Game Buzz: Pirates vs. Dinosaurs

I’ve had my eye on this one for what seems like a loooong time:

image by BGG user jollyorgergames
image by BGG user jollyorgergames

Pirates vs. Dinosaurs is a recently Kickstarted project from designer Richard Launius and publishers Jolly Roger Games.  It’s a 90 minute game for 2-5 players (although I think they’re adding a sixth based on a stretch goal).  I first heard about the project back in 2010, when Jolly Roger announced it right around the same time they were publishing Founding Fathers, a serious political maneuvering game about writing the Constitution.  It was quite a contrast – one of the most important moments in United States history on one hand, pirates and dinosaurs on the other.  This was before games like Smash Up came around to mash several genres together (including pirates and dinosaurs).  I’ve been keeping my eye on it ever since the announcement, though it took so long, I was wondering if it was ever coming out.  Jolly Roger finally ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in January (the original announcement was even before Kickstarter got big, if you can believe it), and the game is supposed to be released withing the next month or so.

The theme…well, the title kind of says it all.  It’s pirates.  Versus dinosaurs.  The story is that Richard Launius came to Jolly Roger and asked if they wanted him to design something for him.  They said “pirates vs. dinosaurs” based on the idea of a five-year old, and he went out and came up with a game.  Essentially, you’re part of a band of pirates looking for treasure hidden on an island inhabited by dinosaurs.  That’s pretty much it.

Before I dive into the rules, I should mention that this all comes from the pre-final rulebook.  As a stretch goal, they were planning to add components for a sixth player, and that may change how things play as well.  But here’s the information as I have it.

The game comes with a board that shows the island, 5 pirate maps, 10 landmark tiles, 60 treasure tokens, 10 map fragments, 15 curse tiles, 15 envoy tokens, 76 islan cards, 6 first mate cards, 10 crew weapon cards, 8 relic cards, 35 item cards, 85 crew pawns, 5 location markers, 5 time markers, a giant T-Rex pawn, and 5 special dice.  At the beginning, components are organized with one random relic per player and one random first mate per player revealed (one random relic is also dealt out, but remains face down).  Players get a mat, location marker, time marker, item deck, and crew weapons deck of their color.  Some landmark tiles and map fragments may be removed based on the number of players.  The remaining landmarks go on the board, and each player gets 2-3 map frangments (again, depending on the number of players).

This game is played in three stages.  The first stage is OUTFITTING YOUR PARTY.  Here, you determine the first player, then (in turn order) choose a relic.  The last player gets to choose from the last remaining face up relic and the face down one (which is revealed at this point).  Then, in reverse order, each player chooses a first mate.  The last one to choose has to take the last one remaining.  Each player then has 20 points to spend on crew (as many as you want), a weapon (one of two), and items (up to three).  This is done simultaneously.  Crew help with combat, hazards, and carrying treasure; weapons help you in combat; and items grant you some kind of useful ability.  Players also get to draw seven cards from the Island deck, and start and exploration by placing their location marker in a zone you want to explore (beach, grassland, jungle, mountains, or swamp).  You may place in a zone with another pirate.  The zone tells you how many hours are required to explore, so you’ll set your marker at the appropriate time on your mat.

The second stage of the game is EXPLORE THE ISLAND.  In this stage, players will take turns performing the following steps: draw island cards. resolve encounters, explore/battle/envoy, play encounters, and discard.

Draw Island Cards: Draw two island cards.

Resolve Encounters: You may have up to two encounters that have been played on you.  At this point, you’ll resolve them.  This involves reading the card text and doing what it says, or engaging in combat with a native or dinosaur.  Some cards have you roll dice, which have skulls, swords, or nothing on each side.  If you’re looking for success, you want skulls.  Combat has you rolling dice while looking for enough successes to beat the strength of your opponent..  You lose crew for losing battles, and sometimes from other encounters.  Cards may also have instant actions that can be played at various times.

