REVIEW – Pirate’s Cove

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Pirate's CoveName: Pirate’s Cove
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Type: Strategy, very competitive
Players: 3-5
Best with: 4, 5
Length of Playtime: 60-75 minutes

 

Give It to Me Quick: Pirate’s Cove is characterized by a cool theme and art. It’s a strategic game with a fair bit of luck driven by die rolling. Thrives with competitive players. You’ll be choosing which part of your ship to upgrade when, battling other players by rolling dice, capturing treasure, and acquiring fame points.

 

Introduction

In Pirate’s Cove, you captain your own Jackdaw…er, pirate ship in collecting buried treasure and doubloons, fighting off your opponents while also taking down Blackbeard, the Flying Dutchman, and other infamous pirates of old. The pirate who accumulates the most Fame (points) by the end of the game wins.

Great theme and artwork.

Fame is earned several different ways:

1. While looting islands
2. Defeating your opponents or the Legendary ships in battle.
3. Gaining fame cards.
4. Gathering and trading coins or treasure for fame.

Fame can be lost several different ways:

1. Running from battles, and possibly…
2. …having your crew mutiny.

 

Gameplay Summary

Players start the game with a small amount of coins, and are immediately presented with the decision of which parts of their pirate ship to improve. After this initial upgrade opportunity, the only way to upgrade their ship is to visit the island which specifically allows that repair. Each player’s ship is made up of four elements that can be upgraded:

Sails – These upgrades determine the speed of your ship. The faster ship in any given battle rolls their attack dice first, a big advantage.
Crew – Crew are needed to fire cannons to attack other ships. The Men count works in tandem with the Cannon count to attack.
Cannon – Cannon is needed to attack other ships, but Men are needed to fire them. Whichever number is lower, Men or Cannon, determines how many dice are rolled when attacking.
Hold – The ship’s hold upgrades allow the player to carry more treasure in their ship from island to island.

 

Your pirate ship with the available upgrades: Sails, Crew, Cannon, and Hull.

Your pirate ship with the available upgrades.

Other items that the player will acquire throughout the game are:

Doubloons (Coins) – used to purchase ship upgrades, Tavern cards, and Fame points (3 coins for one Fame point if dropped off on treasure island)
Buried Treasure – worth one Fame point per treasure if dropped off on Treasure Island before the end of the game.
Tavern cards – these introduce many different cards to the game, with cards giving Fame points, affecting battles, or ambushing opponents with the Royal Navy.

The main game mechanic in Pirate’s Cove revolves around the player deciding each turn which island he will visit on that turn. This decision is made in secret before revealing to all the other players what the choice was. Each of these islands has randomized loot available, based on a shuffled stack of dwindling cards that reveals a new card each turn on each island. If two players happen to choose the same island, a battle occurs between those players for the loot on the island. If only one player chooses a given island, they win all the loot available on the island with no conflict. The loot that can be won at each island are Fame points, coins, treasure chests, or Tavern cards. The amount of each particular item won depends on the card, and each island has a different combination of loot available, changing every turn.

There are also other non-player ships to contend with that rotate from island to island, such as the aforementioned Legendary pirates.

 

Battles. When two players reveal their destination for the upcoming turn, and both locations are the same, they fight it out for control of that island. The ship with the higher Sails upgrade rolls the attack dice first. They declare which part (Sails, Men, Cannon, Hull) of the opposing ship they want to attack (usually whichever part is the weakest/lowest number). The number of dice rolled depends on the number of cannon and men that the ship has upgraded. For each “5” or “6” that is rolled. the opponent’s ship suffers one block of damage and moves the counter for that particular part of the ship down one to reflect the damage. Players attack back and forth until one retreats or the battle is resolved when one player has any one upgrade category knocked down to zero. The defeated player must then relinquish the island to the victor and retreat to the repair cove. The victor wins all the loot on the card at that island.

 

How many players is it best with?

We have only played this game with four players. Most of the conflict in this game is a direct result of everyone’s turn by turn decisions, as players will often select the same island and thus, meet in battle. When the player count drops below four, the human players are replaced by an additional Legendary Pirate Ship AI that rotates around the islands. I can easily imagine that dropping below four players and adding an additional non-human player would hurt the game’s appeal. Player to player competition is a huge part of this game.

