Review: Pirate Tricks

Pirate Tricks

Designers: Jeff Van Ness and Craig Van Ness

Artist: JJ Ariosa

Publisher: Soaring Rhino Games

Players: 3 – 5

Ages: 8 and Up

Time: 30 Minutes

The world is full of public domain and newfangled trick taking games.  That said, I will try any of them any time. I reached out to Soaring Rhino to try their new Pirate Tricks game; here are my thoughts from a few perspectives.

In Pirate Tricks, the main deck has three suits, red is always trump, and the suit length is adjusted depending on the number of players.  The quick and dirty is that this is a lighter trick-taking game with three hands played in succession with different rules for each hand. At the end of three hands, the player with the most points wins.

Yes, there are tricks, yes, you generally have to follow suit if you can, but this game adds a closed-fist auction to construct your hand.  Pedants will say that Tichu is a climbing game, not a trick-taking, game (and they are right). At the same time, imagine being dealt the first set of cards in Tichu, looking at them, then instead of bidding Grand or picking up the second set of cards, the second set of cards are splayed out in the middle of the table in four rows and you get to bid on which second set of cards you get.

Image thanks to BGG:augray

In Pirate Tricks, after getting your first set of cards, the remaining cards are set out in rows equal to the number of players with all but two cards in each row face up and two face down.  In the example above, there are four rows because there are four players. The players then bid for each row in order, spending victory points to get the row they want. Since red is always trump, you would think you always want the row with the most red showing.

Here is the second twist of Pirate Tricks.  There are three special card types, Recruitment, Treasure, and Capture cards.  Recruitment cards give you a way to score outside the trick taking part of the game.  You might bid on a very weak row of cards because it helps you complete a high value recruitment card. Treasure cards set the goal for the hand which might be to take the fewest tricks, most tricks, predict how many tricks you will take, etc   This is a key way to gain points in the game and the most points will win, but remember, points are also what you bid with. Capture cards can be negative points, so you might have trick avoidance cards where taking blue cards is extra bad. Suddenly trump sounds awful and you might pay just to not take the row with the high trumps.

After getting your first cards and bidding on your second set, you get to throw away two cards, so no one else knows exactly what you have, even if they can count cards.  Of course, the discarded cards cannot count towards the recruitment scoring. After recruitment scoring, a regular trick taking game is played with the Capture and Treasure rules.

There are enough recruitment, treasure, and capture cards that you won’t see the same ones in a game, but they will start to reappear.  Some are pretty bad, such as stealing points from other players, so don’t go into this seriously or you might be frustrated. I think it is probably best as a five player closer when you want to think, but not too much.  The scoring can be swingy and the game does not really have a built in catch-up mechanism, so if your neighbor just hoovered up 6 of your points for their stash, that is a 12 point swing.

The theme and art are fine, but not really integrated into the game, unless stealing points is piratey.  The art is darker and a bit neon, but it is legible. If you like Stichmeister, On the Cards, or other variable condition trick-taking games, but feel they might be a bit much for your friends, definitely seek out Pirate Tricks.  It would also be especially good for people who like trick taking games and are starting out in Euros, as it adds variable conditions, closed-fist auctions, and strategic discarding.

I like it and would happily play it, especially with 5 players.

Other Opinions

Dan Blum (2 plays): I agree with Jonathan’s opinion in general. It’s a decent enough trick-taking game with a lot of variability, but some of the scoring cards make it a lighter affair. (Of course one could always remove those.) However, it’s not as light as it could be because of the amount of information you have about other players’ hands – you see all the cards that are bid on and players might choose to show others to score for Recruitment.

Ultimately I feel it could have used a little more polishing to be really good, but it’s still pretty good – the occasional hand is not great but most hands are interesting and since a game is only three hands it won’t outstay its welcome.

  • I love it!
  • I like it. – Jonathan, Dan Blum
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
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