There is a tremendous amount of romanticism surrounding pirates. A life on the high seas, buried treasure, a code of honor among rogues. Truth be told, pirates led very brutish lives and died at very young ages. But a game that embraces the romanticism of piracy has been elusive. To date the Muskegon Area Gamers haven’t agreed upon the par excellent pirate game. Here are the pirate games in my extended collection, their pros and their cons.
The oldest strategy board game with a pirate theme is probably Avalon Hill’s Blackbeard.
This game is fairly realistic in its portrayal of piracy during the 18th Century. Pirates lives end randomly. Naval ships are unforgiving. Players earn anywhere from 5 gold to 5,000 gold from raiding ships.
The rules, game length and lack of player interaction make bringing this beast to the table difficult. There is plenty of downtime along with lots of randomness.
Status: Previously owned by Mongo; traded it; Jon bought a different copy. Jon wants to bring it to the table soon.
2. Pirates Cove
Days of Wonder’s Pirate’s Cove is a strong pirate entry. It’s got good components–a given when dealing with Days of Wonder. It is family friendly–another given when dealing with Days of Wonder. And it’s fun.
Players move around the board going from one abstracted island to another. The islands allow players to upgrade various systems on their ship and/or score victory points.
Pirate’s Cove is essentially a light blind bidding game. It’s fun and light. There is a pirate theme. But it is not the heavy duty pirate game that stands above all the rest.
Status: I own it. But it’s on my trade list.
3. Black Fleet
Enter: Asmodee’s Black Fleet. Players take control of a merchant ship, a pirate ship and a naval ship. You gain doubloons by delivering goods with your merchant, raiding other players’ merchants with your pirate and by sinking other players’ pirates with your naval ship.
While this sounds like a deep game, it is not. It’s a light family game. It plays quite differently than Pirate’s Cove but has the same relative weight.
Status: I own it. It has fired Pirate’s Cove.
4. Pirates of the Spanish Main
Pirates of the Spanish Main was a nifty concept from the company that brought us the nifty concepts of Mage Knight and Heroclix. You would buy a booster pack with random ships and captains; then you would build your fleet. Players would attempt to collect gold (VP) in order to win.
The rules for Pirates of the Spanish Main were not intimidating. The game play was complex enough to allow for deep and creative play. The new booster packs allowed for replayability.
The downside of Pirates of the Spanish Main? The first is a quibble: it was collectible. I usually dislike collectible games. The second was fatal: the components were horrendous. The ships were essentially credit cards (polystyrene) that you would punch out. Then you would construct the ships. Pushing unwieldy masts into an unwieldy deck was an exercise in frustration. Storing them was impossible unless you wanted to dismantle them–and I didn’t.
Status: Previously owned. Good riddance.
5. Merchants & Marauders
Z-Man published Merchants & Marauders a few years ago. The game may very well be Z-Man’s flagship game. The components are phenomenal. The art work is fantastic. They spared no expense.
Players assume the role of a fictional captain. They score points by raiding merchants, delivering goods, sinking ships and completing missions. You can be either a merchant or a marauder or both! It’s up to you and you do not have to choose right away. You can change your tactics whenever you like.
Z-Man is fully supporting Merchants & Marauders too. An expansion is set to be released soon. I’m really looking forward to it.
The problem with Merchants & Marauders is that it is essentially an adventure game and not a strategy game. There are strategic elements in the game but you are really only along for the ride. Two players could employ identical strategies and have massively different results–there is that much randomness. And there is no way to really “get good” at the game. You are really only telling a narrative with your pirate/merchant.
Status: Own it. Play it. Love it.
6. Pirate games in the future?
I’m really looking for a pirate game that has the depth and grandeur of Merchants & Marauders while having the strategic elements of Black Fleet. I would like a game where you are managing several different ships (Black Fleet) but have the adventure of Merchants & Marauders.
And I want Fantasy Flight to publish it!