Full disclosure: A review copy of Dice of Pirates was provided by Thing 12 Games.
I remember when I barely played any pirate games. At the time, it was kind of a novelty genre because I just … didn’t own any and was looking to get into more. Weirdly, I see it kind of paired with Western-themed games, but I’m aware of far more Western games than pirate games, off-hand. Maybe pirate games skew heavier? Who knows. Anyways, between Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates, Bad Maps, Skull King and this, I’ve gotten a bit of exposure to life on the high seas, and it’s been a lot of fun. So without further ado, let’s talk about Dice of Pirates, the latest (but not last) in the Dice of series from Thing 12 Games, publisher of Seals of Cthulhu and Dice of Crowns.
In Dice of Pirates, you play as one of many masters of the ocean vying to claim treasure, plunder boats, and occasionally politely trade. You know, as you do. Along the way, you’ll find that you have to make deals, break those deals, and maybe avoid a giant octopus? squid? Who knows. Will you be able to succeed where others have failed to become the greatest pirate of all time?
Not a ton to say. Set the Plunder tokens in the center:
Place the Treasure in view of all players:
Give the start player 1 and the other players 2. Give the start player the dice:
And you’re ready to start!
If you’d like, you can also add in the ship:
Game’s simple. On your turn, roll the dice to start, then evaluate in this order:
- Ships: Pass all ships to your opponents; your choice. It can be all to one player or split evenly or any combination in between. Your opponents then roll those dice:
- Kraken: They may return this die to any player. That player keeps the Kraken and it counts as one of the three required to end their turn. Nobody will roll this die in the meantime.
- Ship: They return this die to you. You may reroll it.
- Crossbones: They return this die to you. You may reroll it or use it for a Raid.
- Treasure: They return this die to you as any face of their choice. If they return it to you as a Treasure face, they gain 1 Plunder token.
- Kraken: If you have rolled three or more Kraken (counting the dice that were out of play from previous turns), your turn immediately ends. If you roll 6 Kraken, any player may declare “Unleash the Kraken” to disappoint Liam Neeson by making him remember that awful movie and also something else, depending on what the 7th die shows:
- Kraken: The active player loses 1 Treasure.
- Crossbones: The active player gains 1 Plunder.
- Ship: Distribute 7 Ship faces and then resolve them.
- Treasure: The active player gains 1 Treasure.
- Treasure: If you have 3 of these face-up, you can gain 1 Treasure. If you have 6, you can gain 2 Treasures. You may re-roll Crossbones faces now if you’re trying for Treasure, or you can re-roll these if you’re trying for Raids.
- Crossbones: You may choose an opponent to Raid, as long as you have at least 3 Raids face-up. When that happens, set the non-Crossbones dice aside and roll the Crossbones dice. Do the following:
- Kraken: Set this aside. It does nothing.
- Treasure: Set this aside. It’s good!
- Crossbones: Re-roll this.
- Ship: Pass this die to your opponent. They re-roll this and can use it to counter your raids!Once you’ve resolved all the dice and can’t re-roll them anymore, whoever has more Treasure dice face-up wins! They gain the difference between the two amounts of Treasure face-up from their opponent. You may, starting with the player that initiated the Raid, spend Plunder tokens as though they were Treasure dice to tilt the Raid back in your direction.
You may also spend two Plunder instead of doing Raids or Treasure to claim the ship I mentioned earlier. It stays in front of you until you lose a raid (at which point it’s claimed by the winner) and counts as 1 Plunder.
The game continues until a player ends their turn with 7 Treasure. That player wins!
In a two-player game, you play as Rivals. When you gain Treasure from Treasure dice, you gain it from them instead of the Supply, and Krakens rolled from Ships are set aside (instead of assigned to another player). Play until one of you has stolen all the other’s treasure!
Player Count Differences
Game just takes longer at higher player counts. There’s no adjustment for more players to start with more money or anything, and so there’s more downtime as you wait for players to hit the point where it’s worth robbing them. If more players individually have money, then it’s fine, but if only one player has a lot of money, that just means even more players are going to gang up on them, which is never my favorite interaction mode. As a result, slight preference for this game at lower player counts.
