Beginner’s Guide to Pirates CSG

Beginner’s Guide to Pirates CSG

Beginner's guide to Pirates CSG

An epic game of Pirates in progress!

Welcome to the world of Pirates CSG!  Glad to have you aboard the ship!  😀

This might be a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s meant as a comprehensive Beginner’s guide to Pirates CSG for people who have just gotten started.


First off, introduce yourself!

Next, you’ll want the rules for the game. You likely received them in a pack or other purchase, but if not, here they are:
Start Here rules
Complete Game rules
Master Keyword List (very useful to have on hand since your copy of the Complete Game rules won’t have all the keywords in it)

-Alternatively, you can download my Basic Rules, which combine the Start Here and Complete Game rules into one document. However, keep in mind that I’ve made some edits to the rules to make the game more realistic and adding a few house rule tweaks. (House rules are custom rulings that players come up with based on playing preferences and other factors) If you use them, just make sure to tell anyone else that uses them that some stuff has been changed. That said, the changes are generally for the better, so have at it!  🙂

Sometimes the rules won’t cover how to deal with a situation when playing the game. In those cases, you’ll want to have these documents:
The Pirate Code (FAQ/Errata)
Reference Diagrams

-AFTER consulting the various rules documents, if you still don’t have an answer to your question, ask it in the Rules thread (where you can also clarify what violates the No-Duplicates rule and what doesn’t). Luckily for the community, Woelf, the former official Rules Arbitrator for Wizkids when the game was still in production, has remained active! If nobody else can answer your question, he will definitely be able to. (but he’s a very busy man, so give him time to answer!)

If you need any help building the ships, check out this great document: Pirates – Complete Assembly Diagrams (created by E. Kasnick of the Facebook  group)

What to Buy + Collecting

This site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated.
Link to “Pirates CSG” general search on eBay + Pirates CSG packs

The cheapest set is Ocean’s Edge. This is a nice starter set between the cost, the diversity of game pieces it offers, and the fact that it has all of the “Big 6” factions.

The first five sets (Spanish Main, Crimson Coast, Revolution, Barbary Coast, and South China Seas) are the most historical, and many people agree that they are the highest quality sets as well, ranking high in various surveys and polls over the years. The sixth set, Davy Jones’ Curse, is where Wizkids began to experiment more with the supernatural with the introduction of the Cursed and sea creatures. The few sets that followed DJC (Mysterious Islands, Frozen North, and Ocean’s Edge) were a mix of historical stuff and plenty of fantasy/less historical stuff such as Vikings and submarines. There were a few design changes in the Pirates of the Caribbean set, where Wizkids partnered with Disney for a movie tie-in set (keep in mind this set only has the English and Pirate factions). The final 3 sets (Rise of the Fiends, Fire and Steel, and Savage Shores) were the most “out there”, with odd ship designs joining the sea creatures and ship speeds and point costs reaching a new low in the reverse power creep (in other words, as sets were released they became less and less competitive with the stuff from the older sets).

In general:
-The older the set, the more historical it is.
-The older the set, the “better” it is (in terms of gameplay).
(There are exceptions to these rules but this is a good guideline)

Hill’s Wholesale Gaming is a great place to buy packs, but eBay is better for specific game pieces, used lots, great deals, and finding rare stuff like 10 masters.  You can check out Gladius’ pricing reports or my eBay history guide (auctions only!) to see what things have sold for on eBay in the past.

Pirates CSG has had a great community of traders for many years now.  You can make a list of your haves and wants, post them or a link to your collection data, and then reach out to other people in the community.  The Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook group helps to facilitate this.  I highly recommend trading some of your duplicates to get new game pieces, it has helped my collection a ton!


So you’re ready to play the game! But where to start? You’ll need a fleet, and some kind of opponent to go up against (which can include yourself playing another fleet).

If you don’t know how to play, you can check out my simple tutorials on youtube:
How to play Pirates Constructible Strategy Game Part 1: Start Here rules tutorial

How to play Pirates Constructible Strategy Game Part 2: Complete Game rules tutorial

Since Pirates is such a wide-open and customizable game, there’s really not a definitive “fleet-making guide”. There are so many options that it would have to be an encyclopedia! 🙂  However, I made a page on my fansite that gives the general information that you’ll want to keep in mind.

You’ll probably want to start at a small build total, such as the standard 40 points, in order to get used to the gameplay mechanics and fleet construction strategy aspect. Over time, you may develop an affinity for a specific faction or handful of factions. My Sets and Factions pages can help you determine which sets to buy and which factions to try out, based on your preferences.

If you’re very unsure of how to make a fleet or want more guidance, you can check out my fleets or search the site for specific build totals, such as 40 points.

When discussing gameplay on the various Pirates sites, there is a lot to know and learn. This page has an acronym list can help you navigate the waters. I’ve also compiled some tips for gameplay, and Cadet-Captain Mike’s page has a TON of great info.

Feel free to post what happens in your games in the Battle Reports thread. (a report does not have to be long or include pictures to be of good quality)

What if I don’t have anyone to play with? What if I don’t have any Pirates stuff right now?

Guess what? You can play remotely with anyone in the world over an online server! Even if you don’t have any physical stuff!

