Games Talks: Pirates Games

I’ve recently got the question; which boardgames with pirates them should I play or buy ? Here’s a few ideas below …

After a last foray out to sea, the old pirates plan to retire to Libertalia. Each player has the same crew on his hand of cards, but decides himself when to bring into play the beggar or bartender, the ship‘s boy or the Spanish governor.

How these characters act and what loot they get their hands on, depends upon the cards played by the other players. Particularly in demand are nocturnal abilities that can be used as long as the character is still in the pirate cave and not yet in the cemetery. Played out over three campaigns, the final foray of the ageing pirates is a gripping gamble on the best action at the right time. The richest pirate wins the swift, cunning and easily understood game.

  • By: Paolo Mori
  • Publisher: Marabunta
  • Sales: Asmodee
  • Illustrators: Benjamin Carré and Stéphane Gantiez

This game of skill is a genuine eye catcher: a big wooden galleon rolls around on a mountainous wave in the game box. Due to its gimbal mounting, it easily gets out of balance and begins to swing to and fro. The higher the cargo is stowed in the yardarms, the sooner it will slide overboard. Who is going to be the first to get rid of all eight of his pieces, which are of different weight and bulkiness? Besides a steady hand, a grasp of tactics is required, because the place on the yardarm and the order of play are decided by cards dealt out in parallel with each round.

In case of a tie, the captain has the last word. When one or more objects fall off the yardarm, quick reactions are called for: cargo caught in this way is laid aside. Pieces that fall in the sea must later be placed back on the ship.

By: Christoph Cantzler
Publisher: Zoch
Illustrator: Michael Menzel

Not directly a pirate theme, but close enough to mention it (it’s similar to Niagara) – especially it fits also with kids and elderly. The game is called Gold Am Ornico and it’s multilingual inside the box.

On the banks of the South American Orinoco River, precious treasures are hidden in ancient ruins. Already,  prospector teams are making their way there. Unfortunately however, the gold lies on the other side of the raging torrent. To reach the other shore and collect the most valuable coins in the dense jungle, one must bravely place one‘s adventurers on logs floating downriver. The clever use of two dice determines where the team can jump onto the wooden logs and how far they will drift along in the water.

But beware: the competitors never sleep! They in turn try to position the logs so that they can snatch the most coins. Tactical considerations and a good portion of luck with the dice provide plenty of excitement for young and old.

By: Bernhard Weber
Publisher: Haba
Illustrator: Michael Menzel

Cartagena is unique in this pirate list in that there is no high seas action at all in the game. Instead, your pirate crew has been locked up in prison and the game is all about a prison break. The gameplay is really simple, play a card and move a pirate to a matching symbol on the path. The game was initially published in 2000 and you will find various versions of it in retail.

Even though the gameplay in Cartagena almost has a Candyland like feel to it, there is actually quite a bit of depth here as the leapfrogging mechanic will have your crew going in different directions. Easy to learn, but surprisingly fun.

By: Leo Colovini
Publisher: A bunch of them but most likely you’ll find one from Ravensburger or Rio Grande Games.
Illustrator: Christoph Clasen, Didier Guiserix, Martin Hoffmann, Tomasz Larek

It’s been over a decade since Days of Wonder released this Pirate themed board game. In Pirate’s Cove, each player is trying to become the most feared pirates in the seas. The game is played over 12 turns, and each turn a player must decide which of the game’s six islands their pirate will visit.

If two players choose the same one (or the one with the legendary pirate), combat ensues. Pirate’s Cove is filled with Days of Wonder’s patented easy-to-learn rules and high quality components.

Combat resolution is determined by the strengths of your ship and the results of cannon fire (dice). The goal of combat is to scare away rival pirates so that you are the only pirate left at the island. If you stay in combat too long, your ship will suffer and make subsequent turns more difficult, so there is a fine balance of when to stay and fight and when to let the bigger ship have its booty. If you flee from combat, you end up at Pirate’s Cove where you receive a small compensation for the turn. Once all conflicts are resolved, then the bounty for each island is given out.

By: Paul Randles, Daniel Stahl

Publisher:Days of Wonder and Amigo Spiel

Illustrator: Cyrille Daujean, Julien Delval, Swen Papenbrock, Markus Wagner

After a long career in piracy, Captain Henry Morgan skillfully gets appointed to be Governor of Jamaica, with the explicit order to cleanse the Caribbean of pirates and buccaneers! Instead, he invites all of his former “colleagues” to join him in his retirement, to enjoy the fruits of their looting with impunity. Each year, in remembrance of the “good old days,” Morgan organizes the Great Challenge, a race around the island, and at its end, the Captain with the most gold is declared Grand Winner.

Jamaica is a race game where the players must race around the island of Jamaica, fighting and looting as they go. The gameplay in Jamaica is quite simple. Each player has a hand of 3 cards, and the first player (captain) rolls two dice. Each die will correspond to a day or night card. The players then select one card from their hand to correspond with each die. As cards are revealed, players will move around the island, collecting loot and possibly battling each other if they end on the same space.

