Piratenbucht (Pirate's Cove)
Arrrr Matey! Take to the high seas, while grabbing treasure, fighting with other pirates, and trying to avoid the Royal Navy and the dread pirate Blackbeard!
Piratenbucht is a light, (read luck-filled), family game that has a little bit of everything in it. It has it's flaws, but does give everyone a chance to break out their pirate accents. Piratenbucht sees each player as the captain of a pirate ship, with players attempting to become the most famous pirate of their time.
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At the start of the game, each player takes a mat which shows their ship. A ship has four different properties that control what that ship's capabilities are. These are:
Each of these four areas shows a ladder-like track, upon which rings are placed to show what level of each the ship has. The rings allow you to see through to a number which is written on each track's space. Between the spots on the tracks, there are numbers which show how much gold it will cost to upgrade form one point to the higher point on the track. Each ship starts each track one space from the bottom, and players are given 9 gold to spend, or not spend, as they wish before the game starts.
The board shows six islands, four of which correspond to the ship area types above, Treasure Island, and Tavern Island. There is also Pirate's Cove, where ships that flee from battle or are defeated in battle slink off to. The game is played out over twelve rounds. Each round, a card is turned up at all of the islands except Treasure Island. These cards show what a pirate will get if he is the only one on the island after any combat. The things you can get are fame points, gold, treasures and tavern cards. After all of these cards are turned up, each player secretly chooses which island they are going to on a little chooser spinner thing, and these are revealed simultaneously. All pirates move their ships to the island they chose.
At this point, players can play "action cards" which can effect what will happen next. The tavern cards are divided into three types: action cards, combat cards, and Tall Tale cards. The action cards allow players to sic the Royal Navy on another island, reinforce a part of their ship, flee to an empty island, etc. After all of the action cards are played, if there are any islands, (except Treasure Island) where there are two or more player's pirates, (or a single pirate and the Royal Navy, or Blackbeard, (more about him later)), then combat begins.
Before combat begins, each player has the opportunity to play combat cards. These tend to effect die rolls, and they only last for a single combat, as opposed to most of the action cards, which stay on the ship until the card can be destroyed in battle. After all of the players have played their combat cards, the actual battle begins. The player who has the fastest ship gets first choice as to what to do: fight or flee. Fleeing is the simple choice, (and quite often a very good one at that), as the player takes their ship and move's it to Pirate's Cove, and then either takes two tavern cards or one tavern card and two gold. Fighting is a bit more involved. The attacker first chooses which of the four parts of the enemy ship, (and which enemy if there's more than one), they are going to shoot at. Then the player rolls a number of dice equal to the lower of the two values shown in their cannon and crew rings, (you've got to have the crew to man the cannons). A roll of 5 or 6 on a die reduces the area shot at by one step. If damage to a ship area would move it "off the scale", that ship is crippled, and must immediately flee to Pirate's Cove, and then must pay 2 gold to repair that damage. If they don't have the gold, they must choose the one tavern card and two gold option and then immediately spend the gold on the repair. Now the player with the next highest sail value can fight or flee. This continues until there is only one ship left at the island. If a ship takes a point of damage before fleeing, all players with a ship still at the island receive one fame point.
Once there is only one ship left at all of the islands, (again except for Treasure Island), players then plunder the islands for the "booty" that was shown on the cards. In addition, players can then upgrade their ship by spending their gold to increase the part of the ship that matches the island they are on. If they are on Tavern Island they can buy up to three tavern cards, and if they are on Treasure Island, they can upgrade any one part of their ship, but are only allowed two upgrades. At Treasure Island, players can also bury treasure. For each treasure buried, and for each three gold buried, a player receives one fame point.
Sailing the seas with the pirates is that infamous pirate, Blackbeard. Blackbeard moves around the islands and will battle any other pirates he encounters, even at Treasure Island. How he moves depends on what set of rules you are playing buy. The rules as written have him starting at Treasure Island, or Tavern Island, (the rules translation says Treasure but lists this as Island 1 when Tavern is actually island 1), and moving one island at the end of the turn. Given this mechanic, I would actually think it should be Tavern, as then he would be at Treasure Island on the last turn of the game. There is also a variant where he moves to a random island after everyone has made their choices. The first is a bit predictable, and the last is a bit too random. I prefer the variant present by Dave Eggleston of the ripcitygamers, in which after players choose their islands, a die is rolled. If odd, Blackbeard moves one island and if even he moves two islands. Thus you can avoid him totally if you wish, or you can gamble that he'll not go to the island you choose. Blackbeard is a tough customer, taking 8 hits to defeat, always attacking with 5 dice, and always shooting at your hull. Defeating him is worth 6 fame points, divided amongst any remaining players ships.
At the end of 12 rounds, each player in turn then reveals any Tall Tale cards they have in their hands, preferably with a lot of drama and proper pirate accent. These range in value from 1 to 4 fame points, with 1 4 point card, two three point cards, three two point cards and four one point cards. Whichever pirate has the most fame is the winner.
