Full disclosure: A preview copy of Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates was provided by Forbidden Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Hey, it’s a new month which means, just like last week and next week, it’s time to talk about a new game hitting Kickstarter soon. This time it’s nothing about zoos (and nothing about any Jabberwockies, if you’re trying to guess next week’s review), but instead a more classic game theme: pirates! To that end, let’s check out Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates, from Forbidden Games!
In Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates, take to the seas as you race to find a lost Spanish galleon’s treasures with your pirate crew. Naturally, you’re not the only one, so you’ll be setting sail at the same time as other pirates in search of the very same treasure. Will you be able to outrun those dastardly scallywags and claim your place as the richest pirate? Or was the real treasure just the friends you … forcibly conscripted along the way? I’m like, 100% sure I’ve already made that joke or some form of it, but I think it’s hilarious, so it stays.
Setup isn’t too bad. Set out the board, and also set out Treasures:
You’ll need a certain number depending on your player count:
- 2 players: 7 Treasures
- 3 players: 10 Treasures
- 4 players: 13 Treasures
- 5 players: 16 Treasures
Put the rest away, for the time being; they’ll come back later in the game. Give each player a starting deck in some color of their choice:
Also give them four boats to match:
Place three of the boats on Gran Granada (black track), Havana (red track), and St. Augustine (blue track). These are your three starting locations.
Shuffle the Port Cards:
Place them in a stack near the Treasure tiles and flip three of them face-up, forming a row. Also shuffle the Merchant Cards:
Place them somewhere on the board in a stack. Also place all the Cargo Cubes into a bag:
Place the correct number on each of the Merchant Ships on the board (this can take a hot minute). There are red dots on each space telling you how many to place there. You’re about ready to start, though, so give out bonuses to each player:
- 1st player: Gets to go first.
- 2nd player: Gets a random cube from the bag.
- 3rd player: Gets a cube of their choice from the bag.
- 4th player: Gets the top card of the Port deck and adds it to their deck.
- 5th player: Gets a Port card of their choice from the Port row and adds it to their deck.
Once you’ve done all that you’re basically ready to start! Have each player draw 5 cards.
So Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is a deckbuilding racing game, very similar to games like the Dale of Merchants series or The Quest for El Dorado. In this one, your goal is to get to Trinidad as quickly as possible. You do this by playing three cards on each of your turns, one for each of the three tracks. Generally, each card has a Movement Number (bottom-right) and an ability or flavor text. If a card has an ability, you may use that ability instead of the Movement Value. If the ability lets you move your ship or you use the Movement Value, you’ll generally move the corresponding ship forward. Some cards will allow you to move a ship on a specific track forward (for instance, “Move 4 spaces on the Black track” or something), which means that if you play it on the Red Track, the ship on the Black track will advance instead. Some cards will move a player or ship backwards; if you’re currently on a spur (an offshoot ending in a Port or Merchant Ship), you cannot be moved backwards. Also, two ships can occupy the same space; that’s totally fine.
As with most deckbuilders, you place played cards into a discard pile and refill your hand to five cards at the end of your turn (generally, this means draw three more cards, but not always). If you run out of cards in your draw pile and you still need to draw additional cards, shuffle your discard pile and flip it over; it is now your deck.
Some cards have symbols in the upper-right corner that change how they’re played, somewhat:
- Skull and Crossbones: This card is trashed on play when using its ability. Instead of discarding it, remove it from the game. If you just use its Movement Value instead of its ability, discard it after playing it instead of removing it from the game.
- Cards: These cards act like Durations from Dominion: Seaside. When you play them, they stay in front of you and activate every turn (or when relevant). If the card says to discard it after it’s activated, do so. If not, it stays in front of you for the entire game, like the Champion from Dominion: Adventures.
At some point on your pirate journey, you may encounter a fork in the road (a spur, as mentioned previously). One way may lead towards a Merchant Ship or Port. If you go that way and encounter a Merchant Ship, you stop moving when you hit that space and that ship may not be moved further this turn (even by another card’s effects). Take the cubes from that space and add them to your personal stash, and draw the top card of the Merchant Deck and add it to your discard pile; think of it as a volunteer. Sort of.
