Number of Players: 2-6
Time: 1-2 hours (2 mins per player)
Game Type: Resource Management/Battle
Gamer Type: Casual
If you read this column, you know that I love pirate games. However, you also know that I have a high level of expectation for pirate games because they are so near and dear to my heart. When Lost Boy Entertainment sent me Plunder: A Pirates Life with the promise that it was a family pirate game, I was intrigued. They did not disappoint. This is a great game the whole family can play, with a pirate theme that will have your group coming back for more.
In Plunder, you start off as the captain of a ship looking for riches and treasure. The goal of the game is to collect plunder points, represented by cards, ships, and islands. As you move through the game, your ships and fleets become stronger based on the choices you make. Resources have a Catan like feel as you build your ability to earn more resources each day. Of course as a pirate, you are always on the search for treasure; but beware, the treasure deck can be a fickle mistress as she is just as likely to take benefits from you as give them to you. This is a pirate adventure where you write the story, earning a score of 7.5 out of 10.
I think if there is one thing that I like more than pirates games, it is pirate games with a modular map. One of the greatest failings of many map-based games is they get stale after strategies form around known maps. If the maps are unbalanced, then people all fight for the “good area.” If maps are totally balanced, then map control becomes less of an element of the game. Plunder solves that with modular tiles. Players pick where they start, so your choice can affect your whole game. Plunder’s maps are high gauge cardboard with excellent dual-sided artwork. This allows the game to be different each time.
The ships are the gem of the game. Each ship is a plastic hulk with peg holes. This allows you to manage your crew, your cannons, and your sails. The genius of the game is that Lost Boy entertainment made the parts in soft, rubberized plastic, which means that they are less likely to break. As this is a game you can play with children, that is a major factor. The dice are custom and different, which is a nice touch. One of the most useful elements is that the resource cards are very clearly the resource they represent. Finally, the box is standard size, though fitting all of the pieces back in the box can be a little bit of a challenge. This earns a score of 8.5 out of 10.
Hardcore strategy guys and gals, cover your ears. This game has great mechanics with three (yes that’s right, three) randomizers. Ironically, I know many of you love a game where you have complete control, but in this case, it works out well. Initially, you find that you are mostly relying on the dice for battle and the randomization of the cards. However, as you move through the game, you will find that the spinners (the third randomizer) comes into play a lot more. While many people will not like triple randomization, it makes sense when you are at the behest of the sea. Storm movements are difficult to predict, ship battles are fairly well matched (so dice make sense), and the cards play out well. Overall, the mechanics are quite well balanced for this type of game.
Digging deeper into the mechanics, Lost Boys Entertainment built in some control for those hardcore players out there. While the dice, spinners, and cards dominate the game, you still have control over these randomizers. You augment your dice roles with cannons and sails. You augment your card drawing by owning more islands. Ironically, the only thing that you do not control is the movement of the storms and treasures, which you should not be able to control. The balance and ability to control the game earn Plunder a score of 8 out of 10 for the mechanics.
Initially, in my interview with the owner of Lost Boys games, he told me that this is an “advanced gateway game.” Truthfully, this is the best description that I can think of for the game. Historically, gateway games (like Catan and Ticket to Ride) are accessible to all audiences. This is true with Plunder. Kids and adults can enjoy this game, but it can also be enjoyed by hardcore gamers.
All four elements of good strategy are here. Players can play very offensive, attacking players quite early in the game. Players can play defensibly, capturing islands and using their ships to protect them. Quickly attacking islands and other players can be a viable rush strategy. And finally, the whole game revolves around engine building for resources. While not a hardcore strategy game, this game has enough strategy for players of all walks to enjoy it. 6.5 of 10.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of pirate games on the market, which really waters down the market. Even worse, when an amazing game like Plunder enters into the market, sometimes it is over looked. Do not overlook this game if you have a family who likes to play games. Ideally, this is a great gateway game that you can use to help your kids, even those with short attention spans, learn lifelong lessons from gaming.
The mix of the three randomizers is the key element that makes this game novel. While I have seen many three or four randomizer games, most of them are too chaotic to really play. Plunder allows the three randomizers to fit together quite well, giving player control but keeping the game changing. Even the best ship can have a bad turn, therefore you need you ensure that you balance your fleet. 7 of 10.
This game has a very high recommendation for entry to mid level gamers; high level gamers never take advice anyway – so if they are listening, this is a good game for then, too. Plunder is a monster of a gateway game, easily able to go blow for blow with Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Caracassonne. With a score of 37.5, this is an extremely intricate gateway game that anyone can pick up in about 15 minutes (there are some great walk-through videos out there). This is a great game to play with your friends and family and can introduce new people to the hobby. Definitely something you should pick up.
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