Game at a Glance
The game shown in this preview is a prototype; components and gameplay in the final version are subject to change
Ahoy! It’s time to build a fleet of ships and set sail in search of your fortune. You can plunder loot from other pirates with a stockpile of guns, or load your ships with treasure and make a fast getaway. Will you become the wealthiest pirate on the high seas, or will you lose your riches to a rival?
Guns or Treasure is a fast-paced card game full of bluffing and take-that. At the beginning of the game players simultaneously draw cards and use them to build their ships. They will have 12 ship cards to use in their fleet to create ships of varying sizes. After the shipbuilding phase, everybody takes turns sending their ships off to maraud. The winner of ship battles gets to keep any loot involved in the fray. Be careful, though – hidden bombs might send you to Davy Jone’s Locker. After having attacked at least one ship, players can choose to retreat with their treasure rather than attack. When all ships have battled or escaped, the game ends and the pirate with the most treasure is the winner!
Guns or Treasure is structured into 3 phases – Shipbuilding, Marauding, and Scoring. The entire game can be played in 15 minutes or less. This length feels appropriate due to the light weight of the game, and several rounds can be played back-to-back. There is an optional variant that extends the game for those who want a longer experience.
Shipbuilding consists of playing three cards from a hand of six, drawing back up to six, and repeating four times until 12 cards have been played to your fleet. Each card has a Bow side and a Stern side. The Bow side reveals a certain amount of treasure, guns, or a bomb. The Stern side, or the back, keeps the card’s contents a mystery and is not revealed until a ship is engaged in battle. To build a ship players must have one card, bow-side up at the front of their ship, with any number of stern-side cards placed behind it.
You can choose to make up six small ships, one long ship, and anything in-between. Every player must spend at least one turn attacking another ship before they are allowed to retreat, so it’s a good idea to have at least one aggressive ship with enough firepower to win a battle. A few cards with bombs are scattered throughout the deck that can be used to sink ships. Having a few large ships could make for lucrative getaways or powerful battleships, but you run the risk of putting too many eggs in one basket that might sink to the dark briny depths of the sea. Alternatively, you could play the long game and make many smaller ships that aren’t heavily armed nor wealthy and try to outlast your opponents. There are many ways to build your armada, and a lot of the fun is in trying new strategies.
Turn order is determined by the amount of treasure revealed on the fleet’s bow cards. The revealed item on each ship’s bow is a form of communication – it might signal the ship’s contents, but more often is used as a form of misdirection. Players may want to appear tough by putting a heavy gun load on their bows to make players think twice before attacking them, but it will also lose them the opportunity to be the first to attack – and going first can be incredibly powerful. Placing a lot of revealed treasure might be a player’s attempt at going first, but it also might be a trick to lure greedy pirates into a trap.
The combination of shipbuilding and marauding leads to a surprising amount of strategies to explore. I have played this several times with my friends and kids now and I am still thinking of new ways to build my ship to fool my opponents. Guns or Treasure provides a lot of flexibility in the ship builds, but is not a game that requires a lot of deep thinking. This is a lightweight game where you try to outwit your opponents more than craft a long-term strategy.
The game comes with six different double-sided Captain Cards with special powers. That means there are 12 variable player powers to mix up the playstyle and increase variety in the game. In addition, the rules suggest several optional variants that can increase or decrease the complexity and change the playstyles. There is plenty of replayability in this little box.
The pirate theme may not be unique in gaming, but it’s fun and works well with the mechanics. There are guns and bombs but lighthearted cartoon artwork and puns hint at a game that does not take itself too seriously. This is not a dark, gritty pirate game, but a family-friendly activity full of silly hijinks.
There is a lot of room for in-game chatting during the games. Fans of bluffing might get a kick out of trying to lure opponents into a bomb trap or making a ship full of spoils seem more foreboding than it actually is. Trying to throw players off the scent is half the fun and can be done with a combination of the ship’s build, verbal cues, and body language.
Although it can be played with two people, I believe it is best with four or more. This game is heavy on interaction and shines with a group of people willing to let loose and be silly for a bit – which is why it has so much potential as a party game suitable for kids. One of the core features involves attacking others. Take-that can be tricky when children are involved, but Guns or Treasure has yet to cause tears with my little ones. I believe the light-hearted tone helps with that as does the incredibly short playtime. Players don’t have a lot of time to get emotionally invested in their armada, so when their treasure trove gets sunk with a well-hidden bomb, it’s not hard to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Guns or Treasure has a simple set of rules, making it wonderful for families. If a child can count and hold cards in their hand, they should be able to play. The setup is lightning-fast – just pass out the Captain Cards (if they are being used), shuffle the deck, and deal out six cards to each player. Teaching the game is almost as quick as the setup.
The quick setup and playtime combined with its small box size make it a fantastic game to toss in a purse or the car for quick family gaming on the go. This can be played while waiting for a restaurant order, during a camping trip, on a picnic blanket – pretty much anywhere there’s a flat surface.
Guns or Treasure does so much with so little. It comes in a small box and consists of a deck of cards and has an extremely simple ruleset. It’s portable, easy to teach, and plays very quickly. The use of double-sided cards provides a clever structure for mind games for the right group.
It’s not at its best at low player counts – it’s most fun with a group of people who can let loose and act a bit silly. I’ve had plenty of fun baiting my friends into attacking a bomb ship and trying to sneak off with my own ship full of loot. Despite those fun moments, this is a game that will get more play with my children than with my strategy game-loving friends. It was simple enough to teach that my 7-year-old was able to pick up on it immediately, and it plays fast enough that both kids were able to stay engaged the entire time. Most importantly, they both loved it! My daughter had fun making “a super big ship with surprises” and my son enjoyed trying to trick people, trying to figure out the best ships to attack, and all the mind games. They both enjoyed it when ships got bombed and sunk, and even when it was their own ship they maintained good attitudes. This is a game I plan on tossing in my purse for a portable game the entire family can enjoy together.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly party game that is accessible, plays quickly, and brings out your inner pirate, give Guns or Treasure a look!