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Pirates: A Constructible Card Game

By jolly st nick in Culture
Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

Many years ago, at the height of the Dungeons and Dragons boom, I whiled away many happy and unproductive hour playing when I should have been studying. We of course had our own, more elaborate combat system, which verged on a combat simulation system; nobody could be satisfied with the simplistic, illogical mess of the standard system.

Fast forward a couple of decades to a few years ago. A geek friend of mine is trying to get all of his friends playing Magic, The Gathering. And I'm deeply impressed by the game's design. The basic concept of the game itself is the equal of any classic card game like Rummy. The way the cards modify the rules is ingenious, and the businessman in me admired the way the way this element made the cards collectible. Yet although the genius of this game was apparent to me, and I could see how it implied a whole universe of strategies, I had no desire to explore that universe. "This is cool, but I have no time or spare brain cells to devote to it," I thought. In other words, I concluded sadly that I'm too old to play these kinds of games.

Then I discovered Wiz Kids' Pirates constructable card games: Pirates of the Spanish Main, Pirates of the Crimson Coast and successors.

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I don't pretend to know a lot about these kinds of games, other than they usually don't appeal to me. But Whiz Kids adds an interesting -- no, a fun twist to them. The game is sold in small packs, like a baseball card pack, containing enough pieces to play a complete, but very small game. The twist is that it's a naval combat game, and the cards are laminated styrene affairs that you punch out to assemble tiny model ships.

I was in the candy store with my kids who were buying Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards when the typical Topps style display box caught my eye. "A Complete Game in Every Pack". Well, $3.99 for a game is certainly worth a lark. I bought one, punched out the pieces and assembled American The Roanoke and, I think, some dinky pirate scow, and I was hooked.

Objectively speaking, the game is not nearly so sophisticated and elaborate as Magic, but from my perspective this was a good thing. It's very simple, and I play with my elementary school children, who are more than match for me, as they like to gang up. It's nice to see them on the same side for a change. It's complex enough that there is some planning in putting together and manning a fleet, but it's not really something most people will spend endless hours refining. My play time is limited, so when I play I want to play.

I think one reason Magic left me cold is that I just wasn't all that interested in hellish monsters and magicians and all that stuff. I happen to like fantasy books, but show me a cover with a demon, or a young girl singing to a sword some such thing, and it leaves me cold. Not only is the universe of Magic strategy more than I want to deal with, I have no desire to amass a collection of mediocre fantasy art. But for me there's just something thrilling about opening one of those foil packs and finding the Bonhomme Richard. I positively lust for the USS Constitution, which has eluded me so far. As you can tell, I like to play American ships; I may have an heretofore undiscovered patriotic streak. I suppose that the Magic player is thrilled to find that rare card that add just what he needs to his deck, but the Pirates player gets to put his ship together, which I find satisfying and oddly theraputic.

The fundamental game is quite simple. Each ship has a number of performance parameters: speed, cargo capacity, and weaponry (cannons of varying accuracy and range). It may have special abilities, either because of its design (e.g., schooners are allowed to pivot in place) or to introduce complications to the game (e.g. the Richard gets a bonus attacking English ships). You can also optionally add crew to your ships. A captain allows your ship to move and fire its cannons at the same time; musketeers give your ship an additional attack at short range. Certain named crew are give special abilities just like the ship, for example the ability to steal treasure from an enemy island.

Needless to say, some ships and crew are more powerful than others. Each is assigned a point value, and the basic rule is that everybody starts with the same point value and builds his fleet according to his preferences. Typical point values for ships run from eight to twelve points; some unusual ships cost five (or in very rare cases) four poins on the low end, or up to fifteen and sixteen point ships for floating fortresses or speedy treasure houses. The basic rule is that everybody starts with the same point budget. Within that budget, there is considerable room for difference.

My seven year old son has a favorite ship: The Ville de Paris. It's a massive, five masted affair with superior cannons and plenty of room for crew. Although I bought and paid for it, he regards the Paris as his personal property. He loves the feeling of invulnerability as he cruises around in his mighty ship of the line, scattering his enemies before him. Even my Bonhomme Richard, which is no slouch, turns tail and runs unless she has support. The Richard has excellent cannons, and Paris has only a slight edge in that department, but the Paris has a special ability to ignore the first hit in any exchange. That's enough to mean that when they meet the Richard is as good driftwood unless she's lucky enough to cut across the Paris' bow at short range.

The Paris has one problem though. She's slow. By the time she shows up, the party is aready over, which is frustrating to my son. This means no 30 point games for us; at sixteen points once he's bought and crewed the Paris, he wouldn't have enough to buy a single additional French ship. In our house, we don't allow mixed nationality fleets, although standard rules do. A 40 point game is the minimum that allows him to join the action, and most days he refuses to play unless we're doing 50.

With a 150-200 points worth of ships, the game can drag a bit. Take to long deciding what to do and you'll hear a chorus of "Move already!" However with a fifty point fleet, your fleet becomes an expression of your personality. My son likes the one-two punch: he ties you up with his small ships long enough so he can bring up the Paris for the coup de grace. My daughter loves swift pirate vessels that dash out, grab all the treasure, and evade larger pursuers by darting behind islands or skimming over reefs where bigger ships cannot follow. She always amasses more treasure than the boys combined, who spend far too much time struggling for strategic domination.

