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Subject: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Review) rss

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J. Green
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By way of Introduction

My game group meets at a "Joe Muggs" Coffee Shop in a busy shopping center on Monday nights. Surprisingly, the larger round table that seats 4-5 is usually big enough for many games, including Winds of Plunder. Sometimes we pull two of the square 4-seaters together for bigger games like Power Grid or Imperial (played in recent weeks), but if those are taken we get the other one.

Well, last night the only table available that would work was the larger round table in the corner, which had one of those high-back, low seat couch-chair things that commercial coffee shops have; I don't think it was designed for sitting at that table because I took the couch and gave the other four chairs to my friends, and when I sat down the edge of the table came up to my shoulders! Now, I'm a pretty tall guy so looking up at everyone was sort of a funny experience and they said "you sure you want that chair?" and I said, no problem...just call me "Stumpy." Arrrr! (there was a lot of ARRrrrr-ing going on, as you can imagine). Not quite sure why pirates say that all the time, arrr.

I had read some reviews of Winds of Plunder, enough to know that it can be a "Poor-get-poorer" kind of game, and that you need to stay ahead in the arms race, so I decided on a strategy of Cannons and Plunder! ARRRrrrr!

Heave Ho, me Hearties!

Right out of the gate port, I knew I had to be first to the island that had a cannon and 5 victory points (hereafter vp), so I committed 6 of my 10 starting wind cubes to vote for the direction East, and won the Blackbeard tile, which made me the new start player. I followed the wind to seek my fortune in the eastern Caribbean, and sailed into Guadaloupe. I took the tile, and immediately took the lead in cannons, then used an action point to take a card and two more to take 5 wind cubes. So far, so good. Other pirates went for crew or provisions; I decided to try to maintain the lead in cannons.

On the next turn, the wind blew south, which was fine with me. I had noticed the hefty point bonus you get from getting influence in all three areas of a region. By the time it came around to me, the Green ship had left Barbados (I'll explain the significance of this later), and the Red ship was in port. Stumpy the Pirate's ship was Blue. When the red ship replaced the green one in Barbados, the new tile there had, what else, another cannon. So I hopped down to there, picked up another cannon, securing my lead in the arms race, got some points, and plundered the Red ship for a crew member. Things were going pretty good for Stumpy, who was getting significant notoriety in the Eastern Caribbean.

Treachery!

But things weren't going so well for Stumpy's crew apparently, and as the player to my left notified me, I was being shanghei'd without even realizing it! He played a couple of cards that basically stole my guns, and left me for the vultures. But Stumpy had a steely resolve, and continued south again in the next turn for a stab at Trinidad, where I picked up another crew member (hopefully loyal this time), and plotted my revenge upon the Orange pirate. Having routed Trinidad I was now the Terror of the East, and turned my sights on Santo Domingo, where I heard rumours of provisions and guns, my favorite quarry by far. I was also on the trail of the backstabbing cutthroat that had stolen my cannons.

With a favorable wind I tacked west, slipping quietly into Santo Domingo by night, making off with some cargo crates and a nice new 9-pounder. I had arrived too late to meet up with Orange-beard, but I would be ready next time, and he had already gotten wind of my journey of vengeance. The others were doing pretty well by this point, but I tried to stay even with them in provisions, noting the 1 for 1 point bonus at the final scoring. I didn't bother too much with trying to get treasure maps, since the point bonus they provided did not seem like a really significant factor, especially since I could get all I wanted from my fellow pirates, having the most guns. I was in the lead, but in all my bloodlust I didn't notice the Yellow Terror breathing down my neck.

Objects in the Spyglass are Closer than they Appear...

At this point, Yellow played not one, but TWO cards on me that swapped guns for another resource, in his case provisions. Ooooh, but Stumpy was furious. Ye've got a bull's-eye on yer back, my Yellow friend! Arrrrrr! But first, I had to deal with Orange-beard. I was hot on his trail, and I finally ran him down in Havana. By this time I had established my firepower again, leaping ahead by taking more guns from the Cubans, along with a crate of their finest cigars, and in a surprise attack I stole back my guns from Orange-beard, firmly pulling about three guns ahead of everyone else. He relinquished his sword and named me the new Pirate King. Or maybe I just took it from him and named myself the new Pirate King, but yo ho me hearties, that's all part of the Pirate's Code! Live by the code, die by the code, ARRrrrrr!

