Monday, February 4, 2013

Lego Games: Pirate Plank


Pirate Plank is a bit of an odd duck as far as most Lego games go.  It is probably the most attractive one I have seen yet but it is also distinctively not German family style. 

That being said, it is one of my son's favorites and is a good break from complex games. 

Stats

Price $15
Pieces116
Age 7+ (4+ with variants)
Players 2-4
Length 10-20
Style Random Action, Aggressive Gameplay
Randomness High but with little effect on endgame.

The Build

This game's mechanic really only requires some microfigs and a lane for each player, but the aesthetic of this game is top notch.  There is a 16 x 16 base-plate with a very attractive micro scale pirate ship.  The ship has two main sails and a jib.  The vessel is completed with a cannon and a captain microfig wearing a full scale, unprinted Captain's hat.  There are four more microfigs for play that are reminiscent of classical Lego pirate figures.


From the ship are four planks and light grey cheese wedges are put on the baseplate for sharks.

Video of Game Construction



Gameplay

Most Lego games follow the tenants of what is refereed to as "German style family game." This game is very different with the goal being to eliminate the other players by moving them off the board and winning by being the last player in the game.

Each turn you roll the traditional Lego die.
  • If  you roll the Skull and crossbones, you can choose to move back two spaces on your plank or more any other player forward on theirs.
  • If you roll a blank side, you may choose an opponent and place one of their movement squares on the die.   
  • If you roll a side with movement squares you may do one of the following:
    •  If there is at least one available space you may put an opponent's movement square on the die, unless all 9 of their squares have already been placed
    • You may move a single opponent forward a number of spaces equal to the number of movement squares on the face of the die. 

The game mechanic of adding movement squares to a side of the die is common to many Lego games.

When all but one player has been forced off their plank, a total of 9 studs, then the game is over.


Video Demo of Gameplay




Tactics

A player's choice of action is based on a random die roll, so options are limited for strategy.

Independent of a player's roll a players choices are limited to the following:
  • Selection of opponent
  • Choose to move an opponent forward
  • Choose to add a movement square
In a two player game, selection of an opponent is already determined.  With three or four players the social dynamic becomes the dominant factor of the game.

This leaves the only real discussion to be the option of moving a player forward or adding a movement square.  A simple statistical analysis can help decide on the best answer.

There are two extreme strategies, one is to put a single square on any side without one and always choose to move the opponent forward when the option is given.  This is the fastest possible way to win the game, but not the most likely. 

I wrote some code to assess different strategies.  Ignoring the skull and crossbones side,  I iterated how many turns it would take to get to 9 spaces based on strategies of putting a maximum of 1, 2, 3, or 4 movement square on a side.  So with one, you put one token on and any time you roll that you choose to move the opponent forward.  For two, you would put up to two tokens on a side before moving forward, etc.

Here is what I found
  • 1: 12.9 turns
  • 2: 12.1 turns
  • 3: 12.4 turns
  • 4: 13.2 turns
So all games are going to take about 13 or more rounds.   In all likelihood,  a player will roll and use at least one skull and crossbones roll to go back 2 spaces.  So, an opponent must be moved forward 11 spaces rather than just 9.

For 11 spaces we get these values
  • 1: 14.9 turns
  • 2: 13.3 turns
  • 3: 13.5 turns
  • 4: 14.0 turns
For 13 spaces we get these values
  • 1: 17.0 turns
  • 2: 14.5 turns
  • 3: 14.6 turns
  • 4: 15.0 turns
Now, this is all rather simple and one sided examination, and not complete but the best strategy appears to slightly favor putting no more than two movement squares on a side.  The longer a game goes the more it favors adding squares, but for the viable length of a two player game, two sides stays the leader.  

Playing with Younger Children

I am rather surprised that Lego puts the age so high on this game. My four year old loves it, and the statistics, as you can see indicate that choosing between putting a square on or moving a person forward have relatively little impact on the end result. 

You can fix any age issue by preloading the die though.

For a two player game I suggest the following sides (colors can be changed out of course)
  • 4 Red
  • 3 Red 1 Yellow
  • 2 Red 2 Yellow
  • 1 Red 3 Yellow
  • 4 Yellow
For a three player game I recommend
  • 3 Red 1 Tan
  • 1 Red 3 Yellow
  • 3 Tan 1 White
  • 1 Red 1 Tan 1 White
  • 1 Red 1 Tan 1 White
For advanced players this might seem a bit like you are just rolling a die and moving a play piece around.  That is absolutely correct.  That is what games for very young children (Candy Land, Hi Ho! Cherry-O, etc...) tend to be.  This method results in a game that is fun for young kids and not so long to drive their parents a little crazy.

Variation to remove the Aggressive Gameplay

In this game you are always moving your opponent out of the game, I have no problem with that but the gameplay is a bit aggressive for younger players.  If that is not right for your kids you have a very simple change that changes this game to a race.

Use some Lego to put some land at the end of the planks.  When you roll one of your movement squares, you get to move forward that many spaces.  When you roll skull and crossbones, you can choose to move your piece forward one or push another player back two.  

Opinions

The building aspect of this game is one of the best yet.  The gameplay is very simple with luck and social factors being strong elements.  These factors combined with the pirate motif makes this a hit with younger kids.  When the game gets old you still have the fantastic miniscale pirate ship, so still, a winner.

Elements of Note

Part IdQuantity
Misc Pirate Microfigs misc5
Black Minifig, Headgear Hat, Pirate Bicorne 25281
Skull and Crossbones Tile3068bpb3102