Ship of Fools – Castaways of Deadman’s Bay review

When it comes to the eternal debate that rages around the internet – what’s better, Pirates or Ninjas? – I’m often found happily sitting the whole thing out playing in the corner with robots. The salty seadogs seem to have the edge at the moment, riding the waves of popularity that have been no doubt heavily inspired by the Pirates of the Carribean movies and the fact that kids love shouting ARRRRRR while brandishing swords. The world of gaming has its fair share of releases that focus on a life on the ocean wave – Pirate’s Cove and Merchants and Marauders spring to mind immediately – but what if you want something a little speedier?

Haul up the chest from the briny deep! Kick it open with a swift kick of your wooden leg and see what you find. What’s that, glistening beneath the dubloons? Why, it’s a copy of Castaways of Deadman’s Bay from Ponder Zombie games!

Strictly for two players, Castaways is a quick battle of bluff and strategy where working out what your opponent’s next step could be is the diference between glory and ignominy. Taking control of a potential captain, you battle your opponent to win the game (and control of a fine ship) in one of three ways. We’ll cover those in a moment, but first a brief explanation of how the game runs.

Yo ho ho and a box full o

Setup for Castaways is super-quick. There’s a “plank” in the middle of the two players made up of ten cards, the centre two depicting the player characters. Each player also gets six crew cards (two each of three different types which can be stolen back and forth) and eight little glass health tokens. You also start with three Attack/Defend cards (labelled as ‘Strike’, ‘Charge’ and ‘Insult’) and three Base Power-Up cards (marked with the same). Once those are handed out, you’re good to go.

In a turn, you draw two cards from your pile and place one of them on top of the Power-Up card of the same type (so if you choose to keep an ‘Insult’ one, it sits on top of your Base Insult card). At the top of each card is a type of move – either Damage, Push or Crew – each one causing a different type of misery to your opposite number. They’re not triggered quite yet though; first you must Attack!

This is done by secretly choosing either your Strike, Charge or Insult card. At the same time, the other potential captain must try and work out which card you’ve selected. The choices are revealed at the same and if the enemy shows the same as you chose, there’s no effect. If you outwit them, however, then every attack in that stack is unleashed upon them. For example have a look below:

If you selected Insult (and the other player guessed incorrectly), according to this stack you’ll do three Crew, two Push and one Damage attacks – and these are the three ways in which you can win the game. For every Crew attack, you steal one Crew card of your choice from your opponent (gaining bonuses if you manage to get all four cards of a certain type), winning the game if you get hold of all twelve Crew. Push Attacks involve the Plank, nudging the opposing character slowly towards the edge, one space per card. Think of a daring duel in those classic Errol Flynn movies, albeit with slightly less movement – just push the enemy off the edge and you win! Finally, Damage simply involves taking a Health token away for each card, and getting down to zero means that you lose. So, the above attack would see you take three Crew cards from the other player, push them two spaces along the plank and make them discard one Health token. Not bad…

There’s also a whole bunch of blue cards as well which – while not adding to your attack piles – do grant you boons. These could be anything from forcing the enemy to remove a Power-Up card to getting rid a piece of the Plank, meaning that the journey to the bottom of the briny deep is a little bit closer for them… You won’t win just by using these cards, but they’ll certainly grant you some much needed advantages – don’t underestimate them!

One really nice thing about Castaways is this different paths to victory idea. By spreading out the different type of attack cards that you get from your draw pile, you’re able to either mix things up meaning that you get a good range of different attacks, or you can try to focus on a certain type. Obviously, a lot of the game is luck based (the cards you get to play with, the fact that you have to outwit your opponent to actually get an attack in), but what’s wrong with a little chance now and then?

Castaways of Deadman’s Bay is a good little game. It’s well produced, easy to explain (seriously, you’ll be up and playing within a couple of minutes) and just what I want from a two-player game; lots of confrontation, quick to play and good chaotic fun. I really don’t want to refer to it as a filler – it feels a little derogatory to do that – so I’ll just say that it’s quick and dirty pirate-y goodness. Nothing earth-shaking. It’s not going to change your view of the universe, but you’ll have a few laughs as you bid to become captain. Just don’t expect to stay in that role for too long.

Castaways of Deadmans Bay is published by Ponder Zombie Games. Designed by Ian Volkwein with art from Brandon Bittner, it’s available from Amazon for $25 – maybe a little expensive, but support your local indie developer! They’ve done a very good job putting the game together, producing a high quality product that you really should check out. Aye aye!

Update: Ian got in touch with me after the review was posted to let me know that you can actually pick up Castaways even cheaper… put the code pzgames2 in the checkout on Amazon and you’ll get 20% off. Not bad!


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