Sid Meier's Pirates! can refer to any of three related games. The original game was released in 1987; an Updated Re-release called Pirates! Gold came out in 1993; and the latest game in the series (reverting to the original title) was released in 2004. The basic premise of the games is the same: You start out as a new Privateer captain in the Caribbean Sea with a Letter of Marque issued to you by one of four nations (England, France, Spain, or the Netherlands). The game is a Wide Open Sandbox, allowing you to take a wide variety of actions: Go the traditional pirate route and attack other vessels for loot and plunder, romancegovernors' beautiful daughters, search for other pirates' buried treasure using Treasure Maps, clear the high seas of all rivals who would stand in your way, or even go the boring"peaceful trader" route. One notable feature of the game is that the protagonist can never actually die; defeat in combat (or failure in other regards) generally leads to being either thrown into a Cardboard Prison or marooned / cast away on a desert island, both of which you can eventually escape from. Also, unlike many other games, age does affect your character; his fencing and dancing skills decline noticeably with age.Compare Uncharted Waters.
Alternate History: A large crew can completely reshape the geopolitical situation of the 17th century Carribbean. Capture every town for the Dutch, if you care to. Do it in 1560 (in the original version), before the Eighty Years War even begins. Did you just start the Dutch Rebellion yourself?
Anachronism Stew: Named Pirates from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries all sail together. But how cool is it to take on Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and Jean Lafitte in the same game?
Armor Is Useless: Played with. Certain captains - particularly Spanish military - wear curiasses and breastplates, but they don't seem to be any tougher than unarmored captains. On the other hand, the Leather Vest and Chain Curiass that you can buy are so useful that they're practically a Game Breaker on any difficulty short of Swashbuckler (the highest), especially since the latter makes your character virtually immune to sword thrusts. In the ground combat minigame, certain defender units will be shown as wearing armor, and while they are more powerful than unarmored militia, they aren't by a great degree.
Artificial Brilliance: If you start greatly weakening a faction's overall presence in the Caribbean, they will start launching a number of naval invasion fleets to recapture their colonies. Enemy ships also react differently based on what they are. Trade ships surrender very quickly, especially if badly outnumbered or outgunned. Smugglers will always try to run away, and since they're sailing in Sloops they've got a good chance of escaping. Pirates, warships with invasion forces aboard, and Rayomondo/Mendoza will try to ram to bring you to grips, but if you've got a large enough crew they'll try a few broadsides with grapeshot to tip the odds in their favor. Pirate hunters, however, will try to wipe out your sails with chain shot and beat you with grape shot before moving in for the kill, making them one of the more frustrating opponents to fight. Big, powerful warships - especially Spanish treasure ships - will try to destroy you with massed broadside fire.
Awesome, but Impractical: On Swashbuckler difficulty, your enemies get such high bonuses to speed and turning speed that your War Galleon becomes a sitting duck against anything save other galleons and merchant ships.
The Battle Didn't Count: The 1987 version has a tutorial battle after the Copy Protection. Regardless of the battle's outcome (which is weighted towards success/failure of the protection), it has no impact on who wins story-wise.
Battle Thralls: More than one type in this game. Sometimes after your boarding party takes over a ship, some of the surviving enemy crew are impressed and ask to join you. Also, when engaged in ship-to-ship combat your cannon fire will often send members of the enemy crew overboard. (If you use grape shot, this happens an awful lot.) They'll float there, clinging to a piece of wreckage, and if you sail over them you automatically fish them out. They then become part of your crew.
Big Bad: Marquis de la Montalban in the 2004 version is the man behind your family's enslavement and your main nemesis.
Boarding Party: You can board enemy ships and defeat their captains in order to capture them and their valuable cargoes.
Butt Monkey: Spain. They have the highest ratio of "really valuable stuff" to "ability to defend self".
And since they are the dominant power of the day, they vastly outnumber all the other targets, sometimes even put together.
Their ability to defend themselves varies greatly depending on the time period you choose. Spain in 1660 may be a Butt Monkey, but Spain in 1620 will not take kindly to your piracy and will make a point of letting you know, and Spain in 1680 will answer any piratical actions with wave after wave of Pirate Hunters.
The other problem with the Spanish is that their ships rapidly become obsolete: their Galleons are big and heavily armed, but maneuver very slowly. A Frigate can easily outflank a Galleon, while smaller ships can practically dance around them.
