Sid Meier's Pirates is a game that was developed and published by Microprose and initially created by Sid Meier in 1987. It is the first game to feature the creators name in the title in an effort to get fans of his previous games (mostly flight simulators) to buy the game. The game is a simulation of the life of a pirate in the Spanish Main during the heyday of piracy.
Sid Meier's Pirates is a single player sandbox game wherein the player aims to make their fortune in the West Indies so that they can retire to a life of wealth, ease, and high status. The game has no real storyline, instead giving the player free reign in the world to do whatever they wish, because pirates don't take orders well. The only caveat is that the player has a limited period of time with which to carry out their swashbuckling, as once a player's character is too old, they are forced into retirement and given an end game summary of how the pirate lived afterwards. The quality of retirement is based on personal fortune, rank, lands owned, reputation, wife, and other events befalling the player. The game contains a career mode, and six shorter scenarios based on real life pirate adventures.
Throughout the game, players can expect to engage in naval combat, play at sword fighting, visit governors and their daughters, sack and plunder colonies, find buried treasure and lost settlements, and maybe even become victim to a mutiny by their own crew.
Fencing and Swordplay
Pirates often fought with nothing but cold steel, and this game is no exception. Sword fighting is depicted by a simple fighting game with basic directional light and heavy attacks and parries. The player must also choose a sword (Rapier, Cutlass or Longsword), which affects their range and damage in combat.
Most sword fights are accompanied with a background fight between the player's crew and the enemy. This adds the element of time to combat, as when one side's crew has been whittled down to zero, the fight is over. Crew fights are determined by unseen dice rolls, and are influenced by the size of the crew, crew morale and an attack mode (ranging from wild to panic) that the player can adjust.
Sailing and Naval Combat
Players have direct control over the sailing of their ship, and must possess a degree of navigational knowledge if they are to make their way from Tortuga to Campeche without ending up at Panama by mistake. Captains must be aware of the speed and direction of the winds, which are dependent on the time of year and reflect actual weather conditions in the Caribbean. Other things to consider are storms, shoals and reefs, and of course other ships.
When another ship is encountered, it must first be identified by the flag that it flies, and players are then given the option to engage it in combat.
Naval combat is basically the same as normal sailing, except with the addition of lethal broadsides fired from the ship's cannons. Player's can choose to sink ships outright, or just grapple and board them with a view to capturing the ship and its cargo.
Most Pirates did not just acquire all their wealth and bury it in the sand on some island in the Caribbean. Most plunder was sold to merchants, or taken home to King and Country. This game provides the player with the first option. Alternatively, if one is so inclined, the player can simply buy trade goods and sell them at a different port. This leads to a life of a merchant, who routinely become victims of pirates, turning the game on its head.
If a player was feeling particularly adventurous they have the option of directly attacking ports in order to obtain large amounts of plunder. The attack is presented in the form of a turn-based strategy game, including different unit types and terrain which affects unit bonuses to attack and defend.
A good ship is useless without a crew to man it, so captains need to recruit crew from taverns in ports. The amount of recruiting power a player has is based on his reputation for earning plunder. As most pirate crews are nothing but a pack of scurvy dogs, they do not stay with the player for long. Crew morale is lessened over time, and only more plunder extends the voyage. Eventually the player must divide up his wealth amongst the crew and disband them. If this is not done in a timely fashion, crew members will desert, and eventually mutiny. Most players will go through several crew over the course of their adventures.
Pirates were often allied with one or more of the major colonial powers in the Caribbean, sinking the ships of their enemies for personal gain. Players can converse with town governors to curry favor, however if a governor hates their guts, the player cannot enter the port and is greeted with cannon fire from the town's defenses. Those players who are in a governor's favor may find themselves bestowed with rank and lands, and maybe even get to meet the governor's daughter. If a player chooses to ally himself with a particular country, they must be heedful of who they are at war with, as peace treaties and alliances change over the course of the game. Those who choose to go it alone will end up at war with all the major powers, and only a pirate amnesty can break this situation.
Before beginning a new career on the high seas, the aspiring pirate captain is presented with a series of choices which will ultimately affect how the game world is set up and reacts to the player.
There are six different time periods to play in, each with their own set of challenges:
- The Silver Empire (1560) - The Spanish Empire is at the height of its power, meaning that all the major ports and trade are controlled by Spain. The Spanish military presence is very strong, making life hard for humble pirates.
- Merchants and Smugglers (1600) - Similar to the Silver Empire, but with a few non-Spanish colonies scattered around the Caribbean, and a thriving Dutch smuggling trade has come into existence.
- The New Colonists (1620) - The first successful colonies are founded by the enemies of Spain, improving piratical opportunities.
- War for Profit (1640) - The Spanish Empire has reached its lowest point, making life ideal for small, independent buccaneers with visions of lots of plunder
- The Buccaneer Heroes (1660) - The peak of swashbuckling adventure in the Caribbean
- Pirates' Sunset (1680) - The last era of pirate adventuring in the Caribbean. Navy warships patrol the waters, and governors are less tolerant of privateer activities.
Players are also given a choice of which nation they wish to align with. This affects the role given to the player, depending on the chosen time period. It affects where the game starts, what ship(s) the player starts with, initial wealth and reputation, and the size of the crew. Nationality is not a fixed affair, and players can choose to act against the flag they sail under. Nationalities include:
Difficulty and Specializations
The final choices are of difficulty (of which there are four levels) and a special skill from the following:
- Fencing: the player has quicker reflexes, making sword fights easier.
- Navigation: the player is gifted with increased navigational skill, making their ships faster.
- Gunnery: greater accuracy from cannon teams leads to easier naval battles.
- Wit and Charm: the player's personality grants them better relationships with the various governors in the Caribbean.
- Medicine: the player's knowledge of medicine grants them a longer life.
The game contains six short scenarios based on actual events. They are:
- John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua (1569)
- Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush (1573)
- Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet (1628)
- L'Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo (1666)
- Henry Morgan the King's Pirate (1671)
- Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition (1697)
Sid Meier's Pirates was designed as a game with a large degree of historical accuracy about the life and times of a pirate in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Most of the core gameplay concepts have some grounding in pirate life, and the game world closely resembles that of the Caribbean during the chosen time period. Even the manual was full of historical footnotes, a precursor to the in-game encyclopedia of the future Civilization games.
The game received favourable reviews across all platforms. Most notably winning Computer Gaming World's "Action Game of the Year" as well as two Origin Awards in 1988.