Plunder: A Pirate’s Life Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 14 and up
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Approximately 120 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bidding & Trading

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Live the life of a pirate captain!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek’s rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Pirates and the life of a privateer have been romanticized over the years making it seem that such a trade was full of adventure, treasure, and bold deeds. It was for some. For most, it was a life of hardship, danger, and sickness. I bet you won’t see a Disney film like that and thankfully, you don’t need to truly relive it, either. It’s fun and can be exciting to imagine what it would be like to own a ship, a crew, and have an unquenchable desire for gold. In this game, you get to live out that fantasy by leading a small armada, finding treasure, and sending your enemies to the bottom of the sea.

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, designed by KC Schrimpl and published by Lost Boy Entertainment, is comprised of six Board tiles, 10 Grid borders, four Grid corners, two Compass spinners, 150 Resource cards, 55 Treasure cards, 56 Plunder Point cards, four X-Marks-the-Spot tokens, 18 Ship miniatures, 18 Mast pegs, 18 Cannon pegs, 36 Life pegs, 36 Flag miniatures, three standard six-sided dice, 1 Storm box, and six Reference guides. The quality of the game’s components is outstanding. Thick cardboard throughout and solid plastic pieces. This game was made to last, and the durability of each piece will ensure the game will be in great condition for years to come.

So You Want to Be a Pirate…

To set up the game, first take the six board tiles and shuffle. Each board is double-sided and will show various arrangements of islands and the vast ocean that separates them. Once properly randomized, arrange the six boards to form a 2×3 grid.

Second, connect the Grid borders and corners around the 2×3 boards. These fit together like a puzzle piece. Once complete, the result should look like a map with X/Y coordinates and the islands with the ocean in the middle.

Third, take the Resource cards and separate them into their four types. These are Wood, Iron, Rum, and Gold. Create a deck of 10 cards for each resource and place in separate piles, face-up, next to the game board. Take the remaining Resource cards, shuffle, and place face-down next to the row of face-up Resource cards.

Fourth, shuffle the Treasure cards and place them in a single stack, face-down, next to the face-down Resource stack. Next to this, place the Plunder Point cards in a stack as well.

Fifth, give each player one ship of the color of their choice. In addition to the single ship, give each player three Life pegs which they now place on their ship, as well as taking the Flags that match the ship color selected. New ships do not start with Cannons or Mast pegs, but players can upgrade their ships during the game. Each ship has small holes where the pegs fit. Life pegs are placed at the ship’s stern, Mast pegs go in the middle, and the Cannons go at the ship’s bow.

Sixth, place the Compass spinners, dice, Storm box off to one side of the game board. All other components in the game can stay in the game box insert to be used as the game progresses. Give each player a Reference card at this time, as well.

That’s it for the game set up. Time to set sail!

Establishing Ownership of the Ocean

The first round of the game focuses on the placement of the game component pieces to the game board. You could mistake this as just part of the game set up, but there is thinking involved, and each player gets a chance to take a turn setting up their initial foothold of what they hope to be the start of their pirate kingdom.

Step One: Place the X-Marks

One player takes the two spinners and flips the arrow resulting in a random coordinate that matches a coordinate on the map. Where the letter and number converge, a player will now place an X-Marks-the-Spot token. This is repeated a total of two additional times, which will result in three X tokens on the map (or more if there are a large number of players).

Step Two: Place the Storm

Again, a player flips the arrows for both spinners resulting in an alphanumeric value that corresponds with coordinates on the map. A player places the Storm box, so the coordinate is in the middle of the box itself. Players determine new coordinates if the Storm box placement results in it being located on a one-skull island on the map.

Step Four: Pick Your Starting Island

Each player, in turn order sequence, now places one of their Flag miniatures. Only islands with one-skull can be selected. The Flag miniatures can be placed anywhere on the island to indicate that it belongs to the player. Once the player selects their starting island, they place their starting ship in the island’s port (marked with an anchor icon). Make sure each starting ship has the three Life pegs inserted in its stern.

Step Five: Stack Your Resources

Each player now draws three Resource cards from the face-down Resource stack. Players should keep their Resource cards hidden from their opponents until played.

The last player to place their ship is the first player for the duration of the game.

Of Sea and Sail

Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step One: Acquire a Resource

The first thing a player does on their turn is to acquire a new resource. A player draws one face-down Resource card for each island they currently own (as indicated by their Flag miniature on the game board). Drawn Resource cards are immediately added to the player’s hand.

Resources are used to construct ships, thus growing the player’s fleet and dominance at sea. A player may build at any time during their turn. This is done by exchanging Resource cards for one or more pieces. Newly acquire pieces are immediately inserting into existing ships (unless it’s a new ship, in which case it’s placed in a player’s port next to an island they own or an adjoining ocean space next to a ship the player already has in play).

  • A new ship miniature will cost the player two Wood, one Iron, and two Gold Resource cards (all new ships start with three Life pegs)
  • Adding a single Mast to a ship will cost the player one Wood and two Rum Resource cards
  • Adding a single Cannon to a ship will cost the player two Iron, one Rum, and one Gold Resource card
  • Adding a single Life to a ship will cost the player one Wood, one Iron, one Rum, and one Gold Resource card

Example of a starting ship (left) and entirely constructed ship (right)

During the player’s turn, they can exchange five Gold Resource cards for a Plunder Point card. Thematically speaking, the player is burying Treasure.

