Pirates CSG Review
DISCLAIMER: This Pirates CSG Review is extremely biased, and was written by a non-gamer who is likely the biggest current fan of this game in the world. As a result, I thought I’d never write a Pirates CSG Review, but I originally posted this in June 2017.
Pack art for the first set, Spanish Main
Pirates Constructible Strategy Game, also known as Pirates of the Spanish Main and Pirates of the Cursed Seas Pocketmodel Game, is a miniatures game about piracy, exploration, and naval warfare. Various aspects of the Age of Sail are introduced throughout the expansions that were released from 2004-2008. The theme is heavy on gold, plunder, combat at sea, and just general piratey goodness that you’d expect from the game’s title.
Rating: 9/10. While the theme is consistent throughout the sets, Wizkids deviated from the historical theme by adding various sea creatures, non-historical ship types, and ship types that weren’t really contained to the Age of Sail. This also compromised the pirate theme to some extent, as the golden ages of piracy didn’t involve sea monsters, Vikings, or submarines. I have a Ranking of all the sets.
The “game in every pack” was priced at an MSRP of $3.99. This gave you two ships, a crew, treasure, an island, and the full rules. Barely enough to play, I’d recommend at least 3 packs to play a two player game. However, this still leaves you with a very low base cost compared to other games. This is one of the biggest strengths of Pirates – it doesn’t take a fortune to amass a solid collection and an impressive armada of beautiful constructible ships. Nowadays, the game is often found for cheaper prices than when it was in print, as my eBay price history spreadsheet shows. The longevity of the game is also proven there, as prices have risen since around 2015.
Since the game has constructible parts, this is an important aspect. The ships are more durable than you would expect, and the first ships I have that I built in 2005 have held up extremely well over the years. Some breakage problems may occur when building ships, but this is almost always due to rushing and inexperience. If a slot is too tight, widening it with a spare game piece (such as a pennant flag) or even a pen or item with similar width can often remedy the problem.
In addition, the other items (islands, coins, crew chips) are very well-made, colorful, and very good quality when you consider that most of them are contained in small booster packs that are not very well protected.
Most naval games have stock game pieces to represent specific unit types, or miniatures that can be painted or customized. Pirates is a beauty right out of the pack. Nearly every ship in the game has its own unique artwork, as do the named crew and even some of the common generic crew from the later sets. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s the historical ships of the first 3+ sets, crazy Cursed contraptions from the later sets, or really well-done crew portraits that look like paintings from the Age of Sail period. In addition, the pack artwork for the sets can draw you into the game by itself, especially if you’re nautically inclined like myself.
A large campaign game of Pirates CSG in progress. (Economy Edition, June 2015)
The rules are presented in a somewhat haphazard fashion, because the Start Here rules assume you only have a single pack to play with. In addition, the Complete Game rules do not cover the basics that the Start Here rules cover, so you need both in order to play the full game. Lastly, there are numerous loopholes in the rules that were fixed by a large FAQ (The Pirate Code) that can be cumbersome to search through while playing something that apparently started off as a “beer and pretzels” game.
This category is perhaps the most difficult to explain. I come from a non-gaming background and the full rules and scope of the game took some time to learn. In addition, almost all of the players I’ve taught (15 as of this writing) have said that Pirates is the most complex game they’ve ever played (including one person who saw a demo turn and was completely scared off immediately!). However, most “gamers” consider the game to be pretty light, and I think the complexity rating has something to do with when the ratings were assigned.
As more expansions and game mechanics were released, the game has become more complex. The vast number of abilities available and the large amount of potential rules (including the Pirate Code and various confusion over rules loopholes) can make it a rather complex affair. Finally, one of the biggest strengths of the game, its wide-open and customizable nature (you can do whatever you want, there is no board, and there are endless combinations for fleet construction and build totals), actually makes the game far more complex, but in a good way. Taking everything into consideration, Pirates can be as simple or complex as you make it. The Start Here rules are decidedly simple, but when you incorporate the full rules and play larger or multiplayer games, it can become quite complex.
