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Winds of Plunder
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Dangerous pirates are sailing on the high seas, ready to board your ship and steal victory! Sail your own Pirate ship throughout the islands of the Caribbean, stopping at as many ports of call as possible to enhance your reputation as a fierce Buccaneer. Battle with your opponents, board their ships and take their crew and provisions. Finding treasures with Buried Treasure maps can earn you even more Victory points, but make sure the winds are blowing in the right direction! Learn to use the stronger East-West winds to your advantage. Cooperate with other Pirates to have the wind blow where you need it and use your allotted actions wisely to keep your score in the running for the win.
Winds of Plunder is a Euro-style board game set at the close of the Golden Age of Piracy. In this game, pirates have naught to fear but each other as they plunder the Caribbean. But peace has broken out in Europe, and the clock is now ticking on the days of easy piracy.
As the name implies, there are two central elements to each turn of the game: manipulating the Winds, then gathering as much Plunder for your ship as possible. Plunder translates into Victory Points, and the player with the most Victory Points after nine game turns is the winner.
Wind direction and turn order are both re-established each turn by voting with a renewable but limited supply of Wind cubes. Players must decide whether to seize control of the winds directly, cooperate with others, or position themselves while plundering to take advantage of their opponents' placement. But while voting for wind direction can be cooperative, the same Wind cubes voted also apply to control of turn order for plundering -- and there, it's every pirate for himself!
After establishing the wind direction, players spend actions and sail in order to gain plunder. The route to victory becomes easier for the players who amass the most Weapons, Crew, and/or Provisions aboard their ships as they sail. Each of these shipboard items confers special advantages.
Plunder takes many forms: directly with Victory Points gained from ports, each other, and from establishing reputations in the various map areas; indirectly at the game's end with Weapons, Crew, Provisions, and unused Wind cubes.
Rules and references for this game will appear in four languages: English, French, German, and Italian. Cards will be in English; a multi-lingual text reference for the cards will be provided where necessary.
- A mounted game board depicting the map and the shipboard tally areas
- Instruction booklet
- Quick Start sheet
- Pictographic Reference sheet / Card Text sheet
- Wind arrow marker
- Game Round marker
- "Blackbeard's" tile
- 18 Victory Point tiles
- 55 playing cards (total)
- 5 Compass tiles (one per player) with rotatable arrow indicators
- 5 sets of player pieces in different colors, each containing:
- 30 wooden Wind cubes,
- a wooden pirate ship marker
- a scoring disc
Average Rating: 3.8 in 2 reviews
Winds of Plunder (GMT Games, 2007 – Alan Newman) is a game that came with more pre-hype than almost any other game that I’ve known. For years, it was talked about on the internet as a new pirate game, and how it would be out quite soon. Finally, finally, the game has been released, and I finally got a chance to play what a few called the definitive pirate game. Hearing praise for a game over four years certainly whets your appetite, and I was very eager to try Winds of Plunder, as soon as I got it.
My opinion of Winds of Plunder has changed over multiple playings. At first I thought that the game lacked the feeling of a true pirate game and was awfully mean spirited. But I see now that this high interaction is actually befitting the theme, and that the game itself is quite good. I have a few small problems with the game – it’s hard to stop a runaway leader, and the point totals often feel contrived. However, there are multiple paths to victory, and despite odd theming (bidding for wind?), the game is actually quite fun. Winds of Plunder is a very good game – not great – but one that will give a good deal of enjoyment over many plays.
The game takes place in the Caribbean Sea, split into four zones – each zone containing three ports. Players use cards to determine which of six starting ports they place their ship in, and then place cubes of their matching color at the bottom four tracks – Weapons, Crew, Provisions, and Booty. Players also place a disc on a scoring track, and take a compass tile, as well as ten cubes of their color, placing the remaining sixteen cubes in the “reserve” supply. Eighteen victory point tiles are shuffled, and then one is placed face up in each of the twelve ports, and the other six are placed in a tile rotation bar. A pile of twelve buried treasure cards are shuffled and placed next to a pile of shuffled action cards. A wind arrow is placed on a compass pointing north, and a round marker place on the first space of the game round track (with nine spaces). Four “advantage” tiles are placed near the board, and then the first round is ready to begin!