Just theme baby! It's a fun game, filled with lots of Arrrrgh! moments. The board is very colorful, the bits are nice, etc. While the strategy is somewhat lacking, there's enough there to raise it above some other blind-bidding/simultaneous action choosing games. You can generally get a feel for where everyone is going to go based either on what part of their ship needs upgrading, or based on which islands have the best booty. What you can't always plan for is what cards a player may be holding which could drastically change the outcome of a battle. An excellent "family strategy game" as opposed to a "strategy game" however.
The only real complaints I've seen in my plays is that the game is too long. Sometimes it can drag a bit at around turns 6-10. I have also seen situations where one player's ship gets crippled, and then keeps going to the same island as someone else, whereupon they get dispatched on the first round of combat by getting hit in the area that was previously crippled. I could see this getting old pretty fast. I've heard other complaints about the heavy luck element, the unbalanced nature of some of the action cards, and about the serious inequality of the Tall Tale cards. True, there's a lot of luck. True the Tall Tale cards are unbalanced, but I make it a point to point out to people this fact when I teach it, so they understand that running away and getting lots of tavern cards can be very worthwhile. And it is certainly true that some of the action cards are very powerful. However, once these appear, other players will tend to send the Royal Navy at that player, or attack them themselves in order to defeat those cards.
One final problem with Piratenbucht is that it is currently only available in German, and as of this writing, the prospects for an English version seem slim. There are some great paste-ups at http://www.boardgamegeek.com which can be printed out and either pasted on the little tavern cards or, as I did, pasted on some regular playing cards I use to make my own copies of out of print games. The nice pdf rules translation that is there incorrectly divides the cards by the action/combat criteria, so be aware of that. The combat cards all show crossed swords on them, the action cards do not!
Recently Days of Wonder released an English version of Piratenbucht, entitled Pirate's Cove. Now they did a couple of really nice things with this release, and a few that I'm not so fond of. First the good. The components are a bit nicer in some ways. While I prefer the charm of the non-detailed wooden ships in Piratenbucht, many will prefer the molded resin ships of Pirate's Cove. They also replaced the drab treasure counters with nice wooden blocks. The board has been made far more busy than Piratenbucht's, but it is pretty. And of course all of the cards are in English. they also changed each person's ship log from a vertical orientation to a horizontal one, which again, I don't prefer. The nicest thing Days of Wonder did was to clean up the rulebook, and it does a fine job of explaining the rules in a far more understandable manner than the translations did of Piratenbucht.
Now the bad. Days of Wonder also made a lot of changes to the way the game operates on a fairly profound level. Combat cards are now Volley cards, and instead of lasting for an entire battle, they now only apply to one dice roll. The Tall Tale cards have been reduced in terms of number and total value. Now many people would find this a good thing, as the luck of getting the "4 fame" card versus drawing a "1 fame" card was hard for some gamers to accept. Blackbeard was changed into the "Legendary Pirates", and instead of always having to fight Blackbeard, a variety of notorious pirates may appear, with differing ships and targeting choices. Some of the action cards became "Parrot" cards. Each ship can only have one Parrot card, and losing a Parrot card costs fame points. I'm okay with this, as it reduced the overwhelming power of Six-Gun Salute, as now at least if a ship loses that card, they lose some fame as well. But I believe that if you have one of these Parrot cards, and then happen to draw another, you are going to have to lose fame as well, (although I must admit, I can't recall that rule totally, so I might be wrong here). I think, but have not verified, that they changed the amount of treasure available on the cards as well, as in the game of Pirate's Cove I played, there seemed to be a TON of gold out there, and most everybody was able to really beef up their ships. Restrictions were also placed upon how much you can upgrade your ship every turn as well, which I don't care for. And finally, running away from a battle, (not being crippled, but just fleeing), requires a captain to make a "Mutiny" roll. On a 1, the crew mutinies, all treasure aboard ship is lost, and you lose fame. Now while the theme of mutiny is fitting to a pirate game, this rule really seems off both thematically and game mechanics-wise. If I'm on a pirate ship, and my captain thinks my ship will be nearly destroyed in combat by an opponent, why is running away going to make me mad? Pirates tried to avoid at all costs a "fair fight", preferring to prey on lightly armed merchant ships. Game-wise, usually a player who is running away has been battered the whole game, and is trying to avoid yet another crippling at the hands of the enemy. Not always, but very often. Is seems wrong to punish that player further by making them lose fame and dump their treasures. Plus by adding this insult to injury AND reducing the value of the Tall Tale cards, an entire strategy, (fast ship, run away, get Tavern Cards), has been rendered quite a bit less viable. Also, the ability to make a run from way back on the fame track to steal the win has been eliminated. You may still be able to come from behind, but how far behind you can be is much less than in Piratenbucht.
So while I applaud Days of Wonder for releasing this fun game in English, I jeer them for some of their redesign decisions. As a family game, certainly Pirate's Cove should be a hit, as how many families, (well, other than mine), are going to buy/play a game that is all in German, and one with a squirrelly English translation? Probably not all that many. I think that Piratenbucht is more of a "gamer's game" than Pirate's Cove, in spite of the "luck" of the Tall Tale cards, and I prefer it.
Buy/Read about Piratenbucht now at Funagain
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