Saturday, 4 April 2015

Pirate Fluxx: The Ever-Changing Pirate Card Game

If you ask any gamer to reel off a handful of quick, casual games, there's a very good chance that Fluxx will be on the list.  Love it or loathe it, Fluxx has become one of the staples of the gaming world since the release of the original version of the game way back in 1997, and has spawned a number of themed sets (14, at the latest count!).
In this article we'll be swashing our buckles, hoisting the colours, and dunking the ship's biscuits, as we take a look at Pirate Fluxx from Looney Labs.

As with all Fluxx games, Pirate Fluxx is a casual, competitive card game for 2-6 players.  In the same way as we did with our reviews of Zombie Fluxx and Star Fluxx, we won't be going into the basic Fluxx ruleset here, as it's identical in every version of the game.  If you haven't played any version of Fluxx before then we'd highly recommend starting by reading our Monty Python Fluxx review, as we detailed the full rules here.
Instead, we'll be looking at some of the additions to this version of the game, and how well the pirate theme is brought to life.

If you've played Star Fluxx or read our review (and if you haven't, then why not? Seriously, we gave you a link just above, you have no excuse!) then you'll know that version of Fluxx tipped it's hat to a lot of franchises, from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, to Star Wars via 2001: A Space Odyssey.  We might as well start by pointing out that Pirate Fluxx is not franchise-based, so you'll find no Jack Sparrow, no Dread Pirate Roberts, and no Guybrush Threepwood here.  In fact it's not even historically-based, so don't expect to see Blackbeard or Calico Jack showing their faces either.

Sorry, Guybrush, you and your woodchuck have no place here.

It's not all doom and gloom though.  Even without some of popular cultures greatest piratical personalities, Pirate Fluxx still takes players across the seven seas, with ships, rum, gunpowder, treasure and citrus fruits!

As with all themed Fluxx decks, the chosen theme comes through strongest with the Keepers (and, subsequently, the Goals).  Whilst there are pirate-specific New Rules and Actions, the majority of these two card types are still the same as the other Fluxx decks, but the Keepers are all piratical.  Amongst the Keepers in Pirate Fluxx, players will find a wide selection of 'booty' cards, such as doubloons, emeralds and pearls, and a range of fine sea-faring vessels, from mighty frigates to humble dinghies.  They'll find rum, they'll find parrots and monkeys, the king's colours and pirate flags... basically if it's a part of pirate lore, it's probably represented in the Keepers somewhere (except for the governor's daughter, but Pirates! Card Game called dibs on her already).
As with StarZombie and - to a lesser extent - Monty Python, some of the Keepers in Pirate Fluxx have special rules, and the way Looney Labs have written these really does make the pirate theme stand out nicely.  For example, there is a New Rule card called Plunder, which allows players to steal a Keeper from an opponent once during their turn.  However, if a player has the Cutlass Keeper then they're (almost) safe from plundering.  They can still be plundered from if the plundering player has the Flintlock Pistol, as flintlock>cutlass.  To trump everything, however, if a player has the Captain's Hat then they can plunder from anyone, and similarly cannot be plundered by anyone (it's important to respect the chain of command).  This makes the Captain's Hat a highly valued commodity in Pirate Fluxx (in no small part due to the fact that the other players are required in the rules to refer to its owner as 'Captain'), and we've been involved in games which have gone on for far longer than they should have, with the Goal being completely forgotten about in favour of fighting over the coveted hat!  One of the most heart-breaking moments as the reigning captain is seeing the malicious look of joy in an opponent's face as they play the Mutiny! card.

Other piratical cards are interspersed throughout the deck.  Whilst Fluxx staples such as Draw 3, Play 2 and Steal a Keeper are still part and parcel of the game, cards like Mutiny! and Walk the Plank! continue to keep the pirate theme running.  But our favourite card in Pirate Fluxx (possibly second favourite - that Captain's Hat is pretty darn cool), and the one which most heavily brings a pirate atmosphere to the gaming table is a New Rule...

In a similar fashion to Monty Python Fluxx's Outragous Accent New Rule, Talk Like a Pirate rewards players for, well, talking like a pirate!  Whether slurring their way through their best Jack Sparrow impression, or "Y'arr!"-ing their way through a turn, players get to draw additional cards for putting on a pirate voice, and for keeping it going uninterrupted.  In our very first game of Pirate Fluxx, one player's phone rang and - unwilling to lose the +1 bonus for maintaining their pirate voice - they answered the phone in pirate character and confused the hell out of the sales caller on the other end of the line.

As with most variations on the game, Pirate Fluxx is not without its Creepers; cards which prevent players from winning the game.  However, it's very Creeper-light, with the two above being the only ones in the deck.  Not only that, but they're actually incredibly easy to get rid of compared to most Fluxx Creepers, with Scurvy being removed by the mere presence of citrus fruit Keepers, and Shackles having the option of being bought off with a booty Keeper.  Not only does this quicken the pace of the game, but it also makes it a lot more accessible to the younger gamers in the family, who may otherwise get frustrated with the unshakable Creepers in other Fluxx games.

So that's Pirate Fluxx!  We've always been very open about the fact that we fall into the pro-Fluxx camp, and Pirate certainly doesn't fail to disappoint.  The light-hearted nature of the classic game still shines through the piratical paint-job, but at the same time the pirate theme isn't lost - this still feels like a piratey game, as opposed to just a game with some pirate words on the cards.

The Good Points
  • Each card tells the player exactly what they have to do with it, and so it's a very fast game to pick up.
  • It's a nice compact game, and can easily be taken to a park or pub to play with friends.  Nothing is needed except for the cards in the deck.
  • Pirate Fluxx manages to keep both the feel of Fluxx and the feel of a pirate game, so you'll get precisely the game you hope for out of this.
  • The low number of Creepers and the ease of discarding them makes this a good version of Fluxx for younger players as well as adults.
  • With the right number of players it's quite a quick game to play, and is good to wrap up a heavy gaming session.
The Bad Points
  • As with other Fluxxes, Pirate Fluxx is largely a game of chance, and this luck-based system will not appeal to all.
Recommended Number of Players: 3
Fluxx decks are always good wind-up or wind-down games on any gaming nights.  Pirate Fluxx loses a little of the fun with just 2 players, but with 4 or more (the box advertises 2-6) it can start to drag on as players forget their own Goals and desperately vie to just keep eachother from winning.

Average Game Time: 20 minutes
Pirate Fluxx is difficult to put an average game time on due to its random and unpredictable nature.  We've played games which have been over in a matter of minutes, and some which have gone on for over an hour.  20 minutes is a good, solid, average time though.
...unless everyone is squabbling over the Captain's Hat, then you should steel yourselves for a 3 hour epic!

Replay Value: High
Pirate Fluxx is an excellent wind-down game, and with it being an enjoyable yet generic theme, it's a lot of fun to keep returning to.

The Future: n/a
Each version of Fluxx is its own game, and as such the contents of the box are all you'll ever get of Pirate Fluxx.  However if you've enjoyed the mechanic then there are several other themed Fluxx sets to choose from, including Zombie Fluxx, Oz Fluzz, Martian Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx and Stoner Fluxx.

Price: £12
Pirate Fluxx will set you back roughly £12, which is a thoroughly decent price for a stand-alone card game.  The various Fluxx sets seem to be standard fare in most specialist game shops, so even if they don't have the set you're after then they should be able to get their hands on it quickly.

 Tea consumed during this review: Tetley Redbush, 2 sweeteners and a dash of lemon.  Brew Rating: 8/10

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