Plunder!: Preview

Yar, matey! Fairway’s back with a preview of another interesting pirate-themed card game: Plunder! by designer Wouter Buckens.  The game is coming to Kickstarter soon.

Plunder! is a three- to five-player, take-that, (mostly) card game in which players are pirate leaders trying to command their looting, plundering and pillaging pirate crews to victory.  The game plays quickly (in about 30 minutes even at the fully-loaded player count) with very easy set up and clean up. I played a preview copy of the game and it’ll be clear that the art is not in the final state.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game has an interesting scoring system that treats various pirate’s treasures differently. You’re rewarded for both getting your own treasures and other player’s treasures.  This made for some interesting decisions.
  2. There is a lot of take that in the game. Most every action card involved some form of attack on another player.  The game had some interesting counters to these attacks though: crew members.
  3. Set up, clean up and learning time were all very quick.
  4. The art (from the website) looks like it’ll be fantastic, but my preview copy didn’t have it.

How to play

In Plunder!, players are trying to score the most points by the end of the game. Points are earned by the amount of treasure on hand and the number of crew members at the end of the game.

To start, each player is given a color, a crew member of matching color, and six treasures of matching color.  The remaining treasures (of all colors) are set in the middle of the table to form the harbor.  Other crew members are set aside and will be purchasable for treasure during the game.

For the most part, the game consists of a deck of cards.  The deck consists of two types of cards: action and reaction cards.  Action cards are played by the player and the “action” written on the bottom is resolved.  The “reaction” cards are played in response to another player’s action (even out of turn). At the start, the deck is shuffled and each player is dealt a starting hand of five cards.

Plunder! is played over a series of turns beginning with a first player until the last card in the deck is drawn.  On a turn, you will draw cards to refill your hand (five cards).  Then you take one action: discard and draw a card, steal treasure, recruit a crew member, or play a card from your hand. Once you take your selected action, play passes clockwise.

Most of the game focuses on playing cards and stealing treasure and trying to maintain a reasonable size crew. Crew members are acquired either as a result of an action card or purchased by paying two treasures to the harbor.

There’s two ways to steal treasure: either from the harbor or from another player.  Stealing from the harbor lets the player take a treasure from central pool of treasures. This will be successful unless a player plays a reaction card.  The second way is from another player.  The other player can defend both with a reaction card but also by keeping a larger crew. Having a larger crew also means that if a player is a target of an action card, the stealing will only be half as effective.

The type of treasure stolen also matters. First, at the end of the game, stealing your matching treasure will garner two points each whereas other player’s treasures only earn one point.  Second, bonus points are awarded for having the most of a color, being the only one with a particular color, and having all of one color.

On the green

We enjoyed our romp through Plunder!

Treasure and crew. The way treasure is handled and defended was a nice touch. There were incentives to go after a variety of different kinds of treasure and made players think hard about how to defend their booty. And even when players ganged up on other players, no one felt “bad” as there was definitely opportunities to turn the tables.  This made the whole treasure-gathering aspect a long term consideration.

Likewise, the game does a very nice job making players think about investing in a crew in order to defend those ill-gotten gains. There is definitely a cost-benefit to doing so.  Buying crew is expensive in terms of points.

Play time.  We were somewhat nervous when we saw that a game lasted all the way through the deck. Turned out, most players didn’t spend too much time on their turns. They could plan and strategize in the off turn time. This kept the game moving along nicely.

Similarly, the game was quick to learn. With about the only explanation really necessary being the bits and parts about how treasure would work at the end for scoring purposes.

Always something to do.  The fact that there was almost always “something to do” cured a common card game problem in which you’re forced to just pass or discard and draw.  The stealing from the port meant mostly easy points, but just using that would be the hard path to victory.

Where it comes up short

Most of our troubles with the game were because of the prototype nature, those points were included below. Outside those concerns, this game is basically exactly what we expected.

Action cards. We did feel like the Action cards didn’t really present much of an opportunity for long term planning. This isn’t unique to this game–many card games amount to just playing the obviously best card in your hand. Typical of Take-That games. Plunder! wasn’t much different in this sense. We did note that even cards that had very specific considerations for when they’d work, didn’t really feel rewarded equally as compared to the easier, more generically playable cards. This wasn’t a major concern, but it mostly left people hoping for the more generic attack and reaction cards.

Prototype concerns

Let me just say, the version we played left a lot to be desired on the art and graphic design front.  This appears to be resolved.  Take a look at this pic from the website:

I also think there’s room for improvement on the rules. The version we had weren’t particularly clear about how stealing treasure was supposed to work (is it just 1 treasure, is it more, how do you divide treasure in half, etc.) and had us scratching our heads a few times. We’ll give the designer and publisher the benefit of the doubt on this front and that those concerns will be cleared up.

In the hole

Plunder! is a terrific little, take-that card game in which stealing and attacking are rewarded. The game handles the stealing and attacking in a family-friendly way too so no issues if you wanted to play with kids. But that’s not really its target either.

Plunder! is in the hole for  a par!

Tell us what you think!