This is my first BGG review, so here's the obligatory 'bear with me' statement.
I was one of the first to purchase a 'deluxe' copy of Van Overbay's SeaRovers game. In a nutshell, SeaRovers is a historically accurate pirate game, full to the brim with flavor text and historical facts printed right on the cards. Van self-publishes the game, meaning the components you get are mostly printed with a laserjet printer and heavy card stock. SeaRovers is relatively light, fun game with a lot of flavor and surprisingly attractive components.
As mentioned above, almost all of the components are home-published. This means you aren't going to be getting linen cards, a heavy cardboard board and a professionally printed game box. Still, for what Van had to work with, they came out looking impressively professional. The cards (of which there are many) were all printed on heavy cardstock with a color laserjet printer at 300 dpi. All cards come in heavy-duty, Ultrapro-style clear card protectors. Note that anyone who has played with said protectors will know that for the first few plays, your deck is going to be fairly large and slippery until the protectors get a little bit of wear. This also means that you can easily replace the protectors if the cards get beat up in time. The artwork on the cards, all public domain artwork, the majority of which is Frank E Schoonover and Howard Pyle, is incredibly attractive and professional-looking.
The game board is comprised of 6 pages of color-laser printed images assembled and laminated. It is fantastic looking and were it on heavy cardboard one would have no idea that it were not professionally printed. I only have a few minor quips with the board. First, it is laminated, so there are cases where you get heavy glare on the board. Second, it ships rolled up, so the board will initially need to be bent back into shape. Van includes a little note with tips on how to do this properly, most likely an afterthought but definately a good one. Finally, unless you want to go through the 'unbending' exercise every time you play, the board is a little difficult to store, at least more so than normal game boards.
The rest of the game components are rather simple and bland. The game comes with several red dice and black dice. The playing pieces are relatively plain plastic pieces with images printed on sticker-paper placed right on them. They are functional, but not exceptionally pretty. The currency and scoring mechanism of the game, silver pieces of eight and gold doubloons respectively, are printed out on heavy card-stock paper and cut out. As they are not in protectors like the cards they come away feeling a little cheap, but they are also one of the most easily replaced components in the game.
Overall the quality of the pieces exceeded my expecations. As I knew it was a self-published game, I was expecting poorer quality prints and graphic design, but every controllable aspect of the components was top notch. While a few of the components (coins, playing pieces) could have been a little nicer, they can be easily replaced with more overproduced bits from other games. (For instance, I imported the fancy metal ships and heavy coins from Dread Pirate, a game that will most definately get no play now that SeaRovers is in my collection.)
The rulebook that comes with the game is of the same color laserjet printing quality that the cards are, and is chock full of colorful art. About half the rulebook contains actual rules, the rest contains paragraph-long historical blurbs about the majority of the cards that expand upon the one-or-two-sentence flavor text.
As Van has posted the complete rulebook on his website and on the geek, I won't retype the rules in depth here, but I will post a brief summary for reference.
In a nutshell, players will build up to 3 ships, move around the board to certain marked locations that correspond with 6 attack cards every player posseses, and attempt to roll against the card and collect booty. Ships accumulate pieces of eight, and at some point the player will 'cash in' the ship, discarding it and adding any cash it was carrying to his permanent supply. For every 5 pieces of eight in his permanent supply the player will recieve a gold doubloon (no real purpose other than as a score marker.) The first player to collect 5 gold doubloons wins the game. Each players turn is divided into the 7 below phases:
1. Reclaim Booty
The economics system of SeaRovers, mentioned elsewhere, is a little unintuitive but simple nonetheless: all of the pieces of eight that is in your permanent supply can be spent every turn. This first phase simply refreshes your permanent supply to it's current level. Each player starts with 8 pieces of eight in thier 'bank', more is accumulated when a player cashes in one of his ships, adding any pieces of eight that ship was carrying to his permanent supply.
2. Draw or Purchase
Each player now gets the option to draw a card (from the deck or the top card of the discard pile) or 'purchase' one of 3 face up cards from the 'shipyard' for 2 pieces of eight. There will always be 3 face up cards next to the deck, taken from the top of the deck.
