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Subject: The game that almost was...but not quite...fun. rss

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The root of all evil... but you can call me cookie.
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Yarrrrg! Who doesn't like Pirates? It's obvious that a lot gamers do based on the number of piratey games out there, and seems like more are coming all the time. Enter Skallywags a simple card game with fabulous artwork and dripping in pirate theme. Upon reading the quick rule book I was very excited to play the game. I'm one of those gamers who has to play the game to get a real feel for the mechanics, so something may sound great in the rules and then not play out very well or vice versa. My feelings on Skallywags is the former of those statements.

BLATANT RIP OFF OF TOM VASSAL'S RULES EXPLANATION-As I tend to get ripped a new one for not putting this in reviews here on the Geek when they are already in other reviews I'm including them. However as I feel it's stupid and redundant I'm not going to write them myself!

Quote:

A deck of 120 cards is shuffled and ten dealt to each player. Nine cards are placed face up in the middle of the table (known as the "Commons"), and the rest form a draw pile. Players each draw a card from the deck to determine who goes first, and the player drawing the highest (a "head" is the highest, followed by a "chest", etc.) goes first, with play going clockwise around the table.

On a player's turn, they draw two cards from the draw pile then can take as many actions as they want to / can. The actions a player can take are…

- Creating Pirates: A player can play any "Head", "Chest", and "Leg" card to build a pirate (or some weird mutated being) on the table in front of them. They can add this pirate to their own Crew or place it in the crew of another. Once a pirate is on the board, a player cannot change any of the body parts of the pirate except through a special card or ability. There are twenty-six sets of matching pirates, each made up of a matching Head, Chest, and Legs. There are also twelve "specialty" parts, which don't match any pirate necessarily. Most pirates that a player will make are considered "simple" pirates, which are made up of non-matching parts. Players can also make an "active" character, if they have enough matching parts of the same pirate on the table. (The number needed is indicated on the cards).
- Play Event Cards: Event cards can be played, which do a variety of things, preventing a crew from "sailing" (winning), killing a crewman in every crew, etc. The most common event cards are the "Skallywaggs" cards (eight in the deck). These cards allow a player to swap a body part in any crew or the Commons for another one. Players can make their pirates better using this and hurt their opponents at the same time.
- Use the Commons: A player can discard a card from their hand to swap any OTHER card from their hand with one in the Commons. For each extra time a player uses the Commons on their turn, they must discard an additional card.
After a player is finished taking the actions they wish to play, turn passes to the next player. A player may have a maximum of ten cards in their hand at the end of their turn.

Many of the characters, known as "Major" Characters, allow special effects if a player has all three matching parts together. For example, if a player has a complete Cap'n Wargun, he counts as three pirates, is immune to some event cards, and if any pirate has the Parrot card as part of their body, they immediately join his crew. "Minor" Characters are the same, except they only need two cards to activate their special ability. For example, if I have a pirate with the Head and Legs of the Lookout, I can draw an extra card each turn, and my entire crew is immune to a specific Event card. Crewmembers, which are each identified by a specific number, provide no special bonuses when they are matched, but they are immune to the Skallywaggs cards. Also, there are many special parts that give a player special abilities, as long as that card is in play on any pirate in their crew. For example, the Monkey allows the player to draw one extra card per turn and makes the pirate it's with immune to Skallywaggs.

The game continues until one player is "ready to sail". To do this, a player needs a certain amount of "sea worthy" sailors (some cards indicate that a pirate may not sail). The number is determined by number of players (10 for two players, 7 for three players, and 5 for four players.) The player announces that they "are sailing", and each other player has one last turn to try and get that player down below the number of sea-worthy pirates needed. If the player still has the needed number at the end of their next turn, they win the game!


So there's the game. Sounded great to me, so I sat down to play the game. It became obvious to me very early on that I shouldn't play any pirates. All the effects cards would take out pirates so if I sat there on my turn and just drew cards I'd have enough cards in my hand after several rounds to slam down a complete crew, and announce I was setting sail. If the other players didn't have the proper resources to stop me in 1 turn...I win. Next game. Everyone takes my tactic, so the game consists of 4 people drawing 2 cards, round after rounr after round. So to play the game "as is" make this a miserable experience. I agree that this is exploiting a hole in the rules and goes against the spirit of the game but hey, something should have been put in there to stop this sort of play.

Conqureing that element is very easily done with a simple house rule:

"On your turn 1 action MUST be to complete a pirate. If you are unable to put the three necessary parts together show your hand to the other players and draw a part from the commons (for free) to complete one pirate. Replace the commons part with a card from the top of the deck. Drawing from the commons in this manner does not count as an action as the penalty is showing other players the goodies you've been storing in your hand."

OK so now we've got that taken care. Now the game is beginning to show some of that 'fun' stuff I like to see in a game and let's face it, this is playing the game in the spirit it was meant to be played. However there is another problem. As you have (or will) read in other reviews of the game now the game DRAGS! This game should play as quickly and smoothly as something like Guillotine but it doesn't. It now drones on and on.

