Sid Meier’s Pirates for the Ipad: A Review

Sid Meier's Pirates!

Sid Meier’s Pirates! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going to the back of the rack for a bit, today I’m going to write about a new-ish version of a blast from the past, Sid Meier‘s PIRATES for the Ipad. Yes, before you say it, I know this isn’t a boardgame conversion, but they don’t exactly release one of those every week, so I make do with existing purchases, in this case, a game that’s been riding on my IPad2 for a few months, hardly touched except for the past month.

I hate to date myself unduly but I played the original Pirates! from Microprose. On a monochrome Macintosh SE. For it’s day, it was a great game. Rather than getting stuck in the weeds about the subject matter and annoying things like historical accuracy, the game focused only on the cool parts– fighting, sailing, ship-fighting, sword play, rum and wenches. Sort of like bringing the Errol Flynn/Johnny Depp version of piracy to life in an open ended RPG style game. Given the crude technologies of the day, Sid Meier pulled off a very compelling and entertaining game, and it was a big hit for Microprose– a huge seller that made Sid Meier a household name, long before Civilization hit.

Check out a little bit of the original game play, right here:

Sure, the graphics are making you wince, but you can’t deny that Sid knows how to isolate the fun elements of almost any subject. That’s why he’s Sid Meier, and you’re not.

Three years after Microprose got engulfed by Spectrum Holobyte, Sid Meier left to form the company he has kept going ever since, FIRAXIS SOFTWARE. Firaxis published a few PC Based updates to Pirates! in 2000 which updated the graphics but kept the open ended structure of the original game. Pirates (2000) was received with enthusiasm but was hardly a chart buster. One could make an argument that tastes had changed by that time.

Which brings us to…


Splash Screen

Main Menu

Just like the 1986 original, Pirates for the Ipad is a single-player, open world game. The player receives a letter of marque authorizing service for Spain, the Dutch Republic, England, or France in the Caribbean, with the express purpose of interdicting the shipping and colonies of the other powers in the game. Historical Note: this would make them privateers, technically, but Sid Meier’s PRIVATEERS! doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Even though you are a privateer, you are given an Army rank (Lieutenant) and achieve promotion and advancement in Army terms, though you sail a pirate flag.

My Pirate Fleet

My little fleet of Pirates

After choosing your nation, you can sail around the Carribean, intercepting the ships of the countries you are at war with, and generally causing trouble. You really need to keep tabs on a few things when you are sailing around looking for glory. One: Replenish food, or your crew will mutiny on you. Two: IF you want to retain your “legal status” of privateer, have a care whom you attack for plunder. Nab the wrong ship, and you will soon be considered a Pirate, not a Privateer, and all ports will be closed to you and a general feeling of hostility will prevail towards you.

Looking for something to loot

The basic gameplay, as mentioned, is open-ended; the player may choose to attack enemy ships or towns, hunt pirates, seek buried treasure, rescue long-lost family members, or even avoid violence altogether and seek to increase his wealth through trade– which makes for a pretty dull game, by the way. It’s not Sid Meier’s MERCHANTS!

Find yourself a plum prize, select it by your trusty finger swipe, and select attack. A short sea battle will ensue. You will either sink the enemy, it will outrun you, or, as is most likely, your two ships will close and a big ol’ pirate swordfest ensues, hopefully with Eric Korngold playing full blast in the background. Just like in the old days that brings up the duel with the enemy captain sequence; only here it is far more colorful, interesting and cinematic. My favorite part!


“What ho, you blackguard! Strike yer colors!” “Never in life, sir!”

After a rather simple dueling routine executes (hint: use the Longsword and like Merrill in SIGNS, swing away! swing away!), you will (you hope) defeat the enemy captain in an amusing defeat sequence, and then let the looting commence!


“Avast, haul over that loot, ye dogs!”

You then take your loot to a friendly city and either get your ships fixed, sell your useless prizes or fill your hold with trade goods. You can also visit the Governor or other local chief poobahs, which will provide plot points to move your story along, or you can get your ship fixed or sold at the shipwrights.

Safe Harbor!

Don’t assume victory is commonplace just because you tend to do well early on. I suspect the game is structured to pull you in and allow a few easy victories before it starts to get challenging. In any event, you don’t win them all. The picture below illustrates the price of failure.


“It’s a fair cop, but society is to blame”

In the old game, the game played out with no prescribed ending point.. you were a pirate captain until you grew too old to be a captain any more, and your character retired from ill health– at which point you get a score based on the entire life exploits of your pirate. I haven’t played it to the end yet, but I assume if everything else holds true for the Ipad version, this probably does too.

One element that is newer than the 86 version (introduced in the 2000 version) is the “Family back story” line.. a certain Baron Raymondo who has wronged your family in some past occurrence.

You follow a “Path to Revenge” to finally encounter Raymondo in his jungle fortress and vanquish him. This adds a linear element to the game that I find complimentary and in keeping with the theme.

Path to Revenge!!


Well, how do fault a classic? I found Pirates! to be interesting, engaging and entertaining. The sailing model is a bit rudimentary, and I think the game overall is a tad too easy except at the higher levels of difficulty. In this respect it mirrors the “Civilization: Revolution” Ipad App by the same company– you have to make it give you a fight. I did enjoy the Swashbuckling elements of the swordfighting and ship’s combat routines. In general, I’m giving it three and a half stars. I liked it a lot but it did get a tad repetitive in places. Definitely worth what I paid for it.

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