Home Forums General Game Design Tell Me If This Sounds Like It Might Work?

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    Avatar photoDan Kennedy

    There’s been a nice period of time for the last couple of years where my eldest grew old enough not to play with the funny coloured map and little cardboard counters daddy puts on the kitchen table, and the youngest was still too small to find out.

    That blessed time has passed, and after the destruction of a couple of divisions and some air support the board games have had to go back in the cupboard again for what I’m sure will be another couple of years; youngest child is quite the force of nature compared to eldest!

    I don’t want to wait two or more years to play games at home, so I’ve given myself a project; how can a make a game which I can play with my wife on a small table in the living room, using a deck of regular playing cards, a small reference sheet and a place to roll dice as the only play aids?


    After some thought I’ve come up with two projects, one fantasy-based and one science-fiction, and I’m pursuing the fantasy idea first. I’ve always liked the motif of a game of marauding pirates, and want something like that. It has to be a two-player game, able to be set up in 5 minutes or less, playable to a conclusion in under two hours (before we both fall asleep on the sofa), and quick to pack up.

    Here’s what I’m thinking. I printed off a lot of blank hex sheets which I intend to fill with varieties of terrain, islands, coastal edges etc, so as to be able to create a different board each game. These get laid out on the table and players choose sides – one person controls the pirates, the other is the Navy. The Pirate player either chooses or randomly rolls for a number of secret objectives and notes these. If they fulfil them all then the Pirate player wins. The Navy player must track down and destroy or capture all the Pirate ships. Both players also control a number of Civilian ships, which they move around the board from one port to another, trading and making a small profit for themselves as they go.

    The point behind these Civilian ships is that each turn the Pirate player may choose to reveal one or more of them as actually being Pirate vessels, and the Naval player may reveal one or more of theirs as being Privateer vessels. When they are operating as such they gain further abilities which allow the Pirate player to try for their secret objectives and the Naval player to have more options in hunting down the Pirates. However, under certain circumstances the Pirate player can try to convert a Privateer vessel into a Pirate. Once Pirates and Privateers reach a port they may be turned back into Civilian vessels again.

    The idea I’m chasing is that, firstly, the only vessels on the board whose identity is always known are the Naval ones; powerful and fast, they are few in number. Everyone else is always drifting in and out of sight, changing flags and disguises. Also, I like the idea of being able to make money of the ships while they’re in their Civilian guise because it gives the players another dilemma – make money or chase the bigger picture. Overall I’m thinking about something fun and engaging which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

    Essentially the Pirate player is running around the board trying to find treasure, settle debts, avenge betrayals or make alliances, and the Naval player is trying to stop them. Both players may interact with the inhabitants of the islands or coastal regions on the board, trading with them, talking to them, joining forces or attacking them as they see fit.

    Each turn you choose just one vessel to use, and can give it one or more orders, depending on the quality of the Crew. These can be to Move, Fight, Raid, Negotiate, Trade, or Spy. Vessels can be given more orders than that but get fatigued, affecting performance later on.


    That’s the basic outline; I want to flesh it out further down the line with random events and so forth, giving it a sense of some kind of ‘fantasy pirates’ vibe, including orcs, elves, drones, fantastic beasts, magic and so on. Does it sound like the start of something that could work?

    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Yes, of course it might work, but the prrof of the pudding is in the eating 😉

    Any game with deception (in your game, vessels that change identity) only works if there’s a motive to deceive. If there’s only one path to victory, then deception doesn’t work, because it’s always obvious for everyone what the good strategy is. So there need to be various strategies to allow players to keep up the deceptions for some time.


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