(2015 – Stronghold Games)
If you were guessing that I was going to spout a bit of random, useless knowledge at the beginning of this review, you’re scary intuitive. In 1724, Daniel Defoe penning under the alias, Captain Charles Johnson, wrote and published, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. Containing stories and tales of infamous 18th century pirates, weaving between biographical history and fiction, it’s been the cornerstone of pirate literature and is probably the main influence to how we view and imitate pirates in our culture today.
Why do I mentioned this in a discussion about a board game? No reason, really. I read about it the other day and figured it would be an interesting fact to share while discussing a game with a pirate theme. It is compelling however, that pirates have been such a mainstay in our folklore over the past 300 years. From Treasure Island, to Peter Pan, The Princess Bride, Goonies, Pirates of the Caribbean, video games such as Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and the Monkey Island series, and onto our beloved hobby of board games, with Merchants & Marauders, Libertalia, Rum & Bones, Dead Men Tell No Tales, etc. There’s something that intrigues us about pirates, whether it’s the sense of adventure, the wealth of classic characters, or our fondness for rebellious anarchy.
Piratoons is more about the construction of a pirate ship and unsavory crew than their disorderly exploits. Co-designed by Olivier Gregoire and Thibaut Quintens, Piratoons incorporates elements of drafting, auctioning, and set collection mechanics in a simple, family friendly format. Each player is in charge of building their own pirate ship with the use of Boat and Equipment tiles. These tiles can be won through a time-oriented bidding process and later through an auction. Players will attempt to construct the most efficient ship, one that includes numerous sails, decks, gun ports, portholes, and living quarters. Players will gain and lose Victory Points based on how well or….unwell their ship is equipped. At the end of the game, the player with the most decorated and complete ship wins the game.
– Treasure Chest boards
– Bow & Stern tiles (a set for each player color)
– Crewmembers (a set for each player color)
– Boat tiles
– Equipment tiles (decks, gun ports, portholes, quarters, and sails)
– Gold doubloon tokens
– Victory Point tokens (positive and negative)
– Sand timer
– Summary sheets
At the beginning of the game, the two Treasure Chest boards are placed in the middle of the table, within easy reach of all players. The individual Boat tiles are then shuffled and placed face down, creating a draw stack near the Treasure Chest. During the game, these tiles will appear on the Treasure Chest board, and will be available for players to add as extensions to their pirate ships.
The game includes five different types of Equipment tiles (decks, gun ports, portholes, quarters, and sails). Many Boat tiles will include spaces for players to add various equipment to their ship. At the beginning of the game, all of the Equipment tiles are shuffled together face-down, then divided into eight stacks next to the Treasure Chest, each stack containing six tiles. Players will use one stack for each of the eight rounds.
Each player then selects a set of Bow and Stern tiles, and receive six crewmembers matching the same color. Player will connect the tiles together to create the look of the pirate ship they’ll begin the game with. Each player will also receive three Doubloon coins as currency.
Finally, all other components, including the Victory Point tokens are placed near the play area. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
During the game, players will attempt to expand and furnish their pirate ship with the use of the various Boat tiles and Equipment tiles. As mentioned before, a game of Piratoons lasts 8 Rounds. Each Round consists of a number of phases, including the Supply Phase, the Plundering Phase, the Unemployment Phase, the Loot Phase, the Auction Phase, and the Placement Phase. Let’s take a look at how each of these phases works, beginning with the Supply Phase:
I. The Supply Phase
During the Supply Phase, the Boat tiles and Equipment tiles for the upcoming Round are assembled. The top board of the Treasure Chest consist of three, long rectangle sections for the Boat tiles, and six smaller, square spaces for the Equipment tiles. At the beginning of the Round, the top three Boat tiles are drawn off of the stack and placed face-down (without revealing them) on the corresponding sections of the Treasure Chest. Next, the same are done with the Equipment tiles, using all tiles from one of the eight stacks.
