Release Date: 2024Players: 2-4
Designer: James M. Hewitt, Mat Hart, Sherwin Matthews, Sophie Williams, Steve MargetsonLength: 90-120 minutes
Artist: n/aAge: 14+
Publisher: Steamforged GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): <1%Air (by volume): <10%

Build your reputation, they said. Complete voyages, defeat foes and gather treasures, they said. Visit the outpost to sell cargo and make repairs, they said. Having two sloops under my command was supposed to make this easy, but the truth was far from it. A pirate’s life for me, my barnacle. It was a huge challenge from the start. It was almost impossible to safely navigate this Sea of Thieves: Voyage of Legends by Mat Hart, James M. Hewitt, Steve Margetson, Sherwin Matthews and Sophie Williams from Steamforged Games.

I think, the introduction sums up the game really well. Whether or not you have played or at least know of the video game by the same name that Microsoft released back in 2018, when you see the box and riffle through the components, your expectations are quickly set very high.

Sea of Thieves is packed to the brim with 7 modular game board tiles, that neatly link together and make for a slightly different game experience each time, 24 standees for every player’s pirate ships, from sloops all the way to galleons, as well as the enemies, 10 dice to roll in the hope of getting natural crits, various reference, special crew, event, ship and enemy cards, plus 52 fortune and another 52 voyage cards, as well as over 300 cardboard tokens, representing treasure, loot, actions, damage, progress, enemies and much more.

Getting everything unboxed, punched out and neatly stored is an evening well spent just on its own. Luckily, there is a little insert to help you keep everything relatively secure.

A Sea of Rules

When you finally pull into the relative protection of your favourite armchair to drop anchor and begin the task of learning the rules, you quickly reach for the rum to help you make sense of everything. Sure, there is a separate sheet that makes the setup of your first game easier. The rulebook also recommends you play without some of the available enemies, so that players don’t get overwhelmed. Even so, there is a lot to learn and remember and the rulebook doesn’t help you learn the game, let alone teach it to others.

It’s more of a grumpy old pirate’s log book that you need to read from start to finish, including the various tips from your new best mate Ramsey that are dotted in call-outs all the way through the pages. These tips, as helpful as they are, sometimes contain important rules clarifications that you struggle to find later on when you’re in the middle of a tense battle on the high seas. So, yes, it’s a rulebook for sure, but it’s no good as a reference later on.

I spent several times slowly rifling through every page from cover to cover to find a finer point that we needed to clarify during the game and failed miserably every time. I would eventually come across it later on, after the game had finished and when I had time to re-read everything.

Your mileage might be different of course. You might be able to navigate the rules more easily if you have played the video game before and know what to expect. However, even then I have my doubts, but I would love to hear what your experience is.

most of the components that come with Sea of Thieves
the box of Sea of Thieves is filled to the brim with components (photo courtesy of Steamforged Games)

Dropping Anchor

To avoid completely ruining our game experience, we houseruled certain things during our game with a view to clarifying them later. That worked and it allowed us to get a few games under our belt. However, even once we were more familiar with everything, Sea of Thieves didn’t help itself.

One thing is the downtime during the game. A player’s turn can take a while, as every crew member carries out their action, followed by the ship actioning its own bits as well. Even when two players battle it out and fire their canons at one another, there are others still sitting there on the sidelines waiting for the game to come back around to them. There are just too many steps in a player’s turn that slow things down.

Once everyone has eventually had their go, it’s the event phase and the turn of the enemies. That further slows down the game. You follow the relevant enemies’ decision tree to work out what they do next, resolve attacks or otherwise move standees around the board or roll dice. You then refresh card rows and tokens and generally finish the required housekeeping steps before the next round can start.

It all takes a relatively long amount of time. Something that would probably only take split seconds in the video game has to be done by hand. It might have been better to remove some of the digital parent’s game experience to make the analogue version flow a lot more quickly and to make everyone feel involved.

Raise the Sails

That’s a real shame, because, underneath it all, I think there is a really fun game that friends will enjoy. I really think Sea of Thieves is trying to be more of a party game. With a group of people who like to backstab, loot each others’ hard-earned treasure and generally be as pirate as can be, plus a few bottles of rum and some sea shanties you will have a blast.

I never played the video game, so I don’t know if the board game is a good conversion. It is very possible that people who love the digital version will also love the board game. Maybe they get exactly the same experience, but away from a screen and instead sitting around a table with their friends at close quarters.

The problem is that Sea of Thieves has been weighed down by too many rules and housekeeping steps that it ended up at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Anyone prepared to spend 8 hours in a cramped submarine to get to the deepest depths will find a game that is a lot of fun. So if people are prepared to crawl their way through two or three 60-to-90-minute learning games to eventually arrive at a game experience that they’ll enjoy, then that’s absolutely great. Maybe knowing the digital version allows you to find the sparkly jewel in this treasure chest more quickly and then your game group will elect you to pirate king and raise you in a triple hip-hip-hurray above the deck.

Davy Jones’ Locker

Personally, though, I’m really not convinced. For the number of rules and required time investment, I expect a game that gives me strategic decisions instead of random card draws and generally just hoping for the best.

So, unfortunately, Sea of Thieves really isn’t for me. I was hoping to make important decisions, experience amazing adventures and live a free life as a free pirate on the high seas. What I got was a dense fog and a damp squid. Without a good breeze in my sails, this game just flopped for me.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Sound Effects: – © copyright 2024 BBC

The Big Adventure by Sascha Ende
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

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