So You Want to be a Pirate? New family racing game idea using cards and bits

pirate ship

I’ve been experiencing something of an explosion of game ideas, fooling about with various mechanics and occasionally hitting on something fun that I’d want to develop further. This is one of those things – a simple racing game for 2-4 players, using a smallish deck of cards and 4-8 pawns. It’s a race game with a general idea of finishing first, but doing it smartly. At least, smartly in terms of the theme and messing with the other players, making their play ‘less smart’.

I shamelessly grabbed the bid-racing pawns bit from a post Daniel Solis made on his blog – a blog which every game designer should be reading! As another note, this game has not been play tested yet. Nor have I gotten the components created in any form, pirates or no. With that in mind, here’s the core concept and theme for the game!

So You Want to be a Pirate?

2-6 players, 15-30 minutes, ages 8+

By Benjamin Gerber

ALPHA document – all things subject to, and sometimes crying out for, change.

One doesn’t simply step into a crimson jacket, grab a parrot and sail the high seas in search of booty! You’ve got to work your way up!

Once a year at Skull Cove, each Pirate let’s their first mate take their two best ships in a race of skill, skulduggery and Arrrrrrrtful sailing. The winner receives their official pirate eye-patch, three-point hat and parrot, becoming the newest pirate to join the ranks! But be warned, being a pirate isn’t just about being first, it’s about smart sailing! Show that you know how to keep your crew happy and avoid the stray sea monster and you may just be picked!


Each player has 2 ships in their fleet represented by pawns. They then have 32 cards numbered 1-6 on them representing loot (1 treasure – 6 treasure) this is the loot they’ll use to bribe the crewinto racing faster. each of the 6 cards also has treasure types (suits) ranging through gold, jewelry, spices and parrot eggs. Add to these 32 cards the 16 Avast! Cards. Shuffle this deck.

All of the pawns are arranged in random order in a straight line. This represents the entire fleet of ships, all racing to be first.

The player who was last on a boat becomes the first player, and deals 5 cards to each player.

There are also 8 Greedy Needs (GN) cards. Shuffle these cards to make a separate deck. They describe which treasure type the pirate crews are looking for as you play. Pirate crews are greedy by nature and the only way to make them work faster (or at all) is to promise them treasure!



The first player flips over the top Greedy Need card, and that’s the suit. The to the left of the first player may then look at the top card on the Greedy Need deck, but cannot share this information with other players. That player may choose to leave the card where it is, or move it to the bottom of the GN deck.

Starting with the first player, each player may play 1 card of the treasure type shown by the GN deck. Each player plays one card in clockwise order until the 1st player is reached, where a second card may be played. Playing cards continues until no players wish to play any more cards.

The player who plays the highest total number of cards ( say 6+4+1 = 11) may move one of their pawns to the front of the line. The player who plays the 2nd highest total number (5+4+1=10) may move one pawn to 2nd place. Third highest gets to move a pawn into 3rd place. Players who don’t play or score lower do not get to move any pawns.

Avast! cards are also mixed into the deck and at the end of each turn any player who does not have a ship in 1st, 2nd or 3rd place may play an Avast! card (going in play order clockwise around the table). These cards only affect ships in 1-3 place (sometimes all of ‘em, sometimes only one or two of ‘em). If a player plays an Avast card, they keep that card until the end of the game. Avast cards are not discarded.

16 Avast! Cards for a total deck of 48 cards. 2 of each type:

  • Becalmed – pawn in 1st place is moved to the back of the line.
  • Wee little tentacled monster – pawn in 1st place moves back to 3rd place.
  • Fog!  – Pawns in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place stay in order but move to back of line.
  • Water Spout! – Pawn in 3rd place switches places with 4th place pawn.
  • Whirlpool! – All pawns in the line are picked up and randomly placed back into line.
  • Thief! – The player who’s pawn is in 1st place must discard a card of their choice.
  • Angry Swabbies! – The players who’s pawns are in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place must discard their highest treasure card. If they have more than one, they may pick which card to discard.
  • Bilge Cooties! – The pawn in 3rd place must move to the back of the line.

angry pirateAfter all players who may play Avast cards have been given a chance to do so, all players draw 1 card from the deck. The player to the left of the previous first player becomes the first player and flips over the next GN card, while the player to their left becomes the 2nd player and may peek at the top card of the remaining GN deck. If there are no cards left in the GN deck, the 2nd player has nothing to peek at.

End Game

When the GN deck is empty, the game ends.

  • A ship in 1st place = 5 points
  • A ship in 2nd place = 3 points
  • A ship in 3rd place = 1 point.
  • Each Avast! card is worth 1 point at the end of the game.


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