Rule the Seas in ‘Plunder: A Pirate’s Life’

Featured Gaming Tabletop Games
Get ready to talk like a pirate. Image by Michael Knight

Set sail on the high seas with your fleet of pirates ships as you seek to acquire more plunder than your adversaries.

What Is Plunder: A Pirate’s Life?

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is a competitive game where players collect resources, build and upgrade their ships, capture islands,  sink enemy ships, and search for treasure. The goal is to gain enough plunder to win. The game is designed by K. C. Schrimpl, a former Disney screenwriter who has worked on a number of movies and productions including recent releases such as The Call of the Wild and The Mandalorian. Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is the first board game produced by Lost Boy Entertainment. It is designed for 2-6 players, ages 14 and up. However, younger children with some board gaming experience will have no trouble playing it as well. A typical game takes about 20 minutes per player, though the first game may take a bit longer as you learn the rules. The list price of the game is $49.99 and is available on Amazon.com.

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life Components

Here’s what comes in the game:

  • 6 double-sided board tiles for making unique maps
  • 10 grid borders with corners that go around the map
  • 18 ships in 6 different colors
  • 18 mast pegs
  • 18 cannon pegs
  • 36 life pegs
  • 36 flags
  • 2 compass spinners
  • 150 resource cards
  • 55 treasure cards
  • 56 plunder point cards
  • 6 reference cards
  • 4 X-Marks the Spot tokens
  • 1 Storm
  • 1 Attack Die
  • 1 Defense Die
  • 1 Sailing Die
The Compass Spinners are a unique way to determine random locations on the map. Image by Michael Knight

Players assemble a new map for each game by shuffling and flipping the six board tiles to create rectangular map. The grid borders not only hold the map tiles together, they also create a coordinate system with numbers 1-18 across the top and bottom and letters A-L along the sides. The two compass spinners are then used to randomly determine locations on the map when needed.

A fully upgraded ship. Image by Michael Knight

Each player can have up to 3 ships in their fleets, though they only begin with one. Ships start off with 3 lives, represented by the red life pegs. By spending resources, players can upgrade their ships with up to 2 masts and 2 cannon.

The four resources: wood, iron, rum, and gold. Image by Michael Knight

Resources are the currency of the game. Collect and spend wood, iron, rum, and of course gold.

Not all treasure is good. Image by Michael Knight

When players collect treasure where X-Marks the Spot, they receive a treasure card. While most of the rewards are beneficial to the player, some  come with penalties.

Flags, plunder point cards, and the ever popular X-Marks the Spot counters. Image by Michael Knight

Flags are used to show control of islands with ports. Players can earn plunder cards for sinking ships, burying gold, and as rewards on treasure cards. Plunder points are used to win the game. Finally, X-Marks the Spot

The storm covers 9 squares and moves when a 1 is rolled on the sailing die. Image by Michael Knight

The red die is for attacking while the black die is rolled by the defender. Players roll the sailing die to determine how far their fleet can move during the turn. If a “1” is rolled, the storm is moved to a random location on the map. It hinders movement and resource collection.

Every piece has its place. Image by Michael Knight

All of the pieces of the game fit neatly into the box in molded compartments. This makes it easy to set up the game as well as put it away afterwards. Who knew pirates were so organized?

How to Play Plunder: A Pirate’s Life

Ready to begin the game. Image by Michael Knight

Setup

Creating the map is the first thing that must be completed before you begin playing. Shuffle, rotate, and flip the six board tiles around and then position them to create a two tile by three tile rectangle. The grid borders assemble like a puzzle and go around the map tiles. Create stacks of 10 face-up resource cards each, one for each of the four resources. Then shuffle the remaining resource cards to form a resource deck with the cards face-down. Next to the resource deck place a stack of plunder point cards and then the shuffled deck of face-down treasure cards.

After each player picks a color, they take the three ships and six flags in their color. They each also get a reference card with the cost of upgrades on one side and a summary of gameplay on the other. Now it is time to place the three X-Marks the Spot counters (four counters if playing with five or six players). Spin the two compass spinners to get a letter and number combination that is used to randomly place each of the three counters. Use the spinners again to place the storm with the coordinate in the center of the storm.

