Brian and Keisha Pihl
St Louis Park
Dead Men Tell No Tales Review
Dead Men Tell No Tales is a cooperative game with a fun theme and interesting choices. Players are acting as pirates attempting to gather treasure from a burning ghost ship before they die or the ship burns up. It provides a good challenge and has a little more complexity than Pandemic and Flashpoint.
In order to win players need to bring treasure (the number depending on player count and difficulty level) and every pirate on the team off the burning ship they just attacked. There are multiple ways to lose with the most frequent being that there are 7 fire explosions, cannot legally add a tile to the ship, or there are no opposing deckhands to add to the board when needed. This would rarely happen but you could die by not having another available character to respawn when you die. You can also lose by having a pirate die while attempting to retreat from the ship after the treasures are removed.
The game has 3 phases and each round is repeated until the win or lose conditions are met. I like the fact that there is no timer like most other cooperative games.
Phase 1. Add tiles to the ship. Tiles have a specific fire level and come with a random token out of the bag. Having the die reach a level for explosion is bad news and could spread further fire. Each tile is basically a room of the ship and may have 1 to 4 doorways. It also has a starting fire level in which you place a die to record the fire level. There is some strategy to placing the tiles so you keep the ship accessible. A token is also placed on the tile which can be a trapdoor (spawns wimpy but perhaps deadly deckhands), a guard (once defeated a treasure will be revealed), or a skeleton (once defeated a fatigue easing grog token or a helpful battle sword token are revealed). At some point you will place the last tile which could reveal a second exit from the ship. This happens about half way thru the game so in the later half you actually skip phase 1 each round.
Phase 2. Player actions.
1. Walk 1 space on the ship (you may suffer fatigue which can kill you or limit access to parts of the ship)
2. Run 2 spaces on the ship (and suffer fatigue).
3. Fight the fire by reducing level by one (reduce by 1 pip on fire die).
4. Boost your fighting power.
5. Eliminate a deckhand from same or adjacent tile. Costs an action but an autokill.
6. Rest. Recover 2 fatigue.
7. Swap a special item card. Items are basically special powers.
8. Pick up a token. (Cutlass, Grog or Treasure). Note that holding treasure reduces you actions to only #1,6 and 7 above.
Fighting a ghost or skeleton. This does not cost an action but happens as soon as you are in the same room either from your walk/run or their movement in phase 3.
Components are really great and the color scheme makes everything look real nice. The little skulls used for deckhands are awesome. The player aid could have been better. A couple rules should have been added to the player aid instead of having to refer to the rulebook often. The box looks nice and doesn’t take up too much shelf space.
This game has a fun theme and the mechanics follow the theme pretty well. An example is that carrying treasure reduces your abilities to only rest and walk. I always like when designers pay attention to those details.
There are not any glaring rule issues but I don’t like the format they used. They explain the 3 phases and then go back and have further explanation later. What happens is that you have a hard time finding rules (phase 3 rules are not at the end of the rulebook but the middle). Another thing that could be done better is to point out exceptions. For instance, you must fight fire and skeletons in the same room as your character (unless you have special powers/items) so make it clear (or bolded) that you can fight deckhands from adjacent rooms. Our first play was ruined by neglecting to see this rule.
The game is just plain fun with lots to think about each turn. I’ve had some games drag on since there is no timer. It actually is refreshingly different than there is no set end time but I could see some people not liking that the game can go long. It has a medium complexity but since it is co-op I could see it used as a family game with some help for younger kids.