By: Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala, Sébastien Pauchon

Publisher: Asmodee and GameWorks

Illustrator: Mathieu Leyssenne

If you enjoy piles of minis and MOBA-style combat (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), then Rum and Bones is for you. Cool Mini or Not Games brought Rum and Bones to Kickstarter (I would suggest you get the version from the 2nd KS called Rum and Bones Second Tide which is more “polished” than the initial 1st KS version).

In Rum and Bones, two pirate crews face off for some ship-to-ship boarding action. Your Bosuns and Deckhands will operate under a simple AI (and mostly just be fodder), while your hero pirate crew swings about the ship destroying objectives and uses their special abilities to earn you loot and victory points.

Players will each control up to five heroes at any time, moving them across the game board in an attempt to destroy various key features across their opponents ship. Victory is obtained by destroying enough of these features. Your heroes are not alone, however, as your crew also consists of deckhands and bosuns who, while not controlled by the player, will work on a simple AI to wreak havoc on the enemy!


By: Michael Shinall

Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not

Illustrator: N/A

Rattle Battle, Grab The Loot is a unique dice game where players drop piles of dice into the box lid and see where fate takes them. Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot has some fantastic components, including custom dice, die cut upgrade tokens, and thematic artwork. Portal Games made a great production value for your money this time.

The gameplay has players playing through a few rounds of dropping dice, fighting merchant ships, and upgrading their Galleon while in port. When upgrading their ship, players use physical pieces to assemble their vessel, making each ship look different.

In the box are dozens of punchboard pieces to customize your ship. In addition to common items and crew members, there will be unique item upgrades and crew that can make your ship stand out among the crowd! Definitely unique, my favorite aspect has to be all the customization options players have for their ship.

By: Ignacy Trzewiczek

Publisher: Portal Games

Illustrator: Max Banshchikov, Grzegorz Bobrowski, Anthony Cournoyer, Roman Kucharski

In Tortuga, you are a swashbuckling buccaneer trying to safely transport your treasures to the legendary pirate haven of Tortuga before other buccaneers, your fellow players, can capture it from you. Players simultaneously roll their dice and assign them in order to put boats in the water, fire off the cannons, gather more crew, engage the enemy at close quarters, or move their treasure ever closer to safety.

Players are rewarded for their ability to adapt and their quick decision making skills – a little luck and a hint of greed never hurt a buccaneer either! The game plays in 30-45 minutes and has a low rules threshold for “new or young” players.


By: Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim

Publisher: Queen Games

Illustrator: Claus Stephan

Published by the always impressive guys at Space Cowboys, Black Fleet give each player control over a pirate ship, a merchant ship, and shared control over the royal navy. During the game, players will be using their merchant to deliver goods around the board, their pirate to attack other player’s merchants, and the royal navy ships to attack other player’s pirates.

The three unique ships help to make Black Fleet both highly entertaining and also quite a unique gaming experience. Outwit your opponents with fortune cards and combos, earn money faster than they do, and pay the ransom for the governor’s daughter to win the game!

By: Sebastian Bleasdale

Publisher: Space Cowboys

Illustrator: Denis Zilber

Dead Men Tell No Tales is a co-operative game for 2-5 players. The game uses the common Action Point system to determine what a player does on their turn…with a twist. As players work together, they can pass their Actions on to their teammates in order to best utilize the assets that they have. Players will build the board as they play, ensuring that no two games will ever be alike. As they search the ship for the Treasure, they will encounter Enemies and Guards that they must battle, along with various items that will help them in their quest. all the while, battling the inferno that resulted when they took over the ship. Unique systems for tracking fire, enemy movement, and a player’s fatigue all combine into an interesting and unique cooperative gaming experience.

By: Kane Klenko

Publisher: Minion Games

Illustrator: Jason D. Kingsley, Chris Ostrowski

Merchants & Marauders lets you live the life of an influential merchant or a dreaded pirate in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Seek your fortune through trade, rumor hunting, missions, and of course, plundering. Modify your ship, buy impressive vessels, load deadly special ammunition, and hire specialist crew members. Will your captain gain eternal glory and immense wealth – or find his wet grave under the stormy surface of the Caribbean Sea?

It is certainly the most complex game of this list! A big component of the game is whether (or when) to turn “pirate” or remain as a trader or neutral party. Both careers are fraught with danger: pirates are hunted by NPCs (and other players) for their bounty and blocked to certain ports while traders are hunted by non-player pirates as well as their opponents and generally have to sacrifice combat capability for cargo capacity. Although players can kill each other, there is no player elimination as players may draw a new captain (with a penalty) so it’s possible to come back from defeat.

By: Kasper Aagaard, Christian Marcussen

Publisher: Several, including Asmodee

Illustrator: Ben Nelson, Chris Quilliams


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