Game Reviews


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| Stoneship
| Stoneship

Despite being glamorised by such Hollywood fluff as Pirates of the Caribbean and Cutthroat Island, buccaneering must have been a very tough vocation.

The threat of being eaten by sharks, blown to pieces by rival freebooters, and clapped in irons by the Royal Navy couldn’t have encouraged floods of people to sign up. There also was the prospect of living in a fetid ship for months on end, with rampant scurvy and general lack of cleanliness to endure.

These appalling working conditions therefore go some way to explaining why the antagonists of Stoneship are such a miserable and aggressive bunch.

As a plucky naval commander, it’s your job to marshal friendly forces to withstand the attacks of these ill-tempered brigands by linking together ports, discovering consignments of weapons, and attracting crew members by performing acts of high renown.

Top of the charts

The game provides you with a blank map, which can be uncovered tile by tile to reveal settlements, ancient native temples (inexplicably packed with 17th century weapons), treasure chests and – somewhat less appealingly - sea monsters.

The more ports you find, the more men you're able to draft in defence of the region when pirates arrive. It’s also possible to network these towns to ensure a steady flow of fresh crew.

Expanding a settlement’s boundary is a case of enlarging it until it touches another town’s sphere of influence. Once this is achieved, you can move troops around with a tap. The number displayed over each one illustrates the strength of the garrison within.

Each action – be it removing a map tile, expanding a town’s boundary or obtaining weapons from a temple – reduces your turn count by one. You’re given a limited number of turns with which to reinforce the area before the swarthy ocean-going bandits make their move.

As such, Stoneship becomes an exercise in uncovering key portions of the map in as few moves as possible.

Taking turns

When you’ve exhausted all of your turns, the pirates make their attack by heading to the nearest port. If you have the good fortune of locating their starting position, you’re able to see which town they will target first. Consequently, you can augment the defences of that port.

Combat in Stoneship – which occurs either when you uncover a sea monster or when the pirates make their aggressive power play at the end of your turn – is a simplistic affair.

You fire your cannons in real time by tapping the screen, but to be brutally honest the entire process may as well be automated, as the speed of a finger matters little when the odds are stacked against you.

Often, you run into a sea monster too early in a level, which ends your game prematurely since you're left with too few crew to repel pirate attacks later. Stoneship is as much about memorisation as it is about strategy: later levels must be frequently played – and lost – before you can really put together a sure-fire winning plan.

You need to locate and consign to memory the position of ports and enemies to ensure ultimate success.

Try, try again

This trial-and-error gameplay may not sit well with everybody, and it’s undeniably frustrating to lose a game purely because you tapped the wrong tile and accidentally stumbled across a powerful monster. Yet there’s a definite sense of satisfaction when you crack a level after repeatedly feeling your way through previous attempts.

The game’s attractive cartoon visuals and sound are noteworthy, although I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of visual sheen, especially when you consider this is being published by the same firm reasonable for the CGI-laden adventure title Myst.

The occasional unfair quality of the game will cause some aggravation – and, aside from gaining better scores on each level, there’s little reason to revisit it once you’ve conquered the seas – but if you’re after a memory-focused puzzle title which boasts a hint of strategy and a dash of exploration, then you could do much worse than step aboard HMS Stoneship.


Stoneship is an intriguing mix of memory gaming, high seas exploration and strategic planning, but its regularly frustrating nature and lack of replay value take the wind out of its sails
Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.