I had my designs on the Yellow Terror, but first, I had to show the western Caribbean who's boss. To do that I'd need some more crew, and the closest location for that was Nassau. Loverly this time of year, and the Green Parrot (pirate) was licking his wounds up there. Remember when I said the poor get poorer in this game? Well the Green Parrot was destitute. He had made the mistake of acquiring valuable resources without the iron to back it up, and had fallen way behind. He was pretty stonefaced, but decided to try the treasure-hunting route. He figured he'd get as many maps as possible and sail around getting points that couldn't be stolen. A valiant plan, but I think that part of the game was designed as a serendipitous bonus rather than a viable game strategy. I have my thoughts on that, which I'll share later over a pint of grog.

Let no one say I ain't a Merciful King...

But the main thing about the Green Parrot was that she was the only ship and crew that had not crossed old Stumpy, and fer that, I was grateful. Even though I had her out-gunned and out-manned, I had mercy and let her keep her cargo. I had bigger fish to fry. I never once crossed blades with Green the whole game, and e'en though he came in last at the end, we parted as allies. He might make a good Lieutenant someday fer ol' Stumpy. Who says there ain't no honor among thieves?

As it happened, I had spied the Yellow Terror through my glass up in Nassau, he wasn't far away, but the depths of his treachery (he had already played a few more nasty cards on me, gunning for the lead) called for a bigger gameplan. He wasn't going to lose a battle or a gun or so, he was going to Lose The WAR! I smiled in his direction, and knew that establishing my superiority as the Great Pirate King would be a bitter pill for the Yellow Terror, and I set course for Cozumel. This late in the game, there was a pretty good point spread, with me in first place, Yellow close behind, followed by Orange, then Red, and finally Green lagging way behind. Poor parrot, good luck with your fool's errand, and hopefully ye'll find more than Fool's Gold!

Ole Stumpy Can See Which Way the Wind is Blowing...


In the closing months of the game, I wreaked havoc along the western coast of the Central Americas, claiming the first right of notoriety (7 points!) in the West Caribbean, too. I picked up a quick treasure in Coz while I was there, and ignored rumours of bounty back in Guadaloupe; I had come too far and it wasn't worth it. Instead, I racked up some more notoriety a little further east, and finally sailed back into Cozumel to retire. All this time I had been put upon by backstabbing, mutinous crew, storms, rats and all manner of hardship, but no one had more guns or grit, and I had almost beaten everyone for provisions too, but not for a last minute card played by my old nemesis, Orange-beard, that put him a notch ahead in the crate department.

Revenge is Sweet, me Hearties...

But a little known fact almost escaped me as I pondered what to do with my final actions of turn nine: surplus Wind cubes yield victory points! This was pointed out to me by my true enemy, the Yellow Terror, who recognized at game's end what I had been up to. He reluctantly acknowledged that I had in fact beaten him to the greatest bragging rights of all, cause in the end, with Nine cubes in hand for the last three Victory points that separated him from me, it was good ole Stumpy, the True Pirate King, that knew Which Way the Wind Was Blowing! ARRRrrrr!

Rethinking the Booty Chart

In Retrospect, we all agreed that Winds of Plunder was a blast. Even the Green Parrot, who had the roughest time of it, said he would play it again (and oh, I'm sure he'll give old Stumpy a run for his money then!). The only wrinkle that we decided might need some tweaking was the payout chart for buried treasure. Green pointed out that at some point he realized he was too far behind on Crew, Guns or Provisions to get ahead in any of those categories, so he went looking for treasure. Well, he found some, but it wasn't nearly enough for someone in that bad of a position to catch up. We decided that the card that let you take extra actions if you had fewer points than anyone else just wasn't enough, since there was no guarantee that you would get it in a game.

