Contessa Anita Amore from Crimson Coast, one of the original 0LR+5 crew.
The “0LR+5”. An oft-mentioned acronym in Pirates CSG, yet possibly unfamiliar or even esoteric to the unintiated. It’s used as an acronym for one of the best types of crew in the game, truly essential for many of the top fleets. Here we’ll discuss their pros and cons as well as how to best utilize them for optimal gameplay and strategy.
What are they?
Breaking down 0LR+5, we get 0=0 points (a free crew!), L=Limit keyword, R=Ransom keyword, and +5 meaning that the primary ability of the crew is to give you +5 points to the build total of the game. Limit means you can’t have another game piece with the Limit keyword in your fleet, while Ransom is a negative ability that gives your opponent 1 gold for eliminating the crew or 5 gold if they capture it and unload it at their home island (HI). Full ability text: “Limit. Ransom. Place this crew face up during setup. You may build your fleet using 5 more points than the game’s build total. This crew cannot leave this ship unless captured or eliminated.”
These crew are most often used to fit more into a build total than you normally can. In a standard 40 point game, 5 extra points represents an additional 12.5%, potentially giving your fleet an advantage over any opponent not using a 0LR+5. Oftentimes the crew is used to bring in a captain and helmsman on a main gunship, a canceller, or sometimes dirt-cheap treasure runners like the Banshee’s Cry and Rover.
Commodore Matthew Perry, American 0LR+5 crew from Pirates of the South China Seas
It’s worth reviewing entries in The Pirate Code for the various abilities that these crew have, because it can get a bit confusing. In my experience, the biggest mistakes or things to keep in mind are usually these: 0 point crew must be assigned to a ship of their own nationality (regardless of any abilities on board). The additional 5 points come into play AFTER building your fleet, so you must have 5 or less additional points in some form – if you’re already at 38 and want to add a 7 point crew, it doesn’t work. You have to divide it up and plan ahead so that you’re only adding a maximum of 5 points with the +5 crew – not simply using a different build total than your opponent. That said, it almost always works out because usually you have cheap crew somewhere in a fleet that can easily be brought in via the +5 as opposed to being in the original starting fleet.
As for Ransom, crew with the keyword can only be eliminated by an enemy ability or action, or by some Unique Treasures (UT’s). This means you cannot just sacrifice the crew with a Sac Captain (this would be too easy and eliminate the negative that Ransom is there for), but you can choose to eliminate them in a lost boarding party if you don’t mind your opponent getting the automatic 1 gold payout. If the Ransom crew is sunk with a ship, the crew (now worth 1 gold) goes straight to the sinking player’s HI, which is an exception to the normal rule where crew are removed from the game when a ship is sunk.
How to Use
The Hag, possibly the most-used 0LR+5
The best use of 0LR+5 crew is often the most typical way – filling out the fleet with ships or crew that you wanted to include from the start but didn’t have the points for. However, I think it is worth considering the “meta” of competitive gaming and how the crew functionally work, and using that to your greatest advantage. Notably, the rules have Placing Crew towards the bottom of the Setup phase – AFTER the entire map is constructed with islands and terrain, and after home island locations are chosen. This is important for decision making, as a poor home island choice might make a player more likely to be more aggressive with their extra 5 points – maybe they’d whip out the Becalmed event instead of some extra oarsmen. If the opponent deliberately placed islands the maximum distance apart, a navigator might be a better choice than a cannoneer. If there ended up being way more terrain on the map than you anticipated, various 3 or 4 point crew allow you to ignore terrain as part of a move action. This could even lead to bargaining and threats between players during the Setup phase – perhaps you detest a certain terrain type or a home island location – you could threaten to bring in the Mermaids event or a canceller with your +5, though in a competitive scenario they would likely be expecting it anyway. (you could also bluff about what might be brought in)
One of the most interesting aspects of this “+5 meta” is the player turn order. If you go second and see that your opponent didn’t include any events in their fleet for their extra 5 points, you know you won’t have to deal with Mermaids and can therefore pass on including Favor of the Gods as a counter, freeing up the 2 points for Hidden Cove instead. If your opponent brings in 3 events and 1 crew with their +5, you also know you won’t be dealing with Mermaids or Becalmed, because no single game piece of those four can cost more than 2 points. You could adjust accordingly and not have to settle for counters based on fearing what might be revealed once the game starts. However, because of this it could be argued that Player 1 must use their +5 more aggressively, even if only as a deke – possibly including a cheap event like Divers along with a face down crew in the hopes of getting the other player to needlessly include Favor of the Gods when it won’t help them.
Letter of Marque equipment art
Many playgroups may ban events, but other notable possibilities abound. I would argue that the most underrated choice could be the Letter of Marque/Soul Mark equipment. These can be used to force a Parley situation against most of the major factions (with the exception of the Pirates). You’ll always know which faction(s) your opponent is playing by the time it comes to your +5 decisions, so including the correct Letter of Marque (possibly more than one) could be an easy way to deflect an attack later in the game at an opportune moment. Even if they’re using a multi-faction fleet, in a lot of games it won’t be difficult to see which ship is likely to be their main gunship, based on size/crew complement/etc.
