A mystery box filled with miniatures to enhance your RPG campaigns. All official miniatures and for a bargain price!

Buy Miniatures Box »

Not sure what game to buy next? Buy a premium mystery box for two to four great games to add to your collection!

Buy Premium Box »
Subscribe Now »

If you’re only interested in receiving the newest games this is the box for you; guaranteeing only the latest games!

Buy New Releases Box »
Subscribe Now »

Looking for the best bang for your buck? Purchase a mega box to receive at least 4 great games. You won’t find value like this anywhere else!

Buy Mega Box »
Subscribe Now »

Buy 3, get 3% off - use code ZATU3·Buy 5, get 5% off - use code ZATU5

Buy The Game



  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

Might Not Like

Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

The Pirates of Drinax Review

the pirates of drinax

The Pirates of Drinax is a vast, wide-ranging sandbox campaign filled with adventure, intrigue, betrayal, romance, mystery and – on occasion – a smattering of honest-to-goodness swashbuckling. The entire campaign blurb feels like a wish fulfilment writ large; after all, who doesn’t want to roleplay as a pirate? And yet, The Pirates of Drinax offers a surprising depth of narrative style, generous capacity for player agency-fuelled curveballs and an attention to detail that is often found lacking in other premium campaign settings.

Traveller Tales

Most gamers have experienced that moment of shivering unease when they are forced to explain what playing a role-playing game entails to some wide-eyed neophyte. Basic mechanics are summarised, unfamiliar shaped dice fondled, and books turned over with the confused expression of an 8th grader learning about quantum physics for the first time. That first glance at a blank character sheet does little to convey the essence of the hobby. To become someone else, to take on a role, to set aside self and embrace the other? Such concepts generally require at least one play session to grasp.

Of course, such trials are easier today than they were back in the day. The popularity of Dungeons & Dragons -- memed into the collective consciousness via TV shows, computer games, and even the odd movie – imparted at least some idea of what the game is about. Even so, the ubiquity of the licence created barriers of its own. For many, role-playing games conjure up images of mighty wizards, dragons, vainglorious heroes, and dank dungeons filled with treasure and peril in equal measure. The stereotype obfuscates the purity of the concept itself.

Pick a Role, Any Role

Such clarity was present from the very start. Dungeons and Dragons kicked the whole thing off in 1974 and spawned several copycats. Yet, just two years later, the hobby took to the stars with the introduction of the first-ever – now mostly forgotten -- science fiction role-playing game, Metamorphosis Alpha. Indeed, the early years of the industry were filled with genre experimentation. Players donned tights and fought dastardly villains in 1977’s Superhero 2044, investigated alien horrors in 1981’s Call of Cthulhu, and took on the role of secret agents in 1983’s James Bond RPG. Some games thrived, and some fell into obscurity. However, one early foray into the world of roleplaying stood out from the crowd. It cemented itself in the minds of RPG enthusiasts as a game rivalling the pedigree of D&D itself.

Marc Miller’s Traveller.

Life Is Short And The Galaxy’s Wide

Released in 1977, Traveller offered a unique perspective on the burgeoning role-playing experience. Taking inspiration from science fiction novels such as Dorsai by Gordon R. Dickson and H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking, Miller eschewed notions of levelling up and the endless pursuit of treasure in favour of a more balanced approach to storytelling. Commerce, morality, intrigue, and exploration provided a core gameplay loop juxtaposed with the sweeping drama of a highly stratified, aristocratic society. Game of Thrones in space? Sure, why not?

The initial book received near-universal acclaim upon its release; players were drawn to its high production values, janky, space-opera tropes and broad focus on scientifically literate world-building. By 2006, the game had already undergone no fewer than eight different editions – some more successful than others – but in 2008, Mongoose Publishing reworked Traveller from the ground up. The game remained committed to a somewhat utilitarian style of play but streamlined many of the mechanics and returned emphasis to character interactions, something that had been missing from the mid-iterations. In 2016 they released a second edition which was again updated in 2022.

All of which takes us back to The Pirates of Drinax. Pick a role. Any role? How about that of a pirate? And a space pirate at that.

The Sandbox Set

The term Sandbox is overused of late, reminiscent of the noughties’ insistence on describing everything as bespoke or the nineties’ garish use of the word ‘bling’. Sandbox conjures up images of cookie-cutter games lacking in complexity, of bloated narratives spread too thinly across too vast a plane. But exceptions have to be made, and in the case of The Pirates of Drinax, the shoe most assuredly fits. The slipcase includes three books – The Pirates of Drinax, The Trojan Reach, and Ships of the Reach – and a double-sided poster map detailing the vast sandpit itself on one side and deck plans of the Harrier class raider -- that the players will find themselves corsairing with -- on the other.

The Pirates Of Drinax

The core book offers a sweeping overview of the story, advice on running the campaign, and ten set adventures roughly delineated between heists and perils. Heists occupy the same headspace as an Ocean’s Eleven movies (only in space, which, let’s face it, makes everything much cooler), whilst perils offer a set of eclectic narrative events designed to challenge even the most experienced of players. Advice given on the nature of space piracy are both comprehensive and succinct. Rules on how best to chase down prey and strip wallowing merchant barges of all that delicious booty are married to the economic reality of running a ship of scurrilous ne'er-do-wells. Sharing out loot and securing victories are critical to the success of the campaign at large. Failure can lead to low morale, discontent, and even mutiny.

