It sounds like the new album by White Snake, but 'Fire & Steel' was actually the 13th release in the 'Pirates Constructible Strategy Game' series and it was this release that first brought the game to my attention. This and the fact that the local discount book shop was selling packs off at 25p each…
|The Pirate ship 'Zanzibar' pulls over for a quick toilet break...|
It felt like I’d struck hobby gold. I didn’t care too much if the game wasn’t up to scratch – It had Pirates, it had strategy and best of all, you could construct cool looking model war ships. The shop’s two display boxes whispered to me ‘buy us, buy us all…’ and before I could resist, I’d put a box under each arm and was headed towards the girl at the counter. I told her they were a gift for my nephews...
|'Er, yes, the boys will love these... Have you got a bag?'|
Back at the ranch, I spent the next hour popping out the ships from their styrene cards, slotting them together and marveling at the simple eloquence of the whole thing. From flat foil card packs grew 3D fleets of glorious looking boats, including Cutters, Bombardiers and five mast Treasure Galleons. All represented in the colours of the game's varying factions - The British, Spanish, French and Americans, alongside those scallies of the high seas, the Pirates and the Undead Cursed.
|The mighty Spanish galleon 'Trinity'|
But it wasn't just model ships that came in those foil card packs. You got a complete stand alone game, including ‘quick play’ and advanced rules (along with 6mm dice - nice touch), a varied selection of crew, special event, rare item and scenery cards and most important of all, a chest full of treasure…
|Original Pirate Photography...|
And unsurprisingly, it’s the treasure that plays an integral role in the game, with each player’s fleet of ships setting sail to explore the islands, revealing hidden bounties and aiming to navigate a safe passage home to port without attracting too much attention from rival fleets.
|Your friends and mine... It's the French!|
Of course, in the spirit of any true Pirate game, you’ll also be wanting to sail straight towards the nearest enemy and open up with every cannon, musket and flintlock you can lay your hands on and this is where the game’s simple but effective combat system comes into play.
As a ship takes damage through enemy fire or boarding action, pieces of it are removed to record how much damage it has sustained. This gives the appearance of the vessel slowly being destroyed and also means that, barring the use of certain special item cards, elements such as a ship’s masts or cannons can no longer be used in the game.
|'You can remove a mast now...'|
Each game piece has a point value that is relative to its overall power and much like any traditional wargame, players can agree on a fleet and crew point limit at the beginning of the game to either play out small skirmish level games or ramp it up to full on naval warfare.
As mentioned earlier, I was later to find out that ‘Fire and Steel’ was the thirteenth release in the game’s long running series, starting with ‘Pirates of the Spanish Main’ released back in 2004. Along the way Wizkids released all kinds of new elements into the game, including new factions such as the Chinese and the rampaging Vikings, new kinds of vessels and structures including Ironclad Submarines and re-doubtable Sea Forts and even released the monsters of the deep in the form of the Kraken and the ship munching Megalodon.
|'Squid's on the menu boys...'|
Sadly, Topps announced the closure of Wizkids in 2008 and along with it sunk the chance of seeing further releases in the ‘Pirates’ series. But hope may yet still be on the horizon following Neca’s 2009 acquisition of the Wizkids name and associated property rights. Whilst nothing official has been announced by Neca, rumours persist of a ‘Pirates’ re-launch, possibly incorporating the HeroClix dial mechanic...
|The Cursed. God, there unlucky...|
Either way, I’m glad I took the plunge when those shiny foil card wrappers seduced me in the book shop last year. The ‘Pirates Constructible Strategy Game’ is unique, imaginative and memorable and serves well both as a pick up and play game or could even do a sound job simulating the naval elements of a 28mm Pirate skirmish campaign… Now there’s an idea… ;)