The 0LR+5 crew are as follows: The Hag of Tortuga (Pirate), Administror Scott Bratley (English), Contessa Anita Amore (Spanish), Vicomte Jules de Cissey (French), Li Quin (Jade Rebellion), Commodore Matthew Perry (American), “Cannonball” Gallows (Pirate). Notably, the Pirates are the only faction to receive two 0LR+5 crew, while the Jade Rebellion is the only minor faction to receive any. The Cursed, Barbary Corsairs, Vikings and Mercenaries don’t have any.
I hope you enjoyed this article on 0LR+5 crew and would love to hear about your strategic or “meta” use of them!
Measurements of L and S compared to full card measurements
This year I’ve noticed many players measuring L and S incorrectly, usually by using a full card length of a ship deckplate on the top side or using a crew card to measure. Various third party accessories have also become quite popular, as sometimes a deckplate card leaves some maneuverability or angles to be desired, such as when trying to determine a close measurement or for premeasuring move actions. I got my vernier calipers out to see what distance differences there are between S, L, full card lengths often used in their place, and some extra straws and tubes I’ve been using. Disclaimer: Measuring with or without the black border lines on the S and L segments may produce slightly different measurement results.
I used the back of a spare Martinette deckplate that I’ve been using for years as my primary measurement tool, as well as an HMS Goliath deckplate to confirm accuracy given that my official card has been exposed to so much playing that perhaps it isn’t 100% accurate anymore (this experiment determined that to not be the case, though I should swap it out if more finish comes off to the point where I cannot determine the endpoints of S or L).
I measured L at 83.8 millimeters.
Using the other side of the calipers with the Goliath card, I measured the same 83.8mm. It may look like the number should be higher, but that’s because the calipers are slightly above the card and I couldn’t get a camera angle showing it head on at both ends.
Next was the test using the entire length of the card. This came in at 89.2mm, a 5.4mm bonus compared to L actual!
In a separate test on the wrong side of the Goliath card, this number was confirmed:
S was next. The official distance comes in at 57.5mm.
The Goliath S segment measured exactly the same.
Now came another full card test. Standing the Martinette deckplate on end and pinching the calipers to it, we see a measurement of 63.7mm!
Perhaps this measurement was slightly off, but the “inside calipers” still showed the Goliath card at a similar number. If you average these two measurements to approximately 63.5mm, that means that measuring with the full width of a Pirates card gives you a 6 millimeter advantage compared to using the proper S distance! As anyone who has played the game surely knows, that can easily be more (sometimes much more) than the difference between: docking vs. not docking; being in or out of range for cannon shots; being in or out of cancelling range, etc. Even if you don’t add up how big these differences would compound over the course of a full game, any one instance of these measurement differences could be the difference between winning and losing.
Now it was time to test some unofficial segments. Fittingly enough, I did not make any of these myself, though I have used them in games somewhat consistently, though I still try to use my deckplate most of the time. That I didn’t make them is not to clear my name of any wrongdoing, as I have played many things wrong in the past and will likely accidentally screw up additional rules (hopefully just minutiae) in the future.
An S straw I received years ago in an eBay lot measures 58.1mm, very close but still .6mm more than 57.5mm.
An L straw from the same lot actually came in slightly short at 83.6, .2mm less than the 83.8 “official” measurement. Vernier calipers closed over both ends to show it’s raised off the surface for the best possible measurement.
Next was the string of metal tubing that Captain Redgoat gave me. The silver S tube measured 58mm, .5mm more than what we saw from the official segment.
The L tube measured 84.2mm, .4mm above the 83.8mm from the card L.
I think a fair question to ask is: what could be considered “close enough”? I would posit that a difference of .5mm or less is fine for most games and all casual play, simply because the difference is barely (or not) perceptible to the naked eye and that distance is likely to be mis-measured anyway due to slight shaking of hands when a ship is placed at the end of a segment, or the slight movement of a hand above a ship measuring the distance to see if a shot can be made. In addition, I think the benefits of having accessories and convenient tools for players outweigh the slight differences, not to mention other elements such as bumping the table, “undoing” move segments and trying to estimate where the ship’s bow had started, and other accidental calculation errors.
However, I think it would be fair for any player playing competitively or for any kind of prize to request full enforcement of using strictly Wizkids official deckplate cards for all measurements during a game.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is to not measure with full card lengths, as this gives such a player a decided advantage. In addition, I highly recommend comparing any accessories you may have to the L and S segments on a Wizkids card, and trimming or editing them so they’re as close as possible to standard measurements.
Lastly, I welcome any community feedback regarding my measurements, if you have made your own and they differ, or what your group considers “close enough” as far as unofficial measuring accessories.
Welcome to a relatively deep dive on one of my favorite topics – the “strategic elements” of this game. I want this list to be as comprehensive as possible, so feel free to leave a comment at the bottom if you think I should include additional topics. Some of the ideas are more tactical than strategic, but I think they fit in the discussion as well. These are the kinds of things I love thinking about after playing the game more than 450 times over a 10+ year period. A lot of it is theoretical, situational, irrelevant to casual players, and even gamey in a few cases. Some of the topics I go “down the rabbit hole” on are more for a thought exercise than any likely practical use.
Would you be scared if you saw this fleet across from you? Based on the ships you see, what named crew would you expect to see revealed during play?
Before the Game Fleet Construction: If possible, work out a build total with players in advance. I’ve found that this helps me build more effective fleets than arriving at a venue and having to come up with things on the spot. The Building a Fleet page has more information.
