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Subject: Drake and Drake - "Sword a fun, or doubloon yer money back!" rss

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Tim Royal
United States
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Theme: Pirate Drake is green with envy. Pirate Drake is purple with envy. Drake is Drake's brother. Drake likes to invade and loot islands as much as his brother Drake. Drake discovers his brother Drake on the same island. Now it's up to players' to take on the role of Drake (or his brother Drake) and pillage more loot, drink more rum, and acquiesce to the request of the siren's call for glistening gold treasure more than the other brother Drake.

Goal: Taking on the role of Drake (or... well, you know... his other brother Drake), players must control the largest portion of the spaces on the island. More points are earned by capturing spaces with gold and rum. Keeping a crew together (adjacent) earns additional territorial bonuses.

Drake & Drake setup is quite easy. A small board depicting an uncharted island is laid flat in front of the two players (additional players would require purchasing Drake & Drake & Drake & ...). The island is divided into a grid of squares. Some squares show water, which is off limits for placing pirates, though they can be pushed by a group of opposing pirates into the crocodile infested waters. Other spaces have kegs of rum, while others have highly prized treasure chests.

A deck of cards is shuffled and dealt out to players, half to Drake and the other half to ... his brother Drake. These cards represent the actions that can be performed by the two Drakes during each round. Players take the top eight cards from their deck to form their hands.

Next to the game board are stacked the pile of pirate tokens. Both players use the same pool of pirates, as each pirate token has a green side (envy) for Drake, and a purple side (envy's brother) for the other Drake.

In each player's deck are yellow and orange cards. Yellow cards are called Landing cards, which display a pirate on them ranked by strength from 1 (Jimmy Buffet level pirate) to 3 (George Foreman pirate). Action cards are orange, and provide special actions that disrupt the state of the board or mess with the other Drake's plans. Each round, players choose from two to four cards to place face down next to them. The number of cards a player chooses relates to whether the player is using powerful action cards or the common landing cards... the more action cards played, the less landing cards can be played.

Once both players choose their cards for the round, they're flipped over (the cards, not the players) and resolved based on the numbers shown on the cards. So, for instance, if I have cards numbered 5, 11, 23, and 30, and my opponent has 7,8,15, and 34, we would take turns sequentially from 5, 7, 8, 11, 15, 23, 30, and 34. This unusual twist means that players often take several turns in sequence before their opponent. Players are forced to weigh using more powerful cards later in the resolution against playing less powerful cards earlier in the round.

Over the course of several rounds, players invade the island, trying to form large, uninterrupted groups of pirates on the most valuable spaces of the island. Action cards thwart opponents by allowing players to flip over enemy pirates and convert them to their side (if those enemy pirates are flanked by stronger pirates), eliminate an enemy pirate from the board, push a pirate off the edge into the sea to its watery grave, or even infect surrounding enemy pirates with a nasty plague and remove them (as well as the infected allied pirate) from the board.

When neither player can play cards, or when the game board is completely full, the game ends. Points are tallied for Drake (and of course his brother Drake) based on what sections of the board their pirates occupy. Also, territorial points are tallied based on the groups of pirates for each player. Thus, a player with two pockets of five pirates would get points, and a player with one pocket of ten pirates would get more points (a lot more so, since the larger groupings are worth dramatically more points). The Drake who scored the most points wins against the Drake who scored the least points. For a wonderful house rule, the loser Drake has to change his name. That way, everybody wins, as the "same name" jokes die a well received, albeit belated, death.

Good Points:

* Quick and Easy - The game plays in 15-30 minutes, with minuscule downtime. Players interact with modest frequency, sometimes through direct confrontation and others times by crowding areas or cutting off portions of the game board to minimize the other player's bands of pirates.

* Balanced and competitive play - Runaway games are infrequent in Drake & Drake, since players get equal input into every round of the game. Timing is important, since pirates placed early in the game in pivotal locations remain candidates for some nasty action cards later on. On the other hand, action cards may wind up being useless if proper targets for those action cards disappear as the board changes during round resolution. Drake & Drake is neither too random or too predictable.

* Move Order Mechanism
- The number system used to resolve the turn order of each round adds quite a bit more strategy to the game, forcing choices beyond just the power of the cards played. Without this system, the game would be a simple matter of playing the most powerful cards players have, with no additional thought involved. Since the numbers on the cards determine order of play, and with most (but not all) action cards having higher numbers which makes them resolve last, the choices are less obvious and risks must be taken.

Bad Points:

* Skewed starting hands
- The initial deck is randomly selected from the same set of cards, split up and given to both players. This often leads to imbalanced decks that give a decided advantage one way of the other. While none of the gamers the reviewer was involved in ever swayed too far towards a blowout victory, the potential remains and the influence of the initial card draw impacts the game more than other games within this vein of playing style.

To its credit, there are a couple variants recommended that mitigate this issue, such as letting players preview and order their decks, or playing two matches and switching decks with the opposing Drake in between the matches.

* Moderate Excitement
- Despite the premise of invading an island and capturing territory, rum and treasure, and duking it out with enemy pirates, the pace of the game seems strangely more sedate than one would expect. Action cards are the lone way to introduce momentary hiccups of excitement in what is otherwise an experience that's often as subdued as checkers.

* Rum not included - Terrible omission.

Conclusion: With a light pirate theme, leisurely pace of play, occasional foul tricks, and quick play time, Drake and Drake is a decent addition for families and the casual board game crowd. It's not a game aspiring to be more than a joyful romp through a time lapsed photo of a pirate's life, and taken with that expectation it's a reasonable purchase.
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