Sailing the Seas with Privateer’s Rick Barnes

Tim Curry had the pirate thing down. I think.

But Tim Curry did have the pirate thing down.

I can’t claim to be well-versed in pirates (or privateers, for that matter). My knowledge of maritime criminals pretty much begins and ends at Muppet Treasure Island – and if that’s anything to go off of, pirates are known for their greed, facial hair, and superstitions. While no one’s been able to tell me that any of this is wrong necessarily, several people have said that I may be missing the larger picture.

I have no idea what they could possibly mean.

Still, I figured that it might be good to get an expert opinion. So I invited Rick Barnes, creator of Privateer (up on Kickstarter now), to teach me a bit about pirates, lady pirates, Sid Meier’s Pirates!, and, yes, privateers. The game is hopefully expected to reach retail stores no later than July 2014.

So read on all you landlubbin’, scurvy so-and-so’s.


All Aboard With Privateer!

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us! Privateer is up on Kickstarter now, and it’s already passed its funding goal. I’d like to talk about your Kickstarter journey, but before we get to that, can you tell me a little about the premise of Privateer?

PRIVATEERAbsolutely. Privateer was born out of my desire to play a board game that represented the gameplay of the great pirate games of yore, especially Sid Meier’s Pirates! of the Commodore 64 era. I tried playing a few different games which I felt attempted to fulfill this role, but I was heavily dissatisfied with all of them. Privateer is designed to be a game that is fun to play over everything else. Theme is great, miniatures are fun, but gameplay is what gives games a lasting value.

In my gaming group at least, we have a very diverse group of people who play Privateer. Some of them are hardcore board game players, and the majority are people with no board game experience at all. Privateer was designed to appeal to everyone so that we had a common game that can be enjoyed by all. I had plenty of games my hardcore friends could enjoy, and a few that I could get casual players to endure, but no games that I felt could really appeal to both groups.


Privateer was initially up on Kickstarter this past summer, but you cancelled the campaign. Can you tell me what went into that decision?

That decision was prompted by one major issue: we were not prepared. It was not brought about by a lack of funding (we were actually doing really well), but by some unforeseen issues with shipping. Basically, when you flip the switch and put your Kickstarter project live, everything is now set into stone. When we discovered that we did not have an adequate fulfillment plan in place and that we would likely go bankrupt (even with a fully funded project) just by shipping the games overseas, we were forced to pull the plug in order to make adjustments. Ultimately, this was the best decision we ever made.


As the creator of the game, was it difficult to pull the plug during that first campaign? What did it feel like?

BlackbeardIt wasn’t a difficult decision to make at all, actually. It felt very freeing more than anything. The project was becoming a major burden as we stressed over trying to get everything fixed mid campaign, in spite of Kickstarter’s inflexible project page after a project is launched.

When we closed up shop it allowed us to regroup, focus on completing our project without any lingering doubts over whether we were wasting our efforts on a project that only had a chance to get funded, and, most importantly, it allowed us to actually recognize and open up a dialogue with our fans. We kept in contact with our previous backers and allowed them to give feedback on our decisions before the new project went live, which was invaluable.


How did you prepare for the re-launch? You say on your Kickstarter page that you consulted with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games (Viticulture, Euphoria). Did he have any particular advice that stuck with you?

Jamey is an absolutely indispensable asset to every board game creator and a great friend of Ensignia Games and Privateer. He was fully willing to give up all of the secrets he used to offer Euphoria as a free shipment to Kickstarter backers throughout the majority of the world, which was the greatest roadblock we faced in the previous project.

One piece of advice he gave was invaluable: do not lose sight of what you’re producing. We are interested in making Privateer a reality. Many of our backers wish that Privateer had miniatures, or that we had certain mechanics that appeal to them, but we know that Privateer is a fantastic game as it is and we have been steadfast in not allowing our vision to be changed by Kickstarter.


With the re-launch well underway, how does it feel to know that your Kickstarter is going to fund?

Black-BartFantastic, obviously! We never went to Kickstarter hoping to make heaps of money. We just want to raise enough funds to produce Privateer at a quality that we could be proud of and that our backers will be proud to show off on their shelves. We believe that Privateer’s success will be realized well after our Kickstarter project ends, as it is a game designed to appeal to a market which may not even realize that Kickstarter exists. We’re fully confident that once people actually have the games in their hands that the quality will speak for itself.


Bringing In The Corsairs

In addition to the base game, backers also have the option to pledge for the Corsair Expansion. Can you tell me a bit about the expansion? Will it ship at the same time as the base game?

The Corsair Expansion is not for everyone, but it has a lot of appeal to our backers, as it adds a lot of advanced options for seasoned board game players. It complicates the decision-making process and adds the option for much more thoughtful strategy. The Corsair Expansion will ship in the same box as the base game. I don’t know how other projects can afford to ship their add-ons separate from their base game without passing on the cost to their backers. Shipping our product in portions would bankrupt us, at least.


Corsairs includes a whole bunch of extra stuff – cards, captains, advanced rules. Does any of this significantly change the game play of the base game?

It’s mostly unchanged by the expansion, with the exception of the base game’s combat rules. The expansion mostly just adds new options and variables to consider when plotting a course to victory. The new cards add a lot of flavor to the game, but there’s also more to manage, which makes it undesirable for a beginner. Combat becomes especially more involved and exciting within the expansion.

For me, at least, I can’t go back to the base game. The new captains are all designed to utilize the expansion content to the fullest, so they are actually not playable without adding in the other expansion content as well. I would liken the Corsair Expansion to the Cities and Knights expansion for Settles of Catan. The original game is a blast to play, but the expansion adds a huge amount of replay ability for those who have played and mastered everything the base game has to offer.


A couple stretch goals you’re hoping to meet are actually other expansions – one based in fantasy, one in tragedy. Can you tell me a little about those (potential) expansions?

These are basically miniature versions of the Corsair expansion in their own right. They add a few new rules and a few captains who have abilities that are empowered by these rules. Each of the campaigns explores a theme which certainly fits within the realm of piracy but may not be perfect for every gaming group. If you like your game to remain firmly in the realm of the real, then adding the Tales of the Tide expansion (which comes with mystical curses and legendary sea monsters) may not be for you. My group, however, has been hankering to tangle with a kraken ever since their first game.

Other expansions, such as the unlocked Sisters of the Sea expansion, are more universally appealing. The Sisters of the Sea expansion adds four female captains to complement our very testosterone-laden main cast. These females are not in the base game because their historicity is not really assured, unlike all of the other base captains. But if you have a group that contains female gamers, I would recommend giving them the option to play as a female captain.


A Bit of History

Let’s talk a little about those captains. I noticed that some of them are female, which is great (and surprisingly uncommon in games). How did you choose which pirates to put in the game? Are they all based on historical figures?

Mary-ReadThere are really only two females which unquestionably lived a life of piracy (Anne Bonny and Mary Read.) In order to add more female captains to the game, we decided to release the Sisters of the Sea mini-expansion, which adds four female captain variants. These four females were potentially fictional, but we are happy to include them anyway.

We decided to give all of our captains abilities that communicate, to some degree, their historical legacy. Blackbeard is a fearsome adversary in Privateer. Olivier Levasseur is as ruthlessly cunning in Privateer as he was reported to be on the seas of the Caribbean. We took some artistic liberty in their designs, but each captain has one foot firmly set in the realm of historical accuracy.


Finally, for those like myself who aren’t familiar with the terminology: what’s the difference between a “pirate” and a “privateer”? Any particular reason you decided to go with the latter?

A privateer is basically a pirate with a government license. Governments used to give certain captains something called a ‘letter of marque’, which gave the receiving ship the right to attack and capture ships deemed to be enemies of the state. Honestly, we decided to use the term Privateer only because it wasn’t being used by any other board game currently in print. Other terms were already under copyright, so we didn’t have many options. Privateer actually fully fits the theme of the game, as each captain represents a Privateer sailing out of their own home port. They are given full license to attack, capture, and plunder opponent’s ships without repercussion.

Avast ye dogs! In case ye missed it, Privateer is currently live over on Kickstarter.


Photo Credits: Muppet Treasure Island by Walt Disney Studios; Privateer artwork by Ensignia Games.