Invented by Scott Peterson.
Published by Mendocino Game Company.
Reviewed by Ken Tidwell.
Pirateer is an interesting little game that, to tell the truth, I had dismissed as a simplistic roll the dice and move game. Even during our first game this opinion held true. Then we slowly began to feel out some of the subtleties that make this game something more.
The components are quite good. Each player is issued three thick, plastic disks clearly marked with a unique, color-blind friendly (are the Germans listening?) symbol that identifies their fleet and home port. The board is a mounted and nicely illustrated depiction of an ocean bordered by four ports (conveniently located at each corner of the board) with an island at the center. Two trade winds blow in parallel lines across the board. Two straights allow travel directly between opposite sides of the board perpendicularly to the trade winds. Each port consists of a short, straight stretch of water with a 90 degree turn at the end. It is this landscape which provides Pirateer with its strategy. The landscape also presents certain problems, however.
The goal of the game is to maneuver your fleet to the center island, pick up a coin resting there and sail back to your home port. The other fleets try to stop you and steal the treasure. Enemy ships can be destroyed, and any treasure thereon captured, by sailing your ships onto them. Victory can also be achieved by destroying all of the opposing fleets.
Ship movement is controlled by the roll of two dice. The seascape is divided into ship-sized diamonds, rows of squares running diagonally across the board. Each die must be used to move a single ship in a single, orthogonal direction a number of squares equal to the pips showing. The same ship may be moved with both dice or two ships may be moved, each with a single die. A ship must land exactly on a trade wind to enter them and may not cross a trade wind with a single die roll. Similar rules apply to the straights. However, movement within a trade wind is diagonal, allowing a ship to cross the board more quickly than with the usual two stage vector movement. Once a ship has taken possession of the treasure, it may not move away from its home port - only toward it or perpendicular to it.
If possible both dice must be used for movement each turn. If your ships can move, they must move. This rules interacts with the unique features on the board in interesting ways that must be exploited when planning your strategy. The strip of sea between the two trade winds becomes the doldrums. Ships within the doldrums may not be used with high die rolls. Also, ships must enter one of the trade winds with an exact roll or sail the entire length of the board in order to exit the doldrums.
The straights may be used to maneuver a ship carrying the treasure behind an enemy fleet. This move can be used to rejoin your own fleet should you be cut off.
In the end, Pirateer is a game of access. The ships are hardest to maneuver, and thus most vulnerable, when sailing in the doldrums and when attempting to return to port.
The extreme randomness of exiting and returning to port almost spoils this game for me. Your fate is well and truly in the hands of God at that point. With enough bad rolls your opponent will be out to the island and most of the way home before you even get started. Of course, in a four player game this may be blessing. We found that leaving a ship or two at home protected them and allowed you to sail out late in the game with a commanding strength. These game almost always ended in a war of attrition.
The rule book includes many variations from the sublime (Devil's Island, which solves some of the startup problems but in a bloody fashion) to the silly (such as Nuke-A-Teer). One variation, Dominion, offers the best game play in the box. Each player controls six ships starting from two ports separated by the straights. The additional ships allow for a wider range of movement possibilities and this makes a world of difference.
Scott Peterson, the game's designer, suggests that if you get your ships out first, immediately move close to your opponent and block his harbor(s). This will either stop him from getting out, or force him to move out partially and in front of you. If that doesn't work concentrate your dice on getting a single ship to Treasure Island, pick up the loot and cross your trade wind. Then head for the straights and transit back and forth between both sides of the map (make sure that you cross the straights in the lane which allows your back to be protected by land in the opposite doldrum area). This will buy you time while you get your other ships out of the harbor. Then, sail out to your treasure ship and escort via defensive formation. Remember, you can maneuver back and forth to achieve ideal position. Scott recently discovered this tactic in Dominion (his favorite variant) and loves moving in formation.
Scott leaves us with the following advice (sung to a proper jig tune):
There's sails on the horizon
and it's really no surprise
that they're heading toward the island
where the golden treasure lies.
So make haste to the trade winds
but keep a watchful eye
on pyrates in the doldrums
who wait for passers by.
Invite a foe alongsides
and make a fair alliance
then pepper them with broadsides
to show them your defiance.
Then if by chance you find them
with gold - you should not fail
to try to stay behind them
where their galleon cannot sail
And if they reach the gooseneck
their dice won't come across
and you'll find who's risking who's neck
as you rip that sucker off!
Now sail on to the four winds
but keep your sabre near
and with caution go,
'cause you never know
where you'll meet a Pirateer.
The Game Cabinet - email@example.com - Ken Tidwell