Days of Wonder is specializing in releasing games with rich themes and high production values. Queen’s Necklace, Fist of Dragonstones and Mystery in the Abbey have all been characterized by high quality components and beautiful artwork. The approach is risky, as these games carry a higher price-point on the market. The good folks at Days of Wonder are banking that customers will pay a bit more for games with better components and production values. Only time will tell if their approach proves profitable.
Pirate’s Cove is certainly in line with this approach. A remake of last year’s Amigo release of Piratenbucht by the late designer Paul Randles and Daniel Stahl, Pirate’s Cove an abundance of hefty bits, including colorful sailing ships and decorative player mats. What is surprising about this release, however, is that the game is still available as Piratenbucht in most markets. Mystery of the Abbey was also a re-release of a previously issued title, but the original had been out-of-print for quite some time and sought after by many gamers. Releasing Pirate’s Cove when the original is still available seems to be yet another risky move.
Once certainly cannot quibble with the theme; the game has a rich pirate atmosphere, with players striving to plunder gold and booty from various islands, while fighting other players and various infamous pirates. The tavern cards are filled with appropriate events that add to the experience.
The board depicts five perimeter islands and two central islands. Each island not only provides a variety of booty, but also gives the player visiting it the opportunity to upgrade one area of his ship. The choice as to which island to visit each turn is at the heart of the game and the mechanism used to determine this is lifted from the Hols der Geier method of simultaneous card play. Instead of cards, however, players each have a ship’s wheel on which they dial their planned destination.
Each player is in possession of a player mat that depicts his sailing ship. Each ship has four important areas that can be upgraded during the course of the game: sails (faster speed and initiative in combat), crew (to man the guns), guns (more shots in combat) and hull (greater ‘booty’ capacity). Upgrades are purchased at various islands and sometimes can be acquired by various cards acquired at the tavern.
The game is played over 12 turns. Each turn, a card depicting the booty available to the player visiting that island is revealed at each of the perimeter islands. Each treasure card will yield fame points (victory points), gold, treasure chests and/or tavern cards. Once all cards are revealed, players secretly dial their destination on their ship’s wheels. Aside from the five perimeter islands, players can also visit the main center island, where, in the best pirate tradition, they can bury their loot.
Once all players have dialed their destination, the wheels are revealed and ships moved to their dialed locations. If every player went to a different location, there is no conflict and players acquire the rewards awaiting at the island they visited or bury their treasure if they visited the center island. Visiting the tavern allows the player to purchase up to three tavern cards, which have various effects (ship improvements, advantages in combat, fame points, etc.)
If, however, more than one player visits a particular island, a conflict ensues. Pirates simply don’t get along with other pirates and their differences are settled violently. Each battle begins with players each playing a tavern card that can affect a battle. Then, the player with the fastest ship gets the opportunity to either flee, a disgraceful act that earn his opponent fame, or unleash a volley. Damage is assessed, then his opponent has the same options.
When firing, a player targets a specific area of his opponent’s ship. A number of dice equal to the number of guns manned by crews are then rolled, with each 5 or 6 rolled scoring a hit. The opponent suffers damage to the targeted area, marking this on his player mat. The battle continues with each player having the option to fire or flee. If no one flees, the battle finally ends when one player’s ship is crippled, which occurs when one of his ship’s areas is reduced to zero. At this point, that ship automatically flees to the Pirate’s Cove island located at the center of the board. This will give that player the opportunity to repair his damaged ship and live to fight another day.
To the victor goes the spoils; he earns one point for his victory and gets to liberate the booty depicted on the treasure card on the island. Further, he may upgrade the area of his ship that is pictured on that island.
All ships that visited treasure island (no fighting is allowed here) may bury their gold, receiving victory points for the hoarded loot. Each treasure chest yields a victory point, while every three gold coins buried also yields a point.
