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Subject: Buccaneer...Yo Ho Ho rss

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Simon
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OK, it’s time to come out of the closet – I’m a Ben Baldanza fan. Well, it must be something like that because when I read his enthusiastic remarks about Seeräuber, or Buccaneer, in the last Counter (2006 Top 5 picks, Counter 36), I determined to rush out and buy the game immediately!
Fortunately, my overzealous faith in a fellow gamer was not misplaced: Buccaneer is another Stefan Dorra hit which is up there with his previous 30-minute fillers For Sale and, at least for my kids, Pick Picknic. And like Pick Picknic, which is based on Razzia, this one shares some mechanisms with an old 1996 Dorra game called Die SafeKnacker {‘Die Safeknacker.’}

The main game pieces are different-coloured sets of 5 large round wooden counters, a bit more than an inch across and a quarter of an inch thick. Stickers on each counter designate one of five different piratical characters, and the amount each must be paid should you choose to press-gang them into joining your boarding party - ranging from the Pirate skipper, who costs 5 ducats, to the ever-popular cabin Boy, who is will join you for a mere 2 ducats. One nameless character has a mystery cost which varies according to the ship he boards.
And that’s the objective of the game – to board one of three displayed ships, represented by cards, each of which has a different amount of ducats on board and requires a different number of pirates to board it. The winner is the player with the most captured ducats, including those earned from bonus treasure – treasure chests, barrels, gold candlesticks, or daggers. But to be successful you have to choose your boarding party carefully!

Each player starts off with the 5 pirates in his chosen colour and 10 ducats, and three ship cards are turned over from a previously shuffled pack of 15 cards. Each card is quite large, of good stock, and nicely illustrated. Each of the 15 cards in the game designate a different kind of ship, and like the houses in For Sale, each ship is worth a different amount from 5 ducats to 30. Each ship may be boarded by between 2 and 6 pirates, and rewards between one and two bonus treasures. All three ships laid out must be boarded before three new ship cards are turned over, and naturally some are easier to board while others yield more ducats. When all 15 ship cards have been played and boarded the game is over.

On a player’s go he may do one of two things: take over control of a gang of pirates or board a ship. Initially all players will start by putting together a boarding party, which means taking one of their own counters and placing it on top of an opponent’s counter in a stack. When doing this you may for example choose your most expensive pirate (the skipper, cost 5) and someone else’s cabin boy (cost 2) to make up your boarding party – thus ensuring that if someone else takes over your stack of pirates, you will maximise the wage you earn if they board a ship; whilst if you maintain ownership of the boarding party you will have recruited a cheap Cabin Boy and maximised the money you earn from the ship.
As the game progresses, players will build up stacks of different heights. As stacks grow a player may choose to place one of his pirates or one his stacks on top of someone else’s stack of pirates, taking it over, but they may never place an additional pirate on top of one of their own colour.
The rub comes in that you may only either build a stack or play the stack to board a ship – not both. Which means that as soon as you have a stack high enough to go, someone else can take it over. And even then, they can’t play it…so if you’re feeling really vindictive, you can take it back again next turn. However each time the stack changes hands the number of pirates in the boarding party increases: and so the wages the controller of the boarding party will have to pay also increase. Eventually a stack will become undesirable and a player will finally be allowed to board a ship, provided the height of the stack – number of pirates - is at least as high as that indicated on the ship card.

When a ship is boarded a number of things happen. Firstly the bonus treasures get distributed – if there is more than one available then the boarding party captain (which is the one who has his counter on top, and thus controls the party) receives first choice, and the first mate – the player who is just below the captain in the stack – gets the remaining treasure. This twist is important since there are 6 bonus treasures of each of 4 types available, and only the player holding the majority of a treasure type will reap the rewards at the end of the game.
Once the bonus treasure is distributed, the captain also receives ducats as indicated on the card. Then the captain must pay other players according to the wages of each of their pirates in the stack.
As an illustration, I have my eyes on the 27 ducat ship which requires 6 pirates to board. However, my so-called friends have gleefully forced me to build my stack up to eight pirates before I have been able to board. I board the ship and choose the Candlestick, worth 9 ducats if I collect most by the end of the game, and leave the treasure chest to Alan, who as first mate is just below me in the stack of pirates. I also receive the 27 ducats from the ship and pay 5 plus 4 plus 2 to Alan, who has three pirates requiring those wages in the stack. I must also pay Nick 2 plus 3 for his two pirates, leaving me with the princely sum of 3 ducats for my efforts. Pah! And so it goes, with the winner generally being the one who craftily manages to introduce his pirates into the maximum number of boarding parties, particularly as first mate.

Buccaneer offers plenty of opportunity to wreak revenge or goad your fellow player, is atmospheric, simple to learn, and fast to play. I have played it with several different crowds now – from hardened gamers to, uh, normal people – and it has always gone down a treat. A bit like a sinking galleon to a pirate, in fact. Ooh-arrr Jim Lad!

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Yoki Erdtman
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Hello Simon,

I really enjoyed your review, as I've been on the fence with this game. The fact that you compare it to For Sale and Pick Picknic, both favorites with my own family pretty much put it over the top, but I have one question still.

You make it sound like the optimal position in the stack of pirates is to become the First Mate, and not the Captain, is this correct? If so, doesn't this lead to passive play, or how is this avoided? What forces someone to play that last piece on the stack?

TTFN,

Yoki
 
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Simon
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Yokiboy wrote:
Hello Simon,
You make it sound like the optimal position in the stack of pirates is to become the First Mate, and not the Captain, is this correct? If so, doesn't this lead to passive play, or how is this avoided? What forces someone to play that last piece on the stack?

TTFN,

Yoki


Actually a better question is, what forces someone to take the stack from you when you are at the top, so that you become first mate? The answer can be any number of things from goading or teasing to wanting the bonus treasure offered on the ship badly enough to take the stack.
It's not always best to be first mate - but it can be worthwhile to get a shot at the second bonus treasure which only is on offer on the big ships. Basically the trick is to get as many well-paid pirates into the stack as possible and the cheapest pirates from your friends, and then board. But, as I hope I described above, that's not too obvious!
 
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