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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 a new re-release (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, romance governors' 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.

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This game provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • In the 1987 version, the different nationalities and starting years would actually give you different background stories. Montalban wasn't selling families into slavery through the entire 1600s. (But a marquis is a title of nobility ...)
    • The 2004 version has fewer possible retirement jobs than the 1987 version had.
    • The 2004 version only features the Treasure Fleet, while the 1987 version had both the Treasure Fleet and Silver Train.
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    • The 2004 version also omits the first chronological era — The Silver Empire (1560-1599).
  • Adaptational Wimp: The Barque in the 2004 version. In the older versions it was a formidable vessel, being nearly as maneuverable and fast as the Sloop and Pinnace, yet still big enough to pack enough men and guns to fight it out with bigger ships or the odd fort (the classic "outgun anything it can't outmaneuver, and outmaneuver anything it can't outgun"). In the remake, it is relegated to a pure trading vessel with seriously nerfed abilities, while Sloops, Brigs, and Frigates succeed it as the preferred ships of most players. Barque-type ships can, however, prove a useful vessel to carry trade good plunder, as long as they're kept out of combat.
  • Alternate History: A large crew can completely reshape the geopolitical situation of the 17th century Caribbean. Capture every town for the Dutch, if you care to.
  • 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?
  • Another Side, Another Story: The 1680 Spanish "Costa Guarda" game can feel like this. Whereas the Spanish captain is always a renegade of no renown who's encouraged to turn against his home nation in the other time periods, this character actually starts with a Spanish rank, providing plenty of incentive to fight on behalf of Spain for once.
  • Armor Is Useless: Zig-Zagging Trope:
    • Certain captains — particularly from the Spanish military — wear cuirasses and breastplates, but they don't seem to be any tougher than unarmored captains.
    • Averted with the Leather Vest and Metal Cuirass that you can buy, which are extremely useful on any difficulty short of Swashbuckler (the highest), especially since the latter item 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 often sailing in Sloops or Pinnaces they've got a good chance of escaping, unless the player is skilled enough or uses a similar ship to catch them.
      • Pirates, warships with invasion forces aboard, and Raymondo or 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.
      • Military ships, especially escorts, privateers and raiders, will be much harder to induce into striking their colors; they could potentially have their rigging completely destroyed, and they still won't run up a white flag. If you carelessly wander into their broadside arcs, they'll still try to shoot you rather than surrender.
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • The land battles feature enemies that always move towards your nearest units to attack, losing all benefits of their fortifications. It's trivially easy to win land battles against forces that outnumber you many times over by finding a spot to turtle up and wiping them out as they come at you a unit at a time.
    • AI-controlled Cavalry is especially boneheaded. They will make a beeline to the closest foe and attack, even if it means going into a forest square where their attack power is utterly crippled, leading to a defeat from even a far weaker foe.
    • Sometimes, pirates that have escaped from your capture will follow you, giving you the chance to imprison them again.
  • Artistic License – Religion: No matter which Governor's Daughter you marry, the officiant is a Jesuit Abbot. And a Jesuit mission will be able to get any power to pardon you if their messenger gets through. In real life, the Dutch and English were firmly protestant by this point and had a rather low opinion of the Jesuits.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Larger ships in general, but especially War Galleons and Flag Galleons. Yes, you get more guns, more crew, and more cargo space, but that comes at the cost of speed, the One Stat to Rule Them All of the game. A well-manned and properly piloted Sloop or Sloop of War can take out anything up to a Ship of the Line through attrition, and that doesn't even consider the many potential benefits you can get for sword fighting, which can let you win a fight despite your crew being badly outnumbered. It gets worse on Swashbuckler difficulty, where 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.
  • Back Stab: If you manage to attack an enemy land battle unit from the sides or rear with your melee units, you get the "Flank Attack" bonus, which doubles their base damage before modifiers. This can very quickly rout otherwise evenly matched enemy units, or even the odds for a battered pirate unit.
  • Badass Decay: Occurs In-Universe. Even with the power-up items and guarding your health, your character will eventually become more and more feeble, reacting later in minigames. Averted with all other characters, who stay just as powerful as ever, regardless of how much time passes. In fact, if you put off confronting Montalban too long, you will be unable to defeat him because he moves too fast and you simply move too slow. This is particularly true at Adventurer difficulty level and up.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: You can potentially retire as a Mayor, a Governor, a Lt. Governor, or a Kings Advisor.
  • Badass Preacher: The 2004 version has the retirement option of Parson or Bishop.
  • 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 particularly frequently.) 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, and can actually help in the same ongoing battle.
  • Bar Brawl: You can sometimes fight other captains in bars, during which you will throw him off a balcony and fight him until it ends with the barmaid breaking a bottle over the guy's head to knock him out.
  • Big Bad: The Marquis de Montalban in the 2004 version is the man behind your family's enslavement and your main nemesis.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • The main appeal to playing on the higher difficulty levels is that you're entitled to a bigger cut of the gold you plunder. That sounds good on paper, especially since the amount of gold you end the game with contributes to your final score. However, gold isn't the only thing that gets tallied up; completed pirate quests, rescued family members, ranks within each nation, land grants, pirates defeated, who you get married to, and so on all contribute to your score as well. Getting them takes a lot of time and thanks to the degrading effects of age, you effectively have less time to actually do them on the harder difficulty levels, meaning your score is going to be lower overall despite your increased wealth. Furthermore, the heightened pay you get means there's less for the crew, who will in turn grow bitter more quickly. Overall, higher difficulty levels don't offer much in the way of greater rewards for greater risks.
