A very good game with a minor scoring flaw - I think we can find a fix
What You Get
Time Pirates comes with two boards (a playing board and
one to hold the scoring tiles so everyone can easily see which tiles
have been taken), six player pawns, a time police pawn, 37 scoring
tiles, 76 artifact tiles, 10 time police tiles, and a drawstring bag
from which to draw artifacts at random.
The graphics in the game aren't all that great, to be honest. While
not ugly, more effort could have been made to match a good scene with
the different time eras the players can visit. Worse, the chits are
poorly differentiated and confusing to figure out - it takes a couple
of plays to really see the different types of tiles clearly. Also,
this is the type of game that needs extra colored markers the players
can put in front of themselves to identify which colored pawn is
theirs. Until we added these ourselves, we were always asking, "Who's
red?" or blue or whatever. But these are minor flaws - overall it's a
pleasing enough game to play.
The board has seven "epochs" you can visit. Each epoch can hold a
certain number of artifacts, ranging from 3 to 7. In addition, each
epoch has from one to three timelines coming in and two timelines
going out. For the most part, movement is along these timelines.
Each epoch has both a "Yellow #1" and "Blue #2" timeline leaving it -
these are used to randomize the time police pawn's movement. Players
treat them as being the same. Finally, the board has seven spaces to
store time police chits as they're drawn from the bag.
There are 14 artifacts in each of five types, and 6 "wild card"
artifacts which can be combined with any others. Artifacts are used
to redeem scoring tiles. There are 5 scoring tiles in each of the
same five types, and 12 "wild card" scoring tiles which can be
combined with any others. Scoring tiles contain victory points,
ranging from 2 to 7 points per tile.
The Basic Premise
The players are Time Pirates, of course: illegal time travellers
visiting different eras of human history to collect artifacts. These
artifacts are then sold in whatever future timeline the players live
in (not represented in the game - you just sell from wherever/whenever
you are). There is a limited market for such artifacts, however: once
a particular quantity and type of artifact is sold, there aren't any
more buyers for that combination again.
Somewhere out there a single Time Policeperson is trying to stop the
pirates. His movement in the game is random and largely ineffectual -
one has an image of some Laurel & Hardy policeman stumbling through
time looking for pirates while tripping over their loot and not even
noticing it. Still, he's a constant potential threat, and people tend
to treat the token with respect, so it has some effect on the game.
The game lasts for three, um, spielperiode: "playing periods."
I guess that's as good a term as any in a game in which time has
little meaning. At the end of that time, the player with the highest
The scoring tiles are all laid out on the scoring board at the
beginning of the game. Artifact tiles are drawn at random from the
bag and placed equally randomly on all the starting artifact spaces on
the board. The time police pawn is place in the largest epoch, and
the players take turns placing their pawns.
A player turn can include either two actions or three actions,
depending on if you restock artifacts or not. At the beginning of
your turn you decide if you want to restock artifacts in a given
epoch. If you decide to restock an epoch, you'll have three actions
that turn. If you opt not to, you'll only have two actions.
An action can be one of three things:
You can repeat the same action two or three times in your move if you
- Moving your pawn along an outgoing timeline arrow.
- Collecting an artifact in the epoch your pawn is in.
- Trading in artifacts for a scoring tile.
So most of the game is greedingly grabbing all the artifacts you can,
redeeming them for scoring tiles, moving to other epochs to greedily
grab more artifacts while avoiding the time police, etc., etc., and not
necessarily strictly in that order ... Almost true piracy, and great fun!
I say almost true piracy because you really can't greedily grab
anything an opponent has, alas. It does seem strange for a game with
Pirates in the title not to allow interplayer conflict
If you decide to restock an epoch, you must do it at the start of your
turn. In order to qualify for restocking, an epoch must have at least
one empty space to hold a new artifact and be free of player pawns.
So you specify which epoch you are restocking, and draw an artifact
tile from the bag. If it's really an artifact, put it in the epoch,
and keep drawing if there's room for more artifacts. If it's a time
police tile, however, move the time police pawn along the appropriate
timeline - half the time police tiles have #1 on them, and half have
#2. Then put the time police tile in the space for it, and continue
When the eighth time police tile is drawn, the playing period is over.
Everyone counts their victory points on their tiles and records the
scores. All redeemed artifacts and drawn time police tiles are
returned to the bag and stirred around. The player continues
restocking the epoch if there is at least one more playing period
I'm not sure why restocking artifacts grants you an extra action. I
suppose it's to encourage players to keep the game moving.
Scoring tiles can be redeemed with artifacts at the cost of an action.
Each type of artifact matches a type of scoring tile. There are five
of each type: a 2, 3, 4, 5/6, and 6/7. The number refers both to
victory points and to how many tiles of that color must be turned in
to redeem the scoring tile. In the case of those tiles with slashes,
the first number is the redemption cost and the second is the victory
point value. Scoring tiles can only be redeemed by the same color
artifacts, or by using wild card artifacts.
All of the scoring tiles of the five types are unique. Once the
Western Hemisphere 2 tile has been taken, for example, no one else can
get another one. This makes the timing in redeeming scoring tiles very
important - especially if you see others collecting the same type of
artifacts as you are!
Wild card scoring tiles are of three types: 3/2, 4/3, 5/4 - meaning
they cost more to redeem than they grant in victory points. In
addition, you have to redeem them with different colored
artifacts - five different colors, in the case of the largest wild
card scoring tiles. There are four of each value.
