PLAYMOBIL Pirates Review

A Builder’s Delight


Yo ho, yo ho, a builder’s life… er, pirate’s… for me. How does that song go again? Take to the high-seas in this builder-style game, but only after you’ve cleared your island of shrubs, outcroppings, and trees. You’ll need pirates to run your island, and pirates need homes. Homes require space, and space is a resource more scarce than a shaved-ice stand in the Sahara. So begins our journey…

Pirate games naturally evoke imagery of broadsiding ships with an arsenal of cannons, boarding and swashbuckling, drinking profuse amounts of rum, and of course ladies… genteel ladies belonging to the aristocratic rulers of the towns you set out to plunder. In Playmobil Pirates, however, you’ll need to set your sword and drunken tendencies aside for a while in order to establish your colony. Pirates is 80% settlement-management and 20% action, but make no mistake… it’s addicting and pretty.

A Doubloon For Your Troubles

After a strange series of Lego-style cut scenes explaining to you (in mime-style) what the “pirate’s life” is all about, you’ll be dumped into a hefty tutorial which helps establish your pirate town. You’ll jump through several hoops – follow the arrow – which will net you a cheap-o ship, some pirates to help with yard work, a hut or two for them to live in, and a weenie of a fort to help defend against Blackbeard’s invasions (more on that in a bit). Doubloons are the main form of currency in Pirates, but you can also acquire gems and skulls at a premium. Pirates is a “freemium” type game, so you’ll have the option of purchasing doubloons and gems for your hard-earned cash, or simply trading-in your valuable RL time in exchange for progress.

Shake It Like A Salt Shaker

Initially, you’ll set your pirates (a.k.a. hired construction workers) to work clearing space for new buildings, building said buildings, and repairing your ship. You’ll quickly find that you don’t have enough room to build everything you want, so you’ll need to purchase adjacent plots of land and then hire more laborers to clear your new plots. As you expand your town you’ll uncover treasure chests, sparkly trees and shrubs that you can “shake” for ph4t l3wt, stranded pirates, and nasty snakes. Unfortunately, it takes a while for your “pirates” to chop down trees and remove rock outcroppings. Lucky for Gameloft, it’s fairly easy for you to buy gems which can be used to instantly finish a project. And yes, I said buy… as in, with cold-hard cash. You will get gems throughout your time in Pirateville, albeit very very slowly.

A Pirate For Every Purpose

There are several types of pirates you can hire, each with their own specialty – builders, workers, fighters – so you’ll want to plan accordingly. And pirates must have housing (picky buggers), so you’ll need to balance your desire for expansion with how much space you have for pirate homes. Your pirate homes, however, will generate loot every so often (xp and doubloons) so it’s not all bad. Pirates without homes will simply lay-out on the beach and drink rum until they fall into a drunken slumber.

Homes are not all you can buy in this game, oh no… There are workshops that produce temporary speed-buffs for building, repairing, and fighting, as well as fortifications for your port. Remember that POS ship I mentioned earlier in the review? Your ship is like your heart – keep it beating and you’ll continue on your merry way. Every so often, Blackbeard will send out a wave of minions (on ships) to attack your port. Your fortifications will blast them into the depths and save you the trauma of ship-repair. What’s more, should your port survive such an attack unscathed, your expedition timer will get reset and you can once again set-sail into the wild blue yonder… and this is where the action is.

An Expedition A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

I’d mentioned that Pirates is primarily a builder game, but expeditions are a fun break from the constant space-management tedium. Once your ship is ready to go, you can open up a map and choose a distant isle for a summer getaway. As you level, you’ll unlock new islands and more treacherous journeys. It obviously takes a while to travel to a new island, so to fill the time you’ll be shooting giant octopi, manta rays and the occasional enemy pirate ship, as well as looting floating barrels of treasure. While the majority of the town-management part of the game is an overhead, slow-moving ordeal, your expeditions are from the perspective of your boat and in real-time. Shooting is quite simple, and your crew – even in the junk-mobile – has impeccable aim as long as your fingers are fat enough to tap the things on the screen. Be wary of the higher-level expeditions, however, as the pirate ships will actually shoot back… and losing your ship will send you back to port empty-handed. Assuming you make it through the 5min or so of relentless tapping, you’ll make it to the island, grab a ton of doubloons, and return back home. It saddened me that I wasn’t able to get out and explore the island… ho hum. Expeditions are, essentially, a quick-and-dirty way of netting a thousand or so doubloons in a short period of time.

In addition to the single-player game, you can also network with your friends via social media and invite them to play. Much like Farmville and Empires & Allies, you can visit your friends’ towns and help them maintain their houses for loot – but instead of doubloons, you’ll get skulls (ooh, aah). Skulls can be used to purchase specific pirates/structures, and you’ll need lots of them.

Ships + Gems = Fun!

Build and expand your town, run expeditions for loot, and defend yourself against enemy invasions – that about sums it all up. Oh, I did forget to mention… you can’t upgrade ship components, only the entire ship itself. And yes, you guessed it, new ships cost boatloads of gems… those shiny, precious things that you have an impossible time obtaining for free. Life is such a tease.

Technically, the game performs well. The graphics are quite nice, with constant animations and things moving about. I did experience regular stuttering of the music, and transitions between each game component (expeditions, town management, shopping) were bordering on an annoyingly long wait – even on my Nexus 7 tablet; this is 2013 folks, and I demand instant gratification! The worst irritant I encountered was when the town starts getting crowded with buildings and pirates. It quickly becomes difficult to target individual pirates running about the buildings and I found myself selecting structures on accident. A second irritant, and a close-tie with the aforementioned, is the fact that it’s painfully difficult to select a building (vs. something in the background) when you’re trying to place it.

Time Is Of The Essence

In my 2 hours of play-testing Pirates, I hit the usual freemium-plateau where it was time to sit back, have a beer, and wait for things to complete. I ran out of gems, and was simply waiting for people to clear more land so that I could build more stuff. I fear this might just be how the rest of the game rolls-out, but I certainly liked it enough to keep playing. A couple requests for Gameloft – please add the ability to sell pirates and buildings, as well as reset the game without having to uninstall it. All-in-all, Playmobil Pirates is a solid title and will keep your fingers engaged… for at least 2 hours.

4.2 / 5


Playmobil Pirates is a freemium title with a focus on town-building and space management. Build your port, hire pirates, explore distant islands, and take to the seas in search of plunder! tweet

Jason Stengren · Jan 21, 2013

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