Dread Pirate Rules

Old pirate treasure map with icons

Dread Pirate rules are very easy to understand, making this a fun family board game that also helps develop counting and strategy based skills. Parents and kids age eight and older can enjoy becoming pirate ship captains who trade, attack and plunder to build their fortunes of jewels and doubloons in this family friendly board game.

Understanding the Dread Pirate Game

Dread Pirate is a board game aimed at kids who can read and strategize, but can be played with adults for a family game night. The game can be played with two players and up to four can participate. The more players you have, the more exciting the game typically is. It takes about an hour to play through with the goal of finding the most treasure. Twists and turns occur when players have to take a "fate" card, and battles can break out between players for loot. Once all the treasure is found and removed from each home port, the game is over and each player will count up their treasure to see who has won.

Game Set-up

The Dread Pirate playing area is set up by placing the games pieces on the cloth playing board which is designed as a playing map. The individual game pieces typically include:

  • 3 dice
  • 1 pirate ship for each player
  • 48 Dread Pirate cards
  • 1 wind cube (used for advanced play)

Each pirate player receives:

  • A treasure bag
  • 10 doubloons
  • 22 jewels

Basic Dread Pirate Rules

Each pirate player is the captain of a pirate ship that moves around the game board playing map. The actual amount of movement is based on the player's dice roll. The game ends when all the jewels from the home ports have been claimed. The pirate player with the most treasure at the end of the game is the winner.

Getting Started With the Game

Each pirate player:

  • Picks a pirate ship
  • Selects a home port on the playing map
  • Places their pirate ship on their home port
  • Places 10 jewels in their treasure bag
  • Places 12 jewels on their home port

Preparing the playing area:

  • Place remaining doubloons on Dread Island
  • Shuffle the Dread Pirate cards

Each pirate player rolls one die. The player with the highest roll starts the game. The turns pass to the left.

Basic Rules of Play

Each player:

  1. Rolls two dice and moves their ship the number of squares that were rolled. The player can also choose to move fewer squares than the number on the dice. If both die show the same number (a double), the player takes two separate turns, one for each die.
  2. Moves their ship vertically or horizontally on the water portions of the map.
  3. Draws a Dread Pirate card whenever their ship touches one of the ocean triangles or a square with a shark icon.
  4. Reads the Dread Pirate card out loud and takes the action instructed on the card.
  5. Can skirmish with another pirate player whenever they end or begin their turn in a square next to another player's ship.
  6. Can raid a port whenever they sail onto the port's icon.


Skirmishes are little battles that break out amongst players for loot. During a skirmish:

  • Each player rolls one die. The player with the highest roll wins the skirmish.
  • The winner pulls treasure out of the loser's treasure bag without looking. The number of pieces pulled is equal to the number rolled by the winner on the winning die.
  • The winner shows the loser the amount of treasure pulled out of the bag.
  • The loser's ship is sunk. The loser is out of the game if the loser does not have enough treasure to pay the winner.
  • If the loser is a Dread Pirate, the title passes to the winner.


During a raid:

  • Each player rolls one die. The player with the highest roll wins the raid.
  • If the attacker of the port wins the raid, they collect the number of jewels that is equal to the number rolled on the winning die.
  • If the owner of the port wins the raid, the attacker must leave the port.
  • The attacker cannot attack this port again until the attacker engages in a skirmish or home port raid with another pirate player.
  • Pirate players cannot raid their own home ports.


Trading gives you a chance to increase your jewels. To trade:

  • Players can trade doubloons for jewels when they arrive at a foreign port.
  • The owner of the port will roll one die to determine how many jewels will be given to the trading player.
  • The cost of the trade is equal to one roll of one die by the trader.
  • A maximum of three doubloons can be paid for three or less jewels.
  • All doubloons used in trading are placed at Dread Island.
  • Doubloons must be traded for jewels. The trader can trade other jewels if the trader is out of doubloons.
  • The trader cannot trade in this port again until the trader engages in a skirmish or conducts a raid or trade at another port.

Dread Island

Dread Island can be seen at the center of the board. In order to get there:

  • A player has to have one of each color jewel to land on Dread Island.
  • A player can roll one die for free treasure.
  • A player that lands on Dread Island and collects treasure becomes a Dread Pirate.
  • The player cannot return to Dread Island until the player raids or trades in another port.

Dread Pirate

There can only be one Dread Pirate at a time, according to Dread Pirate rules. The Dread Pirate:

  • Rolls three dice instead of two to determine how many squares to move on the playing map.
  • Adds one point to the roll of the die during skirmishes and raids.

Winning the Game

The game ends when all the jewels are collected from all ports. The pirate with the most jewels and doubloons is the winner. If two players have the same amount of treasure, the pirate with the most doubloons wins the game.

Dread Pirate Strategies

Although winning this game is based heavily on luck and how well you roll the dice, there are a few things you can do to up your chances of winning Dread Pirate. Because the game ends when all the ports have been raided, think about when and where you will attack, as well as where to search for treasure. If there are plenty of ports left with treasure, it may be a good idea to avoid skirmishes and creating rivals. If you leave skirmishes for the end of the game, you'll have a smaller chance of getting attacked by others, thus having a higher chance of maintaining your loot.

Dread Pirate Versions

Dread Pirate can be purchased used through eBay for around $30 to $100, depending on the edition selected. A new game can cost over $100. There have been a few versions of Dread Pirate released throughout the years. These include:

  • 2002 Edition: Although more expensive, this version comes complete with a wooden treasure chest that holds the game, and metal playing pieces giving the game a higher quality feel compared to typical board games.
  • 2003 Edition: This second edition is similar to the first edition except it comes with fewer jewels (100 vs. 120) and has an updated rule book.
  • 2003 Bookshelf Version: Easier to store, this bookshelf edition is nearly the same as the second edition game but includes the classic Jolly Roger flag.
  • 2007 Edition: This third edition has an updated rulebook, doesn't include the map cards, has an updated playing board, and is packaged slightly differently.
  • 2007 Bookshelf Edition: This edition is the same as the third update, but some playing pieces are slightly smaller making it easier to store and take on vacations.

Count Your Loot

Dread Pirate is a great game for using counting skills. It appeals to a wide variety of players and their abilities, so pick up a version and start searching for treasure.

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