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Pirate's Cove

46 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

Pirate’s Cove is a 3-5 player game published by Days of Wonder from designers Daniel Stahl and Paul Randles. I purchased this game for when my nephews came to visit, and thought that the fun theme plus Days of Wonder’s excellent reputation would create an enjoyable gaming experience for them. While some mechanics have negative aspects that are hard to ignore, playing this game was a very exciting and immersive venture from our initial sail through
coming home to port.

To start, each player is given a pirate ship token, a mat to track ship upgrades and hold treasure, as well as nine gold and one tavern card. The object of the game is to have the most fame points of all pirates by game’s end. The game is played over 12 months (turns) with a turn starting with each pirate secretly navigating to one of six islands in the sea. These islands contain treasure cards for the pirates to plunder, and opportunities to either upgrade different parts of their ships, collect tavern cards or bury treasure and gold. Fame points are earned from the treasure cards that are plundered, by burying treasure chests on Treasure Island or through combat with other players, legendary pirates and the Royal Navy. Visiting one of the four islands where you can upgrade a component of your ship is vital to ensuring that you will be strong for the combat that occurs when two or more pirates end up on the same island. The four parts of your ship are sails, crew, cannons and hull. Sails determine the speed of the ship, which is the factor in determining who gets to fire cannons first in battle. Crew/Cannons represent how many dice can be rolled in battle which is determined by the lower of the two numbers (if you have 2 crew and 3 cannons, only 2 cannons can be fired). Hull determines how many treasure chests your ship can carry at one time. All upgrades require gold to be paid for them, which is also gained from plundering treasure cards from the island. Battles occur when two or more players end up navigating to the same island. They consist of players firing volleys from their cannons by rolling dice. The player targets one of the four components of his opponent’s ship, and a “hit” occurs when a 5 or 6 is rolled on any of the dice. A battle can consist of multiple volleys, but ultimately ends when a player opts to flee, or when one of the parts of their ship are crippled and they must retreat. The winning pirate gets 1 point of fame per defeated ship and the treasure card from island. The losing pirate must repair their ship at pirate’s cove and take tavern cards into their hand. These tavern cards can provide additional ship upgrades, allow players to send the Royal Navy after another pirate or provide fame points. After month 12, the fame points are counted, and again, the pirate who has gained the most fame is declared the winner.

The fun of this game lies predominantly in the very immersive theme that Stahl and Randles seamlessly implemented into every aspect of play. The legendary pirates are taken right out of popular lore, while the tavern card flavor text and design could have been taken right from the set of the TV show “Black Sails”. As foolish as it sounds, it is difficult not to “speak pirate” as the game goes along, as this theme infiltrates all aspects of the game in the most enjoyable way possible. Theme can not stand without substance, and for the most part, the gameplay of Pirate’s Cove is fast, engaging and fun. All players navigate to the island of their choice at the same time, and plundering/upgrading resolves relatively quickly. Watching other players engage in combat is also an exciting enterprise, so young (and old) players will not suffer from stagnation of play. With the wide array of gameplay possibilities presented by tavern cards, you can be assured that every turn has the potential for something unexpected to occur.

The game is certainly not without fault, however. Speaking of tavern cards, the range of their usefulness can fall anywhere between “not-at-all” and “near unbeatable”. Also, some of the rules of the cards make little sense, such as only one Mastercraft card (an additional upgrade) being able to be played at one time on a ship. This is unfortunate as these cards can allow players who have missed the opportunity to upgrade a chance to swing the game back into their favor. In fact, “catching up” may be the most frustrating aspect of Pirate’s Cove. This has been noted in other reviews, but in playing the game myself, I would agree that it is a significant issue. If a player loses battles early in the game and misses the chance to upgrade their ship, it can be very hard for them to battle back in the later rounds. They will be ill-equipped to engage in combat, which will minimize their chance to recoup well-needed fame points. The tavern cards gained when repairing your ship should help with this, but again, with a lack of balance in their power, it can sometimes be too late by the time something useful is drawn.

Issues aside, I really enjoyed the experience of playing this game, and am looking forward to playing it again. While geared toward a younger audience, it does have enough strategic planning to be fun for a group of adults every now and then. The game actually lends itself well to the creation of house rules/variants to balance play a bit more, as the core mechanics are strong, but minor tweaks here and there could enhance the game even more. In its base state, however, Pirate’s Cove is an enjoyable, if not totally balanced, game experience that can be enjoyed by young and old scallywags alike. Give it a try.

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91 out of 100 gamers thought this was helpful

Pandemic is thus far, the best co-op board/card game experience I have had since delving into the gaming world a few years back. More challenging than Castle Panic and more tense than Forbidden Island, Matt Leacock’s showpiece is a brilliant combination of simple-to-learn gameplay and complex strategy. I play this game in groups of 2 and 4 and it has been at the front of my gaming shelf for over a year now. While many reviews have been written about the mechanics and its pros/cons, there are a couple things that stand out for me with this gaming experience:

– All players choose a role with at least one overall special ability. Once you invest in the On the Brink and In the Lab expansions, you end up with 17 roles to pick from. It is nothing short of amazing how well these roles scale with the number of players. There are some hiccups, as the contingency planner and quarantine specialist are better in a 4-player game, while the Scientist tends to shine in the 2-player realm. Again though, provided you become adept at utilizing the special ability provided and you get the opportunity to do so, I feel that any combination can yield a victory.

– Of all the co-op game experiences that I have played thus far, Pandemic tends to lend itself to Alpha-gamer syndrome more than most others. The game rewards players who can see multiple turns into the future, and if one player is doing so more than others, it can be easy for him or her to start attempting to dictate the moves of the game for all players. Timid personalities can tend to fade into the background in this one and just follow the alpha’s lead, so if the idea of your game night is to have everyone involved, it is good to be mindful of this. While the game is a co-operative one, and everyone wins or loses as a team, the game shines brightest when everyone is putting in their input and contributing to the progress of the team…regardless of success or failure.

– Something that I have not seen mentioned, but I feel it is a worth noting: Zman Games’ 2013 redesign of this game improved the aesthetics all components exponentially. I played the original version and found the board poorly designed, the pawns/cubes far too oversized and the cards unimpressive. The 2013 version improved all of these aspects and then some, making the game a far more visually pleasing experience. If anyone in your gaming group shied away from Pandemic due to the lackluster quality of the original’s components, taking another look at the new version may be a worthwhile venture.

Pandemic is a fantastic game experience with great components (now), excellent game mechanics and an accessible, intense theme. For those more casual gamers who want to try a co-op game, can’t get into the more fantastical theme of Elder Sign or even Castle Panic, Pandemic is a relevant choice. The idea of diseases spreading all over the world and the warriors of the CDC being the only force standing in their way resonates with a wide audience, and can open the door to other gaming experiences. Again, this is one of the favorites in our household, and if you are looking for a challenging and exciting way to spend an evening, you really can’t go wrong with Pandemic.

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