John Donne once wrote that "no man is an island" - their actions, no matter how small, affect the lives of others in some way.
You wouldn’t think that by playing the majority of games. How many times, for instance, have you seen NPCs milling around in circles during a role-playing game, spouting the same line no matter how beaten up or powerful your character has become?
Sid Meier’s Pirates! uses these moments of interaction with the world to alter attitudes to your swashbuckling captain elsewhere in the gameworld.
For instance, a port taken for your employers, the English, may subsequently cause the Spanish to raise a fleet and attack the next month (which you can subsequently intercept).
It may be at its core a collection of brief and simple mini-games, but there’s an element of grandness - of the world your character inhabits actually being alive - that marks it out as a compelling voyage.
After choosing your starting era, name, nationality, and skill (ranging from fencing to medicine), your journey begins with your character witnessing his family being kidnapped by the dastardly Marquis.
Setting sail for the Caribbean as a young 18-year-old, with a rubbish ship and nary a piece o’ eight to your name, your task is to build up a crew, rescue your family, and put the Marquis (and a bunch of other ne’er do wells) to rest once and for all.
Or you could search for Incan gold buried in the world; or marry a governor's daughter; or spend your time shouting “Arr” while sinking galleons laden with booty - it’s your call.
For the bulk of the game, you’ll be navigating your ship around the world by touching to sail. Thankfully, this iPad version includes quick-travel for known friendly ports, which removes a lot of the strain of sailing against a strong easterly wind.
Almost every other action, whether it be trying to hijack a ship (by fighting the captain on deck) or invading a settlement, has its own mini-game, ranging from action to strategy and everything in-between.
Each is short, simple, and self-contained. Fencing, for instance, involves swiping in one of six directions to block or attack, while romancing a governor’s daughter involves tapping circles to the rhythm of the harpsichord.
They don't all work equally well - the sword-fighting sequences can be prone to misreading your swipes, which can be fatal on the harder difficulty settings - but in general they’re short, easy to play, and thoroughly entertaining.
Captain on deck
As your captain grows older and more weary, his fighting skills begin to slow and his chance of rescuing his family diminishes.
Eventually, his sailing career will have to come to an end, whereupon your final gold tally - heavily affected by the difficulty level you spent most the game on - is added to the Game Center leaderboards.
The iPad version of Pirates! is easily the best of the four I’ve played, and not just because of the presence of leaderboards this time around (although that is extremely welcome).
The difficulty is slightly harder, the game less repetitive, there are new modes like a first-person bombarding section, and the extra interface options - like being able to track famous pirates when you have enough dirt on their location -are a godsend.
The graphics and sound are excellent - your crew bursting into a ramshackle shanty after a major success is a particular highlight - while neat little touches like being able to customise your ship with its own name and emblem, or watching a country appoint escorts to one of your commonly targeted routes, make each game very personal.
Sid Meier’s Pirates! may just be a series of mini-games at heart, but no one section is an island - each is intertwined with the fun story and vibrant world.
Put them all together and you have one of the best action-adventure games on the iPad.