Review: Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates

Update 12/23/04 It appears that the Puzzle Pirates game system is not affiliated with Yahoo! at all. The system is a product of Three Rings Design, Inc.

I’ve always been a fan of Yahoo! Games. They’ve kept to the spirit of the net, and most (not all, but most) of their games are still Java based, and therefore run just about anywhere.

I noticed a new project they had put out called Puzzle Pirates, and decided to give it a go. It’s sort of a cross between Everquest, Popcap games, and Legos.


First and foremost, let’s get one thing out of the way. This is not a ‘game’
per se. You don’t go and ‘play a game of puzzle pirates’. This is really a scaled down Mmorpg (Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Game). It has many elements of an Mmorpg, such as a character Avatar that can change looks and clothing to match whatever you like, a financial structure that, for such a simple environment, is quite complex, an inventory structure (you can buy or sell goods), and a long, detailed method for advancing your characters skills and abilities.

The environment

The Mmorpg portion of the system is just a way to sort of raison d’etre for the games. Yahoo restyled many of the classic puzzle games into a form that would fit with the ‘pirate’ environment. The games are now a part of the ‘world’. A duel between 2 characters is played out in the game, which may be ‘swordfighting’ (an extension on the concepts used in JT’s Blocks and Toki Toki Boom. Think head to head tetris) or various other games.

The games can be wagered upon, and a duel can result in you gaining or losing money. The money can go toward just about anything – by default it goes into your local bank (which charges an outrageous 15% interest! Robbery! :). Generally folks look to getting new clothing first. Your avatar in the game looks like one of those small plastic Lego characters (no doubt on purpose by the game designers. The game, though richly detailed and well thought up, is very careful to keep all elements of it light hearted).

As you play games, you advance your personal skills, and gain you more benefits. The more swordfighting you do, the better your ranking, and you can enter tournaments. These skills also come in handy when you decide to take part in a crew on a ship.

Shipboard Life

A ship captain can invite you into the crew, where you set sail and do various tasks on the ship to make it a more effective fighting vessel. The tasks are, naturally, puzzles, such as Carpentry (fit the puzzle pieces into wooden holes in the decking), Bilge pumping (the easiest game – very similar to Bejeweled), and gunnery (a difficult game, I never quite mastered it). As you participate as a member of the crew, your captain can direct to what needs to be done. Carpentry repairs the ship and makes it faster and less prone to damage. Sailing makes it faster. Gunnery makes it’s cannon fire more effective. Eventually the ships come together and there’s some good ole fashioned swashbuckling, which takes place, as you might imagine, in the ‘Swordfighting’ game. It’s your crew against he other ship’s crew, and the last one left standing wins.

Economy and advancement

As a member of the crew, you’re also entitled to the spoils! Money in the game is “Pieces of Eight” (or, as in-game parlance has it, ‘PoE’), as well as trading goods and cargo. The ship owner can use the cargo in port to buy and sell and make more money. Of course, if you lose your fight, your ship gets plundered, and your profits go down. A successful ship requires good teamwork, leadership, and skills of the crew (on my few fights, crewcounts were between 15 and 35 people – as the swashbuckling fights dropped down to the last 5-8 folks, others who were all watching the fight would cheer on the players in the chat window. A lot of fun).

I’ve only explored the surface of this part of the game – there’s references to entire business, trade, and commerce within the system that I haven’t even touched upon. People have their own stores for goods and services (custom made clothing, anyone?), as well as the normal trade of goods between the islands. Besides, what good is a pirate game without commerce to prey upon? 🙂


The game is very well written, completely in Java. What attracted me was the main page that offers downloads for Windows, Mac, or Linux. The game runs quite well on my litle Linux laptop (PIII-800), but a little more horsepower probably wouldn’t hurt it. The folks at Yahoo also put in an automatic update mechanism for downloading new versions (my last invocation automatically updated itself without any interaction on my part)

As someone who has never played MMORPGs before, studiously avoiding what I see as the truly life-sucking nature of them, this was a new experience in meshing gameplaying with socializing and true multi-player over-the-net interaction (not just blasting away at a random Quake character). I was pleased I didn’t have to compromise on anything because I was running under Linux. The system just plain worked, and worked well.

And now, I’m off to crew again, to try and get enough PoE to buy myself a new outfit. These lackey rags just won’t do ‘tall!


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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8 thoughts on “Review: Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates

  1. I really enjoy reading your game reviews, Shayde…I’ve been hooked on Gold Strike for quite some time now.

  2. Thanks yix! I have a good time writing htem, though I suspect I didn’t do Yahoo Pirates justice with this one. It’s lke trying to review Everquest after playing for only an hour or two. 🙂

  3. Discusses Linux Wbe Games

    Looks like is is reviewing web games for Linux and Mac. The latest is a Pirates MMORPG game from Yahoo Games. Hopefully they keep up the good work and continue to add reviews….

