Wizkids released a whopping 13 sets in just 5 years of production. Here you can find some general information and my opinions on them, as well as links to purchase if they suit your fancy.
You can see my detailed set rankings here, which is where my ratings below come from.
In 2004, Wizkids launched the Pirates of the Spanish Main product line. The first set introduced three factions – Pirates, English, and Spanish. Spanish Main (SM) was the first set I bought and it is still my favorite set. If you like the basics of the game, a limited number of factions, and a more historical set than most of the others, this is the set for you.
My rating: 18/20
The second set came out in 2005 – Pirates of the Crimson Coast (CC). This set introduced the French, the Schooner ship type and forts. This is another classic set with a TON of great ships and crew. It can also lay claim to the title of “most perfect set”, as it got the highest rating from me when ranking all the sets. It also has the lowest number of votes for “least favorite set” in the Pirates CSG Survey.
My rating: 19/20
Pirates of the Revolution (RV) came out in 2005 as well, featuring the introduction of the American faction. Revolution is sometimes considered the “best” set, with fast ships and some of the most usable ships in the game. RV also marked the first time Events were used, as well as new tins with varying artwork. One of the most historical sets, it’s also a favorite of American fans.
My rating: 17/20
Pirates of the Barbary Coast (BC) was the last set from 2005. The Barbary Corsairs and their Galleys gave players the best “minor faction” to use. This is another set with some historical tie-ins, and the only set without the Pirate faction. Overall the set is very balanced and playable, but not quite as exciting as the sets released just before and after it.
My rating: 16/20
Pirates of the South China Seas (SCS) is the hardest set to acquire due to its rarity, and the first set released in 2006. The Jade Rebellion and their new ship type, Junks, highlighted the set. This is another fantastic set on par with the first three sets, doing extremely well on gameplay, theme, and artwork. Tough to beat, but tough to find.
My rating: 18/20
Pirates of Davy Jones’ Curse (DJC, 2006) is easy to acquire and features the Cursed and their sea monsters. This is when the game marked a dramatic turn from mostly historical content to some fantasy content. In some ways one could argue it was the “beginning of the end” since it drove away some of the player base, but it did attract a younger audience for the sets to come as well. In addition, this set is when the reverse power creep began – meaning that the general effectiveness of game pieces began to decline. The Cursed faction and sea creatures were part of it in this set, but ships also began getting slower in this set.
My rating: 14/20
Pirates of the Mysterious Islands (MI, 2006) featured the new Mercenary faction and introduced Submarines. It was not a great set, as the artwork seemed dull and the ships were worse than the ones from DJC. In addition, the Mercenaries are the worst of the minor factions since they cannot dock at their own home island! However, you’ll enjoy the set if you like subs and the tie-ins to Jules Verne’s20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
My rating: 10/20
Pirates of the Frozen North (FN, 2007) saw the Vikings sail into battle aboard their Longships. The Vikings are another very poor minor faction, as they have small fragile ships and have trouble in the gold game. Icebergs were featured as a new terrain option. FN is another slow set, but there are a bunch of very solid game pieces among the mediocre stuff.
My rating: 11/20
Pirates At Ocean’s Edge (OE, 2007) was a large set that got produced in huge quantities, featuring a ton of different ship types as well as new types of sea monsters. Due to the massive production, it’s both the cheapest set and the easiest to find. It features the “Big 6” factions together again, marking the end of minor factions being introduced in their own sets. OE is a great set for beginners due to the variety, quantity, and price. Highly recommended if you’re on a budget and just getting into the game, though it can get boring once you’ve used the stuff from the set a lot. It’s also not balanced at all, as some game pieces are terrible and some are among the best in the game.
My rating: 12/20
Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC, 2007) saw Wizkids partner with Disney to produce a movie-themed set, with only the Pirates and English as playable factions. It’s a very unique set, and it changed the design of the ships along with the rarity/numbering scheme. For me it’s a fantastic collaboration that makes perfect sense given how similar DJC and OE already were to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but there are some issues. The lack of a Cursed faction and the collation issues (a whole booster box full of commons, for example) plagues the set. Great idea, imperfect execution.
My rating: 12/20
Rise of the Fiends (ROTF, 2008) signaled the decline of the Pirates game. New “pokéships” alienated some of the player base and the set was smaller than most that came before it, with an abundance of slow ships. Only a few of the widely despised Scorpion ships were even produced, and the red islands didn’t make things any better. Interestingly enough a lot of the regular ships and crew were pretty decent, the saving grace for an otherwise poor set.
