Two years ago I was lucky enough to attend Essen Spiel to demo for Richard Denning's Nine Worlds. I was given the Thursday off to soak up the atmosphere and take a look at some games and was attracted to Roland MacDonald's little stand showing off his prototype for Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag. The selling points were Pirates, and it being a different kind of deck builder, and of course incredible artwork as that is Roland's day job. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and I've now played it twice. Time for first impressions.
Watch out for a more in-depth review in the next few weeks where I'll cover every aspect of the game. For now, I'm merely going to talk about the gameplay.
In traditional deck builders, each player draws their entire hand from the deck, takes actions, then play passes on to the next player. Now I generally find this experience dull and tedious. Take Dominion for example; the whole game is centred around improving your own deck and trying to score the most points through it. Nothing else. This is worlds apart from Ruthless. Everyone draws their starting hands then play proceeds round the table one action at a time until everyone's cards have been played. In the middle of the table is a pirate deck, with 5 cards face up forming a selection. There is also a face down deck of treasures waiting to be plundered.
The player takes one action such as 'brawl'- knocking out one pirate from the face up selection- and then has the opportunity to spend gold on recruiting a pirate. That pirate immediately gives actions as described on the card and will eventually make it into your deck. That's the end of the turn so the next player takes an action, this time choosing to 'trade' by turning in treasure cards with coins on them. After every action players may recruit; it can be extremely tactical as you're going to be aware what cards your opponents might want as well as what might help your own game. You might also want to hold out for a potentially even better card.
Once all players have played all their cards, and then had one more chance to recruit, the round is over. Now comes a delightful boarding phase where each player attempts to form the strongest poker hands using the values and suits on the crew they've played and recruited this round. What this all adds up to is a highly satisfying, and tremendously fun, multi use card game. Each time you plunder you're forced to choose between an immediate benefit or putting the card into the discard pile ready for playing later. Each time you recruit a pirate you're choosing based on their suit and value as well as the action(s) it provides.
And don't forget the two achievements set out at the beginning of the game because they're worth an additional 4 notoriety points to the player who did the best.
Choices, lots of choices, strategy, tactics, short term vs long term, incredible fun. These are all present in a game of Ruthless. Maybe it's time you searched out a copy? Alley Cat Games will be opening up their site to more orders soon.