I don’t think there’s any historical setting which is more ridiculously accessible than that of pirates. Even if you don’t know the name of a single real pirate, or the centuries piracy was most prominent, you can strap on a sword, don a hat and swash buckle your way to awesomeness.
That’s probably the reason that the Pirate Republic was the game I was most looking forward to this year.
My Role at the Pirate Republic
There were three different types of role at TPR – nations, colonies, and pirates. The nations of France, England, Spain and the Netherlands were played, as were nine different Caribbean colonies, such as Tortuga, Curacao and Havana. Game designer John Sharp was super keen on both the historical and thematic aspects of the pirate culture, and the game reflected that.
Natch, I asked for a pirate role. I was given the role of Martha Farley. Martha was one of four women historically tried for piracy, although she got away with it by claiming she had no idea her husband was a pirate. I was quartermaster on my ship, under captain Oliver la Buse and first officer Jennifer Seager. As quartermaster, my job was to keep on top of the logistical issues, such as ship repairs, crew morale and, most importantly… the rum tracker!
You see, each character also had a personal back story. I was sent to America as a prisoner, but escaped. Being super cunning and sneaky, I turned to piracy to gain position, power, and for the excitement. Apparently I’m amazing at getting people to tell me their secrets and plans, and I also managed to persuade two different courts to release me after I was sent to trial. I also had a secret: my husband and three young children lived in Charleston, and if they were discovered I could be forced to pay their ransom.
I also had three personal objectives:
- Earn at least 30 gold in a single turn.
- Complete 2 quests.
- Open a tavern and rum distillery.
I actually completed two out of the three objectives… but more on that later.
Pre Game Fluff
Pirate fancy dress is probably among my favourites. Both the shirt and belt that I wore actually belonged to my mum as a teenager!
I’m not often a big person for bringing along themed snacks to share tbh, but this game I decided to go all out. While my original plan was to bring a blender, a big bag of ice and some strawberries, I toned it down and instead brought some pre-made daiquiri mixer, and a large bottle of Captain Morgan (plus some extra Sainsburys own rum, just so no one could ever say “why is the rum gone?”).
So, dressed up in my finest pirate gear, I headed to the game and met up with my team. Oliver la Buse was a rich man with a secret stash of gold, while I gathered that Jennifer was secretly married to a noble in Basse Terre. It was easy to work out who our enemies were. I was British and the other two French, so clearly our main options for attack would be the Spanish and Dutch colonies and ships.
Before the game even started, we pirates were treated to an initial briefing my reigning pirate King, Benjamin Hornigold. He was very committed to the unity of the pirates, and warned us that backstabbing or attacking other pirates was completely against the pirate code. As Pirate King, his main job for the day was actually similar to a colony player. The island of Nassau belonged to the pirates, and he was responsible for its upkeep.
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 19 August 2017
Chaos in the Caribbean
Turn one of the game was pretty manic. Honestly, there were a huge ton of different options for the players to do. I think we were all a bit crippled by choice. Each turn was split into three season phases (spring, summer and autumn), and during each phase we could do either one major or two minor actions. Major actions included questing and port attacks, while minor actions were things like coastal raids, attacking ships or throwing parties. After a bit of confusion, the game got underway.
My team started off by heading south, passing by San Juan where I successfully extorted 2 barrels of rum from them.
Meanwhile, I overheard Hornigold’s quartermaster asking various pirates for money towards a distillery on Nassau. I approached Captain Hornigold and offered to run the distillery for him.
Gains and Sugar Cane
To prove myself, all I had to do was negotiate a trade deal with Port Royal for their sugar cane. They were selling it back to England for 2 gold a pop. We offered them 4 gold for 6 crates, with the obvious assurance that it was a lot less risky to not ship it all the way back to England. I offered 1 upfront, the rest when it was delivered, knowing they’d never actually take that deal.
