Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter project page to back it and get yourself a copy! Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (designer suggests 12+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • About 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Emotional Coping Skills

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Set sail on the high seas for adventure and profit! Be the first to find the treasure and return to your home port to win, while avoiding your opponents and their cannon fire at all cost!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

A’hoy dar, Matey! You be lookin’ fur adventure, be ye! Well dat be a good thing, boy-oh, as we set sail on de tide! Dar be treasure to be found and I got me’s a map! But ye best slap dat smile off yer face! Ain’t no thing for free and I know it to be true dat der be more den one pirate on these waters! Navigatin’ be one thing. Bringin’ home de treasure to spend be anut’er! Grab yer sword and spyglass, ye swab! We got work to do!

Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas is comprised of 20 Navigation dice (in 4 different colors, 5 per players), 1 Treasure die (a bonus die to be captured!), 4 Player Mats, 4 Ship dice (in 4 different colors, one per player), and 6 Map boards (on which would-be-pirates set sail). Note that the final game might contain more and I cannot comment on the quality as we were given a prototype which does not represent the final product.

Preparing to Sail

To set up the game, each player selects the 6 dice of the same color (5 navigation dice and 1 Ship die) and 1 Player Mat. Find the starting and ending Map boards (Treasure Cove) and set them aside. Shuffle the remaining Map boards and select 2 at random. Put these Map boards with the starting and ending Map boards. The remaining Map boards are removed from the duration of the game.

Now build the open seas on which adventure and danger await! This is done by creating an “S” shaped playing space using the 4 Map boards as shown in the following image.

Visual example of Map board set up

Place the Treasure die on the “X” position located on the ending Map board (Treasure Cove). The players now roll their Ship die and the player with the highest value rolled chooses their starting position, followed by the next highest and so on until all players have placed their Ship die with the “6” value at top on one of the four starting positions facing any orthogonal direction they choose. These spots are referred to as the player’s “home port” and indicate the final position the player must be in with the Treasure die at the end of the game to complete one of the two game’s winning conditions.

You are now ready to set sail!

Under the Brave Black Flag I Fly

All players take their turns simultaneously unless a specific action by one player contradicts or is direct conflict with another player’s action. Regardless, all players will complete a round by completing three simply phases.

  1. Roll and Place Dice
  2. Reveal and Resolve
  3. End-Turn

Roll and Place Dice

This is the first phase in which all players will roll their dice and use the results to determine how their ship moves on the Map boards. This is done by first rolling all the dice. The player must always select one dice per roll to place on their Player Mat, but a player is always welcome to select more than one, too. Once a die is placed on the Player’s Mat, it can no longer be rolled and must remain in the space it was set until the second phase.

The dice values rolled will determine the maneuvers the player’s ship will take on the water. Changing direction, spaces moved on the Map board, and a few maneuvers also indicate that a player will fire their cannons while moving and skullduggery to confuse and hamper a player’s opponents. In short, a single roll of the dice gives the player a lot to consider.

The Player Mat has 4 columns (meaning that 1 of the 5 die will not be used) and 3 rows. Each of the columns represents a specific maneuver and the order in which they are executed (the left most column being first, followed by the next column to the right, and so on). The three rows indicate how the maneuver on the dice are used by the player. The three rows are represented with a Ship Wheel, an Anchor, and a Skull. The Ship Wheel indicates that the die maneuver is a command the player’s ship will take during that column’s resolution. The Anchor indicates that the die maneuver is a command the player’s ship will ignore during that columns resolution. Dice cannot be placed on the Skull row by the player. The Skull row is reserved for “locking dice” when the ship takes damage.

Optionally, a player may choose to lower their sails and go about repairing their damaged ship. If a player chooses to do so, they do not roll any dice this round and simply wait until the second phase. All dice previously placed on the Player Mat remain and are not picked up.

This phase lasts until all the players have completed their dice placement. Once everyone has, continue to the second phase.

Reveal and Resolve

This is the second phase in which all the players now reveal their dice placement and resolve the die maneuvers starting with the left most column and continuing right until all the die in all the columns are accounted for. Only those dice on the Ship Wheel and the Skull row are considered commands. Any die maneuvers on the Anchor row are ignored and the player simply does nothing during that columns resolution. The only exception to this rule is skullduggery dice values (the Rum Barrel and the Anchor). If these are placed on the Anchor row, they are considered “always active” and negate any command of the same type delivered by another player.

All players complete the manuever at the same time by moving their Ship dice. The only time player’s must stop to consider the outcome is when two or more players are moving into the same spot or their maneuver in question has an outcome that is dependent on the order in which it is given. To determine which maneuver goes first, simply look at the priority number (a number on the maneuver). The maneuver with the highest value always goes first. For the most part, priority numbers will only be necessary when Ship dice are on the same Map board and where ship collisions are a concern.

If the player completes a maneuver that indicates the ship opens fire immediately afterwards, resolve any damage and continue to the next column but only after resolving the Map board features.

The Map board features occur only after all players have completed the manuevers noted in the column. Then all ships become susceptible to the natural currents and dangers of the sea. First, any ship that is on a whirlpool square will be rotated 90 degrees in the direction indicated by the arrows. Second, any ship that is on a wind square moves one square in the direction the wind is blowing.

