The Magic of Pirates: Spending Mother’s Day at the Hoffman House

In my family naval battleships from the 1600’s through the 1800’s have a special place in our hearts. I’ve always been a fan of pirates, and that love has trickled down to my wife and kids over the years. Why do I like pirates so much? Well, Tenochtitlan which was the capital city of the Aztecs that sat in the middle of a lake which resided where modern-day Mexico City is started my love of pirates. It was a monstrously large city at the time of over 200,000 people divided into nobles and commoner groups. In Aztec culture, much like the modern Progressive, they lacked an inherit understanding of science so they relied on sacrifice to the gods hoping that magically the spirit realm would shine on their society and grant them life. They were such a foolish culture that over a four-day mass sacrifice in 1487 the Aztec king Ahuitzotl butchered 80,400 prisoners by shifts of priests working four at a time at convex killing tables who kicked the lifeless bodies of victims down the sides of their temple pyramids. (to see what this looked like click here) This established a killing rate of 14 victims a minuet over a ninety-six hour bloodbath. The Spanish encountered this group of Aztecs, saw that they were rich with gold, but lacked science, so Cortez took the city using superior technology and wiped out the Aztecs completely. So much for the gods saving Aztec culture, even with all the sacrifice.

Spain having wiped out the Mayan culture and now the Aztecs suddenly was very rich with gold, which scared the crap out of England and France. Those two countries hired “privateers” to intercept the Spanish vessels returning to the home country with the gold, so they could also have a share of the “new wealth.” This is a version of “redistributing the wealth” 1660’s style. Today we call them tax collectors.

Once much of the gold had been looted from Central America the three countries decided to be at peace with each other so they put a stop to their privateering efforts against one another and banned the practice with new laws. The only problem was those privateers were making good livings intercepting Spanish vessels from Central America. These were now sailors committed to living away from the “mother countries” so they had no real psychological commitment to a king or queen, so they decided to thumb their nose at their kings and become pirates. This was the start of the golden age of piracy.
It would be pirates who laid the foundations for America in breaking away from Europe. And it was on a pirate ship that democracy was first implemented, and concepts such as insurance were invented. In fact the very first law suit in the history of the world involved one of my personal mentors; Henry Morgan in a libel suit against Alexander Exquemelin who had written a book called The Buccaneers of America, based on Exquemelin’s adventures with Morgan, which exploited Captain Morgan as a ruthless cutthroat.

But Morgan had the king’s ear, and had made the man very rich in his spoils from Spain, and serving the king as a correspondence of sorts between Morgan, who had a base in Jamaica, and the king in England was none less than the philosopher John Locke, who Thomas Jefferson would base the Declaration of Independence off of Locke’s written work just a century later. There is without a doubt that the founding fathers held the book, The Buccaneers of America in very high esteem as a way to envision what freedom would look like. Many of the revolutionaries in the times of the founding fathers were sons of former pirates since New York had been a pirate haven once piracy was outlawed and those out of work privateers merged into legitimate fields of endeavor.

So anyone that knows me well knows that I love pirates, and the art of the swashbuckler. Here is video of the real pirate ship The Black Pearl firing its cannons.


A few years ago a game came out from Wiz Kids that combined model building, which I like, with military strategy, which I like a lot, with history, which I love almost as much as the air I breath, and touched on the fantasy of high adventure and pirate exploits on the high seas complete with treasure hunting, monsters, and supernatural events, all draped over actual historical context. So I introduced my family to the game and it became a family favorite.

The first release of the game was called The Spanish Main. Here is the original promotion video from that release.

Then Wiz Kids came out with a second series, with approximately a 150 new ships all themed around the period of the Revolutionary War.

The game combines the fun of model building with the historical facts that more mature players enjoy, and allows young players and older players to join together in a battlefield that everyone can enjoy together. It has not been uncommon from my son-in-law, my daughters and father-in-law and my wife to play a game at a big table for hours at a time, during an entire Saturday afternoon. My father-in-law who is a geology teacher for high-school students and lover of history in his own way enjoys telling my kids historic facts while they get the chance to blow up his ships and steal his gold. It doesn’t get any better than that for a young person. Here is what a pack of cards looks like when you buy them from the store and begin the process of building the ships.

The game has some simple rules, but the strategy is rather complex, involving thousands of decisions and possible variables. Here’s how the game is played.


There have been many releases over the years and literally thousands of ships to collect and build. These are just a few of the types of ships available.

