Ocean Play Mat – Many Options for Pirates Players

Ocean Play Mat Options – Which is Best?

A member of the Facebook group asks:

What do you use for a play mat? I’ve used a sheet once but it bunches and moves. Neoprene playmat?

I don’t quite have a favorite ocean play mat, but I’ve used many great options in the past.  In this post I’ll answer this question in detail, providing pictures and analysis for the ocean play mats that I use.

“Official” Options

European Pirates of the Spanish Main ocean play mat map

This is the mat that comes in European packs of Spanish Main (Unlimited Edition).

There are various “official” mats you can use.  For starters, European Spanish Main Unlimited packs contain a basic small plastic mat. (thanks to Holofernes and others for the detailed Wikipedia page)

Gale Force Nine released a vinyl map that you can see here.

Probably the most “famous” is from the Plunder Pack.  However, it’s both the least appealing and not very practical.  Although I DON’T recommend the map, the Plunder Pack itself is quite cool.

Pirates Plunder Pack map

The Plunder Pack map – dull, gray, boring, and prone to excessive creases from folding in storage.

Better Options!

Although the above ocean play mats are better than playing on less nautical surfaces (such as a wooden table or a random rug or carpet), it’s both cheap and effective to get something that really beautifies your games.

The answer?  Basic chunks of fabric.

In 2015 I went to Joann Fabrics and bought 5 different yards of blue fabric for a grand total of about $17.  At about $3/yard, I can honestly say it was one of my “best buys” of Pirates CSG ever (despite not buying any actual Pirates stuff) and transformative for both my games and associated Battle Reports.  Since that awesome purchase, I’ve used almost nothing else in my games.  I’ve attempted to rank them here.

#1 – Light, tropical, textured, “Caribbean” blue

This is a light blue fabric that makes you feel like you’re playing a game of Pirates CSG in the Caribbean!  I call it a “textured” fabric because it’s not a solid blue color, with some variation throughout to make it look a bit more like real water.

Caribbean Sea blue ocean play mat

The English and Spanish feel right at home in the “Caribbean”!

#2 – Silky shiny blue

This one is by FAR the most unique ocean I have.  It’s a completely different material than the other 4 fabrics I use, making it quite distinct.  It’s silky, smooth, shiny, and cool!  It doesn’t fold like the other fabrics, being much more susceptible to sliding around in your hands.  However, you can still wrap or fold it up easily for storage.

Silky blue ocean mat

Gorgeous and luxurious!

#3 – Dark textured blue

This is just like the “Caribbean blue”, but with darker shades of blue.  Creates more of a “deep sea exploration” feel as compared to the more tropical light blue.

dark textured blue ocean

Darker version of the other textured blue fabric.

#4 – Basic light blue

This solid colored fabric is a little more “boring”, but still provides infinitely more thematic element than the brown table below it.

Basic light blue ocean fabric

Starting setup for an “Other Worlds” game.

#5 – Basic dark blue

More of a “navy blue”, this may be the most boring of the bunch, but it still turns Pirates CSG into more of a seafaring experience.

dark blue ocean fabric

Custom islands and terrain can enhance your games even further!

Bigger Options?

If you’re like me and occasionally need a larger ocean (or oceans), there are still various options.  You can use a blue bedsheet that you may have lying around, or bought for cheap.  You could also buy more than a yard of fabric – 2 yards would give you quite a lot of space.

To avoid any extra purchases, you could also simply connect multiple (different) yards of fabric together to create one ocean.  This has the added benefit of creating a “separation” of ocean colors/textures on your map, which can be great for designating a more tropical look or a more menacing deep blue Pacific look.

Here are a few more oceans I’ve played Pirates on:

ocean play mat

Combination of bed sheet and fabric yard used in the Sea of Allost (Command the Oceans).

I’m planning to get even more ocean fabrics in the future, especially shiny ones that look like glossy water.  For example, you could use a big blue photography background for a Pirates ocean!  A simple search reveals tons of great options for affordable prices.  Just one yard can vastly improve your Pirates games forever.  😀

A Question (or two) for You

Which ocean play mat is your favorite?  Do you generally prefer lighter or darker colored oceans?  Comment below and I’ll respond!  Feel free to even rank all of them if you’d like.

Thanks for reading and let’s get in touch about Pirates CSG!  (a7xfanben@gmail.com)

-Admiral A7XfanBen

Posted in Informational and tagged .


  1. What you call textured I would call marbled. Textured to me implies that there’s a difference I can feel in the fabric, if I was to run my hands across it.
    In terms of which I prefer, I would say darker. A lighter colored ocean to me feels cartoonish or light and comical, which pirates is not. I much prefer the darker tones which feel more real and more like water to me.
    That said however, I usually don’t use a ‘play mat’ for quick afternoon games. For campaigns however I go out of my way to use a fabric ocean, often a dark blue bed sheet.
    In defense of the plunder pack mat, if it had been ROLLED instead of TIGHTLY FOLDED, it might not have the creasing issue. That’s my only defense of it though, as it is a rather dull color.

    • @Xerecs: That makes sense, I just call it textured since I don’t know what else to call it.
      Good point about the dark vs. light difference. I agree with you about the darker tones, and I especially like using those for “deep sea” water. But I really love the lighter ones for a more tropical setting, or small scale setting with shallow waters/etc. The lighter blues are kind of “happier” while the darker blues more ominous.
      Not using a play mat for quick games makes some sense, especially since you don’t normally do battle reports with pictures for those games. (that I know of… 😉
      I’m not so sure about the Plunder Pack map being rolled. It’s a few feet wide and would be more annoying to store in an elongated position. Plus, it would probably just roll back up so you would need some weights on the corners, which is not something I want to deal with when using a subpar map in the first place. All in all it’s just kind of a failure. I’d rather go back to Joann’s and get another cool blue fabric. I know they sell some watery design ones, I just don’t want symmetrical lines/etc for the patterned ones.

      Thanks for commenting! Hope to see you on the seas of VASSAL.
      -Admiral A7XfanBen

  2. I personally enjoy a “mousepad” material playmat, like the ones Ares Games produced for Sails of Glory. Two of those will run you about $40-$60, but they have the added benefit of not rumpling up if you brush your arm against them, and they make a good sized ocean for 2 to 4 players (a single mat can fit a standard two player game with islands spaced 3L to 6L apart)

    • @Captain Vendari: Thanks for the suggestion! Are those easy to store and transport? One of my favorite things about a simple thin fabric is how it can fold or roll up easily and fit into a plastic bag or small box used to transport everything I would need for a game. And yeah, I’ll take the price difference of 5 yards for $17 vs. 2 of those for $40+. They certainly look nice though!

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