Pirates of the Spanish Main

Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you, and then it's nothing but work, work, work, all the time. - The Dread Pirate Roberts

My friend Erik got a job managing a geek shop called Campaign Outfitters (order online!) here in Winnipeg a couple weeks ago. This is a problem for me because they sell all sorts of things I shouldn't be spending money on. D&D guides, rule books, figures, various card games, Lord of the Rings swords and anything else you could imagine a tabletop gamer/nerd might want. I wouldn't say I'm very hard-core when it comes to that scene but I know I could be, Erik knows it too. I'm sure he planned to chip away at any resistance I may have little by little, but it turns out all he needed to do was show me Pirates of the Spanish Main and I'd be sunk. So to speak.

I don't really have any experience with the big table top games like the Warhammer series but I'm told Pirates of the Spanish Main is very much a "beer and pretzels" kind of game. It only takes about 15 minutes to learn and while the official rules cover most of the bases, there is plenty of room for developing house-rules as you get into the game. Here are the basics to give you an idea of how things work.

Ships

All ships have a point cost, a set number of masts, cannons, cargo spaces, move distance and special abilities. Take a look at the Harbinger on the image below here, the terror of the Pirate fleet.

From left to right, we start by looking at the point cost for the ship. Most games start with the players deciding how many points they get to build a fleet. Anywhere from 30 – 100 points is standard depending on how big you want the game to get. Next we see the Harbinger has 5 masts. Masts represent both the health of the ship and the ships cannons. So if the Harbinger got hit twice it would lose two masts and the two cannons associated with them.

After that we have 5 cargo spaces on the ship. Cargo is used to haul treasures from neutral islands to your home island. Special crew units also take up space but we'll get to those soon. After cargo it shows that the Harbinger gets one Long (L) movement per round. A Long movement is calculated by using the long side of the playing card itself, you can move any direction you want provided it is within 90 degrees of the front of your ship.

Finally we have the cannons themselves. The red dice represents a long cannon and the white dice are short cannons. That means on the Harbinger you've got two long cannons on the bow and stern with three short cannons in the middle. To calculate whether or not a cannon can hit you simply measure the length from your mast to your enemies ship with either the long or short part of the card. The number on the dice represents what you have to roll to hit the other ship with each cannon. The Harbinger has to roll more than two to hit, so a three or better per cannon.

Still with me so far? Those two fellas above the ship are crew I've put on the Harbinger to help her along. Here are the crew you can buy and what they do, all but the oarsmen take up one cargo space on the ship.

Crew

Captain (3 points) – Allows you to fire at the end of your ship's movement for the round. Without a captain you can only fire or move in a turn.

Helmsman (2 points) – Add a Short to your ship's movement speed.

Musketeer (3 points) – Add a free short-range 3 dice cannon to any mast on your ship.

Cannoneer (2 points) – Re-roll one cannon roll if you miss the first time.

Explorer (1 point) – When you land on a neutral island you can explore it (take your treasure) during the same round.

Oarsman (1 point) – If your ship is derelict (all masts destroyed but not sunk) you may move one Short per round. Oarsman also do not take up a cargo space like the others do.

That covers the regular crew, there are a ton of special crew members you can acquire that add all sorts of different bonuses and customizations to your ships.

Nations

There are three nations in the game currently, depending on how hard-core the people you're playing with are you can restrict all of someone's ships to one faction but we don't bother with that around here. Regardless, each nation has a certain modus operandi worth noting.

The English – Tend to focus on firepower over speed or cargo space. They also favor boring food and talk like they're so great. Bastards.

The Spanish – The Spanish favor larger cargo holds over more guns or speed. They also talk funny.

Pirates – Despite the bad teeth, scurvy and ships full of murderers, Pirates are really a noble bunch. They tend to favor speed and cunning over lots of guns and big cargo holds.

