A Tale of Pirates review

18 October 2018
tale-of-pirates-04602.jpg A Tale of Pirates
Riding high on seas and sandtimers

My goodness, that ship. If you want a good idea of how A Tale of Pirates feels to play, just take a look at its magnificent 3D centrepiece, a lofty crow’s nest towering above a cardboard hull as it rides the waves of your imagination. Listen: you can even hear the water sloshing against the planks and seagulls calling overhead. Oh, wait, that’s the soundtrack of the companion app.

Even so, you’ll find yourself yarrr-ing commands at your shipmates as your sandtimer crew hop between their responsibilities on the deck. For pirates, they’re a patient lot – or maybe lazy bilge rats – waiting half a minute before loading the cannons, adjusting the sails, scanning the horizon or adjusting the ship’s course to a new sector of the compass it floats upon. Even with a skeleton crew, there’s enough time to grab a quick breather and discuss your next move as you watch the grains tick away – enough time to be strategic instead of chaotic, although the constant countdown and ability to ramp up the difficulty in-app never quite turns your voyage into a cruise. 

Sea legs come quickly, settling comfortably into the rise-and-fall rhythm of dropping timers into the deck’s generous holes (sometimes a little too generous, requiring drunkenly-slanted sailors to be pulled back to their feet or the fragile crow’s nest to be hastily reconstructed after catching a timer’s edge), watching them drain away and then getting the exciting splash of rolling the attack die, unplugging a damaged section or revealing one of the event cards that wait to be explored around the compass’ edge.

Just as you feel you’ve conquered the waves, you sail smoothly into the next chapter of the game’s ten-part campaign, the sense of fresh discovery and anticipation warming you like rum. Along the way, your ship – Ellen, the generous – bears the record of your journey, the vessel adapting to the ever-changing waters it navigates.

All the while, the app has you wondering how much more fearsome Blackbeard would have been with an iPad, given how intuitive and well-presented A Tale of Pirates’ digital peg leg – on which it has no choice but to stand – is. Each new arrival in the deck is explained concisely, never costing valuable seconds to check when the sand is flowing. The recorded high scores and star ratings invite multiple playthroughs of the story, too – a reassuring inclusion, given its relatively brief length. The filling selection of features and options is topped with a polished visual style, completing the game’s visual lushness on and off the table.

Squawk! The app’s own timer, drizzling virtual sand like vinaigrette on top of this marvellous concoction of real-time strategy and immersive staging, begins to run low. The ship unleashes a barrage of cannon fire – its last, for now – and sends a circling brigantine to the depths. The sailor at the helm tries to spin the ship to reveal the final unexplored sector, but the lookout was too busy watching for hull-cracking rocks and the sails were hoisted high to power through a passage, sacrificing manoeuvrability for speed. You hope that no ships appear from the unknown distance, a guaranteed cannon strike in their sights.

A Tale of Pirates is a vague, forgettable name for a game brimming with such memorable character, but its ambiguity gestures at something bigger. This isn’t so much a tale of pirates as it is a tale of friends around a table, a tale of last-minute wins or unlucky losses, a tale of right calls and wrong decisions, a tale of hilarity and good times. Whatever tale you make it, it’s one you won’t forget in a hurry.



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A Tale of Pirates skims swiftly along on outstanding presentation, fantastic app integration and gameplay that’ll keep you excited for every new adventure. With times like these out on the seas, you’ll never want to dock again.

Buy your copy here.

Designer: Harding Granerud, Skjold Pedersen, Tascini

Artist: Audia

Time: 30 minutes

Players: 2-4

Age: 8+

Price: £45


This review originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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