Guide to huge games of Pirates CSG
As many of you know, I love making my Pirates games as big as possible. With considerable experience in this field, I have learned a lot about what it takes to play long games. I may expand upon this thread in the future, but at least this is a start. This is not meant to deter anyone from attempting these kinds of things, but rather as a warning to be prepared.
A “huge” game is subjective, but I’d start by suggesting anything that exceeds 1,000 points is huge. That can be 1,000 points at the start (ex: a 2 player 500 point game, or a 5 player 200 point game), or 1,000 points at the game’s peak if it is a cumulative game. This is not to say that 800 points is low, but rather big or “quite large”. There’s no exact science to it, but I think 1,000+ points is about right.
Now that I’ve established what I’m talking about, here are my tips and tricks to making these behemoths work.
1. You must have immense amounts of passion and time.
These games are not for the faint of heart. You really have to LOVE Pirates CSG to even make it through to the end. It’s also a big plus if you like the historical topic of naval warfare (specifically during the age of sail), since with larger games come more realistic navies and battles. As for the time portion, I would recommend establishing some kind of endgame rules if you know you have a limited amount of time. It could be a certain date, a certain number of turns, or whatever else fits your criteria (also consider the biggest fleet by point size when an endgame condition is met). Obviously if you’re playing a “regular” non-cumulative game, the game still ends with the last treasure coin. However, cumulative games have the potential to be infinite in length, which is why you may want to consider an artificial endgame scenario, rather than playing until there’s only one fleet left.
2. Planning is huge.
For Economy Edition, I allowed two full weeks for preparation and planning. It can be shorter if your “real life” isn’t busy at the time, or if you’re planning something smaller than a game like Economy.
Ask yourself these questions:
Where will the game be played?
How many players?
How many points? (Including the starting fleet for a cumulative game; I’d recommend 20, 30, or 40.)
What playing surface will be used? Are you going to write battle reports? Are you going to take pictures? If so, how aesthetically pleasing do you want your game to be? Will you make or purchase custom islands and terrain for use in the game?
How many islands will be used? (home islands? wild islands? mysterious islands?)
How much terrain will be used? Do you want to string terrain together and/or feature certain types of terrain more heavily than others?
Will any house rules be used?
Which factions will be participating? Are there pre-set/permanent alliances to beef up weaker factions? What about privateer rules?
Will there be unique treasures?
How will the gold system work? For a cumulative game, how often is treasure replenished? What is the maximum number of coins that can be on a wild island? If treasure is replenished, are UT’s ever replenished as well? (Not necessarily the same UT’s you’ve already used in the game, but do UT’s appear outside of the setup?)
Lastly, what are your goals for the game? Do you want it to exceed a certain point total? What strategies are you focusing on? Does each fleet have certain game pieces and combos they’re looking to use since they can’t use them in a smaller game?
3. Tips from experience
These tips are mostly from things I’ve done wrong. I generally get better and better at doing this with every huge game, but it’s almost inevitable that something will come up or that something will go wrong.
– Don’t place the islands too far apart. The more open ocean there is to travel, the slower the game will progress, and the more time you’ll spend sailing around. Once you have dozens of ships in play, it does become tedious to move each and every one of them turn after turn. Also, games are generally more exciting and fast-paced when things are closer together, and huge games are no exception. I would recommend ~2L between islands, but definitely make a few closer or farther so the ocean doesn’t look or play too artificially. I would recommend stringing terrain together and placing it next to and touching islands.
– Don’t play on the floor, especially if it’s the room where someone sleeps! Even if the ocean is out of the walkway and away from potential disturbances, your game is never safe! Don’t suffer like I did. If you do play on tables, you may need more than one to accommodate such a large playing area.
– Don’t overestimate how much you can play. Depending on your life circumstances, try to play an hour or two per day, or possibly 1 turn per day. The key is to be consistent. It may go fast at first, but when purchases are made in a cumulative game, it really slows down. For games exceeding 1,000 points, I’d allow at least an hour for turns, with more time necessary for purchases and battles.
– Be realistic about how long the game is going to take. I only allowed 3 weeks for my Century of the Empires (CotE) game, which I wrongly thought would be enough. Depending on how ambitious your goals are, try to allow multiple months. Giving the game a longer window also allows you to (hopefully) focus more on non-Pirates stuff, which gives you flexibility. That being said, if your game exceeds 2,000 points, it’s very difficult to make much progress unless you devote a considerable effort to the game. I have found that each round of turns takes around 1 hour for every thousand points in play, though it certainly varies. (ex: a game with 2,500 total points in play could take around 2.5 hours to play one round of turns)
– Plan out your purchases. For a cumulative game, it’s tempting to want to play constantly so the game can progress and the fleets can grow larger. However, it’s possible to fall into a “purchasing trance” and simply launch random ships turn after turn until all of the fleets just resemble massive gold fleets with no direction or strategy. This is fine at the beginning of games, but once you’ve got between 100 and 300 points running gold, you should think more about the specific strategies that each faction should use to try and dominate the sea.