I also have a favorite ship. The humble, common 8 point Hornet. This ship is unremarkable; while moderately fast, two mast vessels don't have the durability to duke it out with a ship of the line; they're usually relegated to treasure hauling duty. I have a lot of this little vessel in my ship box, and in the fifty or sixty point games my son demands, I can play a lot of them. A typical fleet for me in that game would be three Hornets and my favorite big ship, the Richard, which amounts to 39 points, leaving 11 points to add crew to the Richard and perhaps one of the Hornets. Both the Richard and the Hornets are faster than average, and I operate them as two task forces, two or three Hornets and the Richard by itself or with one Hornet if there is a chance of encountering the fearsome Paris. My swarm of Hornets is nearly as dreaded as the Paris, and twice as fast.

Serious gamers will soon find the rules of Pirates limiting . Sometimes I long for a bit more realism or tactical depth. I won't go into the shortcomings of the game's rules -- they're obvious to anybody who has played and would be incomprehensible to non-players. One frequent annoyance that will affect both serious and casual gamers is that the special ability text on some ships and crew is frequently unclear or even mystifying. For example, some named crew cards bear the title "commander". I think but am not sure, that these count as captains -- skippers if you will. This would be consistent with naval practice.

However,the main problem with the game starts with the way you build your fleet from a pre-agreed point total. Just as building your fleet starts to get interesting, operating it becomes impractical. More elaborate rules would result in large fleets becoming impossible to operate and simpler ones would make building them less interesting. It's hard to see how the combat rules could be improved without major restructuring. The challenge for the designer is to nail your audience accurately, and make your rules accordingly. Which they've done: Pirates is in my opinion Magic for the casual gamer. And in my house we're as casual as they come. We never play by anything like tournament rules, we play for fun, which for my son and I is knocking the stuffing out of each other and for my daughter is smirking at how little treasure the boys end up with at the end of the game. I think toting up gold is her favorite part of the evening, which she does very loudly and distinctly, punctuated with pointed inquiries about how much gold we managed to amass.

If there were one wrinkle I'd add, it's one that I think every great strategy game needs: obtaining and using resources efficiently. My change would work like this: you start with thirty or even twenty points, and as you amass wealth you'd use it to build more ships. Let's say for fifteen point, five masted ship, you need to pay fifteen gold pieces to lay the keel, fifteen to launch her, and take one or two turns per mast to build her, depending on how long you want the game to run. This would presuppose a longer gaming session, but it would get the session off more quickly, and not add any tactical complications to it.

For me, though, the thrill of this game still will always be opening that foil pack to see what's inside. Unlike most collectible games, these little ships appeal to me; they're so cute even my wife can't bring herself to complain about them, although I caught her biting her lip when I announced I had to get a second box to hold my ships.

And I'm always hoping that the Constitution is in that next pack. The other day I reached into the card display for my usual weekly fix, and by impulse put down my first pick. I had a good feeling about the pack that was underneath so I took it instead. I couldn't wait until I got home, so I ripped open the pack in my car. No Constitution but something equally rare: an English ship, the Dreadnought, a mighty twenty six point floating fortress that makes the Paris look like a mere Hornet. As I expected, as soon as I got it home my son claimed it as his exclusive property, and positively cackled with glee at the prospect of running both the Paris and Dreadnought.

I forsee eighty point fleets coming to our house, and the no-mixed-nationalities rule is as good as dead. Well, if I ever get my Constitution, I say bring it on. In the meantime there are some sweet little six or eight point pirate vessels that would make a nice little task force.


Check out Wiz Kids Games, creator of the series for details on rules.

The Ville de Paris: the a 104 gun ship of the line reportedly later upgraded to 130 guns and reputedly the most powerful warship on Earth in her day.

The Hornet: Many ships have borne this name, but presumably the one of "don't give up the ship" fame is intended.

The frigate Bonhomme Richard: Even as she was burning and sinking, John Paul Jones declared he had not yet begun to fight on her decks. The real Richard was a beautiful ship, which sadly the styrene version completely fails to capture.

The Dreadnought: Many ships have borne this name, including two ironclad battleships. The game version most resembles the 1801 edition although at 98 guns she was only a "second rater". While her service was distinguished, she was nowhere near as formidable as her game counterpart makes her out to have been. That reputation better fits the 1901 ironclad.

And of course, the Constitution: It's a gyp she only gets 1L for her movement. In the game she's considered a five mast vessel, but of course the real life one is a three masted frigate. Mast count == cannon count in the game. I'd have made her a 3 mast/cannon vessel with 1L + 1S; she was built for speed and could do an exceptional 13 kt. And I'd goose her cannon rating a bit or perhaps give her an automatic musketeer, either of which would be consistent with her historical battles in which she displayed superior marksmanship and use of musketeers. She was designed so that anything she couldn't outgun, she could outrun. Captained by Isaac Hull, she did both brilliantly but didn't shy from a tough fight. But you can't do a legendary ship like this justice in a game.


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My fleet would be
o mighty ships of the line with unsurpassed firepower. 21%
o composed of small, swift units that can be deployed flexibly. 47%
o stealing all the gold while the boys duke it out. 31%

Votes: 19
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Wiz Kids Games
o rules
o Ville de Paris
o a 104 gun ship of the line
o Hornet
o "don't give up the ship"
o Bonhomme Richard
o had not yet begun to fight
o Dreadnough t
o battleship s
o 1801 edition
o Constituti on
o real life
o Also by jolly st nick

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Pirates: A Constructible Card Game | 81 comments (63 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Been there (none / 1) (#8)
by codejack on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 12:31:35 PM EST

I play this game with my son, if not quite as regularly as it sounds like you do. We also do not have anything like the number of ships you have (we only bought 2 packs). Unfortunately, my son received a different pirate game for christmas, complete with die-cast ships and "gold" doubloons, glass jewels, and a cloth map for a game board, as well as more interesting rules, and the whole thing came in a velvet-lined, wooden "treasure chest" case. I did think this game was a neat idea, though, and certainly cheaper than the one we have now!