My rating: 11/20
Fire & Steel (F&S, 2008) continued the trend of the game delving more into the fantasy aspects, with new ships equipped with movable steel blades and huge flamethrowers. It was a large set, but a slow and boring one. There’s just not a lot in the set to get excited about.
My rating: 10/20
Savage Shores (SS, 2008) became the last set of Pirates CSG. The set was only the size of half of a normal set (just over 50 game pieces), released in Scavenger Pack boxes instead of the normal game packs. It featured a bunch of new game pieces and ship types despite the small size, and was notable for being the best set for gameplay since at least the Caribbean set. A small blaze of glory before the game went out of print just days after release.
My rating: 16/20
Why was Savage Shores so small? Wizkids intended to release Return to Savage Shores soon afterwards, but they were shut down by Topps only a few days after Savage Shores was released in the heat of the financial crisis.
Found myself just hanging out this morning, checking emails, etc… Since I was on my home computer, which is rare at busy times, thought I would check out MT and make sure it was still there, hopefully forever. Glad to see that it was, although not much in the way of communications. Sad to see. I always check the eBay link when it’s highlighted. Immediately after getting done there, I bounced over to your site, being in my Pirates state of mind, to see what’s cooking. TBH, I haven’t checked out the entirety of your site. I did find myself reading your quick synopsis of the various sets on this link. Very well written and I pretty much agree with your rankings and like your comments very much. The first set is and always will be near and dear to my heart. That set started it all. It created a lifelong bond with my sons, who very much like Pirates, especially my oldest. His dream is to buy the patent and reboot the franchise. Lofty goal to be sure, but who knows. My other very favorite set is POTSCS. Huge fan of the Far East, especially Japan. I think I was Japanese in a former life, LOL. I also agree that there were many pros and cons with many of the sets. To me it didn’t matter too much, I was gonna collect it all, because I love Pirates. I believe there are only a dozen or so that may have more than myself as far as complete collections. Hard to know anymore with the current state of MT and so many lost followers of this great game. Anyway, sorry for the long memo.
@Daniel: Don’t be sorry, I love long posts about Pirates CSG! Thanks for the comment! Your eldest son and I share the same goal then. 🙂
I’ve got a ton of pages and posts by now, so it’s tough to check out everything on my site by this point haha. Just trying to populate it with as much content as possible, and saving and bringing stuff over from all the stuff I’ve made at MT over the years.
As someone who stopped after OE, I’m glad the weird scorpion ships and the other nonsense seems to have been unpopular.
I think that the Cursed should have been limited to DJC, except for one or two super rares per pack after it. I also like them better as a treasure-focused faction, like they’re trying to find some item to end their curse and will steal it from anyone who has it. Samedi’s Curse is an awful ship, but a fantastic collector’s item, and that’s how they should’ve been. Rare, unusual ships.
The only rating I disagree with is for MI. The mercenaries are a little silly as it’s basically impossible to win a game with a pure fleet, but I think Wizkids meant for people to use Mercenaries as, well, mercenaries. Throw them in as pure attackers into any fleet you wanted. Subs are also actually balanced compared to Sea Dragons and other “submersible” game pieces and I thought mysterious islands were a great addition to the game. Also, my French faction had a great showing that set!
@Jack: Yeah, the Pokeships was kinda like Wizkids “jumping the shark”.
Interesting thought about the Cursed. Have to disagree with you on both points though because once they went down the Cursed route, I think it’s good they at least stuck to it and tried to make it work. If the Cursed were only in one set, it would continue the somewhat annoying tradition of having a bunch of one-off factions that are very weak compared to the major factions because of it. The Cursed may still be inferior, but at least their quantity and wacky stuff makes them semi-viable in campaign games, which wouldn’t be the case if they were just in DJC. I’m also very glad they’re more combat-focused because enough of the other factions are focused on gold and the game needs more wackiness and combat to be really fun. Not to mention, it’s rough to say, but the Cursed are basically the terrorists of this game. They want to kill and maim, and their general flavor reflects that. They still have some in their ranks (Devereaux, Trogs) that have more treasure-focused ideals, so I think it works fine.
The problem with using Mercenaries with other factions is that almost every faction has better gunship options. Submarines are often better at defense than offense, while the costs of Mercenary and Ex-Patriot make most of their game pieces uncompetitive from a price standpoint. Most of the factions you might use them with have better gunships within their own ranks.
