Sid Meier's Pirates - A Speed Run

This is a short report of a playthrough of Sid Meier's Pirates!. I had played through the game a few times, enjoying it, but not finding much in the way of variant material for replays. About all there is to do is try different ships for combat, or maybe chase a goal of conquering the entire map for a nation. Neither seemed all that interesting.

Well, one challenge that came to mind was to shoot for completing it as fast as possible, by the in-game clock. My original playthroughs finished in about 13 to 16 years, so I set a goal of winning in under 10 years.

The game parameters were easily set: Swashbuckler difficulty (accept nothing less), Navigation skill, and the standard era of year 1660. And the nation to sign up with was Spain. In other eras, your starting ship varies by nationality, but in 1660 it's always a Sloop. The only difference in which nation you sign with is your starting location. The best location in my experience is the east side of the Spanish Main, which we'll get to shortly. No further west than Caracas. I restarted a few times and eventually got Trinidad, which is ideal.

The other requirement on starting condition was to have a named pirate with a good ship near the starting area. I restarted until that was true, getting Roc Brasiliano and his Royal Sloop near Trinidad.

To win ship battles easily and reliably requires a good ship of your own, of course. Now, you could slowly work your way up, sailing all over the place until you find a Brig to capture, then burn time finding upgrades for it. Or you could get a good ship in a hurry by capturing it from a Top 10 pirate. They have the larger types of ships that are otherwise hard to find (Royal Sloop, Brig of War, Large Frigate), and usually come with several upgrades installed. The ship upgrades are VERY important to combat capability, especially Copper Plating. But we don't want to waste time and money sailing around to a ton of shipwrights to get those upgrades. Grabbing another pirate's vessel is the best shortcut.

Why Trinidad as a location? First, it usually has two pirate havens nearby, either on Trinidad itself, just over on the mainland, or the next island north (Grenada in real life.) In addition to harboring a named pirate, pirate havens are very useful to provide random pirates to whack for money and national favor, and crew. Second, Trinidad is close to the Leeward Islands. (San Juan could also work, but for some reason, whenever you start at San Juan, it attacks you on sight and you can't enter the city.) Finally, the Spanish Treasure Fleet often spawns near Trinidad in the first few months.

The Leeward Islands region (from St. Martin down to Barbados) is the key to bursting out of the gates with a quick start. This area lets you visit many ports of several nationalities very quickly, collecting crew, ship upgrades, treasure map pieces, and items from plain daughters. It is also a target-rich environment with lots of prey all over the place. Just be careful not to hit any one nation too much or they won't let you land in port.

So I began from Trinidad, where the barmaid tipped me about Roc Brasiliano and his Royal Sloop nearby. In most of my games, I'd preferred Brigs or Frigates as a primary flagship, but decided to give the Royal Sloop a run. It came with four upgrades, including the most important Copper Plating. I hung around the Trinidad area for a month or two, landing in pirate towns and killing the pirate ships they sent out. I also got a Raymondo clue from a Jesuit mission (he was far away somewhere along the Spanish Main), one buried treasure by Margarita, Spanish promotion #2, and picked up my Indian War Canoe.

Tip: Indian War Canoes are tough to catch before they flee, but here is the trick. Go to an Indian village and tell the chief to attack somebody. Leave the village, and hit the attack button INSTANTLY RIGHT AWAY THE INSTANT THE GAME CUTS TO WORLD MAP VIEW. This means you're fighting the canoe very close to shore, where it is pinned in by the coast and can't move quickly to run away. Much easier to catch them this way. On occasion your ship even spawns right on top of the War Canoe and you catch it instantly.

Pinnace-class vessels (Indian War Canoe, Pinnace, Mail Runner) move around the world map considerably more quickly than anything else. Other ships in the fleet automatically keep up, sailing as if they were the class of the lead ship. A Galleon or Frigate class vessel cannot move into the wind at all on its own, but if an Indian War Canoe is leading the fleet and sailing into the wind, it will haul along the big boat at surprising (and completely unrealistic) speed. There is no quicker way to move around the world map than to have a Pinnace-class vessel in the lead, swapping to a warship for fights.