Camera Screw: Your opponent's moves in swordfighting are occasionally obscured by action happening in the foreground, particularly other dueling crewmembers, or a crewmember falling from above. Since swordfighting in the game depends entirely upon watching your opponent's move and reacting accordingly, this can be enough to turn a fight sour.
Card-Carrying Villain: You always know when a ship belongs to one of your main enemies, because it is labeled EVIL!
Chain Link Fence: You can elude the authorities in the stealth sections by jumping over short walls.
Cherry Tapping: You can, if you're skilled enough, literally beat any ship with any other. Beating a pirate hunter's Spanish War Galleon with a Mail Runner is particularly satisfying.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The only way to get maximum points is to be ennobled by all four nations, which means at some point you're going to have to switch sides and sail for someone you just got done plundering.
You can do this to other pirates and natives. Tell them to attack a city, and the moment they set sail, assault and destroy their ships. Then cruise around to every faction's ports in the area and get points for destroying the pirate/native threat.
City of Gold: In older versions, they're lost Incan treasures.
Combat by Champion: Played straight in the 1987 version, in which you could be the sole survivor of your ship against 300 crewmen, but if you defeat the enemy captain, you win, and get new crew.
Subverted with duels between captains in later editions. While it is possible to win a battle by defeating the enemy duelist, there is also an ongoing battle between the crews, and if you are utterly unnumbered it becomes impossible to defeat the duelist.
In the 2004 version, being the last man standing means that you automatically surrender to the opposing captain the next time you're hit, regardless of how well you were doing in the fight beforehand. Theoretically, though, it is possible to win a battle with only yourself as the remaining boarder/defender; you just have to avoid being hit at all. This is not as easy as it sounds, as once your crew is completely wiped out, the enemy captain will become extremely aggressive and be able to dodge attacks you were connecting with just moments before.
Copy Protection: The original 1987 version requires you to provide information about the treasure fleet or silver train. Failing the copy protection allows you to play the game, but the difficulty is significantly increased by altering starting parameters (e.g. you start with 8 men and 0 cannons instead of 40 men and 8 cannons.)
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: AI ships seem to take no damage from sailing into rocks. Also, while your character's swordsmanship decreases with age, it seems that ol' Marquis Montalban drank from the Fountain of Youth. Furthermore, on higher difficulty enemy ships get speed bonuses, allowing them to outrun you even if you have the same type of ship! It's almost impossible to catch Pinnace-class ships on Swashbuckler difficulty.
Cool Boat: The Brig of War, Mail Runner, Royal Sloop, and Ship of the Line are the best of their respective classes. The latter is the rarest and most powerful ship in the game.
Defeat Means Friendship: After the final battle with Montalban, he will hand over a ton of gold and any specialists you're missing in exchange for his life. He also becomes your cabin boy (though there are no in-game consequences).
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: Every single ship you encounter in the Caribbean actually has a "mission" that it is set to complete, be it sailing from one port to another to deliver people, supplies, or soldiers. Allowing them to complete these missions causes the target port to grow larger and stronger and wealthier, so blowing up every ship you see might not be in your best interests. Different ships also have different effects; smugglers, for example, won't boost the target port at all but will boost the port they launched from. Military payroll ships boost military strength across the entire faction's ports by a small but noticeable amount. An invasion fleet will decrease the strength of the port it was launched from, and its attack will have a variable outcome on its target city (reduce the garrison, population, or wealth, switch its nationality, or some combination). Grain and regular trade ships will boost population when they arrive at their target port.
Disappeared Dad: In the 2004 remake nothing is said of your character's father.
Disney Villain Death: Strangely averted with the Marquis de la Montalban, considering how grievous his offenses were and the fact that your climactic battle with him takes place on the top of a tower.
Distressed Damsel: If you romance a Governor's Daughter enough in the 2004 version, then when you next visit the port the Governor will tearfully tell you that she has been kidnapped by the Evil Colonel Mendoza and beg you to hunt him down and rescue her. (Successfully doing so leads to the opportunity to propose marriage shortly after.)
The Dragon: Baron Raymondo is one of Montalban's henchmen, and the guy you have to go after to get any news about your family members' locations.
Dual Wield: Largely averted, aside from the one-shot pistols that come into play at times. The trope abruptly and marvelously comes into play in a Cut Scene at the climax of one of the hardest mini-quests.
