There are two kinds of pirates; the yo-ho-ho, bottle of rum cartoon pirates and the real life murderous thieves. Thankfully Piratoons is well into the cartoon version as you compete with other pirates to make the best possible pirate ship.
Piratoons is an auction and set collection game, you will have a short auction over a limited number of ship components and then at the end of the game you will score points based on a number of criteria; such as biggest ship, most sales, prettiest ship and collecting full sets of crew, canons and cabins.
The main hull of the game, if you will, is the auction. You have a collection of meeples of which to place on a shutter board of components. A timer is started and players furiously attempt to place their meeples on the parts they want. Meeples can't be moved once placed and as soon as the timer is finished any player can shout 'stop' calling an end to the bidding process.
This leads to a fast and furious auction as every player desperately tries to grab the parts they need to complete their ship. Those with the skill and patience will find a number of strategies available to them, but most players will be throwing their meeples onto the auction board in a desperate attempt to complete one of their sets.
Any of your crew not used in this stage earn you a shiny gold doubloom and ship parts not sold during the standard bidding are then auctioned again via a closed hand bid. This is where Piratoons reveals its hidden depth as this simple second auction opens up the strategic options.
If you're capable of thinking fast enough you can force parts to fall into the second auction making players think twice about spending their gold reserves. It's where Piratoons bridges that gap between family game and something seasoned gamers can experience greater depth and strategy.
There have been a few games I've reviewed over the last few months where I feel like a kitchen sink mentality has been applied to the design, where the designer obviously thought that more is more and it's ended in a bloated mix of mechanics. Piratoons however is just right, a Goldilocks level of time and complexity. The only complex part is the scoring, which can be confusing at first but thankfully there are plenty of crib sheets included for players to look at during the game.
Turn by turn you'll build your ship, adding hull, crew, canons, even a treasure hold, and there's a sense of achievement in steadily creating this grander and grander ship. There's also a level of frustration in here, as getting a perfect ship is almost impossible and you'll loose points for not getting matching hulls or each unused space on your ship. It's what generates the tension during the bidding stage, because having that one unassigned porthole is going to lose you points and you don't want to lose points, do you.
Playing Piratoons is an experience just full of joy. The cartoony art, light bidding and the building up your ship turn to turn all combine into an experience that can't help but make you smile. While it may be a very light game, that's just part of its charm, you couldn't make this game any more complicated, it just wouldn't add anything but there are a few advanced strategies available to those who wish to play a deeper game.
It's fast, light and with just enough tension between the players to encourage table talk but not cause lifelong vendettas, I'll say it again, Piratoons is simply a joy.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.