Questions to ask yourself when building a fleet: Who are you playing against? What are their habits, favorites, and collections like? (might help determine face down crew setups or likely play styles) Is there a ban list? Are there house rules? If so, what are they? (it is important to establish house rules in advance if possible) Will players gang up on you and try to take you out of the game if you use certain overpowered (OP) items? Has a “fleet tier” been established prior to playing? For example, is the game going to be of a casual nature, or more competitive? In my experience, even in “casual” settings players tend to use pretty high-quality ships.
Look at the other fleets! Something I forget to do in some casual games is get a good look at the opposition before going into the setup and gameplay. It pays to know each special ability on each ship in play, which is always public information. It also helps to know how many crew are on each ship, even if all of them are face down. For example, if a ship has 5 cargo spaces but 6 crew aboard, there must be a crew that doesn’t take up cargo space (usually an oarsman) or/and a link. If a player has their crew unpunched in a stack under a ship’s deckplate, ask them how many crew are aboard and what their nationalities are. It’s understandable that people don’t want to punch out crew chips (especially named crew), but the normal rules of play dictate that there is no hiding the quantity of crew on each ship. This will be important later on when crew start getting revealed and you need to ascertain or assume what else the ship might be carrying.
I recommend checking out my Island Placement Strategic Meta post for thoughts on optimizing setups for competitive standard games. However, terrain is an additional wild card. If your fleet would be better served by terrain (fog banks for fog hoppers, whirlpools for extra actions, etc), are you able to argue for the inclusion of the type(s) you want? Normally fleet building happens before setup, so an opponent may have looked at your fleet and want to deny you from using specific terrain. Additionally, they might deduce your “terrain strategy” and try to place them far away from any potential home island you may end up at. It gets a bit “gamey”, but your group may be quite casual about how terrain is placed and you might be able to successfully put extra of your favored type into the mix that ends up benefiting you more than the other players.
Although house rules often feature in the setup phase, it’s good to know the official Wizkids rules as well. The last player chooses the location of the last island placed. After terrain is placed, they then choose the location of the first player’s home island. This makes it very easy for them to screw over the first player by intentionally placing the final island 6L away from the already-most-remote island and then pick that to be the first player’s home island.
If forts are integral to your strategy or play style, it could be a great idea to have each regular gold coin you contribute be valuable enough to build the most expensive fort you may use. This way, if things go wrong and you only get a single coin home in the early going, you’ve maximized your chances of being able to build any of your forts with said coin. (this works better in non-standard treasure distributions)
0 coins are a good option when you have gold bonuses. At that point, your opponent hopefully can’t benefit from the coins, but you can happily pick them up. On the same subject, low values are better to use with gold bonuses because the bonuses will generate a higher differential for your fleet compared to what your opponent is bringing in (ex: the gold bonuses end up being a higher percentage of the total gold at the end if there are lower values overall).
If I’m running a mostly gold fleet, I often consider maxing out values. In multiplayer games I prefer to have each player contribute an equal number of coins of any value or type, so this can result in something like 4 positive UT’s and 4 7’s.
Using the 8/15 rules makes for some interesting restrictions and possibilities. If going the all-gunship route to try and blast the opponent before they can get a single coin home, 5 negative UT’s and the 7-7-1 distribution is a good default since you don’t really care what they load, you just want to slow them down as much as possible with Missionary, Wolves, Natives, etc.
Ship abilities must be public knowledge, but I prefer to keep my named crew and Unique Treasure cards hidden out of play. Punching the chips and coins out before you arrive for a game is worth considering, although this level of paranoia is likely beyond the scope of most player experiences.
Knowledge is Power
It is very important to know how everything works with the rules (they’re also at the bottom of the homepage) and The Pirate Code to know the capabilities and limitations of the fleets and game pieces. I cannot emphasize this enough. Too many times I’ve been playing against people who thought things worked a certain way and thought they were about to pull something off. Turns out it’s illegal because it would be too unfair, and because it twists the original intent of the rules and abilities as written. As official Rules Arbitrator Woelf has said in the past, (paraphrasing) if a combo/etc seems too good to be true, it’s probably not legal by the rules. For newer players with little experience in how the Code usually elaborates on rules and abilities, it’s probably a good idea to read about abilities or game pieces you’re using (not all need a Code entry however) before trying things out in fleets. Sometimes just reading the Code will give you gameplay or combo ideas.
As mentioned earlier, looking at your opponent’s fleets before the game starts can be instrumental to victory. Know what they have, what likely combos might be face down on crew, etc. If they are using English or Pirate crew, the alternate flag artwork could give away crew from the PotC expansion.
If you have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the game pieces and their stats and abilities, it provides opportunities to “observe” some games from a different perspective. It is then your choice if you wish to remind a player that their ship actually has an ability that could help them out. Again, it gets “gamey” but this could also be used to hurt players that oppose you or are fighting you during a game (reminding a player attacking someone who is attacking you that the Cargo Killing ability works on every hit, for example), or avoided altogether as players forget that you have a ship with the home island raiding ability or that they forgot to give an action to one of their ships. However, I usually prefer to “overinform”, mostly in the interests of helping other players become better or more knowledgeable.
