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All you need is a standard deck of cards, and a makeshift counter of some sort for each player. Use a deck of cards with blue backs for added theme, and little pirate ships if you can find some!
Find a space on the ground or a table. Take your pack of cards, remove the Aces and place them to one side.
Lay out 25 cards face down in a 5 x 5 rectangle. This rectangle represents the high seas. There are four islands on the sea, represented at by the four Aces. At each corner place a face up Ace instead of a face down card, like this:
These upturned Aces will be replaced by other face cards during the game: cards placed on the map face-up in this way are collectively known as island cards.
Place each player’s counter on an island - this represents their ship. In two player games put the players on diagonally opposite islands.
Deal 12 of the remaining cards to the players. In 2 player games each player should have 6 cards, in 3 player games each should have 4 cards and in 4 player games each will have 3 cards. In solo play the player will have all 12 cards.
Place the remaining 15 cards face down beside the board - this is the card stack.
Cards in a player’s hand have different uses. The number cards are crew cards and can be used to sail the ship and to fight battles. The Aces represent treasure. The Kings represent island governors - you can sail them back to their island for a reward, or keep them as a prisoner on your ship. The Jack and Queen cards are special people amongst your crew - they have treasure maps, inside knowledge you can use to ransack an island, or are members of a governor’s family.
Your hand is always hidden from other players: others are entitled to know how many cards you have in your hand, but not the contents.
The player who scores the most points in hand wins at the game end. Points are gained through recruiting first mates, meeting island governors and finding treasure.
Decide who starts by mutual consent. Play continues clockwise in turns.
Each turn, a player takes a card from the top of the card stack and adds it to their hand. During a turn a player may choose to either sail, or drift if they have four cards or less in their hand.
To sail your ship, choose any crew card (number card) from your hand. If you are on a sea space, place the card face up underneath your counter. If you are on an island card, add the card to the bottom of the card stack.
This gives you as many sailing points to sail that turn as the number on the card. You don’t have to use all your points, but any extra points are wasted.
It costs 3 sailing points to sail to an adjacent square, and 5 points to sail diagonally.
You cannot sail into the same square twice in the same turn, and you cannot finish on the square you started on. You must either sail or drift: you cannot stay in the same square.
In subsequent turns, in order to sail from any sea or island square, follow the same process: place the chosen crew card face up on the square your ship is on before moving, under any island card.
If you cannot place a crew card, yet you have more than four cards in your hand, you must bury treasure (see Burying treasure below) by placing cards face down on your square until you only have four cards so that you are able to drift.
When coming to rest on a sea square, pick up any cards on that square and add them to your hand.
If you choose to sail onto an island space, you must end your turn there. After resolving any exchanges (see Interacting with Islands) pick up any buried cards underneath the upturned face card, but not the face card itself.
If you have landed on another player ship on a sea space, resolve the attack (see Attacking other ships.) You must end your turn when moving onto a space with another ship, you cannot sail past them.
After any attack is resolved, your turn is over, and play passes to the left.
Note that the ‘2’ number cards don’t give you enough movement points to move, and are therefore useless for sailing. These are the dead weight in your crew: landlubbers who can’t sail for toffee! They’re not entirely useless though: you can use them in combat, place them down in a storm, or dump them on another player when winning a battle.
In this case the player has crew cards of 5 and 6 in his hand. They can choose to either use the 5 or 6 crew card to move directly north, or north east to the island, or use the 6 to move two squares east.
The player chooses to move North East to the island, and uses their 5 crew card to do so. They place the card face up on the square they have moved from. The player then picks up any cards below the face up ace card - in this case a 10.
If you have four cards or less, you have the option of drifting one square without having to place a card. Resolve the rest of your turn in the same way as for sailing above. You can drift both in a straight line or diagonally.
You are allowed to drift into a storm space or an island square if you choose - interact with those squares normally as if you were sailing into them. Likewise, you can drift to a square with another player ship: in this case, combat is resolved normally (this is effectively ‘playing dead’ and allowing another ship a target they can’t refuse.)
If you cannot sail due to the lack of a suitable crew card, yet you have more than four cards in your hand, you must bury treasure (see Burying treasure below) until you only have four cards, and then drift as above.
If you cannot sail or drift for whatever reason, you forfeit your turn.
Before placing a card face up to sail from an island or sea space, you have the additional option of placing any number of any type of card face down on the square. Cards are placed beneath any face up cards. These cards represent buried treasure: they are automatically dug up by any player (including yourself) who sails to that square in future.
You can use this to bury treasure to retrieve later, or leave useless cards as a decoy!
If burying cards reduces your hand to four cards or less, you are able to drift from that square in the same turn without placing further sailing cards.
As the game progresses, occasionally spaces will appear without cards or ships on them. These represent fearful storms moving slowly across the sea. If you sail to a square without any card or other ship on it, you must end your turn there and place a crew card face up to represent crew lost during the squall. If you choose to or are forced to place a face or ace card, place it face down. If you have no cards, you do not have to place anything.