Please read before posting.

Cheaper? (2.50 / 2) (#11)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 02:49:08 PM EST

Well, I guess if you restrain yourself. I think of them as $3.99 crack rocks.

[ Parent ]
Well (none / 0) (#29)
by codejack on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:05:14 PM EST

The Dread Pirate game is $90, so I guess it depends on how many packs of the other you buy.

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
which game? (none / 1) (#13)
by CAIMLAS on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:10:58 PM EST

What's the name of the game you got for Christmas?

Inquiring minds want to know. :) Sounds like a little bit more fun.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.
[ Parent ]

"The Dread Pirate" (none / 0) (#22)
by codejack on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 05:33:56 PM EST

You can find it here.

I don't know if I would call it more fun, but it is definitely better organized, with everything being in a case, etc.

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
Organization (none / 0) (#39)
by jolly st nick on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 09:13:13 AM EST

Well, if you have three or four packs worth of ships, organization isn't a huge problem, but if you have a box with piles and piles of ships, cards, crew, and the inevitable orphan mast, then getting a Pirates game off the ground can take forever.

After I reached that point, I settled on several divided snap cases from Home Depot that are designed for small parts. I sort the ships by nationality and point cost, putting the ship and card together into the same divider. Two to five ships will fit in each divider section, although unusal vessels I try to put into their own section.

This speeds up the start of the game, because it elimiantes hunting for the ship that goes with the card and vice versa.

[ Parent ]

Complex Strategies (none / 1) (#9)
by TheWake on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 02:34:57 PM EST

I have been playing this game with my kids for several months now. There are usually counters to all the "overpowered" ships. The game is deceptively simple, yet there are plenty of things to do to an enemy fleet.

For example: If you have a Jarvis, the much feared Dreadnought is rendered useless, since the Jarvis can not be hit by the long range guns of the Dreadnought. There are other ships that have this ability, as well. Also most of the slower, larger gunships are forced to withdraw if they are hit by a firepot specialist. Run for home, or face the real possibility of being scuttled.

I would also like to say that it seems your daughter is the only one who plays to win as the victory conditions are simply, "She who has the most gold at the end wins". She would probably like to have La Santa Isabel in her fleet.

If you find a local hobby gaming store, there should be more sets available there, as WizKids releases the sets to the mass market stores one release later. You seem to only have access to Pirates of The Revolution (PoTR). This week (Feb. 22, 2006) Pirates of the South China Seas (PoSCS) will be in the hobby retailers, while Pirates of the Barbary Coast (PoBC) will go to the mass market chains.

Each of the newer sets seems to have a different play style that works best. PoTR was a good set for fast ships and running trasure. PoBC seems good at ramming/stealing treasure with faster ships and galleys. PoSCS will introduce Junks and Turtle Ships which will lead to more stylistic changes. There should be more cannon blasting combat from the looks of things in the previews.

Actually (none / 1) (#10)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 02:47:16 PM EST

it is true that our candy store only has "Revolution", but we do make regular trips to "Pandemonium", the Harvard Square sci-fi bookshop. They carry the complete line, and I do have a few "Crimson Coast" and "Spanish Main" ships. However, I'm sticking to "Revolution" until I get my Constitution, dammit.

You don't need any special abilities to defeat the big ships; you just need tactics. Three eight point ships are more than enough match for a sixteen pointer. But a seven year old has the ultimate weapon: weeping. You don't destroy a seven year old's fantasy of invulnerability with impunity. So I avoid anything so craven as tactics when dealing with his super-ships. I get my business done and get out of the way. Usually that means chasing down my piratical daughter; and since they gang up on me, my son gets plenty of action, just with less treasured ships. It's charming to see my gallant son come to his nefarious sister's rescue.

You're right about the firepot specialist. It realy tips the balance against the big ships. I haven't used one yet, but I think we may make a house rule that gives them a fighting chance, e.g. a saving throw if you have a shipwright.

[ Parent ]

Abilities (none / 0) (#15)
by TheWake on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:51:06 PM EST

The big ships are very fairly balanced against a few smaller ships, but there is always the dilema that a large ship carries too large a fraction of your available points. The beter ideas usually involve more smaller ships. However the abilities do cost points too. You can see that it is factored into the cost of the pieces.

We do have a few players down this way that are very serious about winning, and they do NOT use firepot specialists often at all. They are not as powerful as they seem. Remember that all they can do is sink ships rather than add to your gold total. Anything that adds actions to your fleet is more valuable for the game. Get yourself an Enterprise.

[ Parent ]

Sounds interesting, but... (none / 1) (#12)
by CAIMLAS on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:06:55 PM EST

This game sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, however, I've got one concern.

You say a single "pack" of cards is $4, and that the pack actually consists of just plastic punch-out ships. My question is: how many ships come in each pack? If it's just two, that's pretty damn expensive for what you're getting when you consider that the game probably doesn't start getting fun until you've got at least several ships per player.

So, my question is: how many decks of cards does it take to establish a decently playable game, for adults? Four packs ($16)? Fourteen packs ($56)?

At those prices, I'd actually prefer to buy the Mechwarrior figurines; at least they don't break as easily and are readily available on ebay for less. Fifty dollars gets you very thoroughly into the game.

So, in essence, is this a game which is mainly fun to play with your kids? Is it complex enough to sit down and play for an evening with the wife at a marginal investment (under $30) without it getting boring?

