April 06, 2012

Board Game Capsule: Pirate vs. Pirate

Pirate vs. Pirate @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Max Winter Osterhaus (2010)
2-3 players / 20 minutes / Ages 8+

Out-of-the-Box Games had a welcoming booth with plenty of space and a good number of tables for demos.  Curious to try something new as we wandered in, the boys immediately spotted the cartoony box art of Pirate vs. Pirate all set up and ready to go.  My two boys and my nephew eagerly sat down to a 3-player try while a staff member launched into the rules.

This lightly, pirate-themed, abstract game sort of struck me as a combination of chess and capture the flag.  You begin the game with 6 scurvy, scallywags (nicely molded plastic figures) in your own little corner (think boat) of a unique, triangular board with triangle spaces.  In the center are three silver coins and one gold (all cardboard tokens).  On your turn, you roll two 4-sided dice and then move one of your pirates that many number of triangles.  The object is to run and nab the coins and bring them back to your boat/corner.  If you collect two of the silver coins, or the one gold coin, you win.  Now, don't let the cartoony caricatures fool you.  No, sir, these are blood-thirsty, murdering scoundrels and your opponents are not going to just let you drift in and claim the booty like rowing on a spring-day afternoon with your sweetheart on the lake.  If you roll an exact number of spaces, you can land on an opposing buccaneer and kill him, sending him to Davey Jones' Locker - which is horrible since he hasn't washed his gym shorts in ages.  If the unfortunate soul was carrying a coin, it's now yours.  Yep, in this game, you have to kick some booty to get some booty!  Then again, if it's just blood ye be after, you can always win by the cutlass, instead, and wipe out all of your enemies.  Of course, in that situation, I guess all the treasure lying about would be yours by default, anyway!

As you've probably deduced by the short paragraph of rules - made longer than necessary by bad jokes - this is a simple game.  It is also fairly quick.  Our 3-player, first-time demonstration game took barely 20 minutes.  It does offer some interesting strategy and cost-vs-rewards decision making.  After you have a coin or two in your possession, do you race back to the boat?  Or do you send out more of your men to block or sacrifice himself to take one for the team (I'm pretty sure that's un-thematic!).  An interesting wrinkle to securing loot is that all your pirates begin in your boat.  However, there must be an empty spot, or two, at the back in order to place the treasure.  And there's no jumping over other guys.  Furthermore, you have to roll an exact number to put the booty in your dinghy (okay, I'll stop now).

The challenge becomes protecting your loot while maneuvering for free space and waiting to roll the right number to bring it aboard where it'll be safe.  Plus, you must weigh that balancing act against the need to go after the other players before they can grab their own winning haul.  Even if you're not strictly targeting an opposing pirate for his coinage, you still may want to simply knock off an innocent bystander when advantageous to do so.  After all, they're not so innocent and may be gunning after you next!

I have no doubt that this enjoyable title is an excellent, puzzle-solving exercise for kids in the same manner as Chess, Checkers, or Go.  Yet here, the pirate theme adequately masks its abstractness to be a hair more engaging than those others - at least for kids.  I'm not sure it would appeal to adult, hobby gamers as anything more than a light diversion in the long-run.  There's just not a whole lot terribly memorable about it.  My boys really liked their one play and asked me to buy it, though I did not.  I went ahead and put it on our wish list for now, but not as a high priority.  One, it only suits 2 or 3 players, although admittedly it's quickness could negate that personal drawback.  But also in just knowing my kids, I'm really not convinced it will be a repeated attraction down the road after the dull of the initial shine.  Still, Pirate vs. Pirate is a simple abstract game, short and sweet, that will hone children's basic critical thinking skills in an entertaining fashion because of its theme - a theme of which I've yet to find that one person doesn't like!

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