– The more table space and time you have, the better. I cannot overemphasize that enough, especially the time part.
4. My history of huge games
Here are the different huge games I’ve played at various points in time. I’ve linked to the battle reports for them, as well as a summary of each one.
– Cumulative game from June 2011
Summary: My first cumulative game, at least as far as I can tell. This may be my favourite battle report I’ve ever written, even though I wrote most of the report years after the game took place. This is my most nostalgic game of Pirates. It’s the only actual game to feature the harbour system, which was mostly used during Historical Fantasy Scenarios.
Pros: Epic battles, massive fun with the Cursed Conch and it’s effect on the game, and using the harbour system in a real game.
Cons: Far too much distance between islands and harbours, not to mention the locations of the harbours themselves on the ocean. I used an entire room for this game, and as a result the English and French harbours were considerably more isolated than the Spanish, Pirate, and American harbours near the middle of the sea.
Overall size: Unknown. I never did a point count, but according to my original reports, there were over 100 ships in play at some point. Estimated size between 1,200 and 2,000 total points. I used almost my entire room for the ocean, so it was a very long rectangle with another rectangle for part of it (shaped somewhat like 00oo). After measuring the same area, the total length was about 15 feet. The narrow end of the rectangle had the English and Spanish harbors (3.5 feet wide), while the bigger end with the Pirate, American, and French harbors was 6.5 feet wide. When combining these two areas (8.5×3.5 and 6.5×6.5), it gives a total ocean size of 72 square feet!
– First 5 player 500 point game (August 2011)
Summary: Still the largest “regular” game I’ve played, this was the first of three 5 player 500 point games. The first one was definitely the best of the three, and it remains one of the absolute best games I’ve ever played. It featured a lot of memorable moments, and the finish was downright epic, including the top 3 fleets being within 5 gold of each other!
Pros: Start out with long turns, and then the game gets faster as you go along (the opposite of cumulative games). Very fun and fast-paced gameplay, with a lot of big decisions affecting the outcome.
Overall size: 2,520 points at the start of the game. This includes the four 0LR +5 crew. Essentially a 2,500 point game. 157 total ships.
– Second 5 player 500 point game (February 2012)
Summary: Similar to the first one, just not as exciting and memorable.
Pros: Same as before.
Cons: Not as exciting as the first 2,500 point game.
Overall size: 2,520 total points. 165 total ships.
– Pirates CSG combined with RISK (June 2012)
Battle Report (the rules are in the post, and more recently I’ve posted them to BGG)
Summary: This remains my only personal custom ruleset. Combining the land warfare of RISK with the naval warfare of Pirates, this game was epic indeed. Coming up with the rules and designing a global ocean took a lot of time, but I was eventually satisfied with the setup. This was also my first time playing a huge game that utilized a custom ruleset.
Pros: Truly realistic “global” scale, using real-life territories, continents, and locations. Very interesting take on the world of Pirates CSG to combine it with another game. Grand scale that makes you feel like you’re playing a game of life rather than just a petty war in the Caribbean.
Cons: The RISK portion was underpowered. If I play this game again I’m going to edit the ruleset so troops can acquire gold over land.
Overall size: Unknown. Definitely a huge game, but probably under 2,000 total points. The only clue is that at the beginning of the final battle, the two combatants combined for 62 total ships, with the other fleets having already been eliminated.
– Third 5 player 500 point game – Defence of St. Helens Island (June 2012)
Battle Report (background info in the previous post, but a very short battle report)
Summary: The biggest deathmatch I’ve ever played. A fun scenario, but the fleets were probably too big (maybe the only time you’ll hear me say that!) for it. It was more memorable than the second 2,500 point game but slightly disappointing overall. However, the scenario itself is brilliant and rather interesting.
Pros: HUGE deathmatch! Lots of chaotic fighting, especially around the forts and entrance points.
Cons: Fleets were a bit too big – lots and lots of rolling dice.
Overall size: 2,520 points. 137 total ships.
– Century of the Empires (June 2013)
Summary: A monumental achievement for me on so many levels. The MT era of battle reports was born, as well as the advent of pictures. This was the first cumulative game ruleset created by someone other than me that I played. This game and its reports redefined my standards for battle reports, and I’d like to think they’ve only gotten better and clearer since then. The game itself was absolutely fantastic; CotE is one of the best rulesets created for this game.
