“You have to hear the story of this game. It’s made by a guy who is in the army, over seas, right now. He made this game while he was over there, and he is launching it on kickstarter!”, those were the words that came from my business partners mouth, and I must admit, my stomach churned. You see, I grant honest reviews. Some times they are not favorable, although sometimes they are. However, everyone loves and supports the troops, and now if I didn’t like this guys game, I felt like I would be branded as an un-American trader.
So with a heavy heart I opened this guys game a week or two later and read through the rules. My stomach stuck in my throat and I started grasping at straws for things that could be great about this game. Hidden gems that might be revealed in the game play. But regardless of what I did, I could not deny that ultimately what I took to the table for my players was a pirate themed version of “Munchkin”.
In this game you play as a pirate who is reaching retirement age. However he wants to have enough gold doubloons to carry him comfortably into old age, ten gold doubloons to be exact. To do this you hire on a cast of scallywags to help you on your way and you plunder boats and ports. If you are successful, you receive gold doubloons. If you fail, bad stuff happens, which could be the death of crew members or damage to your ship. To hire crew and face opponents are all done by flipping over the top card of a common deck on your turn. If this is an opponent (such as a ship) you must face them. If this is a crew member or goody (such as rum that could help you later) you put it into your hand.
Now if you like Munchkin, maybe this is the game for you. That is a very popular series by Steve Jackson, and they continue to make new versions of that game for a reason. However, commonly the thing I hear that people love about Munchkin is that it is funny. It’s satire. This game however, is not full of the verbal punchlines that it’s predecessor has. This game tries to play it straight, much to my chagrin.
Sitting down at the table, my players however were immediately impressed by one thing: the coins. This game comes with a slew of “gold doubloons” that you collect during the game. Instead of trying to get to level 10, you are trying to collect 10 gold doubloons. These coins are very neat and give the game a very cool feel. Regardless of everything else I say about the game, the designer can feel really good about these components, because those coins are pretty neat.
So my players were enamored with the components, and I start explaining the rules. You could see the faces around the table drop as I explain the mechanics. Everyone can see that this game is Munchkin, to the point that we are using common phrases like “kicking down the door”. However, this games rules does not have some of the intricacies built into it that we are accustomed to in Munchkin, such as you can’t barter for treasure and help someone around the table. Because of this inability to gang up, our first few rounds are spent being crushed. It’s not till nearly twenty minutes into the game that someone begins to get their feet underneath them and climb up through the ranks.
Over an hour passes and we are still playing. I hadn’t thought the game would take this long, and now my players are getting antsy. There are a lot of turns in a row where people are pretty stuck and can’t do much, which adds to the frustration. People start calling for the game to be over. The mob is forming and they are searching for their pitchforks. I try to tell them about the creator, maybe they will be moved to some sort of patriotic guilt, much like I was. But alas, they have already set their minds against the game.
Eventually the end of the game arrives and we all go our separate ways. I sit the game aside desperate to try it again, surely there are some gems in it that I can tell other people! Surely they are not going to send me back to my blog to talk badly about a soldier’s creation! So it sits, on my shelf, till I can get another game going. After a few weeks have passed, I attempt to bring up the suggestion of the game again. One player from last time is in this new group, “Didn’t we already play that? Don’t you have enough to review it? It was soooooo long, and it was just like Munchkin”, come the wail of my player. The group immediately heeds the warning of the repeat player and suggest we play something else. They are of no help, and I am being tossed back to the wolves.
I feel terrible. I desperately wanted to like this game. I really didn’t want to tear down a young solider who is doing his time for our country. But I’m also an honest reviewer… and I can’t lie… I can’t sugar coat it. So bring on the hate mail. Tell me I’m unpatriotic, and “how dare I”. I’m ready for it. And for the designer/soldier who made this game, keep it up. Clearly you have a love for gaming and I think you could do pretty good in the industry when you get home, but copy catting a popular games mechanics is not a great way to break in. However, the artwork and great components show a real since of spunk.