    • The Baron de Pointis expedition in Pirates! Gold. Playing it gives you the strongest fleet imaginable, with one sloop, five frigates, and 1200 men! With this much overwhelming power on your side, you can attack any target on the map and come out victorious. Unfortunately, you'll find that you'll never be able to actually plunder enough gold to keep a crew that big happy, which means desertions on a massive scale are inevitable and your voyage is doomed to be a short one.
  • Boarding Party: You can (and regularly will) board enemy ships and defeat their captains in order to capture them and their valuable cargoes.
  • Bonus Boss: The cities of Panama and Gran Granada qualify as this. They are on the Pacific Ocean and inland Central America respectively, meaning you have to disembark and march over land through the jungle to reach them, and that you can't send pirates or natives to soften their reasonably strong defenses before attacking. However they're both initially flush with gold to plunder (though they do tend to decline over time), and if you install a governor from your preferred country, they'll never be ousted by an invasion force (since one simply can't spawn there).
  • But Thou Must!: Averted with the governor's escort missions. You can simply ignore the ultimatum or treaty carrier (usually a Pinnace or Mail Runner) once you leave port, or attack it yourself. It may actually reach its destination alone — although odds are against, as at least one enemy ship will be generated to intercept it — which will credit your reputation as if you escorted it.
  • 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. And 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.
  • Buxom Is Better: The Governor's Daughters have three levels of beauty: "rather plain", "attractive" and "beautiful". The "beautiful" daughters have the largest breasts. (Or at least the tightest corsets.) This is true even in the older games; the best girls to marry are the ones with the biggest boobs (and the most exposed cleavage).
  • 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 rapidly turn a fight sour.
  • The Cavalier Years: The game is set during this time period.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: You always know when a ship belongs to one of your main enemies, because it is labeled EVIL! when in sight on the world map.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: You would never have become a pirate (or even come to the New World), if your family had not been enslaved by the evil Marquis de Montalban.
  • Call to Agriculture: Some of the possible lower-level retirement jobs include farmhand, farmer, sugar planter, and plantation owner.
  • 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, beat any ship with any other. Besting a pirate hunter's Spanish War Galleon with a tiny little 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 (and possibly promotions) for destroying the pirate or native threat.
  • City of Gold: In older versions, they're lost Incan treasures.
  • Colour Coded Armies
    • In the 2004 version, Dutch are orange, English are red, French are blue, Spanish are yellow, Pirates are black, and Indians are green.
    • In the 1987 version, Dutch are green, English are red, French are dark blue, Spanish are light blue, and Pirates are black.
    • The 1993 version is the same as the 2004 version, sans Indians, who are not present.
  • Combat by Champion
  • Compete for the Maiden's Hand: Every town allows a Romance Sidequest with the Governor's daughter, each of whom has a Disposable Fiancé who needs to be dueled at the midpoint. Defeat permanently ends the quest line for that daughter.
  • 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 difficulties, enemy ships get speed bonuses, allowing them to outrun you even if you have the same type of ship! For example, it's almost impossible to catch Pinnace-class ships on Swashbuckler difficulty.
  • Cool Boat: In the 2004 version, the Mail Runner, Royal Sloop, Brig of War, and Ship of the Line are the best of their respective warship classes. The latter is the rarest and most powerful ship in the game.
  • 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).
  • Crippling Overspecialization: In land battles, your Pirates and Pirate Officers will shred almost anything at melee range, all other things being equal, but have no ranged capability to speak of, leaving them helpless in the open. Buccaneers have far better musket range than enemy soldiers, but are defenseless against melee attackers.
  • Damsel in Distress: 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 to the daughter shortly thereafter.
  • Dance of Romance: A minigame where the Player Character attends balls with the governor's daughter.
  • Defeat Means Friendship:
    • After you win the final battle with Montalban, he will acknowledge the wrongs he did to your family, and then hand over a ton of gold (we're talking 100 grand) plus any specialists you're missing in exchange for his life. As a final acknowledgement of your superiority, he also becomes your personal cabin boy — though, sadly, you never get to see any cutscenes of Montalban serving you in this way.
    • Enemy crewmembers who were fighting you mere moments before, and who your weapons either blew overboard or sunk a vessel out from underneath their feet, will happily join your own crew the moment you sail "over" them on the map and thus pick them up in a ship-to-ship fight. If particularly successful at this, you can come out of a fight with more crew than you went in, even without enticing surrendered crew to join you when you sack the vessel you actually wanted.
  • Developers' Foresight: 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. note  By contrast, military transports have a lot of crew aboard (similar to invasion forces), but greatly boost the garrison strength of their specific destination only.
    • An invasion force will decrease the military 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).
    • Raider vessels are sent from one nation against the cities of another nation when the two are at war and can damage a city, reducing its garrison size and wealth level, or can simply attack and defeat ships heading for ports of the target nation.
    • Grain transport and regular trade ships will boost population and/or prosperity bit by bit when they arrive at their target port.
    • Immigrant transports boost the population of their destination city, while "New Governor" transports instead boost their city's prosperity (i.e. wealth).
