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[Review] Skallywaggs

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  • Tom Vasel
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2005
      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
      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
      - 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
      long time!

      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.

      Tom Vasel
      "Real pirates play board games"
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