A beautiful game of light strategy for 8 to 12 year-olds
Players: 2 – 4 (best with 4)
Ages: 8 and Up
Genre: Light strategy
Ship of Treasures is an incredibly well-produced game of piracy for kids ages 8 and up. In it, players take the role of pirates searching a pirate ship for treasure.
Instead of using a traditional game board, Ship of Treasures includes a plastic grid of working plastic hatches, each with its own secret compartment. The box transforms into a pirate ship, and the treasures and cannonballs are hidden beneath the hatches.
Between the ship, the cards, and the artwork, the kids and I were completely in the pirate mode well before we even started playing.
The game starts with players hiding treasures and cannonballs underneath the trapdoors. The instructions suggest closing eyes, but we moved to a separate room so pirates could be assured of secrecy. Each player has a pirate figure and a Pirate’s Journal. You’re looking for treasures and trying to avoid cannonballs. On your turn, you roll the dice to move around the deck of the ship, then decide to either open the hatch you’re standing on, or draw a card.
That’s the primary decision point of the game: are you going to open that hatch or draw a card? If you open the hatch, you could get a treasure, a cannonball (which loses a turn), or nothing. Drawing a card, on the other hand, could let you steal a treasure. It could also gain or lose you a turn.
The first player to accumulate one of each of the other player’s treasures wins.
Your Pirate’s Journal has an image of the ship on it. Using the included dry erase markers, you take notes during the game, marking where the other players have searched, so that you can narrow down your search.
Most importantly (and impressively), Ship of Treasures was invented by two 10-year-olds. Do you have any kids who are lacking in motivation? Have you heard the ever present “I can’t do that” excuse? The very existence of this game is inspiring.
Aside from that, and all the regular social benefits of playing games, the journals in Ship of Treasures add a very intriguing educational element. During each turn, you’re updating the picture in your journal to what’s happening on the board. You have to count squares, figure out how what you’re going to write down, and, most importantly, make sure your picture matches what’s happening on the board.
From an educator’s perspective, that is building visual-spatial processing skills, which is one of those building-block skills that is important for just about everything.
I have one last note about the journals. When we played, I didn’t tell the kids anything about them. I didn’t say how they should be used, or why. Some players figured it out right away. Others didn’t. By about the halfway point of the game, all the players were taking notes in their journals, laughing when someone opened a trap door they didn’t need to, and taking pride in their notes.
We found that older players (thirteen year-olds) felt frustrated by not being able to move where they wanted to move. They were fine with rolling the die, but they didn’t like to be told what direction to move. In retrospect, I should have seen that one coming. What teenager likes being told where to go?
It’s an easy adjustment, though. For our second game, we ignored the direction die except when it was wild. Wild meant the player could turn.
We also house-ruled the off-boat movement. When your move takes you off the ship, you count the ocean as a square. What happens if your movement would leave you floating at sea? We ruled that if you don’t have enough movement to get back on the boat, you can’t step off it. Basically, your turn would end on the edge of the ship.
Summing it all up
Ship of Treasures is a beautiful light-hearted game of piracy with just the right amount of thinking and planning for younger kids. In particular, players enjoyed hiding, moving, and stealing treasures. There is also an undeniable thrill of victory when a treasure is found, one that requires the immediate use of silly pirate accents.
For me, though, the element that puts this game over the top is the pirate journals. They keep everyone involved in the game on every turn, and it’s fun trying to guess where the treasures and cannon balls are.
Patrick Matthews is the author of the middle grade novel Dragon Run, published by Scholastic, the MathFinder series of puzzle books, published by Mindware, and Distraction, a light-hearted card game published by ThinkFun. When he’s not writing, designing games, or speaking at schools, you can usually find him with his kids, either out on the soccer field or hopelessly lost on some wilderness adventure.