Each player begins with a ship and an island. Image by Michael Knight

Players each roll a die and the highest roll gets to place a flag  on any port on an island with a single skull first. Taking turns in a counter-clockwise direction, each of the remaining players place their flags.  After each player has claimed one island, they place a ship with three life pegs on a port on the island which is designated by an anchor. Each player then draws three resource cards from the face-down deck without showing them to the other players. The last player to claim an island is now the first player to begin play.

Gameplay

Play now follows a clock-wise direction with each player completing their turn before the next player goes. At the start of the turn, a player draws one resource card for each island they control (have a flag on it). The resource cards are used for building and upgrading ships and can be spent at any time during the turn. The active player then rolls the sailing die. If a one is rolled, spin the compass spinners to move the storm to the new location. The number on the sailing die indicates the number of spaces the player can move among all the ships in their fleet. Ships can move orthogonally, but not diagonally. They cannot sail through islands either. They can sail across the boundary of a storm, but must pay two resource cards each time they do so. Moving within a storm only costs regular movement. Ships do not have to move all at once. They can move, take an action, then move again. There are four different actions: battle an enemy ship, attack and try to capture an island, search for treasure where X-Marks the Spot, or conduct trade.

Send her down to Davy Jones Locker! Image by Michael Knight

Ships that are adjacent to one another, not diagonal or separated by an island, can battle. The active player rolls the red attack die and adds one for each cannon peg on the ship. The target player rolls the black defense die and adds one for each cannon peg on their ship. The ship with the higher die is the winner, with the attacking player winning a tie. The losing ship loses one of its life pegs. If it loses its last life peg, the ship is sunk and removed from the map. The winner player gains a plunder point card for sinking a ship. The active player’s ship cannot attack the same enemy ship again. It can sail away and attack another ship or the active player can use a different ship to attack the targeted ship.

Capturing islands increases the amount of resources you collect each turn. Image by Michael Knight

Taking control of islands allows players to draw resource cards at the start of their turn. Controlled islands also go towards winning the game. To capture an island, sail a ship into a port on the island. The battle is similar to attacking another ship. The attacker rolls the attack die and adds one for each cannon peg. If someone controls the island, that player rolls the defense die. Otherwise the player to the left of the active player rolls. Add one to the die roll for every skull on the island. The attacker wins a tie. If the ship wins, the active player places a flag of their color on the island, removing the flag of the enemy if present. On the other hand, if the island wins, the ship loses one life peg. A ship can only attack an island once per turn. It can, however, sail away to attack another island.

Visit merchant islands to trade resources. Image by Michael Knight

There are two islands with ports and a barrel on them. These are merchant islands. By sailing into a port on a merchant island, the player can trade any two resource cards for one of their choice. Also, the player in the port can offer to trade cards with any of the other players. On their turns, players can trade with any other player who has a ship at a merchant island. In addition, you can trade with players if you have a ship adjacent to them or you have a ship in one of their ports or they have a ship in one of your ports. If you are in position to attack another player’s ship or island, you can also threaten them. Request that they give you certain resource cards or make a trade with you in order to prevent you from attacking them. They can also offer to bribe you with resources to avoid an attack. If the threat or bribe is accepted, then a treaty exists between the two players for the rest of the active player’s turn. This means the active player cannot attack the other player for the rest of the turn. The defending player can attack on their turn though.

That treasure be mine! Image by Michael Knight

Finally, your ships can search for treasure. To do this, sail a ship onto an X-Marks the Spot counter if on a sea space or adjacent to the counter if it is on land. Remove the counter and use the compass spinners to place the counter in a new location. Then draw a treasure card and follow its directions. Treasure cards are a good way to gain resources or even get plunder point cards. However, some force you to lose resource cards, lose a life peg, or end your turn. A single ship can search for treasure more than once per turn as long as it can reach those locations.

