Monday, 15 December 2008

Winds of Plunder

Han brought Winds of Plunder on 23 Nov 2008. Sui Jye and Jing Yi also came to play. Sui Jye likes trains and pirates. I have already shown him Age of Steam, so now was his chance to play a pirate game too. I actually don't have any pirate game myself.

Winds of Plunder is a game that I find very hard to classify. It seems so Euro, and yet it is also very Ameritrash. There can be nasty confrontation. You can defeat an opponent in battle and grab his/her stuff. There are nasty cards that you can play on other players that they cannot defend against (i.e. "take that" cards). It is possible for multiple players to gang up on one leader, or multiple players taking advantage of the weakest player. All this sounds very Ameritrash. Yet there are also a lot of Euro mechanics. At the start of every round, you secretly note down which direction you want the wind to blow (which impacts the directions you can sail), and after everyone reveals the preferred direction, there is a round of blind bidding to decide the direction of the wind. Throughout the game, you collect victory points by doing various things. At the end of the game, you also score victory points for various achievements and improvements of your ship. The game even has Most Weapons, Largest Crew and Most Provisions cards, which are similar to the Longest Road and Largest Army cards in The Settlers of Catan, but they also provide some special ability during the game. All these features are very very Euro.

There is an area majority aspect, and there is also an action point system. The area majority aspect is how you race to be the first pirate to gain notoriety in all three ports in a region, by visiting these ports, and being the strongest pirate in town at that time. The action point system is how you have 3 actions points every turn, and you need to decide how to spend them. You can draw cards, play cards, sail in any direction regardless of wind direction of the round (which costs 3 APs), gain cubes (I am still not sure what exactly cubes represent in the game; you use them to bid for wind direction).

I have been going on and on about random aspects of the game. But how does it play? This is a game with a fixed number of rounds. Every round, after the wind direction is decided, you can sail to a new port, and you gain what is offered at that port, and then you have 3 action points to spend. Each port always gives some victory points, and one or two other things. You can increase your crew, or improve your weapons, or increase your provisions, or get a treasure map. Weapons are probably the most useful during the game, because it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Provisions may seem to be the least useful, but they score the most at game end. Treasure maps are fun. They show a port, and if you later visit that port, you discover the treasure, and score some points. Discovering treasures scores in a kind of triangular way. The first few treasures that you find don't provide many points, but the more you find, the more lucrative they become. So it's about investment. If you spend more effort on discovering treasures, this aspect of the game will become very lucrative to you.

You can decide to fight a fellow pirate at the same port. This doesn't cost any action point. Battle is deterministic. If you have better weapons, you win. Full stop. The winner can take weapons, or crew, or provisions, or even victory points from the loser.

An overview of the map. There are 4 regions, and 3 ports in each. The three ship-shaped tables on the sides are for tracking the weapons, crew and provisions levels of each pirate.

A closer look at the game board. Each port has a token showing what benefit you will gain by visiting it. Every time a pirate visits a port, this token is replaced with another one.

I like these card backs. The one on the right is the card back for the treasure map cards.

My cubes, my ship, and the wheel which I for secretly noting what directly I want the wind to blow. In the background, the 3 "most of" cards.

In our game, Han identified me as the biggest threat from the start of the game, and focused his attacks on me. Well, I am the most experienced gamer in the group afterall, so no surprise there. I would have done the same. Unfortunately for me, being at the losing end in the initial skirmishes meant I quickly became the weakest pirate. I had to try to avoid conflict as much as I could, and had to use pleading and begging to persuade others not to attack me. This is definitely an Ameritrash aspect of the game - the psychology and diplomacy. I gave up on trying to be powerful, and instead tried to focus on provisions. Unfortunately I lost out on that aspect too later, but thankfully I managed to pursue the treasure strategy well enough. I was the only one spending enough effort on that aspect to make the returns worthwhile.

There were some wild swings in the wind direction bidding. Quite often the winning bid was much much higher than the next highest bid. Sometimes when more than one player bid on the same wind direction, they lost the bid to another player wanting the wind to go in another direction, because they had hoped that the other players would spend more cubes, so they themselves committed fewer cubes. That was rather funny.

Scores were relatively close throughout the game. Han won the game in the end. He played most effectively. To my pleasant surprise, I scored the same as him, and only lost by tiebreaker. Being able to pursue the treasure strategy certainly helped. And probably my pleading and pity-mongering too, heh heh... not exacty what a pirate should be proud of.

No comments: