Sunday, December 30, 2007

I play a new game

Can you believe it? I do occasionally play a new-to-me game. Last night, I played B&L's copy of Pirate King (BGG, BUY ME!), about which I had only heard a very few things.

Short story? Pirate King is quite a bit like Monopoly (actually) where you have a relatively huge degree of control over your motion around the board and can fight the other players with a mini dicefest instead of paying rent. The components are all right, and evidently much improved in the second printing, but still have a hodgepodge unrefined feel. The art is great fun, but the game is ultimately just okay; better for the right crowd or the right mood, but far from awesome.

Long story: You've got your pirate ship sailing around the Caribbean, trying to buy island properties for the docking fees (rent) and make smuggling deliveries for income. Eventually, you fortify all your properties to the point where you have enough victory points to win. Alternatively, you go and kick the Commodore's ass, who has more cannon and crew than you'll ever have, for an instant victory. You have a few other ways to get points and income with Great Treasures (powers) and cards, but that's the game in a nutshell.

Movement is simultaneously clever in its design and aggravating in its execution. You just don't roll and move, mostly. First you drop a marker on a nearby space where you want to go- say, on the Free Parking Buried Treasure spot and not on the heavily built-up Boardwalk Tortuga. Then you roll a d12 and consult a chart to see if you made it- otherwise the wind is better or worse, and you can find yourself up to four places away from your marker and your desired destination. This isn't so bad for the smuggling deliveries, since you can do a drive-by with a bonus if you land on your target exactly. I do wish they would've spent their production budget on a custom die for the single most used mechanic in the game or opted for a d4 and a Fudge die (with its pluses and minuses). Same odds, less handling time for a player.

You land on a spot, you can buy it for the capture price on the chart if you're the first one there. This means a colored flag and a token to show the level for that property. If someone else owns it, you have to pay up the rent Docking Fee based on the location and how many houses and hotels its level of fortification. The way to get victory points is primarily through castles, so it's in your interest to build up as much as possible all the time. There's no penalty to mortgage reduce a place's fortifications if you need cash.

Speaking of money- it's colored glass beads in different denominations and plastic coins for the cheapest denomination kept hidden in a plastic treasure chest. Cute, but potentially a dealbreaker for the colorblind as well as a learning curve to remember how many rubies there are in a diamond.

If you don't want to pay rent, you can opt to fight instead and hopefully take over the settlement. Roll dice per number of cannon; high number kills a crewman. Not enough crew to man your cannon, you don't get 'em. Enough dead crewmen, you lose and have to pay big. You get crewmen and cannon by making deliveries or simply buying them at a friendly port.

The path around the board is a sort of double figure eight, and you can only change facing in a few situations. Scattered on the board are Community Chest Pirate's Booty and Chance Captain's Log spaces, where you pull a card and do what it says. I like the variety of art on the cards, but again, the components are an issue when facing matters and player colors are too similar in bad lighting (brown, black, beige and white). The first printing had small assembled ships and magnetic cannon; the version I played had hard plastic standees and tokens to keep track of cannon. I feel that a little more effort in the production design here would do wonders- a player aid mat with quick info, pawns with more obvious facing, maybe sliders for ship stats.

That's pretty much the game. As I said before, it's okay. It plays a little too long, but it overall has its ups and downs in terms of fun and tension. You definitely have the moments of excitement when you're waiting for someone to land on your high-rent properties, and it's fun to watch two of the other players duke it out; but you're also fiddling with too many bits and squinting at colors while staring off into the distance while you're cash poor with no prospects. I can't give it high marks, but you can feel the love poured into its creation. You probably know already if you want to play this or not, but: If you like pirates in your beer-and-pretzel games, you should think about playing it or a buddy's copy and give it a whirl. If you're no fan of luck in your games, or hoping for something deeper than the theme, then run far far away.

Finally, let me give a big end-of-the-year thanks to everyone who bought games through my FunAgain affiliate link- I'm going to use that accumulated customer credit next month. The Google money is much less, and the Amazon money is drips and drabs. But hey, ten bucks is ten bucks, right?

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