Finally, the “black pirate” moves one island in a clockwise fashion. The black pirate is one of four infamous pirates that may make an appearance. They are tremendously powerful and any ship who moves to the island where this vile ship is located will be forced to fight this formidable foe. If the player should prevail, however, copious amounts of victory points will be his reward.
Play continues for 12 rounds. At that point, players reveal any tavern cards that reward fame points, adding those points to their total. The player with the most points is the winner and the “most fearsome pirate in all the High Seas!”
It is worth mentioning that there are a few minor differences between Pirate’s Cove and the earlier Piratenbucht. Most notably, there are several different “black pirates” that can appear and more than one can be present at the same time. There are also some different tavern cards, including parrots, which increase one aspect of a player’s ship, but cost him fame points if killed.
Although dripping with atmosphere, the game doesn’t really involve a great deal of strategy. As mentioned, the main mechanism is the simultaneous revealing of planned destinations, which involves attempting to guess where your opponents might be going and choosing a different destination. Of course, if you’ve invested in a strong ship, you may desire to choose a destination where you believe an opponent might go, just so you can batter his ship and earn a fame point for the victory. However, that is a costly decision as it is likely your ship will suffer damage, too, and the cost of repairing it is more than the 1 victory point you might possibly earn. So, when all things are considered, it is usually the wisest choice to attempt to select a destination that will not be selected by your opponents. Sadly, this is just a matter of guess work and luck.
To be sure, there are decisions to make. However, this doesn’t overcome the fact that the game is mostly one of luck. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the game is a fun romp and entertaining. It is also fun getting into the spirit, singing pirate songs and making constant “ARRGHH” outbursts. However, there isn’t much “meat” here. I enjoy a light, fun game, but usually desire them to be of shorter duration. My three games of Pirate’s Cove have all lasted from 90 minutes – 2 hours. I generally want games of this duration to be more on the strategy side of the chart.
I’ve only played the game with fellow gamers, so cannot firmly state whether it makes for a good family game or not. I certainly think it has most of the characteristics of a good family game: fairly easy to learn, great atmosphere and lots of interaction. Even the battles don’t result in a player being eliminated. My biggest concern, however, is the time investment. Most family games seem to be designed to be played in an hour or so. However, there are exceptions, so it must may be that the game’s strong points can overcome its slightly long duration.
For me, Pirate’s Cove falls into a category that is dangerous: it is a good game that is fun to play, but doesn’t rise to a level where I feel the urge to play it. That may ultimately doom the game and send it to the Bayou Bazaar, but not quite yet. This is not a condemnation, however, but merely a statement on how many games I have competing for table time. The average family – and perhaps even many gamers – will own far fewer games and would therefore have less games competing for playing time. Thus, I feel that most families and gamers just might have a more favorable reaction to Pirate’s Cove than me.
Jim, Michael, Darren, Heather and I took to the seas in search of booty and fame. Jim and Michael were the leaders, with Michael concentrating much of his efforts on improving his ship. He won several battles before finally being defeated when forced to fight multiple opponents. I used a parrot to upgrade my hull, which allowed me to store an abundance of treasure chests. I was able to bury these prior to being assaulted by my opponents, but Darren played a tavern card that allowed him to split the points earned from my loot. That cost me the victory, as my last-ditch effort was foiled when I was unable to secure any tavern cards that granted fame points. Jim was able to hang on to his lead and claim the victory.
Finals: Jim 35, Greg 27, Heather 27, Michael 26, Darren 23
Ratings: Heather 8, Darren 7.5, Michael 7.5, Jim 7, Greg 6
I played this game for the first time last weekend. It was a four player game and the first time through it took us 90 minutes to play and that included rules explanation. The next game took us an hour. I simply cannot fathom how experinced gamers could take 90 to 120 minutes to play this game. A two hour game would require your group to average 10 minutes per turn. What were you guys doing!?
Our group had a blast playing.
For the longest time I had put off purchasing this game because of the luck/excessive time issues mentioned in this review. Neither is a problem, imo, and I wish I had grabbed it sooner.