  4. Is Puzzle Pirates actually affiliated with Yahoo at all? The home page for the site says “Yohoho Puzzle Pirates,” not “Yahoo Puzzle Pirates,” and it says it’s the project of Three Rings Design.

  5. Tim asks:
    Is Puzzle Pirates actually affiliated with Yahoo at all? The home page for the site says “Yohoho Puzzle Pirates,” not “Yahoo Puzzle Pirates,” and it says it’s the project of Three Rings Design.
    You know, I think you’re right. That’s odd, the name was so similar, and I believe I originally found out about the game via a Yahoo ad (probably in Yahoo! games or in My Yahoo playing with RSS feeds.
    There’s severla comments in their Press Pages that don’t even mention Yahoo! at all, so I suspect you’re right. I’ll make a change to the posting to reflect that.

  6. After reading your review.. I tried this game and now I’m throroughly hooked.. I’ve even gotten a good friend of mine playing too.. the other day.. He actually said “Ahoy” and I’m yelling ARg! in my sleep.. egads!! 🙂

  7. This isn’t a very good review.

    First, it IS a MMO”Arr”PG.

    Second, banks do not charge 15% interest. If you move your funds from one bank to another, you pay a 15% fee for a local/nearby bank, and a 30% fee for a distant bank. If you take the money out, you won’t pay more than 1 poe, and you can always just carry it on your ship with you. Of course, you’ll lose 10% each time you lose a sea battle (how far away is that distant island? How good are you? How cheap is that 30% fee after all? How cheaper is it to just ask a crewmate for help?)

    Third, well, let me give a quick off-the-cuff review:

    Just looking at the basic game mechanic — the pillage trip — a ship will set sail with a bunch of sailors. The goal, ultimately, is to defeat other ships in swordfight. Think Puzzle Fighter, with a few significant twists and differences.

    However, it’s TEAM puzzle figher. You’re not just one person fighting one enemy. There might be 5 to 100 people on each team, depending on the ship size; normal (smaller) ships will be 5 to 12 people.

    This means that you aren’t receiving attacks from just one person, with one drop pattern of colored blocks, but from many people, with different block colors and layouts — trying to build a good attack in this environment isn’t easy. The people who are good at this are really good at this.

    Evening the odds if you are up against a really strong enemy (and the stronger NPC’s pay more when you defeat them) is the sea battle that happens prior to the swordfight. One person has the battlenav, and directs the ship, placing movement tokens to move the ship around a robo-rally style board consisting of plain water, rocks, winds, and whirlpools. They’ll also place gunfire tokens (used to injure the enemy ship, and reduce the size of the enemy’s swordfight board, making them easier to defeat in swordfight), and grapple tokens (used to actually begin the swordfight).

    So how do you get those movement tokens and gunfire tokens? Gunfire tokens come from gunnery. It doesn’t just make your cannonfire more effective — you ship can only fire a cannon if the gunnery people were able to load a cannon. Small sloops have 1 station with 4 guns; the larger cutters have 2 stations with 4 guns each (8 total). War class ships have at least 16 total guns, and double the fire rate, as well as larger cannonballs.

    Movement tokens come from two sources. First, your sailors will generate sailing tokens. The better your sailors can manipulate the sails, and the less bilgewater in the ship’s hold, the more sailing tokens you can generate. You can place three or four per turn, depending on ship size (larger ships can not move as fast). A really good crew of sailors can generate 4 per turn; most ships will only generate 1-2 per turn. So conserving movement tokens is essential.

    Bilgewater? Yes, water will leak into the ship and slow it down. Keeping the water out is a combination of two puzzles — bilge, which removes the water out of the ship, and carpentry, which repairs the damage to your ship. The more damage you have, the faster the water creeps in.

    So, a combination of carpentry to reduce the water inflow, bilging to remove the water, sailing to generate movement tokens, gunnery to load your cannons to fire, battlenav to outmanuver your opponent, and a team SF battle to actually win the money, is the basic operation of the game.

    Oh, and probably most important — the ability of someone (usually the battlenaver) to keep track of what’s happening on the ship, and order people to the stations where they are most needed.

    Levels? Grind? Doesn’t exist. Your skill at the puzzles is what matters, not your character’s level.

    Now, in addition to all this, there are economic level activities (merchant trade runs, the entire economy is driven by player run shops, etc.), flag level activities (How’d you like to take over that island and run it yourself? Get a bunch of ships, declare a blockade, and fight a 5 hour multiship PvP fight), as well as regular player run events. Heck, some of the richest players have gotten rich not by battling brigands for money, but by betting their ability to swordfight against other players.

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