4 Mar

Pirate’s Cove

Filed under: Boardgames No Responses

The board depicts the seven islands that you can visit in the game. The central island with the cove is Pirate’s Cove itself, which you go only when you’re defeated or flee from combat.

A couple of things caused me to ask after Pirate’s Cove at Sean’s place. First was the release of Merchants & Marauders which I’d read was basically a boardgame implementation of Sid Meier’s Pirates! Second was a totally awesome photo of Pirate’s Cove that someone posted on QT3 some years ago. You can see it here. It’s a 3D version of the game that was apparently made by Days of Wonder to display at conventions and special events.

Unfortunately, once we started actually playing the game, it became evident that the components, which even in the normal edition of the game are admittedly quite cool, were more impressive than the rules. That many of the components are just there to look nice and actually play little role in the game simply adds insult to injury. There’s not much in the way of rules, so I might as well go through the whole thing.

As expected, each player in this game is a pirate captain out to make a name for himself by gaining the most Fame Points. Everyone starts out with a ship and a fixed amount of money to upgrade that ship. Each ship is defined by four components and you can see right on the player mat how much it costs to upgrade each of these components from one level to the next. Sails simply determine who gets to act first in combat. Both crew and cannons are used in combat. You simply take the lower of the two values to see how many dice you roll when you attack. Finally hull measures how many treasure cubes you’re allowed to carry.

Shan’s very powerful ship, plus what is easily the best parrot in the game.

The board depicts the seven islands that players can visit. Four of these are where the goodies are spawned by drawing a card for each of them. This may include treasure cubes, tavern cards, cash or even outright Fame Points. Each island also lets you spend cash to upgrade a specific component of your ship. Another one of the islands holds the pub where you can draw tavern cards. These have a very wide variety of effects. The last destination that players can select is the treasure island where players can bring treasure cubes to bury them, converting them into points. The last island is Pirate’s Cove itself which you can only reach by fleeing from combat or when your ship is crippled. It’s sort of like a consolation prize option to allow you to get some money and a tavern card.

The primary mechanic in the game is simultaneous action selection. After revealing the cards that determine which goodies are available at each island, each player uses a dial to secretly select one of the available destinations. You’re then supposed to move your little plastic ships to that island. In practice however, many of us kept forgetting to this as it’s not necessary for gameplay. If you’re the only player on that island, then congratulations, all the booty is yours for the taking. Otherwise, it’s time to fight.

Combat uses regular six-sided with 5s and 6s counting as hits. The ship with the highest Sails rating gets to shoot first and as described rolls dice equal to the lower of its Cannons and Crew ratings. The captain may choose any part of the enemy ship as a target and successes directly reduces the level of the targeted component. Whenever the rating of any component falls below one, the ship is considered crippled and must move to Pirate’s Cove. Alternatively, the captain may elect to flee from combat when it’s his turn to act, though you risk a mutiny in doing so.

The wide variety of tavern cards make an already random game more random.

The game lasts for a fixed number of turns and only Fame Points are worth anything at the end of the game. Some tavern cards are worth Fame Points as well and are revealed at the end. In addition, there are also tavern cards that gives bonuses in combat, allow one component of your ship to absorb more damage and there’s even the parrot cards, which acts as a sort of special component for your ship. One type of tavern card allows you to manipulate the Royal Navy ship which you can use to spoil the plans of your fellow pirates. Another type of neutral unit are the legendary Pirate Captains. You draw one of these from the deck and they stay on the map, moving in a fixed sequence from island to island until they’re defeated, at which point a new one appears. You instantly gain Fame Points if you beat one of them, but they’re so powerful that I doubt many players will try.

I feel that there’s relatively little strategy involved in the game apart from the bluffing game of choosing which island to go for. As always, dice-based combat is always random but in this case, even a single hit or two can determine who comes out on top as the victim’s ratings are reduced immediately before he has a chance to return fire, exacerbating the luck factor. Another source of randomness is the huge variety of tavern cards. Shan won this game and she admitted that it was because every card she drew helped her. She had the best parrot which let her roll six dice in combat until it was killed regardless of the state of her cannons and crew and the best combat card which meant that she could only be hit on a 6.

Overall Pirate’s Cove is a real disappointment. It’s too simple and random to appeal for older gamers while being too cutthroat for kids. A player could easily see his carefully upgraded ship become crippled over the course of a single fight. I tangled with Sean a few time and he always went for the fastest way to cripple me, if he wanted to, he could always take the time to slowly reduce every component of my ship to ruins at little risk to himself. It’s hard to see how anyone could come back from something like that.

Written on March 4 2011 and is filed under Boardgames. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Designed by Gabfire