What might an opponent do with this setup? What cargo might get transferred to a gunship?
This also goes for knowing how Unique Treasures work. Strange things can happen during a game that catch you off guard. For example, at one game I brought a small stack of 5-7 UT’s to a game and placed 4 or 5 in the treasure distribution in the interest of helping my fleet. During the game a player had found a UT, didn’t know what it did, and asked me for the stack so they could look at the ability. I was fine giving them the stack to look at. However, it got me thinking – there are various databases out there (like the Master Spreadsheet) that contain all game piece information in an easily accessible medium. I could have told the player to just look the UT up. By seeing my stack, they not only can learn what other UT’s I contributed, but they can make additional deductions. If only one punched out UT in the stack has not been revealed (and is a UT loaded face up) and there is only one wild island with coins left on it, they can make a pretty good bet that the UT is on that island. In addition, some of the UT’s in my stack were still on the card, which only further helps to narrow down what UT’s might be where.
As far as a “Unique Treasure Meta” goes, this could actually be taken WAY further. I could have included a deke in my stack – if I included a copy of Pandora’s Box without the UT on it, maybe a player would get cold feet on further exploratory ventures – especially if they also saw an unpunched copy of Runes of Death in the stack! Additionally, you could leave punched UT cards lying around during the game, perhaps prompting players to ask you if you included those UT’s in the mix. At that point you could answer them truthfully, lie, or decline to say anything at all. After all, the game is called “Pirates”. 🙂
I have probably won at least a few games based on towing alone. Knowing all the intricacies and opportunities in the towing rules can be extremely beneficial, especially when valuable cargo is involved or you are close to your home island or a friendly fort. Woelf’s useful Reference Diagrams mostly contain basics and are not needed by more experienced players. However, as recently as perhaps 2018 or 2019 I learned something valuable from page 10. I was completely unaware of “Towing Option #1”. For example, you could get rammed by an enemy ship, derelict them on your next turn with a different ship, then start towing them immediately with the rammed ship!
Although the Pirate Code often restricts the crazy combos that players want to exploit, I think towing is one of the specific areas where the Code is surprisingly lenient. I highly recommend reading the entry on towing at the top of page 10. Always make sure to give a new capture an action as soon as possible. For example, the turn after cancelling Oarsman to capture an enemy ship, it can row away on its own with said oarsman (often at S+S if a helmsman is still aboard). This frees up the towing ship for additional duties. As soon as a towing ship docks at your home island or a friendly fort, the towed ship docks immediately as a free action and can be given a repair action. Quick repairing and optimizing crew setups on newly captured ships can be very helpful in the endgame phase (usually around the last ~1/3 of a game).
The Americans use chain towing to remove the wildly burning Paul Revere from a battlefield.
I drop tows and resume them all the time. Towing is completely voluntary and the towing ship can thematically “cut the line” at any time. Although towing multiple ships in a chain is not legal, a different take on “chain towing” is legal – towing a ship just to warp it to the stern of the towing ship, releasing it immediately, then towing it with another ship in your fleet in order to move the towed ship again. If often requires more ships than most games can accommodate, but this tactic can be used to remove a valuable asset from potential disaster.
Very strange things are possible with towing. If you’re towing a 10 master, moving nearly 180 degrees in the opposite direction just a teeny bit will result in the entire bulk of the 10 master flipping around and potentially creating a large “block”. Such a maneuver could result in the 10 master then getting its canceller in range, blocking an enemy trade route for a turn (especially if it’s an Eternal 10 master your opponent doesn’t want to sink), or letting a friendly ship more easily reach the 10 master to exchange cargo.
Whenever you tow a ship and cannot place it directly behind the towing ship (normally because the flag gets in the way), just place it on the side of the towing ship’s stern that is least likely to face attack before your next turn starts. This might help keep the towed vessel out of shooting or ramming range. Also, keep in mind that the towing and towed ships can explore each other because they’re touching – this can be useful when the towed ship explores the towing ship to give the latter a valuable piece of cargo.
It’s also good to keep in mind which ships in your fleet should even be towing in the first place. You might capture an enemy ship with a vessel that has S+S+S base move and no helmsman, but it’s probably far better to have a slower ship with a helmsman tow her home because she can tow at S+S (and S speed is atrociously slow for any ship to be moving). Ships with extra action capabilities available may help you a lot if they can get a valuable derelict home at S+S+S+S per turn or faster.
Bluffing, Threats, and Deception
Some new players will be overly honest about the quality of the wild islands they explore. Try not to make it obvious if you’ve found a good or bad wild island in terms of how much total gold is on it (all 1’s/etc). On the other hand, you could gamify it and tell players that the values are bad in the interest of getting them to not attack you for your coins. Of course, this could backfire if they think you’re lying.
It might be beneficial to keep a “poker face” whenever you explore wild islands or see face down cargo on enemy ships. When it’s not your turn, it might be worth it to watch people’s reactions when they explore islands.
Bluffing and lying are two of the most fascinating gameplay aspects of Pirates that I have very little experience with and have not seen very often. However, the potential ramifications are endless. Nothing stops you from disclosing information (whether it’s true or not) about what you have in your fleet and the treasures you contributed. In a 4 player game, you could theorize about what face down crew could be on an enemy gunship, perhaps spooking one or both of the other players into attacking them.
