Ranking the Sets
Here are my rankings based on godmason’s criteria, originally posted on Miniature Trading. However, I have some different opinions on how to apply the different categories, which you can tell from my comments. Also, I’m almost treating the Collectibility as /3 and Miscellaneous as /2 for the total of 5 for that score. This is partly to add extra points for overall set greatness, or “likeability”. (Also, I had a little too much fun bashing stuff in the “new content” section, so some of my comments there can be taken with a grain of salt haha)
– Art: 4/5. Great historically-based artwork that set the foundation for how the hulls and decks would look for the rest of the sets. It may look bland nowadays but I’ve always liked the historical theme of Pirates a lot. The cards are the perfect parchment color for the 17th/18th century.
– Set Quality: 5/5. Tons of great ships, most of which are at least playable today. Large numbers of ships per faction meant that each was quite competitive. The standout ships are some of the most beloved and useful in history.
– New Content: 5/5. Tough not to give a 5 here – without this set, there’s no game. Things were fun right from the start, with enough abilities and combos to keep things interesting.
– Collectability/Misc: 4/5. Relatively easy to find, both back then and today. Not extremely difficult to get a full set, and rares were plentiful enough to keep you happy and not get bored with the typical rarity of CCG’s. Loses a point due to the somewhat inferior numbering system used in the first print runs, which becomes more confusing with the Unlimited edition’s release.
= Overall: 18/20. The gold standard and foundation for everything that came afterwards. Still a fan favorite!
– Art: 4/5. More nice historical designs, with slightly more flair than SM. Nice red background on the cards.
– Set Quality: 5/5. Large quantity of good or great ships for all main factions. For me, the forts make it from a 4.5 to a 5. Also, some rather memorable UT’s.
– New Content: 5/5. The final entry to the “Big 4”, France was immediately established as a powerhouse faction. Terrain was a HUGE addition, while forts were a great mechanic – very aesthetic and fun, while providing a nice diversion from the usual naval affairs.
– Collectability/Misc: 5/5. Picked up where SM left off with the faction-based checklist. A perfect little introduction to the super rare concept, and plenty of fantastic commons and uncommons for people with less money to spend. Almost loses a half point due to the cards seeming to fingerprint easily, but perhaps that’s just my experience.
= Overall: 19/20. I actually prefer SM, but CC could be considered a more “perfect” set.
– Art: 5/5. Absolutely agree with godmason above – simply fantastic!
– Set Quality: 4/5. The “best” set for gameplay, but unfortunately it was plagued by a small handful of OP (and arguably game-breaking) pieces. Also, I haven’t seen it discussed much, but the small Spanish representation and lack of inspiring named crew don’t help.
– New Content: 4/5. The Americans are the highlight, with events as the lowlight. Another batch of interesting UT’s and the SR pack help make things interesting.
– Collectability/Misc: 4/5. Collectibility gets a 3/3 here, but a point is lost due to the overall “likeability” being lower than SM and CC in my opinion. Indeed, the named crew options are rather atrocious for 3 out of the 5 nations, while the massive mistake that was events has not been fully corrected (banhammer please).
= Overall: 17/20. The favorite of many old-school players, and for good reason. The reasons listed above keep it from being the best set ever.
– Art: 5/5. Tons of great artwork – the Barbary Corsairs are arguably the prettiest faction, while the crew art feels very thematic.
– Set Quality: 4/5. The Corsairs are the strongest minor faction in the game and arguably better overall than the Cursed, one of the eventual Big 6 factions. Many other quality ships from the other factions, and the set feels very balanced overall – a return to normalcy after some problems in RV. However, the lack of the Pirate faction and (for me at least) the lack of any larger (4 or 5 masted) square rigged ships hold this set back from being a standout.
– New Content: 4/5. Corsairs and galleys are welcome additions, but sometimes the set feels rather lackluster, especially in comparison to the first 3 sets. However, the combination of good named crew, fun UT’s, an awesome SR pack, and new editions of SM crew make up for the set being a little boring.
