education · Filler Games · Main Event Games · Reviews

Review of Pirates: The Great Chase and Pirates: The City of Skulls

Game: Pirates: The Great Chase and Pirates: The City of Skulls

Published: Van Ryder Games

Designer: Shuky

Players: 1

Playtime: 30-130 Minutes

Play Type: Choose Your Own Adventure

Kickstarter Link:


Throughout these two books, you are a pirate seeking the prisoner that has escaped from your ship! Use the tools around you as you trek through the jungle and the ominous City of Skulls to find the missing prisoner. Along the way you will face many trials and encounter a variety of individuals who may have clues to help you on your chase. Only those with a keen eye and sharp wit will be able to find their prisoner and continue on their journey.

The Great Chase is the first book in this series. Once completed, players are urged to continue the story in The City of Skulls. That being said, it is possible to play The City of Skulls without first reading The Great Chase, but players will miss some of the narrative, and some actions will not be able to be completed as they require The Great Chase.

Game Play:

The Pirates Series from Van Ryder Games features books that are a mixture between graphic novels and games. Players will create a character sheet for their player at the beginning of the game that will outline their characters stats. Players will use those stats to determine the outcome of various trials during the book, as well as important information such as their carrying capacity and level of piracy (morality). These stats will change how players interact with the characters within the book, and may also impact what puzzles or trials they are able to complete.


While reading, players will examine the various illustrations to make decisions about how their game will progress and what their next step will be. Players will first resolve any box text on the number box they arrive on. This may involve doing a trial that involves checking stats. Players will then examine the scene before them. They may choose to pick up any items within the picture (some exceptions do apply). While looking around, players should be seeking numbers hidden in the images to help them move to the next room or interact with the space that they are in. When a player finds a number they flip to that image and interact with the box text. Repeating the process again.

This continues until either the player succeeds in the campaign or the player is sent to the beginning or forced to restart based on their decisions.



The only component included with any of the Graphic Novel Adventures is the book itself. Both of these books are well bound and they are small enough to easily be transported. The illustrations are fantastic in the game and the bright pages are welcoming to both adults and children alike. Players will want to make sure that they have a pencil readily available when they want to play. While a pen may work, there is a lot of changing stats or erasing items, so being able to erase will help keep the character sheet legible.

Additionally, the character sheet is attached to the book, and thus players only have one copy which could become dingy very quickly if being used repeatedly. I highly suggest making copies of the sheet instead or using Van Ryder Games’ website to print off additional copies. This keeps the book pristine and makes it so that it can be passed along to others.

  • Easy to Play
  • Variety of Puzzles
  • Themeatic
  • Engaging
  • Easily Transported
  • Can Be Played in Short Time Periods
  • Strong Visual Narrative
  • Family Friendly
  • Clarity of Rules
  • Character Sheet can Become Dingy

These novels would be a great choice for a person looking to have a quick game to spend some time with on the go. The best thing about these games is that they are portable and can be picked up and put done at any time. They would be great for someone who wants to spend time during their morning commute, while waiting for a meeting or to relax at the end of the day. There is no set up time and with a simple book mark or post it note, they can be put down and picked up later.


Beyond the ease of play, the game also provides thematic gameplay. Players will easily become sucked into the world because the illustration’s style is impeccibly done. Both of these novels also provide many challenges and puzzles, and players should expect to find themselves repeating some sections of the book as it can be easy to get turned around without careful note taking. I highly encourage players to keep notes of where they have been, and use a keen eye to pay attention to what they are seeing. There is limited text in both of these novels, so players create the narrative on their own, but with the lack of text it is easy to become complacent and flip through pages aimlessly. Players will want to be careful to remember which path they took and what actions they interacted with each round to keep from making the same mistake twice.


While the book is fairly simple and for the most part the rules are self explanatory, there are instances where I wish more had been explained about the item rules within the game. The rules for weight and what can be taken are somewhat vague, especially in Pirates: The City of Skulls. Players have to decide for themselves what constitutes as a “Light Item” and when inventory space plays a large role in the game, that can have a major impact on the player’s success throughout.