By way of explanation, the gold chart on the board is a linear progression: you get [EDIT: 2] 1 vp immediately for your first buried treasure; 2 3vp for your next one, etc., up to 7 for your last treasure. Since it's cumulative, you could conceivably get 7+6+5+4+3+2=27 victory points for finding 6 buried treasures. That's pretty good, but with only 9 game turns, that means you'd have to spend all but two of your turns finding a treasure. And since you can't move but once a turn, and you can't ever get a tile on turn 1, it's virtually impossible to a) get enough maps and b) travel to those destinations in time to get more than a pittance of booty points. As the chart reads, it's basically a wasted mechanic, in my opinion. [Revising opinion based on discussion below]

So my solution is to change the progression on the Booty chart to encourage treasure hunting. Instead of 2-3-4-5-6-7, with cumulative bonuses, I think there should be a more logarithmic, or even exponential, progression: 1-3-5-7-9-11, or even better, 1-2-4-7-11-16. That would make treasure hunting a truly viable come-from-behind strategy, making for some closer finishes and, I believe, some happier players. I'm going to suggest playing future games with an updated Booty Chart progression and post the findings here. Trust me: if you're the one that gets ganked in the early game like the Green Parrot, you'll see the value in what I'm talking about.

Ratings, or Why She Ain't a 10


In all, I give the game a solid 8, with an eye toward a 9. There's too much screwage and chaos for me to go any higher, even though I adore theme and uncertainty in my games. I would play it regularly, but not any time it's suggested, because it's a lot like Chocolate cake: I wouldn't want to eat too much and get sick. It's definitely a game I would enjoy playing just for the experience. I think it's much more fun and strategic than Pirate's Cove, which I also own, but which felt like, in retrospect, a Junior version of Winds of Plunder. I love the wind mechanic, bidding for start position, and the fact that wind cubes help you at the end with victory points.

I also love the artwork in this game, and while I would prefer something other than colored line drawings for the pictures, the map was fantastic. My only quip about the map was that, after having Honeymooned in Aruba, the drawing of the island looks a little off. But no worries, you don't actually sail there anyway. My absolute crying shout for joy is the incredibly hearty production value: For GMT, this is the chunkiest, meatiest board I've ever seen, and I love the thick laminated cards, the painted wooden pieces, and the hand-assembled compass rose direction indicators, as well as the very nice player aids and the rulebook. Top notch, even the box, which is covered with a texturally luxurious linen weave paper and is thicker and more sturdy than many other game boxes I own.

This is going on my to-buy list; it's a great experience that played in about 2 1/2 hours with five people. It obviously stuck in my mind well enough to write this session report, and it created a great story for me, ripe for light roleplay and full of theme and fun (although it might not have been as much fun if I had not won...not usually a requirement for me but in this case I grew to crave victory). I will say that reports of it being a poor-get-poorer game are true, and that getting behind early can be tough to overcome. But I don't think there's a better Pirate game on the market at the moment, until possibly the Blackbeard reprint, or the final version of Searovers, which is an amazing effort at historical realism.

I also really like the fact that in a game about pirates, there are no dice. If you have more guns than somebody else, you can plunder them, no question. That's what makes the arms race so important, and what eventually put me in the Captain's Chair.

Final verdict: if you want a fun, very playable pirate game with plenty of chaos but no randomizers, and you don't mind the possibility of getting ganked by everyone else if you stumble early, go buy this and enjoy, and don't forget to give a wink and a nod to ole Stumpy if you see his grinning mug down at the edge of the tavern table. ARRRrrrrrrr!!!

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Steve
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Excellent post.
 
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Tony Nardo
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
An excellent post, indeed!
bookgnome wrote:
[...] since you can't move but once a turn, and you can't ever get a tile on turn 1, it's virtually impossible to a) get enough maps and b) travel to those destinations in time to get more than a pittance of booty points.
You can potentially score a Treasure Map on Round 1, but only if you have the extreme good luck of drawing the Treasure Map for the port you just sailed to. But it's unlikely that anyone will have such luck nine rounds in a row.

Still, even 5-6 maps makes for a respectable chunk of points.

BTW, in the blind playtest rounds we actually had to beat this table down in value. A base of three (i.e., 3-4-5-6-7-8-8-...) made the map strategy a virtual no-brainer.

[EDIT: amended to reflect initial post's amendment.]
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Christopher DeFrisco
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Great post. It has officially put this on my want list.
Thanks!
 
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Good one ! You are threatening Tom Vasel's job.
 
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Wonderful review and synopsis of your session with Winds of Plunder. I was on the fence about picking this game up since GMT is first and foremost a wargames company but it sounds like this one is an instant winner. Definitely on my list for the next order.
 
