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Blackbeard: The Golden Age of Piracy
List Price: $35.00
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One of the most popular, and successful, Avalon Hill games of the late 1980's was Blackbeard, a pirate game totally different from any others available because it simulated the actual life and careers of historical pirates, and how they went about their chosen professions.
Richard Berg has now taken the original and redesigned it, almost entirely, to bring it into line with what gamers like to see and play these days. All those pirates you loved -- Black Bart Roberts, Long Ben Avery, Ned Lowe, L'Ollonais, and, of course, Edward Teach (Blackbeard) -- 23 in all, are still there, as are the King's Commissioners sent out to stop them. However, the entire play system has been overhauled, and the result is a game that highlights and specializes in player interaction, with almost no down time for any players.
Players represent individual pirates, using them to gain Victory Points by amassing booty and, even more importantly, earning Notoriety for their dastardly deeds. Seizing merchants with cargo ranging from useless paper to the monumental treasure of the Mughal emperors, attacking and sacking ports, fighting storms and scurvy, seeking safe haven in infamous pirate ports such as Tortuga and Madagascar, and, hopefully, using Letters of Marque to retire successfully.
And while the player is doing this, all of the other players, at the same time, are playing their cards and seizing opportunities to stop the pirates. There is a constant interplay among players, and you never know what is going to happen when you set out to do something.
GMT has simplified movement (no more hexes) and ship battles, expanded the use of Royal Navy warships, and even added individual hostages! (Yes, there is a "Governor's Daughter".)
Here are some comments from the horde of playtesters -- Blackbeard received the largest playtester request response of any game Richard Berg has ever designed, both on Consimworld and The Boardgame Geek -- that have been swabbing the cardboard decks for several intense and inventive months:
"I do like it -- moves fast, improvements such as ease of placing ships a help, love the anti-pirate possibilities." (Katharine Bartlett)
"The original Blackbeard was a flawed success. The new version has addressed all these concerns and improved game play while streamlining the mechanics (no mean feat)... the new rules make teaching the game fairly painless. The elimination of 'Game turns' while introducing anti-pirate actions has worked out very well. Instead of sitting around waiting for their next turn, players are required to pay attention to what everyone else is doing and pounce on any opportunity that arises to 'mess' with their opponents' plans.... The game came in under three hours. Play was, as usual, fast and smooth. Originally, I was playing the game to test it. Now I want to continue to play it because it's a fun time." (David Klempa)
"Mechanics are much tighter and there is a better balance between the differing strategies.... Would we buy -- yes by all three -- amazing considering one is a pongo (Brit navy slang for an army officer)." (Kevin Grimsley)
Blackbeard is designed for 2-5 players, along with specific rules for solitaire play. Playing time, as noted above, for a full game has been three hours.
- 1 34x22-inch game board
- 110 cards in 2 decks
- 2 sheets of counters
- 10 Pirate Displays
- 1 Charts & Tables Card
- 1 Actions Summary Card
- 1 Rule Book
- 2 six-sided dice
Average Rating: 3.6 in 7 reviews
I love this game, my friend owns is, and I beg him on a weekly basis to play it. Only one thing wrong with the game. It takes a very long time to play, and needs a dedicated 6 hour period to set up and complete the game. The game is very unforgiving, and plays out to luck more than a rendering of skill. Treachery is abound and the rules are superior. Rules are EASY to get to, and are simply explanitory.
Our group has adapted the rule of making the other person role to Retire where you can't use Cunning to prevent him to do so. Everything else we pretty much use in the game. The first time I won it I killed Peter Blood (my thrid Pirate) on the guns of a French Port in the Carribean...
Once you play it, you'll be instantly addicted!
Blackbeard allows you to sail freely across the seas, plundering and looting. Once you are familar with the rather intimidating manual and its rules, you'll enjoy this one. Just make sure you have a big table to play on and lots of time! Blackbeard has tons of cards, markers, dice, etc.
One of the cooler features is that your character can suffer battle injuries, like losing an eye or leg, which stay with you and affect your abilities in the future. Also, the Random Event cards keep things lively. One nice variant is to have someone play a King's Commisioner for the whole game. Sorta a piratey Cops & Robbers. The solitaire game also lets you plunder alone and is actually pretty fun!
This is probably my favorite game. We have even adapted it to play via email and are playing it at Games Pirates Play, a forum devoted to board/card games with a pirate theme.
So after a long wait I finally got to play the new Blackbeard; with actual people even. Before my actual review I will supply a little history between me and this game.
