When a teenager, I designed dozens of board games, using only my
knowledge of the few board games that I had at that point as a
reference. All of these board games are now long gone (and a good
thing, too!), but one that I remember fondly was a game called
Professor Bodybuilder - in which players built monsters out of three
cards - trying to match the correct body parts, but usually ending up
with hilariously built monsters. As soon as I saw the basic concept
of Skallywaggs (Bent Castle Workshop, 2005 - Ben Crenshaw), which was
similar to my game but using pirates instead of monsters, I was
intrigued and had to have the game immediately. The artwork was
absolutely fantastic, and who can argue with a pirate theme in a game?
After playing the game, I must say that putting the pirates together
is certainly the most enjoyable feature of the game. That's not to
say the rest of the game is bad - I did enjoy the play, but the
building of different pirates (ranging from ones that look interesting
to ones that are just plain disgusting or wrong) brings hilarity to
the game that will probably bring many repeat playings. I did think
that the endgame was a little drawn out and fixed it in my games with
a custom rule. The game is basically a matching card game with a lot
of "take that" involved.
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
- 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
- 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 beginning of their next turn, they win the game!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The game is made solely up of a large deck of cards
that comes in a box in which the cards are slid in, splitting the deck
in half (I'm not a fan of this style of box.) The cards themselves
are of good quality with absolutely tremendous artwork on them. Each
drawing is unique, and you can tell that a lot of time went into
drawing the pirates, who look menacing yet fairly comical at the same
time. All the different parts fit seamlessly with each other
(although they sometimes produce some hideous creations). All the
information needed is printed on the cards, along with flavor text and
symbols, etc. This is nice, but the amount of information on the
cards can be overwhelming, and it's not always easy to distinguish
which pirates of your opponent's can do what. The game itself is
fairly simple - the cards just don't give that impression. Still, the
artwork overshadows everything.
2.) Rules: The rules are on two sides of a folded sheet that comes in
the box. While they explain everything in the game, they don't do it
in the best way or order. Still, the game wasn't that difficult to
explain to people, although those who may have played CCGs
(collectible card games) will have an easier time in understanding it.
3.) Pirates: As I said, much of the humor and enjoyment comes from
the matching up of the different pirates. The illustrations are
tremendous, and all of the body parts fit together quite well (okay,
some of them are just plain wrong). Players seek to try and put
together matching pirates, but I often see players put together
pirates that simply make them laugh.
4.) Characters: If a player gets a pirate who is a major character
into play, they can gain some extreme advantages. A player who can
get one of them early in the game can sometimes enjoy these advantages
for the remainder of the game. This makes the game interesting, as
players seek to build these more powerful pirates over the course of
the game. The specialty body parts are especially useful, but players
who gain major characters can often steal them from others, making the
major characters that much more useful. It's also not too difficult
to make other player's lives miserable; if I see you have a common
pirate with two parts of the Boatswain down, and I have the third part
in my hand, you can be sure that it's going to stay in my hand for a
5.) Events: The event cards can have some fairly powerful effects
over the course of the game. Many of them flat out kill a pirate in
someone else's crew. Skallywaggs would seem to be dangerous, but in
truth can usually only effect weak pirates anyway. Pirates who make
players immune to certain effects are, in my opinion, the best pirates
and should be a prime goal for any player to get into their crew.
6.) Length: Sometimes Skallywaggs turns into the game that never
ends, because as soon as one player gets enough pirates that are
seaworthy, all the other players immediately attack him enough to get
him below the needed amount. This can occur over and over again, to
the point of needlessly drawing the game out. To fix this, we simply
lowered the needed amount of sailors. But doing this can often allow
one player to win the game a little too quickly, which is another
problem in and of itself.
7.) Fun Factor: Because of the length, the fun factor goes down
slightly. I love putting the pirates together and trying to mix and
match body parts to get the pirates who best help my crew is an
interesting exercise for me, making Skallywaggs much more than your
typical "take that" game. It's just that Skallywaggs feels like a
filler that wears on a bit past its welcome. If the game can be
shortened, then I really enjoy it and have fun with it. As it stands
right now, I've found that the three player game provides the correct
length for me (with only six pirates needed instead of seven).
8.) Skuttle Nuts: Another game can be played with the cards, which is
simply a memory game, in which players attempt to turn over matching
pirates on their turn. This is simply a variation on Memory Match,
but I found that my young daughters loved turning over the different
body parts and making pirates. It's a version of Memory that I would
enjoy more with my kids than the typical one.
The general concept of the game is a good idea, matching and mixing
the pirate bodies will certainly attract people, and the artwork is
certainly interesting and helps the thematic nature of the game. The
length may be a little too long; but if it can be shortened, I think
Skallywaggs will appeal to anyone who is looking for a pirate-themed
"take that!" game. It has a lot of good elements to it, although a
good deal of luck is involved. For me, I'll keep it around, if only
for the artwork; and the fact that it's a mechanic (the body
shuffling) that I really enjoy.
"Real pirates play board games"