 

Our Positives

It’s satisfying to build and upgrade your ship and then pummel any opponent foolish enough to challenge you, sending him back to dock to repair while you capture all the booty. I do realize the hypocrisy of this paragraph in light of my “Negatives” comments below.

Pirate’s Cove is all about balancing risk and reward. Should you risk another turn grabbing treasures while your opponents are eyeing your stash and building up their cannons, ready to take you down? Should you challenge the legendary Treasure ship, knowing that your opponents will most likely decide to do the same and generate an all out free for all? Should you challenge the legendary Blackbeard and risk being destroyed, knowing that no other player will likely visit that island due to Blackbeard being there? Or should you take the safe route, only to be apprehended by the Royal Navy that your opponent sent slyly to attack you? Should you wait until next turn to visit one particular island to upgrade your crew, or do you think that your opponent will be visiting that island to upgrade as well since he’s hurting for crew also?

 

Should I drop off the treasure now or later?

Should I drop off the treasure now or later?

 

It’s always anticipatory fun waiting to see what island everyone else is going to from turn to turn. The tension winds up at the end of the game as people have piles of treasure stored in their ship that they should be cashing in for points, but they just want to try one more island. The other players can try to anticipate their move to sink them before they are able to return to Treasure Island.

The Tavern cards introduce some nice variety by affecting player vs player battles in various ways, such as improving defenses, increasing the number of attack die to be rolled, or the ability to attack all upgrades of the opponent’s ship at once.

 

Our Negatives

A lot of Pirate’s Cove gameplay (as in, all of the battles) is predicated by die rolls. This can introduce a lot of Risk-style frustration when, for example, several turns of building up your ship is wasted when you can’t roll die to save your life and your burning, crushed ship is sent yet again to the repair Cove. Once your ship has been knocked down in any one of the upgradable categories, you are a prime target for further attacks until you are able to upgrade again. This happened to me in one of the first games I played. An initial battle defeat became a recurring theme because I was unable to rebuild to any sort of extent before getting attacked again and again.

The game does introduce an interesting balancing mechanic where a defeated player sent to the repair cove is able to acquire two (potentially powerful) Tavern cards for free. However, if it’s near the beginning of the game when that same player has to take coins instead to upgrade his ship, he falls behind very quickly. In this particular game I landed 25 points behind 3rd place in dead last, mostly because I didn’t know how to roll numbers divisible by five and six. I’m all for losing, but not if it’s mostly because of the dice I’ve rolled.

 

Accessibility:

playbegins_accessibility7

 

 

 

 

35_party for a Party No, too many nuances to explain.
casual Casual Maybe, if nothing else the theme and board will interest them.
35_competitive Competitive Yes, this game is extremely competitive, especially at four players and above. A lot of decision making is directly based on destroying your opponent in any way possible.
35_strategy Strategic Yes, in a risk/reward sort of way. Elements of luck can frustrate.

 

Final Thoughts on Pirate’s Cove

In our four player games of Pirate’s Cove, we’ve found them to be extremely competitive, mostly in a good way. The player vs player battles do have a very unforgiving winner/loser dynamic which can keep the loser down for several turns, especially if the initial losses occur at the beginning of the game. I wanted to really like this game, and I ended up just liking it. It’s hard to play strategically only to see your chances at winning come crashing down by pure luck with a round of poor dice rolls.

However, the game has a great theme and the concept is fun. This is a fantastic four or five player game if your game crew is competitive and enjoys lots of conflict.  After getting absolutely thrashed my first playthrough, I still immediately wanted to play another round. A worthy add to a game collection.

 

Check out more reviews!

Pirate's Cove

7.875

Replayability

75/10

    Engagement

    80/10

      Game mechanics

      70/10

        Theme/Fun

        90/10

          Likes

          • - Much player interaction
          • - Engaging theme, artwork, and concept
          • - Interesting risk/reward decisions

          Dislikes

          • - Die roll frustration at times

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