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Jolly Roger - The Game of Piracy & Mutiny


Fréderic Moyersoen

ARES Games

No. of Players:
1 - 4



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Jolly Roger, that is the notorious name for the flags of pirate ships. And it is exactly this name which has served multiple boardgames as title and background story. The newest member of this clan of pirate-themed games is a small card game by ARES GAMES which seems to be particularly suitable for larger groups (as the player number is indicated by 4-10). The subtitle The game of piracy & mutiny already tells us a bit more about the different aspects of the game. So, it is of course a pirate game, but the aspect of mutiny - not quite unusual for a pirate game - will play a major role, too.

In the game the players are crew member on a famous pirate ship. All players sail on the same ship, but not everyone has the same function. First of all there is the Captain, who is randomly chosen at the beginning of the game. But no worries, the Captain will change soon after, that is for sure. First task for the new Captain is to designate a Quartermaster who preferably should emerge as a good friend, because he has an important role on the ship and can influence a lot of the distribution issues. So, it is a good advice for the Captain to maintain this good partnership and also to find further friends by the one or other gift, because otherwise he will probably see a mutiny of the rest of the crew quite soon.


Eventually, it is the Quartermaster who carries out the orders of the Captain, and there are quite a lot of wishes that a Captain has in a round of the game. It begins with the choice of the ship's destination. Five different locations can be chosen as destinations from a Destination deck. Each location has its own deck of cards that is laid out face-down in the middle of the table. One location is for burying treasures, so they cannot be taken by other players any more until the end of the game. Another location is for acquiring new cards for the hands of the players and three of the locations (forts, merchant ships and settlements) are for plundering and will contribute to the players' treasures, at least if they are able to defeat the local defenders. All of these conquest destinations differ in strength in three disciplines (guns, melee combat and a skill of navigation that is necessary to reach the destination). The exact value of each discipline is unknown as long as the cards are still face-down, but the back of the card already tells us the range in each category, so the pirates can be prepared.

But of course, for a successful raid for plunder all people on a pirate ship must cooperate, mainly because each player only has a limited number of cards in his hand and because these cards are quite necessary in case of a mutiny, too. So, a process of consideration in which each player has to decide if it is better to play more and more cards for meeting the requirements of a plundering destination as safe as possible or to hold back cards for a later phase of the game. Taking arrangements with other players is allowed and welcome in this phase, but of course these arrangements can also be broken again. What did you expect? We are in a pirate game!

It is the Quartermaster's task to organize the attack and so he must convince other players to take part in the attack and help conquering the prize of a destination by playing cards. Of course, in this phase a lot of negotiating takes place, because a player who has played more and stronger cards expects more of the prize, if the attack turns out to be a success. So, more and more cards are added for the conquering action, until no one wants (or can) play more cards. As might be suspected, you can add all of your hand cards up to the highest possible value that is already indicated on the back of the cards, but as indicated earlier this is not the best winning strategy (at least if you are not the Captain or the Quartermaster). So if the players are not too scared and waste many cards, we normally do not know about a success of the journey before the Destination card is finally is turned face-up. In case of a failure, all played cards are lost for the players and of course there will be no plunder, too. However, the risk of a mutiny certainly will rise after such an epic failure...


However, if the attack was a success, the Captain takes the prize (in form of a number of Prize cards as indicated on the conquered card) chooses one of the cards and hands the rest of the cards over to the Quartermaster who distributes them among all other players as he wishes. The only rule for him is to distribute the cards as equally as possible, but this only counts for the number of cards, not the values of the cards. So, you can see that the Captain and the Quartermaster work closely together and have a very strong position.

This cooperation might work some rounds, but sooner or later the other players will begin muttering their discontent and it will come to a mutiny in which the Captain can be confirmed or unseated. In such a mutiny phase each player may play his Crew cards for or against the Captain. Most of the cards have a value of 1-3 strength for this mutiny, but there are also some nice special cards, e.g. cards that can end a mutiny by chopping off the head of the Captain or the Leader of the mutiny. Once again, a lot of negotiating takes place in the Mutiny phase, but once you have chosen your side, there is no way back. So, it can be a clever strategy to wait how other players choose sides and which cards they play on the table. But of course, the winner of the mutiny will have a close look, who is his friend and who is only a freeloader. The losers of the mutiny loose all of their prize cards (if not buried in Treasure Island), truly a hard penalty.


The game ends after the tenth round, so that ten destinations are chosen in a game, but it is not important that all of these destinations have also been reached. If you have a speculative group, it is a good advice to treasure up early in the game. And of course it is even better if you are able to bury these treasures on Treasure Island , because often in the game great wealth that has not buried on Treasure Island changes hands in a mutiny. But then again, long-lost prizes may come back to their former owners, since the next mutiny will come for sure....

Jolly Roger - The game of piracy & mutiny is quite easy to learn and has a lot of negotiations and bribe issues that give the game a high interactive value. Some elements strongly reminded me of Junta, like the distribution of the prize cards, the cooperation between Captain and Quartermaster (compare it with president and the secretary of the interior), the possibility of storing your treasures in a safe harbor and, of course, the fact that promises do not have to be respected. But Jolly Roger is much more simple, especially since the mutiny is not comparable with the coup which formed its own mini-game in Junta. So, the game is indeed particularly suitable for larger groups.

During playtesting I have discovered that it is especially entertaining if you and your fellow players like to really play your parts and adopt your roles. If you give it a bit of roleplaying, the negotiations can become very amusing, but if you just play card after card without any comments, the game will not set your house on fire, because for this the game does not offer enough playing depth. But if some players know how to whip up enthusiasm, Jolly Roger will give them a rather good forum. Due to these observations, I would recommend the game as a good party game alternative, especially if played with a higher number of players.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany