Back in 2003 I can’t say that I had high expectations for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. A movie based on a Disney amusement park ride. How could that ever be good? It didn’t help that the other movies based on Disney rides released before Pirates of the Caribbean were pretty bad. I mostly checked out the movie because I have always been a sucker for Disney movies and the movie actually received a lot of early praise. After watching the first film I quickly became a huge fan of the franchise even if the last films were a little lackluster. Even as a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean I didn’t have high expectations for today’s game as how many licensed games actually turn out to be good? League of Pirates was a game originally released in 2006 and then re-released with the Pirates of the Caribbean license a year later. Outside of a theme change though the two games are basically the same. League of Pirates tries to add some strategy to your typical dice rolling game by adding an action point system which utterly fails leading to a game that relies almost entirely on luck.
How to Play League of Pirates
- Each player takes a ship card, five dice of the same color, one skill die, and a bag.
- Sort the pirate tokens and give each player a complete set.
- Each player sets the point counter on their board to nineteen.
- Sort your pirate tokens by their color.
- Each player will choose the leader from one of the three colors (has five stars on it) without the other player seeing. When both players are ready each player will reveal their captain and place it on the five star spot of their ship card.
- Each player will then put the rest of their tokens of their chosen color in their own bag. They will put the other two colors of tokens in the other player’s bag.
Playing the Game
League of Pirates is played over a number of turns. Each turn consists of two steps:
- Dice Challenge
- Taking An Action
After both of these steps are completed another turn is played unless the end game conditions are met.
Each turn begins with the players competing in a dice challenge to determine who will get to take an action this turn.
In the dice challenge each player will get to roll their five dice up to three times. Each player will roll their dice at the same time. Players are trying to roll 1-2-3 with their dice. To count the numbers have to be rolled in order though. For example if the player rolls 1-1-3-4-5, the player will only be able to keep the one as the three can’t be picked up because they didn’t roll a two. If the player rolled a one and a two they will get to keep both of them.
After a player has set aside the dice that they would like to keep they will get to re-roll the other dice. The player can roll the dice a total of three times. If a player rolls a 1-2-3 within the three rolls they will add up the numbers on the other two dice to determine their score.
The winner of the challenge and the player that gets to take an action this turn depends on what is rolled:
- If neither player rolls a 1-2-3 another dice challenge will be played until someone wins it.
- If only one player successfully rolls 1-2-3 that player automatically wins the dice challenge.
- If both players complete the challenge the player who has a higher score will win the challenge.
- If both players tie the player who currently has more points left on their ship board will win the challenge.
Taking An Action
The player who won the dice challenge will get to choose one of the following actions for their turn. Each action in the game costs a number of points though. When a player chooses an action they will take points off their point track equal to the cost of the action.
Press Gang (1 Point): Randomly choose one of the tokens from your bag. You can either add the token to the corresponding section (a four star token on your four star space, etc.) of your ship card or you can return it to your bag. If the corresponding space is already filled you can replace the token already on your board with the new token. The replaced token will be returned to corresponding player’s bag.
If the replaced token is a traitor though they will be forced to walk the plank. To have a token walk the plank you must pay one point to get rid of the token. This does not count as an action. The token is then removed from the game instead of being added back to the bag.
Recruit (3 Points): You will get to randomly draw three tokens from your bag. You can choose one to keep and you will return the other two to the bag. The token you choose will be added to your ship card as illustrated above.
Resupply (0 Points): This action allows you to increase your points by two. Slide down your marker two spaces.
Turning (2 Points): By choosing this action you can flip over one of the tokens on the other player’s ship card. This token is now considered a traitor and will be worth two less points at the end of the game and can’t receive the captain’s bonus at the end of the game. A player can’t turn over the other player’s captain.
Raiding (2 Points): If you have an empty brig slot on your ship card you can raid the other player’s ship. When you choose this action you will pick one of your pirates (can’t be a traitor) to attack as well as the pirate you want to attack on the other player’s ship (can’t be their captain). If a player wants to defend with a different pirate they can pay two points to swap in another of their pirates.
Each player will roll their skill die and one standard die. Each pirate’s total is equal to the number on their disc for the two skills rolled on the dice plus the number rolled on the standard die. If the same skill is rolled on both dice that skill will only be counted once. If the defending pirate is a traitor their value for each skill is reduced by two. The outcome of the raid depends on which pirate has a higher total.
- If the raiding pirate has the larger total or the totals are tied they will take the defending token and add it to one of the brig spots on their ship. If the defending player swapped pirates for the raid the raiding pirate will still take the pirate they originally chose.
- If the defending pirate has the larger total nothing happens.