The governor pushed back on having to ship it anywhere, but I stood my ground and he conceded. The deal almost fell apart when he realised he didn’t have a ship for the cargo, but luckily one came into port at that very moment. We shook on 2 gold upfront, 2 at Nassau, and the first shipment was to arrive in autumn.
The deal in place, I returned to Hornigold and was given ownership of the distillery (producing a rum I named Farley Fire) and one of the taverns on the island, which I called the Drunken Parrot. My next action was clear! I went around inviting everyone to the opening party, which would take place when my crew returned to Nassau at the end of the year.
Honestly by this point I’d realised that I could never achieve my dreams aboard la Buse’s ship, although there was no reason to break ties prematurely. We had a fantastic end of year party, and my sugar cane arrived on time. This was actually the time in the game that I began drinking and serving real daiquiris with real rum… about 11:30am!
The Pirate Council
During the winter team time, the pirates headed into a side room for the Pirate Council meeting. The main purpose of this was to elect a Pirate King, and also to brag about the amazing stuff we’d done. And probably to give the rest of the players a break from all our shouting…
At the first pirate council, Hornigold almost ran unopposed, but when a pirate did decide to stand against him, I was one of the first to speak in Hornigold’s favour. After all, I’d done all this work to get in his good books and get my own distillery! What if his replacement didn’t like me?
Luckily Hornigold kept hold of his seat, and I kept hold of my power.
The Life of a Rum Distiller
Early in turn two, I discovered that owning a tavern is a fantastic way to make friends and learn secrets. One of my first visitors, a disenfranchised nation player, told me that we should avoid being in Nassau in summer. The nations were coming for us!
I had been given a stack of rum by Hornigold’s quartermaster, who trusted me to dole it out to the different pirate teams. I began doing this, but after the second ship I gave it to sank mere moments after receiving their rum supply, I decided to just give it to players when they asked… which meant that I could make a bit of money selling rum on the side.
Dashing around the room, I parceled out barrels of the stuff, and told as many pirates as I could about the nation player’s warning…
Second Turn Madness
His information proved valuable. Although I spoke to as many pirate players as I could, too few heeded the call to arms, and we found ourselves almost alone in Nassau. Just three ships stood as our defenders – my own crew included. Our attackers were the British and the Spanish, which was absolutely outrageous since we’d already traded with the British, and had planned to continue doing so.
The attack waged on for over two seasons, and in the end… we lost. Quite badly. Three British ships and four Spanish ships arrived on our shores, the three pirate ships who were defending us all sank, and the three more who turned up were driven away badly damaged. Luckily I escaped unharmed. You can see a lot of the drama in my Facebook Live video:
Nassau under attack!
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 19 August 2017
As we headed into the second Pirate Council, I knew my luck was running out. I’d thrown myself too heavily to Hornigold’s cause. and it was time for some damage control. I went to Blackbeard, who was viewed by many as the forerunner in the election, and agreed to trade my vote in return for support taking back Nassau (and my distillery).
But Blackbbeard was beaten out by Captain Davis, and I realised I would have to make my own luck.
New Boat, New Hopes
My captain needed a new ship. With no chance of returning to my position of power as rum queen of Nassau, I accompanied them, and we sailed to Basse Terre, where Jennifer’s husband helped her acquire a ship quickly and cheaply.
I headed over to Nassau and introduced myself to the new British Governor. He and I hit it off famously after he tasted my Farley Fire, and he agreed that I could keep control of the distillery. He even agreed to sell me the Nassau sugar cane, and I bought his entire stock of it before heading to the seas with la Buse.
Remembering I had other ambitions, our crew decided to go a-questing. One visit to Intelligence Control later, and I had in my possession a map. A treasure map! We sailed across to sea territory 13, where we knew the wreck of the Urca de Lima ship was sunk. Just a few lucky rolls, and we had ourselves a treasure mine!
The Luck of the Spanish
Unfortunately, we only had time for a single salvage mission before we were set upon by, you guessed it, the damn Spanish. I swear it seemed the had infinite ships! In particular, it was a Spanish captain called Miguel Henriquez who later became famous as a traitor and pirate. We offered to trade them our map to the location of the ship, and they agreed… on the condition that we a) attacked a Dutch port for them, and b) left one of our crew with them as a hostage. Never!
We went bravely into the fight. They had a frigate against our sloop. They outgunned us for sure, but we had the sails to leave them far behind. It was evenly fought, with us outpacing a second ship that was pursuing us, and almost fleeing him. But eventually his guns pierced our hull, and he took us captive. He also confiscated my six crates of sugar cane.
I insisted that I wasn’t a pirate, I was a rum distiller, and that the sugar cane was our cargo. He refused to listen to me, nor return my cargo, but he did (for some reason) agree to take us to Nassau for trial, rather than a Spanish colony. He locked us up to appease the Spanish, but left the latch undone and a ship empty in the harbour. Our third ship would be our luckiest.
Just before heading into the third Pirate Council, we persuaded a Dutch colony to sell us a brig. We now had two ships, and my captain kindly agreed that I could take the second. So I struck off on my own. I knew what I had to do, and I knew how to do it…
The Good Ship Rum
I was now Captain Farley! I had my own ship, which I immediately decked out in non-pirate colours, and hung a banner from. Word would soon spread that if you wanted a good time, my ship was the place to be.
But captaincy is harder than it looks. I had avoided the map all game, and I suddenly had to deal with things like order sheets, getting crew and making money. It wasn’t all rum and fun!
In the last Pirate Council, it transpired that the current Pirate King had died. Blackbeard was voted in, but this marked the first time that lots of different pirates were throwing their hat in the ring. I knew that if I wanted to be Pirate Queen (I mean, I didn’t really, but I had to try, right) then I’d need to do something of note. And actually learning how to pirate seemed like a good start.
I wasn’t super interested in attacking ports or merchant ships, but the last thing I wanted was to be attacked myself. I therefore needed some level of crew and guns to defend myself, especially since brigs aren’t very fast. There was one issue – I no idea where to get started! I tried doing a coastal raid and… failed. My crew (if I’d had any) would have lost morale.
So instead I headed back to Nassau. I once I arrived, I set to work gaining more sugar cane and converting it into rum for my ship-tavern. The governor had decided to increase the price he was charging, so I looked for an alternative supply of sugar. I had enough to be getting on with though – now all I needed was a way to sell it.
All aboard the Good Ship Rum
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 19 August 2017
Legitimate Business Owner
Luckily, opportunity struck! The player who had been Pirate King Davis had come back to life, and this new pirate wanted to get in on the rum business… and had a contact on a merchant ship who could get us an decent rate to ship it to Scotland. He also wanted to buy stock in the business.
I knew he could be playing me, so I tested the waters at first. I had about 10 rum in my pocket, but I sent him off with 4. He returned with 6 gold, so this seemed pretty fair to me. I had been buying the sugar cane for a single gold, and produced three rum out of a single crate of sugar cane, so at this rate I was making a 3.5 gold profit per sugar cane.
We headed into the fourth Pirate Council with many pirates caught up in the controversy in Tortuga. They had been attacking the port (or something) when a pirate player betrayed them (or something). More crucially this meant that most of the players were out of the room. I ran against the current Pirate King Blackbeard, who was represented in his absence by his First Mate… and the votes were tied. I started to point out that since he was absent, I should win by default, when Hornigold spoke up and cast a deciding vote in favour of Blackbeard. After all I’d done for Nassau!
That was the closest I got to being Pirate Queen… though considering the only platform I had was rum, rather than daring deeds or political prowess, I think it’s pretty impressive.
