Playing the game

Tips for playing:

Gameplay page crew pic

Generic crew on a deckplate card.

  • Generic crew are the backbone of any fleet.  You’ll find out early on that captains, helmsmen, and explorers rule this game.  It can be better to field a simple fleet using at least one of these crew on all of your ships than using complicated or expensive named crew. Here is a downloadable spreadsheet that has generic crew chips you can print and cut out to use if you don’t have enough of the actual crew for gameplay. You can also grab my generic crew abilities reference sheets and print them out so players have a handy reference on the most basic crew abilities.
  • Don’t always go for the nearest islands.  Your opponent isn’t likely to grab gold from the islands near your home island (HI), since it’s in your territory.  Take advantage of your fastest ships and take treasure from islands that are further away, but be careful that they’re not sunk because you were too aggressive.
  • It may be tempting to capture an enemy ship and use it against them, but carefully consider the possibilities.  Smaller games don’t take very long, making capturing a difficult strategy to pull off.  If you can grab a derelict treasure runner that’s near your HI, go ahead and do so, but towing an opponent’s monster gunship from far away can impede on more important tasks.
  • The first shot of any engagement is very important, since it can often leave the other ship at a considerable disadvantage if the action lasts more than one turn.  This is why you’ll want not just captains but also helmsmen on pretty much all of your gunships, to make them faster and more maneuverable.  In addition, the faster your gunships are the faster they’ll be able to take down enemy gold runners.
  • Don’t overrate the effects of terrain.  Terrain, with the occasional exception of icebergs (which can move around), is very easily avoided in most games.  If you want to make terrain more relevant, consider stringing it together in chains and rings around islands instead of following the standard rules, which say that there must be S distance between all terrain.
  • The farther the islands are apart, the more important speed is.  However, the game is often more exciting and hard-fought when the islands are placed closer together, so experiment and try placing islands closer than 3L apart.
  • There are a few exceptional abilities that you should be aware of.  A canceller is a crew that lets you cancel an enemy ability on a ship within S of the cancelling ship, which is probably the best ability in the game excluding generic crew.  Crew that give extra actions on die rolls or through sacrificing crew (usually referred to as “sac captains”) are hugely important, since they give gunships the ability to move and shoot twice, doubling their range and overall firepower.  Combining the EA and SAT abilities (which rely on die rolls) with rerollers is particularly effective.  Abilities that give +1, or better yet +2, value to one of your gold coins can win you the game, especially if you manage to get the bonus on multiple coins.  As for combat, the “world-hater” ability gives you +1 to your cannon rolls, essentially lowering them by one rank.  This can make gunships even more deadly, since using a world-hater on a ship that already has rank 2 cannons means that your cannons hit on everything except for a 1, which automatically misses anyway.
  • The fantasy elements of Pirates CSG are generally overpriced.  Sea monsters, scorpions, switchblades, and bombardiers are all fun to use, but they are also very expensive for what you get.
  • If you go into a game with a specific strategy in mind, be very prepared for it to fail.  Remember that in Pirates, “everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  When using complex strategies or combos, it’s best to try them out in large games so you still have points left over for gold runners and aren’t relying on just one combo to win.  You’ll have games where you win despite not succeeding at your original plan.  Then there will be games where you play the way you want, and still lose.  Such is life on the high seas!
  • Remember that gold wins this game, so be wary of going too heavy on the gunships unless you’re prepared to lose the gold race.  It’s very possible to sink the entire enemy fleet but still lose the game.
  • Have fun!  Once you’ve tasted victory through more “standard” gameplay tactics, you’ll develop a desire to win in more unorthodox and unpredictable ways.

For reference, the rules:

Start Here Rules

Complete Game Rules

Master Keyword List

The Pirate Code (FAQ)

Reference Diagrams

Gameplay of Pirates CSG

A game of Pirates CSG in action!


  1. Many useful tips and guidance. You obviously have lot of experience in this field. Keep it up!

    P.S. I would love to see more pics regarding this post =)

    • @Dalibor: Thanks, I certainly plan to!
      I hear you about the pictures. I have a ton of pics throughout the site, and this page is a shorter one without. I’ll probably put a few more towards the top. If you want to see some impressive gameplay pics of Pirates CSG, check out my Command the Oceans game.

  2. Merry Met Ben,

    I was looking at your master rules listing and you master keyword list and I was wondering if you could tell me what the ability of Mistwalker and The Hangman’s Joke would be called?

    • @Thomas James Butcher: Those ships are known as Fog Hoppers. Funny timing because I just updated the Information and Stats page to include some ability abbreviations.
      The Master Keyword List was actually written by Woelf, as he compiled that information.
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Hi Ben,

    Do you have a specific size play area or is it very dependent on the game and number of players? The Wiki entry suggests 3ft by 3ft is the ideal size, just wondering what tour thoughts are?

    • Hey there! 3’x3′ is good enough for most games. If you manage to get 5+ players, more space would be nice too. It can also depend on potential house rules – for example, I like to allow islands to be placed 2L apart (not just 3L-6L), which requires less space than some typical setups.

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