Friday is the second anniversary of the release of Sea of Thieves, Rare's gorgeous and unparalleled pirate simulator. It is, by a large margin, my favorite multiplayer game of all time, for reasons that shall become quite clear very shortly. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to play Sea of Thieves. The first way is to dive deep into the game's system of quests -- seeking buried treasure, solving ancient riddles, fighting skeletons at ghostly forts, making alliances with friendly crews, and generally sailing the seas in search of adventure.
The Second Way is to rob people who play the game the first way.
This is a guide to the Second Way.
ASSEMBLE YOUR CREW
Though it is entirely possible (and hilarious) to pull off high seas robbery as a solo player, you'll do your best buccaneering with a like-minded group of friends. Note here that "friends" is the key word -- while you can brave the seas with an open crew of randoms, these folks may be of varying quality (i.e., barely sentient) when it comes to the essentials. Best to rely exclusively on those you can trust.
You may want to assign roles for each player. Your most spatially-aware friend may thrive as the ship's captain, steering you into the best positions behind the wheel. The guy who's conscientious and group-oriented can focus on repairs, water-baling, and repelling boarders. The woman you know who's an utter terror in other FPS games can be your cannoneer, and your top PVPer can focus on boarding other ships. You want to get to the point where you know your roles well enough to do them without much communication, but still be communicating constantly as other threats arise.
If you do this correctly, you'll be operating as a cohesive unit soon. A cohesive unit whose only goal is to approach Sea of Thieves with an extreme and frankly worrying emphasis on the word "Thieves," but a cohesive unit nonetheless.
LOOK THE PART, BE THE PART
The only things you can actually buy in Sea of Thieves, other than missions, are cosmetics. New players will start off with a drab, uninteresting ship, but experienced ones will rock the cherriest of rides possible. For those who wish to embrace the Second Way, it is best to let all other ships on the sea know exactly what they're in for when they catch sight of you (hopefully, after it's too late to do anything). For instance, my crew's typical outfit is an all-black ship, red cannons, and a shark for the masthead. Occasionally people will see this and shout "we're friendly!" in a desperate attempt at clemency before we sink them.
"We're not" is all we usually say. But honestly, if an all-black ship with a shark masthead rolls up on you, the intentions of the crew should be obvious.
In many open world multiplayer games, learning which fights to take and which fights to avoid is a key consideration. This is true if you're playing Sea of Thieves the first way. It is not if you play the game the Second Way.
Consider this: imagine Genghis Khan playing Sea of Thieves. Would he cruise around doing quests and figuring out treasure maps and reading delivery notices for cargo he signed up to schlep from one port to another? He would not. He would climb to the top of his crow's nest, survey the sea, and declare that all masts he sees in the distance are now his. If you desire to play the game the Second Way, you should do the same. There are up to five other crews on the server with you, and you should prioritize sinking them and taking their hard-earned treasure. This is the true mentality of the apex pirate.
You have spawned into an outpost, have gathered your supplies, outfitted your ship in the most intimidating colors you can afford, and are now ready to set sail. But wait! Your ship spawns with its lanterns lit. The first thing you should do is turn those lanterns off, lest ye squander the advantage of the shroud of night in your approach to an anchored enemy ship.
Learning to do this as soon as possible is a key step to this important bit of knowledge: though you should go for every mast you see if you're playing the Second Way, you shouldn't just blindly careen into a fight.
Consider your opponent.
Are they in a different type of ship than yours? You should position yourself in such a way that if they do manage to run, it is in a direction that speaks to your ship's advantage (sloops are fastest against the wind, brigantines perpendicular to it, and galleons with it).
Are they anchored at an island? Position yourself in such a way that you do not approach from their broadside, as you will have to eat cannon fire on your way in. Perhaps you can park yourself in front of them, so you're "crossing the T" and raking them with cannon fire while forcing them to go toward you if they wish to escape.
Are they in transit to an outpost? They may make it there before you, in which case they can drop off some of their loot before you can steal it. You may want to shoot your best fighters over to the outpost with a cannon to make sure this does not happen. You may also keep an eye out for a rowboat -- savvy players of the first way will often detach their rowboat during a chase and drop off the loot while the pursuers keep after their ship. Do not let them do this. It's just embarrassing.
Are they at an active skeleton fort? Initiates of the Second Way will often immediately jump on crews anchored at a fort, as they are vulnerable and distracted by fighting waves of skeletons, but this is ultimately self-defeating -- after you sink them, you now have to do the work of clearing the fort in order to get the loot. Much better to wait until they've cleared the fort, opened the vault, and loaded ALMOST all their treasure on their ship. Then you can sink them and take their stuff. Much more efficient.
Sea of Thieves allows you to be creative when solving the problem of How Do I Sink That Ship And Take Their Stuff. Take advantage of this opportunity and you'll be rewarded.
Speaking of solving problems ...
Sea of Thieves is all about Problem Management.
Your ship has been hit by a cannonball and is now taking on water. This is a problem.
Your ship's mast is down because someone hit you with an explosive keg or a chainshot. This is a problem.
Your ship is on fire because of a variety of reasons. This is a problem.
Most decent crews will be able to handle a single problem -- or even a few problems at once. Many times, we have been de-masted because of a good shot on the mast by our pursuers, but because it was just a single problem, we were able to fix it in good time and continue the pursuit. This also applies to people trying to board ships -- most good crews can spot them and take care of them if that's the only thing happening at the time.
"If" is the key word there.
But say you're able to have two crew members board at the same time while a third is firing cannonballs at the enemy crew's waterline, and one of those boarders drops their anchor while the other fills the ship with flames and both boarders close to melee combat with the enemy crew and also you've harpooned their ship to yours and you're stealing their essential supplies below decks while keeping them from repairing anything and at that moment your fourth crew member whom you secretly snuck on board a half hour ago joins in and oh look, do they have a few explosive kegs to set off somewhere?
In that case, most decent crews' brains will short-circuit. Your job is to figure out ways to make that happen as often as humanly possible. It is difficult to communicate just how to do this -- it's more of an art than a science -- but if you refer to the first step in this article, you and your crew can develop your own unique style.
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE GOLD, IT'S ABOUT THE GLORY
Sometimes, my crew and I happen upon the perfect situation -- a ship laden with loot whom we take entirely by surprise and sink without a problem. Other times, the enemy crew is agile and prepared and we spend an hour chasing them before they sink, leaving behind very little loot.
But consider: a few nights ago we engaged a brigantine crew who constantly repulsed our attempts to board and drop their anchor, executed several picture-perfect maneuvers to keep themselves out of broadside range, and in general were extremely capable opponents. We could have given up, but we waited for them to make a mistake -- in this case a turn which brought them slightly too close to our bow, allowing us to collide, board them, set them on fire, and sink them.
Our reward for this chase? Exactly one mid-tier skull ... which we promptly abandoned to sink another brigantine which had happened upon the fight. That brigantine had absolutely nothing on board. We could have spent that time making a far greater profit doing missions. We could have scoured shipwrecks for treasure. We could have even accepted the second ship's offer of an alliance and made money hand over fist.
The point of the Second Way is that that's not the point. The loot is great, but working together with my crew and finally bringing down a worthy opponent gets my heart pumping like no other game ever has. Even in the rare occasions we lose, the story we get out of it -- and I have more Sea of Thieves stories than I do about certain family members or friends -- is the true treasure.
I hope this guide to the Second Way has made you the best pirates you can possibly be, and as always, as r/SeaOfThieves is fond of saying, "It be not Sea of Friends but rather Sea of Thieves!"