Rawrrr! Avast, ye landlubber…..I can’t do this. I can’t write an entire review of Piña Pirata in the voice of a pirate ship captain who also happens to be an anthropomorphic tiger. You knew what I was doing, right? I thought I made it painfully obvious.
Piña Pirata starts out so simply that while reading the rulebook, I was looking to see if I had missed anything important. Play a card if you can, draw a card if you can’t. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins the round. It’s Crazy Eights, but instead of numbers or suits, each card features one or two different pirate animals. To play a card, just match up one pirate on your card with a pirate on the top of the discard pile. The core of the game is crazy basic, but luckily there is more than meets the eye patch.
The twist comes when Adventure Tiles come into play, each with a different rule written on it. The game starts with two tiles on the table, but as each round ends, a new rule is added to the mix. Different pirate suits can be empowered or cursed, with chain reactions triggered by a single card played. These combos can build to become complex combos that are sometimes tough to track. Every round starts with a rule summary that sounds like a poker buddy just lost his mind. “Okay everyone, octopi are wild, monkeys swap hands, and rabbits need a turtle check before playing,” Craig babbles as the asylum personnel struggle to drag him away from the card table.
Once a player has rid themselves of all of their cards, they get to draw two Adventure tiles and pick one to add to the next round. They keep the other one, turning it over to form a quarter of a treasure map that supposedly leads to the legendary Golden Pineapple. Winning four rounds will mark the treasure with an X, forming a map of an island lost to time. Each tile has one of a handful of illustrations that create different islands each game, which is an entirely unnecessary detail, but makes the game look really nice when it’s over. Who doesn’t like some extra polish in their games?
One issue with Piña Pirata is that the detailed and gorgeous art featured on the cards depicting feral pirates can sometimes be TOO detailed, and many pirates look very similar from far away. The tiny icons in the top corner of cards do little to help navigate your hand for the right card, which adds time to an otherwise quick game.
Another issue is that there’s no solid way to judge how long any round will last. In the case that you can’t play a card, you have to draw one from the pile as a punishment. Additional rules can also add extra card draws, so sometimes rounds can go a little long for some tastes.
To curb this, the rules actually have a variant where you can play as many rounds as you want, dealing new players in while players drop out, making it much more of a casual experience to play with family and friends. My wife would describe Piña Pirata as a “conversation game”, a game that is simple enough to talk with others without missing anything important during the round. Piña Pirata doesn’t need to be taken seriously to have fun while playing it.
These illustrations are dropped right in the middle of a plain white background, which seems lazy considering the other artistic touches they added like different island shapes on the backs of Adventure tiles. Luckily, the second edition of the game fixed these issue with updated icons and colored backgrounds to help distinguish pirates from each other. Smart change, Iello.
Piña Pirata is not a groundbreaking design by any means, especially when you realize its designer, Donald X. Vaccarino also designed Dominion. Games like Fluxx and Red7 feature similar shifting gameplay and have been extremely successful and popular. But Piña Pirata is very easy to teach, changes from game to game, and is flexible enough that it is a great filler when waiting for food or to kill time. It feels like a game pirates could have played when the wind wasn’t blowing and there wasn’t anything to steal nearby. Why not play a few rounds? The wind will pick up again soon and you can move on, if you want, but you might want to play a bit longer. The Golden Pineapple calls to you.