Easily Forgiven: Did you "accidentally" sink/capture one of a faction's ships? No problem! Just pay the nearest governor for that faction a thousand gold, and they'll forget it ever happened, and will even encourage you to strike at their own enemies.
Averted in one very specific case: if you sink or capture a nation's most powerful type of warship (Flag Galleon, Ship of the Line), the nation will never promote you unless you get the Jesuits to intervene on your behalf. This can be problematic with the Spanish, since Marquis Montalban sails in a Spanish Flag Galleon...
An Entrepreneur Is You: Possible, but not really that exciting. Made difficult to do as a long-term strategy by the fact that a week passes whenever you enter a town, and the town's limited supply of money for that week.
Faction Calculus: The land battles in the 2004 version have different unit types for the Pirates (Subversive) and the European Defenders (Powerhouse). Generally-speaking, the pirates will be much more effective at close-quarters combat than the defenders, while the defenders will have much greater ranged ability. The only units the defenders have which can engage in reasonable close combat are groups of Native American axemen and the very rare cavalry unit. Combat ultimately boils down to using the local jungle and rocky terrain to shield your melee and ranged troops until they can get into range, and avoiding open fields like the plague unless you're close enough to hit the enemy with your melee units.
It was almost exactly the opposite in Pirates! Gold: the town militia was faster than your units and their cavalry was rare but very deadly in the open. Your men, however, almost always had more muskets.
Fragile Speedster: The Pinnace and Pinnace class ships, from Mail Carriers to War Canoes. Sloops to a lesser degree, with the Royal Sloop being a borderline Lightning Bruiser.
Geo Effects: In land battles, terrain offers all sorts of advantages. Hiding in the forests affects the visibility and location of units, and Cavalry are incredibly weak in them. You also gain an advantage in melee combat if you attack from higher ground.
Gotta Kill Them All: In newer versions, the Named Pirates. They might not die, but their portrait gets a big red X, and you never see them again.
Grievous Bottley Harm: In bars you will sometimes see a captain who is bothering the barmaid. You have the option of fighting him in a duel. If you win the duel, you end up pushing him back to where the barmaid is standing, who breaks a bottle over the poor sap's head, ending the fight.
Guide Dang It: Getting a Ship of the Line isn't easy, since they never sail around on their own. Their nation will only deploy them if you've been *very* successful against it. Another reason they're so rare is that the Spanish, who are your best target, deploy Flag Galleons instead.
Guns Akimbo: The "Brace of Pistols" item gives you two pistols to open a fight with.
Hard Mode Perks: The higher the difficulty setting, the more treasure you keep for yourself every time you divide the plunder.
Hero of Another Story: Captain Sydney, whose memoirs appear in the manuals as in-universe explanations of game mechanics. If translated into player character stats, they describe a 1620 English Adventurernote He writes about using Providence as a base. who scored high points in Romance and Lost Relatives, and low points in Named Pirates, Treasure Maps, and Promotions. And he sure liked to whip the "papist dons".
Sydney was the default name of the protagonist in the previous game on the Genesis, with the default time period being 1620.
Joker Immunity: The older versions had a variety of evil Spaniards to chase down, but the 2004 version recycles Montalban, Raymondo, and Mendoza, giving them this status.
To drive the point home, you cannot sink a ship belonging to any of these three, regardless of how many times you score a massive hit with all your cannons at close range - You have to board it and fence the villain. In fact, you can use Grape-Shot to whittle their crew down to just 1 man (presumable, the villain himself), and it will never drop below that.
Apparently averted in the iPad version of the game - you can sink Raymondo's ship with a well-placed broadside. You get nothing from him and have to track him down from scratch.
Luck-Based Mission: Whenever you attack a city, there is a chance that you'll run off the governor and get a chance to install one of your choosing. While the chance of this happening increases the larger your crew, it always remains a chance: you might have to plunder the poor townsfolk 3 or 4 times (with drastically reduced rewards each time) before the governor runs off.
Made of Iron: Ships manned by the Big Bad or The Dragon never sink; their hull damage will never go beyond 99% (ships normally sink when hull damage reaches 100%)
Master of None: The Brig of War is not nearly as popular as it might be, despite being the game's quintessential Lightning Bruiser, because players tend to fall into two different camps on tactics: "ram them quick and start a sword fight" or "pound them into splinters with your guns, then board." The former prefer Royal Sloops (or for the truly elite or crazed, Mail Runners), while the latter go for the almighty Ship of the Line, leaving the Brig of War without a particular niche.