So my fleet always includes a Pinnace-class vessel in the lead, to move around the map and to itself catch more Indian canoes. Then there is my regular flagship, the Royal Sloop in this case. To that I like to add one more vessel of the same class as my regular flagship. This third vessel provides extra cargo and crew space (a Royal Sloop doesn't have quite enough of either), and serves as a backup combat ship just in case I lose a fight with my flagship. It took a little while in this game, but eventually I added a Sloop of War captured from another named pirate as the third vessel. More than these three vessels is overkill; you won't have the money to support more crew than they can hold.

So I killed Roc Brasiliano and enough other pirates (about 8) around Trinidad, to be sure of the first two promotions from each of the non-Spain nations. I headed up to the Leeward Islands to collect them, killing a few merchant ships for profit along the way. I started to discover that the Royal Sloop is a good vessel indeed for capturing ships without damaging them. The sloop class is nimble enough to dodge cannon fire as you sail right up to the target and win the swordfight. The downside is that these fights can exact a heavy body count in crew losses, especially before you find a Surgeon specialist. But that is what the Leeward Islands are for, since crew can be replenished easily for free in the many ports here.

The Leeward Islands supplied me well as promised, with promotions and crew and items from plain daughters and treasure maps from tavern travelers. I judiciously picked a few targets to fight, including an English "military payroll" frigate with 5100 gold!, and several more pirates. Around the end of year 1660, I was on my way back south, owning about 20,000 gold and 200 crew and a few specialists.

Tip: Always fight every single pirate and indian ship you come across. They are the best tickets to earning national favor. Attacking civilized ships angers one nation and pleases up to three (whoever is at war with the target) for an average of +1 net overall favor and maximum of +2. Attacking pirates pleases everybody all the time for +4 favor in all.

National favor is needed to earn promotions as quickly as possible. The most important threshold is quickly reaching Baron (#5) rank, to unlock beautiful daughters to spawn Montalban and Lost City clues. Pirates also carry a few hundred gold each, and their Brigs sell for a few hundred too, both of which add up considerably over time.

Killing pirates also goes a long way towards mitigating the inevitable enmity from Spain. The game encourages you to prey on Spain at every turn: the named villains that you must attack are Spanish, the lion's share of city targets are Spanish, and the Treasure Fleet is Spanish. But you do NOT want to end up on Spain's bad side. You need to earn Spanish promotions to complete the game, and wasting time sailing back to Curacao or Port Royale to find a friendly port will sink our chances of finishing within my time goal. Clobbering pirates at every turn is the best way to stay on Spain's good side.

Sp let me repeat that: always fight every single pirate and Indian ship. This includes pirate and Indian towns that launch raids on cities. Spawn the raiders and then kill them yourself.

So thanks to my focus on killing pirates, the Spaniards were still OK with me as I entered the Spanish Main from the east side. Importantly I went on a good run of collecting buried treasure maps. I found my second, then third, then fourth buried treasures all in just about the same place around Cumana, getting ahead of schedule on that task.

Tip: Buried treasure can be a real pain for a speed game. You can't spawn any new treasure until you collect the previous one. If you're sitting on a four-piece full map of uncollected treasure, progress on this task is blocked until you do find it, so prioritize that.

Buried treasure is spawned by the game when the first piece of its map is bought. It will always be nearby your current location. The best places to spawn and collect treasure are the eastern side of the Spanish Main, Hispaniola, or the Leeward Islands (it will usually spawn on close-by Puerto Rico.) These areas have lots of ports to complete a map quickly, and a good chance for a map to show coast and landmarks to zero in on the treasure early and shortcut the need to find all four map pieces. Conversely, do NOT accept the first piece of a treasure map if you are in a remote area (Santa Catalina, St Augustine) or an area you intend to leave soon. You'll lose lots of time either fishing for map pieces with no other reason to stay in an area, or have to make a long journey back later.

So I spent most of 1661 around the eastern Main, killing some juicy Spanish targets and balancing them out with pirate kills and occasionally a Dutch ship out of Curacao. I returned to Curacao several times to collect Dutch promotions.