    • "New Warship"s' effects are unclear, but they seem to spawn when a particular area is the target of a lot of pirate attacks on shipping. These are also generally the only way to encounter and acquire a Ship of the Line.
  • Diagonal Speed Boost: Land battles allow diagonal movement in this manner.
  • Difficult, but Awesome:
    • There's a tiny cadre of truly elite players who swear by the Pinnace-class ships. The Mail Runner is the largest and strongest of the three with the most cannons, most crew, and largest hold, but it's still far less than any other warship. To top it off, they're very much a Fragile Speedster. However, played right, the tiny ship will run rings around the hulking galleons and other warships and pound them into submission without taking a single hit. Plus, they're excellent at sailing into the wind, which most other ships cannot do to save their lives.
    • Indefinite voyages: if you're able to stockpile enough money to ensure that every person on your crew will get about 1000 gold each when you divide the plunder, then they will never actually lose morale to the point of becoming mutinous, meaning you can sail forever and never need to divide the plunder.note  Difficult because even a basic crew of 100 will need 100,000 gold to reach that point, and also it carries the risk of losing everything if you lose your last ship biting off more than you can chew, but awesome because you'll have full control over your voyage for as long as you need to make it, never needing to worry about dividing the plunder and losing time, or targets slipping away from where they were last seen because of being stuck waiting for your next voyage to begin.
    • Sacking Panama: because Panama is on the other side of the Central American isthmus, it is very well protected from attacks by pirates, natives and other nations. It also has a huge garrison at the best of times, with 300 to 400 or more soldiers stationed there. If you want to attack it, you'll need to make landfall, then walk your entire crew of scallywags across the terrain, where you can easily lose your way, and engage in a difficult land battle to take the city. If, however, you pull it off, then you get the privilege of sacking one of the richest cities in the game, with all that that implies.
  • Disappeared Dad: In the 2004 remake, nothing is said of your character's father.
  • Disney Villain Death: Strangely averted with the Marquis de Montalban, considering how grievous his offenses were and the fact that your climactic battle with him takes place on the top of a tower.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Every governor's daughter has a well-armed (and vengeful) suitor who you'll need to defeat midway through the romance.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: To net yourself an upgrade item from a "Rather Plain" governer's daughter at a dance ball, you have to dance excellently. To do the same with an "Attractive" daughter, you have to do middling.
  • The Dragon:
    • Baron Raymondo is one of Montalban's henchmen, and is also the guy you have to go after to get any news about your family members' locations.
    • Colonel Mendoza is a lesser one of these, and is the guy who keeps abducting governors' daughters who your Player Character tries to romance.
  • 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 cutscene 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 ...
  • The Eighty Years' War: See the Thirty Years' War below; this provides the political backdrop if you choose to begin in the mid-late sixteenth century instead of the seventeenth century (only possible in the 1987 and Gold version). If you begin in 1560, you can't start as a Dutch character, since the Netherlands isn't a colonial power yet; at the time, it didn't even exist as a sovereign state.
  • 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 to buy whatever you've hauled in on hand.
  • Elite Mook:
    • Cavalry units in the land battles. They're rare, appear only in the richest and most militant cities, they've got the greatest mobility of all units in the game, and they'll slaughter anyone they come in contact with. The best method to deal with them is to lure them into a forest, where they're weakest, as well as to soften them up with musket fire along the way.
    • Pirate Hunters. They typically use top-of-the-line warships like Royal Sloops, War Galleons, Brigs of War, and Ships of the Line, they're armed with a lot of cannons, their crews are at full capacity, and when they appear, it's specifically to kill you.
  • Equipment-Based Progression: You improve your skills by acquiring various items that provide stat boosts; other than these items and the initial choice of what you want to specialize in, your character's abilities remain static.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: Used amusingly in the duels with the "named" pirates — combined with Throwing Your Sword Always Works, no less. After you do this a few times, the pirates start subverting it with their Genre Savvy, but it's always immediately Double Subverted to their defeat.
  • Eyepatch of Power: These are games about pirates, so this is to be expected.
    • The Marquis de Montalban, the Big Bad of the 2004 game, wears an eyepatch that makes him look extra evil. He's also a freakishly talented swordsman despite his advanced age.
    • In the older games, your character will be shown wearing one in the mirror of the Captain's Cabin if you're playing on Swashbuckler difficulty. It shows just how hardcore he really is!
  • 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.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: If you have a high bounty on your head, and visit a Jesuit Monastery, the Abbot might offer to send a monk named Brother Paolo to plead to the governor of a nearby port from the country that placed the bounty on the basis that you seem to him to be a good person. If you wish to, you can prove the Abbot wrong and destroy the Jesuit ship you're supposed to be escorting.
  • Flynning: Appropriately enough, found in the dueling mini-game, and especially in the 2004 version. Duck under an opponent's high thrust; jump dramatically over their low thrust; if both you and your opponent middle-thrust at the same time, you'll just hit each other's swords a few times in a half-hearted manner. Tink-tink-clang! Gets especially dramatic during boarding battles, where you get to run up and down the ship while battling your opponent, and swing from the rigging while avoiding their attacks. See also Exactly What I Aimed At above.
  • Four-Star Badass: Some of the possible retirement jobs in the 1987 version included being a general or being a fleet admiral.