I was introduced to the original way back in 1997 by a friend of mine who had 3 copies and declared a Blackbeard night where there was four of us at each table. I very quickly fell in love with the original and acquired a first and second edition off of ebay several years after the fact. Then there was a problem, our original game group split up and my new group was very abrasive towards the game; not willing to spend that much time to learn the rules or deal with tons of chits. So thus my neat copies of Blackbeard including a bagged copy of Avalon Hill's the General spotlighting the games became a collectible instead of a game.
This brings us up to the new Blackbeard. I was really excited when I heard about the play test for the new version. So with that excitement came the pre-order and with that pre-order the wait, and the wait, the very long wait; The wait that lasted a little over a year. So when my copy finally arrived I couldn't get the chits separated and bagged fast enough. For several days I poured over the rules, downloaded play aids, and even made a game outline as a reference. So then finally game night hit. After reading several complaints from people that played the original about the new version I decided to play with three people that had never played the original and had never seen a game with tons of cardboard chits. So this review is the collected experiences between me who played the original and the three other individuals; one being my wife, the other a short attention spanned miniatures gamer, and a ccg nut.
First off the components:
The new artwork is great. The style fits the theme very well. The new map is great looking and I love the nice old world feel of it. The only complaint about it was from our miniatures gamer who had a hard time differentiating the lines that separated the sea zones. The new ship boards are great looking and very easy to read. The cards are very thick and solid. The chits are good quality and actually blend in with the stylized artwork very well. The box is your standard GMT indestructible box. I believe our post apocalyptic society will have large quantities of cockroaches living in these while driving their Dodge Darts. Anyway the box looks really nice. The rule book is styled with the rest of the game and fits in with the theme well.
These have been getting a lot of flack on the geek but I don't think they are as bad as everyone makes them out to be. I found the new instructions much easier to deal with than the old rule book, with any of the gray areas easily filled in with little effort. It is best to get the turn overview down on the first play and go from there. After the first few turns the standard actions become second nature. It is one of those games where you have to play it to really grasp the rules. This rule set is much easier to plod through than the original Avalon Hill version.
The Game play:
Aside from the early on occasional rule check it plays really quick. Our first game took about four hours if you count the set up and conveying the rules to the rest of the group. The big thing is that it didn't feel like four hours. Everyone at the table was having fun and enjoying all the options that they had during their turn. The way the events are handled in this new version help speed up the game a lot. The original version they were all handled with just the turn of the first event card. In they new one you have play now events that occur when your refilling your hand; coupled with the other players being able to play cards on you as an anti-pirate actions. Having the other players having the ability to play cards on the active pirate really reduces the sense of down time between turns that was present in the old version. I was originally against the change in how the turn order from the old version which was based on what the event card said to a standard 1st player, 2nd player, etc. style of turn order. But after seeing how the new game flows coupled with how events are now handled quickly changed my mind. The use of the event cards to decide how many action points you get makes for great decisions in what kind of cards you play. The use of sea zones over the hexes speeds up the game a lot, though things like scurvy are no longer as deadly as it used to be since it is easier to get to port to rid yourself of it. Bundling most of your in port actions together into a single point cost is another big plus. Although there are several things you could do in the old version that are not available or that were simplified in the newer version; this newer version just simply has a better flow and is more accessible play wise.
This game plays great. The changes made to it I think were implemented very well and have not compromised the game one bit. You still feel like your a pirate. The game time goes by quick and does not drag on at all. At the endgame you feel like you had a solid game experience and was not robbed by either your purchase or time spent in gaming and Preparation. This will definitely hit the table more with the same group and other newbies. So as a player of both the original and this new incarnation I can say the original will still be considered a collectible; only dusted off from time to time for nostalgia but this new animal has became the game to play.
Blackbeard does a great job of simulating the rollercoaster lifestyle of the pirate. The game's events are unpredictable, and each pirate quite often spends much of his time waiting for something to happen to him. Unfortunately, this doesn't blend as well as it should into a game: while the game mechanism is top-notch, it's not always fun to sit around waiting for your turn to come up. There's also a fair bit of luck involved in order to win. In one game that our gaming group sat through, I completely dominated, merely through having the best events happen constantly to me, whereas the other players tended to contract scurvy or get wounded quite frequently. This sort of gameplay (while impressive to a history nut) will no doubt turn off many people who would otherwise like a game of this genre. The rules can also be a little too complicated at times. Finally, there are so many tiles and counters to keep separated that not only does it take an age to set the game up before playing, but you'll always be afraid of losing some of the pieces. A nice try from Avalon Hill, but this one may be destined to hang from the yard arm.
