Players take turns drawing a card from a deck of 120 cards of Hull shots and Repairs, Mast shots and Restores, Volley shots and Recovers, and Lookouts. After drawing a card, the player may hit other players with Hull, Mast, or Volley shots; take out a Lookout with a Mast Shot; use a Repair, Restore, or Recover card to remove a hit, or place it in front of them to protect them from a hit; or discard the card if it cannot be played. Once all cards have been drawn, the player with the fewest remaining hits is the winner. Game instructions include 2-player and Strategic Play variants.
Pirates can be played almost anywhere and adapted to meet the needs, age, or skill of the players involved. With young players the rules can be simplified so the game is easy and engaging (kids learn to count, make sets and understand cause and effect). With older players new rules may be added for more complex game play, such as, "any person who is out may rejoin after one round."