  • Fragile Speedster:
    • Pinnace class ships (including War Canoes and Mail Carriers in the 2004 version) are lightly armed and easily sunk, but also extremely maneuverable and can sail into the wind. This means larger ships can have a very hard time hitting the Pinnace while it runs circles around them and whittles their guns and crew down.
    • Sloops straddle the line between Fragile Speedster and Jack-of-All-Stats. In the 2004 version, the powerful Royal Sloop edges towards Lightning Bruiser territory, especially when fully upgraded.
  • Friendly Pirate: The game pretty much locks you into playing one by default, given the game's light-hearted tone. While you're free to attack and rob ships and do all kinds of piracy, your character is never presented as anything but a Lovable Rogue and any nations you choose not to attack will happily give you letters of marque and give you access to their ports, merchants and governors' daughters.
  • Gainaxing: The beautiful governors' daughters have a bit of a "bounce" to them.
  • Geo Effects: In land battles, terrain offers all sorts of advantages. Hiding in the forests affects the visibility and location of units, and enemy Cavalry units are incredibly weak in them. You also gain an advantage in melee combat if you attack from higher ground. Positioning your ranged Buccaneers strategically behind impassable crags offers them some defense against melee attackers.
  • A Girl in Every Port: Every port city in the Caribbean has a Governor's daughter whom the player character can court. Although he can only marry one, he can romance any number of them simultaneously.
  • The Ghost: In older versions of the game, you would never see or encounter natives in your travels. They would only ever be mentioned attacking cities in the news, which usually resulted in a weakened garrison.
  • Glass Cannon: The Buccaneer unit for your land battle army. It has superior range for musket fire than the enemy ranged units, but is basically defenseless against melee attackers. Use them for supporting fire to soften up enemy units before the melee-range Pirates (and Officers) move in for the kill.
  • The Golden Age of Piracy: Much of the game's timeline overlaps this period.
  • Going Native: Averted. While you can trade with the native chiefs and give advice as to which port they should attack, you cannot gain any promotions with the native villages, the chief does not have any daughters to marry, and you cannot alter your relationship with them in any way. This is in sharp contrast to the European ports, in which you can earn promotions and even marry the governor's daughter.
  • Gonk: The lowest-ranking women that you can marry in the earlier games are not spring chickens. The game even refers to them as "shrewish creatures."
  • Good Shepherd: Jesuit missionaries are always helpful to you, as they can inform you on the whereabouts of Raymondo, or convince a country you're on bad terms with to grant you amnesty. They also typically shelter immigrants before shipping them off to a city to reside in (usually with your protection). While you can't attack the missions, there's nothing stopping you from taking advantage of their kindness for your own nefarious purposes.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: Family members, treasures or lost cities, and the map pieces to find them.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: In newer versions, the Named Pirates. They might not die, but their portrait gets a big red X over their face, and you never see them again. Their buried treasures, however, will linger until you find them and dig them up.
  • Graceful Loser:
    • If you deal enough damage to an enemy ship, typically by destroying its sails, than the enemy captain will surrender the moment you sail close to his ship. The game will then cut to a scene of the enemy captain kneeling in front of you on deck and handing you his sword.
    • The same with Montalban. When you defeat him, he'll admit he wronged your family, become your cabin boy, give you any specialists you still haven't found, and give you 100,000 gold.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In bars you will sometimes see a captain who is harrassing 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 guy's head, knocking him out and 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, and even then never as a pirate hunter but as a "New Warship" (presumably a local show of force). Another reason they're so rare is that the Spanish, who are generally your best targets, deploy Flag Galleons as their largest warships 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. This can actually be a bad thing for low-profit voyages: the more you take, the less your crew shares — and they know it.
  • Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: The result of the Copy Protection in the 1987 version. The initial question is followed by a short one-on-one battle, but the outcome of the battle will always be based on how you answered the question rather than how well you did in said battle (where the difficulty is based on how well you answered the question).
  • Hell Is That Noise: In the 2004 version, a war horn can be heard to signify two events in the game:
    • In the land battle, it means that the enemy force has been sighted for the first time.
    • On the travel screen, it means that a pursuing pirate hunter has been spotted.
  • 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-era English Adventurer (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.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: A hallmark of many Sid Meier games. From easiest to hardest, they are:
    • Apprentice
    • Journeyman
    • Adventurer
    • Roguenote 
    • Swashbuckler
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: Attacking pirate raiders earns you points with all four nations. Defeating real-world pirates like Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts also earns you huge amounts of treasure and points. You can also claim the Cool Boat that they ride around and pillage in, which is generally very well-equipped with upgrades.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The player character comes from a merchant family indebted to the Marquis de la Montalban, who seized them as slaves when their final investment was lost. With skill and luck, however, the player can defy this and end his pirating career with more wealth than his family ever had before.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: The Large Frigate. Not as good as Ship of the Line, but there's at least one guaranteed specimen of it under the command of Henry Morgan.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The Ship of the Line in the 2004 version. It has the largest gun capacity, the largest crew capacity, and the largest cargo hold. However it only spawns in very specific circumstances, and even then it's difficult to capture one.
  • Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Can actually be used to your advantage in the Stealth Based Missions; while you can climb over them, the guards can't.
  • Island Base: Several ports are on small islands, often being the only structure there. Justified, given that it is the Caribbean, after all.