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

Well (none / 1) (#16)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:51:37 PM EST

in each pack you get two ships (or a ship and a fort), one card with treasure and crew, one terrain piece, and a tiny six sided die about 6mm on a side.

For a decent game, it depends on your definition of "decent". One pack is plenty just to get a feel for whether you like it or not. Two packs gives you each the ability to control multiple ships.

From a gameplay standpoint I'd say there's a considerable increment in fun going from 1 pack ->2, 2->3, and 3->4, with the marginal improvement dropping as you go along. For two players, four packs allow you to control four ships apiece (more or less, sometimes you get a fort instead of a ship). So I'd say 3 or 4 packs if you want to try a serious game. Games with more than a dozen ships are slow unless you're uncommonly fast players, so in no case would I recommend anybody buy six packs just to learn to play, much less fourteen.

To summarize:

1/$4: enough to see whether you like the concept.

3/$12: minimum needed for official tournament style play, as you need three islands: a home for each player and a wild island where treasure will be hidden. Of course, nobody says you need to use the islands that come in the box; sometimes we play with each side of the table being a "continent".

4/$16: ideal two person starting point. Use all the islands as wild (treasure) islands though.

Beyond that, you only "need" to buy more packs because you are interest in collecting, either because you're looking for a particular ship or because you're interested in building a certain kind of fleet.

Most people are more likely to pick up a pack now and then on a whim, unless or until the fleet construction bug bites them. However as I've noted you can't really run a very large and complex fleet. It's expensive to collect -- as I said elswhere, I think of them as $3.99 crack rocks. But you make each purchase decision using your own incremental hedonic calculus. Will I get four bucks of fun out of the next pack? It's up to you.

Wiz Kids understands what Steve Jobs knows: it's easy to spend serious money if the marginal cost is a pittance. If you are going to spend around $60 bucks for fourteen packs, you can buy an entire retail display of 36 packs off the Internet for under $100, saving about 1/3 off retail (not counting tax). However, this reaches the "capital expenditure" level in my family, and my wife'd skin me alive. Plus, if I didn't get my Constitution, I'd probably have a stroke. No, it's not worth it.

You can buy singles off the Internet, if you're looking for a particular ship. Since I like small ships, this would technically be a bargain for me, since the small common ships are typically sold at less than the cost of a single pack. The Roanoke last time I checked, was being offered at $29 -- clearly targetted at collectors, as there is nothing remarkable about that ship tactically. However, that is too planned for me.

No, $4 bucks every week or two, while over the course of a year is a bundle of money on a game, fits with that hedonic calculus I mentioned. I can stop any time I want to.

[ Parent ]

Game play and cost (none / 0) (#19)
by TheWake on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 04:16:16 PM EST

The game packs come with 2 ships or 1 ship and 1 fort, two crew and treasure cards, a cardboard island/terrain card, rules and a die so small it is nearly useless.

You can play the full game with two people at 6 packs total ($24) and be able to add terrain at about 12 total ($48). To play with a whole family you would probably need to spend more. I purchased a box of booster packs (36) locally for about $90.00+tax when the Pirates of the Barbary Coast set was released. That was more than we would ever need from this set. Unless you are a collector and want all of them that should be more than enough. If you have a family set of "cards" then you would need fewer, but as kids are, my son wanted his own, so we have two separate collections.

We play on a regular basis with 3 packs and relaxed ship/crew nationality rules at the local game store. This would be a good starting point as the full game requires 3 islands per player (but can be substituted for if you do not have enough).

Yes you can play this game with adults. It was designed as a "Beer and Pretzels" type game where it is simple enough to learn quickly, but complex enough for adults to play each other.

[ Parent ]

Cost, Trading, Playing (none / 0) (#68)
by claud9999 on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 01:49:24 PM EST

Check ePay for whole boxes at around $70-80US BIN (half retail.) Or, as someone else mentioned, Rocketmen is a similar game and whole boxes can be had for $35-40. 36 packs is a LOT of ships, but not a complete set by any means.

In the wargame world, these costs are tiny. Most wargamers spend hundreds on figures.

Anyone interested in trading? I'm close to a complete set or two and have cards to trade/sell. See my list of ccg cards to trade and send e-mail .

For some reason, the game is available at just about every game store (plus Toys-r-Us) but the local stores and local cons have had no events. (Local == San Jose, CA area.) What's with that? Tons of events and quite a few cons, most of which are the expensive figure-based wargames.

[ Parent ]

Yikes, spam ahoy! (none / 0) (#79)
by claud9999 on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 12:36:54 PM EST

I've been getting FLOODS of Japanese spam. Kinda bizarre. I shouldn't have put in a link to my e-mail address in a kuro5hin comment. Luckily, I run my own domain and ANYTHING to accessoft.org goes to me. I will now blackhole everything to kuro5hin@accessoft.org, so if you wish to trade with me, be creative in your choice of e-mail addresses. Also, I would recommend using something like cknight-somethingorother @ accessoft. Note, I don't use kuro5hin's private messaging or anything so direct e-mail is strongly encouraged.

[ Parent ]
Playing Surface (none / 0) (#14)
by theNote on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:24:18 PM EST

I know I could probably get this info off the site, but unfortunately I'm stuck behind a websense proxy:

What is the playing surface? I did find a picture on the net of a largish rather nice looking watery mat with islands, but I'm not sure if thats it. Is it included in the pack of cards?

Well, it's ingenious (none / 0) (#17)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 04:05:29 PM EST

The playing surface is any table.