Rum and Bums
In turn 5 I managed to seek out a madam for my ship. This let me rename my floating den of ill-repute, as Rum and Bums. The idea was that I would float around behind the back of pirate raids, offering a place to come and relax, regale us with tales of their piracy, and have fun with some ladies of the night.
The first pirate crew that I followed were trying to raid Havana. I agreed to help out as long as I didn’t have to fight anywhere near the front of the battle (my stats aren’t exactly impressive). We miscalculated, got nothing impressive for our spoils, and ended up tailed by a (yet again) Spanish ship. My companions turned and fought, and I managed to steer clear of the fighting (no pun intended) and jetted off to find a different group to tag along with.
Business with the Scottish merchant was going well. My business partner had bought his way into the business for a total of 8 gold. We were turning over all the rum I had, and were making 2 gold for each barrel, so my profits were now 5 gold for a case of sugar cane. I ended up investing more in the distillery on Nassau to increase it’s production speed, so I could produce twice as much rum a turn.
At this time, I was approached by the Governor of Nassau who was seeking a clock. A very specific clock. I had not the first idea where to find it, but the answer found its way to me. In the fifth Pirate Council, Hornigold bragged how he’d sold it to the Dutch, so I knew where to look for that.
In that Pirate Council, many different people threw their hats into the ring. I stood up and talked about rum again, Blackbeard talked about taking a port, someone else wanted to take another port, and Anne Bonny told us all that we didn’t need a port, we just needed to have parties at sea… which was exactly what I was doing, and had been since turn 3! Nevertheless, she got elected on my idea. Pah!
Last Turn Sanity
During the last turn of the game, I knew it was time to get serious. Time was running out, and I still had two objectives to go. I had only done one quest, and hadn’t earned more than 10 gold in a turn.
So I took my ship and headed out in search of some cash. First I went to the Dutch colony, to find out if I could buy the clock from them to sell on for a profit. Unfortunately he’d already sent it off to the Netherlands, but he was planning on producing duplicates. I was more than happy to sell the Nassau governor a fake copy, but sadly it wasn’t going to arrive before the end of the turn.
Next I stopped by a group of pirate ships attacking some merchant ships, took one captive, and then took it to Curacao to sell it to the Dutch. I made five gold there, and my improved distillery also netted me about 20 gold throughout the turn. I sold some rum to a player, and my madam on board my ship made me another three gold. Finally! I had made over 30 gold in a single turn! I was rich!
At last, I took my ship to Charleston, to pick up my husband and children. After 3 turns of not being attacked, I finally felt they would be safe with me, and we could live the life of luxury we all deserved. I also picked up a master chef for my ship, and renamed it Rumbumyum.
My final act of the day was to try one last quest. With a thief AND a master thief, borrowed from my original captain, la Buse, we snuck into the port of Bridgetown, aiming to burn down their inferior rum distillery. But that sneaky governor managed to kill both single-handedly, and I was out of time to make another plan.
Hanging Up My Cutlass
The end of the day came far too quickly. Six turns isn’t a lot of time to get pirating done!
The Pirate Republic is one of the most thematic games I’ve ever played, and that theme carried it through a few dodgy first turns, a lot of disappointment and poor dice rolls, and the realisation that I completely forgot about crew morale and the rum tracker. If I’d gone into the game wanting to be a good pirate in the traditional sense – fighting, capturing ships and invading ports – I’d have had a much harder day. Instead, I got to spend seven hours running around selling rum, drinking real life daiquiris and having a ridiculous amount of fun.
Some mechanics, like the Pirate Council, were just completely over the top and spot on for the setting. I don’t know if it would have worked in every game, but it was absolutely on point for the piratical atmosphere. I’m really sad the game is over, and I really hope it gets re-run some time in the future.
My next megagame is Crisis in Elysium, down in London on 2nd September, where I’m playing the Governor of Mars. The next Pennine Megagames game is Still Not Over By Christmas, on 23rd September, in Sheffield, where I’ll be on the Control Team.