Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Best Pirate Game

Two of my buddies have a copy of the board game "Merchants & Marauders"...and we have played it a lot over the past couple of months. I think it is the best "pirate themed" game out there - because I really enjoy playing it! This is not a review, pop over to boardgamegeek to read reviews, there are many. This is just a "yeah, buy this and play this" note (and some variant information).

The Box Cover
In the game, you can play as a pirate or a merchant - both are avenues to fun and victory - in fact, over the course of a game, you are likely to be both! Yes, captains do get killed in this game, when they do, you come  back as a different captain and are free to follow whichever path you wish. When your captain is killed, the only thing you retain is the number of Glory Points you have earned and the Gold Coins previously "buried" (which count as more victory points.

There are dice in the game that run combat and other "tests". So there is luck involved, but if you have been successful, you may have things/crew/tools that help you manipulate the dice. In spite of the dice, there is planning in the game and if you sail around haphazardly then you count only on luck and good fortune to accumulate victory points. So, you must plan things out. Also, you must make decisions each turn - after all, you're a merchant, privateer or pirate on the high seas - the choices of action are numerous.

I love the market mechanism for buying and selling goods (of course, you don't have to buy goods, you can take them from merchant ships you plunder). My friends and I play our own variant where when you buy goods, the local market does not offer the type of good that is currently in demand in that market. This means that sometimes you will experience a limited marketplace.

I also appreciate the mechanism for conducting merchant raids. First you have to "scout" to find a potential victim. Then you combat that victim using the cards provided. Your captain's "seamanship" is an important factor here. Of course, raiding merchants earns you bounties and limits your access to certain ports - and draws the attention of naval vessels of the offended nationalities.

Speaking of the naval vessels, the mechanism for introducing and moving the naval vessels (and non-player pirates) is really cool. Sometimes, the seas can be downright dangerous for an enterprising pirate!

If you read posts on various sites, there is a school of thought that it can be harder to begin the game as a pirate and that a good merchant player may be able to get a good start. I don't always agree, it really depends upon the circumstances of the game and how things develop. One thing is certain, that the pirate sloop can be defeated in a merchant raid due to a rating of "1" in a key area. My friends and I came up with a new starting ship type, the "Brig". It does not have a "1" so the initial survivability is increased. However, it is not as maneuverable as a sloop and we have have cases where prey has escaped! Ah, but these are the trade-offs of the decisions we make when playing!

Our Variant Ship
In addition, we have introduced a new pirate captain, none other than Jack Sparrow. This is why you don't drink rum, slip Pirates of the Caribbean into the DVD player and play a pirate board game all at the same time. Jack has some great advantages in certain skill areas, but he is disadvantaged in that he will always have an English bounty on his head - which can cause him some headaches. What Jack is pretty good for in the game is seeking out missions and rumors and earning Glory Points in this manner.

Jack Sparrow
Lastly, one of the two pals I mentioned that has the game helped to design a home-made pirate game that is strikingly similar to this board game. I guess that is another reason this one is so awesome to us, they produced everything we always wanted in a pirate game! Except for one thing: Carousing & Wenching.

Yes, carousing and wenching - the activities of seamen when they hit port after a long voyage and with a pocket of gold. We converted several of our cards from our old game to use in this game - but we wanted to be careful not to upset this game's mechanics. So we built a deck of about 100 cards, the vast majority of which are not too influential on the game. But, there are some cards that are good for you and some that are harmful to you. So, you do take a small risk vs. reward chance when drawing from this deck. Usually, it is not a good strategy to employ too regularly - but is helpful if you're stuck in port because of weather or nearby naval vessels and are looking for a way to spend an action. Below are the two most common cards.

The most common Carousing & Wenching Cards
That's it. A little under the weather today and needed a break from working...

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