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A Private View of Privateers!

When I was at GothCon this year, I got to test a demo version of a pirate-themed game called Privateers! by Myling Games. Now that the game is on the verge of being completed and ready for production, Myling Games allowed me to come over and put the game to the test once again. Good thing too, because I’m curious about how many changes they made to the game since last time I tried it. As a bonus, I also got to help to set the game up this time and, to add to the fun, Tina Engström, the creator of Privateers! and head of Myling Games, joined in and decided we try out the advanced rules for the game. But for this review, I’m just going to focus on what I experienced and learned from this test and hope I got most of the facts correctly…

First of all, every player selects a captain. There are several character sheets to choose from (12 in total) and each of them have special abilities for the player to take advantage of whenever possible. Even the gender of the captains can be chosen by flipping the sheet over to play as the opposite sex (sorry, no hermaphrodites or other genders than male or female, but I did spot a transvestite).

Do not mock with the vodou priestess!

I chose a female character as my captain, a vodou priestess. Why? BECAUSE I CAN!

Each player also get 12 glory coins (unless their character sheets say otherwise) to start with. After that, it was time to decide who’s going to be the first player and which of the 4 nations, Great Britain (red), France (blue), The Dutch Republic (green) or Spain (yellow), the players want to belong to. For this test, we all decided to side with the British, while the Dutch and the Spanish joined in to make it difficult for us to win. The French? Pardon, mes amis, they didn’t get to play with us this time. The reason might have to do with the influence board. This controls the game-controlled nations and the scoring of the game. I couldn’t see much of it, because I sat at the other side of the table, but the fewer nations you have in play, the faster it becomes to finish the game and we didn’t have all day. Another reason could be the specialty of each nation (France has some unusual allies and adds some odd dynamics to the gameplay, Spain has slow, but large and heavily-armed ships, The Dutch Republic have light ships and good crewmembers and Great Britain have many warships and refuse to surrender). Then it was time to place the board, which consists of 12 map tiles in the beginning. Each player gets to place one after another in turns (player 1 begins) and must place their game piece on the first tile they place.

The first few map tiles have been placed.

The first few map tiles have been placed.

After that, we placed some markers on the map. Some areas, where a anchor symbol is located, were turned into nation-owned colonies after we placed some circular markers with the nation’s colours. If the colour matches the player’s nation, they could sail to the colony to trade goods or find new crew members. If not, they can attack it to conquer it. Then we have what Tina called Tortuga, which had its own marker to place on the map. Much like the original place is known for, Tortuga is the pirate-friendly place on the board, where all players can trade their stuff for more stuff or people to hire.

Here's the full map with the colonies - and we weren't done yet!

Here’s the full map with the colonies – and we weren’t done yet by a longshot!

There were also some enemy ship markers to be placed on the ocean areas on the map, white ones (merchant ships), black ones (non-player pirate ships) and ship markers with the colours representing the non-player nations we were playing against (yellow for Spain and green for The Dutch Republic). Then we have the treasure chests. 3 of these markers were used this time and placed on some of the several palm tree symbols on the map. Each treasure marker on the board matched another set of treasure markers, where the minimum of 1 card is placed beneath face down. This brings us to the next part of the game set up, the cards. Privateers! have several kinds of cards to be shuffled and set up. The other players did this faster than I could blink and most of those cards were placed a bit too far for me to see, but I can tell you that each nation had secret cards to be chosen randomly with their faces down and that each player, starting with player 1, receives 2 asset cards (special items or status upgrades for the captain) and 2 crew cards (the muscle required if the enemy boards the ship) each after they had to use their glory coins to purchase a ship card (the status of the ship).

This is what I had left after purchasing a ship. You can also see a corner of the map, where some enemy ships, some Spanish colonies and a buried treasure have been placed.

This is what I had left after purchasing a ship card. You can also see a corner of the map, where some enemy ships, some Spanish colonies and a buried treasure have been placed, and the first player marker to the right.

After setting up, which took less time than it took me to write upto this point, it was time to get started! Since all of the players belonged to the same nation, the game became a co-op game, making it us against the game itself. Yes, even the game itself can win, leaving the players to walk the plank, but we had no intention of letting it do that without a fight!

Each turn was based in 3 phases:

1. Player Phase

Here, the playable nations get to move their ships, fight or sneak past the enemy ships in their path, enter and island to trade, purchase or hire crew at a friendly colony, dig up a treasure, raid an enemy colony (I never got the chance to do that, though) or stay where they are and draw an event card. How many steps each player could take with their pieces depended on the sails of the ship and there has to be enough of them to get to the destination required on the same turn. Since all players were part of the same nation, it didn’t really matter who moved first, otherwise the playable nation with the Player 1-marker would have begun.