In addition, you can help other players you want to see do well (usually for your own benefit of course). You can cater your advice to players trying to take down the early leader, or someone who has already attacked you. You could even intentionally give bad advice to someone to derail their efforts, though I wouldn’t want to and in multiplayer games you’re likely to get busted by the other players.
You can also make threats. Claiming that you’ll attack a player on your next turn may affect what actions they take this turn. This relates closely to bluffing. Threatening to reveal a home island raiding crew (whether you have one or not) when paired with a feint towards their home island could result in a player moving multiple ships towards home, potentially opening up additional opportunities.
One thing I have done in the past is offer up ideas on additional options available to a player. This can be with good intent to help them learn how the game works, or to mislead them. For example, if you see a player considering 1 or 2 options available to an action a gunship is about to take, you might see a 3rd option that actually does make sense, but you expect to be slightly more beneficial for you in the long run than their other options. Casually suggesting it might remind them that they could take that route.
Side conversations: Nothing forbids you from having private conversations with other players during the game. You might see the perfect opportunity for an alliance, or want to share information about a crew or UT one of your ship carries. The downside is that the other players might assume you are in cahoots. At which point you can of course tell the truth of what was said, or lie.
Side note: Please don’t take this too far. Certain elements of the game are meant to be public information at all times – you cannot hide ship abilities, the number or nationality of face down crew on your ships, or the presence of Unique Treasures that must be placed/loaded face up. It may also be a good idea to consider the “temperament” of your playgroup – if you engage in too much deceit or “gamey” playing, people might quit or decide to play something else.
Exploring, Gold, and Unique Treasures
This section goes along with some of the others already discussed, but is vital to winning. Try to memorize all gold values you see throughout the game, especially those you cannot voluntarily look at again – coins left on wild islands you don’t have cargo space for, gold on enemy ships, etc. You could even make some notes on your phone to keep track of what gold is where and how much value is left on the islands you’ve explored. This leads to the chess match of competitive standard games – if you explore 2 of the 4 wild islands and only find 10 gold total, you know the other player is likely to find the other 20 and you’ve got some work to do to win. Then you need to decide which avenue is most likely to result in you getting enough gold to win or tie – risking your ships to get to the other islands, dropping low value coins to make room for high value coins you haven’t loaded yet, trying to steal their gold whether it’s on their ships or their home island, capturing their Ransom crew, etc.
Knowing what gold was on all the islands you explored is good for later parts of the game. If you know an opponent reached a wild island after you looted it and only got the last 2 coins, hopefully you remember that they’re both 1’s and can potentially be ignored in favor of protecting the 5 gold in your fort that might get attacked soon.
If you know how much total gold is in the treasure distribution, it’s useful to make calculations throughout the game. From the gold you’ve seen, you can start to figure out what other islands have and what the other players likely have access to. For example, in a 3 player game with 80 total gold in play, your explored island (1 of 4 wild islands) contains 32 gold, a disproportionately high amount. If you can get just a bit more from there on out, you might be able to play conservatively or in a defensive way. In games where the total amount of gold in play is random, the “spying” abilities may become more useful.
Tactical Decisions Order of Operations – What to do?
Sometimes the hardest decision made in a game is which crew to eliminate after you’ve lost a boarding party. You need to consider the survivability of the ship on your next turn, but also in the long term if you think you can escape in the short term. This is where valuable crew might be better off thrown overboard. A named captain might take the bullet in favor of a helmsman+oarsman combo because your dismasted hybrid needs the latter two in order to make it home with important gold next turn.
When you are working with the Canceller ability, what to cancel can also be a conundrum. It often boils down to the lesser of two evils – cancel the opponent’s captain to avoid being dismasted, or cancel Blackbeard’s gold capture ability to avoid a boarding party where he steals said canceller?! (which might be unloaded later for a game-winning payout!)
Cancelling logistics get far crazier when multiple ships are involved. This is when the order in which an opponent moves their ships can matter a lot to you. You may be facing two enemy ships in the vicinity of your canceller. If their 3 master moves on you and you don’t cancel its captain because there’s a 5 master lurking nearby, you might take a surprising amount of damage only to realize you wasted an opportunity when they move their 5 master away to go do other things, when you thought it was going to attack you!
The order in which you give actions to each of your ships can matter immensely. When your turn is approaching, try to figure out the optimal way in which your actions should be given. The order will be inconsequential on many turns, but things get especially interesting with tight maneuvering, combat, docking, repairing, cargo transfers, towing, and whirlpools.
When docking a derelict at an island after the towing ship docks, consider what your goals are for said derelict. Can it repair immediately? Will it be capable of movement soon? How much do you care that it remains in your possession? Can you use it to block enemy movement or protect the towing ship from attack? Make sure to dock the derelict in a position that will not block your own maneuvers. If it’s a large ship that needs many turns of repairing, you might want to dock it at a “dormant” part of the island where it can sit for a while. On the other hand, you might want to dock a derelict ship optimal for gold running near a trade route so it can sail out for a coin in the endgame as soon as it has a mast up.
Here the Shui Xian is completely boxed in, and cannot shoot at the ships on the right docked at their home island. Click for the insane battle report.
There are situations where you might be able to block an enemy’s movements simply by docking derelicts at home, or redocking other ships. I’ve found this to be especially prevalent when using the ship stealing ability, where you can warp a derelict home by exploring it (first seen on Commander Temple).
