Starfinder: Pirates of Skydock Reviews

30 December 2022
Grand Theft Astro

Pirates of Skydock takes place in Paizo’s Starfinder RPG universe – basically Dungeons & Dragons in space. You play as one of a group of space pirates who are sneaking aboard the flashy ship of someone who is enough of a cad that you don’t feel too bad stealing their ride. To decide which of you gets the ship, you’re competing to prove who is the best swashbuckling plunderer – but if you collectively take too many risks and draw too much attention to yourselves, you’ll get caught and no one will get the ship.

What follows is a theme-rich game of exploration and stealth, moving round the ship, avoiding alarms and guards, and trying to outdo your rival players. You’ll each start as your own pirate, each of whom, in a nod to its RPG roots, has three varying stats showing you how good they are at the physical, mental and technical challenges you’re likely to face.

Pirates of Skydock feels not dissimilar in concept to the – surprisingly good – Netrunner spinoff Android: Infiltration, where players were working together to raid a vault, pushing their luck to go deeper without getting busted. Each turn, you move around the rooms of the ship, executing various schemes you draw from a deck, grabbing loot, and showcasing your skills in the field of intergalactic piracy. To do so, you assign energy cubes to different actions your character can take.

As the game progresses, guards start poking their grubby, rule-loving hooters around the ship, making it harder for you to sneak around unhindered. Throughout the game, all players need to be mindful of the rising Alert level – the higher the Alert level, the more guards arrive, and the harder it will be to pass some skill checks. Create too much of a ruckus before launch, and the ship goes into lockdown. Party over.

Pirates of Skydock is an ambitious attempt to take what could easily be a fun one-shot adventure in the Starfinder RPG and transpose it onto the idioms of a board game. You’ve still got some of the classic mainstays of tabletop roleplaying, like variable abilities, different items that give you various advantages, skill checks where you roll a dice to see if you pass – but for which, crucially, you can mitigate results by discarding cards – but with a round structure, a central board and some clear indicators of how much trouble you’re in and how long you’ve got left till launch.

So does it all hang together? Well, yes. For a single game, especially at the full complement of four players, it’s really fun. The character art looks great and the loot and scheme cards exploit the rich Starfinder lore to create something a cut above the usual generic space pirates theming. You believe you’re just inhabiting a small part of a far larger universe, because you are. You have opportunities to cooperate with your fellow pirates to complete missions, or to go it alone – which is harder – for more glory. The game has a nice arc, tension ramping nicely as you countdown towards launch.

The question is to what extent you’ll want to play it a second time, or – heaven forbid – a third. Many of the missions you’ll have to do, like hacking into the ship’s computers or tinkering with the engine, while having differences in terms of flavour and what ability they’re asking you to make a skill check against, essentially boil down to ‘move to room X, roll a dice’. Whereas some games have simple mechanics with hidden richness (after all, Carcassonne is just ‘draw a tile, place it’), with Pirates of Skydock it starts to feel as if the beguiling chocolate frosting of lore is disguising a very ordinary bread roll.

If you absolutely love the Starfinder universe and you think you’ll have no trouble getting this to the table with three likeminded scallywags, by all means give it a whirl. The first runthrough is definitely pretty fun. The rest of us might want to save our space doubloons for something with a little more staying power.

Tim Clare


TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Android: Infiltration...

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Boardgames like the aforementioned Android: Infiltration and its predecessor, perhaps the most Marmite-esque game in all tabletop history, Android, certainly feel like they cover similar territory in terms of flavour-rich SF action, though the latter is much more ambitious and the former is simply better.

Designer: Dylan Birtolo, Josh Derksen, Peter Bemis, Thomas M Gofton

Publisher: GaleForce Nine

Time: 60-90 minutes

Players: 2-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £42

What’s in the box?

  • Game board
  • Tourist guide
  • 9 Room tiles
  • 4 Character boards
  • 7 Character Standees
  • 20 Energy markers
  • 1 D20
  • 170 Tokens
  • 105 Cards


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