I wrote the first edition of Card Pirates last summer, and was surprised at how fun the simple initial version of the rules turned out of be. It provided a ton of entertainment and was good enough for us to start work on an iOS port which is currently about two thirds complete.
As I’ve been playing and tweaking it, a number of issues have surfaced, particularly around game end:
- The game could be controlled by player with the biggest hand, as they have the most treasure and are likely to control when the game ends.
- Hands were too easy to grow by jumping on an island after a big combat. All hands should grow as far as possible uniformly and by choice.
- The game could be over very unexpectedly, without much interaction between the players.
In order to fix this, a few major and related changes were needed, which now forms the 2nd edition of the game. The rule changes are detailed below, and the rules page has been updated to reflect these changes. The coming iOS version of the game will use the second edition of the rules - we are playtesting them in earnest now.
Card Pirates is now easier to play and more exciting. It’s a more predictable length, it’s more strategic and it’s definitely more fun. See what you think!
Reduced map size
I have reduced the map size to 5x5, but put the islands right at the edges. This means more exploring, a feeling that it’s harder to get places and game that feels more risky to sail in. Anything that increases player dilemmas is a good thing!
It also means that outside edge cards are more likely to be explored - these were often ignored in the 1st edition.
Card stack and draw each turn
The extra cards are now kept in a ‘card stack’ next to the board. Every player each turn takes one card from this stack before moving. Now we control the cards being fed in, the hand size is much more uniform overall, only really being affected by combat and burying choices.
Dead cards and island sailing cards added to stack
Dead cards from combat, and cards used to sail from islands, are now added to the bottom of this stack. By putting dead cards on the stack, combat now lengthens the game which gives people a chance to recover if attacked hard. Also by making island visits potentially lengthen game, any move that makes players points will give the others extra chances to catch up.
Game is additionally over when card stack runs out
The game is over when the last Jack is placed, as before, but also at the end of the turn in which the card stack runs out. Both of these things are quite easy to see coming. The only way to force the end game abruptly is to play the last Jack, but that requires you to hold the Jack rather than a more expensive card, so ending the game this way could cause you to lose.
It also now makes more sense to grab the Ace with a Queen or King, as that prevents the game ender gaining three points on their last turn.
Only two players per sea square
Players can no longer sail into combat with two other player ships in the square. This prevents players from being hounded if they’re already down: they’ll get at least one move before being attacked again.
Also, it’s more thematic - attacking a ship with another nearby was a huge risk for a pirate as they might have both turned on the attacker.
Players can drift diagonally, and on four cards
Diagonal drifting makes sense now there is more sea between the islands, and the extra card before drifting reflects the fact that players pick a card up each turn.
That’s it for the new rules. It makes more a much more fun experience: I’d encourage you to check out the new rules, especially if you’ve played the old game, and see how much of a difference it makes!