Positioning is also extremely important in general – for angling your move segments optimally for shooting, docking, blocking, towing, and more.
This is when you measure L and S segments in advance of something happening, or simply to check lines of fire or see if a target is in range. When and when not to premeasure? It is critical for determining who might get the first shot in a potential engagement. It is very helpful to determine where your ship will end a move action and what cannons might be in range of your target. This new information must then be weighed against the threat of counterattack, the possibility of a canceller being revealed, bad shooting luck, and more. Premeasuring is usually worth it, but it could also tip off an opponent to something you’re planning. If you premeasure an intimidating attack your opponent is not expecting, it might make them hostile or provoke them into trying to get the initiative.
Questions to ask: Should you build a fort in this situation? What are the advantages and disadvantages of building a fort or NOT building a fort? Where should a fort be built? Which location (of perhaps two being considered) is more likely to get attacked or not protect the gold or ships you need? If you have options for different coin values used in building the fort (ex: one 4 vs. four 1’s), which values should be used? (might depend on available cargo in your nearby ships, and if you think you can get a single coin home quickly vs. preferring to have multiple coins scatter in different directions if the island is explored after the fort potentially gets destroyed) What fort should be built? (often the Revolution forts are better than the Crimson Coast ones)
Gimmicks, the unexpected, and exotic game pieces
This might go beyond the scope of this post, but there are some exotic game pieces out there that players should be aware of. Calypso allows for nearly infinite whirlpool creation and therefore opens up entirely new play strategies – whirlpool teleporting on a turn-by-turn basis, using gold runners without helmsmen because they will come out of the second whirlpool within L of a wild island, home island raiding chaos, making extra actions even more valuable, and on and on. Sea dragons can essentially teleport at will, making them prime executors of Lord Mycron’s ability – with two actions they are guaranteed to get the first strike on any ship in play not docked at its home island. Fog hoppers are a fun way to essentially weaponize terrain (which Calypso also does, just with whirlpools). Ship stealers (like the Harbinger) are one way to get derelicts home in a flash – especially when combined with extra actions. One thing to keep in mind when using that ability is the situation at your home island – whether or not it’s a good time to warp home, what the derelict ship will do upon docking, etc.
Getting into the competitive scene, the common version of Captain Jack Sparrow helped birth the Universal Pirate Shipping strategy, in which coins are magically flipped home and “plused” or “bonused” into near-instant victories against almost any opposing fleet you could come up with. In general, a close eye should be kept on any game piece that allows for teleportation – of ships, crew, or gold. Most of these unique game pieces (often “1 of 1”, meaning they are the only crew/ship of their faction or in the entire game with such abilities) are not found in casual games, but are good to be aware of due to their potential to upend strategies or in some cases even destabilize the playing field.
Predicting the Future
Try to play the game on your opponent’s turns as well – this is a great time to observe how the other people play, learn what crew or UT’s they might have in their fleet, keep tabs on conflicts that don’t involve you, and plan your next turn. Premeasuring, even if it’s not during your own turn, can help to predict if someone is about to attack or divert course. You should be able to premeasure enemy movements and shots to see what kind of threat you’re facing in the near future.
However, I would caution against trying to plan things out too far in advance. Gore Verbinski said about filming Pirates of the Caribbean: “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong”. The same is very often true of playing Pirates CSG. The best-laid plans often go awry. The problem with predicting too many turns or actions in advance is that you cannot predict exactly what other players will do, unless they are silly (or complacent) enough to say so. I have had times during a game where I got excited about a potential future course of action that I saw during a game – an avenue towards victory had opened up! Alas, I was not anticipating an opponent doing X maneuver with X ship to foil my plans. This is where a bit of experience in playing solo might come in handy – if you can put yourself in your opponent’s shoes throughout the game, you can get a better understanding of how they are likely to optimize their playing going forward.
Ending the Game
There are times when you know you’re winning, even if you don’t know the total value of gold in the treasure distribution. At that point you may want to end the game as fast as possible. If your fleet has weakened or an enemy is in position to take the lead from you by raiding your home island or by some other means, there may be ways to end the game when you need to. Deliberately slamming your ship into an iceberg or running it over a reef might cause a dereliction that triggers an endgame condition. If flat earth rules are being used, you might be able to sail your last ship over the edge of the map and out of play. You might also be able to force an opponent’s hand by attacking them, which might result in a boarding party where you choose to eliminate an oarsman that was preventing your ship from being derelict. I don’t enjoy when games end this way, but I haven’t seen it often at all either.
That wraps up the strategic elements of Pirates CSG! Please leave a comment below if you think I missed anything, or if you want to further the discussion! I LOVE talking about these deeper gameplay aspects and I want to hear and know more about them. Thanks for reading!
Lately I’ve been thinking about some rabbit holes. Specifically, those involving the thinking man’s strategic aims when setting up for a game or playing it. This is one of my absolute favorite topics in Pirates CSG – competitive optimization from thinking through options and deciding on a best course of action. It’s a bit more theory and less experience-based than I usually am, but it’s real fun for me to think about. These snippets come from the Pirates CSG Discord server and I hope to add more over time.