Enlistment (1 Points): You can choose the enlistment action to take one of the pirates from your brig and add it onto the corresponding section of your ship.
Rescue (2 Points): When one of your pirates have been captured (in the other player’s brig) you can try to rescue them. Rescuing uses the same process as raiding. The player who currently holds the prisoner can choose which pirate they want to use to defend their ship.
Set Sail (2 Points): If a player thinks they can win the game they can choose to set sail. To set sail a player must have a pirate in all of the spaces on their ship card (not including the brig). The two players will compete in a dice challenge. If the player who tried to set sail wins the challenge they will succeed in setting sail. The game will then enter the end game. If they fail to win the challenge the game continues like normal.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players have successfully set sail. Players will then tally up the cunning stat of all of their pirates. Each pirate that matches the color of the player’s captain will be worth an additional two points. Any pirates that are traitors will reduce their cunning stat by two and they will be ineligible to receive the captain’s bonus. They will add to this total the number of action points they have remaining at the end of the game. The player with the highest total wins the game. If there is a tie the player who set sail wins the game.
My Thoughts on League of Pirates
When I first saw League of Pirates I can’t say that I had high expectations. This was mostly because it was a licensed game which don’t have a good track record. Most licensed games are really basic games that tack on a popular franchise in order to hopefully sell a bunch of games to make a quick buck. In regards to League of Pirates it was originally designed as its own game which eventually had the Pirates of the Caribbean theme applied to it. This gave me a little hope as the original game could have been kind of interesting.
Initially I expected League of Pirates to just be another basic dice rolling game. The game does feature ten standard dice after all. League of Pirates does share a lot in common with your typical dice rolling game as it is the main mechanic in the game. I was kind of intrigued though because in addition to the dice rolling mechanics there were some mechanics that aren’t typical for a dice game.
What I was intrigued by was the fact that the game actually implemented an action point system while also allowing players to choose from a set of actions on their turn. I was kind of surprised by this as you rarely see this type of mechanic combined with a traditional dice game. Anyone familiar with Geeky Hobbies will know that I am a big fan of choice in board games. Generally giving players options is a good idea as it gives players a choice in what they want to do which makes them feel like they have a greater impact on their own fate.
While the actions the game presents you with didn’t sound particularly unique, I was genuinely impressed that the game still tried to add them to the game. The game gives you a variety of different options to take on your turn. This allows you to pursue a number of different strategies. You could choose to draw tokens from your own bag hoping to get tokens that can help you. You could also be more nefarious and try to steal a token from the other player’s ship or turn one of their characters into a traitor. Each action you choose to take costs a number of action points so you want to make good choices on how you spend your action points or you will have to waste turns replenishing your action points. I hoped this choice of actions would give players some impact over their fate in the game.
League of Pirates had some potential, but in action it just doesn’t work. I wouldn’t say that any of these mechanics were highly original. They could have lead to a solid game though as it had the potential to be a dice game that didn’t rely almost entirely on luck. That is ultimately the biggest problem with League of Pirates though. The game pretty much relies entirely on luck.
Lets begin with arguably the stupidest mechanic in the game in my opinion. In most board games players either alternate turns or some other factor will determine who will get to take the next turn. That is not the case in League of Pirates. To determine who gets to take the next turn you will compete in a dice challenge to see who will get to take the next turn. Basically players have to roll a one, two and three in consecutive order within three rolls. If both players achieve that the player who rolls the higher total will win the chance to take the next turn. If you roll 1-2-3 within your first two rolls there is a little strategy as you can decide if you want to keep the other dice or reroll them. Otherwise this relies entirely on luck as there is no skill to rolling the right numbers.
I am guessing that there are other games that use luck to determine who gets to take the next turn, but it makes no sense in my opinion. Unless you wanted to create a game that relies almost entirely on luck, why would you decide to let luck determine who gets a turn? It is theoretically possible that a player would get to take zero turns in the entire game if they never win a dice challenge. This is highly unlikely, but one player will likely get to take considerably more turns than the other player. Thus the luckier player will have a huge advantage in the game solely due to actually being able to take actions. A player doesn’t even need a good strategy if they get to take considerably more turns.
While I didn’t try the game without this mechanic, I would highly recommend disregarding it entirely. There is no reason that the game couldn’t have used a better way of determining who would get to take the next turn. Players could have just alternated turns. You could even have had the player with more action points remaining take the next turn (after altering the rules for getting more action points). Anything would have been better than letting luck determine who gets to take the next turn. Adding this mechanic just artificially extends the game by forcing players to roll the dice more. You will be rolling the dice plenty in the game that there was no reason to force each turn to start with a dice challenge.
