Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Nov 25, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Pirates of the Cursed Seas Constructible Strategy Game – Review

By Bill Bodden

Pirates of the Cursed Seas Constructible Strategy Game By WizKids, Inc. Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker. $3.99 to $8.99 MSRP per booster pack. Available now.

One of the most innovative games to come along in years, the Pirates series from WizKids combines the fun of Age of Sail warfare with tiny, plastic ships one builds after popping them out of a styrene card. First appearing on the market in 2004 with the inaugural set, Pirates of the Spanish Main, the Pirates line has expanded to even include licensed product that ties in with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

The game itself is nearly genius in its simplicity. Each pack contains several credit card-sized pieces of styrene plastic; each card is printed and carefully die-cut with either a ship (or parts of one for larger ships), treasure, crew, or islands/shoals/fog banks. The main card for any ship shows its cargo capacity (special crew take up a cargo space), the number of masts it has, its speed, and the number of guns it can field. Guns and masts are closely related in this game; more on that in a moment.


There are numerous scenarios that can be played with this game right out of a pack. A ship is assigned an overall point value based on its strengths and weaknesses for greater ease of creating even match-ups. Frequently a pack will contain two or more ships, though it’s rare that any two ships out of the same pack are evenly matched. The object of the game is generally to dock one or more ships at an island, spend a turn or two exploring (recovering treasure markers), and getting more than half of the treasure loaded aboard ship and back safely to the player’s home island. Clearly, a creative person could easily envision endless scenario possibilities for these ships, even to the point of refighting famous historical naval engagements if the right ships are available.

Ships move using the main card; movement distances are measured by using either the short side or the long side of the card as a ruler, designated by an “S” or “L”, respectively. Likewise, guns are marked on the base of the masts by either a red (long range) or white (short range) d6 symbol with a number of pips showing, and range is measured using the long or short side of that same main card. To score a hit against an opponent, the ship’s captain will need to exceed that number on a die roll. Hits are recorded on a target by removing the same number of masts as hits; if a ship takes more hits than it has masts, it sinks. If a ship loses a mast, it also loses the use of the gun associated with that mast. Ships that sink have their treasure divided equally between attacker and defender, with any special treasure being removed from the game.

Different sets focus on different nationalities; for example, Pirates of the Revolution features navies of the fledgling United States as well as those of Britain, France, and Pirates; Pirates of the Frozen North primarily includes Viking Longships as well as icebergs; Pirates of the Barbary Coast features British, Spanish, French and American fleets as well as the infamous Barbary Corsairs. While these sets are no longer in production at this time, many are still widely available in hobby-oriented game shops.

To avoid confusion, WizKids has recently decided to rebrand the line slightly, renaming it Pirates of the Cursed Seas with the next release to distance the product from the recent, wildly popular feature films starring Johnny Depp. The newest set, Pirates of the Cursed Seas: Rise of the Fiends, will debut in January of 2008, and will include a new style of ship; the dreaded Scorpion ship. Scorpion ships have a huge mechanical arm with a scythe-like blade on the end, and woe to any vessel that comes within reach of such a destructive weapon! Packs for Rise of the Fiends will be larger, and will carry an $8.99 suggested retail price. These larger packs will include at least four ships plus one large ship or one sea monster, and will be appropriate for two players right out of the package. Rise of the Fiends Value Boxes are also planned, with no less than six ships, plus one exclusive large ship and treasure, islands/whirlpools, etc.

At $3.99 per pack – or even at the new price of $8.99 per pack for larger packs — this is easily the cheapest wargame one can find on the market today. The simplicity of the game’s design lends itself well to pick-up games as well as more structured tournaments, and the compact nature of the components makes it a perfect size for travel. Caution: don’t throw the cards away once you’ve punched out all the ship parts; if done carefully, the ship pieces can be reinserted into the card for incredibly convenient carrying and storage. The variety of ships available is nothing short of astounding. Ships are made up of many very small pieces; as such, this game is not appropriate for children under the age of eight. Tiny d6s are included with every pack; for the sake of your eyesight and your sanity, I highly recommend replacing them with full-sized dice at the earliest possible opportunity.

Hard-core naval wargamers may find this game lacking in the more technical aspects of naval warfare, but casual gamers the world over have proven the game’s strong appeal through continuing brisk sales. A fantastic stocking-stuffer, Pirates cannot possibly disappoint for the exceptional price.