Blackbeard is a very enjoyable game for those who don't mind a bit of tediousness. The game has an incredibly well-designed game balance. If another pirate is gaining notoriety faster than you and it appears he/she can't be caught, you can petition to become a King's Commisioner (with a seriously lethal warship, I might add) to hunt the scoundrel down!
On the negative side, there are some lengthy procedures, events that make you shuffle the deck every five minutes, and tons of counters with no tray for them that make for a lot of lost game time. The game is also a little too dice-driven for my taste, or else I would give it 5 stars.
The game can be long at first with a lot of rule-reading, so try and play with someone who has played before, if at all possible. The game is best with 4 players and takes about 3 1/2 hours.
I owned the original Blackbeard game from Avalon Hill because the pirate theme really appeals to me; but the rules really put me off from ever learning the game, and eventually I traded it away. However, the designer - Richard Berg - announced a while back that he was going to upgrade and revise the game, and with the new publisher (GMT Games) I had a lot of high hopes for the game. The game, which was published early 2008, had tremendous artwork and although the rulebook looked just as daunting as the original game, I was determined to try it out.
After playing it, I am convinced that Blackbeard is "much ado about nothing." There are a lot of rules in the game, and it has a fairly complex feel, but the actual game play can be boiled down to a very simple, easy-going game, one that is much too light for this amount of rules. Pirates are extremely powerful, pirate hunters are weak, and a few choices are obvious to the point where I'm not sure why they were included. The game is involving and likely is more historical than other pirate games. I just don't think the amount of fun I get from it justifies the three hour playing time.
A few comments on the game:
- History: There is a section in the rulebook that gives the
biographies of the pirates involved in the game, and I found it
completely fascinating to read. I really do appreciate how much
effort Berg put into the game, and how he attempted to keep it more
historical than the typical romantic pirate game. At the same time,
however, I'm not sure this is a good thing from a "game" perspective.
If I was attempting to play a straight historical simulation (which I
rarely ever want), then this would make more sense. However, the
actual lives of pirates were gross, disgusting, vulgar, and horrific -
and I can't imagine wanting to simulate that - I prefer the movie
versions, thank you. Secondly, the historical accuracy seems to
demand a certain number of rules that I think tend to bog the game
down, rather than make it more enjoyable. Thirdly, the game, despite
the historical trappings, still plays like a romanticized "my pirate
is the most awesome ever" game regardless - so what was the point?
- Rules: The rulebook is twenty-eight pages long; and even with
the four page reference sheet, it can be very daunting. Even with a
full knowledge of the rules, it takes me about twenty to thirty
minutes to explain the game, and that's skipping the exceptions and
all the possibilities. We found ourselves referring to the rulebook
multiple times during the game; and while some parts were very clear,
other sections simply were not very well defined - particularly the
control of the King's Commissioners. Some folks will revel in the
vast amount of rules, with others thinking that I'm griping about a
rulebook which is shorter than one they normally deal with. My
contention is that this game, in essence, is a simple "take that"
pirate game, determined by some lucky die rolls and card play. To
have twenty pages of rules tacked onto that seems extreme and will
keep many folks from playing the game who otherwise would have enjoyed it.
- Pirates: As I said, I enjoyed the historical flavor of the
pirates in the game, and I think the game does a superb job of
representing the pirates in six statistics. It took heavy perusing of
the rules and playing the game to determine that these six stats are
NOT created equal, having a high ability is more important than
anything else; but it was fun nevertheless. I enjoyed how a player
could play multiple pirates and replace a pirate if it was retired/killed.
- Players: I think it's insanity to play with five players (and
optional rules allow more than that!) due to ridiculous downtime, and
the game seems to work best with two or three players. Even though
the game has a clever "anti-pirate" mechanic built in, during which
players can attempt to play cards on opponent's turns to stop them
from ruling the seas, player turns can still take a long time to
finish, and this can draw out the total game length. Besides, in a
smaller game, players have more pirates to control. Putting all of
your game hopes and dreams into one or two pirates adds a bit too much
luck to the game - a terrible pirate is not something I want to spend
three hours controlling. There is also a solitaire variant included,
which is okay; but for the amount of bookkeeping effort that
Blackbeard involves, I'd rather play a computer game.
- Components: The board looks fantastic; and while it is a thin
cardboard foldout, it makes great use of the space for a very playable
map of the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean. The tokens are also fairly
useful, although there are a ton of them - with the exception of the
number tokens. The game requires the use of these to determine a
pirate's treasure and notoriety, but there simply aren't enough of
them for a full load of pirates. We found ourselves constantly
running out of "0" markers. Other than that, everything is fine -
especially the absolutely terrific cards - and the artwork is
stunning! The game takes a good deal of time to set up, although with
practice you can likely have it done in twenty minutes.