The bottom Treasure Chest board is then placed over these as a cover. The Start player will then slowly flip the Treasure Chest over, laying it down on the table so that the top, “lid” Treasure Chest board is now face up. The lid is left on the Treasure Chest for now, but once it is removed, it will reveal the three Boat tiles and six Equipment tiles available for players during the current Round.
II. The Plundering Phase
Players will now attempt to gain the various Boat and Equipment tiles using a bidding mechanic with their crewmember pieces. At the beginning of the phase, the Start player will turn over the sand timer and quickly lift the top Treasure Chest board, revealing the available tiles. Players can then use one hand (and one hand only) to place a crewmember on a tile. Even though all players place their crewmembers out simultaneously, each player can only have one crewmember in his hand at any one time.
Players will need to be careful not to knock any crewmembers from their placed tiles. If a player accidentally knocks another player’s crewmember off a tile, the crewmember is placed back on the tile, however the player that knocked it off is excluded from the current Round entirely. If however, he’s only knocked his own crewmembers off the tiles, he can continue the phase and Round, however his crewmembers that he knocked off are not returned and not counted during the remaining phases. Players will want to note how may crewmembers of other players are on certain spaces, as we’ll take a look at further in the Loot Phase.
III. The Unemployment Phase
Player do not have to place all of their crewmembers during the Plundering Phase, and are rewarded during the Unemployment Phase for not doing so. For every crewmember that was not placed on a tile (including the one remaining in the player’s hand when the Plundering Phase was ended, if applicable), the player will receive 1 Gold doubloon. These Gold doubloon will be helpful during the Auction Phase.
IV. The Loot Phase
After all unemployed crewmembers have been resolved, players will then resolve the crewmembers on the various Treasure Chest tiles. While a specific tile is awarded to the player with the most crewmembers on it, ties can affect this in a different way. Before awarding tiles, crewmembers that are located on a tile where another player has the same exact crewmembers, are all discarded.
Therefore, if the Blue player has 3 crewmembers on the same tile where the Green player also has 3 crewmembers, all 6 of these crewmembers are removed from the tile, returning them back to their owners. What makes this interesting is that this cancellation can cause a player with only 1 crewmember on the space to win the tile, or it may even cause a case where no one wins it.
After all tied crewmembers have been removed, tiles are awarded to the players with remaining majority. As you can see, this makes for some interesting bidding during the Plundering Phase. If the Blue Player had 1 crewmember on a tile where the Red player had 2, he could either add an additional crewmember to the tile in order to cancel out Red’s majority ownership, or add a 3rd crewmember to gain majority. Of course, the Red player could then add a 3rd himself in order to cancel out Blue’s majority, and the Green player could then swoop in and add 1 to possibly win the tile if Red and Blue end up tied. The perfect time for the Green player to do this would be when the sand timer is empty and he yells “Stop” as soon as he’s place it. It sounds a bit chaotic, but when playing the game it’s quite simple to grasp after a turn or two.
V. The Auction Phase
As we’ve seen with the Loot Phase, it’s very possible that some of the tiles will be left unclaimed. And many times, if a player has accumulated a bit of Gold doubloons, he may purposefully attempt to make sure that certain tiles are left unclaimed. Any tiles remaining in the Treasure Chest after the Loot Phase will be auctioned off during the Auction Phase. At the end of the Auction Phase, any Boat tiles not claimed during the auction are removed from the game, while any Equipment tiles not claimed are removed from the Treasure Chest, but placed outside the chest pieces, in the central play area. These Equipment tiles will come back into play later. Therefore, players will only have one Loot and Auction Phase to claim a Boat tile, while they’ll have multiple opportunities to claim an Equipment tile.
At the beginning of the Auction Phase, all Equipment left over from past Rounds are added to the Treasure Chest. Each player will then secretly place a number of doubloons in his hand (you are allowed to bluff with no doubloons in hand, though you aren’t allowed to win anything), and all players will then simultaneously reveal their hand. Any players who have the same number of doubloons in hand are removed from the auction, though they are allowed to retain their doubloons. All remaining players will then pick a tile, starting with the player who has the most doubloons in hand, then in order to the player with the least. Each player chooses a tile (and only one tile), paying for it with his doubloons in hand. A player that has auctioned doubloons and was not cancelled by a tie, must pay for a tile and take one.
