Pirates Outlaws in an engaging card game that refreshingly accessible. While be playing in minutes a drip-feed of variation ensure longevity. Although the price is a bit high, it’s not outrageous enough to make the game walk the plank.
Platform: PC, previously on mobile
Developer: Fabled Game
Publisher: Fabled Game
Release date: April 14th, 2020
Price: $19.99 via digital download, launch price of $14.99 through 4/20
‘Easy to learn, hard to master’ is a design principal that’s been advocated by everyone from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to Blizzard Entertainment. But tragically, the adage is rarely realized by developers. But the recent PC release of Pirates Outlaws comes remarkably close. Originally released as a mobile title, the deck-building card game entered Steam’s Early Access program last August. Outfitted with a new character and game mode, the general availability release is here. Save for a premium price (tempered by a 25% launch discount), the game is a treat, especially for players without the patience to learn a complex ruleset.
Like any respectable single-player card game, Pirates Outlaws begins with an interactive tutorial that explains nearly all the essentials. A match kicks off with players selecting a character from the game’s cast of fourteen seafarers, each having their own stats and distinct abilities. But you’ll start with the gunner, who’s distinction is regenerative ammo. Earn enough repute from games and you’ll be able to unlock characters with a larger health supply or ones that randomly either double or halve damage. Each buccaneer has their own unique starting deck as well.
The Difficult Life of a Buccaneer
Initially, you’ll only be able to tackle the Navigate campaigns, where six separate missions send you sailing between islands as you approach a stage boss. At the start of each game you’re given an allotment of 100 points. Traveling to each isle consumes these points, which can be replenished at taverns and marketplaces. Run out of points and there’s an escalating chance of shipwreck each turn. But even with Lady Luck’s generosity, the game will end on the fourth turn. As such, you’ll probably want to squirrel away few coins before this mishap occurs. But like any engaging card game, circumstances will force you to dip into your savings.
Events are marketed by landmasses marked with question marks. Here, you face a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-like scenarios, where rewards and balanced against risks. While you can often opt to circumvent these dilemmas, there’s the occasional penalty. Rather than play dice against my crewman, I opted to safeguard my investments. The result was a loss of 3 HP, with the act of snubbing my fellow shipmates reducing morale. A swashbuckler’s life isn’t an easy one, Pirates Outlaws reminds us.
Punches, Pistols, and Peril
Like any proper pirate, most of your time will be spend in conflict. Land on an island with crossed cutlasses and you’ll be thrown onto a fracas with a up to three belligerent foes. Adopting a bit of role-playing custom, each combatant is eliminated when their HP pool is depleted. The turn-based conflict begins with players receiving five random cards from their deck. While punches are free to use, ranged combat require ammo. The cost required for use is signaled by the number of flintlock pistol balls. Fortunately, most decks include a generous supply of ammo. But you’ll undoubtedly face the situation where you’ll have a heavy-hitting card but can’t afford the ammo cost.
Occasionally, you’ll be forced to blame yourself when this situation happens. After each successful fight, you’ll be able to add new cards to your deck. At marketplaces, you’ll be able to buy new cards or upgrade existing ones. Naturally, the temptation is to purchase devastating damage-dealers, but these are habitually accompanied by heavy ammo costs. Greed, of course, is the downfall of many ne’er-do-wells.
A View from the Crow’s Nest
What makes Pirates Outlaws superior to its peers is the intuitiveness of the game. Quite often, the theme of card games is buried through abstraction. But with Pirates, combat is delightfully easy to learn, especially if you’ve played a role-playing game where a weapon is said to hit for 3×7 damage. The sole exception is armor. While it works as a game mechanic, it doesn’t make sense that equipping a shield would expend ammunition. That said, there’s a wealth of strategy rooted in the games’ conditions, where a drunken or blind opponent will repeatedly whiff during their turn.
Where the mobile has monetary motives to slow the unlocking of new content, the Steam version doesn’t have an alibi. While each island-hopping trek is undoubtedly fun, the slow unlock of new stages, characters, and Arena mode. The latter forgoes the ship management component of the game as you try to win 30 rounds in a row. Sure, there’s none of those in-app purchases to nag you on PC, but progression moves at a protracted pace.
Pirates Outlaws was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.