Buccaneer, in its many incarnations, has been around since 1938 and is still in print today. For 75 years, the basic tenets of the games have held true, but each manufacturer, producer, designer and cheesy film tie-in partner has insisted on fiddling with the rules.
Each player is the captain of a pirate ship (arrrr, avast, etc). You take turns sailing around the board to various destinations in search of treasure, crew and trouble. The goal is to collect various types of loot. There are 5 types that are worth between 2 and 5 gold each. There are also 5 pieces of each type. Once you get three (or more) of a single type of loot, you can safely stash it at your home port. It is taken off the board, and you have that much treasure to your name. The first player to match and stash 20 points of treasure wins.
You find treasure in a few ways - primarily by heading to the central island (Isla de Muerta) and drawing a quest card. Generally, you get a shot at randomly drawing some treasure. Sometimes it is a little more complicated, for example scavenger-hunt style cards that make you scurry all over the board before you get your hard-earned booty. Other cards just suck – cannibals eat your crew or something equally disastrous. Being the special Pirates of the Caribbean (2006) edition, all the quests are vaguely linked to the cinema. We kidnapped Elizabeth Swann at one point, and repeatedly looted Davy Jones of his chart.
Your tiny little plastic ship can only hold two pieces of treasure, so when you've filled up, you need to head back to your own port. If you can't stash your treasure (matching types, remember?), you can leave your treasure at your trading post. Other players can swing by and swap like for like. If you've left a 5-gold jewel on display, another player can sail into your port and take it, provided they leave equal value (5 gold worth of jewels or crew).
As the natural resources of Isla de Muerta become progressively mined out ("peak gold!"), the trading becomes more and more important. There's only a finite amount of booty in the world, and matching coins can be quite tricky.
There's also your scurvy crew. Every ship starts with five crew cards (the number will fluctuate pretty wildly as the game goes on). Crew have two values - their sailing speed and their fight. To see how quickly your ship moves in a turn, add up their sailing value. To see how well they kick ass, add up your fightin' skills. The latter gets an unusual twist in the Pirates of the Caribbean game as there are two "loyalties" of pirate (normal, disloyal mangy pirates and cursed, undead pirates). They don't get along - so your fighting value is the total of one category minus the total in the other. As a result, sometimes it behoves you to jettison good crew if they're on the wrong team ("Those zombies fix a mean sail, but I sure don't trust them...").
Combat is pretty simple - at least, in theory. All you need to do is get your ship on the same square as your opponents. Match numbers, see who wins. Loser scoots off; winner gets their loot. Unfortunately, the game's nifty movement mechanic makes this very tricky. You can only move in a straight line. And at the end of your turn, you need to declare your sailing direction for the next turn. Although it means that predatory pirates know where their prey is headed, it also means that it is virtually impossible to surprise and/or trap them.
Our session had a single combat (mostly because the two bloodthirsty parties wanted to see what would happen). This revealed the second problem with the rules: they tied. This fails my new Buffy Clause, which states, "if the rules don't include what happens in case of a tie, this game is clearly shit". Whether or not combat is even important (in this case, it really isn't), I don't there's anything that could happen that could more clearly indicate a failure to conduct even the most basic play-testing.
The other problem that came up during the game was the limitation on the resources. All four players quickly scampered about and matched loot. Then, after some fruitless gallivanting, we discovered that winning was, well, impossible. Since only there were only two left of each type (except the 2-gold versions), no one could match or stash any new jewel. The one player who had banked three of the 5-gold versions could still win, but only if they managed to match three of the 2-gold versions with everyone playing against them. The rules were also unclear over whether or not you could continue to match against the loot you had previously stashed. For example, Anne had stashed her three 5-gold jewels. If she finds a fourth one, can she stash that as well? If so, the game was still open to all the players except the unfortunate chap (me) who had been collecting 3-gold jewels. Earlier versions of the game contained six jewels of each type, which seems a much more practical way of going about it.
On the positive side, it took us all of two turns to figure out how to play Buccaneer and, once those were done, the game flew along. We all enjoyed the movement mechanic and the randomness of the quest cards. The trading is also a blast - scurrying about the board jettisoning crew for shiny objects felt properly piratical. And I'm quite proud of my desperate (if ultimately meaningless) strategy of stealing Anne's coins from her port to prevent a match (and then, because I had to leave my entire crew to do it), trying to sneak away at two squares a turn.
Our variant had the cheap feel of a bad movie tie-in, probably because it was. A shame, as it seems that the game in its true-er form doesn't have those problems. Our rules were badly written, there were inconsistencies and typos on the cards and the cinematic fluffery seemed to have been done via find-and-replace. The result was a bit of a mess, with some of the game's original charm and coherency being sacrificed as part of the bargain ("trade three points of playability for three points of marketing?").
By Jared (@pornokitsch), the Scruffy Scourge of Havana