Playing

In standard game, you start by placing six islands (or more) on the table at least two Longs apart and at most four Longs. Once they're placed each player gets to choose which island someone else starts on. When everyone is placed you spread five or six treasure pieces face down on each neutral island and roll to see who goes first. The goal is to have the most treasure on your home island once all the treasure is gone. You can sink other ships, ram them or even make them yours by towing them to your home island after rendering them derelict. Some players will opt to build a large fleet of smaller ships to swarm the map while others will spend well over half their points to outfit a large five mast ship and maybe a secondary to handle collecting treasure. It's really up to you!

Like any good table top game it starts out very straight forward and reveals more and more layers of depth as you play. In terms of getting started, you buy booster packs that contain everything you need to play. They cost $3.99 US and include the following.

- Two island pieces
- Some tiny black dice
- A crew card of some kind along with treasure pieces
- Two ships
- Rules sheet

So yes, it is a "collection" game to some degree but you only need to buy maybe five packs to have enough ships to support a couple players. I've found playing a 1 on 1 game is fun and of course playing with four or more people on a nice big table is even better. Depending on the game type a session can last anywhere from an hour to three hours usually. Is it something you'll want to break out when your parents come over to visit? Probably not but it's still easy to learn, easy to play and to be perfectly honest, constructing the ships and moving them around the table is way more fun than it should be.

It's worth mentioning that this February will see the release of a new Crimson Coast expansion which will add forts, fog, reefs, schooners and a line of French ships. Forts especially should be a lot of fun to throw into the mix. Nothing like having a home island that can blow the crap out of anyone stupid enough to get close!

Yaarrrrrrrrr!

- Certis the Blade

Comments

A friend of mine is pretty big into 40K and the geek/hobby shop scene in general. He tells me that Pirates of the Spanish Main is apparently the latest Big Thing. He has a few booster packs, and the thing that really leapt out to my eye is the build quality of the cards. Each card is made of hard plastic, sort of like a credit card, and you punch out plastic pieces from the cards in order to assemble the ship models. Once the game is done, the ships can be disassembled and then reinserted into their parent cards for easy transport in a wallet, pocket, etc. I was afraid that after extended use, the shape of the card holes would warp or the ship pieces would become bent and unable to snap back into place, but from what I can tell, this type of problem is not at all common.

Like Certis says, you only need to buy a few packs before you're ready to roll. Compare this with the standard set by Magic: The Gathering -- a game which favors the very skilled and the very wealthy -- and the appeal of something like Pirates of the Spanish Main is obvious.

While I'm on this topic, anyone looking for a very affordable and fun CCG should check out Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games. It's actually not a CCG at all, really, since there's nothing to collect; just the core game and various expansions and spinoffs, which are completely optional. Munchkin will prove particularly appealing to those who would enjoy AD&D, but seldom find the time to invest in a full-fledged role-playing session.

Hehe! I looked at that first photo on the front page and thought "wow these graphics are rubbish, that ocean looks like a bed for crying out loud!".
It was a full minute before I realised my mistake.

A few friends and I have have a few packs each and have played a few games. It's a lot of fun. The rules definitely leave a lot of room open for debate, or just don't cover all situation. Deciding on house rules is part of the fun, though. My only problem with the game is that I've snapped two masts trying to assemble ships, and that's really frustrating.

Ack! Didn't mean to do that...wife was talking to me while I was reading this and I got clicky-happy.

I just want the ships. I love the ships.

In typical fashion, my friends convinced me to pick up a few of these and then proceeded to never play again. It's definitely a cool system, but I could see sinking (no pun intended) a lot of cash into these to get, say, a good captain.

Fairplay.com has the boosters for USD 2.95 each (plus shipping, USD 6.00 per order UPS). Is that all you need to play?

Where do you plug the controller? Great review, back in the day myself and a couple friends dabbled in some advanced games like this but it never panned out, seems like a nice break from the cathode ray universe.

+2 for Princess Bride references (to this day, still the movie I've watched the most. I think the record was 8 times in a row.)

What's with all the pirate stuff lately?

