Comments on Pirates of Van Zandt

# 1 Comment. # This is a review I posted to BGG. I thought it'd be useful to also post it here on the wiki


The Pirates of Van Zandz is a piecepack game for 3 to 4 players.

The premise of the game is that several pirates have all hidden their treasure on one group of islands which are all too close to each other, so naturally they all rush to protect their own treasure while at the same time trying to steal the treasures from the other pirates.

Each player uses a different suit, with the coins representing the crew of their pirate ship and the pawn representing the captain. All these pieces start the game on the null face up tile of their own suit, which represents their ship.

The islands are built with the rest of the tiles face down (the table space between them being the sea where the ships move), and pieces will move through the small squares when they disembark from the ships. The game gives you different configurations of islands but it's easy to create your own.

Each player will place their ship on a sea area close to the coast of an island (ships always move with at least a corner or an edge touching a corner or edge of an island) and then will place their own die on one of the small squares of their choice. That's the "possible" spot for their treasure.

Then the game starts with players playing in turns, choosing between a variety of actions like moving, shooting their cannon, moving individual crew members or their captain, etc... Players choose two actions to perform each turn.

When a player has at least one piece next to a treasure from another player, they might try to take it. They do so by rolling that die and checking if the number rolled is the same as the number on one of the pieces next to the treasure (the captain counts as null). So you can see how having more pieces around the treasure will highly increase your chances of getting it, because if you fail the roll, the owning player will get the chance of moving the die to any other spot (probably far from where your men are).

It's also important to note that the actual value rolled for the die must be kept because that's the actual value of the treasure. So it's in your best interest to use your higher coins to try and get the treasure.

But of course, that would leave your ship with lower valued coins which would leave it vulnerable to a boarding attack (when boarding a ship, you compare the total values of all the coins on each side, highest value wins and eliminates the crew of the opposing ship).

Last, players can also leave the islands and go to the deep seas to hide the treasure they stole for good and recover lost crew members.

In the end the player that gets the most treasures wins, so in a 3 player game, you need to get two treasures. In a four player game, if anyone gets two treasures before anyone else got any, they win, else when 3 treasures have been claimed you compare the values on the dice and highest wins. In case of a tie wait until the fourth one has been collected. If the tie persists each player rolls their treasure dice until the winner is clearly determined.


We played a few 3 player games with our 6yo son and he really liked the game. I think it is a good game to play with kids.

I found the game offers some nice decisions and has a push-your-luck element because you can either try your luck with just one or two men to try and get a treasure, or you can spend more time to move more men and increase your chances (but in the meantime other players will advancing their goals too).

There are a few strange situations that can arise if players are not careful which might leave a player without any chance of getting treasure. For example, in a 3 player game, if two players take each other's treasures, the third player will not be able to get any treasure. Of course, if this player manages to board and steal one of the treasures from either ship then he'll be fine, but once the other players have gone to the deep seas and hid the treasures for good, there's nothing that player will be able to do that game. Fortunately the game is short.

Something else that can happen is that a ship can be stolen (only if the captain is not on board). Usually if a player steals a ship, the player that lost the ship will be able to at least board the abandoned ship and use it, but it might happen that his crew is on an island that has no access to that ship. If that happens they will be stranded for the rest of the game. The chances of this actually happening in one game are extremely small, so it shouldn't be a problem, but the possibility is there nevertheless.

Also, one thing that wasn't clear for me from the rules, but that the designer clarified when I asked was the fact that the ship is really like one big square which when next to land or to another ship is considered adjacent for all purposes of the game. This means that if a treasure is on the coast (next to the sea) and you move your ship so it is adjacent to the treasure, you can get it with all the men on your ship (so putting a treasure on the coast is a BAD idea). Also, when two ships are next to each other you're not only limited to ship attack actions (fire your cannon or board) but you can use individual crew members to fight and weaken the crew. Initially I thought individual combat was limited to island spaces.

With that in mind, the game gets more interesting, as the tactical options increase. For me the only problem is that it is too easy to take away a stolen treasure as you can move to "deep sea" from any spot on the map. You can also return to any spot on the map once you've hidden the treasure, so you can return as close as possible to the next treasure.

One suggestion from the designer is that each trip to "deep seas" and back costs 2 actions instead of one. This helps a bit. Another suggestion is that players can never hide their treasures (they always stay on the ship). This makes for a much bloodier game where you've got to always watch your back. We still have to try this last variant, and although I'm aware it may make the game longer, it may also make it more interesting.


I think the game makes good use of the piecepack pieces, taking advantage of hidden information, and using the tiles in a novel way (many games use tiles as board, but few if any use them as actual moving pieces). The game does feel thematic enough for a piecepack game, and is fun enough to play. I think it is a good game to play with kids as they will enjoy the theme and the game is easy to learn. It also is pretty visual and it's easy to know what each piece represents at a glance. It is also more interesting for adults, so they can have fun too

So overall I think this is a good addition to the system and a good, quick, family game.

-- JorgeArroyo 2010-04-12 14:34 UTC

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