The first part of each round consists of the “wind voting”. Each player secretly picks the direction they want the wind to blow using their compass, and the amount of cubes they are bidding. All of these are revealed simultaneously, with the player who bids the most cubes winning the Blackbeard tile (ownership of this tile allows the player to break all ties). Then, the wind arrow is changed to reflect the new direction the wind blows (determined by the most cubes), and all players place all cubes used in the reserve. The player with the Blackbeard tile then chooses whether they will go first, or if another player will go first, and the round proceeds to the plundering phase.
In this phase, players – in turn order – move and spend three action points. They can do this in any order. Players may spend their action points in the following ways:
- 1 point: Take an Action card
- 1 point: Take two cubes from the reserve
- 1 point: Play an Action card
- 2 points: Take five cubes from the reserve
- 3 points: Use a “Gust of Wind”, effectively treating the wind as if it was blowing from any direction, or adding one to the strength of the wind
- 3 points: Take nine cubes from the reserve.
When moving, the player MUST move to a port in the direction indicated by the wind. When the wind is blowing north or south, the player must move to a port in either the same or adjacent zones that is in the direction indicated (the map is pretty clear on which ports are north/south of which). When the wind is blowing east or west, the player must move to a port that is one or two zones away in the direction indicated. When a player moves to a port, they follow a specific sequence. First, they take the victory point tile at that point and immediately move their cube on the corresponding track that is shown on the tile (weapons, crew, or provisions). Some tiles show a treasure map, which allows the player to draw the top treasure card – if any, and some tiles allow a player to gain two items. If a player at this point has the most crew, weapons, or provisions, they take the corresponding advantage card and place it in front of themselves. They then score the victory points indicated on it (two through five). The tile is then removed and placed in the first space of the rotation bar, moving all the other tiles over one, with the last being placed in the port in question.
Then the player can claim buried treasure, if they happen to have the treasure card that matches that port. They show and discard the card (at the bottom of the treasure deck) and advance their Booty counter one space, taking the amount of points on that space (goes from “2” to “7”). If another player is at the same port, the moving player may “board” them, if they have more weapons or the Most Weapons advantage marker. The boarding player may steal either two victory points or one item (weapons, crew, or provisions). Finally, the player places one of their cubes from the reserve onto the port to show their reputation there IF they have at least as many weapons as every other ship currently at the port. The first player to have reputation at all three ports in a zone scores seven victory points, the second five points, the third three points, the fourth two points, and the fifth one point.
After a player has used their actions and moved, the next player goes; until all players have had a turn. The round marker is then moved one space, and bidding begins again. As the game progresses, players are attempting to gain one of the three advantage cards:
- Most weapons: Allows a player to win ties when trying to board another player.
- Largest crew: Allows a player one extra action point per turn but must be taken AFTER movement.
- Most provisions: Gives the player an extra victory point when sailing into port. Players also can play thirteen different action cards on their turn for one action point. Some examples include:
- Choose an opponent to lose one crew.
- Steal half the wind cubes (up to five) from one opponent.
- Switch two victory point tiles.
- Sail twice this turn (but only if in last place)
- Buy one weapon for two victory points
- All other players discard down to two action cards.
At the end of the ninth round, final scoring occurs. Each player gets one victory point for
- every three cubes in the main supply
- every three weapons they have
- every two crews they have
- every provision they have
Some comments on the game…
- Components: The game comes with some nice bits – especially for a
GMT game. The mounted board is very nicely decorated, and all tracks,
ports, and zones are differentiated clearly. The colors are included
to help players locate the different ports when checking their
treasure cards. The tiles are nice and thick, and the wind compasses
are easy to use, and the cubes – well, they’re the typical wooden
cubes you get in all these type of games. Everything fits nicely into
a very sturdy box, which may just be one of the nicest box designs
that I’ve ever seen – very piratey.
