Pirates! is a real joy to play and suitable for all ages. I just installed it, jumped in and started playing, and play I did, for 2 hours straight. I didn't read the manual (but I think I should, because it looks packed with info), and there is no in-game tutorial. It doesn't need one - the game was very easy to get into and you will be able to just pick up the gameplay along the way.
You play the role of a young 20 year-old pirate captain out to find his family who were taken into bondage when he was ten years old. After the short intro sequence giving you all the background you need to know about your pirate character, you are in the game and free to do whatever you want.
There's the pirate stuff of attacking other ships and looting them. All the ships at sea are for your taking - merchant ships, frigates, swift smuggler boats, other pirate ships . Get along side the ship and order an attack and you'll be taken to a battle screen where it's your ship against theirs. You have cannons and a few choices of ammunition types, single round shots, grape shots and chain shots. These are tactical options for attack. Take note of the wind direction because it will affect the speed and the way your ship moves.
Get onboard the enemy ship, have a duel with the captain. If you win the duel, you win the ship and everything on it. Dueling is not hard. You need to watch your opponent to get cues on how you should attack or defend. If you win, you can either keep the ship or sink her. Attacking ships is a great way of getting food supplies, guns and trading goods. A small percentage of the defeated crew will join you.
You can also attack towns, but I haven't tried that yet.
You can go on a treasure hunt.
You can take sides with the British, French, Spanish or French forces and gain ranks and fame by attacking your side's enemies. (The only way to gain formal ranks is to join a side. ) Your reputation gets you promotions, dates with daughters of important men (governors and such) and more fortunes for you. Currently, my pirate is supporting the Spanish forces and the Spanish are clearly very happy with him, he's now an admiral. He's been getting dates with governor's daughters at almost every Spanish city he anchors. Of course, some of the girls are still snobbish and would only consider him if he should become a baron.
About the dating. Your pirate impresses the girl by dancing the right steps. It's ok if you don't know how, because the girl helps you out by signalling you on the next step of the dance. She signals left, you move left. She signals right, you go right. It's dance revolution, 17th century. Your number pad (which you will be using to control most of the movement in the game) is all you need. It isn't hard until she gets into 'combos'. Get the steps right, and she will be charmed - she might let you in on a quest that will win you favors with your sponser. Get many steps wrong, and you'll stumble about, and then after the dance, she will walk off disgusted.
Most of the time you will be out to sea, stopping at ports and cities for supplies, ship upgrade and missions. You need to make sure your ship has enough food, and your crewmen are happy. You start out with a small pirate ship, but you can always take on bigger boats and then make them your new flag ship. I have a frigate for pirate ship. I'm beginning to find that it is a little slow but it can carry more guns, more goods and more men. Management is minimal and not a tedious task.
Taverns in cities are where you will get all your rumors, special items, tips, clues and recruits. That's where you go to divide plunder among your men. You need to do that once in a while because the men become unhappy if they are made to stay with you for more than a year. After plunder is divided, the men are dismissed. But you can always recruit again.
There are other stuff on the map - Jesuit settlements, new settlements, native settlements, pirate coves.
I have acquired a treasure map but I have been so busy advancing my pirate's reputation, I haven't had time to go looking for the buried treasure yet.
The game is very open in nature and you can do whatever you want. If you don't care to join the big forces, and you just want to be a pure badass pirate, you can live out the game atttacking everyone. If you want to play a less pirate like role, you can keep attacking only your chosen side's enemies. You can become a pirate hunter, hunting the top ten most wanted at sea. You can go treasure hunting all the time if you wanted to.
I get the feeling there's a whole lot of other stuff I haven't seen yet in this game. I am sure that I will be enjoying myself as I play and explore deeper into this beautiful and well-designed game.