In 2012 Aardman studios released a charming, stop motion, Claymation style movie called ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’. The premise was that every year the pirates would meet to see who amassed the most fortune and glory over the past 12 months. A series of adventures and miss-adventures ensue for the Pirates involved. Pirates Cove carries the feel of that movie over into a board game.
Pirate’s Cove was released in 2002 by Days of Wonder. I’m actually a bit disappointed that I did not get it back then. I think it would have been a hit with the kids. They enjoy it now but they have missed a few years of sailing the seas in search of fame and fortune.
For the TL;DR version click here.
Opening the Box
Specs on the box:
Ages 8+ (I think you can easily go with kids that are slightly younger)
60-90 min (it feels a lot quicker than that. Once you are used to the game you can easily play it in under an hour.)
The box contains a fair amount of stuff. Luckily it’s all housed in a really handy insert, but I’d recommend baggies to hold some of the smaller bits just to speed up setup times. For each of the 5 players there’s a player mat, 4 rings to mark the strengths of the different parts of the ship, 1 ship and a score marker. Each player will also get a navigation wheel which is used to choose destination.
There are also a fair amount of cards; Tavern cards which allow the players to do interesting things during that game, kind of like Development Cards in Catan. Treasure cards; which will be used to determine the loot that the players acquire each turn and there are cards for the famous legendary pirates, along with a pair of black ships for them.
What’s a pirate game without loot? There are tokens for gold doubloons and little wooden cubes that represent treasure chests.
Pirate’s cove is a very good looking game. The level of detail on the ships, the board and cards is really good. It’s got that pirate feel, but not in a bad way, which is what makes it feel like Band of Misfits. Even my son commented on how nice it looks setup on the table.
He did however say that they should have made a small line around the wooden cubes so it looked like a lid on a box because it’s the only thing that just looks like a piece of wood. I have to agree, the rest of the game is top notch, the chests feel like an afterthought, but they are better than tokens would have been.
Each player grabs a player mat and navigation wheel, his ship and markers of the colour of his choice and then gets 9 doubloons and a tavern card to start. Then the ships are placed on their starting position. Each of the surrounding islands receives a deck of 12 treasure cards, 1 of each month of the game. Then you place 1-2 legendary pirates, depending on the number of players. The left over gold and treasure chests are placed on Treasure Island.
That’s the setup; my kids setup the game themselves.
At the start of a month the top treasure card on each island is revealed and then the Pirates secretly reveal their choice of destination. Once revealed they sail their ships there to try to collect their loot. So it have a light type of programmed movement. If they moor at an island with another pirate ship, player or legendary, then they have to fight!
Before we get into fighting we need to know what the ships are made of:
- Sails – the more sails you have the faster you are i.e. you get to shoot first
- Crew – you need crew to fire your cannons
- Cannons – your guns, if you have 5 cannons and only 4 crew then you will only fire 4 of them at a time.
- Hull – the larger your hull the more treasure your ship can carry at a time.
So when 2 ships meet you first check which ship is faster, it has the advantage. Before the fight starts each pirate, you can have multiple ships in the same combat, has a chance to play battle cards which last for the entire battle. Then the guns are fired.
Ships take turns to shoot at a target ships in a target location. They roll a number of dice determined by the number of cannons that they can crew. Before rolling they have a chance to play volley cards which will be active for this volley of cannon fire only. A roll of a 5 or a 6 is a hit and the target must move his marker down for each hit. If a ship has any location reduced to zero then it limps off to Pirate’s Cove to repair. Each time a ship limps away the remaining pirates receive fame for chasing him off!
Before a ship fires its cannons it can opt to retreat, however the crew can mutiny against its cowardly captain! This will mean losing precious fame and gold!
After the combats are resolved the comes the looting. The islands are looted in numerical order. Loot can consist of Fame points which are the victory condition for the game, Gold, Treasure chests or Tavern cards. If your turn to loot arrives and that particular item of loot is not available anymore then you don’t get to collect, choose wisely!
After looting is upgrading; each of the outer islands has a speciality. Tavern Island allows you to buy Tavern Cards, Hull Island allows you to strengthen your hull, Cannon Island where you buys more cannons etc. You need to outfit your ship so you can survive tougher fights!
The 2 inner islands are special. Only pirates know of their location and the Royal Navy will never find you there. On Treasure Island you get to bury your treasure chests and gold. This gives you even more fame. Pirates have a secret code to never fight while on Treasure Island but the legendary pirates don’t care for it and will attack whomever they see, so be wary of when you drop off your ill-gotten loot.
Pirates Cove is a sorry place, for damaged ships to repair themselves. The legendary pirates don’t even bother going there and no one who does go there is in any shape to fight. Here you can repair your ship, for a small fee.
After the upgrades are done, the treasure cards that were not looted are discarded and the black ships move to the next island, in a clock wise direction.
Play continues until all of the treasure cards are used up. 12 on each island, so 12 rounds of play. At the end of round 12 the pirate with the most fame is the winner!
Pirate’s Cove is a fun game that appeals to all ages. I often find myself talking like a pirate while playing 😉
There are quite a variety of strategies that you can employ in the game. I found myself enjoying the navigation phase where I used to try to predict everyone elses’ moves and then bluff them into going somewhere else.
My son would get kitted out for war straight away and try to win fame by hunting the legendary pirates. My daughter liked to keep after treasure cards that offered the most fame; sometimes she would switch it up to through us off her scent. Usually my wife would plan to collect the most treasure chests and drop all of them off at once for a late game win.
The combat in the game can be fairly decisive, as it’s not easy to have all 4 sections of your ship upgraded before you run into someone else. It is however not as crushing as combat is in heavier games. You can recover fairly quickly and score yourself some Tavern cards so your whole turn is not a waste.
We really enjoyed playing this game and if your group is not into the more serious combat games but enjoy a lot of interaction with each other, this can work for you. Alternatively if you have kids with a taste for adventure then you will find that they might enjoy this one.
Can I play this at a braai?
With ease, I already have. Ok there was an accident but that was totally my fault.
Thanks to Battle Wizards for the review copy of Pirate’s Cove.