I definitely stick by my rating of MI. It’s disappointing, hard to play, pretty bland relative to other sets, and with less stellar ship artwork. Mysterious islands are no doubt overpowered and some of them basically break the game, so I don’t think they were a great addition to the game, merely a fun diversion for very casual games. I don’t even think the French made out all that well – a few good ships along with mediocre/boring ones, with subpar named crew.
Thanks for commenting!
My only real complaint with MI is the ‘This ship can shoot at submerged ships within S of her.’ rule. Instead of ‘ships’, I think it would have had more crossover potential thematically, instead to have ‘This ship can shoot at submerged ‘opponents’ within S of her. Thereby boosting the usefulness of may of the cards across sets.
And as Jack points out.
A couple of factions got some stellar ships. Being a fan of the U.S. faction. I kinda’ consider them having made out like bandits.
USS Eagan (if they were to have rephrased the ‘submerged’ ability, as mentioned above.)
Let alone it’s iteration of USS Mercury.
And I’m hard pressed to think of other gunship you can feasibly run crewless besides USS Stephens.
Mysterious islands also add both fun, and yet another layer to possible stratagem; should all parties concerned agree to their use ahead of time.
And besides. Who wouldn’t want Eileen Brigid O’Brien or Herr Fuchs covering their back.
Just hope they don’t get a better offer.
@Creeps: I think that “shoot at submerged” ability works fine either way because sea creatures are still “ships” as far as the game rules are concerned.
From Page 5 of The Pirate Code:
“-Sea creatures are considered to be ships. Any actions, abilities, or other effects that refer to ships can be applied.”
You make some good points! At this point I find MI kind of boring compared to many of the other sets, but it still has some positives.
Thanks for commenting!
Have you been able to find any sealed savage shores online recently?
I have been looking for some and have come up empty.
@Robert: Good question. eBay looks to be out, even that UK seller isn’t showing up for them. I see a few on Amazon, but way overpriced.
You guys should check out BritishvsPirates.com a similar style game!
@Alex: Thanks for the heads up; hex grids are just not my type of thing personally.
Just joined the site after having gotten back into this game the last two years or so. It was nearly a 13 year hiatus for me since I first ever encountered Pirates CSG. I came to know it when in 7th grade, a young cool teacher held an electives class where we literally just played Pirates CSG. Probably one of my greatest school years ever. He had us bring home forms to our parents, mentioning what the class was and where to buy ships if we wanted to participate. So I had my mom rather intrigued, and she would occasionally take me to Target and allow me a pack or two at a time. At the time, I never knew that there were different sets. I only ever saw and knew Rise of Fiends, in fact, I thought it was the title of the entire game: Pirates of the Cursed Seas, Rise of Fiends. I gained a massive fleet of ROF, and then discovered the Disney Movie line of ships. Over the next 13 years, that whole collection disappeared into time. Recently in the last two years, I remembered the game, and was suddenly compelled to start again, and restore my collection. I turned to the internet, and there they all were. Thats also when I realized that ROF was clearly just one of many sets. I also came across your reviews of the sets. While I know ROF and F&S arent high on your list, for me, its where it all began and where all the nostalgia was. Ive since rebuilt my entire ROF collection, and Ive greatly branched out and collected many ships from the other sets. Thanks for your dedication to the game and all your information you collected.
@Alejandro: Welcome aboard matey! Thanks for sharing your origin story, it was fun to read! That must have been the luckiest class ever!! O_O I’ve played Pirates at college a handful of times, but never had it sanctioned during class or anything.
While I may not be the biggest fan of RotF and F&S, I completely understand where you’re coming from on that. I think my nostalgia has a disproportionate impact on saying Spanish Main is often my favorite set, though the past few years I’ve enjoyed CC and SCS at least as much. Rise of the Fiends especially has a lot of playable game pieces.
Your forum signup seems to be not working.
@Mark Hawkins: Yeah I had to turn registration off due to a massive spam account signup attack not long ago when I was also away from the site for most of the time. Now you can sign up!
I was really glad to find this site. I collected the game as it was released as a kid, though I could never find a community who played. A few years ago I found some friends who sill played and got in a few games, which was cool. I loved the junks (though they were always the hardest to build). My memory of most early american ships was that they often had bad canons and tons of other ships/crews got bonuses against them.
Happy that you’re back into it, thanks for checking out the site! The most active discussion space right now is the discord server, and various meetups have been planned for this year already. 🙂 (ex: Tampa FL, Asheville NC, Los Angeles)