Pros: Epic ruleset, huge ocean, big fleets. There are certain things in the ruleset that mimic real life, colonization, and empire in ways that RISK cannot. I love upgrades and the slow but natural pace of the game. Definitely a ruleset worth playing over and over again.
Cons: Inevitable rich-get-richer/poor-get-poorer nature of a cumulative game. Also takes forever, which I didn’t realize. 3 weeks was a decent start, but not long enough.
Overall size: 1,212 points in the sea at the end of turn 41, when gold production stopped. This sounds low based on the scope and nature of the game; it felt bigger than 1,200. The game ended up taking 62 total turns. The ocean was somewhat of a giant square, as you can see in the pictures, somewhere around 6 feet by 6 feet.
– Pirates: Economy Edition (June 2015)
Summary: After two years of smaller games, it was finally time to take on my most ambitious project yet. The ruleset was key, and it proved to be possibly my favourite ruleset yet, mostly because it limits the rich-get-richer/poor-get-poorer aspect that usually dominates cumulative games.
In the back of my mind, I kept thinking to myself that I wanted to make this game bigger than anything I had ever done. I accomplished that goal, but at what cost?
Pros: Biggest physical game ever (at the time). Best-looking game I’ve ever played (at the time). Unique, custom made islands, terrain, and locations used for the first time ever. New concepts including the lagoon, arch, and gold-laden shipwreck. A blue ocean was used for the first time. MASSIVE fleets, huge launchings, epic strategy plays, incredibly diverse fleets, extremely unique ruleset that made the game more fair, shiny gold, shiny silver, chain exploring with native canoes, tons of fun, very intense battles, crazy house rules. Also introduced stuff from my custom set, CC Mike’s set, and RtSS. Nuff said?
Cons: The biggest disaster in my history of Pirates CSG. A horrific accident destroyed the entire setup and many ships were destroyed beyond repair. The bigger the stakes, the bigger the potential fall.
Overall size: 2,846 points at the end of turn 33. At the time, this was the biggest game I’ve ever played. Turn 33 alone saw over 1,000 points’ worth of purchases, meaning that one turn saw more stuff introduced than entire games start off with! Those 2,846 points accounted for 163 total ships, showing how heavily crewed a lot of them were. A number of turns later, another ship count revealed 181 ships in play, making this one of the biggest games ever by ship count as well as point count. In addition, with a higher number of ships the second time around, it’s possible that the game exceeded 3,000 total points. The ocean was about 5 feet long by 3 feet wide.
– VASSAL Campaign Game 1 (February-May 2016)
Summary: After reviving the VASSAL module, Xerecs and I became excited by the possibilities of campaign games on the module. We hastily planned the first one, which would be a “regular” cumulative game with no special campaign ruleset or many house rules. Each of us controlled 3 fleets, which we HAD to play independently.
Pros: First campaign game played remotely (as far as we know). The first of many campaign games between Xerecs and a7xfanben! Plenty of custom game pieces were used. In addition, the interaction between leaders through the VASSAL chat was very unique (much of it wasn’t recorded, but the game was more complex than the battle reports show). It also became the largest game of all time (making my Economy Edition the biggest physical game ever played haha).
Cons: Typical negatives of a standard CG. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer, almost without exception throughout the entire game. As the game swelled to enormous size, the map started to look a bit too small, but the chaotic and bloody War for CG1 brought the game to a relatively quick end. This was about as “normal” as campaign games get, but it was a fantastic test of VASSAL’s capability (as well as Xerecs and I’s capability!) to run a long campaign game. One of the biggest problems concerned the lag – when the game size reached ~2,000+ points, zooming out to see more of the ocean produced a lag in the module. This was countered by simply ignoring the lag, and sometimes by not zooming out at all.
Official new records: (some since broken, see Command the Oceans below)
Total points: 3,516 (likely reached about 3,700 soon afterwards)
Total ships: 208
Largest single-turn launching: 628 gold (English battle fleet)
Largest recorded single-fleet point total: Spanish at 1,631 points
Largest fleet of any faction: Spanish at 111 ships
Ocean size: Using a pixel-to-feet converter (a standard ocean block on the module is 3000×3000 pixels), the ocean was 7.8 feet long by 5.2 feet wide (40.56 square feet).
– VASSAL Campaign Game 2 (February-December 2016)
Summary: For the second VASSAL campaign game, which started just a few days after the first one began, Xerecs and I wanted more than just 2 players. The game would be played at a slower pace than CG1, and we managed to bring El_Cazador and ownage98 into the fold. This brought us to a whopping 4 players, a large number of people to play a campaign game with, let alone remotely using VASSAL. Each player would control 1 faction-pure fleet, and just like CG1 there was no special ruleset.