- Rules: The rulebook is twelve pages and is absolutely excellently
written (of course – they had several years to get it right). But
there are detailed descriptions of how each action card is used,
clarifying the game so that players understand exactly what is going
on. I found the action cards to be very self-explanatory, and the
reference sheets included with the game are quite handy. In fact, the
quick start sheet is enough to teach you the game – and it’s simply
one page! Players quickly understand the game after watching one
turn, and everything runs smoothly after that.
- Meanness: I expect that this is to be desired in a pirate game –
I don’t think they were friendly with each other – but folks who don’t
like direct conflict should probably avoid this game. Boarding
happens quite a bit; if you have more cannons than an opponent, it’s
certainly a tempting opportunity to steal from them, hurting them
while giving you great advantage. Many of the action cards also allow
a player to directly affect an opponent. Are they hoarding action
cards? Discard all but two. Are they hoarding cubes? Steal half of
them. Do they have too many weapons? Make ‘em lose one. This does
cause a bit of “gang up on the leader” play, as the player who is
potentially winning at any point is bound to have a lot of bad events
happen to them.
- Weapons: I’d really like to be persuaded that weapons aren’t the
most important thing for any player to have, because in my next
playing of the game – I’m going to hoard them all if possible.
Weapons are worth the least points at the end of the game, but the
fact remains that if I have the most weapons, I can simply take what I
want from the other players! Now, despite this, an interesting
development can occur as players get caught up in arms races; another
player can sneak in for the win – but having a lot of cannons is truly
- Leader: In the games I’ve played, often one player ends up with
all three advantage markers. Usually a concerted effort by the other
players will bring them down, but it’s still a difficult thing; and an
unchecked player can run off with the victory – especially when
playing new players. There are a lot of strategies that players can
take during the game, but ignoring other players will most likely
cause a loss.
- Theme: The theme is fairly rich, with attacks on other players,
causing mutinies on their ships, tavern brawls, and more. What I
cannot buy is the bidding for the wind! I know that it’s actually
quite a good mechanic and is critical to strategy, but since when do
pirates control the wind? (recent popular movie excepted) I just
found it odd, considering the rest of the game.
- Wind: Despite the strange theme, I do think that this is a
crucial point to the game, one that players ignore at their own peril.
Occasionally, a player is forced to go to the same port because of
wind factors (something that will often mess them up with their
treasure cards and/or port bonuses). Players can use a “Gust of Wind”
to save themselves but give up valuable action cards to do so.
Bidding the most cubes also gives one the coveted Blackbeard tile,
which allows you to choose who goes first – something that’s important
when establishing port bonuses, or boarding each other.
- Fun Factor and Strategy: For me, the thing I enjoyed most about
Winds of Plunder is that there are multiple paths to gaining points.
Players can attempt to get a heavily-weaponed ship and take plunder
from others, or score as many port bonuses as possible, or fill up
with provisions, or simply go to the ports with higher points, or try
to score as many treasure cards as they can. Combinations of
strategies are possible, and it’s this that keeps the game flowing and
exciting. I do think that the point totals are near each other the
entire game; and while it’s a bit artificial (it’s hard NOT to get
points), it does keep the game exciting to the end. It’s fair to
point at here that some people, especially those who were seeking a
“pure” pirate game, were quite disappointed by the game play. Not
everybody thought is was a great game.
Winds of Plunder is a fun, “Euro”style game in which players are attempting to maximize points with different, interesting strategies. The theme is mostly there, and the conflict interaction is high. Some people will most likely be turned away by the hard hitting action cards; others will dislike some of the abstract mechanics, but most people will like the game for what it is, a solid design with excellent components. Best with five players, Winds of Plunder isn’t the definitive pirate game. But it’s a good one.
“Real men play board games”
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’s 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 isn’t 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’m 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 isn’t cooperating. Of course, it is costly, as it takes all of a player’s action points to execute.
So what’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t cause confusion. As mentioned, I do wish there were a greater variety of event cards and I’m 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’m very happy that it has finally been released.