Posted by: gschloesser | August 12, 2011

Time Pirates

Design by:  Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum
Published by:  Rio Grande Games and Piatnik
 2 – 6 Players, 1 – 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
 

Editor’s Note:  This review also appeared in Moves Magazine #107 

My initial playing of this game was way back in early 2000 at Gulf Games, a small, regional get-together of gaming friends in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  At the time, however, a few of the rules were misplayed as the game was essentially being taught from memory.  These rule omissions and ambiguities, sadly, damaged the playability of the game and it was not very well received by the participants. I never gave the game much consideration after that ill-fated attempt.  Until now. 

I finally had the opportunity to give this Alan Moon / Aaron Weissblum collaboration a fair shake, playing several more times.  I must say, the game is better than my original impression led me to believe.  No, it’s not the pinnacle of gaming, but it is certainly not bad, either.  I also must say that I think the theme is fascinating, and it reminds me of the 1980’s movie which bore the same name.  Yes, the theme isn’t fastened too securely, but it still works.  Of course, you must get past the garish box cover, which depicts a funky, blue jean-wearing pirate emblazoned over a neon background.  Ugh.  It must have been a very bad day for my favorite game illustrator, Franz Vohwinkel

Players each represent pirates roaming back in time collecting artifacts from various epochs.  When they acquire enough of one type of artifact, they can jump (via some mysterious teleportation device, I guess) to the international bazaar and sell these artifacts to a collector for a handsome profit.  These profits take the form of rich contracts, which ultimately determine the winner of the game.  Of course, such piracy is illegal, so players must attempt to stay one step ahead of the dreaded Time Police who relentlessly pursue these wealth-seeking scoundrels across the pages of time.  After three rounds of collecting and selling, the player amassing the greatest wealth earns the title “Great Time Pirate“.  Hey, I don’t make this stuff up … it’s in the rules!

The board depicts seven different epochs in time, each of which contains a various amount of artifacts, ranging from 3 – 7.  Artifacts come in five different colors, as well as the wild ‘white’ color, which can be used as any color.  Players attempt to collect sets of colors, which can then be sold at the bazaar, exchanging the artifacts for a larger contract of the same color, but carrying a value based on the number of artifacts exchanged.  For example, if Keith manages to collect five orange artifacts, he may jump to the bazaar and exchange them for an orange contract valued at ‘6’.  As mentioned, it is the value of these contracts which will ultimately determine the winner.  Further, these contracts are safe from the clutches of those pesky police, as well as from the other players.

Players travel between the epochs following time lines.  These paths, labeled ‘1’ or ‘2’, make it possible to move in two different directions from each epoch.  These same paths, however, are followed by the time police when their movement is triggered by drawing a time police chit from the cloth bag. 

If a player begins his turn in an epoch which does not contain the time police token, he may, if he so desires, re-fill an epoch with newly drawn artifacts, but ONLY if that epoch does not contain another time pirate. Re-filling an epoch can provide a better selection of artifacts from which to choose, but it also runs the danger of drawing one of the eight time police tokens from the bag of artifacts.  If this occurs, the time police token moves along the path numbered on the token.  If a player begins his turn in the same epoch as the time police, he is in trouble.  He must surrender an artifact from his largest set collection, plus surrender any wild ‘white’ artifacts.  Further, his first action MUST be to move away from the time police.  Of course, more devious players will often elect to fill epochs with new artifacts in the hopes that the time police will, indeed, move … but into an epoch which is occupied by an opponent or opponents.  This is a particularly nasty move to take when your time pirate token is a safe distance from the long hand of the law. 

On a player’s turn, he has two standard actions he can perform.  As mentioned, if he is in the same epoch as the time police, his first action must be to move to a different epoch.  Otherwise, a player can choose from several actions, including moving, taking an artifact from the epoch he occupies, or jumping to the bazaar and selling a set of artifacts.  He can perform the same action twice, if so desired. 

