This might be surprising, considering how much I love most other Sid Meier games, but I never got around to the original Pirates! game. I was deep into war games and looking at it, it just didn’t interest me. Another thing I found to be cool were Samurai (and by extension, ancient Japan), which led me to Koei’s games, such as Nobunga’s Ambition and Genghis Khan. Young me enjoyed them, even though I didn’t have the tactical and resource-managing skills yet to do well.
All of which led me to Uncharted Waters. I always rented whatever Koei games came out, mostly because I couldn’t afford to purchase too many games. This one looked cool enough inthe store to buy outright, and it was a great choice. The story goes like this: you are the son of a Portuguese explorer whose family is going through tough times. You have one tiny ship and some goods to sell, and you have to build up your fleet from there. Once you get going, there’s a bunch of different ways to advance – trading goods (with an economic model that changes the prices based on how much bought and sold in certain ports), privateering (for any of the three nations represented), exploration (people will ask you to search for things) and of course, piracy. There is a plot, advanced by doing the odd jobs that merchants ask you to do, which you hear about in the bars. Once you gather mates to your side, you can add ships to your fleet, up to 5 in total. Your sailing and combat skills (for you and the mates) improve with use, and there are quite a few options for customizing ships. You can begin with bare hulls, pick the type of wood, how many cannons and crew berthing spaces, and so on. You can specialize ships for trading/exploring by cutting back on crew and guns, but that leaves you vulnerable to pirates. Conversely, go too far the other way and you can dominate any fight, but not actually be able to carry your captured booty.
The nice thing about Uncharted Waters was the openness. There’s a storyline to follow, but if you’d rather wander around blowing up Spaniards, exploring the whole world, and make crazy money, you can do that no problem. Oh, and I forgot romancing a princess. The game is widely available via emulation, for NES, SNES and Genesis, as well as a PC version (which I’ve never tried). The NES version is what I had, and I actually prefer that (despite the lackluster graphics compared to the SNES) because the SNES version added random people walking around the towns who serve no purpose but to get in your way.
These games were even more popular in Japan, with multiple sequels and even an MMO game (which they keep saying will end up here, and at least had been in closed beta testing at one point). I’ve played the sequel a little but never got to deep into it. Let me know if you’ve tried Uncharted Waters and if so, what you think!