I love the Graphic Novel Adventures Series from Van Ryder Games. They are my go to when looking for a solo game experience because they are so easy to set up and they keep my engagement throughout the entire session. I love the Pirates Series because it is also family friendly, and has limited text. This makes the game extremely accessible to children as well as adults. This is a great way to introduce younger gamers to puzzle centric games, and also encourage them to have interest in books!

I highly suggest these two games for gamers who are interested in pirate themed games, games with an exploration aspect or games that have a focus on solving puzzles. It makes for a wonderful time filler, and also can be engaging enough to lose an entire afternoon playing. The story is engaging and players will want to find out the mysteries that unfold as they continue through the plot. The game reminds me of a condensed version of T.I.M.E. Stories, where players will be returning through the same plot multiple times and changing their actions accordingly. If you are a fan of T.I.M.E. Stories of any of the Unlock/ EXIT the Room games, you may also enjoy the graphic novels by Van Ryder Games. Additionally, if you enjoy pirate themed board games such as Dead Men Tell No Tales or pirate themed video games such as Sea of Thieves, I highly encourage you to take a look at the Pirates: The Great Chase or Pirates: The City of Skulls. If this appeals to you, I would highly suggest checking out their Kickstarter which will be live until Friday July 9th! You can find the link above.

In The Classroom:

Reasons I Love These For Classroom Use:
  • Encourage Reluctant Readers
  • Limited Use of Language
  • Encourage Problem Solving
  • Improves Focus on Fine Detail
  • High Interest Independent Activity
  • Downloadable Character Sheet (Resusable)


Graphic Novel Adventures are some of my favorite game based tools for the classroom. They fit well into my curriculum because I have students personal reading multiple times a week within the classroom. I used to struggle to get my reluctant readers to pick up a book, however if I offer those students a Graphic Novel Adventure, they feel as though they are playing a game rather than reading. This allows me to get a book into their hands, and also helps me to break down barriers that may keep students from reading.

The Pirates Series has limited text throughout, but it still develops some skills that reading develops. When playing the game, students must focus on small details and make inferences about what might happen if they complete a certain action in the book. Not paying attention to small details or considering what might happen if they go a certain way could lead to students having to restart the book. Similarly, if students don’t take notes on what they have done, choosing the same numbers could lead them into a circular path of seeing the same things over and over again. I have seen students become much more studious note takers as a result of these books.

Additionally, the puzzles throughout encourage students to become better problem solvers. There are a variety of challenges that also force students to solve a puzzle, and then connect that answer to the larger puzzle that will help them solve the game. Students love looking for clues within the puzzles. Often times my students needed to do some research to help them solve the puzzles. This self-driven learning encourages students to be independent thinkers, and also helps them to solve problems when I am not around to help them.


I love that these novels break down the stigma around sitting with a book during personal reading. They get students excited for that time, and once they finish the graphic novel adventure, I can often suggest another book that is a step closer to reading a novel because those barriers have started to be broken down. If students enjoy the choose your own adventure style, I will suggest a novel with more text in that format. If they enjoyed the theme of pirates or exploration, I can suggest a narrative novel with those aspects.

It is so exciting to see students even in their free time (where they could play other board games, chrome book games or even socialize) grab one of these Graphic Novel Adventures because they are so engaged with it. It is a great independent activity even if you do not have a personal reading time built into your schedule. Students can also easily play in short time periods because the printed character sheet has a space to keep track of where they left off. Van Ryder Games’ website also has bookmarks that can be printed off. If you plan to use these within the classroom, I highly suggest making copies of the character sheets (that can be printed off the website) so that they are readily available when students ask and so that the book can be reused.

While this review is on the Pirate Series, I do suggest taking a look at Van Ryder Games’ website and previewing their other titles as well. I do not own all of them yet (I am slowly adding additional copies to my collection as I get the funds to do so) but they have a variety of different themes and settings to appeal to different students. They even have some adventures that are cooperative and can be played with multiple students. I do highly suggest previewing their age rating before purchasing, as some are a little too mature for younger audiences.

Overall, I cannot suggest these enough for the classroom, they provide the perfect stepping stone to encourage reading and critical thinking! If you have a little extra budget and want to check them out, make sure to head over to Van Ryder Games’ Website or their Kickstarter here:

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