Merchant Prince: Your character, an enterprising "nautical salvage expert," can advance in rank and title with his patron countries by attacking the ships of their foes. One of the endgame retirement options, based on the player's score, has him becoming a colonial governor himself.
Mighty Glacier: Galleons. Frigates and Ships of the Line almost fit, but with the caveat that their max speed is higher than any other ship's (though their maneuverability against the wind is terrible).
Minigame: The dancing, the swordfights, both naval and land combat... As a matter of fact, Pirates! might well be a Minigame Game.
Mayincatec: And Olmec! Ruins from all four civilizations are scattered across the map in a rather hodgepodge fashion, regardless of how likely it would be for, say, the Inca to have had an outpost on the coast of Florida.
Averted in the older games, where the treasures are stated to have come from wrecked Spanish treasure galleons.
The Navigator: One of the skills you can choose for your character is "Skill at Navigation", which gives you better sailing stats.
Never Say "Die": The game almost never actually shows anyone dying as such. Swordfights are always settled with the loser yielding, falling overboard, or being knocked out. Casualties from ship-to-ship combat are abstracted and never seen. No mention is made of the fate of any enemy crew that doesn't decide to join your band of rogues, though it's entirely possible they're simply marooned — not that that isreally a better option. The only place anyone is shown as actually dropping dead is during land battles.
Nice Hat: In the 2004 version, part of the dress uniform for Admirals and above. Lower-ranked characters may obtain a hat that nets them more invitations to grand balls, and therefore more romance opportunities.
Nintendo Hard: The highest difficulty level, Swashbuckler. Getting a perfect score of 126 on this level takes a great amount of patience and skill, and probably a bit of luck.
It is possible to "cheat" the system: because you can go to the next difficulty level any time you divide the plunder, you can spend most of your career in the lower difficulty levels, then jump to Swashbuckler and claim that you did it. Your share of the loot is smaller at lower difficulties, but it's still easily possible. There's absolutely no advantage for doing so, however.
Non-Lethal Warfare: In the 2004 version, swordfights end with one participant surrendering, going overboard, getting knocked unconscious, etc. In the older versions, all duels ended with a character surrendering, and your character never died. On the other hand, it is generally avoided with crewmen; direct hits from cannonballs and grapeshot will leave some crewmen treading water, but for ever man left at sea there's a dozen crew who are simply killed outright. In addition, losing a land skirmish ends with the pirates fleeing and leaving a number of clearly dead men behind.
Obvious Beta: The game shipped with several intended features Dummied Out. For example, as originally intended, you would have needed to build up your relationship with the Indians and the Jesuits, but instead, they just trust you completely all the time, making the items that are intended to improve your relations with them absolutely useless. Firaxis claims this was due to a rushed release date.
In addition, although barmaids and bartenders will occasionally give you information about the Spanish Treasure Fleet, it will never actually spawn due to a bug. Fixed in the iPad version...by removing the references to the Treasure Fleet.
100% Completion: A perfect score is 126 points. Strangely, you don't get points for rescuing your grandfather (if you already have all four map pieces to find him) or finding the final lost city (under the same condition), meaning you can get a perfect score without completely fulfilling your quests.
One Ship Armada: You can practically conquer the Caribbean by yourself for whatever country you want, or just rampage around the high seas, destroying everyone's ships.
Orphan's Plot Trinket: The family locket, in the 2004 version's introduction. Your captain trying to take it from you is the final straw that causes you to mutiny, launching your career in piracy.
Parental Abandonment: In each of the games, your character's Backstory always involves his parents (and the rest of his family for that matter) disappearing, and it becomes up to you to find them. The 2004 version plays it even more straight, as your parents are notably absent from the intro and are not among those you rescue.
Pińata Enemy: The Spanish Treasure Fleet, a convoy of Treasure Galleons laden with gold and expensive trade goods that makes an annual circuit of the Spanish colonies. It's also very hard to track down and escorted by a number of well-armed War Galleons.
Pirate Booty: Both averted and played straight. While most of your profit is probably going to be made by plundering merchant ships and selling their cargoes at the nearest friendly port, the "Ten Most Noteworthy Pirates" in the game do have buried treasures that you can dig up (which will obviously tick off the victim; you are stealing his hard-"earned" gold, after all). Also, there's the Spanish Treasure Fleet.
