Ahoy there, maties! Are you ready for adventures unbound? Are you ready to behold unimaginable treasures? Are you ready to step aboard this crocodile crewed by cockroaches, snails and toads? You are? Then read on to learn about the lives of the Sewer Pirats.
Sewer Pirats was designed by Andreas Pelikan who designed the Spiel des Jahres nominated Witch’s Brew and also co-designed Broom Service and Isle Of Skye: From Chieftain to King (both Kennerspiel des Jahres winners). So the game has got some pedigree. Let’s get something out of the way, though. That’s not a typo in the game’s title; it’s a pun. The captains of these pirate ships are rats.
Each player in this game will take a crew of four assorted vermin and use them to crew pirate vessels and capture treasure. There are three ships which are sailing in the sewers of a city, each with its own flag: fishbones, a cat’s skull and a bird’s skull. On their turn, players will play talisman cards from their hand which match the ship they wish to board. They’ll then place one of their crew on the ship following a few rules. Once the ship has a captain it will sail on the captain’s next turn and players get a share of the booty, with the player who controls the front-most crew member getting first choice and the captain of the ship getting a bonus token.
Once there are no more booty tokens to fill up the oncoming stream of flotsam then each ship sails one more time and the game ends. Then players tot up their scores. Mechanically it’s a pretty simple game.
Not all Things are Equal
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Firstly, there are many varieties of vermin that can sail the ships in Sewer Pirats. Rats, cockroaches, toads, raccoons, snails and weasels are all available and are all represented by some nice, though not amazing, miniatures. Each species has its own special rules. The authoritative rats, for example, can swipe two booty tokens for their player instead of one. Swift cockroaches cost less to deploy and burly raccoons demand a toll to let another player’s crew pass.
The treasures are all pleasingly different, too. French fries, Chinese noodles and hamburgers are all floating around the sewers and are all quite yummy. Each of these will taste better with the appropriate bonus, though. If you’re fishing for French fries then you’ll want some ketchup to go with them. Noodles are much better with chillies and who can eat a hamburger without the requisite milkshake?
There’s some canned food as well. Each can is worth a lot of points but without a can opener they’re worthless! Worse, since pirats are a superstitious lot, each can opener can only be used once!
Finally, there is possibly the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in a board game: the teddy bears and soft dolls. Floating amongst the burgers, noodles and cans there are some children’s toys which the players can claim as booty. Like the cans they are potentially worth a lot of points but require a bonus token to be worth anything. That bonus token is a parrot. This parrot is required to communicate with the children that own the toys and demand ransom for them. How horrific is that?
For some reason not explained in the rules, one parrot is required to score all your teddy bears and another for all the dolls. I like to imagine this is because a parrot can speak either teddy or doll and must interrogate each captive toy to find its owner so it knows where to deliver the note. This is really dark stuff in an otherwise child friendly game!
All of the variety in crew and booty makes for a light game that has some nice pressures. Once each player has started to acquire some treasure, they will find themselves becoming invested in certain expeditions. Picked up lots of fries during the game? Well, the cat ship is sailing towards a ketchup bonus token so you’ll need to captain that ship to get it. This produces tension and a feeling of racing as each player tries to get the best treasure to maximise their score. It also gives a chance for players to block each other’s goals. Oh, you want that ketchup? Well I’m going to captain that ship so I get it!
Not all Plain Sailing
The components for Sewer Pirats are generally pretty good. The tokens and ships are made of really sturdy cardstock. The talisman cards are good enough, though they are mini cards (think Ticket to Ride cards). There are coloured bases to clip on the crew miniatures to indicate who owns them.
The sculpting of the miniatures is not going to set the world alight but there are some neat touches. The snails have “Crows go home” carved into their shells, the rats have a great ‘Charge!’ pose and the raccoons look suitably solid as a good reminder of their toll-charging ability. However, they are cast in soft plastic so some of the swords get a bit bendy and if a clumsy person were to step on a cockroach its legs might snap off from the base.
Some aspects of the components are questionable. There’s two player aids (why not four?) that attempt to show each species’ ability without using words. This makes them nearly impossible to understand. The artwork is okay, but not great. It serves and it does help to immerse players in the world of the Sewer Pirats but it looks a little amateur in places. Annoyingly, the art on the cat-skull ship looks pixelated like it was produced at a resolution that was too low for print.
Final thoughts on Sewer Pirats
Quibbles aside, there is fun game here that is family friendly and good for playing with or without children, despite the ‘14 and up’ recommendation on the box. Normally there are four types of crew members in the game with each player controlling one of each type. For a simpler game, each player can just use a tribe of the same guys. Want more control? The rulebook has rules for auctioning crew members before the game starts.
So grab your snails and weasels and let’s see how many dolls we can hold to ransom! Yargh!