    • Can be frustrating if you want to capture a port that takes up the whole of a small island; in most cases, you can land your crew on the beach near the town and walk towards it to get the option to attack, but if there's basically no island to land on, you have to frustrate the nation or port in question enough that they will refuse to let you dock first, then sail in and choose the option to attack the town.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: If you pummel the ship of an Evil Spaniard (the Marquis de Montalban or Baron Raymondo) hard enough, the ship will raise the white flag and surrender as soon as you board it; however a swordfight with the villain in question will ensue. This can be used to the player's advantage: keep pummeling the ship with grapeshot to cull the enemy crew, and the inevitable swordfight with the villain will be heavily tilted in your favor.
  • Jack-of-All-Stats:
    • In the 2004 version, Brigs are the most pure example, being well-balanced in terms of speed, maneuverability, size, and hull strength. Plus they are better at sailing into the wind than most other ships. However, they can sometimes seem like a Master of None because they lack a strong niche role compared to Sloops and Frigates.
    • Sloops straddle the line between Fragile Speedster and Jack-of-All-Stats, being smaller but more nimble than Brigs. A Sloop is also the most common starting ship, meaning most players will be generally familiar with how they perform, and in the 2004 version the Royal Sloop is strong enough that it edges toward Lightning Bruiser territory, especially once upgraded.
    • In older versions, the Barque qualified, being larger and stronger than a Sloop but almost as fast and maneuverable. It was nerfed in the 2004 version, becoming a pure trading ship with poor combat ability.
  • Jerkass: No matter what your current standing is, any of the named pirates will always insult you and tell you to get lost when you get an audience with them in their home hideout.
  • 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 personally. In fact, you can use grapeshot to whittle their crew down to just one man (presumably, the villain himself), and it will never drop below that. Mercifully, this approach does not kill the captive who Mendoza has on board.
      • Downplayed 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.
    • Played with in the case of the player's nine named rival pirates. They are outright invincible to any other NPC vessels they encounter, so the only one who can defeat them and put an end to their reign of terror (localized as it is) happens to be the Player Character.
  • Justified Criminal: In the 2004 version, the Player Character became a pirate because the Marquis de la Montalban enslaved his family over debts, and the only way to free and avenge them is to become a pirate himself.
  • Last Stand: Played with. If you are using an army of hundreds to attack a city that has a garrison of sixty or less, you will skip the battle and charge the rampart directly. You will then sword fight with the master of the guard until he is the last man standing ... at which point he surrenders the moment you hit him. Still played with because, for the other soldiers, it actually was a last stand.
  • Lightning Bruiser:
    • The Frigate class. They have very fast sailing speed when they have the wind at their back, passable speed in crosswinds, plenty of durability, and enough cannons to make even the largest Galleons take notice. Their only downside is slow speed when sailing into the wind. In the 2004 version, the Ship of the Line, the top tier of the class, is the Infinity +1 Sword of the game, but even the basic Frigate and Large Frigate are still very strong ships to have, and much easier to find than a Ship of the Line.
    • Royal Sloops, in the 2004 version, pack quite a lot of firepower and even crew into a small and maneuverable package. Even if the Player Character sails a Ship of the Line, it's handy to keep a Royal Sloop around as an alternate or secondary flagship to make going after other Sloop-type vessels and especially Pinnace-type vessels that much easier to accomplish.
  • Lighter and Softer: While the older games aren't actually dark, the 2004 version is openly humorous and kid-friendly, with brighter colors and more cartoony characters.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Thanks to the map pieces being randomly generated, sometimes you can end up getting maps that barely show any noticable landmarks or being so far inland that the maps don't show any coastline at all, with the only clue being the direction from a nearby city, which can make it significantly harder to locate your targets.
  • 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%) nor will their crew ever drop to zero no matter how long they are pounded. This can be exploited, however, by pelting them with as much fire as you like to make the ensuing mandatory swordfight against the villain on board that much easier.
    • In a more literal sense, one of the upgrades available for purchase in the 2004 version is Iron Scantlings, which help brace your ship's hull more strongly than wood, and thus makes your ship better resist hull damage under cannon fire.
  • Master of None: The Brig class in the 2004 version, especially the Brig of War. Despite being the game's quintessential Jack-of-All-Stats, Brigs-type vessels are not nearly as popular as they should be. This is because players tend to fall into two different camps on tactics: "ram them quickly and start a sword fight" or "pound them into splinters with your guns before boarding." The former prefer Royal Sloops — or for the truly elite or crazed, Indian War Canoes) — while the latter go for the almighty Ship of the Line (or the slightly less almighty but easier to obtain Large Frigate), leaving the Brig of War without a particular niche.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Look: In the 2004 game, the governor's daughter shares a very fast smile with her father before dramatically wishing for the piece of jewelry you recently acquired. It's obvious she knows you already have it, and who told her.
  • 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.
  • Metal Slime: The Treasure Fleet. Consisting of a small fleet of treasure galleons, each of these ships is loaded with a lot of gold and plunder, making them a fruitful target. They also only appear once every in-game year or so, and can be tricky to track down. Also, ideally you want to hit them one at a time and avoid killing a galleon in escort mode, as that wipes out its cash.
  • Mighty Glacier: Galleons. They are heavily armed, can take a pounding and stay float and carry large crews, but turn *very* slowly, making them easy to outmaneuver.
  • Minigame: The dancing, the swordfights, both naval and land combat ... as a matter of fact, Pirates! might as well be a Minigame Game.