Pros: This gave El_Cazador his first campaign game experience, and allowed Xerecs and I to have a distraction from the intensity of CG1. It was also a great chance to try out some custom game pieces, which we did. As the game took longer than CG1, an edit to the module was completed during the game, which allowed the first usage of 10 masters on VASSAL, during a campaign game no less.
Cons: A huge disappointment. After committing to the game, ownage98 realized he was in way over his head, leaving the game after just a few turns. This took the Americans out of the game and left a void in the western area of the sea. It also left us with 3 players, which was only 1 more than CG1. Other problems began to develop. The ocean was a bit “tall”, and I should have made it as wide as the ocean for CG1. El_Cazador’s frequent absences and hiatuses were a much bigger problem, as he was too busy and/or disinterested to pursue remotely consistent play. As you can see from the battle reports, the game went for long stretches with no turns being played, and even when turns were played, they often ceased soon afterwards for another hiatus. There was no combat until late June, after starting the game in February. You’d think that would spark more playing, but again the game suffered a huge delay, with the next turn happening in late September. El_Cazador tried to sail his fleet off the map before Xerecs and I convinced him to keep playing. The game became lopsided towards the end, and an interference by the dominant faction unintentionally caused the game to stop and end prematurely after a chain reaction which would have led to a predictable finish even had we kept playing.
Final point count: 82 ships, 1,417 points
Largest fleet: English at 1,222 total points (a half-turn after the last report with some launchings)
The longest campaign game I’ve played by how long it took (10 months), but certainly not close by how many turns were played or total time in hours spent playing the game.
7 ten masters in the English fleet (though “only” 6 for most of the late-game action)
6 cancellers in the English fleet
Ocean size: about 27 square feet (a 2×2 grid using regular ocean tiles)
– Command the Oceans (September-December 2017)
Summary: With the introduction of the third Ocean Terrain Contest, I made a bunch of cool new pieces to use in games. However, I wanted a way to show them off in an actual game where they were used. Thus, a “last hurrah” of sorts in regards to physical campaign games. A HUGE game was planned, with house rules created for the gameplay and for the new island/terrain pieces I made. The game quickly became the best-looking and biggest game I’ve ever played, eventually far surpassing even Economy Edition in just about every category you can think of.
Pros: I got to show off many of my cool island/terrain pieces. However, the game became much more than just that, since now this game is more about its own legacy than OTC3. I experimented with various house rules. I got into some video content for the first time for a physical game. I did a lot of awesome narrative stuff to make the game exciting and fun to read about, including some big surprises and twists. I had a lot of fun with the strategic and tactical side of things, especially with a whopping EIGHT factions participating. For some factions, I got to use almost my entire collection since the game got so big. I have over 3,500 awesome pictures to use for years to come. The battle reports have inspired multiple people with their own CG efforts, and tons of people have enjoyed reading about the game. Almost the same things about EE could be said here, as it became the greatest campaign game ever by most aspects you could consider.
Cons: The most frustrating, trying, and difficult game I’ve ever played. The physical hardship of EE was multiplied by 3, both for the length of the game (1 month vs. 3) and the points involved. A full round of turns in a 9,000 point game can take 8 hours, so things progress at a glacial pace regardless of how often you play. There was a lot of bumping things, knocking stuff over, moving between rooms to check a crew setup for a gunship, etc etc. Overall it’s an experience I would not want to repeat again. The lessons hold though – have an unlimited amount of time to play the game, and try to play entirely on tables. You need serious real estate and literally unlimited time to get these things right.
Official new records:
Total points: 9,078
Total ships: 509
Largest recorded single-fleet point total: Pirates at 2,347
Largest fleet of any faction: Pirates at 131 ships
Ocean size: 42 square feet between the 3 oceans involved.
– VASSAL Campaign Game 3 (September 2017-March 2018)
Summary: After having 3 different players combined between CG1 and CG2, CG3 set a big new record at 6 players, with 4 of them being new to campaign games. It was decided that the Economy Edition ruleset would be used, and the ocean would be the same size as CG1.
Pros: Having a lot of players was fun, and gave them some valuable experience with a large game. The EE rules are good, and some players utilized game pieces from RtSS along with some customs.
Cons: The game eventually became lopsided and one faction was able to run away with the game. Unfortunately there was a domino effect that resulted in 3 of the 6 players hardly getting to play, so their first CG experience was quite limited.
Overall size: 2,414 points (American fleet at the end)
Ocean size: Same as CG1, so 40.56 square feet.
Official new records:
Largest recorded single-fleet point total: Americans at 2,414 points
Most cancellers ever seen in a fleet? (likely): 9 (Americans)
Most players ever seen in a campaign game? (impossible to know for sure): 6
Most players ever seen in a virtual/VASSAL campaign game: 6