Posted by: gschloesser | August 13, 2011

Winds of Plunder

Published by:  GMT
3 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Designed by: Al Newman
Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE: This review first appeared in Counter Magazine

My good friend Al Newman has been designing games longer than many of us have been involved in the hobby. Heck, he has been designing games longer than many of us (not me!) have been alive. No, Al is not that old, it is just that he has been a gaming enthusiast and designer for a long, long time. After an extended absence from the design field, he has been once again letting his creative flair shine through, most recently with the publication of the fun trick-taking game Tin Soldiers and intriguing 2-player game Dynasties.  His latest effort is Winds of Plunder, which has finally been released after spending several years in GMT’s publication process.

Set in the Caribbean in the days of sail, players represent dastardly pirates, plundering the islands and, when the opportunity arises, their fellow pirates. All this must be done before the might of the great European powers is felt and puts an end to this life of pillaging and debauchery.

The board depicts a map of the Caribbean with numerous islands and ports-of-call separated into four regions. Each of the twelve ports contains a box, into which a victory point tile will be placed. The remaining six victory point tiles are placed on the “tile rotation” track. Also printed directly on the map are four pirate ship tracks upon which players record the current level of their weapons, crew, provisions and booty.  Finally, a score track for tallying victory points encircles the map.

Players each receive a compass and 30 cubes, four of which are placed upon the appropriate pirate ship tracks. As in El Grande, the remaining cubes are divided into two piles, with 10 going into a player’s “wind cube” pile and the remaining 16 forming his reserve. Getting cubes from one’s reserve into his “wind” pile can be very important and is just one of the decisions a player must make during his turn.

The game is divided into two main phases:

1) Wind Phase. Each player votes on which way he wants the wind to blow on the upcoming turn. The direction of the wind can be critical, as it determines the region into which a player can sail.

To vote, each player places his compass face-down onto the table, indicating the direction he desires. Players reveal their compasses simultaneously. Then, a vote is held. Players secretly commit as many of their wind cubes they desire, revealing them simultaneously. The direction that receives the most votes (cubes) will prevail on that turn. Ever wonder if this is how most weathermen actually make their forecast? Hmmm …

The player who bid the most cubes receives the “Blackbeard” tile. The holder of this tile breaks all tied votes as he sees fit and determines the start player for the next round.

All cubes allocated by players are returned to their reserve. Thus, it is not long before a player’s wind supply will diminish, necessitating that the player spend some of his actions during his turn moving cubes from his reserve into his wind cube supply.

Before I explain Phase 2, let me explain the significance of the wind.

If the wind is blowing north or south, players may only sail in the direction of the wind within the region in which they are currently located or an adjacent region. This means at least one region will be out of reach to a player on the current turn. Plus, islands located north or south of a player’s current location will also be inaccessible, depending upon the direction of the wind.

If the wind is blowing east or west, players MUST leave the region they are in and sail to a region that is one or two spaces away from their current location.

Often, players will find suitable ports-of-call regardless of the direction of the wind. Other times, however, the direction of the wind will be critical. Thus, players will want to keep a healthy supply of wind cubes in order to have a better chance at controlling the wind’s direction.

2) Plundering Phase. Each turn, a player MUST sail to a new location (if able) and has 3 action points to spend. Actions may be repeated or taken in any order, including interspersed with sailing. The possible actions include:

a) Take an Action card (1 AP). Action cards are event cards. They allow players to perform a variety of tasks or nasty deeds, such as increasing their ship’s weapons, crew or provisions, forcing a trade with an opponent, causing an opponent to lose a weapon or cards, switching victory point tiles, taking extra actions, etc. There is no hand limit, but there are a few vile storm cards that cause all players to discard down to two cards.

The cards do add some spice to the game, but there needs to be a larger variety. Plus, I am not very fond of the “Put the Crew to the Test” card, which allows a player to take three extra actions on his turn. This one just seems too powerful.

b) Play an Action card (1 AP). A player can play as many action cards on his turn as he desires, but it costs 1 action point for each card played.

c) Take Wind cubes. A player can opt to take wind cubes from his reserve and move them into his wind cube pile. Taking 2 costs 1 AP; taking 5 costs 2 AP; and taking 9 costs all 3 AP.

d) Gust of Wind in any direction (3 AP). The player catches a strong gust of wind and can move in any direction, following the normal movement rules. If he chooses an East or West direction, he can move an additional region. This action is often vital when a player really needs to reach a certain island and the wind is not cooperating. Of course, it is costly, as it takes all of a player’s action points to execute.

