I saw three ships come sailing in… and they plundered the merchant ships and made off with treasure! Become a pirate captain on a race to reach the Spanish treasure galleon in Trinidad in Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates!
What Is Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates?
Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is a deck-building race game for 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $49 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game. The age rating seems about right to me: the rules aren’t too difficult to pick up, and—aside from, you know, plundering merchant ships and raiding ports—the theme is presented in a kid-appropriate way.
Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
- Game board
- 60 Cargo Crates (12 each in 5 types)
- Cargo Crate bag
- 20 Treasure tiles
- 49 Port cards (32 Basic, 17 Advanced)
- 30 Merchant cards
- 6 Starting decks (10 cards each)
- 24 pirate ships (4 each in 6 player colors)
I don’t know if the colors of the cubes and ship meeples is final (or if the components themselves will be different), but I do hope that the player colors and the cargo colors don’t have so much overlap. That’s just a pet peeve of mine, when resource colors match player colors, because at first glance you might think the cargo crates matching your player color are your pieces for something. And speaking of the color, I’m not sure if the game will be color blind friendly, since the only thing distinguishing the cargo crates is color—but they can’t use different shapes because they’re drawn at random from a bag. I’m not sure what the idea solution for that would be.
The board is a map showing the Caribbean, with three paths that wind their way across the board and meet up in Trinidad. The map artwork is by Jared Blando and is nicely done; it really does look like an old map, with small illustrations of each of the ports. The spaces on the paths are pretty tiny, though, and it can be hard to fit multiple players on the same space (which does happen occasionally during gameplay). Also, the red squares next to each merchant ship space, showing the number of cargo crates to place during setup, are very tiny—they could stand to be a little larger.
The prototype doesn’t have room for the two decks (and three face-up port cards) that will be used during the game, but there is a lot of unused space on the board. The board itself is already fairly large, and I’m not sure the overall size of the board needs to increase any. I just think the available space could be utilized a little better.
The illustrations on the cards (and on the box cover) are by Mark Page, and they’re a lot of fun, depicting different sorts of pirates. It does feel a little odd to me, though, that the map uses a more realistic style and the pirates are more cartoony. Both styles are done well, but they don’t seem to match up exactly.
The treasure tiles show a number of different cubes and a victory point value—pretty simple. They also have different illustrations for the different values, which is a nice touch. Each treasure has a unique name, plus the name of a pirate. I haven’t looked all of these up, but they appear to be the names of actual pirates, along with treasures associated with them. The treasure tiles in the prototype are fairly large, so the treasure market area can take up a lot of space.
How to Play Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to become the richest pirate captain by plundering treasures and staying ahead of your opponents on the three tracks.
Each player takes the starting ships of their chosen color, placing one at the start of each of the three tracks in St. Augustine, Havana, and Gran Granada. (The fourth ship is just placed in front of the player so it’s easy to tell what color each player is.) Each player also gets their 10 starting cards and shuffles them. Randomly draw cargo crates from the bag and place them on the merchant ship spaces, one cube per square printed next to the ships.
Shuffle the port deck and the merchant deck separately. The merchant deck is set to one side, and the top three cards of the port deck are revealed next to the port deck. Shuffle the treasure tiles and place some face-up near the board—the exact number depends on the player count.
Choose a random starting player. There are bonuses for the other players—cubes or port cards—based on their position in turn order.
On your turn, you play three cards from your hand. Each card may be used either as movement or for its card effect, if any. The large number on the card is the movement, and you may move any of your three ships that many spaces (forward or backward). The paths have many branching spurs that lead to merchant ships and sometimes ports—you may travel down these spurs or bypass them. You may use all three cards to move the same ship, or you may move different ships with different cards.
If you land on a merchant ship that still has cargo, take all the cargo, and also draw the top card of the merchant deck and place it in your own discard pile. There are three types of merchant cards: the young merchants will move you 2 spaces but only on a specific track; the merchant seaman moves you 2 spaces on any track; the merchant captain moves you 3 spaces on any track. Once your ship has plundered a merchant, you may not move that ship for the rest of this turn. (If you land on a merchant that has no cargo, treat it as an empty space—there’s no cargo to plunder and no crew to press-gang into service.)
If you land on a port, you must stop movement. You may purchase treasure tiles by trading in cargo cubes (placing them back into the bag) that match the available treasure tiles next to the board. You may purchase as many tiles as you can afford.
If the treasure tiles run out, you will replace them once during the game, drawing one tile per player. After those run out, there are no more treasures to be found.
You may also now select one of the three available port cards, or draw one off the top of the deck, and place it into your discard pile. There are various types of port cards. Some (as seen above) allow you to move more quickly.
“Play to table” cards have a small card icon in the top right. If you use these for their effect instead of movement, they are played to the table and have a persistent effect. Some will be discarded when used, and others will remain on the table for the rest of the game.
“Discard out of play” cards have a skull and crossed swords icon in the top right. If you use these for their card effect, the card is removed from the game. These tend to be really powerful effects, but then you won’t get to save that card for movement.
