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The PIRATES of PENRYN: A Game of Charm and Ferocity Upon Cornish Waters
Published by SeaGriffin Games Ltd   Designed by Cait Russell & Matt Tweed

  

Yo! Ho! Ho!
Splice the mainbrace, Shiver your Timbers and hoist Jolly Roger (no, not him, the flag!). There's avast behind on the horizon. 
Climb Jacob's Ladder to the Crow's Nest, Fire the Monkey, Scuttle the Scallywags, Grab the Cockswain's Booty and send the rest to meet Davy Jones! Follow the Parrot to Adventure Island (a theme park in Southend) and board the Mary Rose.

This is a game for several (2-5) Buccaneers (not to be Tampa'd with of course) that plays better with 3 to 5 Swashbucklers, even with two players attempting to sail half of four ships each.

The board is not a board, well it sort of is, but it isn't a board as such, it's a Batik style cloth displaying a beautiful Cornish Bay (turn it sideways and it looks like a lovely Cornish Ice-Cream - okay it doesn't really but it is upside-down cone shaped as an ice-cream would be in a crispy cornet). Along the East Coast the large Pirate Galleons (avast behind, large pirates, gettit?) are anchored waiting for their small RumRunner boats to return with new crew and pockets of Florins.

 

These Galleons (and their 3D model RumRunners) are named according to their colour - the RumRunners aren't named but I call mine Cabardi.

Green is The Emerald Drake
Black is the Black Star
Yellow is the Saracen Gold
Red is the Red Talon
and I'm sure the designers had a lot of fun naming the last ship and saying it loud and fast as it's the Blue Anchor (don't tell me that's not on purpose).
Personally I would have named them as follows:
Green would be The Santa Teresa (Teresa Green?)
Black would be the Black Guard
Yellow would be The Fool's Gold
Red would be the Red Talon Tagency
Blue? I think I would leave that one as it is.

This is a game for people who can recognise Pirates from Pilates. It may be set in the beautiful County of Cornwall but it still manages to have the Cornish version of the Loch Ness Monster; Morgawr, a sea serpent that lives in Falmouth Bay. Of the Morgawr, Pirates swear (quite often) which is why it is known as FoulMouth Bay to true Freebooters (this may or may not be a fabrication).

All of the components are excellent for the jobs they have. Some of the illustrations look like dodgy cartoon characters, cards with Barrels of Rum (all named differently but with exactly the same number of galleons of rum and usage in the game), excellent 2D stand-up player pieces plus a thicker card Galleon Mats and regular playing cards for player reference cards in the colours of the Galleons, and of course, the aforementioned cloth map board.

 

The objective of the game is to collect the most money, secreted under your Ship mat card - Pirates don't like safes (except blowing them open) and putting piles of Florins, golden coins, under the mattress makes sleeping very uncomfortable - and build up a good Crew, brave and fearless, charming and ferocious, these latter two are used in Skirmishes between RumRunners when Pirates attempt a touch of skullduggery against each other; highest total of accumulated Charm or Ferocity (whichever is being tested) wins.

Every Pirate has either a Pistol, Parrot or Cutlass icon on the top right of their card; this is used in a jolly old duel! Players select a Pirate card secretly and then flip them over simultaneously; A Pistol beats a Cutlass, A Cutlass beats a Parrot and a Parrot beats a Pistol (and I thought everyone knew the old Pirate Proverb, "a Parrot is mightier than the Sword").

There are several game mechanics in play that make this fun and strategic. The Galleons cannot enter the Bay because the tides ensure that the water isn't deep enough to safely navigate. The smaller RumRunner boats can manoeuvre through the sandbanks and whirlpools with ease though the swirling winds and waters can cause even them manoeuverability problems. The Tide Turns on each player. A Tide Table, enhanced pictorially by two Welsh nymph mermaid maidens, dictates which waterways are safe to negotiate, by colour - Dark, Lighter and Light segments on rotation, and a sailor's compass, complete with a Windicator, shows the direction the wind is blowing. 

RumRunners use the wind to move on the square-gridded map of the Bay. If they are headed into the wind they cannot move directly in that direction though they can tack and yaw (a movement heading North is known as a YawN ...  not!) and use the crosswinds to sail diagonally for one space. They have 9 movement points and can move one space in any direction except into the wind, there are no additional points spent for turning, indeed you actually gain another space by sailing directly with the wind. Powerful wind movement is known as Runs. The depth of the water doesn't affect sailing unless the Tide Table says differently. If the mermaid is showing Low Tide (it would be on the southern most space, the only dark blue one) then only Dark Blue parts of the sea are navigable. When the mermaid is on one of the medium dark blue spaces then the medium and dark blue areas of the Bay can be sailed through, and when the mermaid is in the lightest section of the Tide Table which is high tide, all water spaces in the bay are open to pirate piloting.

Note: Remember that the tide table and the windicator move every turn before each player's turn - Cornwall is subject to boisterously, tempestuous, blustery squalls at a moment's notice.

The privateers leave their home ships in their RumRunners with their holds as full as the player wishes (up to nine cards) of Crew, Florins and Rum Barrels. There are various ports that can be sailed to by navigating the tides and once ashore the Rum can be sold - each Port pays a different amount, the further down into the Bay the more they pay - and new crew hired - remember each card counts towards the total of nine that can be carried on the RumRunners, thus three single Florins take up three spaces but one three value Florin card only takes up one space; you can make change whilst in Port. Careful and clever selling and hiring is required to keep your RumRunner sailing safely, remember the cash you get for your rum only counts towards your score when it is stored safely on your main ship.

 

Sailing over any part of a whirlpool - these are in place at all times as they are printed on the board - means you are taking a chance at your skills. Take the top Whirlpool card and and activate it - if you can match the required symbols you are safe otherwise there is a forfeit due. Each Peril & Strife card has four segments and a threat; you must beat the threat and pay the demands - who said life on the sea was fancy and free?

With two players intent on winning it is quite easy to dodge the whirlpools and the Morgawr. Once the true pirate nature shows through, it can occur in 2-player games but is more likely in 3,4 and 5 player games, forcing other ships into sea spaces they don't want to go into is highly amusing buffoonery and horseplay, it also lengthens the time it takes to play the game. MORGAWR is a sea serpent who sometimes demands a sacrifice, and sometimes steals cards from the player/s whose ship/s she is next to.

The box art of PIRATES of PENRYN, and the art in general gives the aire of it being a childish, almost silly game and that may put some players off, especially with its £30.00 price - it doesn't look like a thirty-pound game and there's the rub! It doesn't have the appearance of a true strategy game in the manner of, say 'Pandemic', (or a myriad other games, particularly Eurogames) and yet that's just what it is, or can be. It is a game that played with core gamers becomes a serious affair, but played with fun-loving crew speaking like Pirates it becomes a raucous entertainment. Getting fun-minded players shouldn't be a problem but introducing it to more serious players means, from experience, having it setup and ready to play, with the box out of the way, when your gamer friends arrive.

I can only suggest that you bypass your first impression of the box art (which I actually find intriguing) and find inside the excellence that is the cleverly discerning strategy game.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015