Explore/Battle/Envoy: In this step, you choose one of the following three options:

  • EXPLORE by rolling two dice ad adding one success, moving your time marker one hour for each success.  If this gets you to zero, you have completed your exploration and can peek at one of the facedown Landmark tiles in your current zone if any remain.  If it doesn’t match your fragments, leave it there.  If it does match, take it and reveal it with your fragment.  If this is your last fragment, your turn is over – discard all of your cards and prepare to enter Stage Three on your next turn.
  • BATTLE with another player in your location by rolling dice.  The player with the most successes wins and loses one crew.  The player with fewer successes loses a number of crew equal to the difference.  If there is a tie, both players lose one crew.
  • ENVOY allows you to take six crew from the supply and an envoy token.  Each envoy token you have at the end of the game forces you to discard one treasure of a unique value (so you can’t just dump all of your cheap treasures).  Note that if you ever completely run out of crew, you have to take an emergency envoy action out of sequence.

Play Encounters: Here, you can play encounter cards on yourself or other players to be resolved on their turn in the second step.  Each player can have one dinosaur attack encounter, and one other encounter.  The zone of the player you’re going after has to match the zone icon on the card you’re playing.  You can only play one encounter card per player.  This is an optional step.

Discard: You have a hand limit of seven cards.  If you have more, discard some here.

Once a player has found all of their landmarks, they have found the dig site and move on to the third stage, DIGGING FOR THE CURSED TREASURE.  You can be on this stage while other players are still exploring the island.  The first player to enter stage three draws a free treasure from the bag, keeping it hidden from the others.  On your turn, you choose one action: dig for treasure, battle, envoy, or return to your ship.

Dig for treasure: Roll two dice and draw one token from the bag for each success (in this stage, skulls AND swords are successes).  You could get a treasure, which you keep face down; a ghost, which gives you a curse token; a dino attack, which causes you to draw a dino card from the island deck and resolve combat; or a volcano, which starts the game on a path to sinking – if the sixth volcano space is filled, anyone still on the island loses.

Battle: You can battle another pirate at your dig site.  Winning allows you to steal a random treasure from the loser if they have any.

Envoy: Take an envoy token and six crew.

Return to your ship: This is you basically saying that you’re done.  You need two crew to carry back each treasure, and any that needs to be left behind is put back in the bag.  Once you have returned to your ship, you’re done.

The game ends when all players have returned to their ships, or when the island sinks.  The player with the most treasure, or the player who is the only one to get off the island, is the winner.

The game I keep thinking about while reading these rules is Thebes.  If you don’t know Thebes, it’s an archeologically themed game where players collect knowledge and go to different dig sites in search of treasure.  It has a similar treasure digging mechanism as PvD (rooting around in a bag and not knowing exactly what you’ll get), and had a pretty unique time mechanism where players spent different amounts of time to get things.  PvD has a different time mechanism, where you’re rolling dice to see how time passes, but there’s still time involved.  I’d say these two games are distant cousins, in a way – Thebes is more of a Eurogame, while PvD is almost pure Ameritrash.

There are things that pop out to me in this game that I like, particularly the way in which encounters are handled.  Rather than draw a random encounter and resolve it, you have a hand of cards you can play on others to force them to deal with something nasty.  You could also play something on yourself, which might be a good defensive maneuver if you have a weak dinosaur or something.  I don’t know how many good encounters there are in the deck.  The exploration aspect looks fun as you’re trying to find landmarks around the board.  I can imagine that digging for treasure will also provide for some good excitement – I know I’m terrible at drawing anything but sand in Thebes, so I probably wouldn’t do well.  But it is exciting in Thebes, and the addition of hazards here will probably make it even more exciting.  I also appreciate that there’s a way to gain more crew as the game goes on, and that there’s a potential cost to that of losing different treasures to balance that out.

So I think this looks like a very solid game.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing it when it comes out.  I don’t know when it will hit store shelves, and I don’t know when Kickstarter backers will get their copies.  Hopefully, I’ll get to play at some point.  Thanks for reading!

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