This phase lasts until all the player’s have completed their dice resolution. Once everyone has, continue to the third and final phase.

End-Turn

This is the third and final phase of the round in which all players now open fire on each other. The left and right (port and starboard) sides of all ships now fire all their cannons. Cannonballs will continue in a straight line until they hit a ship or an island.

The Map board is now reviewed to check if the end game conditions have been met. If not, the game continues. All ships that lowered sails and survived the round now repair.

The game continues with a new round starting with first the first phase.

Example of two of the Map boards the players might be sailing on

Combat and Skullduggery

As if navigating the choppy waters, avoiding whirlpools, and strong currents weren’t enough, all player’s have opponents who have guns and the ability to ram their ship. Combat is done simply and quickly when it comes to cannon fire. If the ship is in the direct line of fire, it takes damage. Damage is recorded by the player flipping their Ship die to the next lower value. Recall that all ships start at a “6” for hull strength. The first damage they take will reduce it to “5” and so on until it reaches below 1 and sinks beneath the waves. The only way to avoid cannon fire is being behind another ship who takes the damage or behind an island. Reefs do not block cannon fire.

Technically, a cannon can fire more than once per round, but they will always fire at least once at the end of the round. Navigation dice in the Ship Wheel position with an asterisk (*) indicate that the cannons fire at the end of the column’s resolution. This is the only other time cannons will fire, but not he only way a ship can take damage.

Ships can also ram each other, causing damage to the other ship’s haul. Unfortunately, ships can also take damage by hitting solid objects such as reefs, islands, and other ships. If a ship hits another ship, the ship that is struck takes the damage. If a ship hits an island or a reef, the ship takes the damage and the island and reef barley notice. The amount of damage applied is one less than the ship’s current speed. Therefore, a ship going the speed of 1 will not do any damage, but a ship going the speed of 2 spaces will inflict 1 damage to another ship or suffer the damage if it strikes and island or reef. If two ships hit each head on, then both ships take damage. If hit by another ship, the ship that is struck is moved in the direction of the ramming ship, which might cause problems when navigating in the very near future.

Inflicting damage is not the only way to inflict misfortune on an opponent. There are two skullduggery (trickery) dice a player can place on their Player Mat. The Anchor will cause an opponent’s Navigation dice in the same column to be ignored (as if it was in the Anchor row) and the Rum Barrel will force an opponent to re-roll the Navigation die for that specific column, forcing that player to use whatever is rolled. Both are nasty and can ruin even the most skilled captain’s orders and day.

If a Ship die hull value is ever reduced to zero, the ship sinks. At the start of the next round, player starts with a new ship and places it on any valid space in the Map board that it was previously on before it was sunk in the current Map board. The Ship die can be rotated in any valid direction but starts with a hull value of “5” instead of “6”. Note that a player can only do this three times during the game. If they lose a third ship to Davy Jones, they are out of the game.

Repairing at Sea

When ships take damage, the Ship die is flipped to a lower number indicating the damage the ship has taken. Once the Ship die indicates “4” (having taken 2 damage in total), the Navigation die in the right most column becomes “locked” and is shifted to the Skull row of that column. Whatever the maneuver is on that Navigation die is now completed (if applicable) when that column is resolved. At “3”, two columns are locked. At “2, three columns are locked. At “1”, all four columns are locked and the player no longer has any say on the maneuvers the ships will execute.

The only way to fix this is to drop sails at sea and repair the ship. Of course, this makes the ship vulnerable to other players during that round, meaning there is some risk involved. A ship that drops sails also does not fire at the end of phase 3. At the end of the round, however, the ship will repair 3 damage, flipping the Ship die value to +3 higher than it currently is, unlocking any die in the process.

That is, of course, unless the player has the Treasure Die.

Treasure and Curses

When a player ends their turn on the Treasure die, they collect it. The Treasure die acts like a 6th Navigation die and is one of the two ways a player can win the game. However, it comes at a cost. First off, the player will take 1 damage for stopping and collecting the Treasure die which might lock some of the Navigation dice. Second, the Treasure die decreases the benefit of repairing the ship at sea by reducing the total number of hull points to be repaired to “2” instead of “3”. You see, the treasure is cursed and will cause misfortune to anyone who holds it.

A player looses the Treasure die if their ship should sink. The Treasure die remains in the space where the ship sank waiting for the next lucky/unlucky player to pick it up.

Winning the Game

If a player ends their turn on their starting location at the end of the round, has the Treasure die, and has at least 1 hull point left they immediately win the game! Alternatively, if the all but one player have been sunk three times, that player wins by default, being the only pirate left at sea.

To learn more about Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas, see the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter project page.

Prediction

Pirate Dice is a tough game to predict. The game play is very straight forward (roll dice, place, resolve), but the game is more complex than that. A player must think ahead of their current position and visualize where their ship will end up after each column resolution and how the other ships might or might not interfere. This is a skill that even Gamer Geeks have a hard time with, sometimes. It’s all about foresight and logical thinking based off what you assume will occur on the board.