Step Two: Pirate Like a Boss

The second step is not a “step” in the traditional sense of gameplay. A player can take many actions or none during this time in their turn, including building new ships or outfitting them. The actions the player can take in any order are summarized here.

Attack and Conquer Islands

A player moves their ship on the game board by counting the squares that make up the board’s grid as one space each. The player cannot move their ship diagonally, move through islands, or move through opponent’s ships. Everything else goes. To move the ships, the player takes the Sailing die and rolls it. The resulting number is the number of spaces the player’s fleet can move in total. For example, if the player had two ships in play and rolled a “2”, they can move one of their ships two spaces or move each of these two ships one space each. A player is never required to move the total amount indicated by the die, and the player can move any ship they like in any order.

There are four different types of islands in the game. These are Resource, Merchant, Land Barrier, and “Normal” (which means they don’t do anything special other than take up space). Resource islands can be conquered and owned, but all other islands are considered neutral, either providing the player the needed resources of just getting in the way of their ship.

If a player wants to take over a Resource island (indicated with a Skull), they must attack the island. To do so, the player moves their ship onto the port space of the island. Once the player does, they roll the Attack die and add to the value a “+1” for each Cannon on the ship. Resource islands can only defend against an attack. A player’s opponent takes the Defense die and rolls it, adding a “+1” for each Skull on the island. The player with the higher value wins the battle (with ties always going to the attacker).

Newly conquered islands allow the player to plant their flag upon its beach. If the player loses the fight, they remove one Life peg from their ship. If this is the ship’s last Life peg, it sinks and is removed from the game board. This will also result in the player’s opponent earning a Plunder Point if the island was contested (i.e., “owned by another player”).

Each island can only be attacked once per ship. The same ship can now move onto another island and attack the new location. If the player didn’t win the battle, they can move their current ship out of port and bring in a new ship to try and attack again.

Optionally, a player can threaten the opponent they are attacking (if it’s another player). The player can demand any number of Resources from the opponent in exchange for not attacking them. Consequently, an opponent can openly bribe the current player in hopes of paying them off to not attack – or better yet – attack another player. Giving in to a threat or accepting a bribe automatically creates a temporary truce between the two players. Players who currently have a truce (which lasts the duration of the current player’s turn) cannot attack each other or use Treasure cards that would negatively impact the opponent.

Battle an Enemy at Sea

If the player is not interested in attacking a fortified island, they can wage war at sea by attacking an opponent’s ship. To attack an opponent’s ship, the player’s ship must be in an adjoining space that is not separated by water or land (yes, you can attack an opponent’s ship in port).

Battles among ships are completed using the same method as a ship attacking an island, except that each player rolls a die and adds their Cannons. The player with the higher value wins, resulting in the loser removing one Life peg from the ship that was in combat. Again, ties always go to the attacker. And like islands, each ship can only be attacked by a specific ship once per turn.

Players are welcome to threaten and bribe at sea, just as they would if attacking an island.

Conduct Trade

Trading among the islanders and other pirates is a productive way of acquiring new resources. Trading can occur with an opponent if the player’s ship is docked in the opponent’s port or with an opponent currently docked in the player’s port. Players can also trade with opponents who are docked at Merchant islands, or the opponent’s and the player’s ship are adjacent to each other at sea.

If trading with an opponent, any number of Resource cards can exchange hands. If docked at a Merchant island, the player can trade with any opponent they like or exchange any two Resource cards for one Resource card of their choice (from the stacks that are face-up).

Trades in the game are always made in the open. Players are encouraged to make offers and negotiate deals. Feel free to make counter offers and even attempt to undercut an opponent in a trade to make them angry.

Hunt for Treasure

When not exploring, exploiting, and waging battles, a pirate can take up their second favorite hobby and search for buried Treasure. Doing so will reward the player additional resources and other bonuses. All a player need do is sail their ship to a spot where an “X-Marks-the-Spot” token is currently located on the map (or adjoining space if the “X” is on land). Once the player moves into that space, they draw a Treasure card and resolve it. Most Treasure cards will instruct the player to draw Resource cards (frequently Gold), but some will reward Plunder Points, provide ship upgrades, and even damage opponent’s ships. Of course, not all Treasure is worth acquiring. Some Treasure cards will penalize the player by losing Resource cards or worse.

Step Three: Ending the Turn

A player’s turn can end one of three different ways.

  • If a drawn Treasure card indicates the player’s turn ends
  • The last ship owned by a player on the game board sinks below the waves
  • The player has moved all their ships, completed any building, and have no further business to conduct on the choppy waters

The next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn.

The Tempest Tossed Seas

The ocean can be calm one moment and a violent the next. In Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, the storm (represented by the Storm box) moves around the game board. Ships that want to sail through the storms or escape them must lose two Resource cards to do so. If the player finds they don’t have the Resource cards to lose, they cannot leave the storm! In addition to restricting movement, islands covered with a storm cannot be used to trade.

