Never heard of Sid Meier's Pirates!? Then you have missed out! This game is the successor to Pirates! Gold that I used to play when growing up. Comparing these two games is difficult. In some ways Sid Meier really did make a much better game but he threw all the realistic and atmospheric graphics out the window while doing so. I don't think Pirates! needed to be so cartoonish. But that's a matter of opinion. Review time!
Let me start with the story of the game. You are the child of a wealthy and honorable family that is wronged by a baron. He kidnaps your family (you have a sister, butler, mother and father). You escape him and manage to somehow keep yourself from dying until you reach adult age (which is around 6 - 8 years I think). When you do, you conscript yourself to one of the nationalities that are heading to the Caribbean. During the trip there the crew of the ship you're serving does mutiny and fighting escalates. You get to duel the captain and you take charge of the ship.
What you do from here on out is entirely up to you.
That's right, you have many things to do now. You can try to rescue your family (which is actually insanely difficult), prey on ships as a privateer and earn titles and land, woo beautiful maidens, sack towns, kill famous pirates, dig up their treasure, collect magic items, find hidden civilizations and trade! And all the while you must recruit new buccaneers, keep them fed, raise money for them, manage your fleet/ship and much, much more!
Now, I'll be the first (I hope) to tell you that this game does have it's flaws. For one: the game is pretty repetitive and almost every thing you do you must do 10 more times in order to progress in the game, so basically you need to grind a lot. To counter weight this, the developers have implemented a pretty clever difficulty system which makes the game harder while allowing you to reap greater rewards in both the short and long run. To counter the difficulty of the game the developers have also added "magic items", they not really magic but their effects are and they make you much better than your opponents! When you start taking many of these you'll eventually see yourself raising the difficulty just because the enemies you face are unable to resist you effectively.
If you're not afraid of spending untold hours doing even the slightest progress in this game then you'll most likely enjoy this game a lot. The game plays until' your character become too old for the pirate life, and that system is your penalty in this game because no matter what you do, you can't die. Instead if you fail you get imprisoned, shipwrecked or some other cruel fate that steal precious years of your youth. You can counter this by getting a few magic items but the effects of them doesn't seem major, but the effects are subtle in this game anyway so I couldn't tell.
When you decide to retire (because you're too old or by choice) you're presented with a score system where you rank depending on what you've done during your career. A little text try to describe how you live the rest of your life and the game is over, almost like Civilization IV. Nonetheless, Sid Meier's Pirates! is a pretty neat game that will kill a few hours but relies far too much on grinding for progress and the basic formula seems to be quantity over quality, but even so you will probably remember that time when you beat Blackbeard or that voyage that was especially adventurous than the rest.
Unfortunately I need to set "a fairly meager" score of 4/6 on this game because the game has way too much grinding while being somewhat difficult to learn and easy to master. It's a good game and for under €20 it's well worth a purchase.