A while ago, while doing ‘research’ for one of our contract jobs, I was scoping out pirate games on the Internet. Puzzle Pirates had come up in various places as an example of a massively multi-player game that wasn’t targeted at the usual World of Warcraft playing gamer. So I fired it up and gave it a shot; since it is free to begin with it was a bit of a no-brainer.
The game itself is really a massively multi-player world, but the actions you take in that world almost all revolve around puzzle games. Your character is simply a 2D sprite moving around an isometric world. The puzzle games themselves are nothing particularly new or innovative, but they play well, are polished and fit nicely with the world’s style. Your character earns money by working on a ship (either an NPC ship, or a real ship crewed by other players), pillaging other ships for booty, or by working in shops on the various islands which make up the game world. The workings of the ships are tied to your puzzle playing performance; if you play well, the ship goes faster, and in the case of ship to ship battles, can fire more cannons.
A simple idea, but one that works amazingly well; by no means is it an immersive pirate simulator, but the simplicity of the basic puzzles allows new players to contribute, and the complexity of how the different actions interact with the game world leads the player along a long learning curve with much scope for fun along the way. On a hunch, I introduced my girlfriend to the game, and while she doesn’t do any of the more complicated things available in the game, she is perfectly happy to haunt the game’s taverns and inns, challenging people to sword-fighting (a frenetic block building game) for money. I on the other hand have worked hard (in between regaining the losses made when my other half logs on to my character and gambles away all of my money) to build up enough to buy a little ship, and work on trading between islands. In fact, the in-game economy is complex and rich, and the interface is much like EVE‘s in that it involves bids, sales and supply (fake producers) and demand (player-run shops). Everything the player needs, from weapons to clothes, is produced by shops run by other players – the game masters do little to affect the economy at all.
Those who choose to subscribe can access the full range of the gameplay all the time; non-paying players can join in and enjoy the world, but are limited to basic equipment, restricted from owning shops, and may only play tavern (player vs. player) games on certain days. Those restrictions serve to nicely encourage people to subscribe, without placing a big hard wall between them and the paying players.
All in all, Puzzle Pirates is a great game to play. It’s light and easy to play that you can sneak in a quick 10 minutes of fun between other things, and complex and engaging enough that you may find that 10 minutes turning into several hours because of that one-more-go factor. Plus, Three Rings (the makers), have one of the coolest offices around, and you can’t fault that for keeping their staff happy!