- Designers: John Brieger & Vincent Hirtzel
- Artist: Matt Paquette
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 60-75 Minutes
- Times Played: 2
Groundhog’s Day — the movie — and Pirates, those are pretty nerdy things, right? So when I cast my eyes upon the newest title, Chrono Corsairs, and saw that it combined things from both of those into an area control/majorities game I was instantly curious as I love those things. To top it all off, it was a return to medium box games for Tasty Minstrel Games, which I think they do far better than small box games.
Chrono Corsairs is an area majorities game where a round is a day, and after that day, you have a phase where you gain Time Gems based on majorities, reset, and then repeat it all over again, hence the Groundhog’s Day comparison.
The game board consists of an island with twelve map pieces. You have an exterior island made up of six pieces, the interior island consisting of three pieces, and three cave tiles. Each of these island spaces has different treasures to be discovered based on the storm stability track, the caves are a bit different, they have powers that can be executed by the person with the most pirate control at them and may have treasures as well. Each player also has a player board that stores all of their pirates that don’t start the game on the game board and also shows them how many cards they will draw. Not to mention, the all important actions that they will be taking each round.
The crux of the game is that everything becomes more and more unstable as you progress through a game. This is tracked on the Vortex Track. When the Stability Marker reaches the end of the track, players will finish that day and then tally up Gem Tokens (victory points) and whichever Pirate has the most, wins.
Chrono Corsairs, at its heart, is a programming game. Each round has a series of seven steps, starting with advancing the Storm Stability Marker, and then drawing an Anomaly card and resolving its effects based on where that Storm Stability Marker sits. There are nine different Anomaly cards in the game, chances are you will not see all of them, so each game will kind of have a different feel based on what cards are drawn.
After the Anomaly card has been resolved, everyone is going to draw Plan cards based on the position of cubes on your player board. There are two different types of Plan Cards, stable and unstable. Unstable cards are a bit more powerful, but playing them destabilizes the Storm. Regardless of how many cards you draw, you can only keep and play one of them. The rest are discarded.
After the players have drawn their cards and chosen which one to play, they will then select which time of day to place the card they have chosen. A day progresses through four times, each represented on the player board. Each time of day has a default action at the start of the game, but as you add cards to your board, you will cover those up, no longer gaining that action, but gaining the card action instead.
After the players have chosen their cards, if anyone is using an Unstable Plan card, the Stability Marker is moved one spot forward, regardless of how many players chose one. Then, it’s time to “Run the Loop.” Time progresses in player order, with the first player activating, or not activating, their morning plan. You may choose to not use a plan and gain one coin instead. Along with activating plan cards, the players can use one Artifact card before or after activating the plan. These Artifact cards can greatly change the game and what you can do on your turn. But also, if not used, they are worth Gem Tokens at the end of the game.
The Plan cards will allow movement of pirates on the island, and the movement that they allow is specifically pointed out on the card. Most involve moving Officers — which players have two — to a specified land type. Movement has to be to an adjacent space. When moving Officers, you can move as many Crew Members who started in the same space as the Officer as you wish. If the move allows for multiple moves, you may drop off Crew Members in spaces as you pass through, and take others with the Officer. If at any time you go into an island piece that has a treasure on it that shows the time of day that you are currently in, you flip that token if it hasn’t been flipped, and take the action. Once the treasure has been discovered, it is there for everyone to take advantage of for the rest of the game.
After all four phases of a day are complete, it’s time to find treasure. Players are going to evaluate each tile on the island and see who has the most pirates, and at that point, based on the Vortex track a set number of players will gain the benefits listed on the tile. Most of the benefits involve gaining money or Time Gems. The Cave tiles seem to be a bit more combative and can involve removing others pirates — sometimes even your own.
After all of the island tiles have been evaluated, you adjust the turn order with the person with the least cumulative Time Gems and Coins being the first and the player with the most, being last. Then all of the players may spend coins to better outfit their ship. You can pay to move your marker up the plan card tracks to gain more cards to choose from when you draw cards, you can pay to add new crew members to the board, you start the game with five crew members of a possible eleven, to go along with those two Captains in play. You can pay to gain Artifact cards or Time Gems as well. This is also a time where you can adjust your plan. You can pay to move a card currently in your plan to another spot of your loop, if there is another card already there, those cards swap. If the Storm Stability Marker has reached the end of the Vortex Track, the game is over. If not, everything resets back to the harbor where everyone started and you do it all over again. At the end of the game, coins can convert to Time Gems at an exchange of two coins for a Time Gem. Whoever has the most Time Gems — victory points — is the victor.
I never got the chance to play Chrono Corsairs at its maximum player count of five, and I’m kind of glad. It’s usually my default way of thinking to think that an area majorities title should be played with as many people as possible, but I don’t think that holds true here, and I’m sure others will argue with me that it doesn’t hold true in other places as well. The board in Chrono Corsairs gets crowded, with each player possibly having up to eleven crewmen and two captains on the board — and for a game that has icons everywhere that you need to see, that’s a nightmare. Plus, even though most of the steps in a day can be taken simultaneously, the Run the Loop phase can go on a bit long, especially as the game progresses. That slows the game down to a crawl at times. And remember, I’ve only played this at two and three players, I can’t imagine what it slows down to at five.
Production wise, this is the prototypical Tasty Minstrel Games title. The artwork is beautiful, both on the board and the cards, the components are top quality, even the cards. It’s just too bad about how the game play just naturally covers up the iconography everywhere, especially on the island tiles. The cave tiles usually have enough space to be able to see everything. There are a lot of icons, so a player cheat sheet would have been nice, but I suppose passing the rule book around as needed works as well. I will say, the rule book doesn’t really seem to live up to the rule books of the past from Tasty Minstrel. I normally don’t have a lot of questions about the game after reading one of their books, but I did here. I missed things that were kind of hidden in parts of the book where they didn’t make much sense, but maybe that’s just me. There is one weird part of the setup instructions that seems to confuse everyone. The Storm stability marker is placed at the beginning of the Vortex track with two players and placed on the second space if playing with three or more. Well, the first step of the game is to move the marker one space forward, and apparently you do that even if it is the first round of the game, which makes no sense to me and I can’t think of another game that does this. My two plays I didn’t do this, I just took for granted that you don’t in the first round. This would have made each game at least one round shorter, which may have been a good thing. Contrary to shorter being better, it was difficult to think that you had enough time to do everything if you possibly have one less round to play. It’s a weird dilemma, the game feels long due to game play when playing with the starting rule incorrect, but playing it correctly speeds it up and makes it feel like you don’t have enough time.
The game play works, though, and I still really want to maybe even enjoy it, but I just don’t think that Chrono Corsairs is going to be a game that I want to give more time to. It really kind of comes down to the question of, “why would I want to play this, when El Grande is sitting over on the shelf?” (it’s not actually, as I never bought it, but others in the group have it so I can easily play it). I think that the graphic design has too much going on with the variable setup. If the map was static, you could have everything on a bigger board.
Chrono Corsairs firmly falls in the Not for Me rating on the Opinionated Gamers scale. I do think that there are groups who will enjoy this, as it has some interesting design choices and it is thematically spot on with its game play. I just can’t get past the length vs. reward and the board being difficult to read when it gets crowded.