Perhaps hardest of all is watching, helplessly, as your ship executes commands that you placed but no longer benefit you because your ship was bumped or because you accidentally miscalculated. Yes, this is a game that has fantastic Geek Skill strengthening opportunities, but none more so than emotional coping. And you just know I’m going to get grief for saying so, but consider how even adults can feel very disappointed when their plans go horribly wrong. Adults know better than to flip the table. Not so much with the little geeks.

When I introduced this game to my 7-year-old, I did so with some caution. I had no doubt that this game was too much for my 4-year-old and knew that the endorsement of this game was balanced on a razor’s edge. If my little geek thought the game was “unfair”, it would fail. On the other hand, if my little geeks thought the game was “difficult and challenging”, it had a shot. I therefore took my time and made sure my 7-year-old knew all the ins and outs of the game, showed him how the game would reward as well as punish poorly decided moves, and ultimately how even the most detailed of plans could go horribly wrong.

This took about a day, off and on, to fully get across to my oldest. He got it, however, and was eager to play the game. He recognized the game as one that should not be taken lightly and was ready to give it a try. And so, as I set the game Map boards up, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“You really got to watch what you do in this game. I like that, but am worried about how well I’ll do.” ~ Liam (age 7)

Wise thoughts and concerns. I personally think he’ll do well but will also be suffering vapor lock from time to time. But we are in no rush and the point is to have fun. Let’s set sail and see where the wind blows us.

Final Word

This game proved to be exceedingly challenging for my little geek but also a door of opportunity. He played the game and lost, but he played the game very well. I was exceedingly pleased to see how he evolved during the game, taking into account locked die, navigating around obstacles and other players, and even taking offensive moves to better his position and take advantage of another player’s weaknesses. In total, he grabbed the Treasure die twice and did very well navigating and causing me and the other players trouble. In the end, he walked away from the table feeling very good about the game and was ready for more, but only after a good night’s sleep.

Parent Geeks also enjoyed the game, recognizing its potential as a game that would challenge the players to think ahead and would also serve as a fun game for the family. A few Parent Geeks were not big fans of the Rum Barrel (one in particular thought that any reference to tobacco or alcohol was terribly unnecessary), but the very large majority enjoyed the theme and had no issue with the die or game play. Non-gamers wilted in front of the game, however, with their minds melting out of their ears. It was simply too much for those with little game experience. One poor player spent 3 rounds doing nothing but circles in the starting Map board.

Gamer Geeks were very pleased with the game, saying it reminded them very much of the classic board game, RoboRally. Like RoboRally, this game challenges the players to think ahead, take advantage (or avoid) points on the map that influences movement, and the fun combat that plays out that is more about near misses and terribly lucky hits than anything else. However, Pirate Dice was seen as a more flexible game as the player had more room to maneuver instead of narrow corridors. The only aspect they didn’t like was the lack of special abilities, equipment, and other piratey things that could be done to give the player an advantage as well as strengthen the game’s theme.

My little geek moves his ship, looking all serious…

Gamer Geeks, this is a challenging dice game that gives the player a good deal of choice at first and then limits what a player can do as the game continues. This forces the player to really think ahead and making every choice very important. Add in the combat and player interaction and you have a game that will keep you on your toes and engaged from the start of the game to the bitter end. It is a race, of sorts, and the winner is the player who can best think through and guess what his opponent’s might or might not do. This ends up providing an interesting meta game as players attempt to “read” other players and make choices accordingly.

Parent Geeks, this is a fun and challenging game that won’t be right for your family unless you have older little geeks. At 7-years-old, my little geek was able to play the game and enjoy it, but just barely. Keep in mind that my little geek has many, many hours of game play under his young belt. The suggested age of 12+ will most certainly allow anyone at 12-years-old and older to play it, but you know your little geeks better than anyone. Choose to play this game accordingly.

Child Geeks, this is a game you have to work at to play well, but so do the adults. I highly suggest you do not just jump into this one. But when you do play it and when you have the right Geek Skill set, prepare for awesome.

As for me, I greatly enjoyed Pirate Dice: Voyage of the Rolling Seas. It really made me think and really got me angry. Words cannot describe the level of white-hot rage I would feel when another player would strike my boat and send me off course, forcing me to now move my ship in directions I did not intend and sail far off my mark.

I loved it.

The game is very much like RoboRally in the sense that is makes the players think ahead and visualize what the game will look like in the near future. I personally love games like this and Pirate Dice is no exception. Each game is different, even when playing with the same opponents. The random map set up and the random available maneuvers makes each game feel fresh. I couldn’t be happier with the game and expect it to become one of the top pirate games played in my house for many years. What it lacks in-depth it makes up for in strategy and tactics. Your brain will burn after playing it and the heat will feel great. Do check out this game when you get a chance.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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2 Responses to Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. bill mauch says:

    just wondered if you and the kids ever played dragon raid?
    enjoyed your reviews

    • Cyrus says:

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Nope, we have not had the pleasure, nor have we heard of Dragon Raid. If you’d be so kind as to send us a link to the game or post the link here, we’d much appreciate it.

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