The Storm box is moved each time a player rolls a “1” during their turn when determining how many spaces their fleet can move. If the storm does get to move, the player determines the storm’s new location on the map using the Spinners to determine a new alphanumeric coordinate.  After the storm has been placed in its new location, the player resumes their turn. It is possible that ships at sea who are enjoying calm waters suddenly find themselves in the eye of the storm.

Land Locked

A player may find they have no ship to sail and are locked on land. Players still draw Resource cards per island they own (as standard). The player then rolls two dice. If they roll doubles, they acquire a new ship for free. Otherwise, the player must build their ship using Resource cards or exchanging Plunder Point cards. Optionally, the player can also give up control of an island.

A player without a ship can still threaten, bribe, be attacked by opponents (if the player owns an island), be part of trades, and be impacted by Treasure cards.

Becoming the Pirate King

The game continues until one player earns a total of 10 or more Plunder points, winning the game as a result.

  • A player earns one Plunder point per island they own
  • A player earns one Plunder point per ship they have at sea
  • Each Plunder Point card in the player’s possession is considered one Plunder point
  • A player can exchange five Gold Resource cards for one Plunder Point card

All Plunder Point cards acquired by the player must be in view at all times during the game. Players do not take Plunder Point cards for ships and Flags.

Game Variants

If playing with only two players, the game board is much smaller (2×2 grid), and only two “X-Marks-the-Spot” tokens are placed. All other rules are the same.

Players can also faceoff with each other in teams. Players on a single team all work towards the same goal and can trade with each other as usual.

To learn more about Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, visit the game’s webpage.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed themselves. The visual beauty of the game and chunky parts transfixed their eyes and were fun to move around the board. Each time a Child Geek added a piece to their ship, the smile on their face brightened the room. The reverse was also true when they had to remove items from their ship, clearly showing they felt the loss. According to one Child Geek, “I really liked the game and how you get to upgrade your ships. Trading is fun and sailing around to find Treasure and blowing up your friends is even more fun!” Another Child Geek said, “I don’t know if I felt like a pirate, but I really did feel like a badass at sea!” [Editor’s Note: The mother of the Child Geek scolded her son for using the word “badass.” The Child Geek didn’t seem to care.] When all the votes where counted, the Child Geeks cheered for Plunder, finding it to be a game that floated their collective boats.

The Parent Geeks were also enthusiastic about the game, finding it a Jolly Roger of a good time with friends and family. According to one Parent Geek, “A game that I easily taught to my kids and even my wife. We all had a great time and – I gotta tell you – seeing your daughter sink the ship of your wife is strangely therapeutic.” Another Parent Geek said, “Fun for the kids and fun for adults. Lots to do to make points and you never feel you are out of choices. Greatly enjoyed it and would play it again. A visual treat on the high seas!” When the last ship docked and all sails dropped, the Parent Geeks voted, giving Plunder their most enthusiast “Yarrrrrr”!

The Gamer Geeks were mostly subdued. They found the game to be visually outstanding and of superb quality. They said so more than just a few times. What they didn’t go for was the gameplay. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like the idea behind this game, but it isn’t a gamer’s game. Too random and too bland. I wanted more. More action. More danger. More risk. It’s all here, but not to a level that I find enjoyable.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A great game I would highly recommend to new players and families, but I don’t see this game floating at my gaming table. Looks great but plays a bit slow and random.” When the last coin was buried, and the final Cannon fired, the Gamer Geek’s rejected Plunder at their table, but gave it high marks for all that it was.

I am always on the lookout for a Pirate-themed game. I find the conquest at sea and the trading between islands to still be fascinating. My favorite is Merchants & Marauders, but that game takes patience, time, and more than just a little skill. Plunder: A Pirate’s Life is significantly faster. It’s a good deal more comfortable to play with new and casual players and provides a visual spectacle that rewards players from leaning in and expanding outward. Add in the random board setup, and you have yourself a game that is never the same way twice, but always fun to play.

A few of our gaming elitists were upset with the heavy use of dice in the game, suggesting that luck and randomness are out of place. I beg to differ. I will be the first to acknowledge that outcomes in games driven by random dice rolls is not a great mechanism that results in “fun,” and nor is the spinner. With Plunder, dice are used to give you a range, but each player can build onto their ship to improve their odds of the dice rolling in their favor. Add a mast to improve speed and a cannon to be deadlier at sea. Not ground shaking but coupled with the visual element of actually adding said Mast and Cannon to a player’s ship feels very satisfying. Sail the seas with your little ship with full sail and a host of cannons, and you let everyone know that you mean business. As for the spinner, well, that cannot be justified other than it serves as a reasonable means to acquire random X/Y coordinates, which works just fine.

I very much enjoyed Plunder and would recommend it to families and casual gamers. There is more than enough to do and think about while playing to keep you engaged, but never to a point where you feel overwhelmed or bored. For those looking for a game where randomness and luck do not play a role, than Plunder is a game best not chanced. For everyone else, grab your ship and take to the seas! A pirate’s life is well within your reach!

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.

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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 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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