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Subject: Arrrr! There Be Mediocrity Afoot! rss

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Dickie Crickets
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Connecticut
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I received Dread Pirate as a rather random Christmas gift, but at first, I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoy pirate-related stuff quite a bit, and the game features gorgeous packaging and production values. I eagerly brought it over to my friend's house for Game Night, and we decided to give it a go. Alas, the gameplay can't live up to Dread Pirate's undeniably great production values, and what you're left with is a really pretty game which is decidedly entirely by random dice-rolling.

The idea behind the game is simple and intriguing enough: be the guy at the end of the game with the largest amount of booty. The game is best played with four players, and you each get your own home port, featuring a certain type of jewel. Players start with a nice, velvety money bag full of gold coins and some of their 'native' jewels, and your mission is to obtain more gold and the other three jewel types. This is done by going to the enemy ports and taking one of two possible actions. The first (known as the 'sissy' option) is to simply trade, where you exchange some of your current booty for some of the native jewels. You roll a die to determine how much you pay, and the owner of the port rolls a die to see how much he'll give up. Boring, but you're guaranteed to walk away with at least one jewel. You can also raid the port, and once again, you and the port owner roll a die. If the raider wins the die roll, he takes that many jewels. If he loses, he gets squat, and he can't attack that port again until he tries another. You can also attack other ships at sea, and guess what? Whomever gets the higher die roll takes that many goodies from the other player. Because the attacker gets no natural advantage in combat (unless he's the Dread Pirate), there's no particular incentive to go after the other players, except to break up the tedium. Anyhow, once you've collected at least one of each jewel type, you can then go to Dread Island, which is loaded with gold. The first person to get there gets the Dread Pirate flag and all the benefits thereof, although the flag changes hands if the Dread Pirate loses a ship battle, so it's not exactly a game-changing event. Players continue to trade, raid, and attack other ships until all of the gold and jewels have been collected, and then the totals are added to determine the winner.

As you can see, everything in the game is dependent entirely on luck with the dice. There's no real way to advance your cause with any kind of clever strategies, because if the dice don't roll your way, you'll go broke regardless. There are cards you can obtain by passing over certain parts of the map, and these can shake things up a little by causing random events, such as small boosts/penalties to your next die roll, or getting a free jewel from each player. But again, these are shuffled randomly and therefore entirely based on chance. Blackbeard himself could play this game against a 9 year-old, a chimpanzee, and a coffee table, and he'd still just have a 25% chance of winning. Rather than going through the trouble of setting up the map and the jewels, you might as well just have dice-rolling contests with your buddies.

The real shame of it all is that the game is definitely NOT a slapped-together product. The production values are sky-high, and the game features a nice cloth map, cool-looking gold coins, and four well-made little ships as playing pieces. (For some odd reason, though, three of the four ships are almost exactly the same color.) The box the game comes in is very attractive and would look right at home on your bookcase. Most of the fun of the game seems to be playing with the colored stones and gold coins you collect in your little money bag. The manual even features possible gameplay variations, including a 'wind' die that affects how fast you can sail. It's just so odd to me that the makers of Dread Pirate would put great effort into everything except the most important aspect of their product: the basic gameplay.

I'm not really sure who this game is intended for. The game was quickly passed over by my gaming buddies and I, since there was not an ounce of skill involved. It's hard to get interested in a game where you feel like you have no ability to affect the outcome. It might be an okay family game, I guess, but it seems far too expensive to let the rugrats loose with it, especially when you can get old chestnuts like Life and Monopoly for around $10. This game might be salvageable with an expansion pack or special house rules to give some meat to the gameplay, but as it stands, the game is all sizzle and no steak. It's a shame.
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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Arrr! And that be the truth all ye lilly-livered bilge rats!

arrrh
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