  • Misbegotten Multiplayer Mode: In the Wii version. Player 2 gets to adjust sails and control a parrot.
  • Multiple Endings: When your character retires, you will be shown a page describing how he spent the rest of his life. The ending you get is determined by multiple factors, such as how much money you have, how high your titles are, whether or not you got married (and how attractive your wife is), how notorious a pirate you were, how many family members you rescued, and whether or not you defeated the Marquis de Montalban.
  • The Navigator: One of the skills you can choose for your character is "Navigation", which gives you better sailing stats (i.e. speed on the map).
  • Never Found the Body: Every time you defeat Montalban aboard his galleon, he ends up falling into the water and disappearing. By all rights, he should never be able to survive, but sure enough, he always does and will be back with another Flag Galleon the next time you rescue a relative.
  • 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's really 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 more than a bit of luck.
  • 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 every 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.
  • No Stat Atrophy: Averted, as the Player Character's combat and dance abilities decline with age, to the point that the main quest can become very difficult to complete if left too long.
  • NPC Random Encounter Immunity: Averted, as naval vessels, pirates, and Indian raiders attack ships and settlements just as readily as you do.
  • Obvious Beta: The 2004 version shipped with several intended features not available.
    • As originally intended, you would have needed to build up your relationship with the Indians and the Jesuits before they would help you, but instead, they just trust you completely all the time. There are items that are described as improving your relations with Indians or Jesuits, but what they actually do is reduce the time you have to wait after the Indians or Jesuits have given you a mission before they can give you a new one. This means the in-game descriptions of said items are quite misleading, and have led many players to believe that they do nothing at all.
    • Artillery is nowhere to be found in the game, despite being shown in the game's built-in wiki. Mind you, if it wasn't omitted, it would have made the land battles much more difficult, as they supposedly had a staggering eight square rangenote  and incredible damage power. A later patch removed the wiki entry.
    • The manual mentions that the Indians will sometimes help you in land battles, but this never happens in-game. They only show up on the side of your AI-controlled colonial enemies.
  • One-Man Army: Or rather, "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.
  • One-Hit Kill: This actually becomes a problem with the Ship of the Line when raiding merchants, since it's hard to rob a ship when your first volley sank it. Avert this problem by using chain or grape shot.
  • 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 who you rescue.
  • Piñata 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, making for a tougher target than this trope would generally indicate.
    • The Top Ten Pirates themselves can be this if you wait long enough, as their wealth increases the longer they are active in game hunting down ships and sacking towns in their home territory. If you can put off fighting them for a a long time, such as a decade or so, you'll get much more money from defeating them than you originally would.
    • Any ship marked "Military Payroll" carries generally no cargo other than food and cannons, and has a middling amount of crew and decently strong defenses (sometimes including an escort vessel), but they make up for it in spades by carrying a large amount of gold currency, rivalling if not exceeding treasure ships. This in turn doesn't require sailing to anywhere to offload and sell any commodities. You also generally want to take these vessels out before they reach their destination, because they boost the military garrisons of every city in their nation by a noticeable amount if they arrive, making them all harder to assault and sack.
  • Pirate Booty: 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 be a Berserk Button for its former owner; you are stealing his hard-"earned" gold, after all. Also, there's the Spanish Treasure Fleet.
  • Pirates: No-brainer.
  • 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.
    • Also averted with the other nine noteworthy pirates. They will plunder villages, sink ships, amass gold, and do all the same pirate things you do.
  • Practical Taunt: Taunting while swordfighting will briefly speed you up and slow your opponent down, making it much easier to dodge and counter the next incoming strike. Just don't get stabbed while attempting it.
  • Price on Their Head: Persistently targeting a given nation's vessels and cities will, sooner or later, get one of these placed on the Player Character by that nation, which can inflate to a ridiculous degree. Successfully escorting a Jesuit missionary to a hostile nation will reset that nation's relationship with you back to normal, even if you had a gigantic bounty beforehand.
  • Privateer: To get the most fame and best retirement, you must at some point be on good terms with each and every 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 just 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 possibly a change of ownership to a country that favours you, so no escape is needed.
  • Random Encounter: This is how you would find other ships in the older versions of the game. Averted in the 2004 version, where every ship can be seen on the map, at least within sight range.
  • Refuge in Audacity: After successfully attacking a town or city, you can then head to the local bar to hire crew — of whom there will typically be a lot available because you just sacked their port and left them impoverished and unemployed — or go sell cargo at the merchant. Or go to the governor and romance his daughter.
  • Relationship Values: Your relationship with each of the four major factions is tracked individually, affected by which ships you attack and which you leave unharmed. Friendly factions will offer letters of marque, estates, and promotions; hostile ones will bar their ports to your ships, forcing you to either sneak in discreetly or fight your way in.
    • It's difficult to generally tell where a Player Character stands with each of the colonial powers, but if you're noted as having a price on your head, that generally means you've pissed them off for a sustained length of time. Successfully escorting a Jesuit missionary to vouch on your behalf cancels this and returns relations to normal.
  • Rescue Romance: The final quest before you can propose to the governor's daughter involves freeing her from the evil Colonel Mendoza.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: If you dig up the buried treasure of a historical pirate like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan, they will actively pursue and attack you if you encounter them later on since you pushed their Berserk Button.
  • Romance Sidequest: Governors' daughters. You can even romance more than one, though of course you can marry only one. Choose wisely.
