This theme was also notable for its introduction of a wide range of specialized parts such as ship bow, stern and mid-section hull pieces, masts, functioning cannons and several different animals to include monkeys, parrots and sharks. The theme also introduced a special character, the Pirate Captain Red Beard, who had a unique peg-leg, Hook Hand and eyepatch.
Like all LEGO themes, Pirates evolved over time with the introduction of newer sets. In 1992, the 18th century French-modeled Imperial Soldiers were replaced with the 18th century British-themed Imperial Guards. (no, not those imperial guards). At the same time, nearly all the pirate sets were replaced as well. This year saw the introduction of the Skull's Eye Schooner (#6286), the largest Pirates ship until 2010, as well as the popular Imperial Flagship (#6271) sets. The Imperial Flagship name was given to a new and much larger Creator Expert set (#10210) introduced in 2010. It is the largest single Pirates ship sold by LEGO, and was also the largest classic Pirates inspired set for 10 years until the Ideas set Pirates of Barracuda Bay (#21322) came out.
The theme was expanded in 1994 to include the Islanders, based loosely on pre-colonized native tribes, but not specific. Led by King Kahuka, the Islanders inhabited a number of hazardous but treasure-laden islands and atolls. Sets included interesting bits such as canoes and catamarans, fancy head-dress pieces and crocodiles.
In 1996, the theme was refreshed again and the Imperial Guards were replaced with a 16th century Spanish-themed "Imperial Armada". Many fans argue that this change marked the decline of the Pirates theme overall, as the sets began to lose quality. They focused more on gimmicky features such as collapsible masts and less on actual substance and creativity for the player.
After 12 years with only sporadic releases, 2009 saw a return to the Pirates theme in full, with new sets that took inspiration from the older line and featured its two main factions, but with set design akin to other action-adventure themes of the time such as Atlantis and Power Miners.
In 2011, the Pirates theme was discontinued, and though they had a theme based on Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it shared no relation to the Pirates theme. The main Pirates theme had a brief return in 2015 with only 5 traditional sets that were essentially new versions of the 2009 line, and was discontinued shortly after.
In 2020, the LEGO Ideas set Pirates of Barracuda Bay (#21322) was revealed and released. Despite not officially being a Pirates set, it was designed as a continuation of the original '89 Pirates line, featuring an island base made out of the wreckage of the Black Seas Barracuda and aged versions of most of its crew. Notably, builders are able to take apart the base and rebuild the ship, so the set also functions as a remake of the original Black Seas Barracuda, with newer parts and building techniques but keeping the original shape and colour scheme.
Among fans, the Pirates theme is one of the most fondly remembered and popular for collectors and Adult Fans of LEGO. The Pirates theme has even spawned large scale table-top style games played on living room floors, including one by none other than Steve Jackson, who is an avid and vocal fan of the LEGO Pirates theme. His game rules and instructions can be found here.
As for the sets themselves, a complete guide can be found here.
Some notable LEGO Pirates LEGO ship sets :
- #6285 / #10040 Black Seas Barracuda (1989-1992 / 2002-2004) (One of the most remembered Pirates sets by fans)
- #6286 Skull's Eye Schooner (1993-1995) (the largest Pirates ship set until 2010, see below)
- #6271 Imperial Flagship (1992-1995)
- #6268 Renegade Runner (1993-1995)
- #10210 Imperial Flagship (2010) (the largest Pirates ship set)
Tropes seen in this LEGO theme :
- Added Alliterative Appeal : At least a third of the sets had alliterative names, e. g. "Renegade's Raft", "Pirate's Plunder", "Raft Raiders", "Smuggler's Shanty", "Bounty Boat", "Lagoon Lock-up", "Broadside's Brig", "Cannon Cove", "Rocky Reef" and, best of all, "Pirate's Perillous Pitfall".
- "Awesome McCool" Name : Pretty much all the ship sets, with names like "Black Seas Barracuda", "Red Beard Runner", "Cross Bone Clipper" and "Skull's Eye Schooner".
- Captain Colorbeard : Captain Red Beard
- Chased by Angry Natives: But they were only angry when the pirates tried to double-cross them or otherwise threaten them. One promotional comic had two pirates arguing about their shares from a buried treasure to the point that they didn't notice they got surrounded by the natives, who then mocked their greediness.
- Deserted Island : Pretty much any island set that didn't include inhabited buildings or hideouts.
- Dressed to Plunder: The presence of the pirate Stock Costume Traits should surprise no one.
- Dub Name Change:
- Many of the LEGO Pirates sets had different names in America and Europe. For example, Captain Redbeard's first ship was named the Black Seas Barracuda in America and the Dark Shark in Europe.
- The chief of the Islanders was named King Kahuka in America and King Quextil in Europe.
- In the American magazine LEGO Mania, a contest was held (but the winner was never announced) to decide the name of the Admiral, with the choices being Cannonball Cordoba and Don Diego de LEGO. In the European magazine Bricks and Pieces, no such contest was held because the Admiral in question was named Sergeant Speedy.
- Eyepatch of Power: A common feature on many minifigs.
- Family-Friendly Firearms : Averted big time, as with all the other historical LEGO themes. Granted, it's a toyline based on the golden age of piracy, so this is to be expected. The minifigs wield muskets, blunderbusses and trusty flintlock pistols.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Black Seas Barracuda set features what is supposed to be the carving of a nude woman as the ship's figurehead. It's not so obvious, though, being as she's effectively a minifig without legs, and her torso is completely blank.
- Hook Hand: A very common feature, especially among the captains.
- Improbable Weapon User : The boxart of the set "Buried Treasure" featured a monkey wielding a cutlass.
- Island Base : Many of the sets, both small and large and both for pirates and colonial soldiers.
- Noble Savage : The islanders weren't perfect by any means, but were portrayed as a peaceful people who only wanted to be kept alone and remain neutral in the ongoing pirates vs. soldiers conflict.
- Ocean Punk: The setting was a mix between Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon! and more Polynesian-flavoured environments (in the case of the natives).
- Pirates : Well, of course. But there are also various factions of colonial soldiers and even natives.
- Pirate Booty : Many sets, especially the smaller ones.
- Pirate Girl: A lot of the bigger ships would feature a lone female pirate as part of the crew.
- Pirate Parrot : Lots of these in many of the sets. Minifigs representing wild untamed parrots were just as common.
- Punny Name : The set "Skeleton Crew" includes a buried treasure site "guarded" by the skeleton of a long-dead Spanish conquistador.
- Robinsonade : A surprising number of (mostly smaller) sets involves pirates being shipwrecked on a deserted island or marooned at sea.
- Seadog Peg Leg: The line has Captain Redbeard,◊ whose right leg is designed to look like a wooden stump.
- Theme Naming : A ridiculous amount of sets had geographic names based on various sailing and piratey lingo and equipment.
- Villain Protagonist: It's a theme about pirates, so this is a given, with the Imperial Guard and Islanders serving as Hero Antagonists.
- Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon! : The setting was mostly styled after the stereotypical version of the 17th and 18th century Caribbean. It did show some historical accuracy though, by having the pirate-opposing navies and armies belonging to various European colonial powers (namely France, Spain and Britain). This trope got subverted with the addition of the native sets, since they were a mix of Carib tribal culture and a more Polynesian-flavoured one.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men