The player who goes first chooses the location of the first island. The second player chooses the location of the final island, which they can place 6L away from the island in play that is already in the most remote location. Then the second player chooses the home island location of the first player, which at that point, why not put the first player as far away as possible?
I can’t believe I haven’t thought of or noticed this before, at least not to a clear strategic goal. This makes it seem like the optimal standard setup (1v1 at 40 points with 6 total islands) would pretty much always have at least one island farther out than all the rest, or would even make the island placement look a lot less like the typical circle or pyramid shape I’m very accustomed to seeing since people often default to placing islands no more than 3L away from other islands.
I think the follow up is: Does an “island placement meta” emerge where because Player 1 knows they will be placed 6L away from an island to start the game, do they place their 2nd and 3rd islands (the 3rd and 5th to be placed) the maximum distance (6L) away from other islands because they know that they will HAVE to place Player 2 at an island that would otherwise be closer? It is suddenly obvious that they will want ALL the islands to be 6L apart to minimize their relative distance to getting gold compared to Player 2.
This could also exacerbate the existing “issue” of speed being the most important attribute in the game along with extra actions. If both players are well aware that one of them (50% either way) will start the game 6L away from the nearest island, they are almost forced to build speed fleets that attempt to make up for such a distance. Which results in more Hai Peng/Banshee’s Cry/Lord Mycron type fleets. This in turn forces the other player to build a more competitive fleet as well, and results in even less average or below average ships and crew from being used.
You would see the ships you’re going up against, but would have to make educated guesses on the crew. That’s where experience and having a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of the game pieces could come in handy. A bunch of face down crew on the Hai Peng and a potential Mycron ship is a pretty decent bet you’ll be seeing some crazy S+L+S+Lx2 stuff going on in the game. But opponents could also bluff what their crew setups are or just lie about what they have, which gets into the strategic elements I’m also thinking about…
I’ve just been thinking more in-depth about the rules than usual in the past month or two. Plus I keep going first and losing, though this certainly isn’t the reason why. XD
When you go as deep as the rabbit hole goes, you could even say everything is playing the game. Even what you say to the other player prior to meeting up. Bluffing that you’re using a casual fleet and saying the roommate took your tin by accident that morning. XD
I might lose competitive games in the future because I’m bringing this topic up right now. O_O
I just think if you “reverse engineer” it or go backwards, Player 1 realizes that they will have terrible positioning either way. Even if the first 4 islands are set up in a square 6L apart, and Player 1 puts the 5th island 6L away from a corner of the square, Player 2 can still place island 6 (which they know will be 1’s HI) 6L away from the square in the same direction. I think I’ll have to draw this out or make a video about it soonish.
Player 1 would want some powerful ships to stop P2 from getting gold home. This could even affect fleet building for everyone involved – if you know you’ll get screwed with a gold fleet in Player 1 position, BOTH players might just hedge their bets and bring loaded fleets with minimal points invested in gold running.
Terrain is vastly harder to talk strategy about and theorize a “meta” around, simply because it’s FAR more variable than the islands. So many types of terrain, with so many places they can each go on the ocean.
I countered my own idea from earlier. Player 1 would anticipate Player 2 placing the final island as far away as possible, and therefore would likely place island 5 in the middle. (this is very basic with the first 4 all maximally 6L apart. Then P2 picks the final location 6L off a corner of the area which they choose as the P1 HI.
I think P1 starts to depend on whirlpools at this point.
the rules don’t specify about agreeing on the TYPE of terrain, so players would potentially just bring a lot of everything and base their choices on whether they go first or second.
Man the meta continues! Because with terrain, P1 can now try to MAKE other islands more appealing for P2 to choose as P1’s HI! By putting whirlpools near a faraway island, it could make P2 think twice about making that P1’s HI.
Maybe this all circles back to the official HI selection choice rule being quite good?
Continuing the discussion on the Discord on 9/27/2021:
This gets into more island placement strategy. Player 2 knows they can put P1’s HI wherever they want. They can place it near their own HI with the full intention of blasting away on their turn (the end of “round 1”) because they had HI protection while P1 doesn’t (unless they keep ships there and likely forfeit actions).
This could also dramatically impact terrain type selection AND placement by P1 because they know they’re going first and will have their HI chosen by P2. If they think P2 will blast them in R1, it could benefit them to place fog banks near as many islands as possible so they can hide right after the game starts if necessary.
From my 6×150 game, one of the best games (and solo games!) I’ve ever played. Click for the battle report!
Over the years, some players have asked how to play Pirates CSG solo, without any “real” opponents. These are sometimes called “solitaire” games. Although it may sound lame or boring at first, playing Pirates CSG by yourself can still be a great experience. I myself have played more games solo than against human opponents, and perhaps someday we’ll even be able to play against AI.
The most important thing about playing Pirates CSG solo is that you need to treat each fleet equally. Playing favorites is too easy and will just result in your favorite faction or fleet winning the game. It’s extremely important to go into the game with the mindset that every fleet will be designed and played optimally.
When making fleets, be sure that they are at least somewhat equally balanced. That said, it’s okay to have that Cursed or Mercenary fleet as a “Team Chaos” fleet that clearly won’t win.
For the map, decide on a method that doesn’t always benefit the fleet that will go first. Remember to alternate the turn order when placing islands/terrain/etc. Also, consider completely doing away with the conventional setup rules and simply designing a map that doesn’t have an unfair home island location.