Similarly, if you hit a Port, you must stop moving and cannot move further this turn. Ports are a bit different; you may trade in your Cargo Cubes for Treasure tiles by returning the pictured cubes to the bag and taking the tile for yourself. You may claim as many Treasures as you have cubes for. Also, while you’re there, you may recruit a new crew member from the Port Deck by taking one of the three face-up cards (or the top card of the Port Deck) and adding it to your discard pile. Some of the cards are Treasure Cards, which are worth end-game Victory Points (VP), though not much movement. Only thing is, once you visit a Port, you cannot visit that port again during the game. Think of it as being wanted. If, during a Port visit, you take the last Treasure tile, refill the tiles (to the same number as previously) with the tiles that were left out of the game. If you manage to deplete them again, well, you’re cut off; no more Treasure for you.
Play continues until any pirate reaches Trinidad, at which point the game immediately ends. As you might guess, this means you should probably do this last on your turn, but I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. Each player then scores VPs equal to the printed value of their Treasure tiles and 1 VP for every 2 cargo cubes they still have in their supply. I also mentioned that this was a race, so score points based on your placement:
- 2 players:
- 1st place: 7 VP
- 3 players:
- 1st place: 12 VP
- 2nd place: 5 VP
- 4 players:
- 1st place: 12 VP
- 2nd place: 6 VP
- 3rd place: 3 VP
- 5 players:
- 1st place: 15 VP
- 2nd place: 10 VP
- 3rd place: 6 VP
- 4th place: 3 VP
The player with the most Victory Points wins! Break ties based on who got the most Treasure tiles.
Player Count Differences
I think the major difference is just the play time; at higher player counts, you’ll see players skip over spots where the Merchant Ship has already been plundered and try to move on to a different Port (which I think might be a mild mistake), which causes them to accrue Port cards less quickly. Fewer Port Cards means you’re stuck with your lousy starting deck for even longer, so you move slower, and it’s more players moving slower on more turns, so the overall game length is extended. It’s not a huge problem (the contention is interesting), but if you’re not looking for a long racing game you may want to keep this at a two-player level (at which point it’s pretty rapid, maybe 45 minutes?). I’m not super inclined to try this at five. Also, the ships are a bit big for the spaces, so at higher player counts it becomes a bit challenging to figure out whose ship is on what space. There’s also just enough take-that that you’ll want to keep an eye on who’s attacking whom, lest you tip the balance in favor of other players. Two players in one of my games attacked each other a bunch and ended up in third and last place, so, make sure you’re not just out for revenge.
Preferred at 2, decreasing recommendation as you head towards 5.
- Get Port Cards. You need better cards than the ones you have in your deck, and those are the way to go. You should basically make a beeline straight for Nassau (blue track) straight out the gate to get them, would be my recommendation; they can be overwhelmingly helpful and get you basically set. If you keep with your Starting Deck, all of those 1s are eventually going to weigh you down to the point where you’re basically just treading water.
- Thin your Starting Deck. You have a card that can trash cards in your hand. Use it to get rid of your Lubbers. I saw a game where someone got their entire deck down to 5 cards, and was using that to combo an 8 Movement turn on one track every turn. It was pretty impressive. You’ll lose the ability to move on one track, but that’s not … honestly that big of a deal.
- Don’t try to win every track. There’s too much space on the board for that kind of nonsense. Instead, focus on winning one track and doing okay in the others. Usually being first on one and “not last” in the others is pretty sufficient, though at four players you’ll find that you can’t all be first. If you try to win every track, you’ll just end up not doing too well in any particular track, which isn’t good. Sometimes you gotta make sacrifices.
- Keep track of what Treasures are available (and which ones might be coming). You don’t want to have a bunch of useless Cargo Cubes; they’re … not worth that much at the end of the game (almost 3x more if spent on Treasures). Keep an eye on them as you’re picking them up and be strategic about which ones you can actually grab.
- Remember: the game ends as soon as you hit Trinidad. If you have unfinished business or extra stuff you want to cash in, get it done. If it looks like your opponent is going to get there next turn, cash stuff in! You don’t necessarily need to be the player that ends the game in order to win; if you get lucky and have good Treasures you might be able to edge out your opponents.
- Don’t take Treasure Cards from Port early. Tiles, yes, but cards that go in and junk up your deck like Estates? No. Don’t do that unless you have to (or if you draw the top card of the deck and you’re unlucky). Towards the end of the game, though, it may make perfect sense to do that. They’ll score at the end of the game just like the tiles.
- Don’t necessarily get rid of all of your Lubbers. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a Move 1 so that you can perfectly land on a ship or Port without having to waste one of your better cards.