So with this little introduction to put things in context my wife and I were out shopping yesterday for Mother’s Day. I wanted her to pick out a gift for herself, to treat herself to anything. My wife is the only person I know that can buy items from Victoria Secret, (She is really picky about this stuff, and Victoria’s Secret is the only quality she really enjoys as far as under garments.) then turn around and go over to another one of our favorite stores, Sci Fi City! It was her option to pick up a new bathing suit for the summer or to buy something from Sci Fi City, and she picked Sci Fi City. This is what she wanted The Pirates Constructible Strategy Game Expansion from Wiz Kids.

This is a role-playing expansion to the game we’ve played for years and opens things up a lot. Seeing how excited she got over this book made me proud to have her for a wife, because her priorities are clear. The pictures above are how we spent Mothers Day, enjoying her new book with the people she cares about most.

My daughter asked me yesterday, “What should we get mom?” I told her to come over, and bring your pirate ships for a day of adventure and probably some LaRosa’s Pizza. Nothing more is needed.

A few years ago Wiz Kids came out with an online version of the game which allowed people to play other players online using the same rules of engagement. This video will give an idea of how the game is played and how it looks in the minds of the players. The thing I don’t like about the online game is that you buy ships like you do in real life, but they only exist online. It is quite fun to build an actual ship and hold it in your hand and do battle. My family has spent many Saturday afternoons in comic book stores, book stories, gaming gatherings, looking for new decks of cards. The fun of these afternoon adventures is you never know what you’re going to get in a pack. I’ve bought hundreds and hundreds of ships, and I haven’t run into the problem of getting very many doubles of the same ship, so that gives some idea just how many ships were built for the game. Among my family, all of whom have hundreds of ships themselves, most of us have ships completely different from each other. The ships are broke down by color code, red (common), silver (uncommon), yellow (rare) and black (super rare. I have managed to get a fair number of rare ships and even a couple of super rare boats. Some of the most fun days we’ve all spent as a family together have been days were we’d find a fresh shipment at a comic store, a whole box, and we’d buy everything they had, and we’d go home and spend the rest of the day building ships, then the rest of the night playing.
Here’s what the action looks like online.


For people who are unfamiliar with the world of strategy gaming it’s very popular in an underground sort of way. When I was at Sci Fi City with my wife yesterday they have a gaming area in the back that was packed with about 30 people of all age brackets and demographic groups playing these games. I saw a mother and her daughter playing Magic the Gathering and the mother was well into her 60’s. Here’s video of Origins from the summer of 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Origins is a big gaming convention done each year in Ohio. Some will make fun of these people, but let me provide a disclaimer. I’ve sat in front of some of the most powerful people in the country, or people who think they’re powerful anyway. I know the mind of people who wield great political power. And I know the power of people like this. I’ll pick them any day over the people who run the country currently.For all the reasons articulated in the book Atlas Shrugged, the people who play these games are much more intelligent, and able to construct a reasonable strategy than many of the people currently working in the White House and Pentagon. The difference between these people and those political types is that the people at Origins don’t wish to have limits placed upon their minds. So in strategy gaming their minds are free and not confined to “politics.” That’s why I’d pick these people as my friends any day of the week. The quality of their minds is superior to those who chose status quo complacency. I treasure knowing these types of people.

Here’s my family playing the game. This video was done by my son-in-law. We went as far to build actual three-dimensional islands replicas with great detail.

It’s a game that inspires imagination and to me that is the most important attribute to any form of entertainment.

So when we travel and visit a ship yard whether it’s in this country or another one, and one of these old ships fire their cannons there is a special place that I hold for them in my heart. Not only in the context of history, but in the memories of many battles fought with my family, where the mind does not know the difference between real or fiction because in this type of gaming, it is the minds process of thinking that is important. The Wiz Kids Constructible Strategy Game does all that at many levels, and it is a treasure to anyone that plays the game. For lesser minds, such as your typical politician, where they are always out for the end result, the better mind, the one of the strategy gamer, is out for the opportunity to think freely, without limit for the sheer process of doing so. The end result is secondary. That’s why it is not important to those gamers if people laugh at them for walking down the hall of a hotel dressed as a pirate or a dragon slayer, because they have freed their minds to engage in limitless possibilities, where the rest of the world is stuck on the rules and the achievement of victory. So when I see a sight like this:

I swell with pride in knowing that such minds exist out there in the world and it was such minds that conceived of the ships and the warfare they were intended for in the first place, that were given birth in the realm of imagination, where all great things humans truly enjoy emerge into the world either to be shared by many, or the sole gamer on a quest to solve the puzzles of their mind with limitless possibilities.

Rich Hoffman

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