The dice challenge mechanic is terrible, but the game could have still been saved due to the actions that players could choose from. Unfortunately things don’t get much better in this area either. That is because most of the actions that you can choose from also rely heavily on luck. The raiding and rescue actions rely on you rolling two dice and comparing stats. As you have no idea what will be rolled there isn’t much strategy to choosing which pirate you want to compete in the battle. Additionally the setting sail action is just another opportunity to compete in a dice challenge. You could be about to win the game, but be prevented from doing so unless you can win two dice challenges in a row. Even drawing tokens from your bag relies on luck. Drawing only one token is cheap and valuable early in the game. You will eventually want to draw three tokens though. This increases your odds of getting a token you want, but it doesn’t guarantee success.
This is what League of Pirates is in a nut shell. First you have to roll dice and get lucky to even be able to take an action. For most actions you then have to be lucky for the action to even help you. Basically League of Pirates boils down to luck piled on top of luck. A player can get lucky and get to take a bunch of turns. If they aren’t lucky in those actions though winning the right to take an action doesn’t really do anything. You pretty much need to get lucky just to get the opportunity to get lucky again. If you get lucky twice in a row you will get marginally closer to winning the game.
I think the biggest problem with the luck is that is just leads to a really frustrating game. To illustrate let me recount what happened in the game that I played. The game started normal enough. I ended up getting pretty lucky and was able to fill in most of my ship quickly. Within about 15 minutes I was within one or two turns from ending/winning the game. My luck turned quickly though preventing me from ending the game. This lead to a period where one player would gain a little ground followed by the other player taking it back. In particular the only four star token we were able to draw ended up moving back and forth between the two ships close to ten times. This continued for at least the next 30 minutes where little progress was made. I ultimately ended up winning the game after an experience that lasted far longer than it should have. This ended up being a really frustrating experience as it took forever to make any progress in the game.
So what if you could eliminate some of the luck from League of Pirates? In theory the game has some okay ideas. The problem is that they are surrounded by terrible ideas. To make the game somewhat playable you will need to implement quite a few house rules. First you need to get rid of the dice challenges determining who gets to take the next turn. This would reduce the game’s reliance on luck considerably as well as speed it up. This might lead to an okay game even though it would still have its flaws. You would probably also have to tweak some of the other mechanics as well. Some of the actions just seem better than others. Some actions we basically avoided while others we would regularly use. With enough work I think the game could be decent, but I don’t know if all of the effort is worth it.
You might be wondering if there are any positives to the game? Outside of the game having some potential that is wasted, I thought the game is accessible. In a lot of ways the game is more complicated than it needed to be. League of Pirates doesn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. At times it is a simple dice game, but then it adds in all of the different actions that you can take. All of these different actions take some time to teach and you will probably have to refer back to the rules to remember some of them. Once you learn what all of the actions do though the game is pretty straightforward. Therefore I think the game could appeal to children and people that don’t play a lot of board games.
In addition I thought the components were pretty solid. The six sided dice were pretty generic, but were better than your typical dice. The wood skill dice were pretty nice. The ship cards are pretty thick and the sliding point track is a nice addition. The tokens are pretty thick as well. As for the Pirates of the Caribbean theme the game does a decent job utilizing it. It looks like they just changed the pirates from the original game to apply the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, but the game does a good job utilizing artwork and characters from the movies. The biggest problem I had with the components is that one of the generic mate tokens included with my copy was the wrong number which slightly altered the distribution of the tokens.
Should You Buy League of Pirates?
At first I thought League of Pirates was going to be a pretty generic licensed dice rolling game. I had some hope for the game though as it added an action point system where players could choose from a set of actions. This had some promise, but it is unfortunately wasted in the game. The main problem with League of Pirates is that it relies almost entirely on luck. The luck is so bad that you have to get lucky to even take a turn in the game. When you get lucky enough to take an action you will then likely have to get lucky again just to be able to help yourself. There is a little strategy in the game, but it pales in comparison to the luck. This leads to a game that can take way too long to finish as a player has to get lucky in order to end the game. League of Pirates didn’t really know what it wanted to be. The game is easy once you figure it out, but it has too many random mechanics which make the game more complicated than it needed to be. League of Pirates has some interesting mechanics that could maybe be turned into a decent game if you are willing to put in a lot of house rules.
For most people I can’t recommend League of Pirates. Anyone who likes a decent amount of strategy in their games or can’t stand a game that relies almost entirely on luck will not enjoy League of Pirates. If you like dice games and don’t mind coming up with some house rules you can maybe have a little fun with League of Pirates. I would only recommend picking it up though if you can get a really good deal on it.