– Collectability/Misc: 3/5. The Corsairs hogged almost all of the rare ships, while the cardboard crew PR’s were somewhat obnoxious and bizarre after the already-established crew chips. IMO, this set feels like the least likable of the first 5, so it loses a point for miscellaneous/intagibles as well, partly due to the above deficiencies.
= Overall: 16/20. Interesting and cool, but doesn’t stand the test of time as well as SM/CC/RV.
South China Seas
– Art: 5/5. Godmason already nailed it: “Huge variety of artwork. Creative, yet keeps the factions distinct.” Very colorful, pretty, diverse. Throw in the crew and UT’s, and possibly the best set for artwork.
– Set Quality: 5/5. Absolutely amazing – as I’ve said before, I’ve fallen in love with this set over the past year and a half or so. The brief return of events can’t even keep it from a perfect 5, especially with the surprisingly good PR’s and the cool SR pack.
– New Content: 5/5. I agree that the Junk and Turtle Ship keywords were somewhat underwhelming, but the Jade Rebellion faction makes up for it. Throw in the first 10 master, and there’s not much to dislike.
– Collectability/Misc: 3/5. The hardest set to collect by far – commons from SCS can be harder to acquire than rares from other sets. It’s simply tough to get, and not quite as much fun to acquire since it will usually cost you a lot. However, this can also make you appreciate the ships more, as you’ll treasure them. The common PR’s make for a truly bizarre rarity distribution, as they can be cheaper than commons!
= Overall: 18/20. Probably my favorite set of the last 2 years, but imperfect due to collectibility problems and the return of events.
Davy Jones’ Curse
– Art: 4/5. The wacky advent of the Cursed highlights an underwhelming set for artwork. However, the crew art, American ships, and SR pack certainly keep the score from being a 3.
– Set Quality: 4/5. This set began the long slow decline of Pirates CSG. A reverse power creep started, and wouldn’t be reversed back until the final set. Sea monsters stink in-game, and the set features more boring ships than previous sets. However, a nice selection of named crew and a few standout ships per faction make it somewhat memorable.
– New Content: 2/5. The Cursed have always been the worst faction of the Big 6, even with their introductory set. Sea monsters have always been overpriced. A large portion of the existing customer base was alienated by the overemphasis on the supernatural and magical elements, which is arguably what started the end. Very close to a score of 1, if not for the inherent “coolness” factor.
– Collectability/Misc: 4/5. A point deducted for the low quality first print runs, but otherwise a fun one to buy. All 6 major factions for the first time, which leads to much collecting. I’m actually glad the Guichuan and LE’s are rare (they should be), and the SE boxes and cool SR pack are great reasons to buy DJC.
= Overall: 14/20. The beginning of the end. The glory days of Pirates were over, with the dark cloud of Cursed madness threatening to take over the beloved game. OK, I’m being too dramatic! Heh, definitely a good set but the reputation is somewhat horrible between how many people left the game soon afterwards and the scratching issues.
– Art: 3/5. Some boring ships with a small handful of incredible standouts (including those little-known SE’s), along with decent artwork overall. Submarines were the highlight of the set, but they’re very lackluster and even hard to tell apart. I also didn’t enjoy the boring gray cards, though it fits with the Mercenary faction. (perhaps a tropical look would be too much)
– Set Quality: 3/5. The Mercenaries introduce an interesting dynamic to the game, and some of their game pieces have affected fleet-building ever since. Each faction got some solid if unspectacular ships, but plenty of mediocre/boring ships were introduced as well.
– New Content: 2/5. I enjoyed the Mysterious Islands, but some of them can be OP. The Mercenaries have always been the worst faction in the game, and submarines are often either useless or borderline OP (think deathmatches, marines, cancellers, etc). Novelty and excitement barely keep the score from being a 1. (for the second set in a row – when a lot of people can agree that the new stuff stinks, you know things are in decline)
– Collectability/Misc: 2/5. Not entirely collectible, between the low playability and lackluster PR’s (with the exception of the MiaB pack). The miscellaneous score has to suffer as well – this set can be rather boring and hasn’t stood the test of time that well for me. It doesn’t help that this set came out at a bad time – soon after the general brilliance of the “golden age” and when DJC (a superior set) and its sales likely set expectations too high. In addition, I noticed that the ships are generally more brittle than usual, which is especially bad for newer players.
