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Scallywags - Arrrr, mateys, time for a little plunderin' with pirate friends

Pirate talk and jargon optional
Pirate talk and jargon optional
Publisher (Gamewright Games)

Scallywags

Rating:
Star2
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There's nothing quite like being in a musical for and with children to get me rummaging through my game shelves for something to play with them at off-moments in either the rehearsal and/or performance process. My adventures as Grandpa George in a Wilmington, NC production of Willy Wonka did just that, and during my shelf search, I came across a Gamewright offering that I had yet to bring to the table with anyone - Scallywags.

The title sent me scurrying for my on-line (Merriam-Webster) dictionary to determine the origin of the phrase, and I was surprised to discover that "scallawag" refers to a "usually young person who causes trouble." In a second definition, it refers to "a white Southerner acting in support of the reconstruction governments after the American Civil War often for private gain."

The game, however, is themed around pirates. The object is the gathering of point-bearing gold doubloons, which is accomplished, in more or less true pirate fashion by essentially just grabbing them when you can.

The age recommendation for this starts at eight years old, so discerning adult gamers need not apply. There's a lot of randomness to it, both in terms of how the doubloons fall out of the bag and the cards used to supplement player actions. The designer, Chevee Dodd (known as Random Person on Boardgamegeek), has created a dice variant to allow play with children who can't read, but it requires a special set of Scallywags dice.

The components to the basic game are top-notch, as are most components to Gamewright publications. The coins in this are sturdy, although the information printed on them (values on one side and a jester on the other) can be difficult to distinguish. The gold color is sort of bland and from across a table, it can sometimes be hard to figure out whether a particular coin is worth "8" or "3" or whether you're seeing a jester or a skull and crossbones (used to designate zero points).

At the start of the game, you just spill all 40 of the doubloons out of the box and onto your table. They will land either face-up (showing point values; 0, 1, 3, 5, 8) or face-down (showing the image of a jester). It is conceivable, although highly unlikely, that they could all end up one way or the other, which would throw a bit of a monkey wrench into the process machinery.

Each player is dealt three cards from a deck of them (54, also sturdy, although in my first few games of this with a crowd of young folk, they were inflicting damage almost immediately. They seem to have no sense of value when it comes to cards, and will bend, twist and occasionally gnaw on cards in idle moments). On your turn, you will take one of three actions.

You can take a face-down coin from the pile of them in the center (making it part of your private stash), use a card from your hand to do any number of instructed things (take face-up coins, steal from others, give coins to opponents, etc.), or discard a card from your hand and replace it with one from a draw deck. You will continue in turn order to do these things until all players have collected either six (in a 4-6 player game) or eight (2-3 players) coins in front of them. At that point, all is revealed, doubloon values are tallied and the player with the highest value of collected coins is the winner.

The target group of youngsters with whom I played, ranging in age from about 8 to 13, found the process a little simplistic I think. They got bored easily, as if to say, "That's all there is to this game? Just keep grabbing coins until you're done?" There are some underlying elements of strategy that can be employed, but the subtleties of such strategy were lost on them.

One of the cards, for example, ("Yo Ho Ho!) allows you to give a face-up coin from the center to one of your opponents. Why, one is inclined to ask, would you, in a game where you are competing for the highest value coins, give one to an opponent? Well, the answer is that while competing for the coins, it's important to bear in mind that each player has a coin limit. In a 4-6 player game, once a player has collected six coins, he/she can no longer add coins. Thus, it behooves the wily player with the "give coin to an opponent" card to stuff an opponent's stash with low value coins, while figuring ways to supplement one's own stash with high value coins.

Then there's the "Blow Me Down" card, which allows you to look at two face-down coins in the center pile, and then either give both to one opponent, or divide them up between two opponents. This will be useful to players who take the trouble to keep track of opponent actions, and make this card's choice, based on what they know.

An "Um, Like, Land Ho!" card allows you to look at one face-down coin, and then take any other face-down coin from either the center or an opponent's stash and take it as your own. This, of course, is a card designed to give a player knowledge about face-down coins that he/she can use in subsequent turns.

There's a "Note" to the rules which suggests that all coins must remain in their original orientation; either face-up or face-down. Another indicates that you can look at your own face-down coins, while yet another says "you may not rearrange the order of the coins in your take at any time." I found no earthly reason why the order of the coins as you take them is significant. No cards, for example, saying you can take your opponent's second or third coin, or conversely, a card, played by an opponent, that affects a certain coin in your stash, based on the order you took it. It is my considered opinion, based on the logic of the process, that you can safely ignore this particular "Note" to the rules.

Don't expect too much from this game. While it does have the aforementioned subtleties to it, they're not likely to be employed in a game that is so obviously simple. And while the recommended age begins with "8," you should be prepared for the eight (and above)-year-olds to get bored easily until they begin to detect some effective ways to influence their path to victory. The trouble with this plan of action is that once bored, the kid might not want to come back and give it a second try.

Scallywags, designed by Chevee Dodd, with artwork by Gary Locke, is published by Gamewright, can be played by 2-6 players and as indicated, is designed for players 8 and up. While there is a rationale for the designer-created Dice variant, it would be just as easy to explain to non-reading younger children what they can do with a given card. There's no element of secrecy to it, and knowing what a player has in his hand of cards doesn't really affect what each player is going to do on his own turn. Retail cost is somewhere between $12 and $15, depending on your outlet.