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   KB Exclusive: Puzzle Pirates! A Hearty Yohoho!  
  Posted by: Rosethorn on Monday, March 07, 2005 - 09:14 PM
Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates is every casual players dream online game. Comprised of a variety of puzzles that replace typical activity in an MMORPG, with social games and an interesting and diverse economy, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates has enough to keep it fun for quite a while. UbiSoft recently announced they will be putting the game on the shelf in your favorite retail outfit in the near future, so I thought now would be a good time to take another look at this puzzle prize from Three Rings.

Quite a lot has changed since Puzzle Pirates originally launched in December 2003. For those who tried the game way back then, there are now three new tradeskill puzzles, a new social game (spades!), a tournament structure, many new islands to explore and some changes to working for the navy. A navy rank structure has been added to make doing jobs aboard navy ships more interesting. Finally, Missions have been added recently and are short tasks, like bilging for the Navy or helping out a shop owner, that yield Poe (Pieces of Eight, the currency of Puzzle Pirates).

The puzzle offering is pretty varied and there's something for everyone. On board the ships, players can play puzzles that take the roles of bilging (remove excess water from the ship), carpentry (repairing holes), gunning (filling the cannons), sailing and navigating. The puzzles are quite different from each other and each has an interesting nuance to it. The bilging puzzle, for example, involves clearing pieces by lining blocks up either vertically or horizontally and swapping the pieces left and right. Carpentry involves taking odd shaped boards and placing them into odd shaped holes, filling those holes without doing much overlapping. In addition to regular ship tasks, there is the Sea Battle, in which ships attack and board each other. In Sea Battle, players select their opponents by clicking on them, so members of the same team can combine their efforts against a single opponent to kick them out as quickly as possible. The Sword fighting piece of Sea Battle is a Tetris-like game. Piece by piece, colored blocks drop and players form them into squares and towers. The blocks are broken using colored swords that drop randomly. When a good break is made, the opponent is hit with blocks, dropped in a pattern according to the type of sword the player owns. The team that has the last standing member(s) is the winner and pillages the opponent, taking PoE and goods from the conquered ship.

The tradeskills part of the game is yet unfinished, but there are three puzzles available for the various types of tradeskill activity. The ones without puzzles rely on unskilled labor that accumulates over time in order to fill the orders. The three tradeskill puzzles are Alchemy (the making of dyes and potions), Distilling (making that important sea drink, Rum) and Shipwrighting (the making of ships). Distilling is my favorite. It involves lining up rows of bubbles, trying to make full rows of the lightest colored bubbles without any dark bubbles in the mix.

These three tradeskill puzzles make up a piece of the complex economy, but there's so much more to it. Players own the shops which make the products. Other players forage on non-colonized islands in order to obtain the raw ingredients needed, to sell to the shops. Player labor makes the products (either through the tradeskill puzzles or simple time passage). Some shops then sell their products to other shops (like dyes are sold to tailors). Others sell the product direct to the players. Ships are available, from small sloops that require a minimal crew to Grand Frigates, which can only be manned by an enormous crew. Players can buy a variety of swords that will give them an advantage in battle by changing the drop pattern. There is also a large assortment of clothing, shoes and hats, so that every player can have a unique look.

There are some social games that can be played in bars or on ships. The two games are Drinking and Spades. Spades is self-explanatory (and a lot of fun). Drinking is a board game where players are trying to claim as many squares and fill up rows with their colors, while placing colored pieces on the board. Pieces can only be placed next to each other if they are the same color or shape. Once a row is filled, it clears and the person who claimed the most squares in that row gets points. Drinking can be played with anywhere from two to eight pirates.

Players who own ships are captains of their own crews. Crews can come together to form Flags. There is a ranking structure, so that ship captains can allow their most trusted crewmates to have access to sailing the ships and other high level tasks, while keeping the newest crew members from anything but the most basic functions. Players can also "job" aboard player-owned ships, which is one of the best ways to make money in the game. This gives the player temporary crew status while a crew is out attacking other ships and a share of the booty once the ship puts into port.

Of course, what piratey game would be complete without the lingo. Compiled by yours truly, the Puzzle Pirates site has a long list of words that every buccaneer should familiarize themselves with. Most players in the game speak in pirate, which makes the game all that much more fun and interesting.

While lacking any sort of violence and mundane tasks pretty much don't exist, Puzzle Pirates is still an MMORPG. It's a very social game, although people often are so busy playing the puzzles, they can't talk that much. The general environment is very friendly and the games are a lot of fun. It's one of those game gems that there's almost nothing wrong with. It would be nice if there were more tradeskill puzzles, but they will come in time. Beyond that, itís a game that will keep even the most critical of gamers happy for a while. It's a great game whether you have 10 minutes or 10 hours to play.

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates will be appearing on store shelves everywhere soon. As such, Three Rings has prepared by opening up new oceans (their name for servers), hiring more Oceanmasters and creating an alternate payment plan. Players can now choose play on the subscription servers, which is a traditional MMO payment system or on Doubloon Oceans. A subscription costs $9.95 a month (free to download) with no limits on what a player can do. On the Doubloon Oceans, most things are free to play, but certain things, like purchasing ships or swords or gaining rank in a crew or working in a shop, cost Doubloons. The Doubloons cost a modest amount of money and this server is intended for people who will only play certain aspects of the game and aren't interested in the full experience. I'd recommend it heartily for anyone who hasn't tried it yet.

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