A 2 Player Game for Sea Dogs/Pirates/Buccaneers who have got 8 year and older sea-legs
Published by Abacus Spiele Designed by Shaun Graham & Scott Huntington Illustrated colourfully by Michael Menzel
The rules are printed on a 7½inch square of glossy, colour, paper, that folds out to a 3 panel (6 if you count both sides) 7½inch x 21inch banner style pamphlet. The first page is a quick precis about Captain Red Beard, the infamous Pirate King followed by an illustrated and text description of the Game Components.
Once opened out fully the three panels/pages begin with the Object of the Game, go through Setup and Play before ending the game with how the scoring is concluded.
Flip the rules display over and there is one panel/page of the game's advanced player rules, one panel/page that contains the game overview and finally ending up with the third panel which is, of course, the front page. Apart from the second page on the first side, which has a large illustration of the game's setup, the majority of the illustrations throughout the booklet/pamphlet, often shown as visual examples of how they are used, are pretty small but still clear enough to be recognised.
As you may have guessed, the players take on the rôles of the pirates 'Jolly' & 'Roger' who are challenging each other to become the new Pirate King. To gain this princely title they have to attack and board the defenceless merchant ships from who they loot Gold, what better booty for a pirate than a nice chest full of shiny?
The components comprise of 43 Pirate cards and 7 special cards, 2 treasure chest cards, 4 x 2D ships (1x green valued at 3. 1x yellow valued 5. 1x blue valued 7. and 1 x red valued 9) 1 two-piece Jolly Roger Flag and 4 x Black and 4 x White Captain meeples. At about €10.00 this is more than a fair value for the pieces and even better value when you add in the fun factor of playing the game.
The first game or two should be played without the 7 special cards, these being 3 x Kraken 2 x Skeleton and 2 x Tortuga, so that players can get used to the base mechanisms. Adding the cards after these one or two games brings the play to a new, higher, level. Players each have four meeple Captains in the same colour, Black or White, and a Treasure Chest card; they are not dealt any of the shuffled card deck. Forty-three cards are shuffled and three of these are taken unseen and placed out of the way, not used in the game. The Pirate Flag is the Start Player Token.
The 2D ships are lined up in a row in this order, 3, 5, 7 & 9 with the three ship placed next to the 40 card face-down deck. All of the cards have a happy looking, brightly coloured Parrot on their flip-side. The 2 players sit either side of the row of ships with their Treasure Chest card face up and their Captains close by.
Jolly & Roger is a 'pick & split' game. If you don't know what 'pick & split' is it's the way most mums let their kids choose who has which piece of cake - one cuts the cake into two pieces and the other chooses which piece they want first, thus kids usually try to be as fair as possible so the ''cutter' (ie 'splitter' in this case) doesn't get the largest piece. In Jolly & Roger the players take turns in being the Splitter and the Picker, the Splitter drawing 5 Pirate cards from the draw pile and separates them into 2 sets. As long as there are 2 sets available they can be any combination of five, in other words 1 & 4 or 2 & 3. The Picker selects one of the two sets and the Splitter takes the other set.
Once both players have their cards the Picker must play all of the cards they chose, one at a time in any order. There are two options for the playing of Pirate cards and each Pirate card can be played as the player wishes, they are not limited to playing all cards using the same option/action. The actions are either 'Reinforcing a Crew' or 'Boarding a Ship'.
Any card can be used to reinforce a crew, played on the player's side of the row of ships but to be able to board a ship the player must have one of their Captains on that ship. Cards have to be played face up next to ships of the same colour as the card or the cards can be flipped over to show the Parrot in which case they can be placed against any colour ship but their strength value (shown top right of the pirate on the card) now cannot be seen and so the Parrot is only given a value of one.
After 8 Turns the game ends and the player/s with Captain/s on the ships claim them, no Captains = no captures. Cards collected as Treasure during play are added to the Value/s of the ship/s captured and the Pirate with the highest gold total is crowned as Pirate King.
Pirate Captains are placed on the ships as players gain control (greater strength) of them. As one side's strength is bettered their Captain is replaced by a Captain of the other side. Captains can be placed and displaced several times during play, ships can even be left without a Captain if both sides are fielding the same strength.
Once you feel ready (or brave) take the special cards and introduce them into play. Of course many core gamers will not bother with playing the learner version and will dive straight into the Advanced rules. However, to do this they will still have to read the rules for the Base game as the majority of them are a large part of the Advanced rules.
The deck is still made up of 40 cards but this time the 7 special cards are added to the mix and shuffled in before 10 cards are removed back to the box unseen, thus nobody knows if any, or which, special cards will be brought into play. Special cards are now part of the deck and so when drawn they will be amongst those split into the two sets. There are separate rules for the special cards but these only come into play during the phase when cards are being played. (Phase 2). Players can play with all 50 cards if they want a longer game and they definitely want all special cards to come into play.
The three special cards are:
Skeleton: - Has a strength of 3 and counts as a Joker (any colour of crew).
Kraken: - Play a Kraken then remove it and one of the last cards in one of your opponents columns out of the game.
Tortuga: - This allows you to hire Pirates instead of Parrots. Flip over all your played Parrots but leave them in the same position and no matter what colour they are their true strength value counts.
1. Special cards only count for their ability if played face up. They can be placed face down as Parrots should you wish. Sometimes that one additional point can make all the difference.
2. Special cards used as Parrots are turned over when the Tortuga card is activated but they remain as one-point Parrots as far as their strength value .
This is a fast paced fun family game with a good see-saw mechanic that sees strengths on both sides changing as cards are played and decisions are made. Even with the addition of the special cards this is not a tough game to understand (our 7 year old grandchild can easily play it) mainly because it is a colours & numbers game with no text or confusing illustrations or icons/symbols on the cards. The bright colours give it an immediate eye-candy appeal and the black Pirates flag with its intense white skull & cross-bones is a more than adequate contrast to the Parrot even though both are archetypal Pirate recognisation factors.
This has just the right amount of interest without being confusing in any way which makes it great for when we play with the family, which as already stated contains a 7 year old, as we mainly like to play several 10 - 20 minute games (30 minutes is about the 7 year old's limit of concentration) and this is one of the fun games that we choose to play regularly.