- If you’re trying to decide between two players to raid, raid the player on your right. Even if you lose the Raid and they have enough money to win, they have the most turns between now and their next turn, so it’s likely that your opponents will try to raid them to block them from winning. It’s … not the politest thing you could do, but it works.
- Similarly, if you’re trying to decide who to give the Kraken to, give it to the player on your right. It removes a die from play and makes it harder for anyone to get Treasure (or Raid!) on subsequent turns, which, sure, slows the game down, but also helps you by making it harder for someone to win.
- More Raid dice are generally helpful, if you have okay luck. Since you get first roll, you have the highest likelihood of knocking out a bunch of dice before your opponent can get them.
- Don’t be the person with the most Treasure. It’s kind of like Munchkin; being first is just painting a target on your back. Instead, focus on being close to the lead and capable of potentially executing a Raid to take the win. Just don’t let anyone get too far away from you.
- It’s much better to start a Raid than to win one. Obviously, both are good and you should do both, but if you start a Raid and end up with 7 Treasure, you win the game. If you win one on your opponents’ turn, you have to survive until you turn ends in order to win.
- Remember how many dice you have. If you only have 5 dice available, you can’t get 2 Treasures on a turn. You can either turn up and try to get 5 Crossbones, or you can settle for 1 Treasure. Up to you and the relevant context which is more useful when it happens for you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very portable. It’s got the same footprint as Mint Delivery and Mint Works; it fits in a mint tin and you can basically take it anywhere. It’s very nice and I like that more games are challenging the idea that bigger is necessarily better. You know, constraint inspires creativity.
- It seems almost designed specifically to be a pub game. Waterproof components, small footprint; it seems perfect for the kind of game you’d play in a bar. It’s raucous, aggressive, and not terribly long, so it seems like it would be well-accompanied by a drink. Incidentally, it also makes it very on-brand as a pirate game, so, nice work pairing theme and gameplay. It definitely has the right feel to be a pirate game.
- Basically no setup. Again, another point in its portability favor; you can basically take it anywhere and you’re good to go.
- Nice components. Say what you will about Kickstarter games; a lot of them are really getting on the quality components train (and that’s just strictly to our benefit as consumers).
- I still have never seen the Kraken Unleashed roll occur. I feel like you almost have to work up to it and like, have everyone collectively dump Krakens on to one player? This has long made me think I’m playing the game incorrectly, but I think it’s just exceedingly unlikely.
- The problem I have with it is that it requires players to add to the game’s zero-sum economy, but it disincentivizes any player adding too much. See, when you add 1 or 2 Treasure, that’s fine, but as soon as you get enough Treasure that another player could conceivably take it and win the game via Raiding, the game kind of devolves into an aggressive zero-sum game which can drag on for a bit longer than you’d want. It would be nice to have an option in Raids that still adds a bit of Treasure to the game’s economy (I understand why there isn’t; if there were, then everyone would only raid exclusively) because if it’s tight (all players have 3 Treasure except for one player with 4), it requires exceedingly lucky rolls in order to win and the game tends to run a bit long as a result.
- I’m just personally not big on take-that. If you like it and you’re looking for a good pub game that you can play quickly,
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, Dice of Pirates is a cute and quick little game! I think it’ll appeal a lot more to the take-that-friendly crowd than it does me, but it’s definitely not bad if you’re looking for a quick fix and you’ve got the player count for it. I think, if my memory serves, I really enjoyed Dice of Crowns when I played it last (the precursor), but I think it had less of a direct take-that / combat than Dice of Pirates. Not sure; it’s been a while. The nice thing is that the gameplay all feels very thematic; there’s trading ships, there’s combat, there’s backstabbing and plunder. If you were going to play a game on a pirate ship (other than Liar’s Dice), I could see this very much being that one. That’s the nice thing about Thing 12 Games, in my opinion; they always spend a fair bit of time digging into like, thematic gameplay. Seals of Cthulhu, while not my all-time favorite game, spent a lot of time on this too, with combining light and dark halves of cards to gain forbidden power. I think that’s an attitude that’s gonna take them far, and if you’re interested in living a pirate’s life on the high seas in a cute, quick dice game, Dice of Pirates might be a great way to get you there!