Are the ships too heavily-armed for you? No worries! The player can choose to sneak past them if they’re in the way. To do this, the player must roll the amount of dice that their stats have in cunning. Rolling a 5 or a 6 is considered a successful dice roll, if nothing else is stated, otherwise the player must either retreat if possible or fight the enemy ship.

When it’s time for battle, no matter how many players and non-playable enemies involved, a battle card is drawn each round. This describes the situation that’s going on during the attack and what the enemy will do during the fight. The battle round is settled using dice and if the battle card doesn’t state otherwise, the players involved must aim for a target on the enemy ships (sails, crew, hull or cannons) and fire their cannons using the amount of dice as their ships have cannons. If nothing says otherwise, a 5 or a 6 counts as a hit. The battles can end in several ways. Either the ships are destroyed by the cannons (players earn glory coins for this), or the ship’s boarded and whatever’s onboard gets collected by the players after the enemy crew has been defeated – if they win. If the player’s ship sinks instead, that person loses both ship card and loot cards and have their game piece sent to the nearest friendly colony. That’s why it’s a good thing that retreating is possible, if nothing says otherwise, because without a ship to use to gather an income, the shipless captain won’t be able to do more than move around the island or travel to another one by merchant ship.

Even the nations get to enjoy the spoils of war. The markers of the losing party after the battles ends up on the trophy spot belonging to the winning nation on the influence board. Even other markers, like treasure chests or hidden areas can end up here, depending on which nation dug them up or excavated them.

2. Enemy Phase

After all the players have done theirs, it’s time for the non-playable nations and other enemies to do their moves. To do this, the first player draws an influence card, which contain instructions of the events that take place and the movements of the enemy ships. These phases went by so quickly, I can’t remember much about them, but I did get to observe when the enemy ships were moved around and added to the map. Some were even stacked on top of each other, making them go from single ships to armadas, others ended up battling it out between themselves. This process went by really quickly for me, but the status of each ship appeared to be what decided which ship ended up destroyed or not. If a nation caused the destruction, the ship markers of the defeated ships ended up on that nation’s trophy spot on the influence board.

3. Influence Phase

This phase settles the score of what went on during the previous phases. The trophies are counted, the score markers on the influence board are moved and once again, I’m sitting at the wrong end of the table to see much of what’s going on and it was a bit tricky to keep up with what the other players were doing. But if the scores of a nation reaches zero, they lose and are removed from the game. The nation that maxes the score, wins the entire game.

I don’t know how well you can see it on the photos I took (I have to learn to bring a proper camera to these events instead of using my cellphone in the future), but the artwork of the game is amazing! There were still many cards that were lacking proper artwork (the game is still in beta after all), but most of the blanks and place holders had been replaced by Tina’s own artwork since GothCon. How she does it without a steady hand is a miracle, because she told me she had EDS (stands for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, which means she suffers from hypermobility in her joints and is in constant pain everywhere), which prevents her from holding her hands steady at times. That’s why it’s so astonishing that she did the image on my character sheet so well (yup, no photography here, just epic drawing skills on Photoshop), because some artists can’t even do art that good by hand!

My grade for the version of Privateers! that Myling Games brought to GothCon was 3/5 (not bad for a hard-to-understand demo, in my opinion). Today, my grade of the game is 4/5. There were still parts of the game that seemed to fly past me, due to the high pace (which is common when everyone in the room except you has played the game a countless amount of times) and if the creators of the game hadn’t been present, there would have been some digging thorugh the rulebook, which would have wasted some fun time. But unlike the version I got to try out at GothCon, this version was playable and MUCH easier to understand. Another plus worth mentioning, is that they kept the things that made this game special, like how the cards were fun to read and that if you don’t count some odd details that’s been added for fun and mystique, the game was very true to the beliefs, historical facts and myths and other things related to the pirate era. In all, I had fun playing and didn’t care that the player’s team (the British nation, in this case) got keelhauled good by one of the game-controlled teams (the Dutch nation).

I look forward to see this game in the stores one day. Who knows, maybe I’ll get my own copy and write a third review to give the full game top grade. But for that to happen, Myling Games need support for the game through Kickstarter to be able to get enough funding to get the game produced and ready for shipment. If you wish to give them a donation, big or small, click here. I’ve done my part to prevent this awesome game from walking the plank. Will you?