Pirate Parrot: Referenced by the bartender when he has nothing important to say. In the Wii version, a taunting parrot is controlled by Player 2.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Averted, obviously — you are actively encouraged to attack peaceful ships, plunder cities, and cause mayhem. However, it is theoretically possible to get a half-decent score without engaging in actual piracy if you really want to, by making ends meet as an honest merchant and picking fights only with pirate ships.
Privateer: To get the most fame and best retirement, you must at some point be on good terms with a nation. Otherwise, the older versions won't even let you land in a port. The 2004-based versions give you Pirate ports, but you're still denied access to governors or their daughters. This means, unless you cooperate with a European power, there's no way to score Rank or Romance points. With that said, you can earn credit with a power just by fighting their enemies (and taking out pirates and natives scores points with everyone), and you can sneak into towns or attack them to get to the governor's mansion even if you're wanted by the law.
Pyrrhic Victory: You can win any duel, but if you lost too many men in the ensuing battle, then chances are likely you may end up going to prison anyway since there's not enough crew to man even one of your escape ships. Or, in the case of sea battles, lose all your ships and end up as a castaway.
In the new version, however, even if you have less than the minimum crew you can still man all of your ships. If you have too few, you will simply suffer a speed penalty. Also, winning a town battle guarantees entry (and possbily a change of ownership to a country that favours you!), so no escape is needed.
Romance Sidequest: Governors' daughters. You can even romance more than one, though of course you can marry only one.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Unhappy crew will get fed up with you and eventually some crew will simply refuse to show up the next time you leave port. Eventually your second in command will outright steal one of your ships, plus any cargo it was carrying.
In the older versions, it was even worse; when crewmen began to desert you, they would take a portion of the plunder with them. This would serve only to infuriate your remaining crew even more, causing even more desertions and sparking a neverending downward spiral. Furthermore, if the crew did mutiny, you'd be thrown in a swordfight, and even if you won it you'd still lose a third or more of your crew and gold.
Shown Their Work: It's Sid Meier, did you expect less? The original Pirates! even forced the player to figure out where they were by using a sextant to identify only their latitude and land masses to get their bearing.
And the original game had a staggeringly thick manual only rivaled (at that time) by the manuals that came with Ultima IV in size, with reams of research on Piracy in the Caribbean and the historical period in general.
The older games averted this problem somewhat: he was your father instead of your grandfather.
Variable Mix: In towns, depending on which screen you're in, and in duels, in accordance to whatever side has the advantage.
Vestigial Empire: Spain is slowly sliding into the morass of becoming this throughout the game's years, and players are openly encouraged to help them along as they have the most valuables and targets without having some of the advanced units their Northern rivals have. With a good deal of effort, you can literally do this by stripping a colonial power of all but one colony. Guess who is one of the most frequent targets of that?
Video Game Cruelty Potential: As the game is about piracy, this comes with the territory. However, a common tactic among players is to slaughter the majority of their own crews (by leading them into hopeless battles) before dividing up the plunder. This won't increase the portion the Player Character gets to keep, but it will for the rest of the crew. As a result, they'll be happier with their share, you'll be seen as a more capable leader, and more people will want to join you on your next expedition.
Of course, if you're wildly successful in your current voyage, slaughtering extra crewmen could put you over the top of the bar, enabling you to sail until retirement without dividing the plunder. Usually takes most players at least three divvies to get that far, however, as a frigate of some sort is a must, and sometimes the bastards just won't spawn. (Using a Royal Sloop runs the risk of easy disarmament against Spanish nobles and Montalban by having too few crew members if they decide to ram you early, of course.)
Land invasions have the same effect; you will make enough profit and lose enough men never to need to divvy. You can completely conquer the Caribbean for your chosen country this way. Might want to take along some cargo ships for the extra crew capacity.
Get a Ship of the Line. Disable the enemy ship's sails with chain shot, wipe out their crew with grape shot, then circle around the helpless, drifting hulk and pound it to splinters with cannon fire. For extra cruelty, do it to an Indian War Canoe.
Go to a pirate port or native settlement, and tell them to attack the biggest, most heavily-defended port in the area, and watch them gleefully sail off and get trounced. Then follow up behind them and wipe out the weakened garrison and sack the town. Suckers.
Alternatively, after you encourage the pirates or natives to attack, sink their ships before they get that chance, and improve your standing with all the surrounding governors in the process.
Escort a fleet of immigrants to a port, boosting the town's size and wealth. Then sack it.