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Pirates of the Spanish Main» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Pirates: Great game from A to ARRRRRR!!!! rss

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Chris Engler
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Introduction
The Pirates Constructible Strategy Game (or “Pirates of the Spanish Main” as it’s more often called) is a great came that is fun to collect, fun to play, and, for a collectible game, requires a relatively small monetary investment. Pirates can best be described as a game of area control with a nautical pirates theme.

What You Get
Pirates is distributed in a similar manner to collectible card games. A pack of Pirates contains two ships, some treasure cards, a tiny die, and a cardboard island. The enclosed instructions assert that each pack contains “a complete game” but this is a little bit misleading. In order to experience the richness and variety of the game I would suggest buying five packs as an initial investment.

Two Quick Warnings
Pirates is not a historical game.
While many of the names of ships, crew, and other game elements are heavily borrowed from history this game is not a simulation of history. If you’re looking for a game that re-enacts real-life events this is not a game for you.

Pirates is not a nautical miniatures game.
The way ships move and behave will likely not satisfy your need for a true-to-life nautical combat game.

Overview of Rules & Mechanics
Pirates is designed to be a two-player game by default but there are multi-player rules variants. Each game element of Pirates has a point value and each player brings a fleet of a pre-determined number of points to the game. WizKids, the manufacturer, suggests 40 points for a game that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes but any point size that the players agree upon is fine.

Fleets are made up of ships, crew, and events. Ships are the core element of a fleet, and the important game elements of a ship are # of masts, movement, size of cargo hold, cannon ranks, and nationality. Most ships also have special abilities that allow them to do something outside of the rules. Crew have a nationality and special ability that can be used when that crew is aboard a ship of a matching nationality.

Events are analogous to “Sorcery” cards in Magic: The Gathering; they are a one-time game effect that can be brought into the game on one of your turns.

Distances in Pirates are all expressed in terms of “Short” (“S”) and “Long” (“L”), which correspond to the approximate width and length, respectively, of a conventional trading card. Ships are allowed to move a measure of distance each turn according to their movement statistic, which is expressed in terms of S and L. For example, a ship may be able to move L (one “Long” distance) or S+S (two “Short” distances).

A ship’s masts are dual-function. They serve as a measure of how damaged a ship is (a ship with no remaining masts is a “Derelict” that cannot move) and they also each have a die-rank between two and six and a range of either S or L. Ships can shoot at enemy ships if their cannons are in range and, in order to hit, the player must roll a six-sided die and roll higher than the cannon’s die-rank. For example, a cannon with a rank of two requires the player to roll three or higher in order to hit. Certain game effects can add or decrease to the cannon roll but a die result of one always misses, no exceptions. Each time a ship is hit by a cannon shot a mast gets removed (chosen by the player that was hit). This brings up two less than realistic elements of Pirates: (1) Since the player who was hit gets to decide which mast is removed this can lead to physically impossible choices, and (2) The removal of a mast confers no penalty to movement. While this may not appeal to fans of realism it is a quick way to put two important game functions into one game element.

The object of Pirates is to be the player who collects the most gold. At the start of the game, each player contributes a total of eight treasure coins worth a total value of 15 (treasure coins come in game packs and have numbers between one and seven on them). In a two-player game, players take turns placing six cardboard islands. Each player gets assigned one of those islands as their “home island” and the rest are “wild islands.” The 16 treasure coins (eight from each player) are randomly placed facedown on the wild islands (four coins per island). The game is over when one player has gold coins with a total value of 16 at his/her home island. The game is also over if one player has no ships left to move. At that point, players count the gold on their home island and the player with the greatest total wins.

Review
Pirates is a game that should appeal to players of all ages. Pirates’ basic mechanics are simple enough that most children ten years old and older should be able to understand how the game is played after only a few games. Simple though the game mechanics are, the strategic elements are subtle and profound enough to appeal to gamers that are looking for that deeper level.

While there are a great variety of ships and crew to collect (with close to one thousand distinct game pieces as of the writing of this review) the manufacturers of Pirates have not fallen prey to making the best pieces the most rare pieces. In my opinion, many of the best game pieces are common or uncommon which makes it relatively easy for new players to construct a competitive fleet quickly.

