Dark Seas Review
“Holy Crap, they’ve made a Monkey Island board game!” These will be the first words that race into your mind when you see the box for Dark Seas, a pirate themed game from AEG (the company behind Smash Up and Love Letter). Dark Seas is a tile laying game with a dice element that does indeed look like the cardboard version of the LucasArts classic videogames. Not only do the games share the gorgeous cartoony art style but the same irreverent humour is scattered throughout both. Take the distinguished high ranking naval officer for example; he has been drawn to look very familiar and then his name gives you the punch line – Admiral Crunch.
The story of Dark Seas is that each of the four players is a pirate who has been given their own wee section of a collection of pirate islands where everyone is now trying to be the most infamous pirate. Attached to everyone’s section are six different coloured harbours that can each hold two resources that players place around their main base in any order they wish. The resources give you actions such as recruiting pirates, gaining money or treasure or even messing around with an opponent’s island. You get to build one resource every turn after you’ve travelled around your island activating resources that were previously built; so far so basic. Dark Seas’ twist lies in how players get around their islands. This is where the dice come in; players must travel around their island in a clockwise direction visiting each harbour one at a time and can only put their ship on a harbour if they have rolled the correct colour on the dice. This would be simple enough if you got to roll the dice at the start of you own turn. Instead, the first player gets to roll the dice, decide if he wishes to re-roll any of the four dice and those will be the dice results everyone will use for one round. At the start of the next round, the player on the left of the first player will then start the round by being in control of the dice. This will continue for twelve rounds and the player with the most infamy wins the game. Infamy is gained by recruiting pirates, building resources and collecting sets of matching treasure. There are a few other bits to the game such as your captain who can help plug the gap left by a dice for a colour you didn’t roll and gaining a benefit from a resource tile instead of building it but it’s quick to set up and easy to teach.
Whilst the early rounds of Dark Seas are pretty light, a player’s turn in the later rounds can be rather meaty as they decide how many of their harbours they wish to get around and whether they will end up on a tile that they can build on. There is also the chance that a player will sacrifice travelling four spaces around his island so that you can only move to the next harbour or sometimes, not even at all. Although the turns are normally quick, there is the danger of AP (Analysis Paralysis) setting in as players deliberate on which dice to keep or re-roll, which resource tiles to use as a scheme, which to build and even which tiles to take into your hand when drawing new ones. AEG have actually addressed this in a recent Eratta sheet where they now suggest the phases of a round are carried out by each player before moving onto the next. This little tweak to the rules works really well and games do seem to speed along more quickly so hats off to them for that.
Anyone who has played Smash Up and Love Letter from AEG will know that the quality of the components are top notch and will last a good number of years even with repeated use. The person normally responsible for the excellent quality control of the components must have taken a tea break when Dark Seas was being printed as it seems that a few mistakes have slipped into the box. One of the main aspects of the game is the six different coloured ports where upgrades are attached to. Each of these colours also has a symbol attached (one presumes that this is so the dice just don’t have a bland colour and to help the colour-blind enjoy the game as well). Somehow three of the symbols on the dice are different from what was printed on the tiles. Once you discover this it’s not an issue to play the game according to the colours and ignoring the symbols, but it would have been nice if the dice were correct from the get go. AEG have also acknowledged this error and are going to have replacement dice available soon. My copy of the game also had another snag in that the scoring board / round tracker was warped out of shape. It seems (after scouting about the internet) that this is not that common and a quick email to customer service will sort these issues out. You could argue that the game should have never been published with the wrong dice or more play testing should have been done to discover the rule errors; you could also argue that AEG care enough about the games to keep going over them and continue to improve them after they have been published.
Excluding the quality issues mentioned before, there is not much left to grumble about when it comes to Dark Seas. It is a decent little game to use as an opener at your game sessions and the artwork will put a smile on your face every time. The game can bought online for around the £25 mark which is a fair price for it. So, if you are considering Dark Seas, I can say that it is an enjoyable enough game provided you can be patient whilst the quality issues get addressed.