There are a few treasure cards that are worth points at the end of the game, and they may or may not help you move.
Once you’ve visited a port, you may not visit the same port again during the game.
At the end of your turn, you draw back up to a hand of five cards, keeping any cards that you didn’t play.
The game ends immediately when any player lands on Trinidad.
Players will get scores for their placement on each of the three paths, based on the number of players. (Tied players both score full points for their place.) You also score points for your treasure tiles and any treasure cards that you got in port. Cargo crates are worth 1/2 point each. The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most treasure tiles, and then to the player with the most remaining cargo crates.
Why You Should Play Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates
Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is a hearty mix of deck-building and racing—finding the right balance between the two is the key to victory. Combining deck-building with movement is not a totally new concept (see also Clank!) but this one makes it a race, which sets it apart. Being first on each of the three tracks can be worth a lot of points (the exact values depend on the number of players), but it can be hard keeping up on all three, particularly with your starting cards (and all those nearly useless lubbers!). If you’re going to get ahead, you need to get some better cards, which means hitting those merchant ships and visiting ports.
That’s one aspect that’s different from most deck-building games. In order to get new cards, you have to get to certain spaces on the board. Only the first person to reach a merchant ship will get a merchant card there, but any number of people can visit a port. The merchant cards can be hit or miss—you might get a young merchant, who only moves you along a specific track, or you might get the merchant captain who’s worth 3 movement. But the port cards are where it really gets fun. First, you can take your choice from the three face-up cards, so you won’t be surprised (unless you want to be). But these cards also have secondary uses beyond movement, and so you’ll have to choose how to use them.
The ports are all behind merchant ships, and when you raid a merchant ship you have to stop movement for that ship. That means that, in a close race, whoever is faster can grab the cargo and a merchant card, but the player right behind them could get into the port first. The first player now has a choice—do they go into port on their next turn to trade for treasures and pick up a (sometimes more powerful) port card? Or do they skip the port and get back to the main track so they don’t fall behind?
Many deck-building games suffer from what’s known as “multiplayer solitaire,” the feeling that everyone is just doing their own thing without any interaction with the other players. Not so with Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates. Beyond the constant jockeying for position on the paths, there’s also a race to get to the merchant ships (one of the only ways to get those valuable cargo that you trade in for treasure tiles), and there are even some port cards with a bit more “take that” to them. You might get to move an opponent back, keep them from moving, or even steal a card from them. I like that there are a couple of cards that change hands when you use them. What goes around, comes around!
Because the game ends when somebody reaches Trinidad, the players also set the pace of the game. If everyone is stopping to plunder merchant ships and visiting ports, then the game can be a little more leisurely. There’s still competition to get to the merchant ships, but everyone can build up their decks (and also spend more time weeding out some of those Lubbers). But it’s also possible for a player to just bypass all the merchants and ports, and focus on getting just one ship to Trinidad. First place can be worth a lot of points, particularly with higher player counts, so if you can approach Trinidad before too many other players manage to amass points in other ways, you can control when the game ends. It’s not a guaranteed winning strategy—just like grabbing the first treasure in Clank! and running for the exit might not get you the highest score—but it can definitely keep everyone on their toes.
Another difference from typical deck-building games is that you always get to play three cards, and then you don’t discard the rest of your hand—you just draw back up to five. That means that if you draw some weak cards, you may be stuck with them for a while if you don’t want to play them. That’s where some of these port card abilities seen above come into play—they let you discard cards, clearing out your hand so that you can cycle through your deck more quickly and get back to your better cards.
I have to admit that my first play of Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates fell flat. It was a two-player game, we didn’t know what to expect from the merchant and port decks, and things just didn’t click. (It also didn’t help that I managed to get two copies of the “Running Before the Wind” card, which lets you move all three of your ships 2 spaces each, plus a few cards that gave me bonus movement every turn, and it wasn’t really a competition at all. With more players, there’s a bit more chaos but it’s also harder for any single player to run away with the game. Even with 3 players it felt exciting and tense.
I’ve since played with player counts ranging from 3 to 5 players (I haven’t tried with 6) and I’ve enjoyed it a lot more. It can get a little long with more players, but each player’s turn is fairly quick. Even with all the various card abilities, you’re still only playing 3 cards from your hand each turn, so the game moves along at a good pace. The deck-building can be a bit luck-based since you never know exactly what you’re going to get from the merchant deck, or if you take a random card from the deck when you reach port instead of one of the three available, but you do have some control in the form of weeding out cards, if you take the time to do so.
Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates skews a little more toward the racing and treasure collecting than the deck-building, so if you want a bit more control over the deck-building itself, this might not be quite as fulfilling for you. But if you like a little bit of deck-building and you’re really more interested in getting ahead of your opponents, this may suit your tastes. Or, if you’re just into pirate games, you’ll get to raid merchants, stash treasures, and throw lubbers overboard, so what are you waiting for?
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.