As usual, the biggest key is to play each fleet as if they are desperately trying to win. Every single turn. Make every decision that you would make if you actually controlled that fleet against your human rival. Before starting each fleet’s turn, do a quick review of what they’re doing, how they can win, what they should do next, and long term planning. If it’s a game where there is a set amount of gold in play (for example, 1v1 standard with 30 total), make sure to keep track of what each fleet has explored and make strategic decisions based on that (for example, if the first fleet finds 14 gold at the two islands they explore, they know they’ll need to get at least 2 gold from the opponent or elsewhere to win). If it helps, you could even switch your seating position to be in that fleet’s point of view on the map.
There may come a time where you know that an “enemy” ship has the Explosives UT, but the fleet you’re currently controlling doesn’t technically know that. If they should ram the ship to try to steal gold, even if it’s your favorite ship you might lose in the explosion, you have to do it. Or else, live with an “asterisk” game that you know was flawed by playing in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. I myself have been guilty of this a few times many years ago. It might start with a “free reroll” when you’re mad a cannon doesn’t hit, but then the other fleet has to get one too – except theirs doesn’t work out. Messing with the “balance” at all just leads to compounding issues and a wrecked game of inconsistencies. Trust me, it’s not worth the mess of trying to unwind what should have happened. 🙂
A Few Tips
Have rules documents and The Pirate Code ready – you may need to check things often
If it’s too tempting to “remember” the face down crew in the other fleet (ex: avoiding a canceller), try just having all crew in play face up from the start of play.
With no audible gameplay discussion needed, feel free to blast Pirates of the Caribbean music (or whatever you want) loudly to get in the epic mood! 😀
What is solo play great for?
Testing out new fleets
Competitive play to see which fleet is best – this is because when you play against yourself, there essentially cannot be a competitive disadvantage that can occur when players of unequal skill/experience levels play each other.
Games that cannot be played with real opponents – for example, games that last for multiple days, or games that are bigger than what your playgroup is interested in or capable of playing.
Testing custom game pieces – before unleashing your latest crazy custom on your unsuspecting play group, try it out in a game to make sure it’s not too OP (overpowered).
Who should probably not play solo games?
“Faction fanatics” who only ever play with one faction – good luck keeping it fair! 🙂
Players who need the social aspect of board gaming to enjoy playing
This is a collection of all the legal research and outreach I’ve done regarding the patents/rights/IP to Pirates CSG and things related to it. As new developments or findings come in I plan to update this post with the most recent stuff at the top. Feel free to contribute your own findings and facts in the comments.
This patent seems to list the first two (bottom in the list) patents of the 12 as being relevant to Pirates.
Then I went to http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair and pasted 6,899,333 as the patent number with 10243980 as the application number. I don’t really get most of the tabs, but based on the faq/information stuff in the links from a few paragraphs above, it seems that the patents expire if the maintenance fees aren’t paid on time. Also, patent number 6,899,332 has two expired “parents”; does that matter?
Also, it appears that anyone can pay the maintenance fees, even as a “guest”. How does that work? Does the payer receive the right to the patent or does the company/legal entity still “own” it?
Is this research going anywhere or am I way off base?
This site has the actual documents you can look at. It’s amazing how much stuff you can find online! I don’t understand much of it, but it appears as though the patents in question (assuming they are the ones relevant to Pirates, perhaps the license is the only thing that matters) are still in NECA’s possession. (looks like they switched banks in 2015, IP “security agreement”)
Do we know when the company’s exclusive rights to the property expire?
Probably not for a while. After some reasonably deep digging last year, I MAY have located the patent or patents that apply to Pirates.
At the time the fees due this year hadn’t been paid, but from this you can see that they have now been paid, albeit with a late fee. (and now I see this so it doesn’t look like we could have just bought it out anyway)
It seems that this latest “11.5 Year Window” is the last one listed, but I don’t know what it means or when it potentially expires.
I just went and downloaded the Patent Term Calculator and filled it out the best I could. I found out that most patents expire 20 years after the filing date. From the calculator, it says the patent may expire on September 13th, 2022. (disclaimer: this is assuming I’m even looking at the right patent in the first place, but either way it seems like a “Pirates patent” would expire by 2024 since the game first came out in 2004) I don’t know if NECA/WK can renew or extend it from there, but I do see this:
An expired patent can only be renewed through an act of Congress, and in rare cases, a patent may be extended for a few years.
So hopefully that wouldn’t happen. I don’t know if there are other ways for them to get around it and find loopholes.
Messages Regarding the Return of the Game
This is my message to Wizkids and their response in April 2017:
Message back from NECA after sending them the same message about the survey results:
More from the Contacting NECA thread at Miniature Trading
My message to Wizkids about the SCS set going for $482. Said their page had seen it, no message back. (the link DID go to the expired listing, it’s just that eBay has changed their site a bit and now try to link to “suggested” active items when you look at ended auctions)
More promising, some messages between another member of the active Facebook group:
And finally, possibly the most promising, another member from here and FB got an interesting response back:
So at this point, we should “share our enthusiasm”!
Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on this! In addition, if you have any potential solutions, go ahead and share! Additional questions for the legal side of things that I haven’t thought of are also welcome. Thank you!!