Port Royal Review


What does this rating mean?

Posted by Kyle on Oct 19, 2017

Critical Hits: Terrific push-your-luck gameplay; balances depth with casual sensibilities.

Critical Misses: Weak use of the pirate setting.

The problem with most filler games is they’re so insubstantial I’d rather just have a good conversation until we’re ready to play the next full-length game. Yes, introverted as I am, I’m still not so socially inept that I’m unable to talk about games, life, or whatever with my friends for ten minutes to the point where I have to pull out Love Letter every time the conversation hits a lull. If these kinds of games tip the other way and end up being too heavy, however, they feel too stuffy and serious for the kind of tone I look for in a 20-30 minute filler game.

Port Royal strikes the right balance: light enough for conversation but enough decisions on each turn to feel like an actual game.

When I win a game of Port Royal, I’m never sure if I was just smarter than everyone else at the table, or if I just got stupid lucky, though I suspect the latter. But that’s part of the charm. The purity of the push-your-luck elements, coupled with the light engine building, make for a game in which you look forward to each flip of the cards.

On your turn, you’ll keep revealing cards until you decide to stop and buy a card or until the pirates attack and you’re forced to end your turn with nothing. Embarrassing! Don’t let it happen to you! While it’s a simple mechanism seen countless times before, there’s some subtlety in the implementation here. Since other players get to buy after you’re done, you want to reveal enough cards that you’ll have something good to pick up while not revealing so many that your opponents have a beneficial purchase when it comes ‘round to them.

The deck! What dangers lurk beneath its shuffled surface?

Therefore, each card draw has several factors: am I likely to reveal one too many pirate ships and end it all? Is there a card lurking in the deck my opponent desperately needs? Do I (or the other players) have any cards that interact with the row in a particular way I need to be aware of? It’s exactly the kind of multi-dimensional decision that drew many of us to tabletop gaming in the first place.

It may sound like a lot to think about, but like any good game of chicken, luck often rules the day. The bold players who throw caution to the wind and wait until they see a high-value ship or the perfect card to fill out their engine will usually do well—except when they don’t. Except when the winds of fortune are not at their back and they go bust every turn. Except when they’re riding high with almost no chance of drawing the green pirate sh—aaaaaand it’s the green pirate ship. Of course it is. It’s the beauty of a good push your luck experience, and Port Royal absolutely nails it.

It’s purportedly about pirates, but it’s not, and that’s okay. It’s still a heck of a game in a tiny package, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend for those awkward 30 minute gaps in your gaming sessions.