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10 best pirate board games

Treasure hunting.

Stories about pirates have been popular for centuries, with tales of real and fictional buccaneers providing great fodder for action and adventure. Brazen attacks on merchant vessels, rum-fueled antics and searches for potentially cursed treasure have made their way from folklore to dime novels to hit movies and video games, along with providing great flavour for plenty of the best pirate board games.

Which of these pirate board games are worth spending some of your hard earned booty on? Dicebreaker is here to steer you straight, scouring the seven seas for a mix of campaign-style narrative adventures, fast card games and titles that will actually teach you a bit about history. Board games about pirates are just as varied and colourful as the swashbucklers that inspired them.

Best pirate board games

The right games for you will depend on what you find compelling about pirate stories. Choose a fully co-op game option if you like to imagine being part of a loyal crew or a hidden-role game if you dream of fermenting mutiny. There are light games perfect for taking with you on your adventures and long, tactical games to replicate the feel of navigating the perilous waters during the Age of Sail. Whatever you’re seeking, avoid shipwreck by using this list as your map to cardboard treasure.


1. Forgotten Waters

Build your pirate legend in a semi-cooperative fantasy adventure

Forgotten Waters board game layout
Players in Forgotten Waters can choose to work together or against each other.

Plaid Hat Games invented the Crossroad narrative system for its zombie board game Dead of Winter, but it perfected it in the app-assisted pirate adventure Forgotten Waters. Three to seven players take on the roles of members of a pirate crew who must work together to serve their captain, but also have their own goals to pursue.

Those goals are represented by filling out stars on the constellation on a character sheet, which makes each player’s pirate better at certain skills and determines their outcome at the end of the game. Each sheet also contains a little Mad Libs narrative to add to the game’s zany flavour. Players will often choose between taking basic actions that benefit the ship, such as gathering supplies or charting a course, and ones that will give them personal glory.

The app allows the story to build on itself and change based on the decisions you’ve made in a way that would otherwise require a massive storybook. It also contains hilarious voice acting. With a huge number of missions to try, this pirate board game could easily become an excuse for a regular gathering of your real-life crew.

Buy Forgotten Waters on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Wheels highlights some of the best co-op board games.

2. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles

Level up as you sail around gathering loot and defeating monsters

An image of the box for Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skulls & Shackles.
Creating the best possible decks for each scenario is important in Skull & Shackles.

The most entertaining of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game campaigns is Skull & Shackles, which ditches conventional heroism in favour of swashbuckling adventures. The cooperative deckbuilding game based on the Pathfinder tabletop RPG starts with your party being press-ganged onto a pirate ship and leading a mutiny, using your new ship to cruise around an island chain and fight pirate warlords for dominance.

Like with the other version of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, you start with very basic gear and abilities, gathering loot, experience and allies as you progress through the campaign over the course of numerous sessions. The ability to upgrade your ship adds an extra wrinkle of strategy.

This adventure is particularly weird and silly, involving bribing people with rum and dealing with threats like a goose caught in your ship’s rigging. The character options match the tone - you’ll definitely want to incorporate the kleptomaniac goblin Ranzak who specialises in picking up junk cards no one else wants.

Buy Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles on Amazon UK and Amazon US


3. Dead Men Tell No Tales

Loot a burning, undead-infested ship and get out alive

An close-up image of the board for Dead Men Tell No Tales.
The players will need to be wary of sudden fires or even undead.

The pirates in Dead Men Tell No Tales must have one scary captain because they’ve somehow been persuaded to hunt for treasure on a ghost ship that’s also on fire. The mechanics combine aspects of collaborative classics Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, providing plenty of ways for all the players to lose and just one way to actually achieve victory.

You’ll build the ship as you go by laying down tiles and populating them with tokens which can represent guards, who drop the treasure chests you need to win the game when defeated, and a “skeleton crew” that will give you other useful items like healing grog or weapons. The tiles also have six-sided dice representing the state of the fire, and cards played at the end of every player turn can cause the blaze to get worse or send undead deckhands swarming around the ship.

Each character has a special ability and an item that makes them better at taking certain actions, or just gives them an extra action to use, and spending each round as efficiently as possible is key to victory. Without enough teamwork and a little luck, you’re likely to go down in a flaming wreck before you can escape with enough plunder.

Buy Dead Men Tell No Tales on Amazon UK and Amazon US


4. Jamaica

Navigate the shifting seas and gather treasure in a race against other pirate crews

An image of the box for the Jamaica board game.
Jamaica recently got a fancy new edition from publisher Space Cowboys.

Jamaica imagines a race organised by the historical privateer turned lieutenant governor of Jamaica, Henry Morgan, to celebrate his good fortune. Two to six players compete to gather the most gold and treasure and make it to the finish line, which requires careful management of their actions to make sure they have enough supplies to keep their crew fed.

At the start of each turn, the active player rolls a pair of dice and assigns the order in which they are resolved. Once they’ve seen the roll, the other players get to choose which of the action cards in their hand to play to make the most of the card’s action order. A card that provides a number of supplies equal to each die rolled is great to play on a high roll, while you’ll likely want to try to wait to play cards that move your ship backwards for when a low die is placed in the right spot.

You can also plot out movement to try and land in pirate lairs that hold treasure, which can provide permanent upgrades for your ship or points at the end of the game. They can also be cursed - giving you negative points unless you manage to offload them by attacking another player. Fail to gather enough food to feed your crew or coin to pay port fees, and you’ll be pushed back along the route. The fast-paced pirate board game doesn’t take long to learn, but it offers enough strategy to be highly satisfying.

Buy Jamaica on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Pirate's Parley Gaming! gives a quick summary of Jamaica.

5. Merchants and Marauders

Become an honest trader or seek glory through piracy

An image of the board for Merchants and Marauders.
Getting caught by enemy pirate ships spells bad news for players.

There’s plenty of money to be made in the Caribbean, but the best way to do it is a matter of strategy. You’ll probably make your call based on the captain you’re randomly assigned, each of whom has a different home port of call and a special ability that makes them better at either piracy or selling goods for profit.

Merchants will cruise around trying to find cheap goods like bananas and rum and ferrying them to places where those products are in demand so they can sell them for a tidy profit. Earn enough from a single sale, and you’ll also achieve glory - the objective of the game. Pirates earn glory and gold from plundering merchant vessels, which can mean attacking other players or merchant tokens scattered around the board.

Piracy runs the risk of attracting the ire of naval forces that are cruising around the seas, summoned by event cards that can also cause storms that slow player movement or damage your ship if you don’t seek shelter. You lose everything you were carrying if your ship is sunk, but you can safely stash your coin away by visiting your home port and tucking it into an adorable treasure chest piece that conceals your total haul from the other players. Glory may be the goal, but a bit of caution pays off.

Buy Merchants and Marauders on Amazon UK and Amazon US


6. 15 Men

Bribe your crewmates and fight for control of the ship

An image of the board for the 15 Men board game.
Success requires players to hunt down their opponents' crew.

A hidden role game in the vein of Bang!, 15 Men can be played as either every pirate for themselves as a team game where mutineers face off against the captain and their one loyal ally. The key to victory is recruiting your fellow crew members, represented by 15 cards arranged in a ring.

The cards start facedown so you don’t know anything about each pirate except their general role and nationality. You learn about what’s on the board by using your limited number of dubloons to bid for their loyalty. Each is worth a set number of points at the end of the game, and extra points can be earned for collecting sets or having the most sailors that share your ship’s flag.

Some have tricky abilities where the person with the high bid can flip them over to move around coins and cards to disrupt the strategies other players are building. Once all the bids have been placed, the shooting begins and players try to use their single bullet as efficiently as possible to eliminate their competitors’ allies. The game is super quick to play, making it a great warm up or palette cleanser. You’ll also want to play through a few times to see all the pirates, who are based on a mix of historical and fictional seafarers.

Buy 15 Men on Dodax UK and Asmodee US


7. Maracaibo

Choose the best way to accrue wealth and glory as you travel around the Caribbean

A close-up image of the Maraciabo board game.
Maracaibo is a complex strategy board game about trade and influence on the high seas.

Pirates often served the interests of colonial powers in the Caribbean, and Maracaibo draws on that history by having players seeking favour with rival nations as they fight, explore and deliver goods. This is a classic strategy board game, with dense rules, not much direct interaction between the players and a lot of different ways of scoring points that you’ll need to keep track of to avoid falling behind.

Players circumnavigate the Caribbean during each of the game’s four rounds, choosing how often to stop in ports to take actions that another player hasn’t already blocked off. You have a hand of cards that can be cashed in as goods, which let you upgrade your ship, or focus on gathering dubloons to pay for cards that can give you new actions to take in ports or increase the money and victory points you earn at the end of the game.

You can also send explorers to a separate track where they’ll gather resources or focus on impressing colonial powers by spreading their influence by annexing territory, eventually earning yourself titles that are worth a variable amount of points based on how dominant that nation is. There are also big projects multiple players can buy into with enough resources. Set aside a long play session to figure out everything that’s going on, and then decide if you want to commit to trying Maracaibo’s campaign mode.

Buy Maracaibo on Zatu (UK) and Capstone Games (US)

Before you Play do a playthrough of Maracaibo.

8. Ascension: Curse of the Golden Isles

Avoid the notice of a ghost pirate in this pirating-themed set for Ascension

An image of the components for Ascension: Curse of the Golden Islands.
Taking cursed treasure is a risk that might just pay off in Curse of the Golden Isles.

The 16th set of the Ascension deckbuilding game, Ascension: Curse of the Golden Isles keeps up with the pirate theme introduced in previous standalone expansion Skulls & Sails. Like in previous sets, players compete to earn the most honour by defeating monsters and collecting cards, working to build a synergistic deck that will allow them to fight even nastier monsters and generate enough runes to buy pricier cards from the centre of the board.

The pirate theme changes things up quite a bit from the core game. Each player controls a ship that moves around the board, determining which cards they can fight or acquire based on its location and the strength of your crew. You can also raid enemy ships to steal their treasure. Some cards conceal cursed treasure that can be used to gain resources or draw extra cards. Acquiring cursed treasure also attracts the attention of the Ghost Pirate, who sails around the board and will attack your ship and kill some of your crew if he catches up to you.

Much of the fun comes in the variability of building a slightly different deck each time with goofy thematic cards like parrots trained to drop bombs or Saltydog, a helpful aquatic pup. Games only take about 30 minutes, so it’s easy to play a few and figure out the best cards to pursue and the ones that will sink your deck.

Buy Ascension: Curse of the Golden Isles on Amazon UK and Amazon US


9. Loot

A game wherein players navigate their merchant ships around enemy pirates to earn coin

An image of the box for the Loot board game.
This quick card game comes from legendary designer Reiner Knizia.

This quick, compact pirate board game lets two to eight players compete to plunder merchant ships. Players alternate between drawing cards to give them more options and playing ships. These can be either merchant vessels worth a variable amount of gold or pirate ships of different levels of fierceness that can attack merchant ships.

The strategy is based around timing and picking the right battles. Pirate ships come in four different colours; once you’ve chosen a colour to use on the offensive, no-one else can use it on that specific vessel. You’re also committed to sticking with the hue. The game includes a set of trump cards - pirate captains in each colour and an admiral that can be used to defend a merchant vessel that can only be beaten by other trumps. As a result it’s often good to build up a stack of cards you can use for a fierce battle before picking a fight.

Your merchant ship can sail safely into your scoring pile if it isn’t attacked by the time your next turn comes around, so you can try to slip one out when other players are competing over a juicy prize. Of course if it’s worth enough points and a player thinks they’re going to lose their current skirmish, they can always change course and go for your ship. For even more skullduggery, you can play with teams in six or eight-player matches, comparing cards and coordinating your attacks.

Buy Loot on Zatu (UK)


10. The Pirate Republic

Fight against colonial forces as rebellious pirates based across the Caribbean

An image of the cards for Pirate Republic.
Players may need to put aside their differences and team up in order to win this board game.

Thematically the opposite of Maracaibo, The Pirate Republic has players take on the role of historic pirates seeking to oust imperialists from the Caribbean and establish their own stronghold. You can do this collaboratively, teaming up to achieve a specific mission like destroying two forts, compete for who has the most influence on the area or play mostly collaboratively with a hidden traitor.

No matter what, gathering enough power to take on colonial forces is tough. Your best bet is to pick on small vessels to gather swagger, which effectively lets your pirate level up and gain better cards to use in raids while increasing the odds on a die roll that determines whether they can get the jump on their targets. Lose a fight and you’ll be captured, which can set back your progress.

The resources used on a given battle are represented by cards in your deck, and you have to seek shelter in port to regain them by resting. When one player empties their whole deck, play moves to another round. If the players don’t achieve all their goals by the end of the game, they lose. Chaos cards - narrative events triggered by secret conditions - add extra complications to the game. While it might be tempting to seize glory on your own, the best tactic is usually to group together, using teamwork to overcome superior forces and split their bounty.

Buy The Pirate Republic on OnBuy.com (UK)


About the Author

Samantha Nelson avatar

Samantha Nelson

Contributor

Samantha Nelson has been writing about tabletop gaming since 2013 for publications including The A.V. Club, Waypoint, Polygon and Escapist Magazine. She is also a member of the Critical Hit actual play podcast and met her husband at a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP.

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