I spent a significant chunk of my youth immersed in the 17th Century Caribbean, via my Atari ST. Sid Meierâ€™s â€˜Piratesâ€™ ranks up there in my top five games of all time. Has the iPad version made the cut? Is it hours and hours of piratical goodness? Yaaarrrrr!
What youâ€™re getting with â€˜Piratesâ€™ is a two-fold experience, a combo of fun and learning that you simply donâ€™t see enough of in games at the moment. The pure fun side? Being piratical in all of the conceptâ€™s buccaneering manifestations. You sail, you duel with swords, you pepper with cannonballs, you wheel and deal, you explore, you investigate and you woo. Yes, you woo, as in charm, seduce, that sort of thing.
The possibilities in the game play are such that you can be playing away (happily...no grinding) for three hours and still not have â€˜done it allâ€™. This is a rich environment, far more in-depth than anything Iâ€™ve come across on the iPad so far.
So letâ€™s get down to the nuts and bolts here. You start out as a fledgling sailor whose family have been sold into slavery. You lead a mutiny against an oppressive captain, take over the ship and...voila...youâ€™re a pirate! Knock on the door of a local governor, get yourself a Letter of Marque, and youâ€™re now free to privateer your way around the 17th Century Carribean.
As far as the action-packed side of things go...the sword-fighting is a relatively simple combination of swipes on the iPad. High, middle, low...and the odd â€˜pick up object and smack opponent with itâ€™ routine. Itâ€™s all about timing and, while itâ€™s simple, it ainâ€™t easy. I spent more months than Iâ€™d like to remember languishing in a Spanish prison thanks to some misadventures of the rapier. Oh, and I do like the old Errol Flynn dive off the ramparts of a burning fort. Youâ€™ll know what I mean when you successfully rout the opposition in a town raid.
And I nearly forgot about the trickiest and most nail-biting piece of action of the game. Dancing! Yes, in order to send your prospective wife into a swoon of romantic adulation you need to dance her of her feet. How? Tap on the screen in time to the music. Sound easy? It ainâ€™t. Youâ€™re dealing with complicated baroque tunes and relatively subtle rhythms, and then thereâ€™s the successive double-beats to attend with. Like I said, more stressful than most of the sword fights!
So thatâ€™s the action quotient dealt with. What about this â€˜learningâ€™ stuff I mentioned. Now, stifle your yawns. This isnâ€™t â€˜pound-the-player-over-the-head-with-the-education-cudgelâ€™ time. The learning you do in Sid Meierâ€™s â€˜Piratesâ€™ is integrated to the point where you hardly even notice it.
Geography, History, and Economics. Thanks to playing â€˜Piratesâ€™ as a kid, my geographical knowledge of the Caribbean has always been a cut above any other geographical region, apart from New Zealand. Itâ€™s nice to know that, when someone mentions St Kitts, Barbados, Havana, or Florida Keys, I actually know where theyâ€™re talking about. Why? Because I personally captured them all in the name of Charles II!
What about History? â€˜Piratesâ€™ is a fantastic overview of a tumultuous period, the imperial conflicts over the new world colonies between England, France, Spain, and Holland. Itâ€™s a fairly authentic depiction of the life of the pirate, and too some extent of the 17th century colonial in the Caribbean. Then thereâ€™s the wealth of knowledge about the ships of the time. Wisdom that the player needs to peruse and understand in order to choose the right ship for the right mission and equip it efficiently with cannons and crew.
And as for Economics...thereâ€™s a reason Iâ€™ve left Economics until last. Itâ€™s the strongest element of the game. Trade and economic growth are explored in a simple and deeply engaging way. Should they wish to follow a more peaceful path, a player can trade goods between various colonial towns, all of which have differing commodity prices depending on their population and economic strength.
The player can then improve and wreck the economy of a town through steady trade (on one hand) or a sound sacking (on the other hand). Towns can also be affected by Indian attacks, raids by other pirates, and bouts of illness. And finally the player can bolster various towns by assisting in the transport of fresh colonists, new governors, and special items such as disease resistant sugar plants. The player can have an active hand in growing their own trading partners. And the stronger the economy of the town, the higher the prices offered for all of those pirated goods one procures on the high seas!
Sid Meierâ€™s â€˜Piratesâ€™ is...and Iâ€™m walking out on the plank here...a cross between a marlin and a school of tuna. Serious fun to play with, and good for your brain. Itâ€™s all the Omega 3, you see? You want to learn a thing or eight about the 17th Century piratical Caribbean? Play â€˜Piratesâ€™! The learning pretty much takes care of itself.