= Overall: 10/20. As godmason said, bad execution. Perhaps more playtesting could have improved the new mechanics.
– Art: 3/5. Pretty much all of the longships are interesting, but most of the regular ships are not. The repetitive UT’s and mostly boring named crew don’t help. However, the French and Americans have some very pretty ships, and I think the rather dull look actually fits the theme rather well, keeping the score from being a 2. Though the white look of the cards is also very thematic, it’s hard not to prefer the vibrancy and color of the first 5 or 6 sets in terms of cards.
– Set Quality: 3/5. FN continues the trend of more mediocre ships where MI left off. I’ve noticed that the named crew, UT’s, and LE’s seem either fantastic or terrible. Plenty of playable ships, just not a lot that people prefer to use. In addition, I believe Cadet-Captain Mike proved that this was the slowest set for ship speeds.
– New Content: 1/5. Wow… where do you even start with this one? Icebergs are by far the most obnoxious terrain type – of course they should damage your ships, but moving them at the beginning of each player’s turn has consistently been the most-forgotten aspect of gameplay in my experience. They’re annoying to no end, and they look silly compared to the reefs and sargassos because they would never be flat. Then we have the Vikings, where the historicity of the set comes into question. Many people have lamented the Viking faction even more than the Mercenaries, simply because the timing of their exploits in real life is so far from the Age of Sail. However, I think the Longship keyword takes the cake for worst new content in this set. Viking longships didn’t even carry cannons as far as I know, but here they get the most potent offensive ability in the game just because they have small ships. The Vikings would be far better off with a different version of the keyword while functioning as a swarm nation.
– Collectability/Misc: 4/5. Not much to say here, other than the fact that FN remains one of the pricier sets.
= Overall: 11/20. A decent set strictly from a gameplay perspective. A rather strange direction to take the game in, and the reverse power creep continues.
– Art: 1/5. The ugliest ships are from this set. Overall the artwork is quite boring (Le Musarde lol – even the French got it), with a couple standouts (Zeus). Some of the ships are absolutely garish, and not in a good way (Salte el Tiburon).
– Set Quality: 3/5. A lot of mediocre and extremely boring ships. However, I didn’t give a 2 because there are some absolutely amazing finds here – the brief return of 6 masted junks, a few cool SE’s, two All-Powerful crew, surprisingly playable sea creatures, and some good 5 masters (except for the “new” Acorazado). In addition, the sheer quantity, especially when including the SE’s and LE’s, gives a ton of options for playing, which is great.
– New Content: 3/5. Titans are the best sea creatures by far, and can be rather good. Sea dragons aren’t so hot, but they’re also few in number. The sharks are absolute trash, so thank Wizkids for not releasing any more in later sets (or condemn them for even releasing them in the first place!). Catamarans have always seemed overrated to me, and their disproportionate size looks silly. Windcatchers have always seemed like a glorified 3 masted schooner, but the ones that came out are certainly interesting to play. I happen to love whirlpools, despite them not being realistic at all. Obviously a ton of new stuff – once again the sheer quantity helps the score because it gives options and pleases most people to some degree even if you only like one or two of the new things.
– Collectability/Misc: 5/5. I rate the collectibility as a 3/3 easily, and though I would normally put the miscellaneous score as 1/2, the collectibility is so high that I’m giving the overall category 5/5 (collectibility breaks the scale heh). The biggest set ever, extremely cheap packs (great for new players), very easy to get most of the main set. SE tins rereleased some older ships, while they and the SE’s weren’t terribly difficult to find. Throw in megapacks, the legendary Zeus, and a tough LE set to collect, and you have a crazy collector’s dream while still being the most accessible set to new players due to how common it is and the low price.
= Overall: 12/20. A set famous for being very diverse, common, and cheap. The prevalence of OE makes it very easy to get sick of; I have once again tired of it after a short renaissance last year.