  • Retired Badass: Once you retire from piracy, you get shown a page describing how you spent the rest of your life. The better the end score, the better the job. The retirement job can be as high as a King's Advisor, or as lowly as a Beggar.
  • Refusal of the Call:
    • The game is open ended, so if you want to you can easily just let your family rot in slavery, though it lowers your endgame score significantly.
    • Likewise, when the Governor's Daughter gets kidnapped, you can just leave her to her fate and never rescue her.
    • Similar to the above, you can just decline to bother chasing after wanted criminals.
  • The Remnant: Even if you rob a colonial power of every port, its minor settlements will still remain and can send out forces to recapture former holdings. That said, the minor settlements can and sometimes do change allegiances if the nearby cities are conquered.
  • The Savage Indian: The native villages in the story constantly send out war canoes to attack ports, driving out (and presumably killing) people living there. You can even invoke this by recommending which port they should attack.
  • Save Scumming: In the 1987 version, before you can locate the Marquis de Montalban, you must complete ten in-game tasks assigned to you by a tavern's mysterious stranger. These tasks are completely random, and may range from trivial, such as capturing a sloop, to extremely involved, such as marrying a governor's daughter or capturing a hard-to-find pirate. Save scumming before getting the next task can save you a LOT of pointless busy work, if you don't consider it cheating.
    • If the game keeps giving you time-consuming tasks, you may not even be able to win by the time you reach Montalban (see Unwinnable by Design).
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: The basis of Spanish Trade Laws; the wealthier Spanish ports will simply refuse to trade with you at all, while the less well off ones can't afford to be picky and will trade with you. Can be averted once you start getting a few promotions with them, which will open the wealthy ones to trade so long as you don't really piss them off.
  • 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 unnamed 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 never-ending 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.
    • If you pillage a port enough times, the governor will leave and presumably return to Europe, and you can install one from another nation of your choice.
  • Settle for Sibling: If you fail to defeat the Disposable Fiancé, the daughter you were romancing suggests that you attempt to woo her sister instead (effectively resetting the quest).
  • Shout-Out: In the 2004 version, the player's starting ship is named Revenge, which may be a reference to the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts.
  • 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 the cloth map supplied with the game, a sextant (to identify their latitude) and in-game land masses to get their bearing. In addition, 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.
  • Something About a Rose: The "Wit and Charm" skill. The image on Swashbuckler difficulty is Made of Win.
  • Spicy Latina: Beautiful daughters seem to be more common in Spanish towns (or towns that were originally Spanish, anyway) than elsewhere. That said, there also tends to be more of those towns around than any other nation.
  • Speaking Simlish: In the 2004 version, in four distinct accents, one for each nationality! There are several repeating phrases that have contextual usage as well:
    • "Chuban!" is used both when picking a fight with a pushy guardsman officer imposing himself on a barmaid and also as a swordfight taunt.
    • "Preetle-post!" is uttered by both a Dutch barmaid being put upon by a pushy guardsman officer, and also by any ship of a hostile faction if you query them by mousing over them.
    • "Serasta-brimmon" or just "Serasta" is used as a greeting by many characters.
  • Stealing from Thieves: Each of the Top 10 Pirates has a buried treasure somewhere on the map, which increases in value the longer they stay alive in-game. The player character can dig up treasure belonging to a living pirate, in which case they'll drop everything to seek Revenge if the player sails into their home territory.
  • Stealth-Based Mission: Sneaking into enemy ports, as well as out of them when you're escaping from your Cardboard Prison.
  • Stylistic Suck: The music that plays while visiting poor and desolate towns is slow, plinky, and generally painful to listen to. But it sure does a good job at letting you know how miserable the place is.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Averted. Once you become infamous enough you will find that weak merchant ships begin to turn and flee at the sight of you. Warships and pirate hunters on the other hand become more aggressive, seeking to claim your bounty. All ships (except those captained by a named NPC villain) will surrender when damaged to the point that they are unable to maneuver or return fire, or simply when you approach close enough if they are sufficiently outgunned and intimidated by your reputation.
  • Supervillain Lair: The Marquis de Montalban has a large fortress hidden in the jungle wilderness, and the only way to find it is to defeat him on the open seas over and over, acquiring map pieces that reveal the location of his hideout. A full map requires four separate victories, but lucky and clever players might be able to find Montalban's hideout with an incomplete map.
  • Take Your Time: Zig-zagged.
    • Played straight in that your family members will still be the exact same age whether you rescue them when you are eighteen or when you are forty. The governor's beautiful daughter was about twenty-something when you were eighteen, and will not have aged a day when you marry her four decades later.
    • Subverted in that, while nobody else seems to age, you certainly do. If you get too old, you will be forced to retire due to poor health when you decide to divide the plunder. It's especially disastrous if you're caught and jailed, as you lose valuable months in the process (years if it happens multiple times) and your health still declines during that time.
    • Especially egregious when you rescue your grandfather (and he is always rescued last). He will still be alive even though he was an old man when you were eight years old.
  • The Team: When you capture an enemy ship, you have a small chance of convincing a specialist to join your crew. The specialists (or their successors) will never desert you, and will still be in your crew even after you divide the treasure. There are eight total.
    • Carpenter: Repairs your ship by a quarter of its damage every month at sea.
    • Cook: Makes the food better and raises morale.
    • Cooper: Makes barrels so the food lasts longer.
