Sunday, July 01, 2007


So, Pirates of the Spanish Main, and its' numerous successors.

Some of you may be familiar with this incredibly successful game, others may well be completely in the dark about it, as it often sells through distinctly non-wargamer channels, comic shops and so on. If I mention the phrase 'Collectible game' it may well send a shudder down your spine. Like Axis and allies - War at Sea, this is another game that encourages you to buy, buy, buy!

In it's defence, whereas A&A-W@S requires you invest £20 to start play, and at that point will have a very limited fleet; Pirates... can be tried from a single pack for around £2.50. Of course for that you'll only get a couple of model ships, producing a limited game yet again; but the equivalent investment compared to A&A-W@S will see you with a fair variety of kit and a few features to tinker with.

The typical contents of a single pack, not shown are rules and a tiny die, the human eye cannot see!
I have to say, that whilst not overly complex, played for itself, this is a clever little idea. I've had six games of it now, with a collection of cards I mainly bought last year, and it gives surprising value for money.

The ships themselves are constructed from plastic, die-cut cards; one to three cards per ship, and as you can see in the photo's, can look pretty nice. Some of the earlier galleons suffer from seeming a little two dimensional, but the overall appearance of the full colour cards it quite nice, Personally I'm quite enamoured of the Barbary galleys, with their oars.

The rules are perilously simple, but as with any 'CCG' the rules on individual cards/vessels countermand the core rules. Movement is based on length of the cards themselves (ingenious) and damage to vessels, and its effect on firepower are controlled by removing masts from the ship (damned ingenious!).

Over the last month or so it has been a regular feature for me at the club; having the obvious advantages of pick up play and speed. On Wednesday last I took a couple of shots of a game in action; whilst not ground breaking they will give you a flavour of play.

In this match I was particularly entertained to find that one of my fleet was invulnerable to one of the others cannon fire. Fleets are arranged from a single nations' ships to an agreed value, typically resulting in about three ships and some special crew. The British player went for a fleet of long range guns, thinking bigger was better, but my flagship was immune to long range gunfire - oh how I laughed...

Unfortunately, our tussle in the centre let the American player sweep up the treasure on the islands. Treasure collection either by peaceful exploration of islands or by hostile acts of ship to ship combat, being the aim of the game.

Ever the wargamers one of us soon suggested a variant on play, and a second match saw us with the new objective of destroying enemy fortresses to claim mastery of the sea. Quite aside from using these models with more traditional naval rules, the facility for varying the play of the basic game is quite broad.

It falls into the 'beer and pretzels' end of the market, but Pirates... is a good back up plan for a club gamer to have available when an opponent fails to show up. Also, it's the sort of game that can easily be sold to your non-wargamer types instead of another session of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit at Xmas or after that dinner party; if you do that sort of thing.

Which, I hasten to add, I don't.


  1. Great idea but I've never got on well with the detachable mast thing - too many breaks and then you're buggered.

  2. Apparently superglue is your friend.

    I've had no problem with them so far, but I can imagine that the more ham-fisted gamer may findthe removable masts something of a challenge.