Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kaiser's Pirates

The next game from my collection is one that I am pretty conflicted about.  I had high hopes for The Kaiser's Pirates when I got it, as I thought that a game about World War I commerce raiding had a lot of potential for fun.  However, the game isn't really what I originally thought that it would be.  Instead of one player playing the German raiders and another playing the shipping and associated escort ships, all players play both sides.

At the start of the game you create a deck of Action Cards, including 20 cards for each player (the game handles up to 4 players).  The action cards restrict what the players can do (as you have to play a card with that action on it to take a specific action), and the action deck acts as the game timer, as the game ends when someone pulls the last card from the deck.  Each player is dealt six action cards to start.  Each player also gets three German raider and/or warship cards, and three Merchant cards.  These ship cards are placed face up on the table in front of the player.  During the game, each player tries to sink the other player's ships using their own ships.  Each ship is worth a set amount of points (printed on the card), and sinking that ship gets you those points.  You can also sometimes capture a ship instead, which then is worth double points if you can have it survive until the end of the game.

Each action card can be played as an "Intercept!" action (which lets you attack other ships), or for its stated action, which might aid an attack, provide for additional defensive actions when one of your ships is attacked, or provide some other effect (taking cards or ships from another player, for example).  You can play as many cards as you want on your turn, but you only get to draw one card per turn, so some turns it can make sense to take no actions and just draw a card.

Combat is handled by rolling a number of dice and taking the highest number.  For example, a raider attacking a merchant might roll a green D8 and a red D4 to attack.  Both dice are rolled, and the highest individual number is taken.  The ship being attacked will then roll their defense dice.  The numbers are compared.  If the attacker number is higher than the defender number, but does not double the defense number, then the defending ship is damaged, and gets a red cube on it.  If the attacker doubles the defender's number, then the ship is sunk and the attacker takes that card for scoring purposes.  If a merchant ship is attacked but takes not damage at all, it can then try to make it safely to its destination by rolling dice as shown on the card.  The player with the merchant ship rolls the "Challenge" dice, and another player rolls the "Response" dice.  If the highest Challenge result is higher than the highest Response result, then the defending player scores that merchant ship instead.  Otherwise, the ship stays in play.

In certain situations you can also attack another player's raiders or warships by playing an "Intercept!" card for that purpose.  Each card has a set of attack dice listed on it to represent a generic British navy vessel, so the attacker rolls those dice and the defender rolls the defense dice for the targeted warship or raider and it works just like attacking a merchant vessel, except that the warship won't ever try to make it to a friendly port; if it isn't damaged, it just stays out there ready for action.  At the end of each player's turn everyone always draws enough new merchant cards to get them back to three.

Play proceeds around the table until the last card is drawn, and then points for sunken vessels and successfully escaped merchants are scored, and the highest player wins.  You can play just one round, but the game recommends that you play three rounds to determine the winner.

The game also includes a solitaire variant that uses a separate deck of cards to emulate the actions of another player.  This system involves a lot of dice rolling and card flipping, but it works fairly well.  Due to the random nature of the actions that the "programmed player" can take, you can get a massive flurry of actions like you would never get in a game against another physical player, but that shouldn't happen too many times.  I have used it and it works OK, though I prefer play against actual people.

So I really want to like this game, but I have a hard time doing so.  None of the people that I have played this game with liked it.  The fact that every player plays both sides at the same time just doesn't work for the people I game with.  So, this game hardly ever hits the table.  I will probably trade it away for something at some point; I just wish it was more fun than it is.  The theme has a lot of potential, but this doesn't quite get there for me.

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