The cards the ships come on are used as measuring devices. The short sides are called "S" and the long sides, "L". Cannon come in two ranges: S and L, with varying accuracy of course. You measure the distance to target by putting one end of a card on top of the center of mast, and seeing whether the S or L side reaches without crossing your own masts, other ships, or any part of an island.

Ship speeds usually come in S, L, S+S, S+L,L+L, and S+S+S. The rules say you measure movement from the point where the bow touches the table, although it doesn't matter so long as your consistent. The rules are not, frankly speaking, that well written, and there are many confusing and unclear points. However, as we aren't tournament players, we don't care, and interpret them as we like.

[ Parent ]

Ahh, ok (none / 0) (#18)
by theNote on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 04:09:36 PM EST

Thanks, I was wondering how you figured out movement without some sort of grid, but that makes sense. Very cool.

[ Parent ]
Cool (none / 0) (#32)
by LodeRunner on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 02:10:45 AM EST

This should have been in the article. Helped a lot to picture the game in my mind, thanks.

"dude, you can't even spell your own name" -- Lode Runner
[ Parent ]

One important detail which I forgot (none / 1) (#20)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 05:02:02 PM EST

the ships are not exactly fragile, except for one thing: when you insert a mast into its slot, it can sometimes fracture. This is particularly true of tall, elaborately shaped square rigged sails, which have numerous stress points. The instructions note this, and tell you to be sure to grasp the mast close to the tab when you insert it.

The problem isn't all user error, however. The cards are plastic laminated over a foam core; the exact dimensions of the slot are not exact as if they'd been made from a less flexible material. Nor is the manufacturing process perfect. There's definitely differences between the different series of cards. The earliest, Spanish Main series seems to be the worst, Crimson Coast seems to be the best, with Revolution coming in between. I haven't done enough of the Barbary Coast to be sure, but so far no problems.

Since I play mainly with my kids, and young fingers find these ships irresistable, more than once I've found a new ship whisked away, then anonymously returned with a broken sail, which has provided "teachable moments" about honesty, responsiblity and trusting your parents.

Here are few hints.

(1) Grasp the mast near the base like the instructions say.

(2) Check the tab against the slot. Even if they look identical, most of the time the slot size is keyed to the individual mast. Inserting a short tab in a long slot is OK, but vice versa is a certain broken mast.

(3) Insert a corner of the tab and gently rock the mast into place. If it doesn't go in, check step 2 again, then go to 4.

(4) If the mast still doesn't go in, take a paring knife and gently insert it into the slot. IThen rock the knife gently back and forth a few times to slightly crush the foam along the sides of the slot. You don't want to do any cutting of the slot ends.

(5) For really stubborn cases, I take a pair of needle nose pliers and gently crush just the leading edge of the insertion tab. Don't do the entire tab as the mast will sit too loose and fall out by itself.

Extreme care only has to be taken the first time you insert the mast. After that, just make sure you have the right slot and are holding near the base. Following this procedure, I never break any masts myself; however if you have kids, you will have broken masts. At $3.99 a pack, it makes no sense to throw away a ship because it's got a broken mast. I fix broken sails by epoxying a section of toothpick along the line of the mast. The result looks and works fine.

YUO SUNK MY BATTLESHIP (1.33 / 3) (#21)
by nvb on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 05:31:25 PM EST

I'm smarter than the average bear.

"...Best three out of five?" (none / 0) (#43)
by gidds on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 04:50:08 PM EST

[ Parent ]

How To Cheat (none / 0) (#24)
by rlazur on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 06:15:54 PM EST

WizKids make one small mistake with Pirates boxes that it has not with newer card games. The bottom 4 packs of an unsorted box will contain rare packs. Yes. It's that easy.

What's amazing is that upon telling a friend of mine this he wanted to immediately drive to Target/WalMart to dive into boxes. Interestingly this came from the mouth of a minister-in-training of the Methodist church. Though human nature is not suprising as it is pretty much every man for himself in Collectable Card Game (CCG). The competitive mentality and paying for the best cards is what makes CCGs and some collectable games pathetic in my opinion.

The game is fun. Gather up some friends, buy a pack or two each, and then play a game using only those packs. That should prevent any mischief in the collection process while promoting strategy.

OK (none / 0) (#37)
by jolly st nick on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 08:55:55 AM EST

Next time I'm in the store, I'll buy the four bottom most packs. But if I don't get the Constitution I'll have a stroke and my blood will be on your hands.

[ Parent ]
Nitpicks (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by jd on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:16:23 PM EST

  1. This wasn't posted on International Talk Like A Pirate Day
  2. It's not even written in Pirate
  3. Advanced Squad Leader is more fun - but your brain explodes on impact with the rulebook

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!! nt (none / 1) (#33)
by circletimessquare on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 02:22:23 AM EST

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
What you need to get started (none / 0) (#36)
by jolly st nick on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 08:54:12 AM EST

CAIMLAS had a good question below, which amounted to this: what do you really need to get started?

According to the pack, there's a "complete game" in every pack. This is not strictly true; there is a game you can play, but it's not the full game. It's just enough for you to figure out how the full game is supposed to work. This should be enough to decide whether or not you're interested in spending more money on the game, so I guess it's a good deal.

The smallest number of packs you need to play a "complete" game is three, but I stress that is minimal. Four packs ($16) is an ideal starting place for a two beginners playing from a 30 point build total start.

My recommendation is that if you are just idly curious, by all means pick up only one pack ($4). If you'd like to play the game "for real", get four packs ($16).