On your next turn, you must place another card face up here to continue moving as normal (or you may drift if you are allowed to.)
If, when landing on an island, you have a face card in your hand of the same suit as an ace or higher face card on the island you have landed on, you may immediately exchange the cards and place the higher card in your hand before picking up the cards on the island.
You can only perform this exchange when first landing on the island, and you may not take a lower card in exchange for a higher one.
Thematically, these exchanges could represent the following plot lines:
Alternatively, you can have fun making up your own stories! Let us know if you come up with any good ones.
This ship has just moved onto the island. The player has a Queen card in his hand so is able to dig for buried treasure…
The player swaps the Ace card for the Queen and adds it to his hand. Later on, someone might come along and swap the Jack for the Queen.
To attack another ship, sail onto the sea square it occupies. Ships on islands are immune from attack - you can sail onto the same island square, but the attack is not resolved.
You may sail to an island square containing any number of ships, but you cannot sail onto a sea square with two ships already on it.
To attack, pick up to three crew cards from your hand and place them face down in front of you. You must declare how many cards you are using to attack, but you should not tell the defender which cards you are using. The defender picks up to three cards to defend with and places them face down in front of them. They can choose to play more cards than the attacker should they wish. Both sets of cards are revealed together. The player with the highest total crew value is the winner of the attack.
If you don’t have a crew card to place as a defender, you can choose not to place a card. In this case the attacker automatically wins. You must choose to place a card if you have one to place. You cannot attack if you don’t have a crew card.
The cards used in the attack and defence are lost as casualties. They are shuffled and added to the bottom of the card stack. The winner then gets to pick two cards at random from the loser’s hand and places them in his own hand. The winner then gives the loser any one card of their choosing.
If the loser has only one card, the attacker only takes one: if the loser’s hand is empty, the attacker does not get to take cards. The winner must still give the loser a card, no matter how many cards they managed to take.
If there is a draw, first the attacker selects two cards from the defenders hand and then the defender selects two cards from the attackers hand (not including the cards the attacker just drew.) If either player has only one card, only one card is exchanged; if either player’s hand is empty, then no cards are exchanged.
In this example, the black ship uses a 6 crew card to move diagonally onto the same square as the white ship. Both players choose a card and place it face down in front of them.
The white player chooses one card (a 6) and the black player chooses an 8, so the black ship is the winner. The black player chooses two cards at random from the white player’s remaining hand of 2, and luckily chooses the Ace as one of them: they have stolen the treasure from the white ship!
The black player now gives one card of their choice to the white player: they choose the 2 of diamonds.
The crew cards used in the battle are lost as casualties. The 6 of diamonds and the 8 of hearts are shuffled and sent to the bottom of the card stack, to be picked up in a subsequent turn by another player.
The game ends when all treasure has been reclaimed and all the island face cards have been replaced by Jacks, or immediately before any turn in which a player cannot draw a card from the card stack.
As soon as this happens, all the hands are shown face up and the scores are counted.
The cards are worth the following points at game end:
The person with the highest scoring cards is the winner. If there is a tie, the person with the most Aces wins, followed by the most Kings, etc.
The following variants haven’t been as well tested as the main game: but do try them and let me know what you think of them!
Whenever you place a crew card down on the sea or island, show the card to the other players, but place it face down rather than up. This makes for a tougher game, more reliant on memory.
During the set up of the game, each player takes a card of their choice from the middle and places it around the edge of the map without looking at it, like this:
If there are only two players, each player takes two cards to leave four open areas of the map. The gaps in the map are storms (see Storms) and cannot be navigated without stopping and placing a card down.
At the beginning of the game, before any treacherous sea changes, each player takes it in turns to take a piece and optionally swap an island with a sea card anywhere they like, placing their their token on it. This must happen before they look at the cards they’ve gained.
This variant can cause the length of the game to fluctuate and introduces more luck into the game. It can work best with combined with Treacherous Seas or Advanced Sailing, and works best without the Simple Politics variant.
The game is instead over the moment the last Ace is picked up from the islands, rather than the moment the last Jack is placed.
This makes for a much shorter game, especially with fewer players, and therefore the starting hand becomes much more important, which means that luck has a higher factor. This version works well when playing with younger children.
You get all 12 of the dealt cards at the beginning of the game, but each time you sail or drift you must discard an extra card from your hand. The discarded card is put to one side, plays no further part in the game, and is not counted for scoring.
The game is over as normal, or when you can no longer move or wish to move. You then count up your score to try and beat your record!
When you are sailing to an island, you must use a crew card of the same suit as the island you are landing on. You are not allowed to drift to an island at all: you must sail there.
For example, to sail to Club Island on this board from the black ship position, you must use a nine or ten of clubs from your hand to do so, rather than just any nine or ten card:
This variant is trickier and more strategic, and can result in much longer games. You might want to play with Simple Politics to keep the game length down.