For instance, all four players reveal their hand of doubloons (shown above from left to right). The Blue player has revealed 4, the Red player 2, the Green player 1, and the Yellow player 2. Since the Red player and Yellow player both bid 2 doubloons in hand, they are removed from the auction, though they retain the doubloons.
Since the Blue player has more doubloons (4) than the Green player (1), he’s allowed to pick his tile first. Paying the 4 doubloons he decides to take one of the remaining Boat tiles. The Green player then pays his 1 doubloon and takes an gun port Equipment tile. If there were no remaining tiles left for the Green player, he’d simply retain his doubloons.
As mentioned before, at the end of the Auction Phase, all remaining Boat tiles are removed from the game. All remaining Equipment tiles are removed from the Treasure Chest board, though they are placed somewhere outside of it in the central play area, to be used again during the next Auction Phase.
VI. The Placement Phase
Placement of Boat and Equipment tiles onto your ship is the most significant step in maximizing points to win the game. After the Auction Phase has ended, players will begin placing the tiles they received during the Loot Phase and Auction Phase onto their ship.
A Boat tile can be placed in any of the spaces between the Bow and Stern tiles that players began with at the start of the game. It’s important to note that players can rearrange Boat and Equipment tiles as many times as they want, in order to maximize efficiency until the game has ended. Just because you’ve place a Boat/Equipment tile in a certain space, doesn’t mean it can’t be moved later. Certain connections and placements will award a player additional Victory Points (or may even provide negative points).
Each Boat tile contains half of a symbol somewhere on the left and right sides of the tile. There are four symbols in total; an anchor, a compass rose, and shield, and a ring buoy. Each tile also contains half of a colored shell on the bottom corners of the tile. Each colored shell corresponds with one of the four symbols. For instance (as seen above), if the right side of a Boat tile contains a shield, it will also contain a red shell at the bottom. Therefore, if two shield halves are connected together, two red shell halves will be connected at the bottom corner as well . This simply helps with end-game scoring. Players can reference the shells at the bottom of the boat for matches, rather than having to view the different levels of the boat itself.
Each Boat tile also contains various spaces than players can place their Equipment tiles on. Players will want to fill these spaces as much as possible, as leaving enough of them empty by the end of the game can result in negative Victory Points. There are 5 different types of Equipment; Decks, Gun Ports, Portholes, Quarters, and Sails. Let’s take a look at each of these types:
Decks – A deck tile can be placed on the top space of any Boat tile. Though it’s important to note that an individual Boat tile can not contain both a deck tile and a sail tile together. There are 3 different deck types.
Sails – All Boat tiles include a “mast” icon that a Sail can be attached to, except for the level 4 Boat tiles. Sail tiles can also be placed on top of other sail tiles in order to extend the mast, as long as there is enough empty levels. The only Equipment tile that can be placed on the top of a 4th level Boat tile is a deck tile. There are 4 different sail types.
Gun Ports – Gun port tiles can be placed on the swinging wooden door icons. There are 3 different gun port types.
Portholes – Porthole tiles can be placed on the green, circular icons. There are 3 different porthole types.
Quarters – Quarter tiles can be placed on the window icons. There are 3 different quarter tiles.
Finally, each Boat tile contains a number of barrels at the bottom area of the tile. These are exclusively used for end-game Victory Points, though they’ll be important to monitor from Round to Round.
After players have finished placing their tiles, a new Round begins with the Supply Phase. If a player is unable to place an Equipment tile onto his ship because there is no legal place to put it, it will go back into the central play area with all other unused Equipment tiles, which will be used as part of the next Auction Phase. Remember however, even if it seems that a tile has no legal placement, it might be possible to rearrange tiles so that there is a legal spot for it. After the completion of the 8th Round, the game ends and final scoring is calculated.