Don't get much more than four packs at first because you'll end up spending too much time trying to figure out how to build your fleet rather than playing. After you've played a few full two person games, then it's up to you. You can buy one or two packs every now and then when you're in town, and it won't take long for you to have more options than you can play at a single time.

Target has a starter pack for $9.99 (none / 0) (#47)
by Adam Rightmann on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:28:50 AM EST

containing 7 ships/forts, three crew/treasure cards and two island/terrain cards.

[ Parent ]
is that in a tin? (none / 0) (#76)
by gandalf23 on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 01:51:07 PM EST

I got a pack like that in a tin for Christmas, very cool. It'd be a great way to start out.

[ Parent ]
No, just a cheap thin cardboard box (none / 0) (#77)
by Adam Rightmann on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 04:23:23 PM EST

with one preassembled, not on the lineup card ship, and the rest unpunched. It seems like the most inexpensive way to get started.

[ Parent ]
add 3d islands! (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by gandalf23 on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 04:00:24 PM EST

We made 3d islands for our games. Pretty easy to do. Might be a fun family project.

Get a 1/4 or 1/2 inch pink hard styrofoam insulation 4 foot by 8 foot sheet from Home Depot or the DIY store of your choice. @$10

Get a @$5 foam cutter from Hobby Lobby.

Mark out the shapes to cut out with a marker, then cut them out with the foam cutter. Or use a sharp blade.

Cover the island in Elmers glue, then sprinkle sand all over it. We use cheap playground sand and some left over aquarium sand/rocks.

Cover the island with a thin layer of Elmers thinned with water. Make sure all the exposed styrofoam is covered and you can now spray paint it. Otherwise the spray paint will eat the foam, which looks cool for volcanos, but not so cool for other islands. Also it smells bad. Oh yeah, do all this in a well ventilated area :)

Or you can paint the island with the cheap acrylic (?) paint that comes in little bottles at walmart for $0.44 or $0.88.

The end result is pretty fun to play with, and not very expensive. If y'all use forts, make sure to leave a flatish area on the island that a fort will fit on, most of our islands were made before forts were available.

We made a few "special" islands, a volcano that randomly errupts and does damage to ships within 2L of it, and Skull Island, which is loaded down with treasure, but surrounded by fog banks (making it difficult to get in and out of). We also occasionally have a giant squid (rubbery one found at a dollar store) that moves about the board randomly (it's placed on a fog bank card, and it moves 2L in the direction the dice rolls) and attacks any ship within a L.

I notice from the link you play 90 point fleets (none / 0) (#48)
by jolly st nick on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 11:57:31 AM EST

How many players? I'd think that with three player /270 point total the game could get slow, unless a lot of that total was crew.

As I consider the inevitable arms race in my household, I've considered a per player mast count limit. Either that or tweaking the turn structure so nobody has to wait too long to play.

[ Parent ]

players (none / 1) (#75)
by gandalf23 on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 01:50:05 PM EST

We have a minimum of three players.

I think the most we've played is 90ish point count. At first we played 40/50/60/90 point counts so that whoever had the least amount of ships could use them all, so they didn't feel disadvantaged by those of us who went out and blew $50+ on the game. But lately, with more players, we've brought it back down to 50 points, or thereabouts.

The last time we played was New Years-ish, we had 8 players and it was a 50 point game. Most players had two or maybe three ships and some crew. I had four pirates and a french ship, with no crew. :)

To help speed things up, at the begining, for at least the first two turns, everyone kinda moves at once, since we start off far enough away from each other that it usually takes two or more turns to come into contact.

We haven't instituted a mast count yet. Hasn't been a problem. Of course our game time averages an hour or more :) (and our Axis & Allies are averaging four hours![supposed to be 30 minutes!])

[ Parent ]

Obtaining resources (none / 0) (#42)
by gandalf23 on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 04:18:21 PM EST

You might want to look at one of WizKids other collectible games, Rocketmen.

You mine resources and can use them to build more ships. You have the ships you start with, and then a few reserve ships that you can build. They just came out with a expansion for it, which is supposed to adress some of the issues the game had.

Our local comic shop was selling Rocketmen for $2 a pack, so I gave a lot for stocking stuffers.

But then we found Axis & Allies miniatures, and have been stuck playing WWII ever since. :)

Looks like fun, can't keep up with MTG (none / 1) (#44)
by coljac on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 06:59:36 PM EST

Thanks for the review. Perfectly at home on k5 and very welcome.

I used to love Magic: the Gathering. I agree with your assessment of the game, it's very clever. However, living the life of a responsible adult, as I try to, I can't keep up with it. So many cards and strategies, big investment of time and expense. I pumped a lot of dollars into MTG: Online - but somehow paying $3.50 for a booster of virtual cards with no cost to produce made me uneasy. :)

I could use a new game though, something I can pick up and play quickly with a friend. I'll trust you - I bid on a booster box of PSM on eBay. I'll try this on my girlfriend - she's not a Gamer gamer but doesn't mind the odd friendly game of something.

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey

No doubt Wiz Kids would like this to be like Magic (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by jolly st nick on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:04:01 AM EST

The game, by design I think, bridges the kind of people who play Magic and those more likely to stick to Monopoloy. It has the elements of the more complicated games, but the gist can be picked up almost as quickly as a typical board game.

That said, the game is a big hit for Wiz Kids, and understandably they're milking it for all they can, introducing new card series with rules complications and new special abilties. I don't think this is all that wonderful for the game, whose strength is that it's simple enough that you can play it with somebody who is likely to look at MTG and wonder why anybody would spend so much time at a mere game. And in the end this game will never inspire the obsession that MTG does, because the complexity of play limits fleet size and design in the way that doesn't exist in MTG where decks of practically arbitrary complexity can be constructed. On the other hand, there's a spatial dimension to the play which compensates for this limitation.

