Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review of Dread Pirate

Dread Pirate, part of the Front Porch Classics series, is a light, family game with a pirate theme. 

I received it as a gift from my wife a few years ago (she knows that I like pirates). We played it once but then packed it away. Recently, we pulled it out of the closet and gave it another go.

When I opened it for the first time, I was astounded. The physical components are impressive. The game comes in a very sturdy and attractive wooden box. Inside is also a delight. The playing pieces (ships) are metal rather than cheap plastic. Most impressive are the jewels and the doubloons, which are the goals of the game’s bloodthirsty buccaneers. 

The only physical disappointment is the game board. Not that it looks bad; it actually is a very attractive representation of a period map. The board, however, is made of cloth, which folds up when put away. This results in fold marks that do not lie flat when the board is set up. I think I would have preferred a traditional mounted board. I think I may iron the map and then roll it up rather than fold it. This should alleviate the problem, but I don’t think I’ll be able to put the map in the box. Nevertheless, this is a physically impressive product.

I wish I could say the same for the gameplay. While we had a good time sailing around sacking cities, the game seemed to fall a little flat. The players move around the board between 4 ports (the map is fictional rather than a representation of this historical Caribbean). Along the way, they may have to pick random event cards. Upon reaching a port, a player may either raid or trade with the city or trade. In either case, the player seeks to acquire jewels. After acquiring at least one jewel of each of 4 colors (1 color per port), players may sail to Dread Island and collect doubloons. The first player to Dread Island also gets the title of Dread Pirate, which gives a movement bonus. A player may also attack an opponent and, if successful, steal treasure (and the title of Dread Pirate) from them. The game ends when all the jewels are collected from the ports. The player with the most treasure (jewels + doubloons) wins.

As I mentioned, gameplay was a little flat. It mostly consisted of racing around the board between ports (once you raid or trade at a port, you have to go to another or attack another player before you can go back), and rolling dice. Strategy was mostly limited to decisions on which port to visit next. Nevertheless, it is designed as a light game so I did not expect a lot of strategy. One thing that disappointed me was that sea battles were somewhat rare. The only ships on the seas are the players. Because we only had two players, opportunities were scarce. Thus, it seemed to lack an element that should be a centerpiece of a game about pirates. Thus, I was a little disappointed by the game.

Nevertheless, we did have fun. I’m thinking that some house rules could spice up the game. I’d like to include merchant ships. This would add a little more strategy: try a riskier but potentially more lucrative raid on a port or try to scoop up weaker merchants. I also noticed that there was a later edition (Dread Pirate: Buccaneer’s Revenge). I don’t want to buy a new game, but maybe I can find the rules and incorporate them.

Rating: 3/5

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