I have a checkered history with Looney Labs’ card game series, Fluxx. The few times I’ve had an opportunity to play one of the many versions of Fluxx, it’s been brought out at cons, and pitched as a quick, diversionary game that doesn’t require much attention. ”We’ve got a bunch of people. We really just want to hang out, but we’re at a con so we should play a game. Bust out Fluxx!” It’s never gone well.
I received a review copy of Pirate Fluxx recently, and I’m at least happy to report that my negative experiences are not the game’s fault. Here are some of the things I’ve been told about Fluxx. “There aren’t really any rules.” ”There’s no real strategy.” ”You don’t have to pay attention to the game.” Turns out none of these are true, and all of these attitudes have a profoundly negative affect on the game. I’m not saying the game isn’t without faults, but with the right group and the right mindset, Pirate Fluxx can be a lot of fun.
I think I’m best off addressing the myths about Fluxx first. ”There aren’t really any rules.” This is borne out of the nature of the game. A good chunk of the deck of cards are Rules cards which modify the basic rules of the game. Every game starts out the same way: each player gets three cards and the basic rule card (Draw One, Play One) is laid in the middle of the table.
Play is as simple as that: draw a card, play a card from your hand. Each card explains what it does, and play continues clockwise. There is no goal, initially, because there are Goal cards within the deck. Rules cards can modify the formula, changing the number of cards you play or draw, imposing a hand limit, or giving bonuses for talking like a pirate. The rules change, but the overarching point of the game stays the same: match the Keeper cards in front of you to the cards listed on the Goal.
So, Pirate Fluxx does have rules, and it also has strategy. The second myth comes from the same source as the first. The ever-changing rules do lend an air of chaos to the game, but in no way do they result in a complete lack of strategy. There are cards you’ll want to try to hold onto. There are strategic moments when you’ll want to replace or leave the Goal. Keepers shouldn’t really be tossed down willy-nilly, as card theft is pretty rampant in the game. Strategy exists, even if it’s secondary to the chaos.
The last of the myths is just plain wrong. You absolutely must be willing to pay attention to Pirate Fluxx as you play it. It is the interaction of the cards and the combinations which arise which prove most entertaining about the game. If you’re not willing to devote at least some energy to playing the game, nothing works. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but it needs to die, and die quickly.
Now that I’ve addressed the myths that have plagued my history with Fluxx in general, we can turn our attention to Pirate Fluxx itself. The art is nothing to write home about, but it’s clean, clear and gets the job done. The Keepers are all appropriately pirate themed, from ships to treasure to citrus fruit (for warding off Scurvy). The Goals range from the common sense (the Keg of Rum goal requires the Keg and Rum keepers, natch) to the cringingly punny (Key Lime Pie requires the Key and the Limes).
From an entertainment standpoint, the Talk Like a Pirate rule is a lot of fun. If you speak in an outrageous pirate accent during your turn, you get to draw an extra card, and if you maintain the accent when it’s not your turn, you get to draw yet another extra card on your turn. It heightens the silly mood, gets people into the game, and generally just provides laughs all the way around. Unfortunately, it’s the only card of its kind, and when it’s not on the table, it can be difficult to get people into the theme. A house-rule could make that a permanent part of the game, but played straight, I’d have liked more cards like it.
From a strategy point of view, Pirate Fluxx adds a new cards that allows a player to trade plays for draws. One of Fluxx’s strategy killers are the rules which force playing multiple cards. If you’re trying to build up to a goal, but are forced to play your entire hand, you’re pretty much out of luck. The Swap Plays for Draws card alleviates that by letting you draw a card in place of playing one. Have to play four cards? Instead you can play two, then draw two. Suddenly deeper strategy is an option. Of course, you’re still limited by hand size rules, and just like Talk Like a Pirate, Swap Plays for Draws is only one card and makes rare appearances.
One card that looks interesting from a thematic standpoint is the Plunder card. With it, you can just yoink a Keeper from another player on your turn, and they can do the same. Unfortunately, I have no idea how it really effects the game because in all the times I played Pirate Fluxx, I never saw it come to the table.
Therein lies my primary complaint with Pirate Fluxx, the randomness of the gameplay leads to wildly inconsistent results. Certain cards never seem to see the light of day while others crop up constantly. Goals may stay stagnate round after round, or the goal may change four times in a single turn. A game might last just a couple of rounds, or it may drag through a couple of reshufflings of the deck. The chaos is just a touch too much for any sort of consistent gameplay experience.
Pirate Fluxx‘s chaotic nature is probably its most contentious element. The scales are tipped very heavily in favor of chaos, and there are a lot of people that don’t like that much randomness in their game. I’m not a huge fan of chaotic games, but there’s enough strategy here to keep me interested. This is where mindset comes into play.
Don’t come to a Fluxx game expecting depth; you’ll just leave disappointed. Conversely, don’t come to Pirate Fluxx expecting a game that will play itself; the game’s not that random. Pirate Fluxx is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. It’s light, extremely funny with the right group, and has just enough crunch to keep things interesting. I’d like a more consistent gaming experience, but overall my time with Pirate Fluxx has smoothed over my rough history with the series.