The Good: Word Pirates
Overview: Word Pirates is a little like a mix of Scrabble and Boggle, with pirates! You spell words with letter dice to build a path from your boat (on the corner of the board) to the center island where the treasure is.
Players: 2 to 4 players
Ages: 6 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Rating: Pretty good—for a particular age.
Who Will Like It? Kids who like pirates and spelling words (or perhaps parents who want to work on their kids’ spelling skills.)
Theme: Word Pirates has boats in each corner of the board, and the players spell words (and use bridges) to build a path to the center. While the pirates theme adds a bit of fun, it’s a pretty loosely applied theme that is best if you don’t look at it too closely. Why are the pirates building paths from their boats? Wouldn’t they just sail the boats to the island? Hopefully younger kids, the target audience, won’t really mind this at all.
Components: A gameboard, one really big die, 100 letter dice, four pirate pawns, 10 bridge pieces and 10 wall pieces. The pawns are cardboard punch-outs with plastic stands, and the bridges and walls are also cardboard punch-outs, all of fairly good quality. The letter dice are nice and solid with the letters engraved and painted; the jumbo die is hollow plastic with the sides printed on it, so it may wear more quickly.
Gameplay: On each turn you roll the big die, which will tell you to Build, Block, or Roll and Spell. Build means you pick from the available bridge pieces and add it to your path. Block allows you to use a wall piece to block somebody else’s path. Roll and Spell gives you between 8 and 10 letter dice to roll, which you then use to spell a word, adding to your path. Whoever gets to the center first wins.
The Block action can be pretty harsh, particularly depending on how soon in the game you get it—if you block somebody just right, then they may have to build off a difficult letter on their path. For younger kids, I would recommend skipping this, or using the walls as paths instead of obstacles. The Build can also give a fairly big advantage since some of the bridge pieces are pretty long (and those are likely to get picked first).
The spelling of words can be good or bad, based on the luck of the roll. Because there are only a few types of letter dice, when you grab a handful of them chances are you’re getting a lot of the same ones. On one turn I rolled nine vowels and an L. Another turn somebody rolled a handful that was all consonants. However, since you get to roll eight to ten dice at a time, usually there’s enough in there to spell at least a three or four letter word. (The unused dice are forfeited and go back into the pool.)
The rules also state the the words spelled all need to be in the same orientation—that is, somebody sitting at the “bottom” edge of the board should be able to read all the words from left to right and top to bottom. However, for younger kids I might recommend just letting them spell in any direction as long as the word is spelled correctly.
Conclusion: Overall, I think Word Pirates is a fun concept which can give kids practice in spelling. My older daughter is in second grade, so this is a pretty good exercise for her. However, the Block action is just a little too powerful and I’m not sure it’s one that I’d use for small kids. And the theme is pretty weak—pirates are fun, but this game really doesn’t have much to do with pirates. It’s not going to replace Scrabble by any means, but it’ll make a fun option for games with the kids.
Wired: Spell your way to the treasure. Arrrr!
Tired: A bad roll can cost you a turn; Block and Build actions are overpowered.