Monday, July 21, 2014

Pirate treasure

There are several reasons why I like board games better than video or computer games. One of them is the social aspect; sure, you can voice chat while playing World of Warcraft, but it's not the same as sitting around a table with friends. Another is the physical component of a table top game. I like manipulating real objects on a board, or shuffling cards and looking at great artwork.

Occasionally, a great game can rise above its shabby components, such as with Leading Edge's Aliens board game from 1989. More often, and as materialistic and superficial as this sounds, high quality playing pieces can elevate an otherwise mediocre game. The rules become an excuse to play with the pieces. Nowhere is this more evident than with Dread Pirate, a mediocre game with some fantastic components.

The lavishness of Dread Pirate is obvious even before you get the box open. It was published in two editions: one came in a beautifully carved and textured wooden bookshelf-style box, and the Signature Edition came in an even nicer wooden treasure chest. But the fancy doesn't stop with the packaging.

Opening the box reveals a treasure trove of high-quality game pieces. Where most board games, even the high end ones, give you cardboard counters, Dread Pirate contains metal coins, a beautifully illustrated cloth playing board, glass jewels, wooden dice, velvet treasure bags, and a metal pirate ship miniature for each player. Even the cards are printed on high-quality cardstock. The game looks and feels amazing, and you can almost imagine a crew of sailors breaking it out to fill the hours on a long sea voyage.

The game itself is...okay. It's balanced for exactly four players, with each player starting at their home port in a corner of the board. The object is to travel the board, visiting the other player's ports or attacking their ships directly to gather as much treasure as possible. Moving through the center of the board forces you to draw a card, which can be inconvenient, either for you or for one of your opponents. The first player to visit the center of the board becomes the Dread Pirate and gets an advantage in movement and combat until beaten in battle by one of the other players, who then takes over as Dread Pirate.

The game ends when all the treasure has been taken from each player's home port, at which time the player with the most treasure is the winner. It's a pretty simple game, with a lot of moving back and forth across the board. I found one of the game's more interesting elements to be an optional rule that adds a wind condition die which must be re-rolled any time a player rolls a 10, 11 or 12 for movement. Players get a bonus to the amount of spaces they can move as long as they are not moving directly into the wind. The movement bonus helps with one of the main criticisms of the game, that movement is too slow, and it gives players strategic decisions to make as they're plotting out their moves each turn.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) While the game play may be overly simple, Dread Pirate works great as a gaming experience thanks to the richness of the game components.

Date played: June 1, 2014

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