– Art: 3/5. Design changes actually annoyed me, as I found the old look more pleasing and I like using pennants. However, limiting how often the ships break is definitely a good thing. In addition, more rounded hull and mast tabs usually make for easier assembly.
The actual artwork was pretty cool and fun to look at. However, a bunch of it was reused from earlier sets, but the biggest problem was the total failure to make the Endeavour, Dauntless, and Interceptor look ANYTHING like the ships from the movies. An inexcusable gaffe that nearly ruins the experience of playing those ships (so silly looking that the excellent Flying Dutchman and Black Pearls don’t make up for it). Notable for introducing the split card colors which stayed until the end. I did enjoy the crew and UT pictures, as it really ties the movies into the game quite well. I think the kraken design and artwork is about as good as could be expected.
– Set Quality: 3/5. Lots of good ships with a few great ones as well. This gave the Pirates and English that many more options (including very nice crew options), which neither of them really needed. I deducted a point for not having other factions, and another point for the OP stuff (mostly Captain Jack Sparrow, but the Endeavour, Cursed Captain Jack and Kraken Gong have all had somewhat detrimental effects on the game).
– New Content: 3/5. Krakens were quite well done overall, as a relatively playable sea creature that effectively incorporated the movie theme. The Parley keyword can be confusing at first and is probably underpriced a little, but it’s definitely a cool addition to the game and another effective movie tie-in. Going a little deeper, this set also introduced a handful of new “1 of 1” game pieces such as CJS, Calypso, the Hai Peng, and Jailhouse Dog. Most of the unique stuff was either confusing or ruined some of the fun, but there’s no denying the importance of those and other game pieces on modern competitive play.
– Collectability/Misc: 3/5. Mostly negatives here unfortunately – a small set is easier to collect (which can be a good thing), and there wasn’t much extra stuff (SE/LE/PR pieces) to get. The real problem was when the distribution went awry, with some packs having all commons, and in extreme cases, “god boxes” full of SR packs. Throw in just 2 factions, and even the PotC name can’t save the set from having major collectibility problems. However, the partnership with Disney was absolutely perfect for a game like Pirates, so the Miscellaneous score is definitely a 2 and could be bumped to a 4/5 overall if you value intangibles more than collectibility (or are just a huge PotC fan heh). Though, the change to a rarity-based checklist was a negative.
= Overall: 12/20. A great effort with Disney’s help, but with some glaring flaws that make the set quite polarizing.
Rise of the Fiends
– Art: 4/5. Very colorful ships and crew – many great, but some a bit over the top. Most of the larger ships are quite beautiful. Using different artwork for generic crew is cool, but it does make it a bit confusing and harder to use for new players. Actually one of the most interesting sets for artwork, but too much focus on the red theme was detrimental (mostly with the red island/terrain cards, which look truly disgusting next to any other set’s). I don’t like the cards either – the red and yellow looks great with SM and CC, but combined and brighter it seems unappealing for some reason.
– Set Quality: 3/5. I’ve underrated this set many times, but it has a lot of interesting game pieces. However, there’s a bunch of mediocre stuff as well. Most ships are either slow or have small cargo holds, so it’s not a good set for getting gold at all. There are a few balance issues with the extremes of the set – mostly the San Cristobal and Blood Money being OP, while stuff like Merrow and some of the 1 masters should not have been made.
– New Content: 1/5. I nearly put 0/5 and said “am I allowed to do this?”, but flotillas and the glow in the dark stuff just barely make up for the atrocity of scorpions and the Hostile/Loyal stuff. Scorpions are my least favorite ship type, though the sharks are up there as well. Only one of them stands out, while all the flotillas are usable and quite good. The Hostile/Loyal keywords feel like an unnecessary gimmick to lower point costs (Eternal for one point?), though I do like when flavor text is part of the gameplay. The Turbine and Double Catamaran randomly thrown in at the end of the set really show that the game was completely coming off the rails at this point. The Turbine keyword is underpriced and weird from a historical perspective, while the Double Catamaran ship type is way too wide and big, not to mention awkward. Though the ship types weren’t new, I love the glow in the dark concept.