Killing the right ships is only half the battle of earning promotions. The other half is getting yourself in position to visit the right nation's ports to actually collect the promotion! You need a certain amount of favor to earn a promotion, but any "extra credit" beyond the requirement DOES NOT STACK BEYOND PROMO #2 and just goes to waste. (Not quite waste as you get 50 acres of land for each unit of extra credit, and it takes about 10,000 acres to max the wealth score at the end of the game. But this doesn't help you during the game in any way.)

So keep a mental roster of your position with each nation, how long it has been since you last earned a promotion with them, and when you think you've done enough to earn another. When you have, get yourself to a port of that nation as soon as feasible. If there is no port of a certain nation nearby... make one!

Presently I found myself qualified for uncollected English and French promotions but far away from any such city. 200-some crew is enough to attack some weaker port cities. So I conquered Margarita for the English just in order to see an English governor for a promotion! And the same for Puerto Bello for the French. Dutch promotions didn't need any trickery with Curacao nearby.

Tip: Here's my tactic for winning most land fights with minimal losses.

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Find an open area with a small bit of forest. Stay back until the enemy units move within range of the forest (3 tiles away), then occupy the forest with a melee unit. The AI always shoots at the closest unit, so they will stand there dealing only half damage to the unit under cover. Meanwhile, your buccaneers (ranged shooters) tear apart the enemy units in the open field. Just STAY in this state, do not attack with the melee unit out of the forest. The buccaneers will win. They deal twice as much damage as your team receives, and actually more because they get the first shot of each exchange. I can win more than half of land fights this way without losing any unit, occasionally rotating out the forest unit for another if it takes a lot of punishment.

After a bit more seaborne fighting, Curacao awarded me Dutch promotion #5 and a crucial dance with its beautiful daughter. That spawned Marquis Montalban... in the very convenient location of Gibraltar! I wasted no time in sailing from Curacao down into Lago de Maracaibo, and sure enough there was the villain. Now, a Royal Sloop doesn't pack the firepower to slug it out with a Flag Galleon. In strong wind, it can maneuver and dodge and slowly wear down the target, but here the wind was weak. So I simply boarded Montalban right away and won a close swordfight, also selling his intact ship for a 1080 gold payoff.

I lost no time in returning to Curacao and working the beautiful daughter again for a second Montalban clue. (The easy way is to give her a Diamond Necklace which I didn't have. The long way is to work up through the romance quest: give her a Ruby Ring, defeat the jealous fiance in sword combat, and win the second dance. It feels silly sailing out and right back into Curacao three times in a row, but it was the right thing to do.)

Montalban respawned far away this time (Havana), but now Baron Raymondo was near. I found and killed him twice while still in the Venezuela area. Two pieces of the lost-sister map showed the X and a town called "Zaragoza Nueva". Where might that be? The answer was found in the Dutch Rutter, which I luckily happened to get from an attractive daughter just now.

Tip: When dancing with an attractive daughter, fail some steps on purpose if you already know where Raymondo is. Dancing very well with her just goes to waste, giving the same Raymondo clue again. Dancing just OK with her gives a useful item instead. This trick only holds for attractive daughters. From plain daughters you always want an item (great dance) instead of a criminal (OK dance.) From beautiful daughters you always want a Montalban or Lost City clue, since Raymondo clues are easy to get.

When receiving items from daughters, always take a "lesser" powered item if possible. A daughter will not offer items if she can't choose from at least three. Choosing a lesser one keeps more items open for other daughters to offer. Suppose you've obtained all possible items from daughters except for Leather Vest (lesser), Brace of Pistols (greater), and Silk Fencing Shirt (greater). If you take the Pistols or Shirt, then the next daughter will only have two possible items and will not offer any. If you take the Leather Vest, that preserves three possible items for the next daughter, with the third being the "greater" upgrade to the Vest (Metal Cuirass).

Zaragoza Nuevo was on the north coast of Puerto Rico, so for the first time I had to take a long voyage to find something. Before departing the Main, I finished off one more buried treasure and stopped by Curacao and my conquered English and French cities for another promotion each. And of course on the way north I killed more pirate ships, and a couple juicy merchant targets. So I found my sister who provided Lost City clue #1. And I conquered San Juan to the English both for the cash (wealthy, over 7000) and promotion, and to prevent Spanish villains from sailing to this faraway port.

