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Posted on Jan 6, 2008 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

The Kaiser’s Pirates – Game Review

By Brandon Neff



During the Great War, Imperial German warships and raiders hunted down merchant ships to deprive their enemies of much needed supplies. During the opening months of the war, Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s ships sank roughly a quarter of a million tons of merchant shipping. In The Kaiser’s Pirates by Lost Battalion Games, players assume the role of both the German commerce raiders and the Allied merchant ships.

The game is designed for 1-4 players and works just as well for a group as it does for a solitaire player thanks to an ingenious extra deck of cards that represents the phantom opponent.

Components For being such a clever and entertaining game, The Kaiser’s Pirates comes in a very unattractive box. The title is difficult to read and the cardstock sleeve gives the initial appearance of a home printing product. But don’t let the outward appearance deceive you; this game is a real gem.

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Inside the box you’ll find the rulebook, a 20-card German Warship/Raider deck, a 60-card Merchantman deck, a 92-card Action deck, a 20-card Solitaire deck, eight polyhedron dice and 16 wooden markers. The rulebook, also available online, is easy to read and divided into pertinent numbered sections to aid the player when looking up rules. Included are several optional rules which increase the complexity and playing time. I opted not to experiment with the optional rules for this review, focusing instead on the core ruleset.

The various decks of cards are somewhat thin but will hold up well during gameplay. The warship and raider cards show a broadside view of the ship and contain flavor information such as captain name, tonnage and armament. They also contain an icon called a ‘coin’ for attack and defense. The coins have a picture of a die or dice on them which correspond to the dice used during combat or specific action sequences. For example, the Attack coin may show a white six-sided die or a red 4-sided die and a green 8-sided die. The Victory Point value of the ship is shown as well as special characteristics such as mines. The merchantman cards are nearly identical, but the instead of an Attack and Defense coin, they have a Challenge, Respond and Defense coin.

The Action cards can be used in two ways, depending on orientation. Turned sideways, they become an Intercept card, used to attack an enemy merchant ship with one of your warships. Likewise, you may use it to intercept an opponent’s German warship as the Intercept card has a British Attack coin printed on it. If the card is played with a normal orientation, it represents a special action to enhance your attack or grant special advantages. Some of the action cards, distinguished by a blue background, are reactionary in nature and may turn the tide of battle when you are under attack.

Each action card contains the full explanation of the card, so you will not have to constantly refer back to the rules. The solitaire deck is used to represent the decisions of a phantom opponent, determined randomly. The dice are standard polyhedrons, two each of a 4-sided, six sided, 8-sided and 10-sided die. The wooden blocks, 10 red and 6 black, are used to mark damage and supply limitations.

Rules, Mechanics and Game Play

At the beginning of play, each player is given three warships/raiders and three merchant ships and six action cards. The remaining action cards are shuffled and a pre-set number of cards are removed, depending on the number of players, creating a fog of war effect.

Basically, enough cards are left over for 20 per player and the round ends when the last card is drawn. During the round, players take turns sinking or capturing their opponents’ merchant ships by playing intercept and other action cards. Combat is resolved with the die printed on the aforementioned coins.

If two or more dice are shown on the coin, all the dice are rolled and only the highest number is counted. The higher roll wins and if your attack roll is double your opponents’ defense roll, his vessel is sunk and the attacking player is awarded the Victory Point total of the sunk ship. If it is less than double but still higher than the defense roll, the ship is damaged and a red block is placed on the ship making it easy pickings for someone else.

If the attack roll is less than the defense roll, nothing happens. If a merchant ship survives unscathed, it may attempt Safe Passage. Dice are rolled again, this time the Challenge die is rolled against the Respond die and if the Challenge die is higher, the ship makes it to port and the controlling player is awarded the Victory Points of that ship. If the Safe Passage attempt is unsuccessful, nothing happens.

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