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Jim Cote
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
bookgnome wrote:
because it's a lot like Chocolate cake: I wouldn't want to eat too much and get sick

You had me right up until this blasphemy! laugh
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Jon
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
bookgnome wrote:

My absolute crying shout for joy is the incredibly hearty production value: For GMT, this is the chunkiest, meatiest board I've ever seen, and I love the thick laminated cards, the painted wooden pieces, and the hand-assembled compass rose direction indicators, as well as the very nice player aids and the rulebook. Top notch, even the box, which is covered with a texturally luxurious linen weave paper and is thicker and more sturdy than many other game boxes I own.

The board is a VERY sturdy, standard cardboard mount, which will come as a surprise to most GMT fans. Very nice. The artwork on the box is quite an eyesore, though...IMHO.
 
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Tony Nardo
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
AnakinOU wrote:
The board is a VERY sturdy, standard cardboard mount, which will come as a surprise to most GMT fans.
Santa Fe Rails used the same size mounted board, but I think the one for WoP is a shade thicker. I don't recall them using a linen finish before; if they have, hopefully someone will chime in.
 
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Excellent post! Thank you for taking the time to make it a fun read. You have definitely made up my mind for me, this one is going on order. arrrh
 
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Alan Newman
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Really enjoyed your session report! Re the Treasure scoring, lower and higher progressions were tried over dozens of playtests and the table in the final version is what worked best. Also, Tony is 100% correct on the scoring. It is 2 for the first treasure, increasing by one thereafter to a maximum of 7.

- Alan
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J. Green
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
Al Newman wrote:
Really enjoyed your session report! Re the Treasure scoring, lower and higher progressions were tried over dozens of playtests and the table in the final version is what worked best. Also, Tony is 100% correct on the scoring. It is 2 for the first treasure, increasing by one thereafter to a maximum of 7.

- Alan

Hi Alan,

Thanks for taking the time to read my report. I don't own the game so I was going on memory about the Booty chart. I have no doubt the current version was well playtested, and it could be that since this was everyone's first game, some folks fell behind just from learning it. After we get a few plays under our belts, I think people will try to incorporate getting treasure into their overall game plans more often and earlier.

But with only nine turns, you've got to admit that getting a nearby destination when you draw a map card is not necessarily likely and so you would have to get several of them early and then spend the rest of the game working them into your travel docket.

I wonder if in all that playtesting, players regularly were able to take advantage of the 7, 6 or even 5 slot more than just occasionally, and of those who did, were they using it as a come from behind strategy, or just a bonus/win-more strategy?

By the way, I didn't mean to be offensive by calling it a wasted mechanic, I just thought that as it worked out in our game, it seemed to be a wasted opportunity if it was designed to help players who lagged behind actually catch up in later rounds. Since you're taking the time to respond, could you clear up the design philosophy of the booty chart, just for my curiosity?

Thanks again for responding; I think Winds of Plunder is a stellar project that I hope brings GMT many new players for those who are not all that into wargames.

-John Green
 
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Tony Nardo
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
bookgnome wrote:
I wonder if in all that playtesting, players regularly were able to take advantage of the 7, 6 or even 5 slot more than just occasionally, and of those who did, were they using it as a come from behind strategy, or just a bonus/win-more strategy?
Looking over the game logs, prior to the score reduction -- but after the "Heave" card changed -- it was fairly common for a player to make the effort to score 5 or even 6 Treasure maps, translating into 28 and 36 VP, respectively. (One player scored 7 maps on two different occasions, but that was when the original version of the current "Heave" card could be played by anyone rather than just the trailing player.)

After the rule change, 4 maps (14 VP) became the most frequent peak. A player would score 5 maps (20 VP) in about one game in ten, and while I don't have a log sheet for it I recall seeing one player push the Booty marker all the way to the "7" slot once (at least 6 maps).

Winning scores under the current rules/cards tend to be in the 50-70 range. 14 VP is a respectable percentage of that total.

Unfortunately, the more recent log sheets don't show why a particular player chose to acquire maps. I know I've personally used it as a mid-game "come from behind" move (and won), and I've watched one player use it for that reason in closing a serious point gap. (He lost, but not by much!)