Resources can be spent to upgrade your ships by adding cannon pegs, mast pegs and replacing life pegs as well as building new ships. Cannon pegs allow you to add to your die rolls when attacking or defending with that ship. Each mast peg allows that ship to move one additional space. If you lose a life peg, you can pay to replace it. However, a ship cannot have more than three life pegs. If you build a new ship, you can place it in any of your ports or adjacent to one of your other ships. Finally, if you have enough gold, you can purchase a plunder point card for every five gold cards. This is called burying treasure and is essentially buying your way towards victory.

Even if your last ship is sunk, you are not out of the game. There is a process for getting a new ship. You can buy one with resources or a plunder point card. You can also disown an island by removing your flag to get a ship. Another way is to roll two dice and roll doubles. Even without a ship, you can still trade and your islands can be attacked. This feature allows all players to remain in the game until the very end. It is not uncommon to lose your last ship, especially early in the game when you have only one and are trying to capture islands.

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life also offers some variants. If you have only two players, then the map is decreased to only four map tiles rather than six, with no merchant islands in play. For five and six player games, a fourth X-Marks the Spot counter is put on the map so there are more opportunities to search for treasure. If you want some cooperative with your competitive, you can also play as teams. You can have two teams of two, two teams of three, or three teams of two.

Winning the Game

3 ships, 2 islands, and 5 plunder point cards = 10 plunder points and victory. Image by Michael Knight

In order to win a game of Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, you need to accumulate ten plunder points. To calculate your plunder points, add up the number of ships you have on the map, the number of controlled islands (flags of your color on the map) and the number of plunder point cards you have. As soon as a player reaches 10 plunder points, the game is over. Remember, you can get plunder point cards by sinking an enemy ship, from some treasure cards, and by burying five gold resource cards to buy a plunder point card.

Why You Should Play Plunder: A Pirate’s Life

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is a well-designed game all around. The ships and upgrade pegs look great and are well made. They are not going to fall apart. The quality of the rest of the components is also high. The map tiles, grid borders, compass spinners, and reference cards are thick cardboard rather than cardstock. I was also impressed by the plastic insert in the box with slots to keep all the components organized. This meant I did not have to 3-D print my own organizers.

The rules for the game are not too simple while also not being too difficult. Though beginners could play this game, there is enough depth to keep experienced players interested. The mechanics are straightforward. I like how the movement points can be split up during the course of a turn and that actions are free. Movement points are just for moving and you don’t have to spend them on attacking, trading, or searching for treasure. This keeps the game moving quickly. Combat is fairly simple with each player in the conflict rolling a single die and only cannon pegs or island skulls modifying the die rolls. The manner in which players can trade with one another, as long as they are in direct contact (ship to ship or island to ship) or via a merchant island provides more player interaction outside of combat. Plus, the ability to threaten or bribe for resources to avoid combat reflects a pirate way to play. Since you can only inflict one loss of a life peg with a single attack, sometimes going for resources is more beneficial.

The compass spinners are a creative way to determine a random location. This can be more entertaining than just rolling dice.  There are always three (or four for larger player numbers) X-Marks the Spot counters on the map, so they never run out. This helps keep players sailing around the map and makes searching for treasure an important part of the game. I also liked that there are some good treasure cards as well as some that penalize the player who draws them. Sometimes what you think might be a big haul turns into a trap that costs you. The storm is another bit of randomness in the game. You never know when it will move or where it will go. Since it cost two resource cards to cross the boundary of a storm, it essentially limits movement in a small area of the map. Furthermore, the map is different each time you play. In some games the two merchants islands will be on one side of the map while on others they will be on opposite ends.

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is a great game for families as well as game groups. If one of the players is familiar with the rules, it can be easily taught to the other players. By dividing up the responsibilities, players can stay engaged even when it is not their turn. We assigned one child to be the official compass spinner flicker and another to be in charge of resources. A few of the people with whom I played the game compared it to Settlers of Cataan due to random resource collection and spending resources to upgrade or build. However, in my opinion, Plunder: A Pirate’s Life offers more player interaction and conflict while focusing on moving around the map to capture islands and search for treasure. This game will be hitting the table on a regular basis.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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