Posted by: gschloesser | July 30, 2011

Corsairs

Design by:  Thorsten Löpmann and Andreas Wetter
Published by:  Hans im Glück / Rio Grande Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITORS’ NOTE:  This review also appears in Counter Magazine #12

“Yo, Ho Ho and a bottle of rum … and a bunch of bananas, green beans & meat, too!” 

You see, pirates need to be well fed and boozed in order to be effective scourges of the sea.  Without the proper provisions, they are nothing but rejects from the SS Minnow (For those of you who didn’t spend their youth watching U.S. sitcoms, that’s the name of the ill-fated boat from Gilligan’s Island!). 

In this light and entertaining game from designers Thorsten Löpmann and Andreas Wetter, players roam the high seas in search of galleys laden with booty, which they will promptly attempt to board and loot if its treasure. 

Similar to Cartagena, another pirate themed game released at Essen 2000, Corsairs (Störtebecker in Deutsch) is fairly light and is essentially a card game.  Players attempt to assemble the correct combination of provisions in order to be able to board galleys, but they also must possess a strong enough crew in order to board the ship and fend off their opponents potential counterattacks.

The game comes complete with a variety of components, including 30 galleys tiles in five different colors.  Four of these galleys are placed face-up on the table and are ripe for the taking. Each galley indicates a combination of provisions, which must be played before a player can attempt to board it. In addition, each galley indicates the victory points it is worth, as well as the ‘boarding’ strength, which must be met or exceeded for it to fall prey to the pirates.

Players are each dealt an initial hand of six cards, most of which depict one of six different types of provisions (water, bread, meat, rum, bananas or, of course, beans.  What good is a German game without beans?). In addition, several cards depict corsairs (pirates) with values ranging from 2 – 4.  These corsairs are important when one attempts to take control of a galley.

On a turn, each player MUST play exactly three cards, with the following actions available:

1) Play card(s) beside a galley. The idea here is to begin amassing provision cards so as to eventually match the provision requirements indicated on the galley. Once a player assembles all of the necessary provisions, he can attempt to board the ship.

Each player has his own section beside every galley where he places his provision and corsair cards.  Provision cards played next to a galley are played face-up, while corsair cards are played face-down to conceal the value of the card(s).

2) Players may discard 2 or 3 cards from their hand and replace them with 1 or 2 cards, respectively, from the discard pile.  The neat twist is that a player may search through the discard pile and choose the card(s) he desires. Thus, players should keep a careful eye on which cards have gone to the discard pile and choose this option in order to retrieve the cards they need or desire.

3) Fire a broadside. This is the nasty part. A player may play ANY card onto the discard pile and then roll the two ‘color’ dice in attempts to confiscate matching provisions from his opponents’ sides of the galley.  If one or more colors on the dice match the color of provisions previously played by opponents beside the targeted galley, the attacker may confiscate these provisions and place them on his side of the galley, provided they can be used by that player.  If they cannot be used (meaning he already has that provision beside the galley), then the affected provisions are simply discarded.   Not only are you hindering your opponent’s efforts in assembling the required combination of provisions, but you may well be aiding yours as well if you can use the provision which is confiscated!

Further, by removing opponents’ provisions from a galley, you are also helping to prevent potential counterattacks if you are ultimately successful in boarding that ship.  Remember, your opponents must be able to assemble the correct combination of provisions before being able to attempt a counterattack.  If you were successful in removing one or more of their previously laid provisions, you have decreased their chances of accomplishing this requirement.

If a player manages to assemble the required provisions by a galley, he may then attempt to board it. He reveals any face-down corsair cards and totals their value.  Further, some provision cards depict a corsair symbol, and these symbols are added to the total.  To this figure, he then adds the sum of two dice. If the resulting sum is equal to or greater than the ‘boarding’ value listed on the galley, he is successful. If not, the player may lose up to two provision cards from beside that galley.  They must roll the color dice and remove any matching provisions.

