Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Quick Review - League of Pirates

League of Pirates
Designer: Steve Hart
Publisher: Front Porch Classics
Quick Review - League of Pirates
Last week I convinced my wife to play a game that I picked up used a few weeks ago.  We were actually both pretty excited to try it out since it's a pirate game and the version I got was Pirates of the Caribbean themed (one of our favorite movie franchises).  We excitedly opened the box and looked at all the really cool looking components and the anticipation grew.  I sat down to read the rules and that was the end of the excitement.

Just by reading the rules I could tell that the game was going to be a drag.  The rules detailed a number of confusing actions that could be taken by a single player each round.

Yes, I said a single player.  The player that gets to take a turn is decided by an inane series of dice rolls to determine a winner.  Each player gets to roll up to 5 dice a total of three times.  They are trying to roll a 1, 2, and 3 in order.  On each of the three rolls the player may choose which dice to 'lock' and which to re-roll, kind of like in Yahtzee, but with less purpose.  The kicker is that the 1, 2, and 3 must be 'locked' in order.  Thus if you roll a 2, 3, 6, 6, 6 on your first roll you can't 'lock' the 2 and 3, nor any of the 6's. you can 'lock' two or more dice in one roll, but only if they fall into the proper sequence.  If either player manages to lock a 1, then a 2, and then a 3 the remaining two dice is their score.  The player with the highest score gets to take a turn.

There are many problems with this mechanic, but two really huge glaring ones.  First, this results in getting a score for the dice challenge less than 50% of the time.  And if both players are scoring less than 50% of the time this means there are a number of times when neither player scores and then both players have to re-roll for the dice challenge.  When my wife and I played this meant that there were times when we went through 3-4 dice challenges (9-12 times rolling the handful of dice) before someone locked a 1, 2, and 3 in order.  And the number of times that we both locked the numbers and had a score to compare was minimal.  Even after we did away with the requirement that the 1, 2, and 3 be locked in sequence there were still a small handful of times where neither of us locked all three numbers, although there were more times where we actually compared scores.

The second glaring issue with this is that both players have the exact same probability of actually locking their first three dice.  And then the exact same probabilities for the possible values of the last two dice.  The only thing that could change that, and only slightly, and the only potential decision making process in this was if a player locked their 1, 2, and 3 in the first two rolls.  Then they might choose to better their score on the third roll.  But having both players with the same chances and no skill or significant decisions required equates this to a flip of a coin.  Or a single roll of a single die each.

So the whole big Dice Challenge part of this game equated to a flip of the coin (and actually flipping a coin would be better because at least there would be a decision every time).  But that brings us to the next HUGE flaw in the game.  Since only one player gets to take an action per turn there is a decent likelihood that one player will get to take several turns in a row, putting them irrevocably ahead of the other player.  There are only 7 crew member spaces on each ship, so if a player gets 3 or 4 turns in a row there's a good chance that they'll have their ship nearly filled before the other player even gets a turn and then when he does finally get a turn there is virtually nothing he can do to effectively hurt the other player significantly.  Yes, he can attempt to Raid the other ship, or recruit his own crew, but those actions have little effect when the other player has his ship nearly fully crewed.

Also, there's really nothing holding a player back from using the 'Recruit' action to basically pick and choose an appropriate crew member on each turn.  This is because each action costs a number of 'Ship Points'.  The 'Recruit' action costs 3 Ship Points and lets a player draw 3 random tokens from their Home Port bag and then choose which one to place.  Most other actions cost 1 or 2 Ship Points, so 3 is fairly expensive.  But when each player starts with 19 Ship Points and the 'Press Gang' action can add a single random token to your crew for only 1 Ship Point, it's super easy for a player to pay 1 Ship Point on their first few turns, when they have a virtually empty ship and know that pretty much any token drawn will fill a space somewhere and then later pay the 3 Ship Points to pick and choose recruits.  So there is very little in the way of challenge in filling your crew.

This makes all the other actions even less important since the game basically becomes a race to see who can fill their ship the fastest.  And that is largely determined by who wins more Dice Challenges, which, as I mentioned are completely random and less productive than flipping a coin.

So, all of this complete and total randomness will eventually result in one player having their ship's crew filled out.  Then they can Set Sail, at which point the player attempts another Dice Challenge to see if they are able to shove off or not.  Again, their chances of winning are less than 50% and completely random.  Once a player Sets Sail then both players total up the points of their crew, plus their remaining Ship Points, plus a bonus for any crew members that match their captain's color.

In all, the game takes about 30 minutes to play and is just as random as a coin flip.  So save yourself some time and aggravation and flip a coin.

HOWEVER, I did play the game a second time!  It was very difficult, but I convinced my wife to give the game one more chance, but with a variation that I found online and tweaked a little more.  The variant takes away a lot of the randomness (the dice challenge is stripped down to a single die roll, and it only determines which player goes first in a round - each player gets a turn every round), limits the starting number of Ship Points to 10 (adding value to the decisions of which action to take), and makes a number of other minor adjustments to add more strategy and less luck to the game.

And you know what?  It worked!  Mostly...  My wife still felt the game was fairly boring, even without all the pointless dice rolling.  Yes, there were more decisions to be made, but the game was still kind of blah.  I think I enjoyed it more than my wife did, but it still wasn't a huge hit.  However, instead of just feeling like I wasted 30 minutes for a completely random result this time I'm thinking of actions I could have changed to effect the outcome of the game.  And that's a significant improvement.

Overall, the game as described in the included instructions should be thrown overboard.  But with the modifications I made it is tolerable, and possibly even entertaining.  If I can convince someone to play the variation with me a few more times I'll have a better idea of whether or not the strategy is as deep as it looks like it could be.  But I know my wife won't be the one to test that out with me, and I'm not too sure I want to bother with it either.  There are plenty of better games out there that don't need tweaking.

But if you are interested in downloading a PDF of my variant rules, you can get it here:

Preliminary Rating: 1/10
with Rules Variant: 3/10 (possibly higher if I can ever convince someone to try the variant out a few more times, which is unlikely since there are so many better games out there)

The game looks much better than it plays, at least
if you follow the instructions that come with it.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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