Sid Meier’s Pirates Makes a Splash on The iPad

During the early years of video games, Sid Meier, the game designer behind the Civilization franchise, created a title by the name of Sid Meier’s Pirates! With several iterations over the years, and re-releasing on a myriad of different platforms, the long running title has now made its way to the iPad. At $3.99, the open-ended pirate sim has already risen to #2 on the top paid iPad app charts, and in turn, is rising up the top grossing list as well, currently sitting at #11.

Considering the game was originally released back in 1987, many of the early design choices are still present, in that when compared to modern games, player direction and instruction is a bit minimal. Nevertheless, 2K Games has still done an astounding job of porting Pirates! to Apple devices, and discrepancies are quickly forgiven because of incredibly deep and addicting game play as players plunder, loot and sail the Caribbean sea.

Set in the 1600’s, players take on the role of a boy whose family’s reputation and finances were lost due to unfortunate and suggestively treacherous circumstances. Taken from him, the boy returns 10 years later to seek vengeance on those that wronged him by any means necessary. This tenuous plot line is about all there is for direction, as once players join one of four European fleets (England, Spain, France, or the Netherlands), they are immediately whisked into a mutiny and take over their first ship.

Floating out in the middle of the Caribbean, players are left with zero guidance on what to do or where to go. It’s like game design from yesteryear — users are left milling about and tapping on whatever looks interesting or interactive. There is a small tutorial on the menu screen, but it is worth noting that it isn’t really brought to the player’s attention from the get-go, although instruction screens do thankfully appear when users engage in new game features.

Thankfully, aside from a minute or two of wondering what to do, players will likely find themselves within a town or settlement owned by one of the four major European powers in the game. While in town, users can interact with the tavern, the governor, repair ships, or make trades. While this makes little sense at first, it does begin to come together quickly.

The thing is, Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a game where players can do virtually anything they want. Within each town, they can garner themselves side-quests in order to earn rewards, accept jobs from city leaders in order to gain reputation with that country, or sail about as a merchant buying cheap goods and selling them in other ports. Additionally, they can pursue the game’s main goal of reuniting with and redeeming their family by accomplishing quest objectives.

In order to do any of this, however, there are various things the user must do first. For starters, their ship must be stocked with weapons and food, with the latter being consumed as months pass. Once stocked, they can find taverns and often recruit non-player characters to serve as their crew. Once all supplies are ready, then the real choices for play begin.

There is no set way for users to accomplish their goals. They can opt to be a mere merchant, trading goods. They can be a pirate, attacking anything and everything in their way and plundering the riches of others. They can ally with European nations, gain rank, prestige, and rewards. They can sail about the Caribbean hunting other pirates or searching for lost cities and buried treasure. Every option is a viable means to play the game, with the only end being when the player’s character ages to a point where they must retire.