- Combo turns are very useful. If you play “Move 4 on Red” on the Blue and Black tracks and drop a 4, suddenly you’ve shot forward 12 spaces on one turn! There’s only one card in the game that can even hope to slightly slow you down, at that point…
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Racing deckbuilders are fun. It’s definitely a good style, and I’m glad that more are coming out.
- Pretty easy to learn. Despite the game’s length, the core rules of the game aren’t too complicated, which is nice.
- The board looks really good. Like the table presence is striking. It reminds me of Western Legends in just how detailed it is, but it’s absolutely striking and unique at the same time. I could imagine a giant / deluxe edition with fancier boat tokens just looking absolutely wonderful. Yeah, whoever did the work on the board just really crushed it.
- Fairly diverse crew. I saw a lot of body types, ages, ethnicities in there. Pretty solid work on representation.
- Lots of cards makes for fairly varied play. There’s no particularly dominant set of cards other than “just move far if you can”. You’ll be able to try a bunch of different strategies when you play just by virtue of all the cards being pretty different, and I imagine more will come at some point.
- I’m kind of hoping this is part of a series? There seems to be a lot of research into like, pirates and stuff and it seems to be made with a lot of context, and I’m hoping this isn’t the only Extraordinary Adventures game we see (especially given just how good the board looks).
- I appreciate the lack of card economy in this game. I think one of the smartest things SPQF did was make all the cards cost nothing, and Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates does a similar thing by making them all free if you go to a Port. It simplifies so much.
- Starting a player with a free Port Card seems … pretty good. Generally the cards aren’t bad (sometimes they’re not helpful), but an early “move 4” can really tilt the game towards a player (especially if it’s on a track like Blue, which will enable you to get to another Port more quickly). Sure, it’s in a 4-player game, but that’s still pretty good luck for that fourth player.
- The graphic design of the cards is kind of rough. This is one of those things I hope will be adjusted during the Kickstarter, but it’s not particularly visually clear that the card’s ability is an either / or and the number isn’t immediately visible on card splay, so you kind of have to hold the cards in your hand weird if you want to be able to see your numbers.
- The spaces are a bit small for boats. I get, thematically, why boats are great, but they are kind of wobbly and likely to get nudged if the table moves around at all, and no more than two can fit on one space at a given time. I also understand why disks are disappointing, but that might be an improvement to the overall player experience that doesn’t require printing an even larger board (since the current one doesn’t even fit on my table).
- Game’s got quite a footprint. It’s a huge board. Be prepared for that; you’re gonna need some space.
- A little bit of take-that can go a long way. I think there’s probably too much; it leads to piling on to some players, which is never fun, in my opinion. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the meaner cards don’t come up; this also doesn’t matter as much at two players since you can’t really pile on if there’s only two of you, at least not with that attitude.
- It’s tough for new players, and that makes the game take a while, especially at higher player counts. Most of it is just that the Port cards are so diverse in type and ability that players do a lot of reading, and since you can use certain abilities on ships on other tracks the decision space starts inflating a bit more than some players can handle. These things combined are rough for new players, since they have to read and understand a lot before the game really clicks. Not much to do about that, though. I’d really love a “quick game” variant where the Starting Deck is changed in some way to allow for faster play; it would hit the table a lot more for me if that happened.
- A more explicit catch-up mechanism would put my mind at ease. Currently it doesn’t seem like there’s much keeping the person in front from staying in front, especially if they have better cards. The only way to prevent that is either ganging up on them (which sucks, mechanically), or getting better cards yourself, which is impossible because all diversions to a port are multi-turn excursions. It can make a bit of the racing less interesting, and I’d love to see some more specific solutions to that.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is solid! I think that my favorite parts of the game are the board (obviously; I’ve been raving about that) and the box, but I also have a soft spot for deckbuilders so I’m generally down to try ones that try something new. The three tracks is a pretty interesting spin on classic deckbuilding racing games, so I’m also into that, as well. Pirates as a theme doesn’t really do anything for me (that’s probably why I don’t own any pirate games, weirdly enough), but I assume that there are plenty of people who are excited about it, so, that’ll do. The major drawback for me is just the length of the game feeling a smidge too long (mostly due to the fairly slow start) and the take-that aspects of the game being kind of irritating to me. That said, if players opt to ignore the take-that, it’s a remarkably pleasant game with some mild blocking / preempting, which are generally fine with me. Either way, if you’re looking for some new spins on deckbuilding or if you love pirate games, Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates might be worth checking out! I’ve enjoyed it.