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Subject: Port Royal - Aye, there is luck ahoy, matey! - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About Port Royal:

1) What is it?
Port Royal is a push your luck game in which players try to accomplish missions, hire crew and plunder ships.

The goal is to have more points, and is easy to get them: ships give money, money is used to hire crew, which in many cases are worth points, and some of the crew can be used to fulfill missions in order to gain some big points and get some more money. There are two tricky parts to do this:

a) You blindly draw cards, one at a time, from draw deck. Ships are color-coded - and if two ships of the same color show up, your turn ends without you being able to hire or plunder;
b) The other players can get the cards you didn't take. Sure, you get a coin for each they do, but they might be taking more than you in this deal.

Port Royal is an easy game to teach and to play, with a big element of luck, but it isn't all luck, as it allows room for decisions (in continuing drawing, when to stop and what to take, considering what will be left for the others), even to the point of trashing your turn in order to not leave a great card to someone else. There is plenty of indirect interaction - no one can truly harm the other, and the mechanics work well enough to call for repeated plays.

2) How do you play?
Every player start with 3 coins. In her turn a player draws cards, one at a time, from the draw deck. There is no limit to the amount of cards drawn and she decides when to stop - most of the time. This is because the ships have colors, and if the two ships of the same color are drawn, the turn of the current player ends immediately and all the cards drawn are discarded.

If the turn didn't end because of this, the player can take 1 card - it can be more, depending on the number of ships of different colors drawn, but most of the time will be 1 card. The player can either pay to hire someone, adding the person to her playing area, or plunder a ship, taking money equal to the number of coins shown on the card of the ship. The person have several different effects - some give more coins for certain type of ships, others make hiring cheaper, or allow to take 2 cards instead of just one, or have a symbols, which are used to fulfill missions or fight off ships, and so on.

Then the other players, in order, can take 1 card (usually) and regardless if they plunder or hire, they must pay 1 coin to the current player. After this the current player can fulfill one mission, by discarding the persons with the required symbols of the mission. Then the player takes the mission card, which are worth some big points and some coins for the trouble.

Turns pass this way until a player reaches 12 or more points. Then all the other players will get one more turn. Finally, the player with the most points will be the winner!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
When to stop drawing. Sometimes this will be given, as when you need money and turns over a 4 coins ships - you get the money you need and everyone else gets nothing, a fine deal indeed. Others, this will be trickier - you might be looking for something, and must calculate two risks: of revealing a second ship of a color already revealed, and of leaving one or more excellent cards to the other players (remembering that, at least, you will receive one coin for each card taken by them in your turn). Still, not rocket science.

The second most constant decision is: what to take. Again, this can be pretty given by what is open to you. Other times a little more thought will be required, considering the special abilities of the persons, what will be remain for the others, what are the missions open, how much money the others have, how much you have and how much will be left, and considerations of this sort.

These are basically it - there are others, but minor.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Easy to teach and to play;
- Language independant;
- Small and highly portable - and the cards return to the box sleeved;
- Allows for a good amount of decisions by the player;
- Indirect interaction and most are positive (receiving money from others), making for a fine family game and a good option for those looking for low conflict;
- Light catch-up mechanics.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Some downtime issues;
- Luck, is, indeed, present;
- Not enough seagulls or sea combats.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Like most - if not all - push your luck games, one needs to know beforehand if they are fine with, well, luck. Many say, at first, that they are - and many aren't. You can draw two cards, get two ships of the same color, and puff, your turn is over and you get nothing. The next player might reveal a ship worth 4 coins, a mission and exactly the card she needed to complete the mission, which she can also takes because she has the Governor - isn't that lucky?

These sort of things not only can, but most likely will happen eventually - it is the nature of the beast; it is a feature, not a bug. Yet, there are those that know what they are going into, and will complain (during and after) that there is no purpose to play, that is all chance, no real (and tough) decisions, and the whole experience is hollow and dumb down. But, no. It is simply neat push your luck game, made to entertain while being highly accessible and allowing for constant, yet not difficult, decisions - this is Port Royal. Dock at your own accord.


Image credit: W Eric Martin

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Alexander Pfister
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Thanks for your review! I like questions like "How do you feel while playing" and "What are your decisions?".
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Bob Burns
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Very good review.
I liked the way your broke down the different aspects of the game.

As far as luck, don't all games have luck to them?

Anyway, I like the sound of this game and I think I will be adding it to my collection.

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