If your group is anything like mine, the merest mention of digging out a game of Monopoly is met with groans and rolled eyes, and for good reason. Around here, even the most cut-throat game of Monopoly still lasts all day long and is mostly focused on shuffling bits of that fake money around as opposed to doing anything interesting. A typical Monopoly game ends up with two players who have most of the money taking huge amounts from one another until everyone has a psychotic break and throws the game across the room.
Plus, I tend to win it a lot, which ticks everyone else off…
I can get my group to play Pirate King somewhat more often. There are a few good reason for it. The theme is one. A wise man once said “Everything’s better with pirates.” That is certainly the case here. Instead of the typical square board, with property spaces scattered around the edges (and with the most valuable ones right before you hit “Go”), the Pirate King board is a map of the Caribbean, with trade routes marked out that players move their tokens along.
There’s a lot of stuff in that box…
Speaking of tokens, each player moves a pirate ship around the board (better than a thimble or a top hat…). The money is represented by coins and gems, and your stash of money is kept in a treasure chest. Territory is claimed by planting a flag at the location you bought (or fought over).
Yes, I said “fought over.” In this version, you can take a territory away from your opponent if your ship carries enough crew and cannon to do the job.
Even better, though, is the fact that the game does not go on endlessly, and it does not end when only one player has a stake in the game. It ends when someone reaches 16 victory points. Combat notwithstanding, you gain territory just like in Monopoly. When you land on a space, you can pay to buy it. And, like in Monopoly, when a player lands on a space you own, they have to pay rent. If they cannot (or will not), you fight. Spaces are only worth victory points once you have fully upgraded them. You start with a settlement, then move to a tavern and so on, until you have installed a fortress. Then the property is worth points. The starting spaces are worth the most. In addition to gaining you points, upgrading the buildings makes them harder to destroy when an uppity opponent decides to try and take one away from you.
The game includes several different spaces beside properties. If you land on a compass, you can use it to shortcut to another part of the map. Trade wind spaces allow you to turn your ship and take a different path. There are captain’s log spaces and pirate’s booty spaces. Land here, draw a card. Some of the cards are good, some are bad, just like Monopoly.
A game in progress
Of course there is the Commodore space as well. He will board your ship if you land here. He will take all of your cargo. You don’t have to let him, though. You can choose to fight. His ship is a very tough fight (about the same as trying to take a fortress from an opponent). But if you can defeat him…you win automatically. I’ve never seen it happen. Players have tried, though.
There are a few other differences as well. Since this is a game about pirate ships, the roll and move mechanic is a bit different. When it is time to move, you place a sail marker up to four spaces ahead of your ship. This is where you “plan” to go. Then you roll a d12, and compare it to the wind chart. This tells you how favorable the winds were that turn and whether you made it to the spot you chose or if you fell short of that mark or passed it. It’s even possible to move backwards because of the winds.
There are cargo cards which help you earn extra money. Each card has a destination on it, and a value in coins. If you pass the destination on the card, you get treasure equal to it’s value. If you land on the location by exact count, you get double.Pirate ships that end up on the same space can fight.
In addition, players don’t actually get eliminated. They just have to pay a large fee and basically start over. Lose enough fights (which can happen if you can’t pay the rent), and you end up penniless and landless, but you do get a new ship and crew with which to attempt to make a comeback with.
Also, there are “Great Treasures” that you can acquire throughout the game. Owning one of these treasures gives you a special ability that can really help you as you aim for 16 points.
Surprisingly, there are very few downsides to this one (aside for the whole Monopoly clone aspect, which may be a deal breaker for you). The game usually runs about an hour and a half to two hours. This is a big improvement over Monopoly. It does suffer from the “rich get richer” syndrome of Monopoly. Once a player gets some of his settlements upgraded a few steps, they become mostly invulnerable (and expensive!).
My biggest complaint against this game is actually the cool ship tokens! Instead of giving us nice plastic ship tokens (or even metal), the ship tokens come on little plastic cards. You snap the pieces out and build a little 3d model of each ship. This is cool, but a real pain. Unless you glue them together, they keep popping apart. In addition, you have to attach four tiny magnets to the inside of the hull. These magnets hold the cannon markers (little metal pegs) onto the ship. As you gain more cannon, you add pegs to the side of your ship. As you lose them, you remove them. The problem is that the magnets are very powerful, and getting them to stay stuck in the right place against their own pull is an exercise in futility. In addition, they tend to make the ships themselves stick together. This is not a big deal while storing the game, but on the board…it is way too common an occurrence to have them slam into each other when they are on the same space.
No more magnet problems…
We solved the problem by removing the magnets and creating cards where we could track the number of cannon and crew on our ships. We lose the ability to see at a glance how tough a ship is, but gain so much in functionality.
One other downside: the rulebook. No too long ago I posted about what makes a good rulebook. This one is not one of the better books. It is a single banner sized sheet that is folded into roughly standard book size. Pages one through four are on one side, and five through eight on the other. In addition, five through eight are printed upside down. When I read the end of page four, I invariably turn the rules the wrong way. The layout is not grand, and some of the more obscure rules can be difficult to find. It isn’t the worst rulebook I’ve read, but it is far from the best.
I like this version of Monopoly. It removes many of the common obstacles to convincing people to play (and I am usually one of the most difficult to convince, winning record aside), layers on so much theme, adds in combat, and creates an all around better experience.
Of course, it is out of print. Good luck finding a copy. The copy I have I found at a pawn shop (unopened!), and is actually an older edition. My box is easily 6 inches deep to hold all of the treasure chests and the dice cups. The later edition sits in a smaller, more traditional sized box. I don’t know what the differences are, but if the box is that much more shallow, then it at the very least doesn’t include the dice cups.
Also, there is an expansion available on boardgamegeek.com called “All hands on deck!” It has a bit of errata in it, as well as making the crew cards you gain and lose throughout the game grant different abilities to your ship. “All hands on Deck!” is free, so why not get it, print it and add it to your box?
While I can’t get the group to play this one a lot (and let’s face it, we here at the library prefer other kinds of games anyway), we do dig it out more often than Monopoly, and we usually have a much better time with it than with other versions. If you want a break from the vanilla version of Monopoly, this might be the one to find. Have fun, and I’ll see you all later!