New Game Weekend: Corsairs

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I’ve spent the last month or so reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island with my younger son, and it still amazes me how pirate stories continue to engage people long after the romantic swashbuckling days of yore have faded into history and myth. Just this past year, the rollicking fun NBC show Crossbones starring John Malkovich set sail in primetime. Even though the show was cancelled after a short run, it’s amazing the retelling of the exploits of the famed pirate Blackbeard found a home once again in a 21st-century crowded with zombies, superheroes and retro advertising executives behaving badly.

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Sample galley cards from Corsairs

The pirate theme, as I’ve noted before, also continues to have a tight grasp on gamers. This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, I had a chance to play through the now out-of-print Corsairs produced by Rio Grande Games in 2000. Playing best with four players, Corsairs involves the simple idea of raiding and capturing ships by playing provision and pirate cards, rolling dice and double-crossing opponents. Four heavy cardboard ships (or galleys) begin on the table. Each galley card depicts the point value at the top, the die value needed to capture the ship and a mix of required provisions needed before an attempt can be made to capture the vessel.

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Sample provision and pirate cards from Corsairs

Players begin by being dealt a hand of six cards each. The color-coded cards depict provisions – bananas, beans, bread, meat, rum, or water – or a pirate with a face value of  2 to 4. In turn, players place a total of two cards on the available ships. Matching types and amounts of provisions are played on ships face up along with any pirate cards face-down. After two cards are played, a third is discarded before redrawing back to a six-card hand. Play passes in turn until a player has enough required provisions to attack a ship. Rolling two dice and adding available pirate bonuses, players attempt to exceed the required value to seize the ship. If successful, all players lose the provisions on that ship and the player takes the card. If unsuccessful, the player loses their provisions on the ship and play passes to the next player. A player who attacks on their turn misses their next turn when they can redraw their hand. Once the final galley card is played and seized, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

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 A game of Corsairs at Metropolitan Wargamers

As with any good pirate game, the opportunity to out-scalawag your opponents is where the real fun comes in with Corsairs. With cards played on a ship, a player may attempt a “broadside” attack once per turn by rolling two special dice with provision colors on each face. A successful result enables the player to steal the provisions for their own use or simply to prevent another player from using them first. Capturing several ships of the same colored border also allows a player to double-up on points, so stealing a ship away from another player before they snatch it also comes into play.

I managed to win my first play through Corsairs by doubling-up on two high point purple ships, snagging two other valuable galleys and then foiling some other players by stealing their provisions through broadside attacks. Corsairs moves fast like a ship on the high seas and requires no reading, making it a great game to play with kids. And what kid – young or old – doesn’t like pirates?

Collector’s Note: You made need a treasure map to find a copy of the out-of-print Corsairs, but you can fdig them up on eBay occasionally for upwards of $50-60.

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New Game Weekend: Power Grid

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This year I’ve been fortunate to have both the time and a revolving line-up of patient opponents at Metropolitan Wargamers to introduce me to nearly 30 new games. Lots of times I’ll hear the name of a game or references to its mechanics tossed around by other members, and I’ll just file that name away in the back of my head for a future gaming option. One of the games I’ve heard come up again and again is Power Grid, and this past weekend I finally got my first shot at playing it.

What a fantastic game.

Power Grid is a game of building power plants along a grid among interconnected cities and managing the resources to power the system. Originally published in Germany over 10 years ago, Power Grid began as a crayon and paper game. The version available since 2004 from Rio Grande Games is a more typical Eurogame with a two-sided playing board (Germany and US maps on either side), cards and scores of wooden playing pieces.

The game play unfolds over a series of turn phases. First, player order is determined by the player with the most cities built. Player order is very important in the second phase when power plants are auctioned among players. Some primitive coal, wood or trash-burning plants may come cheap but power few cities or require lots of resources to fire them. Other plants, like solar fields and wind farms, come at a higher initial cost but require no resources to fuel them since the wind and sun come for free. At the far edge are high-tech nuclear plants which can power many cities but require the rare and costly uranium fuel.

And so that leads to the third phase of buying resources. In turn order, players buy coal, wood, trash and uranium which fluctuate in a market of varying demand and pricing throughout the game. Each player’s plant holds double the resources it requires, so a coal-fired plant that requires two coal to run it can hold four coal resources. In terms of strategy, players buy resources for use in their own plants, but they may also choose to stockpile resources and rob other players of the ability to buy resources for their plants.

In the fourth phase, players build cities and their grid. Building cities begins at a $10 value but rises to $15 and then $25 as the game progresses and the grid becomes more crowded with development. Connections between cities also costs money, so creating a close network of cities along a compact grid can make things cheaper for you and more expensive for your opponent as the game goes on. To wrap a turn, players fire up their grid, burn resources and collect income based on how many cities they are able to supply with power.

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Power grid is a fantastic game of economics, resource management and area control, hitting all the marks of a classic Eurogame. A mix of strategies of building and resource management makes for a realistic yet streamlined game requiring just some basic rules, no reading during the game and simple components. The

Numerous expansion sets are available for Power Grid, including additional power plant cards and additional two-sided regional maps from around the world such as France/Italy, Central Europe, Russia/Japan and China/Korea. A rabid international online fanbase has also created custom homebrewed maps of just about any country or region on the planet.

With the topic of energy and natural resource consumption on the front page of just about any paper in the world on any given day, it’s easy to see why Power Grid resonates so widely. The game also plays without any reading required (other than a basic understanding of one of the translated rulesets), adding to its international appeal. Not only is the game a huge draw for hardcore gamers, I could also see it as a very instructive tool in teaching any group of engaged kids on the challenges of managing ever-increasing power demands.