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Pirate 21

Everyone knows Blackjack. Now you can play it with a twist, as each card is a character with a special ability that can move cards around or earn you extra treasure.

Published by Indie Boards & Cards, Pirate 21 features a pared-down deck and a range of card abilities that help you as you try to reach twenty-one. If you go over, you’re not eligible to win the round — unless you can use those same abilities to lower your score before someone else ends the round.

Gameplay

At the start of each round, the deck is shuffled and everyone is dealt two cards. You look at your cards and choose one to place in front of you face-up and another one face-down. Cards can have a value of zero to eight, and each card has an ability written on it.

On your turn you chose to draw the top card of the deck and place it face-up in front of you, pass your turn, use a card ability, or knock. If you knock, you are declaring the end of the round, in which case each player (including the knocker) gets to take one final turn. You may not knock on your first turn of each round. If the draw deck is empty at the start of your turn you must knock; the deck is then shuffled for everyone’s final turn.

An ability can be used from either your face-up or your face-down cards. But it has to be a card you actually possess (you cannot bluff about it). Card abilities include things such as exchanging any two face-down cards on the table or drawing two cards and keeping one while discarding the other. There is also the pirate card which allows you to guess the number value of an opponent’s face-down card. If right, the opponent is eliminated from the round and you gain a coin (the princess’s ability protects you from the pirate and forces any player using a pirate on you to give you a coin if they have it). The black spot, meanwhile, has a value of zero and prevents you from winning the round at all, but will earn you a coin if you are eliminated from the round or if you end the round with the lowest total value of cards.

Once the round ends, everyone reveals their cards. The player with the highest combined value of cards that does not go over twenty-one, wins a coin. If the winner was the player who knocked, she wins an additional coin. If any player has at least four coins at the end of a round, the player with the most coins wins. Otherwise, you shuffle all the cards back into the deck and begin a new round.

Pirate 21 Components

Review

Pirate 21 is a fun, light twist on a classic card game, with a bit of a Love Letter feel. It brings something a little new to the original game while also keeping a lot of what made the original fun. It’s a little more strategic and increases the player interaction, and each hand tends to last just a little longer.

The fact that players are not immediately out of the running when they go over twenty-one, ensures that you actually have an opportunity to use abilities to try to pull yourself back on the right side of that score. You can also use the abilities to force other players to go over. The abilities themselves lead to some really interesting moments of gameplay, as you try to figure out what others are holding, swap cards around the table, or use the pirate to guess another player’s face-down card.

There’s still that suspense you get in Blackjack when you vacillate between drawing again or not, and you can still weigh the math and consider the odds. There is no splitting mechanic as in regular Blackjack (which we didn’t miss much) and many of the abilities feel like a fair replacement to it.

Component wise, we would have preferred a slightly nicer quality of card, but the artwork in the game is gorgeous and thematic, and there are some very handy player aid cards included that give you a breakdown of all the cards in the deck and their abilities. But you might want to consider sleeving the cards to make sure they will endure several plays.

Pirate 21 plays fast. We liked that there were a couple of other ways to earn coins outside of simply winning the hand. It’s easy to play and teach, and doesn’t do a disservice to the classic it’s based on.

Pros: Artwork, range of card abilities, player interaction

Cons: Cards could be better quality

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.