Now without an immediate target, I wandered west to Hispaniola, stopping in the French ports. Leogane had a beautiful daughter but I still lacked Baron status with the French. Solution: conquer Leogane to the Dutch, both to cash in a Dutch promotion and to gain a dance! That was Lost City clue #2, and I kept reentering Leogane to work through the romance quest to the second dance and Lost City clue #3. Unfortunately the three pieces were not conclusive ("North of Vera Cruz", feh) and I needed the fourth.

Port-de-Paix also had a beautiful daughter, but too many soldiers to conquer. I farted around for a bit trying to earn that French promotion #5 and complete a treasure map near Port-de-Paix, but both didn't work out.

Tip: If you're trying to earn a promotion at a particular city, you must do your fighting out of sight range of that city. Cities individually dislike you if you do ANY fighting around them, even against an enemy nation or pirate. So this nets out against any national favor earned from a fight. This mechanic is understandable for reasons of balance to cut down on farming. It also forces you to keep moving around to new territory. Don't fight that current, just keep on moving.

After about two months of that, a bartender tipped me to Montalban traveling to Cartagena due south, with Raymondo also near there. I had to jump on that, leaving behind the Port-de-Paix treasure for the moment. So I nailed both villains, Raymondo coughing up the first grandfather clue, and Montalban his second hideout clue... and check out this map!

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"Vicinity of Campeche" is a huge area - but look at that telltale label of Middelburg! That's a town name, always unique on the whole map. That is enough to find the hideout. The map doesn't show the X but it doesn't need to. Montalban's hideout is HUGE and easy to find by walking around.

I returned to Port-de-Paix to finish off that treasure (still couldn't get that French promo though), and formed a plan. It was early 1663, after three years of voyaging. I had racked up 100,000 gold - enough to satisfy a crew of 200 for now, but that wouldn't last much longer.

Tip: To finish the game quickly, never divide the plunder. There is something of a loophole in the formula, where the crew's demand for gold maxes out at 1000 per man. If you have that much gold, you can sail forever without your crew ever mutinying. With 100,000 gold - a sum you can collect in about three years as I did here - you can sail forever with 100 crew. That is enough to win almost any sea battle or swordfight.

So why not just sail forever with 100 crew? You can except for one major obstacle: Montalban's hideout. Montalban's hideout is guarded by 400 Indian savages that you must beat in a land battle. Indian units are not as capable as European soldiers with guns, but sheer numbers will still beat you unless you have at least 200 men and preferably over 300.

The solution is typically to divide the plunder right before assaulting Montalban, then pick up a large crew while the next voyage is fresh. But that is not how to win with speed. Dividing costs six months of time, plus you have to recruit crew all over again, and snag another War Canoe to lead the fleet. No, the solution for a speed game is to beat Montalban as fast as possible on your first crew, before their gold demands escalate too high.

So I had a very limited time of being able to support 200+ crew. I wanted to delay Montalban until I collected all the fencing items (still missing Perfectly Balanced Swords and Metal Cuirass) and the fourth Lost City clue in order to also grab that on the same trip to faraway Mexico. But I had to go now. On the way, I ran through FIVE different named pirates operating out of the area between Honduras and the Yucatan, including mighty Blackbeard. These pirates bolstered my gold holdings to the 150,000 range (all the while killing generic pirates from each town too), and their home ports bolstered my crew over 250, just about enough for the big land battle.

That land battle was actually anticlimactic. Despite being given only four units, I won easily. Three of them took cover in forests to make the dumb AI units sit there shooting them at half effectiveness, while the fourth ran around the edge of the map into the front door for an instant win.

The Montalban swordfight worried me without possessing all the fencing items, but my skills were sharp on this day. Dodge-taunt, dodge-taunt, dodge-counterattack. I think he hit me only twice.

So I captured Montalban on October 16, 1663. Less than four years for the main quest, out of my original goal of 10 years.

Tip: Montalban marks the end of ever needing to worry about crew size or gold. He pays 100,000 gold for beating him, which in addition to what you already had by then, is enough to satisfy 200+ men forever. 200 men is plenty to do everything from here onward. It's possible for your crew to outgrow your gold holdings and a few may desert, but they will not do any further damage to you or your fleet.

