While I’m not the biggest fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, there was one take away from that movie that I did find most entertaining, the concept of parlay. By saying this one word to a fellow pirate, you are granted amnesty and the opportunity to negotiate a settlement. This was the first thing that I thought of when I starting reading about Pirate Lords.
Pirate Lords is a negotiation card game from Hobby World, where Pirate Lords gather and try to work together to find crew to raid merchant convoys. Does Pirate Lords allow players to parlay their way to victory or does it run aground? Read on!
Pirate Lords is a negotiation card game for 4-8 players and plays around 30-45 minutes. Pirate Lords plays best with 4 players.
Pirate Lords is a fairly straightforward negotiation card game. Players act as Pirate Lords looking to find pirate crews to raid merchant conveys. Now, a Pirate Lord will typically not have enough crew to raid alone so they must negotiate joint raids with other Pirate Lords and share the spoils. The Pirate Lord who scores the most victory points in trophy cards at the end of the game wins and is declared the Pirate King.
Pirate Lord is very light on components because it’s made up of two card decks. The first card deck is the game deck where you will find the crew and merchant ships cards. The game deck will be shuffled repeatedly so you might want to sleeve these cards. They are of good quality but the amount of shuffling will likely wear the edges.
The second deck is the trophy deck. This deck does not need sleeves because it will not be repeatedly shuffled throughout the game. Like the game deck, the cards are again of good quality and will hold up to replay.
All the crew card artwork is really nice and is of a thematic nature. The trophy card art also has unique images but overall the design is too similar. I would like to have seen different treasures instead of three different chests of gold coins with some jewels.
My only issue with the art is with the merchant ship cards because it uses the same image. There should have been some variety in ship types instead of the same repeated image.
I do want to note that the rulebook is done well. Overall, the rules are presented in a straight-forward and easy to understand way. Players are also given plenty of great examples of game play to walk through.
How to Play:
To begin play, the first player draws a card from the game deck. If that card is a merchant ship, it’s placed face up in the middle of the table to represent the merchant convoy and the player continues to draw until a crew card is drawn. Once drawn, the crew card is placed face up in front of the player. If the drawing player cannot initiate a raid, then the next player to their left draws a card and so on until a drawing player can initiate a raid.
To initiate a raid, there needs to be 2 of each crew type face-up among all players. There must be 2 sailors (green border), 2 gunslingers (blue border), and 2 boarders (red border) and at least one face-up merchant ship (otherwise there’s nothing to raid).
If a raid can be initiated the following occurs:
1. The initiating player selects the face-up crew cards among players to take part in the raid. The initiating player must have at least one of their own crew involved in the raid otherwise they cannot initiate a raid.
2. The initiating player decides how many trophy cards will be distributed to players by placing merchant ship cards in front of players involved in the raid. Players will receive 1 trophy card per merchant ship in the convoy. The initiating player must have player agreement of their crew and trophy proposal. If players do not agree, then the initiating player continues to negotiate until all players involved in the raid agree. If the initiating player cannot reach an agreement, then they pass their turn and no raid occurs and play continues with the next player.
3. If all players agree, then the raid is successful. The initiating player draws an equal number of trophy cards as merchant ships. The initiating player looks and decides which trophy card (these vary from 2-4 VPs) will go to each player involved in the raid. Once the trophy cards are distributed, players should place these face down. All 6 crew cards and merchant ship cards involved in the raid are discarded. All discarded cards are then shuffled into the game deck and play resumes with the next player.
Three Card Rule: Players may not have more than two pirate crews of the same type. If a player draws a third same crew type, then they must discard all of that type. After this, every player must discard one of the same pirate crew type as well. The player who drew does not draw another card, but can try to initiate a raid.
Game Deck: If the game deck runs out of cards before players have raided, then all face-up ship and crew cards are discarded and the discard is reshuffled into a new game deck. Play resumes with the next player.
The game ends after a successful raid when the only remaining trophy cards are the final cards. The game ends immediately and each player counts up their trophy cards (VPs = numbered value) and also gain one point for each of their face up pirates. The player with the highest score wins and becomes the pirate king.
I really do like negotiation games of all types: epic ones such as Twilight Imperium, lighter ones like Settlers of Catan, or the friendship ending ones like Diplomacy. These games stand apart because the game outcomes are decided not solely by dice or cards but rather by the players discussing and choosing what’s in their best interest. I had hoped Pirate Lords would be another great negotiation game, but it wasn’t.
I think what really holds Pirate Lords back from being a good negotiation game is the game deck. There are only a total of 28 cards, which is too low and this creates simple arrangements that really don’t need much negotiation. During our multiple plays of 4 players, we mostly ran into equal players to merchant ships so no real negotiation was needed.
The low card count of the game deck also makes the three card rule a turn killer for most players and the rest of the hand. When the three card rule came into effect, players could not usually gather enough pirates to successfully raid before the game deck ran out of cards and then essentially you start over again.
I have to say that I really disliked when the game deck ran out because you gathered all cards in play and in the discard and reshuffle and start over. This was rather disheartening when it appeared that you had something going. There’s just too much game deck shuffling in my opinion. This created lots of downtime between hands and was rather distracting for my group.
We did try higher player counts like at 5-8 but, to be honest, the games were not fun because the game deck runs out even faster. However, the level of negotiation does increase because there was less equality with merchant ships and players. The negotiation seems to be higher in earlier hands and then lessened because players would take the offered arrangement to avoid reshuffling. There was much more reshuffling at higher player counts but fewer occurrences of the three card rule.
I do have to admit your actual turns go very quickly and it’s easy to be engaged in Pirate Lords since all the pirate crew cards are face up. Players know exactly when you have enough crew to raid so all players know when a raid will likely be initiated. You must draw a card every turn which has a forced press your luck feel and it’s somewhat fun when you don’t bust on the three card rule.
I think being the initiator is the best part of the game. You make the arrangement of crew and trophies and you need all players to agree but you decide who gets what. I like the fact that you have to stick to the arrangement unlike other negotiation games (yeah I’m talking to you Diplomacy) and give each player what was promised. This puts the initiating player in the driver seat because only they know the trophy values and they’re handing them out.
Most of Pirate Lords is pretty much left to the luck of the draw. You cannot voluntarily discard and must draw each turn so if you hit the three card rule, you have no control to stop it. More player options like discard or pass would at least give players a sense of control otherwise lady luck is running the show.
I think Hobby World has a good start to a negotiation game, but it needs some work. If the game deck increases in size with more crew and merchant ship cards, then I think players will be have more opportunity to wheel and deal.
The amount of reshuffling and the three card rule hold this game back given the current game deck card count. These factors create too much downtime that doesn’t allow players to interact like other great negotiation games.
Overall Pirate Lords is easy to learn and master. Turns go quickly but more player options would be ideal instead of only being able to draw a card. More options could reduce the luck of the draw and give players a sense of control which should add to overall game fun.
Final Score: 2.0 Stars – An OK negotiation card game that is easy to learn and play but light on negotiation and heavy on luck.
• Nice crew card art
• Quick actual game play
• Light on negotiation
• Game deck needs more cards
• Lots of game deck shuffling
• Luck of the draw is significant