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Subject: Sewer Pirats - Fievel: The Pirate Years - down to the basics 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 Sewer Pirats:

1) What is it?
Sewer Pirats is a light and quick set collection mixed with hand management game. In it, players have 4 critters as crew, and use them to get the best possible spaces in each of the three ships, in order to obtain the best booty - the Captain of the ship will take the first pick and the special treasure, and the others in the ship, will, in order, take the rest. It is mostly an abstract affair, not a truly thematic game.

Sewer Pirats offers three modes of play: the basic one, where the critters don't have special abilities - works best when teaching the game or playing with kids. The simple landlubber variant, in which every player will get the same crew - now using the special abilities of each. And, finally, the crew member auction variant, in which players bid for critters in order to make their unique crew. Of course that, for more seasoned players, this last one is the way to go, even if it adds around 10 minutes to the duration of the game, as people having different crews is much more fun.

The game comes with some 30 good miniatures (not awesome in detalis, but very nice for a game that isn't truly a "minis game") and the overall graphic design and art is well done, being both pleasant and helpful to easily tell things apart - however, I had some confusions with people mixing the Ferrets with the Rats or the Weasels, but their poses and sizes give enough clues to separate them, except for those truly distracted.

In the end, Sewer Pirats worked very well for us, allowing for some smart plays, constant decisions, light interaction, all inside a playing time of under one hour. A good surprise.

2) How do you play?
Once the set up is done and every players has a crew (either by simply taking one, or bidding for one) of 4 critters, there will be three ships and, in front of each, the booty, composed of 3 normal treasures and 1 special. Each ship has 4 spaces, one of these being the Captain space. Now players, in each turn, will have four options of actions:

a) Take 2 cards. This is like Ticket to Ride: there will be 4 open cards. The player can take from the open cards or blindly from the draw deck. They can mix also, taking one the open and one from the draw deck. After taking cards, if the player has more than 6 cards in hand, she must discarded until 6;
b) Move a figure to a crew space in one of the ships. To do this, the person discards cards of the type of the ship, putting the figure in space 1, 2 or 3, depending on how many cards were used. A critter can move, freely (usually), above another - say I move my Rat in the Fish ship, using 1 card. There is already a critter there, a Slug, in space 1. Therefore, my Rat go to space 2, passing the Slug;
c) Become Captain. To do this, a critter must have all spaces between it and the Capitain space occupied or having no space (if in the position 3). Then the player can use a card of the ship to move the critter past other critters, or simply moving from the 3 spot, to the Captain space;
d) Set sail. When a ship has a Captain, the player controlling that Captain, in her turn, must set sail. The Captain take the special tile and one other. Then other critters on the ship take, one each, a treasure tile. It a critter on the ship didn't took a treasure, it remains on the ship, advancing one space. All critters that took a treasure, live the ship. After treasures are taken, the next batch of them, which was already revealed, it brought closer to the ship - it will be the next treasure. Then a new batch is put, showing what will become available next.

Critters, if playing above the basic level, have unique abilities: like the Rat take 2 booty tiles; the Cockroach walks one space for free; the Racoon takes one card from someone passing above it when moving; the Toad can choose to not take a treasure tile and, instead, remain on board; and others.

Once a ship doesn't have treasures in front of it, the game ends. Treasures will be scored in different ways: some will score no matter what, while others will need special tiles to give points - like, Canned Food can be worth a lot, but each Can requires a Can Opener, in order to score. Some special tiles will give bonus points for each of its connected food - for instance, Ketchup will give 5 extra points for each tile of French Fries; and Chilli Pepper will give 4 extra points for each tile of Chinese Noodles.

The player with the most points will be the winner!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
Mostly will be about which cards to take, which ship to enter (and advance) and with which critters, and which tiles to take. Nothing too big or difficult, but the decisions are constantly and matter.

The decision of which ship to enter also can have a more strategic depth, since there are usually two sets of treasures in front of the ships, players can see what the next bach will be. So maybe it can be best to enter in a ship, not to take something now, but to be in a good position for, later on, becoming a Capitain, to take an much needed special tile.

If playing the the crew bidding, then is also important to decide which critters you want to add to your crew, as the special abilities of each critter can be key in doing well in the game.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Very good production value, both for the tiles, bases to separate the critters owned by each player, and for the miniatures themselves;
- Easy to teach and to play, with enough depth to be interesting for the whole duration of the play;
- Moves quickly, ending in a properly sized frame of one hour or less;
- Scoring is smart, making every tile be relevant - the ones with lesser value, have the best special tiles, and also will surely score, while the ones with big score, might not, and have the smallest bonus;
- Three ways of playing are good to allow it to be played with people with different skill levels;
- The insert is useful, and even fits the cards with sleeves.

5) Which are the bad news?
- The box could be smaller - around 20% smaller, for sure;
- Plays best with 4 - in smaller numbers, there is more control and less chaos, but some critters become under used (like the Toad and the Weasel); and with 5, the games ends so fast, and one lucky haul can decide everything;
- The theme and aparently childish art probably worked against the game.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Not truly like in a sewer-sea pirating and getting the Capitain's cut. As I mentioned, Sewer Pirats isn't truly thematic: the theme is just added colors. It could be about merchants in the renaissance - a topic not fully explored so far, by the way. It could be about spaceships, or in a post-apocalyptic world. But it is about pirates (pirats) and critters. Ok.

The feel is that of a procedural game, in the vein of a Ticket to Ride or many other euros. You will have a distanct feeling that what you are doing have a sense according to the theme, which is nice. But don't think you will feel the tang of the urinated sewer waters in your face and the warm poopy breeze in your sails. Hum, that is propably a good thing.

Anyway, Sewer Pirats does what it meants to do well - a fast and good set collection mixed with hand management, able to the taught and played under one hour. It can work for family playing time or in more "serious" game nights, with the fellows, using the crew bidding variant. Still, in both cases, while providing interaction, Sewer Pirats isn't an agressive game - once a critter is in the boat, there is no way for it to lose its spot, for instance, and even if there is no loot for it, it will stay on the ship, now one space above. Sure, there is some "cutting" regarding the Captain spots, and in the taking of treasure, however, you will also be doing, not just receiving, and there is basically no bash the leader here (nor there is a catch-up mechanism).

Sewer Pirats is a friendly and smart option of a game for a that times you want to compete, but don't really want to be mean or too confrontational.

Is was surprise to like Sewer Pirats as much as I did, considering its overall rank, but it serves to prove that there are plenty of good games hidden around.


Image credit: W Eric Martin

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