When the final playing period is over, players sort their scoring
tiles by type. You can assign wild card scoring tiles to any type you
want. Players who have the most victory points in a given type
receive a 2-point bonus, as does anyone who collects at least one of
each of the five types.
The Time Police
The time police pawn is a nice element in the game, as it keeps people
on edge and moving. The time police don't actually bust people very
often (except for Frank who's a time-police magnet). In order to be
busted, you have to start your turn in the same space as the
time police. So if they move into your space during someone else's
turn, nothing happens. If they then move out again before your next
turn, you'll get off without penalty.
The time police can zip around the board sometimes! Even if you
restock an epoch with only free space, if you draw a time police tile,
the pawn moves and you must draw another tile. If you draw
another time police tile, the time police pawn moves again, and
so on. Players often plan their moves to be far from the time police,
but sometimes get caught anyway. This is always gratifying unless it
happens to you, of course.
So what happens when you get busted? Well, it's not all that bad,
though it can hurt a little. First, you can't restock an epoch.
Next, you lose one artifact from your largest set. Then you lose all
of your wild card artifacts. Then you must take your first action (of
only two since you can't restock) to move away from the time police.
There, that wasn't so bad - unless you had a lot of wild card
artifacts, of course ...
There are two special types of artifacts. Four of each of the sets of
14 artifacts have movement symbols on them, and two of each set have
Discarding a movement artifact allows you to teleport to any epoch
without needing to follow timelines and without having to take an
action to move. As such, they're actually very powerful, and get
used a fair bit. It's a trade-off, though, as it cost you an action
to pick one up and you're not using it to redeem a scoring tile ...
You may exchange a swapping artifact with any artifact held by any
other player without costing you an action. Of course, he can
just swap it right back on his next turn, so these are usually used
immediately before redeeming scoring tiles.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
It's very weakly themed. In fact, one of the designers told me that
Time Pirates wasn't their original, or even second or third theme
for these mechanics and the time pirate theme was added by the publisher.
It's okay, it sort of works, and you can almost see it. But the
artifacts are very generic and have nothing to do with whatever time
period you travel in, and that weakens the theme. I mean you can pick
up a Western Hemisphere artifact in 900 AD and it looks exactly like a
Western Hemisphere artifact you find in 1999 AD. Somehow I doubt this
would be a common occurrence if time travel were a scientific fact.
And as mentioned above, it's a little difficult to tell some of the
tiles apart at first, and set them up on the scoring-tile board. But
that's something you get used to.
Much worse is the scoring problem. Because you score your victory
points after each playing period, and then retain the scoring tiles,
those you pick up in the first playing period will score three times
for you. Likewise, those you pick up in the second playing period
will score twice for you.
This creates the ideal condition to breed a runaway leader. Get an
early start in the game, and there's little point in playing out the
final period. This is largely because there's not much you can actively
do to hinder an opponent, so it's very difficult to gang up on the leader.
(About the worst you can do is see what artifacts he's going for and try
to get everyone else to pick up the same type to make it harder for him
to get a large set. Unfortunately, this means it's harder for
everyone to get a large set, and he'll just go for the rainbow
collections then, anyway, allowing him to collect wild scoring tiles.)
Thus, the leader has an equal chance to do as well in the second and third
periods as everyone else, and his first period lead will continually
add to his later period scores, pulling him further and further ahead.
Proposed Fix: well, being me I have to propose something. I
haven't tried it yet as I write this, mind you, so take it with a grain
of salt. But I will try it next game and adjust this section after
I do so.
Some people find the restocking/extra action thing to help the leader,
also. That is, it generally speeds the game up when you restock a
lot, because time police tiles are what causes the period to end. So
the player in the lead usually wants the game to end quickly, while he
still has the lead. Consequently, he restocks a lot - and is rewarded
with an extra action if the game continues! Others don't restock very
much, as they need more time to catch the leader, but only get two
actions per turn because of this.
Proposal #1, very simple: the end of a playing period is simply
that: time passes, return the exchanged artifacts and drawn time police
chits to the bag. Do not score tiles. Only score once at the end of
the game. Thus, there is no repeated scoring of tiles drawn early in
Proposal #2, perhaps needlessly complex: after the first and second
scoring periods, the leader must discard a scoring tile of his choice.
The discarded scoring tile is put back in the box - it is not available
for further redeeming, and is not revealed to other players. If there
are ties for leader, they all must discard a scoring tile of their choice,
unless everyone in the game is tied, in which case the rule is ignored.
This second proposal will change the game, I admit. But it changes it
for everyone, so that's fair. (The change I see is that everyone will
try to grab at least one of the smallest value scoring tiles to have
something cheap to discard in case they're in the lead.)
An easy fix for that problem is simply to give players two actions
each turn regardless of whether they restock or not. In fact, that's
how we mistakenly played our first game, and we enjoyed it.
I like this game, and will like it more when I find a fix for the scoring
problem. While it's not in the same class as the truly great games, it
moves quickly, without a lot of down time between turns. It occupies
a nice niche: light and quick enough to be fun, but rewards skill.
Luck is fairly minimal, actually, but it feels like a lighter game,
which traditionally are more luck-intensive.
There are different strategies you can use for victory: go for lots of
low-value scoring tiles, go for the big ones, go for wild card scoring
tiles, restock a lot to have many extra turns, restock very little to make
the game last longer, mine epochs that others ignore, go head-to-head
for artifacts with others, etc.
Consequently, I find it plays differently every time and there's always a
joyful moment when the time police catch someone who never takes a chance
and always stays far away from their immediate path. Delightful!
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