“The Van Ness’ have hit a sweet spot of doing something new with something old. ”
Publisher: Soaring Rhino
Designer: Craig Van Ness
Designer: Jeff Van Ness
Artist: JJ Ariosa
Game Type: Trick Taking
Initial Year of Release: 2019
Age Range: 8+
Expected Playtime: 30-45
Number of Players: 3-5
Theme and What is it?
You are a scurvy pirate captain, sending your crew into battle, and they can only win when you send enough of them to attack, or when you send your red mercenaries to beat up on the plebes… You sir are a trick taking pirate captain…
Captain Scurvy Dog, welcome to your trick taking card game.
I grew up playing trick taking games, Euchre, easily being the game that comes to mind. Unlike many board games, I have played Euchre probably thousands of times. The reason for this, is the game is nearly perfect, apart from the fact that you always have to depend on a partner that may or may not play like you or pay attention to how you play, and vice versa.
Pirate Tricks for good or bad fixes some of the complaints of my favorite trick taking game. But, how does it hold up?
The Van Ness’ have seen one of the glaring issues in trick games, that says, good cards will always beat good strategy. They now allow you to bid on part of your hand, and discard the two cards that least help you achieve your goals.
First deal each player 5 cards, then deal three rows of 5 cards face up, and two cards face down. You will be bidding on these rows. If that was the entire game, it would “literally” not add anything worthwhile to the world of trick taking, apart from getting to see cards and bid on them. This in and of itself, does not excite me.
What does make this mechanic quite unique, and very interesting is the variable goals in the form of a capture card, a recruitment card, and a treasure card. In the first hand of the last game I played, tricks were worth more, 12’s allowed you to steal loons, and reds (trump) allowed you to gloriously take negative points, or lots of negative in the case of the 14 and 16.
When you combine these two mechanics, bidding, with variable goals, the game becomes interesting.
On average, when a designer tells me they have a NEW TRICK TAKING GAME!, they are excited, and I am thinking to myself meh.
This is probably truly unfair, as I have played some great trick taking games in the past two years. Sometimes, we all get inside our own head space, and it takes something cool to get us out of it.
Game Build Quality
This is the one issue I had with Soaring Rhino on their freshman debut, called Shifting Realms. I just was not a fan of the actual boards, they felt slight to me.
I was expecting the same or similar quality here. Soaring Rhino seems to have taken to heart some of the comments that were made about shifting realms, both in person, and in reviews. The cards are a nice stock, the money (loons) are a thicker stock, and the game just feels more substantial, albeit in a smaller form factor.
I hope this is a continuing trend, cannot wait to see Mammoth.
Spent some time looking up JJ Ariosa. His art is really quite cool. It just misses the bulls-eye for me in this game.
Perhaps it is just the underlying theme, but the art just does not add to the game in the way I like to see.
I have been a bit tough on Pirate Tricks.
This is why this next statement may surprise you, it is easily the most innovative trick taking game I have ever seen. The Van Ness’ have hit a sweet spot of doing something new with something old.
Age Range & Weight
8+. This game could easily be played by 8+, but the shifting aspect of the game, on a per round basis, might make mastering the game a bit hard for someone under 12.
My 7 year old daughter easily can understand the game, but lacks the overall gaming intellect to pay attention to end game aspects of the trick taking game. For this reason, I would say if you are playing with someone younger, play for fun, nit to keep track of the end game points.
I was very impressed by the trick taking aspect of the game having a shifting goal. It allowed the game to have a staying power that most trick taking games that are currently released will not have.
I will likely figure out a way to pack this in a smaller case, as I want the ability for this game to travel with me. This to me is the mark of a good smaller game, meaning it travels with you. Ultimately, the staying power of Pirate Tricks, is based on the gameplay, and though the art missed the mark for me, it is going to be traveling with me until another game takes its spot. For that reason alone, I give the game Two Thumbs up.