End of Game Scoring:
There are four sets of end-game scoring. First, players will gain Victory Points based on having majority of particular items on their Boat tiles. The player with the most of a particular item is awarded 5 Victory Points, while the player with the 2nd most is awarded 2. Players compare majority individually for the most Sails, the most Gold doubloons, and the most Barrels.
Next, players will gain negative Victory Point tokens if they have more empty location spaces of a particular type than any other player. A player will gain a -2 token if he has the most empty deck spaces, gun port spaces, porthole spaces, and/or quarter spaces. The player with the most overall empty Equipment tile spaces on his ship is also given a -2 token.
Next, players will score or lose Victory Points based on how well their ships are configured together, using the shell icons at the bottom of the Boat tiles. For every connection that matches, the player receives 2 Victory Points. For every connection that does not match, the player receives a -2 Victory Point token.
Finally, players will gain Victory Points based on completing various sets of Equipment tiles. However, each individual Equipment tile can only be used for scoring one set. It’s best to score these sets last, as you can remove the tiles from the Boat as you score them to make sure that you aren’t scoring the same tile multiple times. If you’ll remember, each Equipment type contains different icons.
A player will receive 5 Victory Points for every 3 Equipment tiles that identically match. As seen above, the player would receive 5 Victory Points for the set of 3 Gun Port tiles on the left, but not for the set of 3 on the right. If a player does not have 3 identically matching tiles, he can score 2 Victory Points for every matching pair.
Players can also receive 4 Victory Points for every set of 3 different icons that make up the same Equipment type. For instance, a player with one of each of the three Gun Port tiles on his ship will score 4 Victory Points.
After all Victory Points are totaled, the player with the most Victory Points overall is the winner, and scummiest, yet highly efficient, architecturally-gifted, designer-oriented pirate captain of the high seas!
While not a strategical workhorse, Piratoons is stocked full of jovial fun. Using straightforward, intuitive fragments of bidding, drafting, and set collection mechanics, Piratoons is simple enough to teach to new players as a gateway game, but is also enjoyed as a light-end, stress free break from some of the heavier sessions at game night.
Players will find that patience is a great tool when trying to balance which Boat and Equipment tiles to their ship. Boat tiles are important because they provide spaces for the various equipment, along with barrels, but gathering too many too fast will have you stuck weeding through multiple rounds trying to gain Equipment tiles to fill them, many of which you may not even want. Remember, it’s not the largest built ship that wins the game, but the most efficiently built one. Grabbing the various tiles and watching your ship grow in construction feels productive and rewarding.
There’s also a balance in how a player uses their crewmembers. Using a majority of your crewmembers during the Plundering Phase may grant you the desired Boat or Equipment tile you want, but will leave you limited in gaining doubloons for the Auction Phase. Rounds that you can grab both a tile during the Plundering Phase and during the Auction Phase is the ideal strategy. Of course, it really all depends on what is available at the time.
I’m not always a fan of time-oriented games, but the way the timer is implemented in Piratoons works well. Since it’s simply used as a minimum allowance of time that the Plundering Phase must exceed, it allows players to consider their decisions for longer, yet also provides a player the opportunity to stop the phase when he feels he’s ahead. It’s almost as if the pressure doesn’t start until the timer has run out, as it’s then that another player can halt the phase at any point. Forcing a tie on another player at the last minute before calling time can be quite hilarious, and the game benefits from a bit of trash-talking and laughter, moreso than if one were to take these actions in a negative, more serious matter.
Altogether, Piratoons is a light, family style game that can be a blast if players don’t take the cutthroatness (is that even a word?) it can invoke too seriously. It’s a game that’s easy to set up and teach, and won’t take multiple plays to grasp the strategy of. Meanwhile, since a lot of the entertainment can be brought upon by the banter at the table, it’s one that doesn’t feel stale. With a great set of components (the Treasure Chest flip is a stellar idea), artwork, and enjoyable gameplay, Piratoons is a solid addition to this year’s family and gateway game lineup.