VASSAL is an free, open source engine for running boardgames over an online server. Luckily for all of us, bj_o (their Miniature Trading username) created a module for Pirates CSG! I made a few edits to the module in 2016, which you can find here: VASSAL module

That page has links to download the program and module, as well as a guide to getting started. In addition, I made a tutorial for how to use it.

The module has seen at least 23 players on it since it’s “rebirth” in early 2016. I’m on the module every week, and I’d love to have more opponents, especially for campaign games!


Go forth and plunder, new pirate!  😀

After playing your first game, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Try out a trade. Collect the rarest of the rare. Seek out admirals in other countries and challenge them to games on the VASSAL module.

For those who want to go deeper into these waters, boy do we have stuff for you!  😀

If you really want to “go down the rabbit hole”, there is an endless amount of content to dive into. Checking out Game Ideas would be a good start. Beyond that, you can give up your soul, as I have done.

Finally, Pirates with Ben might be the best site for Pirates CSG, but it’s not nearly the only one. Check out this page for a plethora of other options, many of which have unique features and community members.

If you ever have a question, just ask.

Thank you for reading. Now go play!  😀


  1. This is by far the most comprehensive beginner’s guide to Pirates CSG I have ever seen. The VASSAL module looks terrific for those who don;t have stuff yet. Thank you for taking the time to put it together for those of us who need extra guidance.

  2. Wow Ben – I have always loved board games, but I have never seen one quite like this. If ever game had such an extensive guide like this, the gaming world will be a much easier place. I remember playing Risk with my sister growing up, but again never seen anything like this. I even saw the picture you posted on your About Me page and saw the MASSIVE fleet of ships that you have.

    It’s funny, as I was reading your post – I was thinking, “what if I don’t have anyone to play the game with” and as if you read my mind, you introduced us to the VASSAL module.

    It sounds like this game came literally go on for days or more? What’s the longest have you played this game? I am curious to know.

    You obviously are a true expert on this game and appreciate the beginners guide on this.

    Thanks so much 🙂

    • Ahoy there LT! I agree with you – Pirates CSG is often described as a “beer and pretzels” game, but over time it morphed into something MUCH more than that! The FAQ for the rules (called the Pirate Code), is over 60 pages long! If some of the more complicated games had guides, they would be even longer than this one. I actually combined Pirates CSG with RISK in a big campaign game back in 2012 that you can find here. If you can believe it, I have even more ships than the picture on the About Me page shows because that was in 2014 and my collection has grown a little since then! 😀

      Glad I was able to answer any doubts you had – I’m very grateful that someone made a VASSAL module for the game.

      Great question – my favorite games are the campaign games that go for a LONG time. In this post you can see a compilation of battle reports for them. The longest ones I’ve played by hours spent would be Command the Oceans (the biggest game ever) and CG1, but the longest one has lasted is CG2 (which just had a lot of long breaks), which was 10 months.

      Thanks for commenting!!

  3. I love playing strategy games, yet for some reason I had never heard of Pirates CSG before! It looks incredibly interesting and thank you for posting videos to give a good visual explanation as to how you would go about playing. You had mentioned getting these on eBay…were they ever sold in stores?

    • @Steve You’re welcome! I enjoy making videos about the game.

      They were sold in stores, mostly during the game’s production run from 2004-2008. I got most of my stuff at Target, but they were also in Walmart, hobby/gaming stores, and others. After the game ceased production they have been far rarer in physical stores, but Target had some stuff in 2011 and other fans of the game have mentioned getting some packs at Five Below.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. This is a game I never knew existed and considering how immense it is i’m surprised it’s not more widely known.

    That said your website is looking like it is turning that around. It’s a brilliant site and it’s absolutely crammed with what looks like every piece of information and knowledge there is to know about the game.

    • @CKing77: Thanks for the compliments about my site!! Really appreciate it. It’s been nearly a year since I started it and it has come a LONG way from the early days of being bare and boring.

      The game was reasonably popular back when it was in print from 2004-2008, but since going out of print during the financial crisis it has slowly become less popular. Although if anything, there has arguably been a slight revival in some ways over the past 2-3 years, at least in the online community. (plus prices have been up, which kind of shows demand staying strong)

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. I’ve recently started getting some packs, i sadly lost all my old ships!! Definitely very nostalgic and now I’m nerding out, reading articles and hunting down cheap packs to get my collection started again.
    I am also a huge fan of vassal, my go-to source for out of print games. I’d be very grateful to have an opponent for a casual game or two, though it’s been forever since i played often, I’ve only had maybe 2 weeks to get re-obsessed with Pirates 🙂
    Hoping for a reply, and thanks for staying devoted to a great (and sadly dying) game!

  6. Recently getting back into Pirates after buying a bunch as a kid. The videos and content here are great, Ben! Thanks for putting it all up!

  7. Just discovered your site after spending years collecting and very little time playing. I’m enjoying reading through the blogs and forums, and I’m happy to see this game is still alive out there!

    Very excited to try out VASSAL and the Table Top Simulator mod. Thanks for the endless well of content Ben and crew!

  8. Really appreciate you maintaining this site as it’s a great resource for the game. While helping my family move houses, I realized I bought a lot of Rise of Fiends and some Fire and Steel packs over a decade ago and want to see if I can get some of my law school friends into it with me. No idea how to build with the ships from those two sets but hopefully my friends will enjoy the game. Thanks!

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