First off, sorry to those of you who found this for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, maybe we’ll do a review of that later. This is my review of the cooperative board game Dead Men Tell No Tales.
In this game, you take on the roles of different pirate crew members as you are trying to get treasure off of a burning pirate ship that is infested with skeletal pirates and deck hands. You spend you turn dealing with fires, so that the ship doesn’t burn down around you, fighting skeletal pirates and guardians to get items and treasures, keeping too many deckhands from appearing and trying not to die from exhaustion. This game has a similar feel to Pandemic where you have a ton of ways to die, but only one way to win, and it’s also cooperative.
Probably the coolest part of this game, though I do like the whole game, is the action point idea. So, with action points, it’s how many of the six of seven various actions you can do per turn. However, sometimes, it doesn’t make sense for a person to do all of their actions or maybe they can’t even do all of their actions. So what do you do with those extra actions? If you don’t use them, it makes the game harder for everyone. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, however, you have tokens for your actions, so you flip them over, but if you can’t flip them all over and use them, you pass your extra actions to the next player. So instead of having 5 actions on their next turn, they could have up to seven or eight, assuming you used a couple of actions on your turn.
So, how does this game play, it’s a pretty fast game with very well defined steps. To start each of your turns you draw a tile and add it to the ship. This is yet another way that you can lose. If you aren’t careful, you might not be able to place the tile. Each tile has a certain number of doors, and if you can’t properly connect the doors or at least not have a door connect to not a door (they can connect to nothing as long as it’s legally connected to a door), then you lose the game yet another way. Then you draw a token to put on it, it might be trap door which is where the deckhands come from, it might be a skeletal pirate who you can get grog or a cutlass off of if you can beat them in battle, or it might be a skeletal guardian who is keeping the treasure from you. Then you spend your actions to fight the fires, fight either the guardians or pirates, maybe you want to rest and recover from how you are hurt, or you are going to pick up and item that someone has dropped. But once you’ve taken as many actions as you want, then you flip over a card and something bad happens (I’ll talk about this other cool mechanic now).
When you flip a card where something bad happens, there’s always a die with a color and number on it. So, I flip a card and it has a red three on it. It tells you what fires are going to grow stronger. Each fire is a die on the room it’s in. There are two different colors, yellow and red dice, so I’ve flipped a red three, that means that any fire that is currently a red three becomes a red four meaning that the room is burning more. Now, if it gets all the way up to a six, then the room is burned and gone. If enough of these happen, then you lose the game or maybe it happens and you can no longer get to a couple of the treasures and you can’t get enough, well, that also ends the game and you lose. But wait, there is more, sometimes you don’t need the die to get to a six, there are rooms that have gunpowder next to the door. If the die gets high enough, that gunpowder explodes and you take another hit to the ship, not only that, but it raises the room that the gunpowder is sitting by to a higher die total as well. This makes all of the actions that you can take extremely important.
What I like about this game is that while it start out slow, soon you are thinking about a dozen different things. You have rooms all over the place that are getting ready to explode, you are trying to deal with the deckhands so that they don’t overrun the ship, and you’re still worried about getting the treasure that you need. The turns got quite fast, you can ask for advice, because it’s cooperative, and each pirate has a special power that is really cool to them. The games theme comes through pretty well, but you do have to lean into it a little bit, drinking a piratey rum with the sound track for a Pirates of the Caribbean movie on in the background would really help drive in the theme, but the theme is definitely there. It’s a good game where it seems like it’s going to scale well, and while the easy level if quite easy, the medium difficulty of the game is really tough, and I’d be curious to know how hard the game can end up being.
Overall Grade: B+
Casual Grade: B
Gamer Grade: B
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