The High Five - Pirate Games

The High Five - Pirate Games

In this top 5 list, we’re taking a look ye olde top five peg-leg games. I mean pirate games. Argh, I should have laid off me rum. Argh ya ready?


5. Libertalia

Published in 2012 by Asmodee, Libertalia wins the prize for looking the most like a famous Disney pirate movie starring Johnny Depp. Contractually, I can’t mention the title of the film due to an incident at DisneyWorld. In my defense, the animatronic wench appeared to be in danger.

In Libertalia, players use the same crew member cards as their opponents over three rounds to capture booty, seize Spanish officers, and avoid curses. Strategy enters the game in choosing when to play each crew card. When do you unleash your gunner or your trusty parrot, who won’t stop cursing? We get it, Polly wants a crack *&!)@.

Libertalia has all of the hallmarks you’d expect from a pirate game, especially skullduggery, as you outguess and backstab your opponents.


4. Jamaica

In Jamaica, players race around an island, but I can’t recall its name. Players race to acquire gold doubloons and treasure, food for their crew, and gunpowder for pirating. Each pirate must carefully manage their cargo hold as they collect goods, and may need to throw some choice product overboard.

Two dice placed on the board at the beginning of each turn determine the amount of procurement and travel based on the cards played by each pirate.

Jamaica is a family weight game, but it manages to fit all of the classic pirate themes under one roof. Are you sailing away from other pirates? Yes. Can you attack other pirates? Yes. Can you search for treasure? Yes. Can the treasure be cursed? Yes. Do you need to feed your crew to prevent scurvy? Yes. Can you swab the deck? Unfortunately no.

If you want a pirate racing game without extra complexity, this is your jam.


3. ShipShape

ShipShape, designed by Rob Daviau and published by Calliope Games, is a game entirely about filling your cargo hold, or as I like to call it, pirate suitcase packing! ShipShape is the newest game to make my list. Although the game may not seem too thematic, it works surprisingly well as a pirate game.

Players are bidding for tiles to fill their cargo hold with gold, cannons, and contraband while covering the dirty rats at the bottom of your ship. You know, sweep the plague infested rats under the carpet. The game is fast, plays in three rounds, and includes some thematic interaction when scoring each round. ShipShape is the lightest game on the list and is an excellent pirate-themed filler for everyone to enjoy. Did I mention how cool this game looks on the table? It does.

Black Fleet

2. Black Fleet

Often overlooked, Space Cowboys released Black Fleet in 2014. Players are in command of three different types of ship and use cards to maneuver those ships. Your merchant ship earns doubloons by delivering cargo from one port to another. Your pirate ship steals and buries cargo from your opponent’s merchant ships. Lastly, the communal Navy ships sink your opponent’s pirate ships. It’s the circle of pirate life. Cue: Lion King music. Use the money you earned or “gently lifted” from your opponents to purchase advancement cards. Advancement cards provide special abilities and earn points for end game scoring.

Black Fleet embraces all of the things you would expect to find in a pirate game. Merchant ships make deliveries, pirates plunder those ships and evade capture. Black Fleet feels strategic, has a lower barrier of entry, and its screw your neighbor elements are lighthearted and fun. The artwork is playful, bright, and creates an immersive experience.

Pirate's Cove

1. Pirate's Cove

My number one pirate game of all time is Pirate’s Cove. Pirate’s Cove has a soft spot in my blackened heart because it was one of the first Days of Wonder games I played after Ticket to Ride. New to the hobby, everything looked shiny, new, and a million times better than Monopoly. Regardless of new gamer euphoria, Pirate’s Cove is a great pirate game.

In Pirates Cove, players secretly select one of the six islands to visit and subsequently plunder. At the islands, players also upgrade their ship’s hull to hold more treasure, hire more crew to man cannons, purchase more cannons for combat, or add more sails to make your ship faster.

The action starts when two or more players decide to rob the same island. The captains can either flee to the safety of Pirate’s Cove or fight until their ship is crippled, with the fastest ship getting the luxury of firing first.

On top of that, you can go to the tavern, hire a parrot, bury treasure, avoid the navy, and fight legendary pirates like Blackbeard, Captain Hook, or Scurvy Lewis. My bad, I went to high school with Scurvy Lewis. He is not a legendary pirate.

This game is all about piracy. It makes you want to talk like a pirate, and grab booty like a pirate. You’re gross, you know what I mean! Where some pirate games focus on a single aspect of pirate culture, Pirate’s Cove covers it all. You hire crew, you maintain your ship, fight other pirates, and plunder! Pirate’s Cove has the right mix of take-that, horribly bungled plans, and cannon combat to make it the quintessential pirate game in my book.

Honorable Mentions

As usual, here are few games that just missed the list but still have something unique to offer.

Dead Man's Draw

Dead Man’s Draw is a simple push your luck set collection game based on an app of the same name. Players draw cards such as cannons, cutlasses, and anchors to plunder the most loot without busting and losing everything. Published by Mayday Games, Dead Man’s draw has a pirate theme and enough player powers and card abilities to reward repeat plays.

Sea of Clouds

In Sea of Clouds, players are captains of flying pirate ships. Would it surprise you to find out that this game is not historically accurate? Sea of Clouds, from IELLO, is a pirate game about divvying loot such as Rum, Relics, and Pirates. Players earn points through set collection via card-drafting. The aspect of Sea of Clouds that stands out is the push-your-luck element in the game. Once you pass on a stack of loot, it may become more valuable for the next player. Push too hard, and you’re stuck with a pile of worthless garbage on your ship.

Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates

Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates, from Forbidden Games, adds deck-building to the pirate genre. Although it lacks the feelings of plundering and combat found in a lot of pirate games, it does nail the press your luck, race to the finish component. Players control three separate ships on three different routes to collect goods from merchant ships and cash them in at ports. The struggle between upgrading your crew or racing to the finish is a tricky battle. And the map artwork is impressive.

Doug Doug Kotecki is the Chief Curator at Tabletop Game Gallery, and even though his brain tells him not to, he still loves Taco Bell.

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