So what is the point? As mentioned, each port contains a victory point tile. The points depicted on a tile are awarded to the player who arrives at that port. In addition, the player receives new supplies as depicted on the tile – weapons, crew, provisions or booty. The tile is then removed from the port and is placed onto the far left of the “tile rotation track”, sliding the other tiles to the right. The vacated spot on the map is filled by the tile from the far right of the track.

Let’s examine why the weapons, crew, provisions and booty of a player are important.

When entering a port, if a player has more weapons than an opponent located there, he may board that ship for spoils. The more powerful player may either take 2 victory points from the hapless victim, or any one item (weapon, crew or provision). Further, if the player has more weapons than any other player, he receives the special Most Weapons marker, which allows him to board any player’s ship, even if they eventually have the same number of weapons. Like the Longest Road card in Settlers of Catan, this token can only be lost if another player accumulates more weapons than the current holder of the token. The holder of this token receives 2 VP at the end of the game.

The player with the most crew members receives the Largest Crew marker, which gives him an extra action at the end of his turn. Again, this token is worth 2 VP to its holder at the end of the game.

The player with the most provisions receives the Most Provisions marker, which enables him to score one additional victory point each time he arrives at a port. Again, the holder receives 2 VP at the end of the game.

Booty is a bit different (no comments, please). When a player arrives at a port whose victory point tile depicts a treasure chest, he takes a card from the Buried Treasure deck. These cards list the name of a port. If the player visits that port during the course of the game, he reveals the card and receives a number of victory points as listed on his current position on the “Booty” chart, which increases from 2 – 7.  Thus, the rewards increase with each subsequent buried treasure located.

Another aspect of the game worth discussing is that of reputation. When a pirate enters a port for the first time, the natives will be suitably impressed (or perhaps frightened!). If the pirate has at least as many weapons as any other pirate ship that may be present at that port, he may place a cube from his reserve onto that port. When a player establishes reputation at all three islands in a region, he receives bonus victory points, depending upon the order in which he established that reputation.

The first player to establish reputation in a region receives 7 VP.
The second player – 5 VP
The third player – 3 VP
The fourth player – 2 VP
The fifth player – 1 VP

Thus, there are numerous reasons to sail to various islands. There is a constant struggle occurring amongst the players for the most weapons, crew and provisions. The victory point tiles will be an enticement for this reason, as well as the number of points they instantly award. Being the first to establish reputation at all three islands in a region richly rewards the notorious player, as does the rewards reaped from pursuing buried treasure. Players have numerous goals to pursue, but rarely enough time to achieve them all.

The game is played over nine turns. At its conclusion, players will tally victory points for their weapons, crew, provisions and wind cubes. Every three weapons and every three wind cubes earn a victory point; every two crew members earns a victory point; each provision earns a victory point. Since fractions are dropped, the astute player will try to maximize his score by securing the correct number of each of these items so as to not lose out on victory points. After these points are added, the player with the most victory points is the terror of the seas and the envy of all other pirates.

There often is quite a bit a player needs to accomplish during a turn … or over the course of a few turns. Sometimes these plans can be upset by the wind voting and/or action cards played by opponents. Thus, this is not a “execute your perfect plan” type of game. Opponents can and usually will have a direct effect on your plans and will hassle you whenever the opportunity arises. The cards can inject a bit of chaos into the system, but it is usually fairly minor. There are no cards that are absolutely devastating.

The feel I get is one of shifting priorities. It is quite likely that players will establish a plan, then be forced to adapt that plan as various circumstances arise. Doggedly pursuing one strategy without deviation is likely not to succeed very often. There are often several tasks a player wishes to accomplish during a turn, but it is only possible to achieve one or two of them. Prioritizing is essential.

I find the game to be quite fun and challenging. There was a continuous level of anxiety present throughout as I worried about what actions my opponents were taking and how that would affect my plans. Often I was forced to divert from my original plans to either take advantage of a sudden opportunity or to regain ground due to a dastardly act by an opponent. On some turns, three actions just was not enough to accomplish my plans, while on a few turns, I wished that there were other possible actions allowed by the game system.

The game seems to be very well balanced and it flows smoothly. There were no real rules ambiguities and the event cards did not cause confusion. As mentioned, I do wish there were a greater variety of event cards and I am not fond of the card that grants a player three new actions. Other than these minor quibbles, I find Winds of Plunder to be entertaining, challenging and fun to play. I am very happy that it has finally been released.

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Responses

  1. Seems to be a mean game. It was also long. The bidding for the wind direction with the wind cubes is a neat idea. 6/10


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