A successful ‘boarding’ roll doesn’t guarantee success, however. You see, each opponent has the opportunity to usurp control of the galley (those scurvy dogs!). To do so, they must also have the necessary provisions next to the galley. If they don’t, they can, if possible, add provision cards (NOT corsair cards) from their hand to accomplish this. If they are successful, then they, too, roll the bones and add the value of any corsairs they have beside the galley. After all players who desired to counterattack have made the rolls, the player with the highest roll succeeds in boarding the galley … assuming the highest total was equal to or greater than the boarding value listed on the galley.  The successful player then takes the galley card and records its value on the score track.

You can easily see the value of corsairs when making such attempts. The more corsairs a player has beside a galley, the better his chances of successfully claiming that ship. The danger, however, is that if a ship is captured by an opponent, all cards played to that galley are discarded, including the valuable corsairs. Arrgg!

Following a player’s turn, he refills his hand to six cards and play passes to the next player. This entire procedure continues until there are only four galleys remaining in play.  When the next galley is captured, the game ends and the player with the highest value in galleys is victorious.

There is no denying that the game has a heavy luck factor. Dice are rolled for boarding attempts and Broadside attempts. Cards are drawn randomly from the deck at the end of each turn. Yep … there’s luck involved.

However, there are mechanisms to help reduce the luck factor. As mentioned, the ability to discard cards and search through the discard pile for replacements is extremely important. It is important to keep a careful eye on which cards are being discarded and utilize the discard action to search through the deck and locate the card(s) you need. Valuable corsairs and rare provisions tend to be scooped immediately.  Players who are willing to use 2 or 3 of the card plays on a turn to retrieve needed cards are usually richly rewarded in following rounds.

The odds of successfully boarding a galley can certainly be improved by the play of sufficient quantities of corsairs beside that galley. This also helps reduce the chances of an opponent usurping control of the galley from you.   A wise player will refrain from playing most of the required provisions next to a galley until he is ready to launch his attack.  Otherwise, opponents will sense this impending attack and be emboldened to launch broadsides against that galley in an attempt to remove some of these provisions. This tactic also allows a player to launch a counterattack by playing the required provisions from his hand in the event of a successful boarding attempt by an opponent.

OK … time for a gripe. The game simply takes too long with the rules as written. The rules call for the removal of 8 galleys with four players. This leaves 22 galleys to compete for during the course of the game. As such, the game lasted for over an hour, simply too long for the enjoyment derived from what is supposed to be a fairly light romp.  I’ve experimented with removing different amounts and have found that removing 12 galleys prior to the game works extremely well.  This amount allows the game to clock in at 45 minutes or so, which seems just perfect.  As is, the game is fun, but wears out its welcome after 45 minutes.  The number of galleys removed should be adjusted accordingly if playing with less than four players.

The game also has several Variants suggested.  There are two I heartily recommend:

1)  If a player has boarded 3 or more galleys of one color, that player scores a bonus equal to the average of the values of these like-colored galleys.

Please note:  the official rules state that the bonus is equal to the value of the ‘highest-valued’ galley in this set.  I have found this to be too generous and we now play using the average method.  We have found that this still makes a set worth pursuing, but it doesn’t completely eliminate the victory chances of those players who are unable to secure a set.

2)  In the basic game, only one visible galley is waiting ‘on deck’.  This galley will replace the next galley successfully boarded.  With the variant, three galleys are visible.  Thus, players can plan ahead by saving provisions and corsairs in preparation for the appearance of these galleys.     

These variants serve to add more decision-making layers to the game by offering players other options to pursue and giving them an opportunity for a bit more long-range planning.  Without these variants, players tend to simply pursue immediate gratification by playing cards from their hand to whatever galleys require those provisions. 

My opinion of Corsairs has grown with each subsequent playing.  By removing those few extra galleys and playing with these two variants, I’ve found the game now works very nicely, flows swiftly and doesn’t wear out its welcome.  Another plus is that, like Cartagena, it has proven reasonably popular with both my gaming group and my casual gaming friends.  No, it’s not a ‘shout from the mountain tops’ ecstatic experience, but it is a fun romp on the high seas … which is all that it intends to be.  In this regards, it fulfills its goal quite nicely.

 

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