Rating: 6/10, so medium/moderately complex (completely depends on how you play)
There is considerable dice rolling involved, and quirks of the treasure distribution can lead to blowout victories.
Rating: 7/10, moderate luck but not so much that strategy is compromised
You’ll want to look at the fleets you’re facing, as well as thinking about what type of opponents you have. There is plenty of interaction within the combat system for the game. The possibility of bluffing for face down crew or treasure coins adds further interaction. Throw in the theme and personal nature of the gameplay, and you have a very fun and engaging game.
The length of a player’s turn depends entirely on the build total chosen. For a standard 40 point game, turns usually take 1-5 minutes. As players become more experienced, play can go faster and be quite competitive and equal in nature. In huge games with hundreds or thousands of points, a single turn could take 30+ minutes to resolve.
Rating: 3/10 (minimal waiting in most games)
VASSAL Campaign Game 1, played from February-May of 2016.
Once again, this depends on the size of the game. A standard 40 point game usually takes an hour or less, though it could vary from 10 minutes up to about 2 hours. It depends heavily on how many players are involved, their experience level, and the number of complicated mechanics (Unique Treasures, combat) that take time to sort out. Larger games could take most of an afternoon or evening. Huge campaign games, where gold is spent along the way to acquire new ships and crew, are potentially infinite in length. The longest campaign games I’ve played took 3-6 months to conclude, but they’re usually the most fun. (VASSAL Campaign Game 1, VASSAL Campaign Game 3, Command the Oceans)
Rating: 4/10 (based on an average 40 point game)
As said previously, this game has so many options for ships and crew that you’ll never run out of fleets to make. In addition, you can set up the map any way you like, so even the “board” is completely customizable. Last but not least, there are a TON of scenarios, house rules, and custom rulesets created for this game, many of which can be found in the Files section. I’m at nearly 400 plays and I cannot envision ever getting tired of it.
This game is amazing. It works well at any player level, since even the rules are incredibly customizable. It works well at any number of players – I’ve had a ton of fun playing by myself, and in larger groups. The historical connections are very fun (including a handful of historical ships and crew), and the flavor text was a great idea to give the game a story.
Finally, the collectible nature can be a good or bad thing. I’m in the middle on that aspect, but just the excitement of eBay auctions on rare pieces, one-of-a-kind prototypes, and “crazy collectors” on various forums can make the collecting experience fun. Also, this isn’t a game you need to spend much on to have a competitive fleet – oftentimes the commons are better in gameplay than the Limited and Special Edition items. Throw in a great VASSAL module (+ tutorial) and you even have the option of playing remotely against anyone in the world.
With a strong emphasis on the theme, an incredibly rich and diverse array of game pieces, the constructible aspect, and the stunningly massive customizability that can please any pirate, this game stands out from any competition. The artwork is top-notch, the miniatures are beautiful and creative, and the open world is truly inspiring. I cannot emphasize enough how much the customizable aspect helps this game. Non-gamers can play a game using the simple rules. Wargamers can incorporate the ships and even some of the rules into their massive global conquests. The game can be played on a small coffee table, multiple tables using round earth rules or whirlpools, or on a huge ocean in the VASSAL module. The 1,400+ fleets at Miniature Trading are just a taste of what’s possible when making the game a personal challenge to build the best or most creative fleets around.
Pros: Theme, artwork, fun, complexity options, infinite possibilities, board game without a board
Cons: Luck-based, setup and cleanup time, games can take longer than expected
I’m as biased as it gets, but this is BY FAR the best game I’ve ever played and it’s a unique experience that has no equal.
Want to buy Pirates CSG?
Click here to buy on eBay, which has the best selection for the game. Hill’s Wholesale Gaming often has the best prices on packs, but not every set. If you go the pack route, you can check out my Sets page for more information and ratings to help guide your decision.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my Pirates CSG Review and get Pirates CSG fever like I’ve had for many years now! (I got back into the game in 2011) Feel free to leave comments below about your experience with this great game!