on it.
5. Offer to swap a Crew Member card from their hand with one from their opponent’s hand. This is called ‘Crew Swapping’ and will be discussed in greater detail momentarily.
6. Place an unwanted Crew Member from their hand into the Tavern area.
I between each of the players is an empty area referred to as the Tavern. Once any player has placed a Crew Member into this area, then that Crew Member is up for grabs to anyone that has the Recruitment card necessary to take it. No cards other than Crew Member cards may ever be placed into this area.
When two players agree to a swap, then they will hand the swapped card to their opponent face down. These swapped cards are revealed on that player’s next turn. So, if Bob offered a trade to Eve and Eve agreed, then they would each hand the cards to the other player face down. Eve’s card would be revealed at the beginning of her turn and then Bob’s would be revealed after Eve’s turn was completed and Bob’s next turn began.
This is important because, being a pirate, it’s okay to be an underhanded liar. The card that you agreed to give to your opponent does not necessarily have to be the card that you actually give to them. Depending upon which card is revealed, different things might happen. For instance, if Bob agrees to trade a Crew Member to Eve but trades her a Man Overboard card instead, then when Eve reveals the Man Overboard card, she must kill off one of her Crew Members of Bob’s choice. If Eve were to reveal her card and find out that it was a Crew Member card that she already had, she would be forced to discard the card.
The outcomes are not always detrimental, though. If Bob had given her a Recruitment card or a Loyalty & Luck card, Eve would get to keep those and add them to her hand.
When Round 1 comes to an end, the person that brought about the end of the round by collecting one each type of Crew Member will choose one of the colors that they have collected to keep. They will then turn any of the cards that they have collected of the chosen color sideways and return any other cards back to the deck. Cards turned sideways in this fashion are treated as if they have permanent, unremovable Loyalty & Luck cards on them. They may never be killed off and may never be stolen.
This player also gains an additional benefit. They get to also choose a color for their opponent from the colors that their opponent has collected. Their opponent will then turn any of the cards that they have collected of the chosen color sideways and return any other cards back to the deck. Cards turned sideways in this fashion are treated as if they have permanent, un-removable Loyalty & Luck cards on them. They may never be killed off and may never be stolen.
At the beginning of Round 2 the Tavern, discard pile, and deck are all shuffled together again and then each player is dealt seven new cards. During Round 2, instead of having to use a Recruitment card to take a Crew Member card from the Tavern area, they also have the additional option of simply exchanging a Crew Member that they have collected with a same numbered Crew Member from the Tavern area.
At first glance, this game seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun to play. However, it quickly became evident that, for the most part, it’s just a game of draw-go. I draw a card and do something. Then it’s your turn to do the same. This back and forth goes on for a very long time until one of us has collected all 16 of our Crew Members with very little player interaction or excitement.
In theory, the Man Overboard cards allows you the opportunity to pick off your opponent’s Crew Members and the Loyalty & Luck cards allow a player to put together some kind of defensive strategy, but neither one of these things ever really manages to play out exactly the way that it seems it would on paper. There are simply not enough Loyalty & Luck cards to matter and, even when you do have them out, your opponent can simply choose some other, unprotected target. These cards, in my opinion, should be reactive cards that are hidden in my hand until I use them to prevent some kind of disaster from unfolding. The Man Overboard cards, when used on the right targets, can seriously mess up your opponent’s game and, due to there being a whopping 16 targets to choose from, there is very little hope that the person on the receiving end can ever adequately defend against it.
Strategically, there’s not really much to this game beyond deciding which Crew Members of your opponent’s to kill off and which Crew Member cards to hold in your hand for as long as possible. For instance, if I already have a red six in play and I am holding another six in my hand and my opponent has a six in play, then it is in my best interest to eliminate their six from the table and to avoid playing the six in my hand into the Tavern for as long as I can because their chances of quickly replacing the six are very low. For a much shorter game, this level of strategy might be adequate, but there are just entirely too many Crew Member cards in this game for it to make much of a difference.
Beyond allowing players to play their Loyalty & Luck cards from their hands reactively, I am not sure what else can be done to fix this game. Maybe cutting down on the number of colors and different types of Crew Members would be a good place to start. Who knows? All I know is that there is something fundamentally flawed about the game that almost instantly sucks all of the fun right out of it. And that’s a shame, too, because there is definitely a lot of potential here.
Overall, my experience with this game has been mostly one of disappointment. I really wanted to like this game, but as it currently stands, I don’t. Like I said, there’s definitely some promise here and I hope that this game is able to reach that promise some day.