- Things I liked: There were many things in the game I found enjoyable:
- The anti-pirate turn is a welcome way to give players an opportunity to get involved during other player's turns. The idea of controlling the "good guys" in an effort to stop other players is enjoyable and works well.
- The randomization of ports worked extremely well, and I enjoyed how merchant ships randomly showed up over the map. Hunting for a ship and finding out it was a prize catch was also quite enjoyable.
- The IDEA of crew morale is very interesting, and I liked the few cards that referenced it.
- The pirate ratings are interesting, and it was fun to role-play the different styles that they used (reading about them in the rules is a MUST).
- Movement and card play is very well done, and the charts help keep things moving quickly.
- Attacking a city (such as New York) is extremely hard, and I was glad that it wasn't something taken for granted. The rewards are great, though; so the temptation is always there.
- Controlling multiple pirates is enjoyable, especially when one of them is faring poorly - at least you can take comfort in your other captains.
- Things I didn't enjoy: However, there were several things I did
not like about the game:
- What is the point of warships? They, along with the King's Commissioners, are very underpowered, and pirates can take them out unless they are extremely unlucky. As a pirate, this is a good thing, but it's very irritating that the force I sent to take out another player's pirate simply gives them more points. The game doesn't really encourage the use of attacking of other ships, since you just are helping them more than hurting them. Note: There are some revisions (as of June 2008) that attempt to increase the power of both ships, but they are not included in the game, and don't seem to do enough - although I have only read them, not played them.
- Why would a player ever keep a hostage? Torturing them (as bad as this sounds) is much more profitable and will produce more points for the player in the long run. I don't understand why hostage-taking is included in the game, other than role-playing.
- Cards have a vast difference in power. Some can completely mess up another player; others cause such a little effect that I don't know why they were included.
- Morale sounds like a good idea, but even with all the other players actively striving to cause it to go down, it would take a stupid player to ever have their morale get very low. Mutinies can still happen (blind luck mostly), but morale for the most part just is a pretty addition to the game, without any real substance.
- Much of the game revolves around the capturing of merchant ships. While there are some variables to consider (some are in better seas, others are near ports a player may have an eye on), it often comes down to outrageous luck. One player may capture a ship overflowing with treasure and a valuable hostage, while another may hunt for a while for a ship - only to find a lean, pathetic vessel. Now I'm all for luck involved in games, but the luck here swings rather wildly; and in a three hour game, it just doesn't even out.
- Luck: Again, I'm all for games that utilize luck - it keeps them
interesting. But when a three hour game comes down to a few major
lucky breaks (or unlucky events), then I start to lose interest.
Blackbeard has all the trimmings of a major game; and the theme is
there, from scurvy, to mutinies, to pirates taking some good old R & R
(or the pirate equivalent therein). But all that is ruined when you
lose a notorious pirate that you've just spent an hour working on, or
when you watch Capt'n McLucky cash in on huge ship after huge ship.
The game supposedly evens out, with all the other players ganging up
on the leader, but a player can still have the luck of the Irish and
escape with their lives.
- Charts: Blackbeard is an old AH game and designed by Richard
Berg, so I guess the vast amount of charts are to be expected. I'm
very glad they are included in a separate card, and even though they
look fairly daunting, many of them become rather intuitive, as the
game goes by. Still, once again I must protest all these modifiers,
which often prove meaningless over the course of the game. I want them
if they are useful; but for the most part a good die roll rules, while
a bad die roll causes anguish.
You may be wondering if I'm the target audience for Blackbeard at this point, given my overall unhappiness with the product. I really think that I am, because I want a good pirate simulation, a more meaningful experience than the silly pirate games I normally play and enjoy. And there was so much of Blackbeard that I did enjoy -the theme, the pirates, the map, the hunting for treasure, and the bribing of governors. However, when viewed from a distance, Blackbeard is simply another frivolous pirate game with serious trappings; and I don't think the thematic experience is matched by the game play. It certainly looks a lot better than the previous edition, but I still think the luck and "pretend" complexity are flaws that will keep me from playing.
"Real men play board games"
I expected exciting sail-fighting and bloody boarding action in this game. I imagined myself surrounded with treasure I got at my last play.
Unfortunately, this game cannot satisfy my expectations and desires. Instead, it teaches me how difficult it would be to survive as a pirate for a long period. It's definitely a good simulation, and it shows the real situation of the pirates, but, in my opinion, it's not so exciting.