– Collectability/Misc: 3/5. Another small set, but a decent one to collect. Positives included a cool variety of SE’s and LE’s, some of which are very expensive to acquire. Negatives include a silly rarity distribution with generic crew and an SR pack that was too common. Not much to say about the story inserts. Throw in the mythical Ochobrazo, and it’s definitely a unique set for collectors. The Miscellaneous score is 1/2 since the set is just not that great when you consider everything. Throw in the odd name, “Rise of the Fiends”, and you can’t even find a sea creature outside of an SE kraken nor an abnormally strong Cursed presence. (sure they got Scorpions and a 10 master, but any of the large gunships from the set easily outclass them)
= Overall: 11/20. Not one of my favorites, but the positives of the set are pretty cool.
Fire & Steel
– Art: 4/5. Plenty of variety and good designs, with some ugly ones as well. The named crew portraits seem below average.
– Set Quality: 2/5. The gold standard for mediocrity in Pirates. So much quantity, and so much of it boring and/or below average.
– New Content: 2/5. Another colossal failure that partly led to the game’s downfall. Giant flamethrowers and freaky blades that pop out from the sides of a hull. Not as bad as Scorpions, but two Pokeship designs instead of one is just sad. On the other hand, equipment would have been perfect to introduce early in the game, such as CC or RV. However, at least it was great when it arrived – lots of variety, mostly historical, and good point costs (once you see the errata). The 0-value gold coins are evil but funny.
– Collectability/Misc: 2/5. Somewhat fun to collect due to the sheer number of game pieces, including cool SE’s and LE’s. However, it’s a little TOO hard to collect – beyond the LE’s being pricey, you’ve got a Big 3 of very tough acquisitions – the Chum Maker, Raptor Maw, and the big one, the Obago Deuce (and I’m not even including the SiaB’s!). I would say this is the most boring set, so the intangibles are bad. It gets a 1/2 for Miscellaneous due to the Historical Pack and having just enough cool stuff to be worth investigating.
= Overall: 10/20. The most boring set in my opinion. I still enjoy all the sets, but I usually enjoy this one the least.
Savage Shores/Return to Savage Shores (latter not released but found here)
– Art: 4/5. Definitely stands out, but some ugly ships keep it from a perfect score. I think the named crew artwork was exceptional.
– Set Quality: 4/5. Some great stuff, mostly good. The sea monsters, lack of generic crew, and somewhat unbalanced pieces (navigators, cargo masters, American canoes, Libellule, hoists) keep it from a 5 for me.
– New Content: 4/5. Canoes and hoists are both fantastic, arguably too much so. Hoists are the most excusable Pokeship (if they are even considered to be one) simply due to how interesting they are in terms of gameplay. Navigators and cargo masters are both frustrating to deal with in large games, but they’re a welcome addition to most players.
– Collectability/Misc: 4/5. The set was almost too easy to acquire, and the box idea caused some consternation among people who didn’t or couldn’t (or still can’t!) complete 10 masters. The SR’s were relatively common as well, but I give the set a 2/3 for collectibility. The Miscellaneous score gets a 2/2 due to the set’s good reputation and a kind of positive farewell after the long decline. The set is generally viewed with very positive vibes due to it being so unique in so many ways, and a beacon of hope that unfortunately never was.
= Overall: 16/20. Very good but not all-time great. RtSS is sort of included since it’s so similar.
Best to Worst:
19/20: Crimson Coast
18/20: Spanish Main
18/20: South China Seas
16/20: Barbary Coast
16/20: Savage Shores/Return to Savage Shores
14/20: Davy Jones’ Curse
12/20: Ocean’s Edge
11/20: Frozen North
11/20: Rise of the Fiends
10/20: Mysterious Islands
10/20: Fire and Steel
Compared to my original or “favorites” list, CC jumps to the top spot! As I expected the top 4 are all very close, with the “perfection” of CC and the flaws of RV narrowly keeping them from a 4-way tie. SS climbed ahead of DJC, while FN and MI dropped a bunch. Very interesting. It will be interesting to see how my favorites change over the years, and if I edit any of the ratings to reflect more comprehensive experience with the sets.