Preview: Sail, Loot, and Plunder in The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit | Casual Game Revolution

Preview: Sail, Loot, and Plunder in The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit

The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit

Ahoy there mateys! Prepare to set sail on the high seas. Loot merchant ships, do battle with navel vessels, free slaves, and steal treasure, while competing for swagger in a quest to become a legendary pirate!

The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit is currently on Kickstarter. It plays in 2-3 hours and is designed for 1-5 players. There’s a lot going on in this one, so get ready to dive in.


Each player is a pirate, trying to gain swagger (victory points) by fighting ships, collecting treasure, and freeing slaves. There is also always a global mission active in the game. Players can choose to play any mission as a standalone, or they can choose to play through them in order as a campaign. This is not a legacy game—new rules and components do not unlock as you play through the campaign, but it is a way to form a longer, cohesive story, and typically players can gain rewards to take from one level to the next.

At the start of each round, a Tidings card is drawn. Each Tidings card says which of the six navies will not be hostile this round, as well as giving a rule that will be in effect for the entire round. Tidings cards are also used during the game whenever a ship token must be placed randomly on the board, as they each list a territory on the board, as well.

Next is the action phase. During the action phase, players take turns until the start player must draw a card and is unable to. Then, everyone else takes a final turn, and the round ends. On a turn, the player starts by rolling the tidings die. This can give extra movement, cause ships to move towards them, or move the treasure and slave ships on the board. Then the player takes his actions. Each player has a personal deck of cards that he draws from. At the start of the game, the hand limit is four. Players can use these cards to help them perform actions on their turn.

Actions include move, scout, boast, combat, establish a haven, rest, and declare infamy. Each player starts the game with three movement points that he can use each turn. Some cards can be played to increase movement points for a turn. The board is divided into territories, with most territories featuring at least one land location and ocean. Moving between territories costs a movement point. If a player moves into a territory with a face-down ship token, he must flip it. If he shares a space with an aggressive ship he must immediately fight it.

The main currency in the game is reputation. A player may spend one reputation (or three movement points) to flip a face-down ship token in an adjacent territory or, if there is a land location in his current territory that is under control of a foreign power, to draw a land tile for it and reveal the base that is located there. If a player attempts to just land without scouting that location first, he will be forced into combat with that land tile without first determining its strength.

Boast allows the player to draw a personal mission card. These are kept secret and award swagger when completed. When a player completes a personal mission and the global mission, this triggers the end of the game.

When on a location with a passive ship, a player may choose to attack it. Players also engage in combat with aggressive ships, and with land locations. For combat, the player first checks who has initiative. As a player gains more swagger, he levels up, and he will have initiative against more ships. Some enemies will have the player draw a Tidings card, which will randomly give him or the enemy a bonus in the fight, and sometimes this is initiative.

The enemy ship will have broadside points and close quarter points. When the active player has initiative, if he can play cards to get his strike fear points equal or more than the enemy’s close quarters value, he automatically wins the fight. Otherwise, the player will try to defeat the enemy with broadside points. If his broadside points are equal to or greater than the enemy’s, he wins the fight. If it is less than half, he loses the fight and is captured. If it is greater than half, the difference is carried over to be added to the enemy’s close quarter points, and the active player takes a wound. If the fight is not yet over, he next tries to defeat the enemy’s close quarter value, and either equals or exceeds it, winning the fight or getting captured.

If the active player does not have initiative, then the enemy attacks first. The player’s movement points (and any he can gain from playing cards from his hand) must equal or exceed the enemy’s broadside points, to avoid taking a wound. If it’s less than half, he is captured. If it’s more than half, he can then choose to flee, moving his ship to an adjacent territory, or continue the fight, in which case the combat moves on to close quarters.

Before a battle starts, the active player can also form a company with another player in the same territory or in an adjacent one. This allows that player to play one card from his hand in order to assist in combat. Players will agree on the reward ahead of time, and the deal is binding.

Winning a battle grants the active player any rewards listed on the enemy’s token. Some tokens award infamy. When at a location controlled by pirates, a player may spend three infamy to add elite cards to his deck.