The ships themselves are very nice to look at and putting them together is almost a hobby unto itself. The ships come in pieces on punch-out styrene cards and go together in an “insert tab A into slot B” fashion. Each game pack comes with detailed assembly instructions to avoid confusion. I would advise parents of younger children to assist in putting ships together the very first time. The masts of the ships may snap if they’re forced in too quickly.

As of the writing of this review, the following different sets are available for Pirates:

Pirates of the Spanish Main: The inaugural set featuring ships from the English, Spanish, and Pirate factions.

Pirates of the Crimson Coast: Stationary forts are introduced in this game as well as the French faction.

Pirates of the Revolution: Events are introduced in this game as well as the American faction.

Pirates of the Barbary Coast: The Barbary Corsair faction and their galleys show up here.

Pirates of the South China Seas: The Jade Rebellion faction is introduced with Junks and Turtle Ships. Several new events are introduced in this set, as well.

Pirates of Davy Jones’ Curse: The supernatural Cursed faction is introduced brining Sea Monsters in tow.

Pirate of the Mysterious Islands: The Mercenary faction is introduced and Captain Nemo-style submarines are now a fleet option. Special Wild Islands now have random game-effects.

I would recommend new players start with a combination of Crimson Coast and Revolution. These sets have the five main factions of America, England, Spain, Pirate, and France. The Barbary Corsairs, Jade Rebellion, Cursed, and Mercenary factions were all “one-shots” in their respective sets. That’s not to say that those factions aren’t fun to play, but if you’re just trying the game out you’ll have much more ship and crew that will complement each other if you stick to Crimson Coast and Revolution at first. Once you’re ready to broaden your horizons I would suggest starting with South China Seas. The Junk ships in this expansion are, in my opinion, the best looking models in the whole game.

The initial Spanish Main set is worth collecting but caveat emptor. As is the case with many collectible games, Pirates has been subject to a certain amount of “power creep.” The ship in the Spanish Main set are, on the whole, slower than the ships in Crimson Coast and Revolution and it may frustrate a new player if they pit an exclusively Spanish Main fleet against one with a combination of Crimson Coast and Revolution.

People keen on having lots of eye candy in their tabletop games will like Pirates, as well. There are several companies who have manufactured terrain and customized gaming tables that look stunning with the Pirates ships.

The ships themselves are such nice game pieces that I’m certain that they would port well as game aids for a variety of other games, whether it’s a nautically-themed role-playing game or one of the several pirate-themed card games that exist. Overall, there is so much to like about this game that I would be surprised to find a gamer that couldn’t find some aspect of their gaming that would be enhanced by owning some Pirates ships.
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John Brady
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A buddy of mine has collected every ship available, sent away for special islands, and gotten just about everything related to it...and has yet to actually *play* the game. He has fun just collecting the stuff, it's kind of therapueitc for him.
 
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Chris Engler
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maddddog67 wrote:
A buddy of mine has collected every ship available, sent away for special islands, and gotten just about everything related to it...and has yet to actually *play* the game. He has fun just collecting the stuff, it's kind of therapueitc for him.


That's funny. But, with any game with a collectible element, acquiring every ship becomes a meta-hobby. I collect this game pretty rabidly but I would say that I've only actually used 20% of the ships I've purchased in an actual game. They just look so cool.
 
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Toco
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Correct, it's both great as collector and player.
 
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Hunter Shelburne
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This is one of those games I really enjoyed collecting, but didn't like playing. I love the ship customization aspects, the actual idea of the game, but it honestly just boiled down to racing way more than I would have liked. I still have a ton of ships though, and hope to modify the goals a bit at some point to do something with them.
 
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Patrick G.
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Weapon wrote:
This is one of those games I really enjoyed collecting, but didn't like playing. I love the ship customization aspects, the actual idea of the game, but it honestly just boiled down to racing way more than I would have liked. I still have a ton of ships though, and hope to modify the goals a bit at some point to do something with them.

I always play to destroy my opponents ships so the game has always had a cat and mouse feel to it.
 
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