The Trojan Reach

The second book details the region of space the campaign takes place in, the ‘Reach’, a backwater outland nestled between two rival empires. Comprising 460 stars and over 3000 planets, detailing the entirety of the Reach is beyond the scope of any single tome. Still, the book goes to some lengths to describe the political and social turmoil of the region whilst also describing key characters, locations, and events. Considerable space is devoted to the Aslan hierarchy, the neighbouring empire of lion-like warriors who serve as protagonists for much of the campaign. Detailed rules on Aslan character creation, as well as an overview of their psychology, political standing, and equipment, help to offset any tendency for the Aslan to become two-dimensional villains of the story. They might be powerful, aggressive, and dangerous, but their culture – rich in principles of honour – offers more nuance than players might initially expect.

Ships Of The Reach

As the name suggests, the third book in the series provides an overview of the kinds of ships one might encounter whilst traversing the vast cosmic ocean of the Reach. Each vessel is fully statted out to accommodate the inevitable ship-to-ship combat and comes with detailed floor plans to lend weight to that moment of exhilarating panic as boarding parties race through the decks in search of treasure. Aslan ships also make an appearance; of radically different design, some effort has been made to highlight the alien nature of such vessels, and emphasis is given to the exotic nature of crew members and the Aslan focus on military tradition and aesthetics.

Campaign Overview

The campaign begins on the floating palace of Drinax, the sole surviving city-state of a once glorious empire. The chance discovery of an ancient ship set adrift centuries ago provides the King of Drinax with an opportunity to rebuild his lost empire and reclaim the grandeur, might, and influence of his forbears.

Wounded though this vessel is, it remains a superb commerce raider able to outmanoeuvre and outgun any ship of comparable size one is likely to encounter within the Reach. The King presents the travellers not only with the Ship – on loan, of course – but also with a letter of Marque, a quasi-legal document granting pardon for the capital crimes of piracy.

With one catch.

The letter will not save you, not unless the kingdom of Drinax is restored and its flag hoisted over a least a dozen worlds. The Travellers will have to forge alliances, disrupt trade between the Aslan Hierate and Third Imperium, and secure vast fortunes to rebuild the Empire that was. Only then can the letter of Marque pardon them from their crimes, transforming them from wanted criminals to licensed privateers who had been carrying out the king’s commands all along. And the reward for their efforts? Why the hand of the king’s daughter, of course.

This is a pirate story, after all.

A Pirates Life For Thee?

Which takes us back to that word again, Sandbox.

The Pirates of Drinax requires a light touch from the referee by design. The setting is expansive, and the ostensible goals are deliberately fluid. Travellers may stay loyal to the command of their king. Or they might just as quickly eschew notions of Empire building as the seductive lure of larceny and adventure corrupts once noble intentions. Perhaps the throne of Drinax is, in fact, theirs for the taking? Or maybe they find themselves stranded on a backwater world, stripped of wealth and agency but determined to win back their ship?

The genius of The Pirates of Drinax lies not in what is written down but rather in the spaces between the pages. Adjacent to the heists and perils detailed in the core book lies, well, everything else. The opportunity to introduce truly episodic space opera storytelling into an already well-defined campaign often proves hard to resist. Space anomalies, strange new worlds, Ridley Scott-style bug-hunts; think of a sci-fi trope, and chances are you can throw it into the mix without the players so much as blinking twice. Indeed, Mongoose publishing encourages Referees to explore off-narrative stories; the Drinaxian Companion provides a wealth of such options alongside new ships, rules for building havens, and a host of half-whispered rumours of fame and fortune that can be sprinkled throughout the campaign at opportune moments.

Still, while the companion is an excellent addition, it is far from essential. Traveller’s core mechanics and setting feel custom built for such a campaign. The lack of faster-than-light communications lends a truly oceanic feeling to the concept of space travel. Journeys take weeks and require meticulous planning as ships weave their way through systems stopping for fuel along the way before jumping to the next oasis. Hyperspace travel is a fickle, mechanical thing in the Traveller universe, with ships unable to jump too close to a gravitational well. Instead, they must thrust towards safety under the power of regular engines, a minuscule point of light burning its way across an unending blanket of darkness.

And in that darkness, anything might happen.

Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates of Drinax has secured its place as one of those legendary campaigns that those fortunate enough to experience it will talk about for years to come. During the playtesting for this review, the Travellers crashed on an asteroid, stripped the wrecked ship for parts and used the engines to turn a barren lump of rock into a lifeboat of sorts. Dreams of rebuilding the Drinaxian Empire took a backseat as they tramp-steamed their way back to civilised space, launched a daring attack on a rival pirate crew and then continued the game as captains of an entirely new ship.

While curveballs of such magnitude might derail most campaigns, they have the opposite effect here. Mongoose’s campaign provides a rich tapestry of opportunity, and advice on what to do when things don’t exactly go the way the Travellers planned is almost always forthcoming. Adversity in roleplaying is memorable, doubly so when players overcome seemingly impossible odds and The Pirates of Drinax throws much adversity at you. Mutinous crews, daring heists, and furious ship-to-ship combat blend with political intrigue, romance, and the kind of double-dealt dastardly backstabbing that sets waxed moustaches a twitching.

Campaign In Poetry, Govern In Prose

The Pirates of Drinax is one of those genre-busting campaigns that come along once in a generation. Sprawling, complex, and fluid, it doffs a cap to an older gaming style yet feels at ease with the fast-paced mechanics modern players are familiar with. The languid pace of space travel blends with white-knuckle moments of terror whilst the perma-death realities of travel through the cosmos threaten to derail carefully executed plans at any given moment. Yet, despite the free-roaming nature of the overall experience, key plot points persist, driving players towards their ultimate fate and a climatic finale. The focus on player agency is admirable, and whilst The Pirates of Drinax might not be the easiest of campaigns for a referee to run, it is undoubtedly one of the best.

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

    Might not like

      Zatu Blog

      Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

      Join us today to receive exclusive discounts, get your hands on all the new releases and much more!