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Subject: The Age of Piracy! (Abridged Version) rss

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James Lowry
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Sunnyvale
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Had the gang, or at least some of it, over yesterday to try out GMT's Blackbeard, which Mark got some time ago. Due to schedule constraints there were four of us (the game supports up to five), me, Mark, Jason and Patch.

I'd played the AH Blackbeard a time or two ages ago, and while I remember that I generally liked it, I don't recall much else. It didn't take me long however, to realize that while this version is technically related to it, the relationship is quite distant. Offhand, I'd say the new one is much more historical and has a better flow as a game.

However, we stuck with the short game, and there are some definite problems with it. While the playing time is quite good (about 2-3 hours with four of us who weren't overly familiar with the game), it seems to be way too short to feel like anything much has happened. You basically end up going through the deck of events once (possibly even 20 cards short of that), and it seems to us as if that's just enough time for a pirate to loot a couple ships, rack up some notoriety, and retire—if he's lucky. One additional note—a couple of us didn't notice the lines separating the sea areas until they were forcibly pointed out to them. I don't understand why, they were instantly obvious to me.

On our first go through both me and Patch took advantage of the second draw of the General Pardon card (the first does nothing, the third ends the game, only the second does the event on the card), to get to an English port and take the pardon and retire (converting all our notoriety and loot into victory points). Neither of us did anything much with the second pirates we activated right afterwards, and Mark and Jason never retired. At first we thought this left them with no VPs, but later review showed that they got a handful from accumulated notoriety. Patch had done better than I and won quite handily.

We went off to lunch at that point, and started a second short game when we got back. I don't think it took any less time, but we started using parts of the rules to much greater effect. Most notably King's Commissioners were quite active, and the bane of more than one pirate.

This time, it was more than some of us could do (including me) to retire a pirate before the end of the game. I started out well, picking off Patch's successful pirate at the beginning of the game with my KC. After that it was all downhill. I took a gamble and started off the Gold Coast of Africa, where it turned out there weren't any merchants. I moved over to the happy hunting grounds of India (about half the initial merchants were in that area. I took one merchant and got a valuable prisoner, but hardly any loot or notoriety (rolled '1's for both on a +1 ship). The real problem was that my hostage was French, and the only French port with a non-anti-pirate governor was in the Caribbean.

So, I set out for the Caribbean, and that turned out to take longer than the game lasted. This was partially due to delays caused by my speed rating dropping below 0 halfway there from the combined effects of storms and events played on me. This left me at half movement in the middle of the Atlantic (transit box), and by the time I got to a port, got repairs and got close to my goal of a French port, I was drawing the last card of the deck (the General Pardon for the third time). Thanks to the early KC points, I again managed second, but not by a lot, and Patch was well ahead.

It seems like the only workable pattern for the short game is to cycle through pirates as quickly as possible. Catch a merchant ship, get a little loot and notoriety, and retire as soon after that as possible. Then start it again, and gain as much notoriety as possible, since that'll convert to VPs on game end.

We actually had some time at the end of that, so we went for a round of Plague & Pestilence. Patch (as it turns out) and I have both played it before, but it's been years.... Due to the Plague Ship showing up a bit late, and time constraints, we actually didn't quite finish. I think I had the highest population (I'd managed to stay quiet and have good luck on the plague rolls, so I moved from a close third), though Mark had a seemingly endless supply of improvements, which could have kept him afloat. Both Patch and Jason were running pretty thin by the end of it.

Plans for next month are, so far, uncertain.
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