What I'm trying to say here is that the various rule complications and special abilties don't add much to the game for a player that is just starting out. This is true even of the earliest and simplest version of the game in the Spanish Main series. If a keyword or rule looks a bit complicated to deal with, just ignore it. Those elements are there to add interest to the game after you've got a grasp of it.

[ Parent ]

Expansions (none / 0) (#50)
by coljac on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 07:09:31 PM EST

Thanks for the extra info. Did youy ever play Settlers of Catan? A decent family game in its simplicity, ruined with terrible expansions.

I'm bidding on a booster box of Spanish Main. Can you give some guidance with regard to the various Pirates expansions - what's newer, which ones are worth getting, how they complicate the game?

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]

Pirates Lines (none / 1) (#51)
by TheWake on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 09:15:19 AM EST

The pirates game has had several expansions. In order of release, with highlights they are:
  1. Spanish Main - Pirates, English, Spanish Original Set
  2. Crimson Coast - Adds French nationality, Terrain (Fog, Reef, Sargasso Seas), Forts, Schooners
  3. Revolution - Adds American nationality, Fire, Events
  4. Barbary Coast - Adds Barbary Corsair nationality, Galleys, No Pirates, No Forts.
  5. South China Seas - Adds Jade Revolution nationality, Junks, Turtle Ships, Pirates return.
The Corairs and Jade Revolution should only be in a single set, so if those are the ship types you are looking for then you are stuck with one set.

So far the game really hasn't gotten any more complicated since the revolution set. The theme changes, and the ship types did, but the play did not get any more complicated. The Barbary Coast set was actually simpler as the forts and events are removed.

The Barbary and South China Seas ships look better than the older sets.

So far my favorite set is the Revolution set, however we are just getting into the South China Seas set.

[ Parent ]

Haven't seen the South China Seas (none / 0) (#52)
by jolly st nick on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 09:46:30 AM EST

But the Barbary Corsair ships are indeed handsome. Personally, I prefer ships that bear historical names and approximate their namesakes.

[ Parent ]
Historical approximations (none / 0) (#53)
by TheWake on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 10:56:30 AM EST

At some point the game play must take precidence over historical accuracy, unless you are writing a simulation game. However I would like those pieces that do have historical ties to be reasonable approximations to the actual history. I figure there were plenty of ships with no historical significance (so no record of any specifics) to base most of the game upon. These are the bulk of the pieces represented in this game, so I am blissfully ignorant of most of the inaccuracies.

[ Parent ]
So many little ships (none / 0) (#56)
by coljac on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 04:20:31 PM EST

Thanks for the info. I won a box of Spanish Main boosters on ebay, so I'll let you know how I get on. From the web, the South China Seas ships look really cool.

It looks like it would be fun to make some nice looking islands. I have a friend who is good at making Werhammer scenery. Perhaps he can make some islands.

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]

There are commercially-made islands (none / 0) (#78)
by claud9999 on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 06:48:18 PM EST

Made out of rosin, they're well designed and detailed and are specifically licensed. 'course, getting someone to make some for you would be even more fun, but for $30 you can have your own set. (Two sets available, $30 each.)

[ Parent ]
Mixing? (none / 1) (#66)
by coljac on Sun Feb 26, 2006 at 06:52:49 PM EST

One more question. (Writing an article for k5 is a big responsibility). Are the sets designed to be mixed in the games? Are the new expansions backwards compatible - are PotSM ships still useful under say Revolution rules?

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 1) (#67)
by rlazur on Sun Feb 26, 2006 at 07:10:16 PM EST

Unless a specific rule in one set has been modified in a newer set. Even the special "Whitebeard" and Sleigh cards are completely legal to use.

[ Parent ]
MTG = Cardboard Crack (none / 0) (#49)
by Murkey on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 03:36:33 PM EST

Having got into CCGs from Pokemon as an eager 11 year old, I moved on to MTG for a while, but trailed off as I found the game to be too expensive to continue. I still play online sometimes, but only with a free version called Magic Workstation. I'll definitely give this a go if I see it around.

[ Parent ]
Update (none / 0) (#62)
by coljac on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 04:56:20 PM EST

I did try it on my girlfriend, who thought it was cool buy got pissed off when I sunk one of her ships. Heh.

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]
Large Scale PotSM (none / 0) (#54)
by TheWake on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 10:58:58 AM EST

Pirates being played in Minnesota

Holy cow (none / 1) (#55)
by jolly st nick on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 12:57:42 PM EST

If Wiz Kids didn't provide the toys, somebody has a lot of time on their hands; like the people who make themselves suits of chain armor.

[ Parent ]
Great article (none / 0) (#57)
by siberian on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 11:05:25 PM EST

As a new parent this strikes me as just the sort of thing to spend a Friday night on. of course, my 5 month old needs to learn to read but still! Good one, I appreciate it.

There is only one game company worth speaking of.. (none / 1) (#58)
by Nyarlathotep on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 09:41:07 AM EST

..and they are called Cheap Ass Games.  Pick up Kill Dr. Lucky for a couple bucks and forget your silly ships.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
Alien Menace (none / 0) (#70)
by TheWake on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 03:58:05 PM EST

My favorite low buck game company is Alien Menace if only for Sucking Vacuum.

[ Parent ]
I have two boxes worth of unpunched ships (none / 0) (#59)
by Mylakovich on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 09:48:25 AM EST

...if anyone wants them.