Prior to the change, however, the groups with the highest Booty count in their games noted that this was being used as a path to victory (i.e., score Treasure map cards early and often), and some complained about the game essentially devolving into a race to dig up the most Buried Treasure. Most particularly, in the three player games I watched under these conditions, the player with the best luck at sailing to ports where he could draw a new Treasure map card and play one from his hand tended to win.


Now, all that said, some players prefer games with a different flavor. I'd enjoy reading how your games go with a modified Booty chart. But don't be surprised if, instead of Booty allowing for more come-from-behind finishes, you see a shift to a map race.
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Alan Newman
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Re: Stumpy The Pirate King's Revenge...ARrrrrr! (Session/Rev
bookgnome wrote:
Al Newman wrote:
Really enjoyed your session report! Re the Treasure scoring, lower and higher progressions were tried over dozens of playtests and the table in the final version is what worked best. Also, Tony is 100% correct on the scoring. It is 2 for the first treasure, increasing by one thereafter to a maximum of 7.

- Alan

Hi Alan,

Thanks for taking the time to read my report. I don't own the game so I was going on memory about the Booty chart. I have no doubt the current version was well playtested, and it could be that since this was everyone's first game, some folks fell behind just from learning it. After we get a few plays under our belts, I think people will try to incorporate getting treasure into their overall game plans more often and earlier.

But with only nine turns, you've got to admit that getting a nearby destination when you draw a map card is not necessarily likely and so you would have to get several of them early and then spend the rest of the game working them into your travel docket.

I wonder if in all that playtesting, players regularly were able to take advantage of the 7, 6 or even 5 slot more than just occasionally, and of those who did, were they using it as a come from behind strategy, or just a bonus/win-more strategy?

By the way, I didn't mean to be offensive by calling it a wasted mechanic, I just thought that as it worked out in our game, it seemed to be a wasted opportunity if it was designed to help players who lagged behind actually catch up in later rounds. Since you're taking the time to respond, could you clear up the design philosophy of the booty chart, just for my curiosity?

Thanks again for responding; I think Winds of Plunder is a stellar project that I hope brings GMT many new players for those who are not all that into wargames.

-John Green

No offense whatsoever was taken. I very much understand that personal preferences vary wildly and that no game can satisfy all gamers on all points. Critiques happily accepted.

To answer your question: treasure maps can be both an effective come-from-behind strategy or a bonus/win-more strategy but more importantly, can indeed function alone as one's principle strategy. My personal best has been 6 maps with that strategy in mind and it was a game winner. Maps totaled 27 VPS. I don't remember the actual score but nine port landings at an average of 3.5 points would have meant another 31-32 VPs. Add two Port Reputation bonuses of only a 3 and a 5 and perhaps 4 for Provisions and 1 each for Crew and wind cubes at the end and we're talking about 72 VPs, which should be sufficient to win most games.

I'm not saying the Treasure strategy is always a winner; it is not. However, it is definitely a theme that a player can choose and work for or even change horses in mid-stream (as it were) and target for VPs. Been there, done it. There are also effective means to combat an effective Treasure strategy as the other players will usually have the option to sail to grab a map first, or even change a tile with a Treasure icon via Intrigue, etc.

Regarding the "design philosophy of the booty chart," when Treasures were added (don't ask, the game went through literally dozens of iterations), it quickly became obvious that this mechanic could be made into a stand alone strategy if it were balanced correctly. The final result was the result of a best efforts tack. Too many points would have rewarded lucky outcomes too often and too few points would have made the stand-alone strategy improbable.

The same balancing efforts were necessary for lots more, including Port Rep bonuses and Advantage cards. At one point, I favored 8-5-3-2-1 for Port Bonuses and only 1 VP for Advantage cards. What you see is what worked best overall.

- Alan
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J. Green
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Alan,

Thanks for the informative response. That makes a lot of sense to me; having never been through the lengthy iterative design/playtesting grind of game development I realize it's easy for end users to armchair-quarterback the process. It's always helpful to have these kinds of insights into that. I also guess it's kind of arrogant on the part of gamers to assume that if everything doesn't work as we thought it ought to on a first run, the thing's unbalanced. I'll be sure to share this thread with my group before we play it again.

Thanks for all your hard work on the game; I really think you've got a winner. It's a very enjoyable experience, and I think the mechanics really help evoke the theme.

Best,
John Green
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