Fairplay.com has the boosters for USD 2.95 each (plus shipping, USD 6.00 per order UPS). Is that all you need to play?

Yep, buy a few packs (I'd say three minimum) and you're good to go for a small game.

A friend of mine is pretty big into 40K and the geek/hobby shop scene in general. He tells me that Pirates of the Spanish Main is apparently the latest Big Thing. He has a few booster packs, and the thing that really leapt out to my eye is the build quality of the cards. Each card is made of hard plastic, sort of like a credit card, and you punch out plastic pieces from the cards in order to assemble the ship models. Once the game is done, the ships can be disassembled and then reinserted into their parent cards for easy transport in a wallet, pocket, etc. I was afraid that after extended use, the shape of the card holes would warp or the ship pieces would become bent and unable to snap back into place, but from what I can tell, this type of problem is not at all common.

You know, I re-read the article three times knowing I was missing some key point but I was too tired to remember. That was it, the build quality is very good and while snapping the occasional mast does indeed suck it's nothing a little super glue can't fix.

I might have to go check this out. Sounds like it would be perfect to play at a party or something (yeah, I have geeky friends too). Plus, I can already see it's potential as a drinking game.

I've seen these things at work and detail wise they're really nice. They sell for like 3 bucks I think. A couple people come by and pick some up occasionally but not too many... It's all about the frieking Yu-gi-oh or pokemon cards at work, and the occasional Magic guys.

I wish I had geeky friends, although I half-converted my girlfriend - woohoo! Still, it would be nice. How does one apply for gamer friends, is there an application form out there I must have missed?

(ie. I consider all of you on GWJ to be gamer friends, but I can't punch you in the arm for drinking my last beer while we're playing Mario Kart)

House rules are where it's at. We implemented a wind system: ON a roll of 1-3 the wind stays the same, on a roll of 4 the wind shifts to the right, on a 5 it shifts to the left, on a 6 the wind reverses. This requires a compass rose and a pointer.

Wind affects the ship by adding a full S to the movement of a ship with the wind behind it, taking away a full S if heading into the wind (no ship can travel LESS than a full S, so you always have that minimum) and going with the wind at your side results in normal movement.

This added a little more strategic element to the game and increased our enjoyment tenfold.

Man, I am soooo glad I'm way past my 19th sail rabid interest's or I can see me getting very poor with this
game. Pretty cool.

House rules are where it's at. We implemented a wind system: ON a roll of 1-3 the wind stays the same, on a roll of 4 the wind shifts to the right, on a 5 it shifts to the left, on a 6 the wind reverses. This requires a compass rose and a pointer.

Wind affects the ship by adding a full S to the movement of a ship with the wind behind it, taking away a full S if heading into the wind (no ship can travel LESS than a full S, so you always have that minimum) and going with the wind at your side results in normal movement.

This added a little more strategic element to the game and increased our enjoyment tenfold.

That's awesome, I knew some people incorporated wind but there doesn't seem to be an official method. We just might try it your way!

If I can find it, I'll send you our template. There is an upside to teaching at an art school: free artwork.

Great, send it along if you find it.

Thanks for posting this review- one of the few in-depth I've read. I followed the game a bit pre-production and then *almost* bought into it- except that I read a review that lamented the lack of wind and it's effect on gameplay.
That's when I gave it a pass- since it is the "Age of Sail" (duh!)- but this set of optional wind rules sounds interesting.

Could you PM me Sephirah with the template, too?

Thanks.

This is such a cool website- it amazes me that it exists and that I found and am a part of it.......

Mixolyde wrote:

My only problem with the game is that I've snapped two masts trying to assemble ships, and that's really frustrating.

Well, it is paper
It's not meant to be handled with a rough hand.

I'd like a PM of the template too. Certis, you've convinced me. I'm going to track this game down.

i just found this game a few weeks ago and I'm hooked.

like others have said, super quick and cheap to get started. and fun to build up fleets, design your own terrain, and home rules.