My 6-year-old is explaining how to play the new game, Word Pirates, to me as we set up for play. Having played it once with her grandmother, I thought I would give her the chance to show me how to play, for two reasons. 1. To test her ability to communicate new concepts and 2. to see how simple gameplay is. Seems she picked it up pretty well.
“You roll the big dice first,” she says. “You get the number of letter dice on the big one. Or block or build.” Translation: Roll the large die for three possibilities: spell, block or build. Spell a word with the number of lettered dice pulled at random from the pot, build a dock to move you along or block your opponent.
So far so good. She rolls a 10, so she pulls 10 six-sided letter dice and begins to spell her first word.
Word Pirates is sort of a combination of Scrabble and Pirates of the Caribbean, without all the blood and drunkenness. The objective is simple: To spell and build your way to the treasure chest in the center of the board. You do this by making words and connecting them with sections of dock that are constructed over the gameboard, which is largely water. Your defense consists of barricades that you may throw up in front of your opponents’ paths.
The first word my little one spells is her name. (We forewent the common rule about proper nouns … at least for now.) Then she moves her gamepiece along the word she just spelled.
On my turn, I spell “rhyme.” Awesome for me.
Next turn, she rolls a “block” and constructs a sea wall five spaces long, making it impossible for me to continue on my spelling path. I must reconsider my trajectory and come up with a new word to navigate around the wall. Dang it!
Luckily, I roll “build,” making it a little easier for me to work around the blockade, as I can construct a dock to walk along. It pulls me out of my way a bit, but I am on the move. Then she rolls another “block.” I’m screwed. (Keep in mind, my daughter is correcting my gameplay at every turn. She already knows how to play the game, and is making sure that I do, too. I consider this a good sign.)
Gameplay continues, with me helping my daughter spell her words, encouraging the phonetic approach, and watching her building more obstructions than I care to mention. During an eventful turn, by choosing a very lengthy dock piece, she has taken a huge lead, much to my chagrin.
(In a gracious moment of sportswomanship, she allows me to pluralize the word “bet.” She’s going to win, and she knows it.)
She counters with “dog” from the end of her dock, putting her within striking distance of the treasure. I need a to roll a “block,” or I am a dead man.
I roll “spell.” Dammit. I spell “wisk.” She rolls “spell.” In an ominous moment of foreshadowing, she puts together the word “dead.” I follow up, spelling the apropos word, “woe.” She clobbers me with the winning word: “bed.”
Being a career writer and editor, I am naturally attracted to games like Boggle and Scrabble. Word Pirates falls right in with those excellent vocab builders. My child, being the youngest of the recommended ages for Word Pirates, needs a little nudge here and there, as she is just now getting the whole literacy thing together. We sound out each letter and word, creating a slow path to victory. (Mind you, though I helped her spell words, I in no way helped her strategize. That was all her.)
The biggest challenge here lies in the number of letter choices a player is afforded. Even as what I would consider myself … a well-educated adult, the possibilities were at times daunting, as a player must consider word length while spelling. In other words, in games like Scrabble and Boggle, long words are always good as they up your point total. With Word Pirates, positioning on the board is more important, as you must square yourself with the treasure. This worked in my daughter’s favor as she is wont to spell shorter words, putting her in direct line with the considerably small “treasure box.”
Word Pirates is a wonderful mechanism for getting younger children to understand word construction and encouraging older kids to flex their creative approach to language. With the youngest of players, it pays to allot extra time for discussion. With older kids, gameplay is sure to be fast and competitive. Bring together different age groups for some really interesting play.
Word Pirates is available through Haywire Group.