Feld-ruary #4 – Rum & Pirates

12 Feb

IMG_0779Rum & Pirates is probably the most un-Stefan Feld game Stefan Feld ever designed. It’s also quite possibly the most controversial game he ever designed. Here’s why. If you look on the lower front corner of the box, you see the name “Alea.” Alea is an imprint of the major German game and puzzle manufacturer Ravensburger. Alea games have the reputation of being “Gamer’s games.” They tended to be high strategy, lower luck games; a step or two above a typical family style game. Games in the Alea series are usually  siren’s calls to the hobby gamer that something really special is inside.

And then we have Rum & Pirates…

Now, don’t take that line to mean I didn’t like Rum & Pirates. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, and it’s one of my favorite games we’ve played so far in this marathon of gaming. But it is nothing like anything else we’ve played, and are likely going to play.

IMG_0773In Rum & Pirates, players are trying to move the Red Captain around town (a town made of 9 modular pieces, so the layout can be different every play), using their own band of ne’er-do-wells as the influence markers. You start the game with 10 pirates, but can add up to 5 more in the game. On a turn, players basically have their choice of one of three actions. Move the captain, rest, or get on board the ship to prepare for the next day of pillaging. Each player has a supply of pirate tokens in their color. These pirates are nice, large, well-designed plastic tokens that really help to bring some of the theme of the game to life. This could have just as easily been a stack of cubes…many props to Ravensburger for spending a little extra money for the minis.

Let’s look at the move action. To move the Red Captain, the player simply places down a number of pirates equal to the number of sidewalk spaces in between corners. Each corner has an icon that relates to an action that the player gets to do to wrap up their turn. Here’s a quick description of those actions (warning, there are A LOT of different actions).

  1. Coin intersections get you a coin. Coins are mostly used to walk down dark alleys and to rest.
  2. Headquarters – the Red Pirate starts the game there. If he ever returns, the player that moved him there gets to return to his play area the pirates he or she used to move the Captain earlier in the round.
  3. Pirate intersections get you another pirate token from the general supply to your personal stash.
  4. Pirate supply corners allow you to pick a token from the pirate gear stash (fun things like hooks and eye patches). Each token has a point value on them. You can either keep it, or trade it in for 2 coins. A think to note: only the most valuable of each type of item counts. So if you have 4 eye patches, you only get the points for 1 of them.
  5. Rendezvous intersections are spaces that give you little mini-quests. Your pirate bride has dropped you a hint as to where she would like to meet up with you. If you move the Captain there, you complete the rendezvous, and score points at the end of the game.
  6. Treasure Map spaces get you pieces of a treasure map (shocking, I know.) There are three different colored maps, and only 4 pieces available each turn. So, if you go to a pink map, and there’s no pink map piece? You’ve just wasted your turn. If you get both halves of the map, however, you get a whole mess of points.
  7. Pubs – Much like the treasure chests, there are 3 different pubs on the board, but only 4 pub tiles in play. When you end on a pub tile, you first have to invite the other players to join you at the pub. If they join, they pay you a coin, and then you grab the die and start rolling. The first player to roll equal to or higher than the number of the token gets it, and therefore scores that many points at the end of the game.
  8. Treasure Chests – there are 2 treasure chests in play at any given time. When a player lands on the chest space, they get the chest with the point value…and then a dice-off to see who gets stung by the chest laden with scorpions. FINALLY! Feld penalizes the players. Each scorpion chest has a target number, players go in order rolling a die, and adding the total. As soon as the total equals the danger number, that player gets stung, and will lose the points indicated on the chest.
  9. AND FINALLY the Rum Barrel space – gets you 2 reroll tokens. Pretty simple.
  10. Just kidding, there are also Guard spaces – On these, you choose whether you want to fight a large guard or a small guard. Your strength is the number of pirates you have not placed on the board yet. If you beat the guard, you will score that many points at the end of the game.

That’s a ton of stuff, but as you can see, none of those actions is terribly difficult to understand.


Next, you can choose to rest. Resting simply means you pay a coin to skip that move. This can be beneficial, especially later in the game. Sometimes you just don’t want to move. Whether it’s because you don’t have a good move, or you don’t want to set up an opponent. It’s not a strategy we employed often, but when we did, it was super effective.

The final action you can choose is to climb aboard the pirate ship with any unused pirates. You then battle for the best sleeping spots. This battle is basically a distilled version of Risk meets the NCAA Basketball tounament that you have to play every turn. The pirate ship is a large cardboard piece that sits in the corner of the board.

pic223157When you pass, you put all your pieces on one side of the mast in a row. Once everyone has passed, if any player put more pirates out than any other, all of the excess pirates move on to the next round, and move to the right side of the mast. Once that’s happened, everyone still left goes column by column having a series of dice-offs to determine who else makes it to the next round. Players simply roll the die, high number wins, everyone else in that column goes home. If there are ties, then the tied players re-roll. Once a player is completely eliminated from the wrangle (as it’s called in the rule book) they get the worst sleeping place token. The wrangling continues until only one player has pirates left, and they get the best sleeping place.

All of this continues for 5 rounds. After that, players score points for all their tiles, lose points for scorpions…high score is the best pirate!

Rum & Pirates is a rather light and frivolous game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game by any stretch. Rum & Pirates is a quick-playing, chaotic romp. It’s exactly what I’d like to see in a pirate game that doesn’t take place on a ship. Now, using pirates as movement tokens doesn’t really work thematically, but everything else does. You’re drinking, fighting, and chasing women around all day, and fighting for the top bunk at night. Rum & Pirates is a heck of a lot of fun to play. I just can’t believe Stefan Feld designed it. It’s almost nothing like any of his other games that I’ve played. I have to agree with many though that it probably isn’t a good fit for the Alea series. Kind of like how Armageddon is in the Criterion Collection. Still, very fun family game.

Next post is another game that at first blush feels like a departure for Feld, but once you’ve played it, you realize it fits right into his style. Die Speicherstadt…which is of course German for The Speicherstadt…and what auto-correct thinks is Radiologist, next time.


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