Two boxes???? (none / 0) (#61)
by reggie452 on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 01:37:57 PM EST

Who would I have to kill in order to get those?

[ Parent ]
Thanks. I think. (none / 1) (#60)
by reggie452 on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 01:36:40 PM EST

After reading your post, I immediately ran down to my local Target and bought a few packs of "Pirates of The Revolution." Opening those packs really took me back to my baseball card-collecting days. The very next day, I used a left-over amazon.com gift card to order a couple of gift tins. I've always loved board games, and this one is brilliantly designed. My wife and I can't wait for the amazon package to arrive so that we can try it out. Thanks for taking the time to write up this post about your experiences with this game. I think it's a great concept, and I've been telling a lot of people here at work about it. You've given all of us a new addiction. So even though our wallets are cursing your name, me and my friends thank you.

Ambiguous Rules (3.00 / 2) (#63)
by coljac on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 05:04:53 PM EST

Given that pirates is a miniatures game and a CCG, I've found the rules are a bit ambiguous. There aren't any more detailed rules than the ones that come in the packs, but they don't cover some basic things. For example: At what angle can a ship turn between moves? When do you need to "come about"? Can you move less than a segment's distance? Can you fire your cannons one at a time and stop when you acheive the desired result?

I think from poking around the web I've gotten answers to these questions, but I'm surprised there aren't tournament-level rules somewhere. That's one thing about M:TG - the complete rules are superbly written to cover all eventualities. Compare, say, with the rules for Warhammer Fantasy Battles, which are ambiguous, contradictory, and omit utterly basic questions.

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey

Agreed (none / 0) (#64)
by rlazur on Sat Feb 25, 2006 at 12:08:12 AM EST

WizKids removed "come about" in PotBC, and this returns to the confusion of turning angles. This is especially true when thinking about the start of the game. What is the point of having all ships point their bows into the island? I have played several house rules including one where we just all turned our ships around on the first turn. Wouldn't the speed of the game increase just by removing one pointless turn? It seems like those who don't think about it will get screwed. Smart pirates will place the ships at a convenient angle to "skip" off their home island towards another.

[ Parent ]
Newbies: Moving the ship (none / 0) (#65)
by coljac on Sun Feb 26, 2006 at 02:46:26 AM EST

I felt the most basic question of the game wasn't addressed in the rules - how to I move the ship around? If anyone else is suckered into trying this game - ;) - check out:

How far can I turn? and note that a move is a legal move if the end of the move is legal. The "come about" rule has since been deprecated.

Duplicate ships, named crew or unique treasure are generally disallowed - in the latest FAQ but not earlier ones.

You can shoot your cannons in any order and stop when you are satisfied with the result.

House rules are actively encouraged...

Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]

Yes, you're right (none / 0) (#73)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 06:00:00 PM EST

but it doesn't matteer, in the end. Our house rule pretty much amounts to allowing a 90 degree heading change at the start of a move segment. Thus a ship that moves a single S or L can turn up to 90 then move that S or L; if you have and S+S, you can turn 90, moves S, then turn 90.

[ Parent ]
how to store constructed ships? (none / 1) (#69)
by claud9999 on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 01:52:13 PM EST

How do you players store your constructed ships? The unpunched ships are easily handled by standard card storage (cardboard boxes for me.) But once I punch a ship out, I want to store it punched, pref. with the cards from where it came so that I can quickly find the stats and get to playing. I've yet to find an elegant storage mechanism. I'm thinking a plastic organizer with 2.5"x3.5"x2+" bins would be perfect, but I haven't seen these anywhere. Links would be appreciated.

Storage (3.00 / 2) (#71)
by TheWake on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 04:05:57 PM EST

You can always snap the ships back into the cards. If not get any one of a number of small parts/small tool boxes from the local hardware store. I use one of these: 10 Compartment Organizer. I bought it at Lowes for about $15. The compartments come out and the cards can be stored vertically inside the compartments as well.

[ Parent ]
Plastic organizer/snap case (3.00 / 2) (#72)
by jolly st nick on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 05:55:30 PM EST

Home Depot sells a large snap case for <$10. This solves an important problem by the way; it takes foreveer to sort out all your ships and match them to your cards. <p> I sort mine by nationality/point cost, tossing the crew into a separate compartment.

[ Parent ]
plano brand tackle boxes (none / 1) (#74)
by gandalf23 on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 01:31:46 PM EST

Once I build the ship I leave it built. For storage I use large tackle boxes, made by Plano, I think the number is 5370? Maybe 5730? They should be available at your local sporting goods store, or perhaps Walmart. The box is tall enough so that the highest mast will still fit inside. I took a four master with me to the store the first time, to make sure it'd fit :) The boxes run less than $10, I also use the same sized ones to hold Star Wars miniature battles figures, Mechwarrior pieces, and Axis & Allies miniatures pieces.

[ Parent ]
The BEST board game ever! (none / 0) (#80)
by ylikone on Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 11:20:43 AM EST

is called HEROSCAPE! I normally hate board games, but I got this one as one to try out with my young son and the game is super addicting!

Check out http://heroscapehq.com for a huge community of players.

Mixing "expansion" packs (none / 0) (#81)
by kuhntar on Tue May 16, 2006 at 03:17:13 AM EST

I have not played yet but I have ordered 4 packs from each set. I know as far as house rules go I can do whatever I want but I was curious if in Tourney rules there was something that would prohibit you from using cards from the entire game set. Kinda the way MTG had ver 1, 1.5, and 2.

Pirates: A Constructible Card Game | 81 comments (63 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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