But vanquishing Montalban doesn't end a pirate's career of course. I continued west into the remote Mexico area, since that Lost City was "north of Vera Cruz" and the current Raymondo was also at Campeche. I killed him, collected a Spanish promotion from all the pirate fighting, then conquered Campeche to the English to also collect an English promotion.

Now I went on an awesome run of luck and cunning. I would now collect all four Lost Cities in under two years.

The first good break was that Vera Cruz held a beautiful governor's daughter. She delivered the fourth clue for Lost City #1, and I found the treasure.

I returned to Vera Cruz and pumped the daughter for two more clues. Luck held greatly with me, with the two map pieces revealing the X and "South of Villa Hermosa", nicely close by. A side trip to Campeche to fetch a buried treasure also netted me the needed Ruby Ring. Score Lost City #2 in November 1664, just six months after the first!

Then that script repeated! Villa Hermosa also had a beautiful daughter! So after revisiting Villa Hermosa four times (luckily being offered a Ruby Ring at the right time), I had completed the two dances for two more Lost City clues. Once again the city was "South of Villa Hermosa", and once again the two pieces were enough to find the X and score the target! In January 1665! Two months for a City!

One more Lost City to go. Unfortunately, Vera Cruz and Villa Hermosa could not supply me any more clues, since the next visit would get each daughter captured by Mendoza. Except for this fiendish plan. Now I attacked Villa Hermosa, turning it English -- for the sole reason of getting two more dances with its beautiful daughter. (When a city changes nationality, the romance quest resets to the beginning, with a new daughter that always has the same beauty level as the previous daughter.) Repeated revisits again got me through two dances for two more Lost City clues, which just showed an all-land map.

So I repeated my fiendish plan, attacking Vera Cruz to install a new beautiful Dutch daughter. Two dances, one Ruby Ring, and one swordfight later, I had all four pieces of the last Lost City map. This took a little while to find, being an all land map "SouthEast of Vera Cruz", but I got it in August 1665.

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That would be all four Lost Cities knocked off in under two years. No long time-consuming trips in and out of Mexico thanks to the two beautiful daughters. And as a final bonus, having captured all the cities in Mexico away from Spain means that Raymondo can't spawn or sail to this faraway area either.

It took several months to sail back to civilization from Mexico, including a trip around the north side of Cuba, to find the last named pirate in Florida. (If you ever can't find a named pirate, he's in Florida or the Bahamas. There's never any other reason to go there, since there's no Spanish cities for the villains to sail to, or Lost Cities.)

The rest of the game was pretty routine. I chased and captured Mendoza, marrying the beautiful Dutch lass from Leogane. Got the last buried treasure near Santiago. Then it was just a matter of chasing Raymondo. Two more captures of him got me the uncle in October 1666 with a full map, aunt in May 1667 after two captures (got a lucky spawn just one city away from my current location, and a lucky map solvable in two fragments), and grandfather in October 1667 on another two-fragment map. I had one scary moment when my sloop was stuck in calm wind and Raymondo knocked down my sails in a single chain-shot volley, but fortunately he came right to board me instead of sinking me. (That's also why I keep a backup combat-ready ship with the fleet.)

With the whole family rescued, the long pole was Spanish promotions, of which I needed two more. Presently I remembered the quickest way to get promos: take a mission to escort a governor from a settlement. In addition to the governor credit, you are provided three warships of an enemy nation to fight, and the fight usually happens out of sight of the destination city. These mini-quests aren't the best thing to do in the earlier game - you don't get much monetary payoff and you might have to kill ships of a nation you'd rather not. But when money is post-scarcity and you're already Duke with Spain's enemies, they're just the ticket.

That worked out, leaving the very last task to collect the last French promotion. I attacked the current town I was in (Maracaibo) right after receiving the Spanish Dukeship, in order to turn it French and collect that dukeship too.

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So I completed Sid Meier's Pirates with all achievements on December 26, 1667. Yes, 1667. My pirate is just 25 years old as you can see in that screen - he ages one year every January 1st. I trounced my goal of winning in under ten years - pulling it off in just under eight! I don't think I'm going to top that so I'm done with this little escapade. pirate.gif - 1kb

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