The other thing that really bugs me with the standard rules...a "Minor" pirate is just as difficult to construct as a "Major" pirate in that it takes the same criteria. Perhaps the card distribution is what makes the difference but all I know is I felt cheated when I'd put together a "minor" pirate and get only semi-good benefits when it seemed to take the same effort as a "major" pirate would. Oh yeah you could house rule this too but to be honest it's just not worth it. This game doesn't have enough dynamics to it. Why would anyone sit down to a game of Skallywags which could take an hour and a half or more and keep running through these same sort of steps over and over again!?! There are better card driven shorter games out there, so get yourself a copy of Boomtown, after all it costs about the same.




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Richard Pardoe
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thoia wrote:
It became obvious to me very early on that I shouldn't play any pirates. All the effects cards would take out pirates so if I sat there on my turn and just drew cards I'd have enough cards in my hand after several rounds to slam down a complete crew, and announce I was setting sail. If the other players didn't have the proper resources to stop me in 1 turn...I win. Next game. Everyone takes my tactic, so the game consists of 4 people drawing 2 cards, round after rounr after round.

Umm, let's see. 4 Players need to make 5 sea-worthy pirates which is 15 cards. Hand limit is 10 cards, so how can you play all the pirates in one turn?

As players start w/ 10 cards, I guess the game just proceeded through draw 2, discard 2 for several rounds. 10 cards in hand is only 3 complete pirates, so eventually someone must play down a pirate.

thoia wrote:
The other thing that really bugs me with the standard rules...a "Minor" pirate is just as difficult to construct as a "Major" pirate in that it takes the same criteria.

Not exactly. The "Minor" pirate needs only 2 matching cards to be active, granting its special powers. (The third body part can be the appropriate section from any other pirate.) The "Major" pirate needs all 3 matching cards to be active. Don't forget that the active cards (2 for minor, 3 for major) are immune from Skallywaggs - so the Minor pirates should be a bit easier to construct (and protect).
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Ben Crenshaw
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I gotta say Neil that I don't think you played the game by the rules. As Rich pointed out there is a 10 card hand limit. You can't possibly lay down a crew all at once unless one happens to be a completed Captain. If you employed the "do nothing but draw tactic" in a game played by the rules you are sure to lose every time. There are times when doing nothing but drawing is your best option but that’s mostly when you need to build up cards again.

If you ever try the game again and follow the rules here are some good tactics that will help.

1. Conservative play in the beginning is best, only put out characters that you don't mind losing since the odds of losing them is quite high. After a turn or two the odds of losing a good character usually goes down for a number of reasons. It may surprise some but the best first character to play is one with an Eye Patch, Peg Leg, or Hook. These specialty body parts in a character are great defense for your bigger characters. They always get Arrested, so your other characters are insulated from Arrest Warrants, and you can choose them in a Scurvy & Pox. One of these worthless characters built in your crew give other crewmembers a 50% better chance of sticking around.

2. Mastering the Parrot, Squeezebox, and Monkey. These specialty cards grant an extra card to any character they are in. That is great, but they also give the character immunity to Skallywaggs. This can be the more important of the two powers if played right. Since your hand can only have 10 cards you wind up with a lot of card you either want to hold on to or don't want others to have. If you put these parts in a character with immunity to Skallywaggs no one but you can get at these parts. You will need a All Hands on Deck to do so but that’s a small price to pay when you consider that you can free up your hand of key cards and protect then at the same time.

Ok on to your next point about Minor and Major Characters.

Minor Characters are much easier to build. They only need 2 parts to be active. If you have Davy Jones Locker getting the second activating part of a Minor Character is very easy. The thing to remember is that Minor charters all have a weakness if you do not complete them. Completing them is just as hard as building a Major Character, but unlike the Major Characters Minor Characters can use either the Parrot, Squeeze Box, or Monkey, depending on the character, as one of their parts making it even more powerful and immune to Skallywaggs.

Neil, I would truly appreciate it if you would give it another go. It would be unfortunate if this review of the game were not amended so that the flaws you have found simply because you didn't play by the rules were clarified. I don't mean any of this in a harsh way. I applaud your willingness to put a review out there and help other gamers with an unbiased opinon.
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The root of all evil... but you can call me cookie.
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Quote:
Not exactly. The "Minor" pirate needs only 2 matching cards to be active, granting its special powers. (The third body part can be the appropriate section from any other pirate.) The "Major" pirate needs all 3 matching cards to be active. Don't forget that the active cards (2 for minor, 3 for major) are immune from Skallywaggs - so the Minor pirates should be a bit easier to construct (and protect).


I don't actually have the game anymore. I wish I did cause I'd like to revisit the rules for this. Me and another gamer read and re-read the section and game up with that they all had to match. As I recall there's something like 2 different variables on each card and for the minor all three had to match and then the special features had to match 2. Still a pretty hefty task in this game.

Yes I know the card limit is going to slow down the process of getting a full crew and that's a bit exaggerated in my review I guess...no possible way of acutally having 5 crew members but let's say I keep drawing and discarding until I've got a crew who are all immune to skallywag cards or whatever (again don't have the game now to buff up on what is what) then throw them down. The do nothing but draw tactic would work in this game. 4 people who sat and played this game analyised it 2 of them had read through the rules at least twice, all were very excited about the game and wanted to play so we weren't looking to trash the thing. For the tongue in cheek approach to this game, it bogs down way too much and take way too long. Pretty darn sure I'm right on that. We spent over 2 solid hours on this thing trying to "get it" and never did.
 
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