This game (formerly marketed as Privateer) doesn't have much to offer in the way of innovative mechanics, but neither does it claim to. Each player begins with three ships anchored at port in their corner of the board. An island in the center of the board holds a treasure which every pirate band covets. The first to sail to the island, pick up the treasure, and make it back to port safely wins the game. Or, if you're in a more aggressive mood, you can also win by sinking the last of your opponents' ships.
A diagonally-oriented grid defines how movement can be made. On each turn, players roll a pair of dice to see how the winds are blowing. As in backgammon, each die is treated independently. The dice can be assigned to one ship or split between two ships. Ships can move in any orthogonal direction within the game grid. If both dice are assigned to the same ship, that ship can change direction between dice— even doubling back the way it came.
Movement is complicated a bit by the tradewinds, a pair of currents stretching along the diagonals above and below the island. You can't just cross through the tradewinds, you must first land on them by exact count. The tradewinds offer the only exception to orthogonal movement— once in the tradewinds, you may move diagonally within them.
Like Pac-Man, the grid also wraps around via the straights [sic], a narrow passage allowing travel between two edges of the board. As with the tradewinds, these can't be crossed without first stopping within them.
Ending a die's movement on a space bordering the island entitles you to load the treasure onto that ship. Doing so commits you to a mad dash back home, because not only can't you transfer the treasure to another ship, but the one with the booty is no longer allowed to move away from its home port.
This can be a problem, because that ship is now a huge target. All ships— including your own— block each other's movement. Landing on an opposing ship, however, sinks it, capturing the treasure before it goes down.
And that's pretty much that. Pirateer is easily one of the most attractive efforts to come down the pike in quite a while. The board, depicting the four players' home ports and the seas on which they sail, is colorfully and effectively painted. The plastic tokens, each with a decal indicating their fleet, have a very satisfying feel. But the crowning achievement is the rule booklet, a glossy full-color affair which leaves nothing to chance. Every rule is clearly separated from every other rule, and beside each is a picture illustrating the rule. I only wish every game had instructions like this.
The booklet also includes nine other game variations, including versions for two players and one for combining two sets to accomodate up to eight players. One of the more whimsical is "Nuke-a-teer" in which you may declare any ship to be carrying a nuclear device, destroying that ship and anything else (treasure included) with the randomly-determined blast radius.
It's clear from the box that Pirateer is a family game. The instructions are easily understood, the rules simple to pick up. What it lacks in innovation, Pirateer makes up for in presentation. It's not really my cup of tea— I don't generally go for the roll-move-and-capture school of game— but Pirateer doesn't pretend to be more than what it is— a solid, polished production.