    • Gunner: Improves cannon reloading time.
    • Navigator: Makes ship move faster.
    • Quartermaster: Enforces discipline at sea.
    • Sailmaker: Repairs sails over time, much like the Carpenter repairs the hull.
    • Surgeon: Fixes up half of the people lost in sword fights who would otherwise have died.
  • Thicker Than Water: Your poor, enslaved family.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Any time you get a map "North of Vera Cruz", "East of Campeche", or some such you're in for a major headache. Those areas cover massive, unpopulated swaths of the map in what is now Mexico. If there are no landmarks readily visible, you can spend hours looking fruitlessly along vast areas of shore — and thus burning through food, time and morale.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Done at the end of sword duels with named pirates in the 2004 version of the game — and combined with Exactly What I Aimed At, no less!
  • Treasure Map: In addition to the fairly straight examples, there're also maps that help you locate long-lost kidnapped family members and lost civilizations' cities.
  • Troperiffic: The game (especially the 2004 version) quite consciously references and crams in as many piracy-related tropes as it can. Playing the 2004 game almost make you feel like you're watching a swashbuckling Errol Flynn film at times — which was very much the intention.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: As you'd expect from a game set in the Caribbean.
  • Unstable Equilibrium:
    • If you win ship battles, you'll be able to get better ships and gold to spend to get items, which will make future battles easier and so on and so forth. However, if you lose a battle you'll lose your flagship, and if it's your last ship you'll lose all your gold and crew, putting you back almost at square one. By the time you get back to the point you were at before, your pirate will have aged, which makes battles harder. If this continues, it will eventually become impossible to defeat Montalban.
    • Crew morale in the older games. Whenever they become unhappy, going into towns is a very bad idea because they'll use that opportunity to desert. Which would be a pretty manageable thing by itself, except deserters take a portion of the gold with them, which will only further anger the remaining crew, leading to even more desertions and gold shortages. If you can't improve morale quickly enough, the crew will eventually mutiny, and all that foiling that does is cause even more men to desert you. More often than not, it's nigh impossible to make a bitter crew happy again, and it's usually at that point where you have to bite the bullet and divide the plunder.
  • Unwinnable by Design: If you take too long to track down the Marquis de Montalban, you'll probably be too old to outmaneuver him in swordfights, especially on the harder difficulty levels.
  • Variable Mix: In towns, depending on which screen you're in, and in duels, in accordance to whatever side has the advantage. In land battles, the music picks up some fervor once first blood is drawn.
  • Vestigial Empire: Spain is slowly sliding into the morass of becoming this throughout the game's eras, 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 — for example, they still use the sluggish War Galleons as their large warships instead of the other powers' Frigates. 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?
  • Victory by Endurance: In shipboard battles, having one side or the other run out of supporting soldiers greatly increases the chance of its captain winning the duel and forcing the other one to surrender.
  • Video Game Caring Potential:
    • Rescuing all of the Player Character's family members, as well as at least one governor's daughter en route to marriage, are necessary for 100% Completion.
    • The Player Character, with a bit of maneuvering, can pick up crew members blown overboard or treading water during ship-to-ship battles, and are rewarded by them joining the player's own crew.
    • Getting rid of the nine named rival pirates marauding about the Caribbean is actually helpful to general peace and prosperity in and around the region, as each of the named pirates and their vessels are invincible to any other NPC ships they encounter, and thus unstoppable to anyone but the player's pirate.
  • 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 or at least difficult 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.
    • If you're wildly successful in your current voyage, you can get rich enough that your crew will sail forever simply on the promise of a share in the booty (which few of them will ever get), enabling you to sail until retirement without dividing the plunder. It usually takes most players at least three divvies to get that far, however, since the base amount to reach that level is generally at least 1000 gold pieces per crew member, and more so if you want a neutral or better morale level as well as a safety margin.
    • 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 round shot. For extra cruelty, do it to an Indian War Canoe — or for extra fun, do it to Montalban's or Raymondo's ships and crews, since they can't actually sink until or unless you board them and win the ensuing swordfight.
    • 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, 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 or a new governor to a port, boosting the town's size and wealth. Then promptly sack it. Alternately, after you agree to escort the ship, turn on it and attack it.
    • In a more banal example, you can just not bother to pick up crew members stranded in the water when they get blown overboard by cannon shots or left swimming when their vessel (typically an escort) gets blown up and sinks. Without a passing vessel to pick them up very soon, they inevitably drown and die.
    • You can also simply decline to rescue your family members, or governors' daughters, but that inevitably leads to ...
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • If you don't bother to rescue your family members, or to continue any romances with governors' daughters, gameplay is unaffected, but this leads to your Player Character getting a reduced game score overall and thus tarnishes their endgame epilogue.
    • Continually picking on a single nation's ships and ports will get a price on your head which can inflate to a ridiculous degree, drawing one pirate hunter after another onto your tail. By this point, the same nation's ports will refuse to let you dock and will open fire on your ships if you draw close.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: You can go anywhere in the Caribbean and target or trade with any nation you want, and given enough time and effort, completely reshape the geopolitical situation to your liking. That said, it is downplayed in that the Player Character cannot found new cities or settlements or destroy them, only affect the existing ones, and range in terms of sailing is limited not only by the map, but by food supplies and ever-declining crew morale.

Alternative Title(s): Pirates

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