In addition to the two standard actions, a player may perform any number of special actions.  Several artifact chits depict special symbols which allow a player to perform a special action.  One special action is the exchanging of an artifact with another player (depicted by two arrows), while the other allows a player to jump to any epoch on the board (depicted by an atomic symbol).  These powers are a bit dubious and, in many cases, of limited value.  In particular, a player should only exercise the ‘exchange’ power when he is ready to jump to the bazaar and sell a set of artifacts.  Otherwise, the player with whom he forced the exchange will simply reverse the exchange on his next turn.  Further, the artifact which allows the player to jump to any epoch is discarded after it is used.  It has been my experience that it is more valuable to hold onto your artifacts and not go jumping around time using this power.  

When jumping to the bazaar, players exchange a set of either 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 artifacts of one color for a contract of the same color.  Contract values usually begin at an amount equal to the number of artifacts exchanged, but ultimately climb in value to be worth a point more than the number of contracts exchanged for it.  Thus, a ‘7’ valued contract only requires six artifacts to acquire.  

In addition, there are a number of 2, 3 and 4 ‘white’ contracts.  These are acquired by trading the appropriate number of DIFFERENT colored artifacts.  In either case, the wild white artifacts may be used to act as any color when performing these exchanges.

Once acquired, contracts are safe and cannot be stolen by other players.  This was one major rule we played incorrectly in our first outing over a year ago and really adversely effected the playability and enjoyment of the game. 

After exchanging his artifacts for a contract, the player may then return his time pirate token to ANY epoch on the board.  This is a neat way to re-position your token into a more desirous epoch and keep safely away from the time police. 

When eight time police tokens have been selected from the bag, the round ends.  Players tally the value of their contracts and record this total.  Two more rounds are played, with scoring occurring at the end of both of these rounds, too.  However, in a scoring system I don’t fully understand the rationale behind, the contracts collected in previous rounds are added to the value of the contracts collected in the current round to determine the CURRENT round’s score.  This has the effect of inflating the leader’s score even more.  Thus, the game is one wherein it is very difficult to catch the leader.  Fortunately, this is a problem that is easily corrected by simply keeping the contracts from each round separate and NOT adding them into each round’s score.  It’s a rules modification I would highly recommend using. 

At the end of the third and final round, bonus points can also be earned.  Players secretly allocate their white contracts to one or more of their other contract colors.  Then, these allocations are revealed.  Each player with at least one contract from each of the five colors receives a 2-point bonus.  Further, the player with the most points in a color scores another 2-point bonus.  If two or more players tie for the most in a color, then they all receive the bonus points.  The player with the greatest cumulative score is victorious. 

The game is not bad … but it isn’t terribly exciting.  It just doesn’t have much ‘kick’ to it.  The movement of the time police is about the only real tension in the game, and even that is minimal.  It is pretty easy to stay away from the token, and even if you are caught, the penalty isn’t all that severe.  The wise player will minimize the number of artifacts he has in his possession if he is in range of the time police.  Plus, once four or five of the time police tokens are drawn, it is possible to calculate with reasonable odds where the time police token will move next.  A few more police tokens in the bag would have made this predictability less certain and perhaps added a bit more tension to the proceedings. 

Further, the special actions provided by the artifacts are of limited use and not very varied.  It would have added more spice if there were more special actions which could be performed.  Variety can be a good thing, and there just isn’t much of it present here. 

Finally, there are no mechanics provided to ‘get’ the leader.  Contracts cannot be stolen from players, so once acquired, they are perfectly safe.  There is not an appreciable amount of interaction amongst the players, so the game has a fairly static feel to it.  This contributes to an overall lack of excitement. 

So, my assessment is as stated earlier … not a bad game, but not very exciting, either.  It’s a game which likely won’t be requested by gamers very often, if at all.  It seems far more suited for a family gaming environment, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

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Responses

  1. I always liked this game. You travel around the board (through time) to collect sets of items. The movement is awkward which is what lots of people complained about. I never had a problem with it. 7/10


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