This is where the meat of the game takes place. During this phase you'll be playing Ship, Captain, Crew and Great Gun cards from your hand to assemble up to 3 ships, pay each ships cost to move them on the board (each of the 4 different ships has a different 'speed' which is typically 1 die + X spaces), attempt to roll against your attack cards if you are on the associated space, attack opponents, change your pirate 'haven', return to your haven and secure booty from a ship, and play various action cards.
Each ship can have exactly one Captain, Ship, Crew and Great Gun card associated with it. In order to sail from your haven you'll need at least a Captain and a Ship. You will be at a disadvantage without a Crew and Great Guns, however, as both add dice to the strength of your ship and act as 'hit points' if you fail to roll against your attacks. Each card adds between 1 and 3 dice to a ship's strength. Your ship can be either a Pirate ship or a Buccaneer ship, and you can only have one type of card in that ship. That is, you cannot add Buccaneer guns to a Pirate ship and vice versa.
Rolling against your attack cards is a relatively simple matter. Add up the strength of your ship card, roll X dice, an opponent rolls a number of dice equal to the strength of the attack. Compare highest die against eachother in a risk-like fashion. Thus if my roll was 6,5,5,4 and my opponent rolled 6,5,3,2 you would first compare the 2 6's against eachother, then the 2 5's, then the 5 and the 3. As my 5 is higher than my opponent's 3, I win. If you lose you must discard either your great guns or your crew, if you don't have either than your ship is sunk. You can continue to roll against the attack if you fail, as long as you can continue to suffer the concequences of failure after each roll.
Player vs player combat is the same, and if you sink another players ship you are allowed to roll one die and pillage that many pieces of eight from the defeated vessel before it sinks.
When a ship pillages pieces of eight from a successful attack or an enemy ship, the cash goes on the ship, not in your permanent supply. Each ship has a certain carrying capacity as well. At any time you can return the ship to your current haven and 'cash it in', discarding the entire ship and adding any pieces of eight it was carrying to your permanent supply. You can then spend the money and it will refresh every turn.
In this phase you simply discard any Action cards (Wild cards or History cards, both are essentially the same but Wild cards cost money and are slightly more powerful than History cards) that you played during your action phase.
During this phase you MUST discard one card from your hand (a mechanic designed no doubt to interact with other players ability to draw the top card from the discard pile). You may never play every card from your hand, as you always have to have one card to discard during this phase.
6. Refill Hand
Simply refill your hand up to 8 cards from the draw pile.
7. Restock Purchase Pile
If there are now less than 3 cards in the 'Shipyard' pile, refill it to 3.
Overall the game is enjoyable, and it flows rather well. There have been complaints that the economy of the game 'forces' players to spend all of their money every turn, thus burning cards from thier hand for no reason. You also find yourself constantly short on money early game and never short on money mid-late game, which is the nature of the beast. Some of the problems that were found in early playtesting have obviously been fixed, however. For instance, now every player starts out with a complete 4-strength ship of thier choice, allowing them to start going after attacks immediately.
While early on there seems to be very little interaction, that tends to increase later in the game when more valuable ships are sailing around and players have spare cash to start throwing Wild cards and Instants at eachother. I would recommend playing the game with 3-4 players to get to the level of player interaction that really makes the game fun, however. I've played the game with 2 and found it a little lacking, but with more players that won't be a problem.
Another minor complaint is that the game seems to go on a little long, but that can easily be remedied with the flexible nature of the victory condition. While the game says that 5 gold doubloons win the game, you could easily drop that down to 4 without really losing any of the game's feel.
I enjoyed this game quite a bit. The pirate genre is surprisingly lacking in terms of decent board games, and this fills a nice little gap of 'pirate adventure games'. The fact that it's full of interesting flavor text increases it's appeal. My only issue is that the game is rather light for the crowd that it will most likely appeal to, but the designer has expressed interest in posting several 'advanced' sets of rules online to add more to the game. The first, that he is working on now, includes a moveable hurricane and advanced wind-based movement rules to replace the current 'roll and move' mechanics. He also intends on releasing several 16 card expansions that will increase the replayability of the game slightly.
Overall I give this game a 7. It's nothing I'm aching to play constantly and probably nothing I'll play with 2 very often, but I see it getting several plays with a larger group in the future and I see incorporating some more advanced rules into the game with further plays.