January 2, 2012

Pirate's Cove

One of the gifts I got my wife for Christmas this year was the Days of Wonder game Pirate's Cove.  We had played it years ago when it came out and found it enjoyable back then.  Of course, I don't think you can go wrong with just about any Days of Wonder game.

This was an add-on gift I picked up because it was a good deal and because I knew she'd like it.

Last night we were down a player for our normal Sunday night HackMaster game so we decided to break out the Pirate's Cove.  As soon as we broke open the shrink wrap it was apparent why I got it for the deal I did.  Inside was a Days of Wonder product catalog from 2005.  I know it isn't Ticket to Ride, but still, I wonder how many people picked up and passed on this game.


Like many of these "big box" games, the packaging is way too big for all the components.  The depth of the box could be reduced to probably half to even a third of the original size. There is a small amount of needed setup since there are tokens that have to be punched out of thick cardstock, cards to be distributed, and a bazillion little wooden bits to deal with.

We played two games and I managed to win both of them, mostly through a combination of being lucky and an incomplete understanding of the rules.  Unlike a lot of other Days of Wonders games, Pirate's Cove has a lot of "one-off" rules that just apply to a specific card.  It is a bit clunky, but once you get some of the smaller rules down, like Parrots being able to recover from hits and buying back hits on Masterwork cards, it goes a bit smoothly.

The basic premise of the game is that the players are pirates that get a year to become the most famous pirate.  Every game turn is one month and in addition to the players there is a notorious pirate that sails the seas in a very predictable pattern.  Each player's ship has specific sections that affect the ship's ability in combat and plunder.  The mapboard has an area devoted to building/repair of each one of these sections, as well as a tavern, a pirate's cove to repair a badly damaged vessel, and a treasure island.  Ships have to to battle each other when encountered anywhere but Treasure Island.  The big, bad pirate?  Oh, he'll mess you up whenever he comes across your path.  Some Notorious Pirates aren't too bad, but some you'll need to gang up with the other pirates to take that ship down.

I think a more fun variant of the game would be to remove the Flying Dutchman from the game (just too powerful) and have the Notorious Pirate randomly sail around the board.  You could announce the Pirate's location before player's choose their destination if you want the players to be able to cooperate in deliberately hunting the Pirate down, or after players decide if you want it a bit more randomly hectic.  It would also be easy to cycle the game through more than one year of play, but then all the player's ships are likely to be maxed out on ships' stats save the one that gets hammered down in a battle.

It is a good game for 3-5 players that I recommend, but if you are trying a Days of Wonder game for the first time I'd stick with one of the Ticket to Ride as an initial entry and save Pirate's Cove for a second or third game.


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