However, a player may only have a certain number of elite cards in his deck. Each player has three stats: ship, crew, and command. He levels these up during the game by completing certain challenges such as defeating two land tokens or rescuing a slave ship. As a player levels these up, he gains more movement and increases the number of crew and elite cards he can have. Crew cards are gained from rewards during the game, and these do not go into a player’s deck but instead go in front of his player board and give permanent bonuses that can be used multiple times per turn. Some cards also have more powerful abilities which can be triggered by spending one reputation.

A player also can get captured if he gains two wounds. When captured, a player loses any treasure cards he has (these are typically gained from treasure ships, and are played for a powerful one-time ability), loses swagger points, reduces one of his stats by one point, and is moved back to a pirate-held location.

Establishing a pirate haven costs one point, and a player can only have one on the map at a time. Resting must be done with either a card with the rest ability or by spending a reputation point at a pirate-controlled location. Resting allows a player to discard one wound, flip face-down friendly ships (which you gain during the course of the game) face-up again, and allows a player to take a card from his discard pile back into his hand.

At the end of his turn, a player draws up to his hand limit and resets his movement points to their starting number. It is now the next player’s turn.

After the round ends, everyone discards all their cards, shuffles them to reform their decks, and ship tokens are added face-down to the board if there are currently five or fewer currently on it. The elite cards display and the crew display are both discarded and new ones drawn to replace them. The first player token is passed to the next person.

The game ends once someone has completed both a personal mission and the global mission, or once someone reaches 120 swagger points.

The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit


The Pirate Republic: Africa Gambit is highly thematic. There’s so much freedom to move where you want and pursue different courses of action. It’s a big board, and it’s exciting to set sail across it (doing so is even one of the tasks that allow you to upgrade a stat).

There are deck-building elements to the game, certainly, as players add elite cards to their decks, and gain crew. But unlike other deck-builders, players aren’t going to add tons of cards. The number each player is allowed is limited, and players really have to fight to gain those cards. That makes it feel very satisfying when you do gain them and making your deck stronger feels like a victory in its own right. It’s hard and challenging and it’s fun to see the progress you make. It felt like a unique twist on a popular mechanic.

Leveling is slow and requires a lot of searching for the right ships to attack, paired with knowing when to run, and striking up alliances with other players. As you grow stronger, it feels so satisfying to face off against enemies you previously fled from.

The combat is straightforward once you get the hang of it, but initiative really changes what strengths players need to have in order to win a fight, and it ties in impressively well with the theme. Of course, speed would help a ship maneuver out of the way of canon fire, and the fact that there’s a mechanic for a pirate to just strike fear in the heart of its target and win that way, is very clever.

This is definitely not a casual game. There are a lot of rules here. The above rules explanation even leaves out some of the more nuanced ones for simplicity’s sake. We spent most of the first mission double-checking everything in the rulebook. The second mission went a lot smoother, however, and the designers have done a very smart job with the first mission, keeping it relatively shorter and simple, so that it is a good introduction to gameplay to give everyone a feel for the flow of how the rounds run.

The game is also long, and the more players involved, the longer it’s going to be. The campaign is a nice way to put together a story and change victory conditions, while being completely optional. The missions are varied and bring a lot of different ideas to the table, without being so different that players have to spend a long time in a rulebook each time they take on a new one.

Some of the player icons are a little too similar, and the stickers on the player ships are a little too hard to read, since this is a really big board and all the player ships are the same color. We did have a couple of times when the wrong ship got moved. Other than that, though, the game looks fantastic. The board is epic, the artwork on the cards is gorgeous and gives the game a lot of life.

If you like weightier games, this one is thematic, rich, and detailed. It’s going to take time to get into it, and even longer to master the strategies. It is rewarding, gorgeous, and allows you to tell some epic pirate stories. Check it out on Kickstarter and decide for yourself if you want to set sail.

Pros: Component quality and artwork are beautiful, ability to choose between standalone missions and campaign, very thematic

Cons: Much heavier gameplay than the games we typically cover, game time will increase significantly more with more players, can be difficult to distinguish player icons

Disclosure: This is a paid preview of an unpublished prototype of this game, which is subject to change prior to publication.